A question of trust

ruth_davidsonFar from the least of the problems with Theresa May’s latest attempt to make the rough-hewn square peg of Brexit fit the well-formed round hole of reality is the question of trust. For example, when the British government undertakes to pay “due regard” to European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings relating to the rules the UK will share with Brussels, why would anyone assume this to mean that the British government will respect those rulings? Anyone even minimally aware of the British state’s record in relation to such undertakings would have to be exceedingly sceptical. Anyone familiar with ‘The Vow’ made to Scotland in 2014 would openly scoff at the notion of trusting the British political elite.

If there was any intention to respect ECJ rulings, why not just say so? Why not make that commitment explicit? Why resort to such vague terms? When such woolly language is used it becomes a matter of how it is defined. And of who does the defining.

This being the British political elite, it is safe to assume that they reserve to themselves the role of ultimate arbiters in this, as in all things. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that “due regard” might be defined in the same self-serving manner as the British political elite defines the “consent” of the Scottish Parliament to whatever it is that the British political elite wants to do to Scotland. Thus, the British government will be deemed to have given “due regard” to any ECJ ruling if –

(a) the ruling is accepted
(b) the ruling is ignored
(c) the ruling is rejected

To most of us, I’m sure, this is the stuff of Orwellian madness. But, to those mired in the dogmatic exceptionalism of British Nationalist ideology, it all seems perfectly reasonable. The reasonableness derives from it being British, regardless of the content. This may seem improbable. Many will ask how it is possible – absent some pathology – for any human intellect to deny such glaring inconsistency, contradiction and illogic. But we are dealing here with minds capable of the kind of doublethink which allows British politicians to pay lip service to Scotland’s Claim of Right whilst using those same lips to spit on Scotland’s right of self-determination.

And there is no escaping the fact that the British government actually drafted an amended the Scotland Act which Jonathan Mitchell QC condemned as “a rapist’s theory of consent”.

30 (4) For the purposes of subsection (3) a consent decision is—
(a) a decision to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the draft,
(b) a decision not to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the draft, or
(c) a decision to agree a motion refusing to consent to the laying of the draft;

In any negotiation there must be trust. There must be a certain minimum confidence that the parties to the negotiation are acting in good faith. There must be a reasonable expectation that undertakings made will be honoured. The British political elite has shown itself to be deceitful, duplicitous and dishonest. They cannot be trusted. Therefore, there can be no basis for agreement.

If there is no reason for the EU to trust the British state, there is even less cause for Scotland to do so. We trust the British government at our peril. We are paying a steep price for having believed British politicians in 2014. The cost of trusting them now will be far, far higher.

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No negativity

Having read the headline over Iain Macwhirter’s article in the Herald, I scoured what followed looking for some statement from Nicola Sturgeon quoted as evidence that the SNP is backing a “negative pro-EU campaign”. I wasn’t disappointed. But only because I knew better than to expect one. Instead of something – anything! – to justify the headline all we get is some wild imaginings about and “alliance” between Sturgeon and Tony Blair and the even more surreal notion of the First Minister putting her signature next that of David Cameron on a new version of the infamous “Vow”.

The important thing to remember here is that none of this is real. There is no Sturgeon/Blair “alliance”. There is no “Vow” with Nicola Sturgeon’s signature on it. There is no SNP backing for a “negative pro-EU campaign. None of this has actually happened. Having seen it in print, the more susceptible British nationalists will adopt it as fact. They can’t help themselves. The rest of us really need to avoid that kind of stupidity.

But this is not the limit of Iain Macwhirter’s imaginings. There’s the fiction that “the SNP has always held up Norway as the model for an independent Scotland”. In reality, independence supporters sometimes refer to certain aspects of Norway’s social and economic policy as examples which might inform possible alternatives available to an independent Scotland. See the difference?

Then we have possibly the most bizarre bit of Macwhirter whimsy with the suggestion that the SNP is “keen on relinquishing Scottish national sovereignty”. Underlying this daft comment is the inanely simplistic notion that the UK and the EU are the same. The atrociously shallow idea that, because they are both political unions, they must be identical. This is obvious nonsense. We don’t have to dig very deep at all to find an essential difference between the two in the way each treats the matter of sovereignty.

The EU is an association of nations founded on the defining principle of democracy – pooled sovereignty. That’s all democracy is. A pooling of our individual sovereignty so as to facilitate the governance which makes large and complex societies viable. Our individual sovereignty is not diminished by this pooling. Neither does membership of the EU involve any “relinquishing” of sovereignty.

