As things stand, Scotland falls

I realise Shona is trying to smile through the pain here. Using humour to cork her bottled anger. But I’m obliged to take her to task for a particular comment. She writes,

Perhaps Johnson imagines the MP for Orkney and Shetland is in fact in favour of bypassing the referendum process and going for UDI?

I can’t let that one slip by. It just isn’t the case that UDI means “bypassing the referendum”. UDI – or more precisely and to avoid just such confusion – Scottish UDI is simply another route to a referendum. An alternative to the Section 30 process which is so greatly admired by both our First Minister and any British Nationalist you might care to mention. The Section 30 process that Nicola Sturgeon refers to as the “gold standard”. She’s almost correct. The Section 30 is the BRITISH gold standard. That’s why it’s in the Act of the British parliament which serves to justify the withholding of powers which rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament.

Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 is a constitutional catch-all in case anybody found a loophole elsewhere in the legislation by which Scotland might challenge the Union. It’s there to give the British Prime Minister authority to strip even more powers from the Scottish Parliament. It’s there as the British state’s safeguard against the Scottish Parliament becoming troublesome. It’s there to reassure those who thought devolution would put their precious Union in jeopardy.

It’s there to maintain the pretence of a democratic route out of the Union within the legal and constitutional framework of the British state. It’s actual purpose is to allow the British Prime Minister an effective veto over the right of self-determination which, according to international laws and conventions, cannot be denied or constrained.

Failing an outright veto, the Section 30 process (NOT the legislation but the established process) affords the British state a role in Scotland’s exercise of the right of self-determination such as is deprecated by international laws and conventions. A role which can all too readily be used to sabotage the entire exercise.

It’s easy to see why the Section 30 process might earn the “gold standard” accolade from those who are determined to formalise the 313-years of annexation by having Scotland subsumed into a ‘Greater England’ called Britain. It’s not so easy to see why the Section 30 process is so favoured by the de facto figurehead in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Not easy at all. Impossible, in fact.

A thought occurs. Nicola Sturgeon is reputed to be a smart lawyer. Given the true nature of the Section 30 process, I’m prepared to venture a small wager that had she been involved in the negotiations she would have fought tooth and nail to have Section 30 removed. Now, she all but signs a pledge to it in her own blood. Section 30 hasn’t changed. What has?

Maybe it’s the weight of the irony that’s getting me down. Or maybe it’s reading comments from within the Yes movement which help to feed and amplify and propagate the British Nationalist / Nicola Sturgeon line that Scotland pursuing withdrawal in the more normal way would be “illegal and unconstitutional”.

The Section 30 process will not work as a route to independence. That is not its purpose. That would be totally contrary to its purpose. It follows, therefore, that there must be an alternative process. A process entirely made and managed in Scotland under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and other of Scotland’s democratic institutions – even if those institutions have to be created.

It is this alternative process – actually the ‘default’ process to the extent that there is such a thing – which is referred to as #ScottishUDI. At the very heart of that process lies a referendum. Far from #ScottishUDI bypassing or foregoing or excluding a referendum, it is entirely built around the principle of popular sovereignty. It is NOT as liars on both sides of the constitutional divide maintain, a means of preventing the people of Scotland from having the final say. #ScottishUDI is the only way the people of Scotland will have their say.

Section 30 is all about denying and curtailing democracy. #ScottishUDI is all about enabling and facilitating democracy.

It hardly matters. As we move into the end-game of the constitutional battle, the process of locking our ancient and once-proud nation into a Union which defines Scotland as an integral part and mere region of an indivisible and indissoluble British state, is considerable in advance of any moves towards independence. Which is inevitable because there are no moves towards independence. Nicola Sturgeon remains immovably wedded to the Section 30 process. Unless and until she and her party and her government explicitly vacate and renounce their absolute commitment to that process there can be no moves towards independence.

It appears that the lady is not for turning.

Things can change. As I’m sure someone will point out under the illusion that uttering such banalities makes them seem wise. But, as things stand, Nicola Sturgeon is not going to be persuaded from the folly of committing to a process which is critically dependent on the full, willing, unstinting and honest cooperation of the very people most determined to ensure that Scotland never regains her self-respect never mind her independence.

Those people are winning.

To prevent the British Nationalist juggernaut crushing Scotland out of existence, the Section 30 process must go! Or Nicola Sturgeon must go! But only if she is replaced by someone who is prepared to face up to the reality of Scotland’s predicament.

That is not going to happen.

It’s not going to happen because there is nothing and nobody to make it happen. The only possibility of ‘persuading’ Nicola Sturgeon to abandon the Section 30 process was a unified Yes movement. And there’s as much chance of that as there is of Nicola Sturgeon unilaterally declaring Scotland independent.

As things stand, Scotland falls.

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Here be monsters!

What the independence movement didn’t do much of in 2014 was making the claim that remaining a part of the UK was a danger to Scotland, that it risked our democracy, that it was the road to fascism.

