The speech that wasn’t

The National is hosting a rally in Glasgow’s George Square on Saturday 2 November which will be addressed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP. Supposing I’d been asked to speak at this event, what might I say? Perhaps something like this…

Patriotic pride has never held much appeal for me. I am Scottish by accident of birth. Being Scottish took no effort on my part. I cannot count it a personal achievement, so there is no cause for personal pride. You won’t hear me say I’m proud to be Scottish.

I am not proud of my nationality. But I am proud of my nation. I am proud of Scotland. Not all the time. Not unquestioningly. But, generally speaking, I am proud of Scotland.

I am proud that Scotland dares to be different. Under a regime which demands that we settle for being less than we might be, Scotland aspires to be more than it has been. In a political environment that encourages and rewards the worst of human nature, Scotland strives to be a better place.

I am proud that, in a British state where it is regarded as natural that the many should be disadvantaged in order that the few may prosper and that the weak should be sacrificed to benefit the strong, Scotland yet clings tenaciously to its collective social conscience and to the idea of community and to the principle of universalism and to the belief that every person who calls Scotland their home is worthy of dignity, fairness and respect. .

I take pride in the fact that, as a corrupt and collapsing British political system continues to concentrate power, privilege and patronage in the hands of an imperiously insensitive elite, we steadfastly maintain that sovereignty is vested entirely and exclusively in the people of Scotland.

There is much about our nation of which we can be justifiably proud. But there is much that humiliates us.

I want to be proud of our Scottish Parliament. But I cannot so long as it is befouled by the presence of self-serving British politicians who, while theatrically proclaiming their proud Scottishness, treat with sneering contempt the institution to which they have been elected. Liars, deceivers and hypocrites who boast of their Scottish heritage even as they barter our nation’s interests and dignity for the tawdry rewards of loyal service to the British state.

I cannot be properly proud of Holyrood while it remains subordinate to a parliament which is foreign to me, thirled to a political system which is alien to me and subject to the whims of a British ruling elite which is abhorrent to me.

I cannot be properly proud of our Parliament until it asserts its authority as the only democratically legitimate voice and agent of Scotland’s people.

I want to be proud of our Scottish Government. But I cannot so long as it continues to accept Scotland’s diminished status within the Union.

I cannot be properly proud of the Scottish Government while it looks to powers furth of Scotland to validate our nation’s claim to constitutional normality.

I cannot be properly proud of our Scottish Government until it declares its full confidence in the people of Scotland and total belief in the sufficiency of our own power to achieve Scotland’s destiny.

I want to be proud of our First Minister. Perhaps most of all I want to be proud of our First Minister. I know her to be a person I can admire and a politician I can respect. But I want her to be more. I want her to be the leader that Scotland needs.

I want her to be bold. I want her to be assertive. I want her to be fearless. I want her to be fearsome.

I want her to confront the British ruling elite. I want her to reject their authority. I want her to defy their rules.

We don’t need a lawyer politely pleading Scotland’s case. We need a warrior relentlessly fighting Scotland’s cause.

Make us proud, Nicola! Make Scotland proud!

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Bust the myths! Bust the Union!

The myth-busting campaign being run by The National is undoubtedly worthwhile and we should all give it our full support. I shall be buying several copies tomorrow and taking them to various pubs around Perth. The things I do for the cause!

However – and I have no wish to put a damper on The National’s efforts – this is all still too defensive for my liking. As well as busting the myths we need to be condemning those who created them in the most forthright terms. We should be examining and exposing the malign motives behind the myths. And we should stop calling them myths! They are lies!

My sincere hope is that this campaign will build to an honest and rigorous appraisal of the Union and what it means for Scotland. It is good that people should be aware of its origins. But it is more important still that people are made aware of how the Union has been used against Scotland over many decades. How it has evolved as a tool of the British political elite; a constitutional device by means of which the people of Scotland are denied the full and proper exercise of their rightful sovereignty.

Most importantly, people need to understand how the powers over Scotland that the Union confers on the British political elite are now being deployed in the service of a relentlessly anti-democratic British Nationalist ideology. A ‘One Nation’ project which, if left unchecked, will dismantle our democratic institutions, eradicate our distinctive political culture, destroy our essential public services and seek to obliterate Scotland’s identity as a nation.

Bust all the myths you like! As long as the Union persists others will be devised to take their place. And when the lies cease to be effective, be in no doubt that ruthless Britannia will not flinch from using more aggressive methods to maintain her jealous grasp on Scotland.

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A warning sign?

