The leadership problem

I would ask Nicola Sturgeon what the point is of winning the “political case” for independence but failing to secure a process by which that victory can be turned into actual change. But I long since learned the futility of asking questions which cannot be answered without acknowledging that the Section 30 process has been chosen despite the impossibility of it leading to actual change.

The very fact that the de facto leader of Scotland’s independence movement is talking about winning the “political case” for independence is evidence that they are not fitted to that role. A suitable leader of the independence movement would not entertain the notion that there could possibly be a “political case” against independence. The person best fitted to lead the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence has to be someone who has Scotland’s nationhood written in their DNA. Someone who has the sovereignty of Scotland’s people engraved on their heart and our right of self-determination indelibly stamped on their mind.

It has to be someone who detests the Union as an abomination. An insult to democracy and a grossly offensive imposition on Scotland.

At the minimum, it has to be someone who regards independence as rather more than an administrative reform that has to be justified. They should see the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence as a fight for justice. An effort to rectify a historical wrong which has a worsening impact on Scotland and Scotland’s people.

Scotland’s cause needs the leadership of someone who thinks of independence, not as something that would be good to have if only a benign British political elite would deign to grant it to us, but as something that is both essential and our inalienable right being withheld from us by a malign British state.

The Yes movement craves leadership from an individual who takes as their starting point the right of Scotland’s people to determine the nation’s constitutional status and choose the form of government which best serves their needs, priorities and hopes. The independence movement cannot be led by someone who sees these things, not as our absolute entitlement but as a glittering prize for which we must strive.

I cannot help but see in Nicola Sturgeon someone who is more concerned with pandering to the infinitely variable demands, requirements and conditions thrown up by the British political elite as they seek to preserve the Union and the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state than with defending the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and asserting the democratic legitimacy of the Parliament that we actually elect.

Nicola Sturgeon is a superb leader of Scotland as it is. But that role appears to be incompatible with leading the campaign to make Scotland what it ought to be.

Making a start

Only a few weeks ago I would have respectfully disagreed with George Kerevan. I would have insisted that the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon had to take a leadership role in the independence campaign in order that the latent power of the Yes movement could be harnessed. I envisaged the SNP setting out a clear, concise strategy and Yes groups taking their lead from this. I thought it necessary that the SNP should be in the vanguard because, as George notes, it all ultimately comes down to the party which is in government. The entire campaign is about enabling the Scottish Government to act through the Scottish Parliament to initiate the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

My concern was that without the SNP providing leadership the Yes movement would lack the solidarity, focus and discipline that a political campaign requires. I feared that we would once again take a pillow to a sword fight. Or, more likely, a gunfight. And I was concerned that, were the Yes movement’s energies invested in some other leadership there might be a problem transferring those energies and the momentum they’d generated to the SNP/Scottish Government when this became necessary.

Events and development over the last few weeks have forced me to rethink my position. Although I still think the ideal would be to have the party of government taking the lead role in the campaign, this unavoidably depends on said party being capable of fulfilling that role. I have reluctantly come to recognise that, despite the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon having the potential to do so, neither she nor her party looks at all like realising that potential.

Which is why I now find myself agreeing with George… mostly! We obviously need a body that will fulfil the leadership role vacated – or never taken up – by the SNP. That body must derive from the Yes movement. It must have the broad support of the movement in a way that SIC has never achieved. And it must recognise the need to defer, fully and without rancour, to the SNP administration when this becomes necessary.

The Yes movement needs to become, or give birth to, a campaigning organisation. Preferably and all but certainly the latter. I am certain nobody wants the Yes movement to change. Nobody wants it to stop being a movement – loose, organic, diverse and ungoverned. But developing and managing a political campaign demands an organisation rather than a movement. In stark contrast to the Yes movement, the Yes campaign organisation must be unified, focused and disciplined.

Such an organisation cannot be imposed on the Yes movement. Rather, it must arise from it. The Yes movement has proven itself adept at ‘hiving off’ chunks of itself to provide the more hierarchical organisational structures needed to accomplish particular tasks. All Under One Banner is perhaps the most notable example. We must harness this capacity for emergent leadership to create an organisation which will run the independence campaign at least as well as AUOB runs marches and rallies.

