The cuckoos

Those of you who are not hampered by British Nationalist blinkers cannot have failed to notice the ease with which Nicola Sturgeon bats away the opposition’s attacks at the weekly First Minister’s Questions (FMQ) sessions. In part, this is because she is well-briefed, intelligent and quick-thinking. But it is also because her adversaries are none of these things.

It is said that, in court, counsel should never ask a question unless they know the answer. Heeding the sense of this, I long since adopted the habit – now second nature – of ‘testing’ statements prior to publishing them. I always ask myself how I would respond if I were on the other side. There have been many occasions when I’ve had something ready to post on Twitter but, pausing with the cursor on the button, I have opted to delete instead because I’ve thought of a great comeback which just might also occur to my interlocutor.

Richard Leonard, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie all regularly make utter fools of themselves at FMQ due to their evident inability to reflect on what they are saying and consider how the First Minister might respond. Mainly, this is because their ‘questions’ are not constructed as genuine enquiries made for the purpose of eliciting information or clarification, but as partisan thrusts essayed for the purpose of scoring points – and providing the British media with sound-bites. But the fact that they continue to play the clown-troupe week in and week out bids us suppose that there must also be an element of stupidity involved in their obvious inability to learn any lessons from their regular humiliation.

As it is for the leaders of the British parties at Holyrood, so it is for all of the British politicians squatting like fat cuckoos in the Scottish Parliament. Just as Rennie, Davidson and Leonard are too arrogant to suppose their utterances require some consideration, and too deluded to feel humiliation when they are slapped down by Nicola Sturgeon, so their underlings emulate this total lack of self-awareness.

The Tweet shown in the image at the top of this page appeared on my time-line this morning. It was posted by British Conservative & Unionist Party (BCUPS) cuckoo, Rachel Hamilton MSP. One of those people you sort of think you might have heard of but can’t quite place. When they’re doing really daft stuff there’s a tendency to get them mixed up with Kirstene Hair. Anyway! Whoever she may be, she posted that Tweet doubtless thinking herself quite the political operator. I posted the following response.

If you genuinely cared about protected status for Scottish foods you wouldn’t be dragging Scotland out of the EU on the ragged coattails of your Beloved British state. You have shown where your loyalty lies. And it’s not with your constituency or Scotland. #DissolveTheUnion— Peter A Bell #DissolveTheUnion (@BerthanPete) July 12, 2019

It occurred to me later that, so obvious was this rejoinder, the great wonder was that Kirstene Rachel hadn’t foreseen it. Surely even a BCUP politician would have seen where this was going had they taken the trouble to think about it for a moment. But she didn’t see. Because she didn’t think. Because she doesn’t care. And that is the lesson which we take from all of this.

British politicians in Scotland just don’t care. They don’t have enough respect for the Scottish Parliament to care if what they come out with at FMQ is so abysmally dumb as to warrant a virtual skelp from the First Minister. They don’t have enough respect for Scotland’s people to care if the hypocrisy in their Tweets is so sickeningly obvious as to elicit an entirely predictable response. They exhibit the casual arrogance born of knowing that their utterances will never be subjected to scrutiny by the mainstream British media. They are so lacking in self-awareness as to be blithely unaware of how ludicrous they appear.

Surely Scotland deserves better than these British cuckoos!

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Alpacas might fly

rennie_ram_llamaIt seems somebody called Willie Rennie is ‘challenging’ the SNP to support something called a ‘people’s vote’. Having done a bit of research, I can offer some clarification on the ‘somebody’. It seems that Willie Rennie is the Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Fife and Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats – which is one of the British political parties squatting in Holyrood where a proper opposition should be. When he’s not ‘challenging’ the SNP to do something they’ve already done or never will do, Willie’s hobbies include ram wrestling and teaching alpacas to fly (see above).

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about the ‘People’s Vote’ – other than that, apparently, it must be capitalised. The term refers to a campaign, run by an organisation called Open Britain, which hopes to persuade the British government to hold a referendum on something called ‘the final Brexit deal’. To this end, they have a petition signed by lots of people. Presumably the people who are convinced they should have a vote on this ‘final Brexit deal’.