Wee Ginger Dug: Scotland isn’t ‘safe’ in this insane right-wing UK

Some of us did. Some of us have for years been warning that the Union is inherently anti-democratic and that the true nature and purpose and effect of the Union needed to be conveyed to the people of Scotland. Some of us have long argued that the question should never have been whether Scotland could survive as an independent nation but whether Scotland could survive as a nation without independence. Some of us have been saying for years that what is needed is not a campaign which behaves as if independence were a nice thing we might have if we could just jump through enough of the hoops set up by the British state, but an essential condition for the survival of Scotland’s democracy and distinctive identity that is being denied us by a malign British ruling elite.

Some of us are determined that the ongoing struggle to restore Scotland’s independence should move away from the obsession with being ‘positive’ that hobbled the 2014 Yes campaign. Some of us are insistent that we recognise that we are in a fight to rescue Scotland from forces which are not just farcically inept but fanatically malevolent. There is a darkness behind the bumbling blonde mop-top facade presented by Boris Johnson within which lurk fearsome monsters; deeply unpleasant ideologies and profoundly disturbing dogmas. Here be monsters!

This is no exaggeration. Were I given to such comparisons I might point out that Adolf Hitler was once regarded as a figure of fun. Having now done just that, I hasten to point out that this is not to suggest that Boris Johnson has latent genocidal tendencies. Only that before your enemies come at you in full armour they approach you in more innocuous garb. Until the mask of artless affability slips you will not see the face of your foe.

If you consider terms such as “enemy” and “foe” to be excessively hyperbolic then take a moment to reflect on the harm being wrought on Scotland by the British state and ask yourself if this is the behaviour of a friend. Or a partner. Or even an ally. The British political elite is embarked on a massive social engineering project designed and implemented by people who see society as a machine which must be controlled. and themselves as the ones best qualified to be in control. The design may seem haphazard and the implementation half-arsed, but the underlying direction of travel is all one way – towards what is euphemistically referred to a ‘managed democracy’. How better to demonstrate the need for a mechanic than to have the the car break-down. How better to convince people of the need for ‘extraordinary measures’ that to to create the kind of chaos which defies ‘normal politics’.

Here in Scotland we don’t have to wait to see what British managed democracy looks and feel like. We have lived with managed democracy as long as we have any form of democracy. We have lived with it so long that many people are only now coming to realise that our democracy is being managed. The Union ensures that whatever democracy we may have it will always be subject to the approval of England-as-Britain. We can always be outvoted. And failing that our democratic choices can be refused regardless.

We have seen this managed democracy starkly illustrated throughout the Brexit process. Properly democratic countries freely negotiate the terms on which they associate with other nations. Scotland has been denied this. It is the Union which affords a varnish of legitimacy to this denial.

We see the unmistakable imprint of managed democracy in the Section 30 process. A legislative device which allows the British political elite an effective veto on and controlling role in the exercise of the right of self-determination which in a true democracy is the exclusive preserve of the people.

Devolution is supposed to be a testament to British democracy. In fact, it testifies only to a a slight easing of the choke-chain but with jealous Britannia ever poised to yank it tight at any moment. Our democracy is by definition being managed if powers are being withheld from our Parliament. If your democratic rights are constrained in any way then you are not enjoying democracy you are enduring a form of low-level tyranny

The purpose of the Union was from its inception and remains to this day to make Scotland manageable. To rein us in. To put a choke chain around the nation’s neck. Lately, Scotland has started to growl. The British can only respond by tightening that choke-chain. The gradualist approach to resolving the constitutional anomaly of the Union has been effective inasmuch as it has allowed us to develop the capacity to growl. But this approach can only work to win us room to manoeuvre. Britannia’s grip on the on the other end of that choke- chain is not going to loosen because we pull at it. It will have to be wrenched from her hand. It will have to be wrested from her grasp. If we do not do this now then the leash that binds Scotland to the British state will be more securely fastened. Escape may be impossible.

Some of us see the monsters. Some of us see the Union for the threat that it is. It’s time more people did.

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A cancerous thing

That “the current constitutional arrangements are what got us in this degree of peril in the first place” is not “an alternative view” as Ruth Wishart suggests in The National today, It is the main view. The true perspective. The fist explanation for which we should reach when commenting on yet another instance or example of the British government’s casually calculated contempt for Scotland. The “current constitutional arrangements” – by which one must assume Ruth Wishart means the Union – are not a subsidiary explanation for Scotland’s subsidiary status in the UK as evidenced by the entire Brexit fiasco. They are the explanation for every one of the daily slights, snubs, rebuffs, insults, traducements, calumniations, defamations and denigrations which characterise the British political elite’s treatment of Scotland in all things and at all times.

Only the detail changes. Always, the Union is to be found underlying and underpinning this abusive relationship. For it is the Union which defines this relationship. That relationship having been defined as it has for more than three centuries, it can hardly be surprising if British politicians perceive Scotland accordingly and treat Scotland appropriately according to that perception. Abusive relationships are self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. Abuse is normalised to the point where it’s just use. It’s just the way things are. It is the natural order.

Thus, we get the ‘casual’ aspect of that “casually calculated contempt” as so sickeningly demonstrated by Michael Gove in the tweet which provoked Ruth Wishart’s justified anger. Cutting Scotland (and the other devolved administrations) out of every stage and facet of the Brexit process may seem to us like deliberate, purposeful, considered action. But it is not. Or, at least, not necessarily. Rather, the attitude which informs this behaviour is an inevitable product of the Union. So, the behaviour itself may be seen as such also. The Union is both the cause of and the reason for the abusive relationship.

