Nobody does it better

I am outraged by BLiS MP Ian Murray’s claim that Boris Johnson is a “greater threat to the Union than the SNP”. Johnson may well be a more ‘natural’ British Nationalist fanatic than even Mr Murray. It is certainly worth noting that, unlike Murray, Johnson doesn’t appear to feel the need to disport himself in a Union Jack clown suit in order to flaunt his devotion to the ‘One Nation’ cult. When I say that Boris Johnson’s adherence to the dogma of ‘The Union At Any Cost’ could be thought more effortlessly mindless than Ian Murray’s, I trust nobody will suppose I intend this as a compliment to either.

But when it comes to being a threat to the Union neither of these individuals can hold a candle to the SNP. The Scottish National Party has roots in Scotland’s anti-Union movement going back at least a hundred years and may well be regarded as having its origins in the time prior to the imposition on Scotland of this iniquitous constitutional anomaly when people rioted in protest at their nation being “bought and sold for English gold”.

Over the past two or three decades, the SNP has grown both in size as a party and in potency as a threat to the British establishment. There simply is no greater menace to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state than the SNP – unless it is the people of Scotland who, in rapidly increasing numbers, regard the party as the tool by which Scotland will lever itself out of the detested Union and restore its rightful status as an independent nation.

Ian Murray’s suggestion that the SNP might be second to the likes of Boris Johnson as a threat to the Union is both politically illiterate and deeply offensive.

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The mechanical and the organic

There’s a strong sense that Ian Blackford is being politic. That he is saying what was required in response to direct criticism. I do not get the impression that this is a thoughtful response. The sentiment is worthy. But sentiment alone is not sufficient.

The criticism that the wider Yes movement is being ignored by the SNP is dismissed with just the right amount of sincerity tinged with precisely the correct degree of indignation. The warmth of the reassurance is nicely calculated. The idea of a shared aim is well conveyed. But what does any of it mean in practical terms?

I want to know how, exactly, we are all supposed to “work collectively together”. I know the Yes movement takes lectures from nobody when it comes to networking and cooperation. I also know that the SNP runs a formidable election-winning machine. What I want to know is how the various components might be brought together to develop and conduct an effective referendum campaign.

I know that Nicola Sturgeon is just the kind of political leader the nation needs at this time. I know that the Yes movement has evolved to find find leadership as it is required. But can Nicola Sturgeon provide the leadership that the Yes movement needs. And can the Yes movement accept Nicola Sturgeon as the source of that leadership?

I know that a political movement and a political party are very different beasts. How might both be harnessed to a campaign which stands apart from both party and movement?

I appreciate the conciliatory tone of Ian Blackford’s remarks. But I want to hear his thoughts on how party and movement arrive at a functioning accommodation. Or, if that is too much to ask, at least some indication that he and his colleagues are thinking about the practical aspect of that accommodation.

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Two messages

What better way to follow up the tremendous success of the SNP in the European Parliament elections than with a highly visible public display of support for independence? And what better way to help create that highly visible public display of support for Scotland’s cause than to attend the All Under One Banner March in Galashiels on Saturday 1 June?

No sane, sober and sensible person can deny that the EU election result in Scotland is a triumph for the SNP. (And for progressive politics in Scotland; let’s not forget the Scottish Greens’ 8% on top of the SNP’s 38%.) So perhaps we should draw a discreet veil over this Tweet from Stirling Tories.

Ignore the SNP spin. The fact is that in a depressed turnout election, where they sunk a lot of effort Scotland-wide to get their vote out and saw their opponents struggling, they’ve gone nowhere from their 2017 GE result.

No-one has won from these elections that no-one wanted.— Stirling Tories (@stirling_tories) May 27, 2019

Or perhaps not.

This was also a massive boost for the independence cause – even if Nicola Sturgeon seemed initially reluctant to include the Yes movement in her own celebration of the result.