The real problem comes with trying to identify what it is that the capitalised ‘People’ would be doing with their capitalised ‘Vote’ supposing the capitalised ‘People’s Vote’ campaign were to succeed.

Referendums (I only call them ‘referenda’ when wearing a toga.) can be useful tools. Used well, they can enhance the democratic process. But, done badly, they are worse than useless. To be effective, a referendum must offer clear options – preferably no more than two. Ideally, the choice should be binary – yes or no – with the meaning of each being totally explicit. If the proposition can’t be put, without ambiguity, in twenty words or less, then it is probably too complicated for a referendum. If explanatory notes are required, then it is almost certainly too complicated for a referendum. If those explanatory notes run to more than a single side of A4, then trying to decide the matter by means of a referendum is just plain daft.

If a referendum is to be decisive it is essential that both options are spelled out in a manner which leaves no room for dispute. If one or more of the options is undefined then the referendum can produce a result, but never a decision. And, for the purposes of referendums, ‘poorly defined’ is defined as ‘undefined’.

Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum is illustrative. While it was perfectly clear that a Yes vote meant independence by way of a reasonably well described process, there was no indication whatever of what a No vote meant. Initially, it was said to be a vote for the status quo. As the referendum campaign progressed, however, all manner of stuff was hooked onto the No vote – up to and including ‘The Vow’.

In practice, a No vote meant whatever the British establishment wanted it to mean. This turned out to be pretty much the opposite of everything that had been promised. And something very, very far from the status quo that was originally offered. Thus, the referendum produced an indisputable result, but no decision. Because the No option was effectively undefined, a No vote in the referendum could not settle the issue. There was nothing to settle on.

A similar problem beset the EU referendum in 2016. While it was clear that a Remain vote meant ‘no change’, nobody had a clue what was implied by a Leave vote. Those running the Leave campaign least of all. Even leaving aside the added complication that Scotland (and Northern Ireland) voted Remain, the UK-wide vote produced a result, but not a decision. In the aftermath, every faction has sought to define the Leave vote to suit its own agenda. How often have you heard someone assert that they voted Leave, but they didn’t vote for one or more things from a seemingly endless list. By way of an example, the following is from the ‘People’s Vote’ website.

No one voted to be poorer, for our public services to suffer, or to pay a £40 billion divorce fee.

So, will another referendum sort out the problem? Can a ‘People’s Vote’ produce, not merely a result, but a decision? It seems extremely unlikely. For some, it may be a bit late to start – but let’s think about it.

The one thing we can say for certain about the ‘final Brexit deal’ that is supposed to be the subject of the ‘People’s Vote’ is that it will not be clear or concise or unambiguous or unequivocal. Given the impenetrable complexity of the issues, we may assume, with an exceptionally high degree of confidence, that it will be the very opposite of all these things. It won’t even be ‘final’. It can’t be. UK/EU relations will be in flux for years. Probably decades. Just as there has been endless wrangling about what Brexit means, so the precise meaning of the ‘final Brexit deal’ will be the subject of unending argument.

Even if it was possible for those voting in favour of the ‘final Brexit deal’ to know exactly what they were voting for, what they voted for would be likely to change even before their votes were counted. Even if the result favoured the ‘final Brexit deal’, there would be no decision. Because it would always be possible for people to claim that they hadn’t voted for some aspect or interpretation of an over-complicated and fluid proposition.

And it gets worse! Because those voting against the ‘final Brexit deal’ would hardly be any clearer about what their vote meant. Obviously, they’d have no more idea of what they were voting against than those who were voting for the ‘final Brexit deal’. But neither would they know what would happen if the ‘final Brexit deal’ was rejected. Would the status quo ante be restored? (Had to slip into my toga for that one.) Could Article 50 be revoked? Would the EU accept this? Or would they choose to poke the Europhobe rats’ nest with the jaggy stick of conditions for the prodigal’s return?