Politics is the set of processes by which social animals regulate and manage relationships of power. The politics can be crude. Establishing the parameters of a power relationship may be achieved by an overwhelming display of brutish aggression. Or the relationship may be manipulated by more subtle means. When politics works, the power relationship finds a state of dynamic stability. Always changing. Forever shifting. But consistently functional. The social system is not disrupted. Nobody dies.

Politics can fail. The processes by which relationships of power can fail. They can break down in various ways. Commonly, the processes by which power relationships are maintained in a functional state will fail due to one or more of the parties to a relationship being deficient in the required skills. But normal politics can also be prevented from working by some intervention. By the insertion or intrusion into the relations of some device. Marriage is such a device. It imposes a contractual arrangement on the relationship which interferes with or circumvents the normal politics. Things that usually would be negotiated – even if unconsciously – are now not because the contract imposes conditions. Solutions that might otherwise be found are not because the contract precludes them. A functional equilibrium is not arrived at.

Absent the usual regulatory mechanisms the power relationship may tend to tip erratically one way or another. Or it may settle into a state of stable imbalance. The balance of power may tip – or be tipped – so far to one side that it doesn’t rebound. That is what the Union did. It tipped the balance in England’s favour and kept it there by preventing the normal operation of politics. Only by removing the Union can there be a return to normal politics. Only once the Union is ended can the imbalance be rectified.

But the imbalance suits some people. It advantages certain individuals and social groups relative to others within the same community. It stands to reason, therefore, that those people will seek to maintain the imbalance which so favours them. It makes perfect sense that those who benefit from the Union should wish to preserve it. The benefit need not be great. It may even be illusory. But people will generally fight to maintain whatever advantage they have. There is a powerful survival instinct at work.

Hence, the ‘calculated’ aspect of that “casually calculated contempt”. England-as-Britain treats its periphery with a contempt which is casual because the superiority / inferiority is a given – the ‘natural order’; and because maintaining this imbalance is essential to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which serve the political, social and economic elites of the British state – at excessive cost to those who must pay in diverse ways to fuel the very system which disadvantages them. The contempt in Gove’s snubbing of the Scottish Government merely reflects the reality with which he is content. The timing and manner of the snub is calculated to reinforce the basis for that contempt.

So it is, and so it shall remain until the Union is ended. Abusive relationships do not heal themselves. Formalised asymmetries of power do not spontaneously regain equilibrium. Grotesque constitutional anomalies do not rectify themselves. Just as the intervention of the Union suppressed Scotland’s normal political functioning, so a drastic intervention is required in order to restore that functioning.

Independence is normal. It is not normal that a nation such as Scotland should be purposefully and maliciously denied its rightful constitutional status. It is not normal that the people of Scotland should be denied the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty that is theirs by absolute right. It is not normal that Scotland should be forcefully prevented from freely negotiating the terms on which it associates with other nations. Brexit merely exemplifies the abnormality. Section 30 is but one product of the abnormality. Devolution perpetuates the abnormality. But none of these things is the abnormality.

The Union is the abnormality. It is the cancer that depletes and diminishes us. It defines and embodies the “current constitutional arrangements” which imperil Scotland.

Ruth Wishart is right. We cannot and must not be distracted from or deceived about what it is that constitutes the threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions, social contract, economic infrastructure and very identity as a nation. To be distracted from or deceived about the fact that it is the Union which is the threat will inevitably mean failure to find the appropriate solution. That solution – the only solution – is to cut out the cancer. We must end the Union. And we must do so with all haste. For bad as Brexit is, worse is yet to come.

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March against the Union

With regard to marches, as with everything else, there’s never a lack of naysayers within the Yes movement. It doesn’t seem to matter what you do or propose to do, there are always people who will sniffily insist that you should be doing something else. And, of course, there are always those who take against an action or initiative for reasons they’re reluctant to provide but, being unable to formulate a rational argument, resort to insisting simply that the thing will ‘put off soft No voters’; or ‘play into the hands of the Unionists’. Don’t ask them to explain these claims or supply any supporting evidence. You’ll just confuse them.

Marches are no exception. Every time a march and rally is held you’ll find the usual suspects on social media trying to make those attending feel guilty by saying they should be out leafleting instead. Or manning street stalls. Or whatever. What they should be doing is anything but whatever it is that they are doing.

In fact, there are few if any occasions on which marches interfere with other campaigning activities. That’s because the people organising those activities are not daft. They know the dates of the marches well in advance and organise leafleting runs and street stalls etc. around those dates. It is also the case that, however many people turn out for the marches there are always those who can’t or won’t go and who are therefore available for doing other things. The complaints are nonsense.

Marches and rallies serve a purpose. They serve more than one purpose. They increase the visibility of the Yes movement and help to normalise the idea of independence. They also provide an opportunity for networking. Many worthwhile initiatives have been conceived among activists gathered in pubs and cafes during and after these events. Folk from the borders get to connect with folk from the north. Folk from the cities get to connect with folk from the isles. Folk from furth of Scotland’s borders add their input to this great cauldron of ideas and enthusiasm. All it takes is the spark of an idea and a fresh fire is lit.