Where I part company with George Kerevan slightly is when he talks of an organisation which “works from the bottom up”. It is an unavoidable fact that running a large and complex campaign calls for a certain amount of top-down direction. Without this, it would almost certainly be impossible to achieve the kind of coordination and responsiveness that a political campaign requires.

George suggests the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) as a model. I’m sure we could do very much worse. But I am wary of such models. Too readily, we tend towards designing the organisation to conform to the model rather than fit the task and the context. What suits the Catalans may not suit the Scots. What works for them may not work for us. So long as we are mindful of this and strive to create our own distinctive organisation rather than simply emulate somebody else’s, we should be OK.

And George leaves one important question unanswered. How do we start?

One of life’s many ironies is that sometimes it takes a ‘dictator’ to kick-start even the most non-hierarchically democratic organisation. If somebody doesn’t seize hold of the thing and batter it into some kind of functional shape, nothing gets done. So, George! Suppose you are that ‘dictator’. What’s your first move?



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Of faith and doubt

Keith Brown took the words right out of my mouth. The Scottish Government’s mandate for a new constitutional referendum exists as a matter of observable, palpable, indisputable fact. It is not a question of belief. It is a reality.

Except if you are a British Nationalist of the breed that has recently evolved in the foetid swamp of Borissian politics. (Thereby is coined a new name for what some have been referring to as ‘England-as-Britain’. Welcome to Borissia! Not to be confused with Borussia, which is the old Roman name for Prussia. Pick-a-Deity forfend that any parallels be drawn there!)

British Nationalists see a different reality. A reality defined, not by anything substantial or measurable, but by faith-based ideology. A better headline might have been ‘Majority of crypto-theocrats deny existence anything that conflicts with their beliefs!’. Although I can well understand why The National went with its own version.

Faith is belief stripped of any rationality. Believing something requires something akin to evidence. Faith demands not only an absence of evidence but an element of contrary evidence. The more contrary evidence there is, the stronger the faith must be. So the faithful actually relish conclusive proof refuting the object/subject of their faith. If they can maintain belief in the face of incontrovertible proof then they get a prize. Generally, the actual presentation of this prize is deferred until after they’re dead. But this small print on the faith agreement seems to bother the faithful at all.

So it is that James Kelly can write the following without embarrassment.

But the poll shows that 95% of them take the opposite view. It’s hard not to conclude that they’ve been inculcated with a near-Trumpian mindset that will always regard the Tory mandate as stronger and more valid than the SNP mandate, regardless of how many more seats or votes the SNP actually win.

Change ‘Tory’ to ‘British’ and, bearing in mind what has been said of faith, and you have a telling comment on British Nationalist faith. Kelly might better have referred to the British mindset that will alwayst regard the thing that is British as superior in every way to the thing that is not British. Another useful term is ‘exceptionalism’ – which can mean either or both that the British are exceptional or/and that everything which is not British may/must be excepted.

One of the reasons the No side of polls on independence has been so stubbornly resistant to the ‘positive case for independence’ is that it conflicts with their faith-position. The British Nationalist views Scotland’s independence campaign as heretical and illogical. If British is always superior, why doesn’t everybody want to be British? Or everybody wants to be British so there must be something wrong with those presumptuous Scots who say they don’t want to be British but would prefer to just be Scottish.

Another and possibly more significant reason the No side isn’t eroding as might reasonably be expected is that it is futile to use reason to argue a person from a position arrived at other than by reason. The rational, evidence-based case for restoring Scotland’s independence cannot impinge on faith-based devotion to the Union any more than the comprehensively verified nature of the mandate can make any impression on the faith-addled mind of the British Nationalist. The strapline for Better Together / Project Fear should have been ‘Bring me your proof, and I will deny it!’.

This has profound implications for the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. To whatever extent my analysis holds, the current form of that campaign is titlting at Union flag-draped windmills. You can’t chop wood with a scalpel. You’re asking for a doing if you take a pillow to a swordfight. In a political contest between reason and faith, the former may always win, but the latter can never lose. Assuming they are equally determined – and equally convinced of the other’s weakness – the forces of reason will become increasingly frustrated and fractious, while the armies of the faithful will grow more resentful and vicious.