Much as everyone might like to erase the entire Brexit episode from their memories and from history, that’s not an option. Even if the UK were now to remain in the EU as a result of a ‘People’s Vote’, the relationship must inevitably be changed. And it’s just not possible for those participating in the ‘People’s Vote’ to know the nature of that change. Whatever way they voted, they wouldn’t know what they were voting for any more than they’d know what they were voting against.

A ‘People’s Vote’ cannot possibly resolve anything. It can only be the cause of further confusion and conflict. The ‘People’s Vote’ idea is as inane as everything else associated with Brexit. It says nothing flattering about Willie Rennie that he has embraced the inanity with such alacrity. If Nicola Sturgeon has even noticed his ‘challenge’, she will surely ignore it. For obvious reasons she cannot allow herself to be portrayed as opposing a ‘second referendum’. But there is no possibility that Rennie will bait her into supporting a ‘People’s Vote’. He has more chance of getting that alpaca airborne.

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A British accommodation

leonard_rennieThe latest bit of British jiggery-pokery with the EU power grab represented a potentially tricky situation for Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie. Their first instinct, as always, is to blame the SNP. But the sheer brazenness of the Tories’ cack-handed chicanery made things somewhat easier for the other British Nationalist parties. Not even with the worst #SNPBAD will in the world could Leonard and Rennie enthuse about the latest addition to the BritSpeak dictionary redefining ‘consent’ as… well… anything said or not said. To do so would leave them looking foolish as well as treacherous. And they prefer to do just one at a time.

Spare a thought for Ruth Davidson. She gets no choice in the matter. Looking daft and despicable is in her job description.

It would be folly, however, to mistake the position taken by Leonard and Rennie for anything akin to an honourable defence of Scotland’s interests. The dilemma for them is that, while they are happy to cooperate with the British Government’s efforts insofar as they are directed against the hated SNP, they are ever mindful that Holyrood represents their best – and in the case of the LibDems their only – chance of any meaningful political status. British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) craves a return to power in Scotland – even if it is on Tory coattails. For Willie Rennie, the prospect of a token post in a British party coalition at Holyrood allows him to cling to hope of a Dead Stoat Cloak.

Nothing would please Leonard and Rennie more than a ‘strategic retreat’ by the British government that would allow them to resume full participation in the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. They would be delighted if their Tory allies in London were to contrive an amendment to the amendment which was just less brazen and cack-handed enough for them all to get back into bed together again.

Of one thing we can be sure. If the British government does move on the Power Grab Clause, it will be solely for the purpose of finding an accommodation with the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament. Scotland’s interests will not be a consideration.

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Vive la difference!

jackie_baillieThe deal to save BiFab is, of course, wonderful news for the communities that would have been severely affected by closure. It is also a bright day for Scottish politics. There is no doubt at all that this deal would not have happened without the intervention by the Scottish Government. And every reason to suppose that it would not have been achieved, or even attempted, by the British parties. The Tories would have shrugged off the suffering of people and families, insisting that their lives were a necessary sacrifice on the altar of ‘market forces’.

British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) would have been paralysed with indecision and riven by internal squabbling. One faction would want to throw taxpayers’ money at the problem. Another faction would quietly relish the closures and ensuing devastation of communities as a useful example of capitalist failure. They’d have held lots of meetings and marches and rallies at which career politicians would jostle for media attention. Once the media lost interest, so would BLiS. The yards would have closed. livelihoods would have been lost. BBC Scotland would find a way to blame the SNP.

So, what is it that allows the SNP to succeed in these situations where the British parties have a record of inaction or failure? I would suggest that it largely comes down to a question of attitude. Where Tories would look at the BiFab situation and see it in terms of economics and BLiS would see it only as a political difficulty (or opportunity), the SNP tends to see a problem affecting people that needs a practical solution.

Where Tories ask how the situation can be rationalised and BLiS ask how the situation can be exploited, the SNP ask only how it can be sorted.

In an article for the January issue of iScot Magazine I wrote,

“What is significant is that the SNP administration seems to have been intent on finding the measures which might be effective regardless of dogma or popularity. No ‘focus groups’. Just expert panels. And no ‘Big Fix!” hype. No suggestion of simple solutions. No suggestions of solutions at all. Just the idea of progressive change – over time-scales that pay scant regard to the kind of electoral imperatives that drive other parties.”