That said, I do have issues with these marches and rallies. All too often they lack focus. It can be hard to tell at times if you’re attending a march in support of Scottish independence or a demonstration against the Tories. Or nuclear weapons. Or zero-hour contracts. Or capitalism. Maybe it’s a climate change protest. Or an effort to save whales or trees or…. You get the idea.

What really troubled me about the marches last year was that they continued to direct public ire in the direction of London when it had become more appropriate to direct it towards Edinburgh. They were about sending a message to Westminster when we really needed to be talking to (or shouting at!) Holyrood. They were demanding change in the UK’s governance when the Yes movement is supposed to be about constitutional reform in Scotland. I needed no other reason to abhor the anti-Tory chants and banners than that they totally missed the point.

What was true in the summer of 2019 is even more true now. The government we need to be urging into action is our own – the Scottish Government. The party we should be naming in those chants and on the banners is the SNP. The parliament we should be petitioning is the Scottish Parliament. The rest is irrelevant.

Tories will always be Tories. No march, however huge, will alter them. And they aren’t really the problem. They are only a small part of it. Because it’s not just that Scotland gets Tory governments we voted against. It’s not even that we so rarely get governments in London which sort of reflect how we voted in Scotland. The problem is that we are obliged by the constitutional settlement to accept that we are not entitled to expect always to get the government we vote for. It matters not at all what British party is in power at Westminster, it will have won power on the back of English votes. If the party they choose happens to be the same British party branch we’ve voted for in Scotland we are supposed to be grateful for British democracy. If the party they choose is not the one we have voted for we are supposed to be uncomplaining about British demockracy.

Changing governments in London changes nothing for Scotland. No British government will ever consider Scotland’s interests as a priority. No British government will serve Scotland’s interests other than when doing so serves the interests of the British state. Attempting to address Scotland’s problems by fiddling with the Westminster arithmetic is like imagining you can make rotten food edible by stirring it. Protesting against Tories and Westminster is just futile flailing at the surface. Whatever part of the surface you may be attacking, peel it back and you’ll find the Union.

It is the Union which stipulates that Scotland must always be subordinate and secondary and powerless within the UK. That is what the Union was intended to do. It’s what the Union has always been for. Only by ending the Union can Scotland enjoy true democracy. The Union must deny democracy in order that the Union might persist. The Union must persist in order that democracy can be denied. Democracy must be conditional on whatever serves the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

The Union is the choke-chain around Scotland’s throat. If marches and rallies and other Yes activities aren’t trying to break that chain then, whatever good they may do in some regards, they are doing nothing for the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

I appeal to all of those organising marches and rallies to put their best efforts into persuading participants to protest against the Union. I urge all of those involved to focus their attention and efforts on demanding action by the Scottish Government in the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of breaking the chains that keep Scotland at the mercy of a corrupt and incompetent British political elite.

I ask that all Yes activists support the aims of White Rose Rising (www,

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The wrong question

It’s the wrong question. Whether the British Electoral Commission should have any involvement is a moot point. The Scottish Parliament has decided. But it’s the wrong question.

One of those strange contradictions that seem to be a feature of politics is to be found in the observation that the new referendum will not be like the 2014 referendum coupled with an insistence that the new referendum campaign must be exactly the same as that for the 2014 referendum. Various politicians and other leading figures in the independence movement seem perfectly comfortable with pointing out all the ways in which the circumstances have changed, and advising that this fact inform our thinking on campaign strategy for the new referendum, and then describing a strategy that is indistinguishable from the one used in the old referendum campaign.

The language is identical. All the talk of “listening” and “conversation” and “being positive” is precisely what was inculcated into campaigners all through the first referendum campaign. The Section 30 process must be followed exactly as it was then. The questions must be the same as it was then. The entire referendum must be framed just as was the 2014 referendum campaign. No lessons have been learned from that campaign. None!

The main lesson to be learned from the first independence referendum campaign is that we should not conduct such a campaign again. This is not to say that the strategy adopted then was wrong. In many respects, there was no choice. Compromises had to be made. Much of what was done was perfectly appropriate in the circumstances that prevailed at the time. Context matters.

The context is very different now. It has been changed, not least by the first referendum itself and the British state’s response to it, both during and after. It was changed by EVEL. It was changed by the Smith Commission and the subsequent tinkering with devolution. It was changed, perhaps most obviously, by Brexit. What is appropriate to this new context is, in many ways, the opposite of what was suited to or dictated by the context of the 2014 campaign.

Things that weren’t mistakes back then now look like mistakes with hindsight and would be mistakes now. That is why they look like mistakes with hindsight. We are looking at them through the prism of the present context. Or, at least, some of us are.

Perhaps the most fundamental example of something that wasn’t a mistake then but would be now is making independence the contentious issue. Independence is normal. It is the Union which is anomalous. It is the Union which is the ‘naturally’ contentious issue.