Some will object that this democratic pooling of sovereignty is an ideal which is far from fully reflected in the institutions and procedures of the EU. But this refers organisational and structural failures which betray the founding principle, rather than evidence that this principle doesn’t exist or isn’t relevant. In the same way that denying an individual or group their due according to the principle of inalienable human rights does not negate those right, so the organisational defects and deficiencies of the EU do not alter or eradicate the principle of pooled sovereignty upon which this political union was founded.

The UK could hardly be more different. The political union between Scotland and England was not a pooling of sovereignty. It involved Scotland’s national sovereignty being subsumed into an entity which was effectively “Greater England”. It still is. But “Greater England” has now been re-branded as “Britain”. The concept of pooled sovereignty is anathema to the ruling elites of the British state now just as it was inconceivable to the predecessors of today’s ruling elites when they contrived the political union.

The EU is a bold, and in many regards successful experiment, in post-imperial international association founded on noble ideals of peaceful cooperation. For all its failings, it does a lot of the things it’s supposed to do passably well.

The UK is an archaic and self-evidently dysfunctional arrangement born of avarice and lust for power among a privileged few. For all its pompous posturing it serves none of the people of these islands any better than one would expect of a set-up devised in total disregard of their interests.

There is no contradiction in seeking to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status, and with it the popular sovereignty which the British state explicitly denies as it imposes the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, while accepting the pooled sovereignty of the EU. It is entirely reasonable to reject the idea that the people are subordinate to a ruling elite operating as the Crown in Parliament while embracing the idea of nations pooling sovereignty for mutual benefit.

It makes perfect sense that Scotland should aspire to the capacity to freely negotiate the terms on which it associates with other nations. A capacity which those other nations assume to be theirs as of right.
There inevitably will be a “Project Fear 2016”. But there is no more reason to suppose that the SNP will be part of this negative campaign than there is evidence that they are in Iain Macwhirter’s article. The fact that we are still waiting for the oft-promised but never delivered “positive case for the (UK) union” doesn’t mean we can’t make a positive case for remaining in the EU.

The difference between a negative and a positive campaign lies in the fact that the latter offers an alternative. A positive campaign is not one which totally eschews pointing out potential negative implications. It is a campaign in which the negative implications being highlighted are both realistic and, crucially, weighed against positive arguments.

The SNP would be derelict in its duty if it failed to inform people of the potential detriment to Scotland of withdrawal from the EU. It would be irresponsible not to point out the flaws and fallacies in the anti-EU propaganda that will saturate much of the media. That is not problematic, and does not qualify as negative campaigning, so long as it avoids the dishonest, fantastical, sensationalised doom-mongering of the anti-independence campaign. And so long as it is accompanied by an honest and pragmatic assessment of what Scotland gains from being part of the EU.

It would be extremely foolish to assume that the SNP had not learned lessons from the first referendum campaign and the all too frequently appalling behaviour of unionists. I hadn’t taken Iain Macwhirter for such a fool.

Vote SNP, get democracy!

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England beware!