As they read Martin Hannan’s forensic dismantling of the British establishment’s duplicity and mendacity, younger readers may need to be reminded that there was a time when this sort of revelation cause shock and consternation. As British Nationalist efforts to preserve their precious Union have grown ever more shrill and desperate, we’ve become rather blasé about their perfidy. Another day! Another British Nationalist lie.

But one part of Martin Hannan’s analysis grabbed the attention of even a weary veteran of the constitutional struggle such as myself.

The key point they [Knight Frank] made was that UK funds increased their investment by 58% in 2018, rising from £487 million to £771m – a huge increase of 255% on the 2016 figure of £217m.

This is, indeed, a huge increase. Massive enough, one would have thought, to tickle journalistic curiosity. What prompted such a significant change? What happened to change investors’ attitude to Scotland? What did they find out that suddenly made property in Scotland seem like a much better investment than previously? What factor could be significant enough to explain such a dramatic shift?

Two possible explanations immediately come to mind. Perhaps, in the wake of the EU referendum and the British government’s contemptuous disregard for Scotland’s Remain vote, institutional investors decided that it was now inevitable that Scotland would restore its independence. Maybe they figured that property – particularly commercial property – in a small, EU member state with a prime location and excellent resources, was too good a bet to miss whatever their former prejudices.

Or perhaps these investors were given some kind of assurance that the constitutional issue would be finally resolved in a very different way. Perhaps they were given cause to believe that Scotland was about to be put firmly back in its box. Perhaps their analysis led them to the same conclusion being reached by increasing numbers in the Yes movement – that he British state was planning to ‘deal with’ the Scottish problem in a very British way.

Maybe these investors also saw the signs that the British political elite intended to use the opportunity provided by Brexit to lock Scotland into the Union; re-impose direct rule from London; and disable democratic dissent by ‘suspending’ the Scottish Parliament.

The first of these seems unlikely; not least because of the way acceptance of Scotland’s independence conflicts with the evidently very strong market prejudice which had deterred investment in Scotland. It would require a change of attitude such is not commonly associated with persons or institutions governed by prejudice.

The second of our candidate explanation, by contrast, requires only a change in information such as aligns perfectly with the old prejudices. If investment was deterred by the threat of Scotland’s people exercising their democratic right of self-determination, investors would be greatly reassured to know that the democratic institutions required for this were about to be dismantled.

All speculation, of course. But surely the dictates of precaution demand that we we see in this exceptionally rapid 255% increase in property investment yet another warning of the British state’s malign intentions towards Scotland. And, recognising the threat to our democracy, surely we should take immediate steps to #DissolveTheUnion.

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Worthy winners

Ian Blackford had a hard act to follow in Angus Robertson and it would not be contentious to say that, for many in the SNP, his background in the financial industry made him a controversial choice to lead the SNP group at Westminster. I think we can safely say that all such doubts have been dispelled by Blackford’s performance in the role.

It might be argued that Jeremy Corbyn’s all but total abdication of his duty as leader of the official opposition in the British parliament provided Blackford with a relatively easy opportunity to shine. It could equally be said that he had exceptional responsibility thrust upon him and that he has acquitted himself admirably in the face of growing hostility towards SNP MP’s and increasingly bitter contempt for Scotland at the heart of the British political system.

Mike Russell’s appointment as Scotland’s Brexit Minister also raised a few eyebrows. Not that anybody doubted his abilities. You don’t survive five years as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning without being an adroit politician and tough operator. But there was a certain feeling that Mike Russell’s political career had peaked and that, in selecting someone in the “twilight stage of his political career”, Nicola Sturgeon may have been underestimating just how demanding the Brexit brief was going to be.

As it turned out, Ms Sturgeon’s judgement has been fully vindicated. The Brexit brief has even more demanding than anyone could have imagined. And Mike Russell has been more than up to the task. It is no exaggeration to say that he has been outstanding in the role and totally worthy of the confidence the First Minister had in him.

Given the way SNP MPs are treated by the British political elite, and the manner in which the British establishment has sought to exclude the Scottish Government from the Brexit process, it might be tempting to cast Ian Blackford and Mike Russell in the role of underdogs. I prefer to think of them as unlikely heroes. Unquestionably, they are deserving joint winners of The National’s politician of the year accolade.

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Scotland? What Scotland?

Theresa May has ignored Scotland throughout the whole Brexit process, and excluding The National in this way simply underlines how she is running scared of answering tough questions.

The stuff about Theresa May “running scared” of difficult questions makes for great political rhetoric. But, as I’m sure the First Minister is well aware, it doesn’t quite reflect the reality.