Sound familiar?

Clearly, if the matter is to be resolved and the warring cease, then one side is going to have to do something differently. That are going to be obliged to change their tactics. This is a reasoned and reasonable conclusion. So we can immediately rule out the British Nationalists. Remember, they are not amenable to “gentle persuasion”. That’s what got us into this position in the first place. So it has to be the forces of reason which make the adjustment.

Reason wins merely by changing the object/subject of faith. Faith can only win by changing reality. Or by persuading enough others to abandon reason in favour of faith. Which may well amount to the same thing. If absolutely everybody in the world maintained as a matter of faith that it was flat, how would you prove otherwise? Scientific evidence would be worthless in the truest sense of the word; nobody would value it. Newton’s insights concerning celestial mechanics would be the ravings of a madman. If Newton could even exist in a world without science; without reason.

Here we have a clue to how reason might prevail by means of a change of strategy. We know that reason is useless against faith. So don’t use reason in a direct assault on faith. Instead, use emotion to attack the object/subject of that faith. Reason cannot be transferred. It cannot simply be planted in a mind that has been given over to faith, because that mind is fundamentally changed in the process in ways that mean it can no longer accommodate reason – at least, not comfortably.

Faith, on the other hand, can quite readily be transferred. It can be move from one subject/object to another. The person who believes in a flat world can just as easily apply that same faith to the slightly misshapen globe we all know, live and shit all over. Faith may be impervious to reason, but it is vulnerable to doubt, misgiving, mistrust, suspicion and apprehension. But the greatest of these is doubt.

I am, of course, talking in generalities, abstractions and simplifications here. Few people are wholly given over to faith. And fewer still are capable of pure reason. At some point, we must check and see if our model fits in the real world.

In the real world, doubt was what defeated the Yes campaign. Certainly not reason or reasoned argument. The massed forces of the British state disdained to provide reasons for Scotland to remain in the Union. The ‘evidence’ they offered was intended, not to change minds, but to provide those among the faithful who need such things with the means to rationalise their faith position. Minds were not changed by Better Together / Project Fear, they were infected with doubt. That’s what all the questions were about. They weren’t looking for information. They were relying on the human instinctive calculation that says questions imply doubt. And a lot of questions implies a lot of doubt.

If it worked for them, it can work for us. When I say that there was a failure by the Yes side to learn lessons from the 2014 campaign, I mean there was a failure to learn the lessons of the campaign as a whole. There was a great deal of fretting about the Yes campaign and its ‘message’ – little or none of which came to any conclusion untainted by prejudice, preconception and prejudgement. But there was little effort to look at the No campaign to see what might usefully be gleaned from its tactics and methods. Which is surprising given that they won. It was always my position that, if we can learn from our own mistakes then we can surely learn from others’ successes.

Keith Brown is right on the money when he observes that denial of the mandate is an act of faith. I wonder if he took that thought further, as I have attempted to do here.



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Scunnered!

On Friday, just after listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s much-hyped ‘next steps’ announcement, I had to travel to Edinburgh to attend events marking Brexit on Friday and Saturday. I also met up with my wife who was traveling back from a work-related trip to Denmark, for a rare evening out together. All of this by way of excuse for not responding earlier to that speech. Although the delay may have been a good thing. I have seen some of the responses made in immediate disappointment and/or frustration and/or anger and I’m rather glad I didn’t take a computer with me. Instead, I vented my initial reaction on Twitter where such things belong.

I have, for example, seen Stu Campbell’s article prompted by the First Minister’s speech and, while he is essentially correct in his analysis, he tends towards the intemperate in some of his comments and brings in matters which would be better discussed separately. The desire to lash out may be easy to apprehend, but in Stu’s case it turns what was a perceptive account of the inadequacy of Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue into a vitriolic attack on her and the SNP. I think that unfortunate. I have always respected Stu’s ability to get to the nub of the matter and appreciated his ability to communicate his thoughts on matters of importance to us all. The forceful and forthright manner in which he habitually expresses himself only adds to the power of his message. I’m hardly in a position criticise anybody for adopting a robust tone.