I get annoyed at people who make facile generalisations about politicians and political parties being ‘all the same’. Clearly, they aren’t. Quite evidently, there is something different about the way successive SNP administrations go about the job of running Scotland’s affairs. Something that allows them to achieve things that British parties couldn’t.

In that iScot Magazine article I put this difference down to Scotland’s electoral system and the way it has facilitated the emergence of a distinctive political culture. I argue that the SNP is different because it was better placed to adapt to, and take advantage of, the new political climate in a way that the ‘old’ parties aren’t.

“The SNP has enjoyed electoral success – winning every election for ten years – because, as a party new to government, it is open to a new political culture in a way that the British parties cannot be – due to historical factors and the intrinsic nature of the British political system within which they are embedded.”

The SNP is attuned to Scotland’s political culture in a way the the British parties are not. The party is embedded in that political culture in a way the British parties can’t be. We see the evidence of this, not only in major achievements such as saving BiFab, but also in relatively small things that nonetheless represent a more progressive politics than we’d previously been accustomed to. Baby boxes are one example. And the changes to the tax system which, while small in terms of their impact on people’s pockets, are highly significant in that they are a break with the old ways.

Not that Scotland’s politics has totally rid itself of the old ways. Difference is relative. As much as we see the difference between the SNP and the British parties in the actions of the former, that difference is also evident in the way the latter behave.

Look at the reactions from the British parties to the news announcement of the deal to rescue BiFab that was so skillfully brokered by the SNP administration. Neither Willie Rennie nor Jackie Baillie so much as acknowledge the efforts of the Scottish Government.

But that kind of bitter, partisan pettiness is the old politics. Now is a time to celebrate Scotland’s new politics. Just don’t expect that any of the British politicians squatting in Scotland’s Parliament will join in the celebration.

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Next time will be very different

Willie Rennie MP addressing a Liberal Democrat...

It seems that both Kezia Dugdale and Willie Rennie have realised that there is definitely going to be another referendum. And that it is not going to be possible for British nationalists to deploy the same lying, scaremongering tactics as before. I suppose they are to be commended for their willingness to change. But let’s not be fooled into imagining that they do so with any enthusiasm. They really had no choice.

To a very considerable extent, the divide in the first referendum campaign was not so much between Yes and No as between those who had questioned the political union between Scotland and England and those who had never even thought about the matter. That is why there was never a coherent case for the union such as we were constantly being promised. You can’t make a persuasive argument for (or against) something unless you have first examined it; scrutinised it; challenged it. The Yes campaign was built on the foundation of a long tradition of asking awkward questions about the constitutional settlement. It drew on three centuries of internal debate concerning every aspect of the political union. The anti-independence camapign had nothing remotely similar.

The initial Better Together message was no more sophisticated than an imperious command to, “Just say NO!”. No need to think about it. The union is fine because… well… because it’s old! It’s all any of us have ever known. What’s the point in changing anything? Besides! Everybody knows that “Bigger is Better!”.

From there it descended into the grindingly negative litany of mainly economic doom-mongering (because nobody does doom-‘n’-gloom like a hired economist) that it remained right up to the final stages when, in a fit of panic, the infamous “Vow” was cobbled together, adding empty promises to the “smears and fears”. It was a campaign which would have shamed all who were involved, but for the fact that they were rendered impervious to shame by their arrogant self-righteousness.

The No vote was a triumph of fear over hope. But it was a hollow victory. At one of the counts in the miserable early hours of the Friday morning when the outcome was clear, I recall speaking to a senior figure in Scottish Labour who had the good grace to shake my hand and offer his commiserations. In my exhausted and distracted state, I don’t recall whether I actually said the words or merely had the thought, but it certainly occurred to me at that point that they had fought what was essentially a party political campaign. They had won that campaign. But, in the process, they had lost the country. How true that has turned out to be.