Formal declaration to come, but clear now that @theSNP has won the Euro election emphatically – we are on course to take 3 out of 6 seats. A historic victory. And Scotland has rejected Brexit again. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇪🇺🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 26, 2019

Perhaps we should set aside, for the moment, her extraordinary focus on Brexit and look instead on what the First Minister said later.

“If all Westminster has to offer is more chaos and confusion – potentially under the premiership of an extreme Tory Brexiteer – then more and more people will come to the conclusion that Scotland’s future is best served as an independent country.”

Not quite the bold, decisive call to action that many in the Yes movement are awaiting. But at least there’s a mention of the independence cause. Let’s all be grateful for that.

Fortunately, the Yes movement is self-motivating. We act of our own volition and do what we reckon needs to be done. Much as we would wish for some leadership from the SNP, it is clear this is not going to be forthcoming. So we find leadership where we may. Or, to be more precise, leadership arises within the Yes movement where and when it is needed. And, when the need passes, it merges again into the body of the Yes family.

So, we will gather in Galashiels on Saturday 1 June. We will march. We will sing. We will chant. We will wave flags and hold aloft banners. We will make and listen to speeches. We will enjoy music. We will be together. We will be joyous. Some of us will be sore.

We will do all of this for as many reasons as there are people attending. We will certainly do it to send a message to those who sneer at the SNP’s electoral success with the same contempt they have for Scotland’s people, Scotland’s democratic institutions and Scotland’s distinctive political culture. The message is, “We’ve had enough!”

But we will also be sending a message to Nicola Sturgeon. A respectful but forceful message.


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The BBC won’t change

Good to see the SNP taking a more robust position on the British media. It won’t make any difference, of course. The BBC is part of the British establishment. It is the voice of the ruling elite. It would be folly to imagine that voice might serve anything other than the interests of the ruling elite.

Even if there is an Ofcom investigation, and even if the BBC is found to have breached any law, regulation or code of conduct, it will not change. Even if it is ruled that the BBC has been wilfully dishonest, it will not change. It will not change because it cannot change. It cannot change because it is part of the British establishment. The BBC can change only if and to the extent that the British establishment changes.

Right now, the entire British state is in full defensive mode. Other, perhaps, than in time of war, the British establishment has never been more resistant to change. At such times, the tendency is to look backwards. To cling to the past. To hold to a standard based on a mythical golden age. Any more realistic standard is just too much of a challenge. The British establishment is not going to change. So the British media are not going to change.

In truth, the fundamental nature of the British state has not changed in more than three centuries. There has been no revolution such as is required to destroy and replace the ruling elite. All that has changed are the methods by which that ruling elite maintains its structures of power, privilege and patronage. And even that boils down to the one thing – manipulation. The British establishment has grown more efficient at manipulating people. It has improved the apparatus by which public perceptions are managed. The British propaganda machine is second to none. And better than most because it has had such a long period of uninterrupted development serving the same purpose. Serving the same ruling elite.

This machinery of manipulation is now so deeply entrenched and woven into British society as to have become all but invisible and undetectable. The disinformation, distortion and dishonesty of the British media tend not to be seen as such by those who identify as British because it is so much part of the culture in which they have been embedded all their lives and generation after generation.

Even those who operate this machinery of manipulation are not necessarily fully aware that what they are doing is propaganda. It is entirely possible that the people responsible for BBC Question Time genuinely believe they are doing an excellent job. They believe they are presenting the truth because they have never questioned the truth they are presenting. They have never learned to question it. Their capacity for questioning has been excised. The manipulators are effective because they themselves are products of the machinery of manipulation.

The BBC will not change. The British media will not change. Only we can change. People can recover the capacity to question. They can become aware of the machinery of manipulation and its methods. And, being aware, they can be resistant to its effects. They may even break the machinery.

So, it’s good that Keith Brown is publicly denouncing the BBC. Not because it will bring about change in the corporation, but because it may prompt a few more people to question the version of the truth that is being fed to them.

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A strategy for penetrating No territory

200,000 people signing a petition does not, of course, signify increased support for independence. Impressive as the figure may be, it’s only about 10% of the existing support for independence. To put it in context, the Yes movement can put that number of feet on the streets.