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
English: Logo of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
The oft-quoted words of Martin Niemöller stand as a powerful warning against apathy and complacency. As the surge in support for the Scottish National Party (SNP) prompts an ever more hysterical response from the British establishment, they may serve as a timely caution to the people of England.
Numerous journalists and commentators, from the thoughtful Lesley Riddoch to the hilariously angry Mark Steel, have written lately of the extraordinary vehemence of attacks on Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP coming from British politicians, the British media, and the antiquated cast of Spitting Image. The intemperate language in which these diatribes are couched is striking enough to warrant comment. But what is truly alarming is that the baby of democratic principle appears to have been thrown out with the bathwater of rhetorical moderation.
The language being deployed by British nationalists may have become distinctly more xenophobic as the British parties’ frustration increases in the face of an evidently unstoppable wave of democratic dissent rising in Scotland. But it would be a mistake to think of this as nothing more than ordinary bigotry – deeply unpleasant, but largely ineffectual. Vile as the hate-speak is, it is superficial. Beneath the offensive exterior lies a very real threat to democracy. And not only in Scotland. But there is more to it than that.
If it was no more than the customary rough-and-tumble of election-time politicking taken to new extremes, we might safely dismiss the name-calling; the portrayal of Nicola Sturgeon as some sort of comic-book super villain; and the representation of the SNP as an ominous alien force, as nothing more than symptomatic of the competitive sensationalism which leads to social media platforms such as Twitter repeatedly breaking out in a rash of mindlessly abusive messages.
If the SNP itself was pursuing a particularly radical agenda, rather than being, in European terms, a fairly run-of-the-mill social democratic party with a moderately progressive platform, then this might have explained – but not excused – the viciousness of the British establishment’s reaction to its rise. But that reaction is out of all proportion to the reality of the SNP and its potential impact on British politics.
We need to understand that, whatever the words used, it is not really Scotland or its people being attacked. Nor is it even Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. What has provoked the extreme reaction from the British establishment is the threat of the “C”-word – change!
Britain is not a country. In the words of author, James Kelman,
[Britain] is the name used by the ruling elite and its structures of authority to describe itself.
Britain is an edifice. All nations are political constructs. Britain is a political contrivance. It is a structure of power, privilege and patronage.
It is, moreover, a structure designed (or evolved), not to withstand challenge, but to prevent it. The two-party duopoly of the British political system, with its faux rivalries barely concealing a common agenda, represents the very epitome of entrenched power. So much so that, on the kind of close examination which is actively discouraged, the British state more closely resembles a one-party state than a functioning democracy.
Entrenched power defends itself primarily by making meaningful reform all but impossible. The more entrenched it becomes; the more successful it is in building barriers to change; the more its capacity to defend itself by the normal democratic means of persuasion atrophies.
Thus, entrenched power will ultimately resort to the extraordinary strategy of demonising those categorised as “the enemy” in order to justify “amendments” to the rules and procedures which effectively deny reforming influences access to political power. And that is what is happening in the case of the SNP. In response to the challenge of democratic dissent, the British state is in the process of instituting a form of “managed democracy” which ensures that only political parties approved by the ruling elites can participate fully and on an equal footing in the parliamentary process.
The people of England should take heed. Because entrenched power will defend itself against the threat of change wherever that threat comes from. Let no-one in the rest of the UK be under any illusions that the orchestrated onslaught on the SNP is specific to that party. Any progressive movement that might gather significant momentum in England will surely be subject to the same treatment. And the measures implemented to combat the “threat” posed by the SNP will be all the more readily deployed to thwart a democratic challenge to entrenched power wherever this might arise.

Fanning the flames

English: Logo of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
Let’s be clear. Allan Massie is a British nationalist.* Not quite in the spittle-flecked, purple-faced, ranting style of Alan Cochrane. (Although he appears to be competing with Poor Old Cockers in this diatribe.) But a British nationalist nonetheless. As such, he portrays the SNP, not as they are, but as British nationalists would like them to be seen by the public.
The same applies to Scotland’s politics and what we might term the “mood of the nation”. Either Mr Massie is so completely detached from the political scene in Scotland that it is invisible to him, or he is deliberately trying to mislead when he describes that mood as “ugly”. In fact, the mood is very upbeat and hopeful. One might almost say exited at the prospect of putting a democratic dent in the the armour of a British state that has hitherto been deaf to the voice of the people and impervious to meaningful reform.
There is ugliness,of course. But it comes, not from the ranks of the SNP and other progressive parties in Scotland, but from the relatively small band of British nationalist fanatics engaged in an increasingly shrill and vitriolic campaign in defence of the ruling elites of the British state.
Massie also claims that the SNP is still fighting the referendum. Again, he is either tragically ill-informed or dishonest. Certainly, independence remains the long-term goal. But the SNP is fighting this election on a policy platform that is progressive and so clear that even a blinkered British nationalist such as Alan Massie can’t avoid acknowledging at least some of it.
That policy platform includes such things as,

  • an end to austerity economics
  • no renewal of Trident
  • real Home Rule for Scotland, as promised in the lead up to the referendum vote
  • abolition of the House of Lords
  • introduction of a living wage

While these sort of policies are evidently anathema to right-wing ideologues like Allan Massie, to most people they appear no more than the kind of considered alternatives to the stultifying orthodoxies of the British state which, in a properly functioning democracy, would be on offer from any party seeking to oust the Tories.
Massie opines that Middle England would be “furious” if the British political system fails to ensure that hegemonic two-party duopoly is maintained. His view is that, if any party other than those which are approved by the British establishment gains political power while playing by the British state’s own rules, then those rules must be ignored.
His reasoning is that the rules must be ignored so as to avoid a turmoil of public outrage that he himself is doing his level best to whip up. Not because the SNP has broken any rules, but precisely because they are working within those rules.

Massie and his fellow British nationalists are playing a dangerous game with

their hate-mongering. Compare the language deployed by the British nationalist propaganda machine with the reasoned rhetoric of Nicola Sturgeon and other Scottish progressives such as Patrick Harvie. There may well be a whirlwind to reap from the seeds of anti-Scottish animus that they are sowing.
Massie is mightily concerned about a backlash in England to any SNP involvement in the government of the UK. His British nationalist bigotry prevents him giving so much as a moment’s thought to the reaction of the people of Scotland if their democratically elected representatives are excluded in a storm of spitting, contemptuous vilification such as Massie gives us a glimpse of in his latest piece for the Daily Mail.