In the whole of the two years of the last referendum campaign the unionists never once addressed the fundamental constitutional question. The whole purpose of their effort was, not to win people over, but to brow-beat them into submission.

The next referendum campaign will be very different. To whatever extent there may be a single anti-independence campaign along the lines of Better Together, it will not be able to rely on the methods of Project Fear. It will be less able to avoid the fundamental constitutional issue. It will be forced to face intense scrutiny of the union, and try to come up with satisfactory answers to penetrating questions.

The No campaign, if there is such a thing, will be obliged to campaign on the basis of what the union actually is, rather than on the basis of luridly dystopian fictions about what independence might bring.

Dugdale and Rennie appear to have had it brought home to them that leaders who attempt a rerun of the earlier anti-independence campaign are highly likely to part company with members and voters who are now better informed and no longer susceptible to scare stories. They will be dealing with people more inclined to question the worth of the political union. They will be addressing an electorate that is less likely to be unthinkingly enamoured of the British state.

Dugdale and Rennie have had to accept that independence can no longer be represented as unthinkable. Because there are just too many people thinking about it.

A smear backfires

English: Alistair Carmichael MP addressing a L...
Alistair Carmichael MP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Having listened to Alistair Carmichael’s defence in the matter of what I suppose we must grit our teeth and call #MemoGate, I am even more convinced than ever that he should resign immediately. Unbelievably, Carmichael is now insisting that we should simply ignore his despicable behaviour and focus instead on some unspecified things he may have done for his constituents in the past.
Even more incredibly, he is trying to portray the SNP as the villain of the piece!
Carmichael’s conduct has been, and continues to be, appalling. But the fact that his party refuses to take any action against him is totally inexplicable. They have voluntarily chosen that the whole party should be tainted by Carmichael’s offences. We have to assume that this was Willie Rennie’s decision, not least because it is backed up by his personal plea that Carmichael be given a “second chance”. Such poor judgement must call into question Rennie’s fitness as leader.
Rennie has foolishly put himself in the firing line of a scandal which is already threatening to embroil Carmichael’s successor as Scottish Secretary, David Mundell as more and more people ask how he could possibly have been unaware of what his then boss was up to. After all, it’s not as if Carmichael was acting in a particularly clandestine manner. One of the more shocking aspects of this whole affair has been the casual attitude to deliberate smears and brazen lies displayed by the main players, and the fact that Carmichael believed he could act as he did with impunity, doubtless believing that he would be protected by the British establishment.
Carmichael’s apologists will, of course, bleat about a “witch-hunt”. I would remind them that their man is being condemned for cause. And very good cause, at that. This is in no way similar to, for example, the way Stewart Stevenson MSP was hounded from office as Transport Minister when he was absolutely blameless just so the British parties at Holyrood and their friends in the British media could claim a scalp.
Carmichael has to go because he did something – in fact, several things – which even he has admitted would require his resignation. Which almost certainly means that the LibDems will be wiped out in Scotland.
Mundell may well have to step down as Scottish Secretary if he cannot offer a satisfactory account of his own part in the affair, thereby creating another constitutional crisis as the Tory UK Government is forced to try and find someone else for the position. Or abolish the office of Scottish Secretary altogether.
And Willie Rennie is, at the very least, weakened as leader by his craven defence of the indefensible.
I wonder if Carmichael still thinks his attempt to smear Nicola Sturgeon was such a wizard wheeze.
But there is more. Recall that the memo at the centre of this affair was actually fourth-hand as it derived from a telephone conversation about a telephone conversation about an account of a conversation given by someone who was not actually a party to the conversation at the heart of the matter, but merely a witness to it.
It is perfectly legitimate to ask why the second of these telephone calls was made. And who gave the instruction for the call to be made. And for what purpose.
Given the events currently under discussion, and the general behaviour of the British parties, it is only natural to be suspicious of everything they do. It does not seem beyond the bounds of credibility that the telephone call to the person who had made the telephone call to the French Consul General was a fishing expedition looking for something which could be spun into a bit of anti-SNP propaganda. Indeed, I suggested as much when the smear attempt against Nicola Sturgeon first surfaced.
There may be a great deal more to this than has hitherto come to light. One person who may know more is Simon Johnson, the Telegraph journalist who was complicit in the original smear attempt. So far, he has escaped the kind of scrutiny that he deserves.
We know for a fact that Johnson simply didn’t bother to seek a response from any of the principals in the story. That he has kept his job after such a grievous dereliction of professional standards is a telling comment on how low the British media has sunk. But little or nothing has been said about what questions he asked of his source at the Scotland Office.
Scurrilous journalists also tend also to be cowardly. Johnson would have sought assurances that his arse was covered. It is difficult to believe he wouldn’t question the provenance of the story? What questions did he ask? What was he told that convinced him he would not put himself at risk by running the story? Did an experienced political journalist fail to even suspect a smear attempt? Did he just not care?
One way or another, we have not heard the last of this.