I should not have been disappointed by what Nicola Sturgeon said as I never had any expectation that she would say anything of significance. I had actually made an effort to damp-down expectations because I knew there was nothing significant she could say from the position in which she has placed herself. Short of renouncing her ill-advised commitment to the Section 30 process, all she could possibly have to offer was another reading of the charges against the British state peppered with platitudes and bromides and leading to the now standard rationalisations for inaction.

Even the one thing she spoke of that might have seemed superficially significant – the new independence convention – was stripped of any sparkle it might have had by being at least two years too late and by the fact that it joins an already overlong list of similar initiatives which failed to strike a match far less set the heather afire.

The truth is understandably painful for people to hear, but hear it they must. The de facto leader of the independence movement in whom we invested so much trust has driven that campaign into a narrow cul-de-sac where she can neither turn around nor proceed. And her speech of Friday made it clear that she is disinclined to reverse out of that dead-end road. This is not to say that she was not and is not worthy of our respect. As a First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has done Scotland proud. Nor is it a call for her to be replaced, as has been the knee-jerk reaction from all too many people. There is no appetite in the party for removing her. And we can well do without the distraction of a leadership contest. Especially as that contest might not be as ‘civilised’ as previous contests for elevated positions in the SNP. And because there is no guarantee that a distracting and quite possibly damaging leadership battle would result in a change to the Scottish Government’s current fatally flawed approach. There is no sign of any high-profile questioning of the position taken by Nicola Sturgeon. Although I may be due Angus MacNeil an apology for saying this.

That the First Minister has made an error of judgement is now beyond dispute, although this will not stop some disputing it even though doing so requires that they turn a blind eye to the fatal flaws in the approach she has adopted – and clings to. I have previously set out my concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s total and stubborn commitment to the Section 30 process. Concerns which have come to be shared by a number of people but which have never, to my knowledge, been addressed. The fatal flaws in Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ derive almost entirely from this commitment and the refusal to consider any other perspective or course of action.

As an aside before I list the three fatal flaws which I maintain characterise the First Minister’s current approach to the constitutional issue, I want to say that one of the most disappointing and distressing aspects of her ‘next steps’ speech was the fact that she seemed to be totally oblivious to how that speech might be received by many people across the Yes movement. She just didn’t appear to appreciate that what she was saying – and not saying – would provoke a strong reaction. There was a distinct impression of taking support for granted. It would be gratifying to think that a salutary lesson might be learned. But experience tells us that those most in need of a lesson in self-awareness tend to be those least amenable to learning such a lesson. Look at Richard Leonard.

This is doubly distressing given that one of the things I have always admired most about the SNP is (was?) their connectedness to the people. If the party has lost that, then it is seriously diminished.

And so to the reasons Nicola Sturgeon’s approach is doomed to fail.

Firstly, there is the matter of time. Aside from anything else, Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘next steps’ speech was remarkable for its lack of urgency. At most, the threat to Scotland’s democracy was vaguely and tangentially hinted at. And there was nothing said about how this threat might be countered. The consequences of delaying meaningful action to restore Scotland’s independence were, from the evidence of that speech, not worthy of consideration.

This lack of urgency is extremely worrying. We have to assume that the British government’s aim and intention is to lock Scotland into the Union. Brexit provides an ideal opportunity to do this. And Brexit is upon us. Action to rescue Scotland from the rolling juggernaut of British Nationalism has already been delayed far too long. The message from Nicola Sturgeon and other leading figures in the SNP is that they are prepared to delay action indefinitely. The talk of a referendum this year is little more than a flimsy veil thrown over this desire to put off doing anything effective as long as possible.

I’m starting to get angry all over again as I write this. So I’ll move on to the next fatal flaw in Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue.