Maintaining an appeal to the base is unquestionably essential. A political campaign which wins converts while losing its core vote is almost certainly doomed to fail. But, equally, if the entire effort is devoted to holding on to existing support then where is the winning surge going to come from?

In principle, it is possible that the same campaign strategy might serve both to retain and increase support. The evidence suggests, however, that this is not so in the case of Scotland’s independence campaign. The basic strategy of pounding out a positive case for independence focused on social and economic benefits hasn’t changed since the 2014 campaign. It has developed. The arguments have improved. But they are still the same arguments. And they are still arguments about policy. The kind of arguments used in an election campaign.

That these arguments are effective in retaining support is clear. Despite there being no let-up in British Nationalist propaganda over the period since the first vote, there has been no measurable reduction in support for independence. Significantly, however, neither has there been any marked increase. The evidence is all but conclusive. The old strategy was very successful in taking support to the 50% level, and has been remarkably effective in holding it there against a relentless onslaught of propaganda and all the disadvantages the Yes campaign has in terms of communicating its message. But it has not won any new support.

There is no great mystery to this. The people who have already been won over to Yes are those who have gained access to information beyond that which is provided by the mainstream media. They are educated. They are easy to retain because education is not easily lost. You can’t ‘unknow’ something. And once someone has been made aware of the lies and distortions peddled by the British media, the propaganda ceases to have any effect.

Many have made the journey from No to Yes. Whatever the claims of social media trolls, nobody goes from Yes to No.

It follows, therefore, that the people who have not yet made the journey from No to Yes are those who have not yet gained access to the same information as those who have made that journey. The question is why. Without understanding why they have not accessed the information, there is no possibility of devising ways to ensure that they do.

What we know for certain is that the strategy of broadcasting a ‘positive case for independence’ won’t do it. We know it won’t do it because it hasn’t done it. That has been the strategy for at least seven years now. And the polls remain stubbornly stuck at 50%. It’s not working because the message simply isn’t reaching into that other 50%. Which is just another way of saying the people who make up that 50% don’t have access to the information.

It doesn’t matter whether this lack of access to information is due to the obstacles created by the British media or the inadequacy of the signal or simply a refusal to listen on the part of No voters. The result is the same. People are not making the journey from No to Yes because they are not even aware that such a journey is possible.

What must the Yes campaign do to address the issue of information starvation? How might the Yes campaign ensure that its signal penetrates deeper into that 50% on the No side of the constitutional divide?

The task is made simpler by first eliminating the things that can’t be done, or can’t be done in time – as well as the things that have been tried without success. There is not much that can be done about the obstacles created by the British media. The lies must be rebutted and the disinformation corrected. But, if the Yes signal isn’t getting through then neither are the rebuttals and corrections. A careful calculation must be made as to what resources should be committed to setting the record straight – bearing in mind that this comes at some cost to the strength of what we are calling the Yes signal.

People can’t be obliged to receive that signal. They can’t be required to tune in to it. They can’t be forced to open their minds. The further the Yes signal travels into No territory, the less chance there is that it will be received. Obviously, there comes a point at which the effort just isn’t worth it. Ultimately, there is a point at which it doesn’t matter how strong the Yes signal is, there is nothing there that is capable of picking it up.

But that still leaves a lot of No territory which can be reached if the Yes signal is strong enough and if people can be induced to tune in. There is more than enough potential support within range to ensure a decisive Yes vote. It is this reachable No territory that the Yes campaign strategy must target. The aim of the strategy must be to strengthen the Yes signal and prompt people to receive it.

There are two ways to strengthen the Yes signal. It can be strengthened by adding to it. And it can be made more powerful by being more focused. The thing that is added must be new. It must be something which is not already part of the ‘positive case for independence’. It must also be dramatic. It is the combination of novelty and drama which will seize attention and induce people in No territory to tune in.