And there’s another problem with putting independence front and centre rather than the Union. The following is from an article I wrote in September 2019.

Not only did the question on the 2014 ballot paper make independence the contentious issue, it ensured that the Yes campaign was built around a contested concept. There was then, and still is, no single agreed definition of independence. The term, as it applied to Scotland, meant many different things to different people. Myriad individuals and groups within the Yes movement all presented voters with their own conception of and vision for independence. The Yes campaign became a confusing fog of competing messages and was thereby rendered very much less effective than it might have been.

Because independence is a contested concept, it is inherently susceptible to being misrepresented and burdened with all manner of prejudicial associations. It was, in other words, highly vulnerable to precisely the kind of negative propaganda effort to which the anti-independence campaign predictably resorted.

That was NOT the question!

The lesson is not exactly subtle. Don’t do that again! For various reasons, it was the best – or only – way to go about things the first time, which we may best regard as preparing the ground for the referendum that actually matters. We’re not at that stage any more. We should have moved on. We should now be putting the Union on trial.

The question on the ballot paper must make the Union the contentious issue. Rather than asking if Scotland should be an independent country we should be asking if Scotland should dissolve the Union. The question should be formulated in such a way as to ensure Yes and No responses have the same implication as in the first referendum.

This would transform the debate and avoid it being no more than a rerun of the previous debate – which would tend to deter engagement. It would be an entirely new debate for an entirely different referendum.

Why is it not obvious that this is what is required?

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The dilemma of conflicting imperatives

The trouble with saying that this isn’t what it looks like is that it induces people to think about what it looks like rather than what it’s being presented as. A bit like telling someone not to think about a pink elephant. Deferring the spring conference looks very like a pink elephant.

The problem wouldn’t arise, of course, if there weren’t reasons for supposing the SNP might wish to postpone the conference that have nothing to do with whatever it is that isn’t a pink elephant. If there weren’t widespread concern within the party and beyond about Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional question then people would not be able to ascribe ulterior motives to those responsible for putting conference off for three months.

People tend to think the worst of politicians and party managers. I wonder why.

Let’s deny them the benefit of the doubt for the moment. Let’s suppose the worst. Let’s assume the conference has been delayed to save the platform-sitters from having to face awkward questions from delegates who are less than enamoured with elements of their leadership’s performance. Will a two or three month delay solve the problem? Let’s think!

If the party hierarchy thinks a conference in March or April would be marked (marred?) by scenes of discontent and even dissent then they must reckon there to be cause for that discontent/dissent. And if they think it’s safe to have the conference in June, they must be calculating that the aforementioned cause of discontent and/or dissent will be eliminated before then. Which in turn suggests that something significant is going to happen in the interim.

What might that be?

Speculation is rife. Well, it is in my head. Thing is, there’s not that much to speculate about. It’s that old thing about imperatives and options again. The key to some kind of understanding of the ebb, flow and swirl of the political tides. Or at least, the key to turning idle speculation into informed analysis.

In terms of the constitutional issue, the British state’s overarching imperative – what drives its behaviour – is the need to preserve the Union at quite literally any cost. Their options all derive from the Union and the power relationship that it creates and perpetuates whereby the British state – or England-as-Britain or Borissia – is in all respects and at all times around eight times more powerful than Scotland. As if every voter in England-as-Britain had eight votes to every one vote for individuals in Scotland. (This, incidentally, is a major factor in the increasing number of English people in Scotland supporting independence. They are better placed to see the imbalance than ‘native’ Scots who have only ever lived in Scotland.)

What this means is that the British state has, if not unlimited options, certainly uncountable options. Effectively, the British political elite can do as it pleases with and to Scotland. The Union was intended to solve the ‘Scottish problem’. It was meant to remove Scotland as a threat to England. To achieve this, a grotesquely asymmetric political union was devised and imposed on Scotland. Even three hundred years ago the people detested the Union. But Scotland’s ruling elites were assured that they would be protected from the effects of this imbalance of power.

That constitutional arrangement; that grotesque imbalance of power, remains fundamentally unchanged to this day. Society has changed beyond recognition since 1707. But the Union has not changed accordingly. Such changes as there have been – notably devolution – were intended to reinforce and preserve the imbalance rather than to reform and rectify it.

In the UK, people in Scotland are second-class citizens at best. The Union makes it so. We have a second-class parliament. The Union so stipulates. We have a second-class government. The Union allows no more. Not second-class in the sense of qualitatively inferior. Certainly second-class in terms of political power. Our Scottish Parliament may have immeasurably greater democratic legitimacy than Westminster. But it must always be subordinate. Our Scottish Government may be considerably more effective in addressing the needs, priorities and aspirations of the nation’s people. But it must always be subordinate to even the worst of administrations in London. Our people may be little different from the resident of Borissia. But we do not have the same right to choose the government that best suits our needs. The Union underpins this inequity.

This is the reality of the Union. A reality that is abhorred by many who appreciate the true nature of Scotland’s predicament; tolerated by those whose fear or apathy outweighs their self-respect and sense of justice; embraced by those whose conceit of themselves is that they are, or can hope to become, part of the cossetted elite.