Passion and normality

The following is a transcript of my address to a Yes Clydesdale Independence Roadshow in Biggar on the evening of Monday 7 October 2013.
The problem with following a couple of erudite and eloquent speakers such as Robin McAlpine and Aileen Campbell is that you’re likely to discover that they’ve said most of the things that you were planning on saying.
Which is annoying. And even more annoying when they say it better than you could.
Tell you what else is annoying… Apart from Willie Rennie, I mean.
What’s also annoying is people who answer a question with another question.
You know the kind of thing I mean.
What do you want for dinner? What do you fancy?
What would you like to drink? What are you having?
Are you OK under that bus? Do I look as if I’m OK?
That sort of thing. Very annoying.
But sometimes you can’t avoid it. Sometimes you can’t help answering a question with a question. Because sometimes the question simply begs another question.
People ask me, “What persuaded you that Scotland should be an independent country?”
Why would I need to be persuaded?
Independence is not some extraordinary, outlandish condition for a nation.
Independence is the default status of all nations.
Independence is normal.

Why would I need to be persuaded that Scotland should be normal?

I’ll tell you what is not normal.
Being subject to government by people and parties that we have decisively rejected at the polls.
That’s not normal!
Having imposed on us policies that are opposed by the majority of our elected representatives and abhorred by most of Scotland’s people.
That’s not normal!
The very existence of our nation being only grudgingly recognised at best and the sovereignty of Scotland’s people being explicitly denied.
That’s not normal!
Being independent is normal.
I am approaching 63 years of age, and it seems to me that I have known all my life that Scotland should be independent. It isn’t something I had to figure out. It isn’t something that I had to have explained to me. It isn’t something I had to be persuaded of. It’s just something I know in my heart to be true.
I seek for Scotland no more than that status which every other nation assumes to be theirs by right.
I seek nothing more extraordinary than the restoration of our nation’s rightful constitutional status.
I seek this, not in the expectation of advantage or for anything that is promised, but simply because it is right. It is proper.
It is normal.
That is my starting point in the great debate in which our country is now engaged. And if that sounds like a passionate argument – an argument from the heart – then I make no more apology for that than I do for responding to the question, “What persuaded you Scotland should be an independent country?”, by asking, “Why should I need to be persuaded?”.
That response reflects what I feel. That response is not just some politician’s cunningly crafted sound-bite nor some pundit’s pompous opinion. That response is the simple honesty of someone speaking from the heart..
Of course, I am aware that there are practical issues. To argue from the heart – to make the passionate case for independence – is not to deny the relevance of these practical issues It is merely to put them in a more complete context. A more human context. A context which does not seek to deny our humanity by making the great issue before us nothing more than the cold and soulless calculation of an accountant.
As the journalist, Iain MacWhirter so aptly put it, “A nation is more than a balance sheet.”
I would add that we – each of us here and everyone else besides – are more than mere beads on some monstrous corporate abacus. We are human beings. We are people. We have feelings. To insist that those feelings are not relevant to the decisions that we make is to deny half – and perhaps more than half – of our humanity.
My ambition; my desire; my passion for independence comes both from the calculation of my mind and the urging of my heart.
That, too, is normal.
Of course there are practical issues. Don’t mistake me for some starry-eyed, woolly-minded romantic. I’m too old and too cynical for that. My passion for independence is real. But I strongly believe that passion should serve our intellect rather than rule it. Passion should drive us, not simply to achieve an aim, but to ask searching questions about that aim and about our own motivations in pursuing it.
Passion should infuse our arguments with human spirit, augmenting, strengthening and enlivening them.
But passion should never pretend to be an argument in itself.
Passion must take its proper place alongside pragmatism.
Passion should never be blind and unthinking.