Focus is achieved by making the message contained in the Yes signal comprehensible, coherent and consistent. Short, sharp and simple. Never drifting from the core message. Always ensuring that the signal is directed at, and the message framed for, the reachable population in No territory.

This population is not inclined to listen to that ‘positive case for independence’. Many become less inclined to tune in the more this ‘positive case’ impinges on their consciousness. Encouraged by the British media, they have grown resistant to it. What else is the ‘vile cybernats’ propaganda about if not to discourage and dissuade people from accessing information carried by the only channels that are readily available to the Yes campaign?

A significant number of those disinclined to tune in to the ‘positive case for independence’ are, however, increasingly ready to question the status quo. They are daily more disenchanted with the British political elite and the British political system. They are beginning to wonder about the Union.

These are the people who must be targeted by a revised Yes campaign strategy. Alongside the ‘positive case for independence’, and at least matching it in all respects, there must be a ‘negative case against the Union’.

This has the added advantage of uniting the entire Yes movement, including the SNP. It facilitates the solidarity which the Yes campaign requires by distilling the message down to the one fundamental on which all can agree. While they all might hope for – or demand! – different things out of independence, all know that without ending the Union nobody gets anything.

If 200,000 people will sign a petition for independence, how many more might sign a petition against the Union? The cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will take a mighty leap forward the day the SNP decides to ask the one question that really matters. Should we #DissolveTheUnion?
The day they, and the rest of the Yes movement launch a campaign strategy designed to ensure that the answer is a resounding YES!

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Being brutish

The Sunday Mail’s sudden support for the Scottish Greens is an obvious ploy to split both the anti-Union and anti-Brexit vote. Why anyone should imagine it to be a “boost for Yes campaigners” is quite the mystery.

This is how it works. It is much easier to attack a politician or a party than it is to attack a principle such as independence. The SNP has been made the ‘face’ of the British state’s enemy. Any success for the SNP must be diminished, or simply go unreported. Any setback for the SNP must be trumpeted as signifying the party’s imminent implosion and total eradication.

Only votes for the SNP count as votes for independence. And only if they can’t be spun as votes for (or against) something else. Votes for ‘minor’ pro-independence parties count only as votes against the SNP. These parties are then airbrushed out of politics altogether unless they are attacking the SNP, or can be presented as doing so.

The 2017 UK general election is illustrative. Despite the fact that, by every meaningful measure, the SNP came out of that election just as it went in, the result was very successful portrayed as a ‘victory’ for the Ruth Davidson Queen of the BritNats Party.

British politics is brutish. Winner takes all. Losers lose everything. And who the winners and losers are is decided at least as much by the British media as by the result of any poll.

A massive surge in support for the SNP in the European Parliament elections would be, from the perspective of the British establishment, a very bad thing. Therefore, the apparatus of the British state will be deployed in order to ensure that this surge does not happen. Or is not perceived as having happened. If some of that surge can be diverted to the Greens, that will suit the British establishment very well.

Unfortunately, there are many in the Yes movement who are so politically naive as to suppose that a vote for any pro-independence party counts the same as a vote for the SNP. It really doesn’t. Not in the brutish world of British politics.

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The point of it all

Factionalism! The reef upon which radical politics so frequently founders. My ism is better than your ism! Only I represent the One True Way! You are failing The Cause! Therefore I must start my own Faction in order to follow the One True Way and further The Cause!

And let us draw a discreet veil over the fact that The Cause can hardly be furthered by splitting its support. Make that a heavy tarpaulin, because this is a fact so blindingly obvious that the standard discreet veil will hardly suffice to conceal it.

While you’re about it, you’d best ensure the tarpaulin is big enough to cover something else The Splitters would much rather not draw attention to. Namely, that the battle to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status must, perforce, be fought from within the British state. Because that is where Scotland is. Duh! The campaign must be conducted according to the rules, procedures, conventions and practices of the archaic and little more than nominally democratic British political system. (At least up to the point where those rules etc. must be broken. But that’s another matter.)