But to our speculation. The foregoing has, I hope, served to explain why the British state has so many options. Or, to put it another way, so few constraints on how it acts towards Scotland. This is why restoring Scotland’s independence will require an exceptional effort on the part of boldly imaginative and utterly determined people.

Which brings me to the Scottish Government. No! really! Settle down!

What is the Scottish Government’s imperative? What drives the SNP administration? There can be no doubt that in relation to the day-to-day governance of the nation, the SNP administration seeks to serve the interests of Scotland’s people. And does so with quiet competence. Perhaps too quiet. Everybody will have their pet gripes, of course. But overall, the SNP administration has done a truly remarkable job considering the daunting constraints of devolution and an increasingly hostile British state.

All of which may well be part of the problem. The SNP is not only supposed to provide good government. It is also the de facto political arm of the independence movement. A role which bestows upon the party duties and responsibilities quite distinct from the duties and responsibilities of government. In relation to its role as a party of government the SNP’s imperative must be to stay in office. To win elections. To conduct itself in such a way as will enable it to win elections.

In relation to its role as the political arm of the independence movement, however, the driving imperative must be the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But to the considerable extent that options for action are related to power, the SNP is relatively powerless against the British state and its uncountable options. This we know. This we understand. What may be less well recognised or appreciated is the conflict between the two imperatives driving the SNP. On the one hand, its role as the governing party means it must conform to and comply with the unjust conditions imposed by the Union. On the other, its imperative in relation to its role as the party of independence obliges it to behave contrary to those conditions.

Basically, the SNP can’t do its job as a government if it fulfils its role as the party of independence.

Which imperative wins? Ultimately, the party must choose. It may well be that this choice was on the cards for the SNP’s spring conference. Whispers are growing daily about grassroots pressure on the party leadership for a change of approach to the constitutional question. It would, from a pragmatic point of view, be understandable if the leadership preferred to postpone this confrontation. Much as they’ve avoided the confrontation with the British state which will come at some point if the shackles of the Union are to be broken.

If the postponement is to allow the party bosses time to prepare for the coming contest of priorities – or imperatives – I’m fine with that. It’s a crucial issue. It deserves and requires preparation. If the postponement is for the purpose of preempting the confrontation by taking some kind of extraordinary action, I’ll be even better pleased. But if the postponement turns out to be nothing more than kicking the can down the road from reluctance to face up to the issue, I will not be well pleased.

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Get out of the shit!

Do we really need any further demonstration of “how broken the Westminster system is“? And if we do, does that not suggest the independence campaign has signally failed to fulfil its purpose? After all, circumstances could hardly be more propitious for an effort to persuade the general public that the British political system is a ruinous mess. But, apparently, that message still hasn’t been successfully conveyed to the general public. This surely raises serious questions about the methods being used to convey the message.

Is anyone asking those questions? Are searching questions being asked of those who are responsible for determining strategy? Have any answers been forthcoming?

Elsewhere in today’s National, we find news of the launch of a “new Independence campaign based on ‘internationally successful’ model”. Turns out it’s the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) again with the first of what I’m sure will be many “new” initiatives it will launch this year. In fact, there is nothing new at all. It’s Voices for Scotland which was first launched – or should that be last launched – in 2019. Apparently, this organisation “encourages members to speak to undecided voters to persuade them to back the independence cause”. Hooray for blue-sky thinking! You really left the box behind on that one, team! Who knew that the way to conduct a campaign to persuade people to support a cause might be by trying to persuade people to support that cause? Using “gentle persuasion”, no doubt.

What’s actually happening is that the SIC has heard about the recent calls to set up a new Yes campaign organisation and figured they might be getting sidelined so they issued a statement about the launch of a”new” initiative just to remind people that they’re still around. The trouble is, the independence movement has even more such ‘initiatives’ than the Scottish Government has mandates for a new referendum. Is nobody asking why?

The obvious reason for needing a proliferation of such initiatives is that the previous initiatives haven’t done what they were initiated to do. They have left the independence campaign still needing further demonstrations of “how broken the Westminster system is”.

In real life, if you were being shat upon you would tend to be aware of the fact. There would be unmistakable indications. You’d be likely to detect the signs and register the fact of having been shat upon. In politics, it can be different. In politics, established power has at its disposal a vast apparatus dedicated to diverting your attention from the fact that you are being shat upon by the ruling elites. Should you be one of those tiresome individuals who are not easily distracted, that same media machinery can be deployed to convince you that what is raining on you from above is not faeces but pixie dust. Only a fool would mistake the boons and favours bestowed by a beneficent government on its people for sewerage! You’re not a fool, are you?

To date, the independence campaign has been almost entirely focused on describing a place where you don’t get shat upon. Or, at least, not so much. And if you do get shat upon, it doesn’t smell as bad. Whatever! It’s better than your present situation. Now, here’s a funny thing about people! People are perfectly capable of simultaneously not believing in the existence of such a place and being comforted by its existence. Tell them tales of a land where they won’t be shat upon and part of them will reject the notion and part of them will find such solace in the idea of a better place to come that they are better able to tolerate the place they’re in.