But passion must always have a place in our politics if our politics is to have a place in human society. Real people have dreams! How relevant to real people can politics be if it is devoid of a dream?
Having a dream is normal.
Of course there are practical issues. If it’s facts and figures you want then there’s a very nice, very clever man called John Swinney who has facts and figures aplenty. And he’s really good at explaining those facts and figures as well. His belief in independence has not deterred or diverted him from addressing those practical issues. Rather, it has driven him to better formulate and articulate the arguments that serve his aspirations for Scotland.
John Swinney is not alone, of course. There are countless people in the SNP, in the Scottish Greens, in Women for Independence, in Business for Scotland and too .many other parties, organisations and groups to mention who are making the solid, practical case for independence.
But there is no spreadsheet function; no algorithm, equation or calculation that can make the decision for you next year. As each of us steps into that booth and picks up the pencil we will guided as much by our feelings as any rational assessment of the information we have been plied with over the preceding months.
We will all of us vote with our hearts as well as our heads.
That is perfectly normal! Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not!
I said earlier that I seek independence because it feels right rather than for anything that is promised. But this is not to say that there is no promise. And I’m not talking here about the all-too-often empty promises of politicians, but of promise in the sense of possibility, potential and hope. I speak of promise in the sense of that dream that should ideally be at the very heart of our politics.
For decades now we’ve been told that our dreams don’t matter. Our hopes and aspirations are of no consequence. Even our rationally determined priorities don’t count.
These things don’t matter because people don’t matter. All that matter is the heartless, inhuman economic imperative of market forces.
We have been dispossessed of our politics. Our politics has been taken from us. The politics that should belong to the people has instead become the province of spivs, speculators, spin doctors and a self-serving professional political elite.
Politics has become a wasteland. Barren! Devoid of humanity. Devoid of dreams.
It is time to take back our politics.
It is time to make our politics human again.
It is time to make our politics normal.
One of the great things about the independence debate is that it has inspired a new vigour and diversity in political discourse here in Scotland. The Jimmy Reid Foundation is just one example of this exciting revival of radical thinking. The Common Weal project just one illustration of the fresh, stimulating breeze that is blowing the dust off Scottish politics.
Politics has been energised in a way that we have not seen for decades. Ideas that had been all but crushed out of existence by the stultifying weight of the neo-liberal consensus that dominates the politics of the British state have been reinvigorated by the sense that change is possible.
If we can get a referendum on independence – quite unthinkable only a few short years ago, what more might we be able to achieve? Minds have been opened. And hearts have been opened too.
In Scotland, people are daring to dream again.
Isn’t this the way our politics should be?
Isn’t it good that our politics should be driven by aspiration and hope rather than the fear and despair that is all the British parties offer us?
Isn’t it right that we should be urged on by the possibility of creating a better, fairer society?
Isn’t it wonderful to dare to feel just a little bit passionate about politics again?
Doesn’t it feel like we are starting to emerge from a dark place?
Doesn’t it feel like we’re getting back to normal?
That’s a lot of questions. Doubtless you will have a few questions of your own. I promise I’ll try to avoid annoying you by answering your questions with other questions. As we go into the question-and-answer section of this evening’s event, I undertake to address the practical issues with such factual information as I have at my disposal and such rational analysis as I may be capable of.
For the moment, however, I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to you from my heart.
From my heart I want to answer the one question to which all other questions are ancillary.
From my heart I want to answer the question that brooks no prevarication or equivocation.
From my heart I want to answer the question that demands a straight answer.
Should Scotland be an independent country?
With all the passion that is in my heart, I say YES!
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