To borrow the most incendiary saying of all: If Scotland rules England, I can foresee the Thames foaming with much blood

Waking the giant

English: Logo of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
The unseemly hysteria with which the British establishment responds to pretty much anything Nicola Sturgeon says (Critics accuse Sturgeon of trying to ‘bankrupt Britain’ over £180bn public spending demand) gives us as a powerful reminder of the terror which is gripping the ruling elites of the British state as they face the very real prospect of disruption to the cosy arrangements which serve them so well, and the people of these islands so ill.
Let us be clear, it is not about the economy. The dismal science of economics is not definitive. It is merely a tool by which the powerful manipulate the powerless. For all the portentous talk of “bankruptcy”, the real issue here is not money, but power.
Had Sturgeon suggested spending £180 billion on some shiny new weapons of mass destruction; or to prop up some despotic foreign regime; or on some grandiose infrastructure project entirely for the benefit of London; or to indemnify the obscenely rich against the consequences of their own avaricious folly, then nary an unnaturally perfectly formed eyebrow would have been raised among the clique which considers itself divinely appointed to order our lives.
What concerns these ruling elites is not any threat to the economy – which would hardly touch them anyway – but a challenge to their power.
Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party have come to represent a much wider political force which, as it gains momentum, poses the menace of meaningful, progressive change such as is anathema to conventional power. Every small success for the SNP is seen by the British establishment as bringing us closer to that tipping point at which the old structures of power and privilege are swept away by a tide of democratic demand.
For decades, the aspirations of progressives and reformers have been safely redirected into the “safe pair of hands” that British Labour has become. Or into fringe parties which are safely ineffectual on account of their eccentricities. But the mass political awakening occasioned by the Yes campaign is different.
To the considerable extent that the SNP is the manifestation of this new politics, it represents a force which the British establishment views with increasing trepidation. Not necessarily because the party itself poses a direct threat to the structures of power and privilege which define the British state, but because it offers encouragement to those who had long since retreated into apathy.
The British establishment certainly hates the Scottish National Party. But what they truly fear is that, by challenging the Westminster system from within in ways that can only be portrayed as extreme and irresponsible at the cost of looking foolishly hysterical, the SNP may set an example which rouses progressives in England from their torpor.

A second chance for Scotland

I had to check the date on this article about Miliband and Murphy performing as an SNP-hating double-act as it could have been from pretty much any UK general election period in the last two or three decades. The message from British Labour in Scotland is always the same. It is never about policy. It is never about the people of Scotland. It is never about aspiration. It is always about the SNP.

British Labour and their Tory allies are desperate to get back to business as usual They are desperate to get back to the cosy duopoly that has served the British parties so handsomely whist serving the people of Scotland so ill.

They are more terrified than ever that Scotland’s Yes campaign-inspired break from the British two-party system – with its faux rivalries providing only token cover for a shared neo-liberal agenda – will infect England’s politics and threaten to bring down the structures of power and privilege which define the British state.

We should be aware of what is implied by these attacks on the SNP. We should be aware of what it is that is being challenged by the people of Scotland using the SNP as the agents of change. We should be aware of what it is that Miliband, Murphy and the rest are defending when they lash out at their SNP rivals.

It is not Labour principles which are threatened by the increasing rejection of British Labour in Scotland. British Labour has not represented those principles in decades. It is the British establishment which is being challenged. And that challenge comes from the people – the grass-roots masses who found their strength and their voice through engagement with the Yes campaign. The SNP is merely the tool which the people of Scotland will use to break free from the stultifying grip of the old order and the old ways in order that they can build a new politics and a renewed nation.

The British parties are bent on denying this renewal. They are determined to preserve a system which guarantees them patronage, power and privilege in return for unquestioning service to the ruling elites of the British state.

A few months ago, the people of Scotland held in their hands such democratic power as is only vanishingly rarely afforded the people of any nation. We baulked at seizing that power. We chose to relinquish it. We opted to hand that power over to those who had denigrated us and our nation at every opportunity. People who insulted us with ludicrous scaremongering and abused us with lies. We threw ourselves on the mercy of a political machine which knows neither honour nor principle. There was always going to be a price to pay for this folly.

The coming election is our opportunity to make a stand against the destructive grinding of that machine. It is not a second chance at restoring our nation’s rightful constitutional status. But it is the best chance we’re going to get to make it clear that we are not content to go backwards. That we are determined to move Scotland forward following the torch that was lit by the Yes campaign.

The British parties in Scotland are the obstacle to that progress. Thursday 7 May is our opportunity to sweep that obstacle aside. Let’s not screw it up again.