It doesn’t matter which of these mindsets dominates. Both make the individual less likely to succumb to the blandishments of the independence campaign and more susceptible to the dire warnings and glittering promises being churned out by the establishment’s propaganda machine. Or, to put it another way, shown on BBC1.

What the independence campaign has NOT been doing – or doing enough – is screaming “Yeeeuchhh! Look at the ordure that’s pouring down upon you! Look at the filth! Smell the stench! For goodness sake, get out of there!”

What the independence campaign has NOT been doing is pointing to the source of that effluent. Lest you have become too immersed in my metaphor (see what I did there?), I’m talking about the Union.

There are in Scotland, unfortunately and inexplicably, a significant number of people who take the view that the best the people of Scotland deserve or can hope for is more excretory product evacuated from Britannia’s bowels. But there are many others who might be persuaded that the shit-shower has become intolerable and that they should cease to endure it.

The British state is not just broken, it is diseased. Scotland has managed to stay relatively free of the malady that has afflicted England-as-Britain. But we are not immune. The longer we hang around, the more chance there is that we will be infected. To get out of the shit, we have to break the Union.

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British Army camps in Scotland following the Battle of Culloden. –

If you know where you want to go but need to figure out how to get there then you also need to know where you are. Only when you know the starting point and the end point can you begin to plot a course from one to the other. I say “begin” because identifying the start and end points is only part of the task. Arguably, the easiest part. Because plotting a course between the two requires that you take account of all the points that lie on your proposed course. You need to know where all the obstacles and potential bottlenecks are. You need to know as much as possible about everything that you may encounter on your journey.

Of course, if there is a long, straight road in good condition with no tolls and guaranteed ideal weather, your task is easy. But even then there may be unforeseen impediments such as breakdowns and pile-ups. You have to be prepared to deal with these.

Most of you will have realised by now that I’m not talking about an excursion from Perth to the beach at Aberdour. I’m talking about the journey from Scotland’s present situation to the restoration of our nation’s independence.

We have a pretty good idea of the destination. In fact, we have a plethora of such ideas. Everybody in Scotland’s independence movement may be broadly in agreement about where we want to be when we arrive, but there is considerable difference of opinion about what this place looks like. Not that it is necessary to know what it looks like in order to travel there. But if descriptions differ too much then people will come to think they are headed for a different place altogether. This is what I mean when I say that ‘independence’ is a disputed concept.

It is not possible to build an effective single-issue political campaign around a disputed concept. Such a campaign requires unity, focus and discipline. It can have none of these while there is disagreement about the campaign’s objective. Even a relatively small disagreement will impair focus and fracture unity and lead to indiscipline. Where the disagreement is significant, the campaign will effectively become two or more campaigns competing amongst themselves and failing to adequately engage with the opposition.

That’s what happened in the 2014 referendum campaign. The diversity of the Yes movement became division within the campaign. There was a failure to properly identify and clearly define the common aim. The campaign had nothing around which to coalesce – other than the disputed concept of ‘independence’. As a consequence, the Yes campaign tended to be diffuse, diluted and depleted. It may be argued that the effect was slight. But when an issue is as finely balanced as the constitutional question, small errors can have an impact disproportionate to their size.

The common factor in all visions of independence is the dissolution of the Union. No matter how you envisage independence dissolving the Union is a prerequisite.

Since the first Scottish independence referendum I have been mostly concerned with process – the route by which we reach our destination. I very quickly came to some conclusions. I came to realise that there is no route to independence which abides by the rules set down by the British government. And that there is no route to independence that doesn’t involve confrontation with the British establishment.

Annexation, a formal act whereby a state proclaims its sovereignty over territory hitherto outside its domain. Unlike cession, whereby territory is given or sold through treaty, annexation is a unilateral act made effective by actual possession and legitimized by general recognition.

Annexation is frequently preceded by conquest and military occupation of the conquered territory.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

We were told, and most believed, that Scotland had a democratic route to independence by way of a referendum sanctioned by the UK Government. This is the Section 30 process which was followed for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. But there is a major problem with this in that the Section 30 process can only work with the full and willing and honest cooperation of the British state. And there is less than no reason to believe that such cooperation might ever be forthcoming.

England-as-Britain not only won’t allow Scotland to restore its independence, it can’t. It is politically impossible for England-as-Britain to permit the dissolution of the Union because, without Scotland, England-as-Britain becomes just England. Without Scotland, the Britain which is the conceit of the ruling elites ceases to exist. Without the Union, the structures of power, privilege and patronage which maintain established power will be weakened to the point of disintegration. The Union is the keystone of those structures. Scotland is a supporting pillar.

So long as there was a democratic route to independence, however questionable, the pretence of a “Union of equals” could be maintained. Many – and one suspects Nicola Sturgeon to be among them – believed, and continue to believe as Michael Fry does. This from his column in The National.

Outrageous as it may be for Boris to deny that the result of the UK General Election makes any difference, there is, legally and constitutionally, no alternative to waiting till he changes his mind. So we will get no new referendum in 2020. We’ll just have to wait and see if outright SNP victory in the Holyrood election of 2021 causes a political rethink in Downing Street. Not only the Scottish government but also various respected independent commentators have been saying it would surely need to.