Theresa May is not afraid of tough questions, for two reasons. Firstly, as a professional politician, she is trained to deal with hard interrogation. And, as the British Prime Minister, she has a small army of advisers whose task it is to ensure she is thoroughly briefed and equipped with well-rehearsed responses for any question.

This, incidentally, is how she will deal with Jeremy Corbyn in the proposed TV .debate’. She will be armed with a sword of stock phrases and a shield of glittering generalities. Corbyn will have nothing but a water-pistol loaded with vacuous slogans and the Pac-A-Mac of his self-righteousness.

Then there’s the arrogance. I have not the slightest doubt that Theresa May considers herself an excellent orator and debater. Again, she has a small army of people around her whose jobs rely on assuring their charge of her shining brilliance after every performance – no matter how dire that performance may have been. May, like most senior British politicians, exists in a bubble of near-adulation that shields her from both criticism and reality. She is entirely oblivious to the ineptitude that is clearly apparent to detached observers. And almost entirely unaware of how widely she is detested.

This conceit of herself makes her unafraid. The protective phalanx of minders makes her self-assured.

The significant point in the above quote is right at the start. When Nicola Sturgeon says “Theresa May has ignored Scotland throughout the whole Brexit process”, she hints at what is actually behind decision to exclude The National from her press event. The British establishment has discovered the power of ignoring.

We exist in a world of media. We swim in a sea mediated messages. If something isn’t trending on Twitter or the subject of Facebook fury, it barely exists. If it doesn’t warrant a mention in the crowded 15-20 minute space of rolling news, then it isn’t happening. If it isn’t being talked about by the Andrews Marr and Neil, it just isn’t important.

The British establishment has deployed the ignoring strategy as one strand of its effort to diminish Scotland in the public consciousness. They denigrate our public services, delegitimise our democratic institutions and trivialise Scottish issues They aim to eradicate our distinctive political culture.. They seek to obliterate our national identity in a storm of unionjackery.

The National would seem an obvious target for this studied ignoring. May’s lackeys doubtless thought it in keeping with the ignoring agenda to exclude the paper which, almost uniquely, presents the news from a Scottish perspective. Very evidently, they got it wrong.

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Scotland’s paper

the_nationalThere is an increasing sense that The National is, not just the only newspaper in Scotland to reflect that half of the population which aspires to independence, but also that it is the only part of the media which is actively engaging with Scotland’s politics.

I have long maintained that The National’s real value lay, not in its support for independence, but in the way it demonstrates that a different perspective is possible. There is an alternative to the cosy consensus of the British establishment media. The National has proved that. The National provides it.

The launch of YES DIY is a further step in this process. With its Roadshow events, The National has already established a reputation for reaching out to the public in a manner and to an extent which is, I think, unique in our time. The paper has also gone further than most to allow access to its pages. It devotes an exceptional amount of space to readers letters and comments reprinted from its website. There is already a ‘what’s On’ feature for Yes  events in the print version as well as a very useful online calendar that can be used to create personalised reminders of upcoming events.

This remarkable two-way engagement is now to be enhanced with a twice-weekly feature about Yes groups throughout Scotland. And that is a damned fine thing!

One of the things that inevitably comes up in every discussion of independence campaign strategy is the problem of media access. Well, here it is! Not everything we might wish for. But wishes rarely come true. Not in the way we hope. It’s a start. It’s a foot in the door. The National is a small wedge inserted in a tiny crack in the British establishment’s media armour. It is up to us to drive that wedge home. It is we who must open up that crack until the armour is broken.

I hear criticism of The Nation. Most of it ill-informed. Much of it petty and prejudiced. All of this criticism misses the point that, whatever the paper’s provenance, it is what we make it. Some say The National was only launched to cash in on the demand for a pro-independence newspaper. Well, duh! If the Yes movement has the power to bring about the launch of a new newspaper in a time when the traditional print media is in serious decline, then it has the power to shape that newspaper. Especially when Callum Baird and his team are so evidently amenable.

The National is by no means safe. We cannot afford to take it for granted. There are a lot of very influential people who would like to see it fail. If we make it viable, we make it more secure. If we make it profitable, we effectively own it. It seems obvious to me that the entire Yes movement must get behind The National. Why would we not? Why would we decline this opportunity? That would be madness.

But it’s not only the Yes movement that stands to gain from making The National a success. The National should be respected by all who value media diversity. It should be embraced for the contribution it makes to creating media which serve society and democracy rather than established power and corporate interests.

Buy it! Read it! Share it! Promote it! Make The National work for the Yes movement, for Scotland and for democracy.

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