The British political system is profoundly and inexorably adversarial. It operates on a ‘rule of twos’. Thus, the two-party system. Thus also, winners and losers. One winner takes all. All losers cease to be of any consequence bar the one loser chosen to be representative. Government and Official Opposition. Another binary. It is a system which, by design and evolution, excludes factions – and, thereby, excludes radical politics.

The constitutional battle is no exception. It, too, must be binary. Not least for the purposes of propaganda, there must be an ‘Us’ and a ‘Them’. Good guys and bad guys. Colonists and indigenous peoples unjustly contesting the colonists’ claim to ’empty lands’. Unionists and nationalists. Because the British ruling elite controls the media, as well as for more prosaic reasons of electoral reality, the ‘Them’ to their ‘Us’ is and will be for as long as matters to any of us, the Scottish National Party. It is the political arm of the independence movement. Any ‘alternatives’ might as well not exist for all the impact they will have on the British state.

Bear in mind, also, that this is a British state which recognises only brute power. It is a near-impregnable object. It may only be breached by a massive force focused on a single point.

The Splitters will, of course deny the very thing that gives them their name. They will insist that they are not splitting support for The Cause as they are still supporting The Cause – but in their own manner and under their own banner. Remaining stubbornly blind to the inescapable logic that having their own manner and banner definitively implies a split.

The factions proliferate. The forces for reform are scattered. Diversity becomes division becomes diffusion becomes disadvantage becomes defeat.

It has taken decades to get the SNP in a position to be the effective political force that the independence cause absolutely requires. It would be an act beyond political madness to discard that tool at this crucial time in the hope of being able to fashion a new one. Or, even worse, an entire tool shed full of new and untested devices.

I criticise the SNP. Not because I want to replace it with something better, but because I want to make it something better, I want it to be the effective political force the independence cause needs. I want it to be the political arm of the Yes movement. And I recognise that it is not doing particularly well in this regard.

But I don’t only blame the SNP for this. The Yes movement has made great strides towards accepting, if not exactly embracing, the SNP as its political arm. This effort has not been adequately reciprocated by the party. It all to often appears as if the effort is being rebuffed. This is a tragic mistake. There are good reason why the SNP, as a political party, must be wary of close association with external bodies. Especially when those bodies are as powerful as the Yes movement. But it is up to the party to find a way. It is up to the SNP to be different from other political parties. That is what the people of Scotland, and certainly those in the independence movement, have come to expect.

But many in the Yes movement expect too much of the SNP. They expect it to mirror the Yes movement in ways that are quite impossible for a political party. And, if the SNP stops being a (successful) political party, it stops being the tool that the Yes movement needs.

An accommodation must be found. Factionalism is most certainly not any kind of solution. It is, in fact, a way of avoiding the difficult task of finding that accommodation between the SNP and the Yes movement – and among all the elements of the independence cause – which will allow each and all to be effective.

In the Yes movement, we have come almost to worship diversity as the greatest of virtues. For a movement, this may be true, But for a campaign, the greatest virtue is solidarity. In celebrating our diversity, we have fallen into the habit of talking about our differences, rather than that which we hold in common. Recognition that “we all want the same thing” tends to come as an afterthought to lengthy discussion of distinctive policy platforms – if it comes at all. We talk about our respective visions for Scotland’s future, relegating consideration of the key to that future to somewhere lower down the agenda.

The single point at which all the elements of the independence cause meet is the Union. The thing that everybody in the independence movement agrees on is that the Union must end. It cannot even be said that all agree on independence. Because there are differing ideas about what independence means. There is no ambiguity whatever about the imperative to end the Union.

It is a happy coincidence that the point at which all the elements of the independence campaign come together also happens to be the British state’s weakest point. So, let’s not talk of factions. No faction is going to prise Scotland out of its entanglement in the British state. This will only be achieved by the four constituent parts of the independence campaign acting in accord. The SNP as the lever. The Scottish Government (Nicola Sturgeon) as the fulcrum. The Scottish Parliament as the base. The Yes movement as the force.

And let us all agree that the object we are acting against is the Union.

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