This is why ‘DIY’ indyref2 won’t be able to deliver independence

Depressing as this description of the situation may be, it accurately reflects Scotland’s true predicament in all respects other than the implied hope that something might make Boris Johnson change his mind and grant a Section 30 order. Or the variation on this hope which supposes that a change of attitude may come with a change of government at Westminster. Both are forlorn hopes. There will be no change of heart; no change of mind; no rethink. No British Prime Minister will ever sanction any process which places the Union in jeopardy. Even if they were minded to do so, they would be prevented.

The Section 30 process is, as I have long maintained, nothing more than a device by which the pretence of democracy could be maintained. A way of keeping alive the hope and belief that Scotland has a democratic route out of the Union. The Section 30 process is a lie.

Why then, you may ask, do we have the likes of Gordon “Intervention Man” Brown striding out of the shadows and onto the stage to warn in doom-lade tones that London rule may ‘soon be over’? There are a number of reasons. Rallying the forces of British Nationalism would be one. Ensuring that the Tories get the blame for putting the Union at risk another. Brown being a pompous, self-regarding, attention-seeking prick who craves the status of a senior statesman that he cannot earn might have something to do with it. But the most important reason, and the one most people may not recognise, is the need to maintain the illusion of the Union being under threat. The illusion that Scotland has a way of dissolving the Union.

Without this pretence, only one conclusion is possible. That there is no democratic route to independence. Or, at least, that there is no democratic route which is both guaranteed and accessible. That is to say, a process which exists and cannot be unilaterally altered. A process which is entirely internal to Scotland. A process which can be initiated and followed by the democratically elected representatives of Scotland’s people without interference or hindrance from any external power.

That is the reality of Scotland’s predicament. It has been the clearly recognisable reality for several years. It is the reality behind the concerns I have expressed about the Section 30 process. It is the reality which I preferred not to explicitly acknowledge whilst it was still possible to pretend that the Section 30 process is what it purports to be.

Without a process such as I have described by which Scotland’s constitutional status can be normalised according to the will of Scotland’s people our present constitutional status cannot be what we have long believed it to be. The starting point on our journey to independence is not what we thought it was. We are not in the place we imagined we were. And this has massive implications for the independence movement and for the Scottish Government.

Without a process by which Scotland can get out of the Union at will it can no longer be maintained that Scotland remains in the Union by consent. Consent that cannot be withdrawn as readily as it is given isn’t consent at all.

Without an accessible process by which consent can be freely withdrawn Scotland’s status cannot be that of a party to a political union freely entered into and continued. Rather, Scotland must be regarded as annexed territory. Scotland must be regarded as having been annexed by England by stealth over the period since the Union was first imposed on us. Either the Treaty of Union was, in reality, a Declaration of Annexation, or the terms of that treaty have been unilaterally altered by or on behalf of England over the last 313 years.

The question facing Scotland, therefore, is not whether we wish to become independent – that choice is not available to us – but whether we are prepared to tolerate the annexation of our country. And if not, what are we to do about it. Particularly as such a large proportion of Scotland’s people appear eager or content to accept Scotland’s status as a shackled nation.

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Scotland’s predicament – a dose of reality!

The Scotland Act wouldn’t exist and devolution wouldn’t have happened if it put the Union in jeopardy. There is and can be, no route to independence that remains within the confines of laws, rules and procedures which are designed for the preservation of the Union. Neither is there any path to independence which does not pass through a point at which there is direct and inevitably acrimonious confrontation with the British establishment.

I have been saying this for five years. And I cannot possibly be the only person who has woken up to the harsh reality of Scotland’s predicament. I have no special insights and I find it glaringly obvious that where there is a political imperative every option will be explored to satisfy that imperative. The British state has always considered it imperative to keep Scotland under London control. That’s what the Union is all about. It is about preventing us from being a nation. It’s about stopping us being any more different than is expedient politically and economically. It is about the status of Britain and the British ruling elites’ conceit of themselves.

Given all that, it can hardly come as a surprise that the same ruling elites have contrived over the last 300 years to devise ways of locking Scotland into what we like to insist is still a voluntary political union.

If, as is now beyond question, there is no guaranteed democratic route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence accessible at will and independently of any other authority by the democratically elected representatives of Scotland’s people then this necessarily implies either that the Union was, in fact, annexation of Scotland by England or that Scotland has since been annexed by stealth.

Scotland has been annexed by England-as-Britain. Until the independence movement and the SNP acknowledge this reality, we are going nowhere. We’ve been fighting the wrong battle. We’ve been fighting for independence when we should have been fighting against annexation. We should have been fighting against the Union.

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When the facts change…

I used to say that independence was inevitable because any constitutional settlement which succeeded terms of the aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

I used to say independence was inevitable because a political union which can only be sustained with imperious intimidation, empty promises, brazen dishonesty, vicious smears and utter contempt for democratic principles is a political union which is broken beyond repair. It is a political union which cannot be maintained.

I no longer regard independence as inevitable. I now recognise the possibility that independence might not happen. Not because my earlier arguments have become less valid. But because, for independence to happen, somebody has to make it happen.

Independence isn’t happening, because the people who should be making it happen aren’t.

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