One of the central features of this approach is the notion that increasing support for a new referendum and/or for independence will put irresistible pressure on Boris Johnson to relent and grant a Section 30 order. Why is the fallacy of this not face-slappingly obvious? Given that preservation of the Union is an overarching imperative for the British state – one might readily argue that it is an existential imperative – then surely the greater the probability of a referendum leading to the dissolution of the Union the greater the incentive to ensure that no referendum ever takes place. And we know that the British political elite will be totally ruthless and completely unscrupulous in defending the structures of power, privilege and patronage which operate to their benefit.

The only thing that is going to win the kind of support Nicola Sturgeon demands before she acts is the action she refuses to take before she has that level of support. The idea that the British Prime Minister can be moved to grant a Section 30 order by an appeal to conscience or democratic principles isn’t far short of risible. Although I sure as hell am not laughing when I hear such drivel being spouted by our political leaders.

That’s the anger rising again. Time to move on to what is almost certainly the most telling of the fatal flaws in Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’.

The First Minister’s entire ‘strategy’ is critically dependent on gaining the willing and honest cooperation of the British government in a process which almost certainly would lead to an outcome to which the British government is fervently and implacably opposed.

Need I say more? Can I resist the urge to do so?

When the reality of the Scottish Government’s approach to the constitutional issue is stated as baldly as this it difficult – nay impossible! – to comprehend how any person of normal intelligence could consider an approach with such a ludicrous dependency viable. The question is not whether this fatal flaw is a reality – it is actually central to Nicola Sturgeon’s argument – but why she would embrace such self-evident nonsense and adopt such an obviously doomed approach.

But let’s leave such inquiries for another time. My purpose here is to consider what Nicola Sturgeon’s speech on Friday, and her commitment to a fatally flawed ‘strategy’ implies for Scotland’s cause. Where do we go from here?

What is obvious is that, wherever the Yes movement goes from here, it does so separately from the SNP/Scottish Government. We would be insane to follow Nicola Sturgeon into that dead-end street. This is in total contradiction to what I had hoped for and what I was urging a few months ago. Then, I envisaged Nicola Sturgeon providing the leadership that the Yes movement needs if it is to become a campaign – or give birth to a tightly focused and strongly disciplined campaigning organisation rather than a loose association of diverse groups all doing their own thing. I hoped to have the SNP providing the finely-crafted messages that would then be amplified and taken to the people by an army of Yes activists totally on board with the party’s campaign strategy. That’s not going to happen.

Nicola Sturgeon has effectively cut the SNP and the Scottish Government adrift from the grassroots Yes movement. It is my contention that we should simply accept this as it seems futile to kick against it and doing so will only result in acrimony between the party and the movement. What the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence needs is unity of purpose, not uniformity of thinking. So long a the party and the movement share the same goal, we should be able to approach the campaign in different ways without undermining that campaign. If the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue is as deeply, fatally flawed as is now undeniably the case, then it would be disastrous to our cause if the entire Yes movement were to follow where Nicola Sturgeon leads.

There need be no bitterness or recrimination. A two-pronged campaign may be less than ideal. But as we clearly have no choice in the matter we must focus on making the best we can of the situation. We know the flaws in the SNP’s approach, and this is fortunate because it means we know what we must compensate for.

The precise form of this second prong of the independence campaign has yet to be decided. (Needless to say, I have my own ideas.) And the problem of leadership remains to be resolved. But the Yes movement is nothing if not resourceful. I see no insurmountable issues.

What we must constantly bear in mind, however, is that the SNP is crucial to the realisation of our goal. Without the effective political power of a pro-independence government and Parliament, there is not the remotest possibility of success. People power alone is not enough. That power has to be concentrated behind a government with the power to act for the people. As things stand, that means the SNP. And that situation is not going to change any time soon. So get to grips with it!

The second wing of the independence campaign must always be looking to and working towards the moment when the SNP is obliged to accept the folly and futility of its current approach to the constitutional issue and join with the grassroots movement in the final effort to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.



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Power and effect

Neil Mackay

It’s not often one gets to say this, but Gerry Hassan’s column in the Sunday National (Scottish independence: the rise of people power in Scotland) is an enjoyable as well as an interesting read. Enjoyable – perhaps even inspiring – because it is about something which is inevitably close to the heart of everyone associated with the Yes movement – people power. What is the Yes movement but a wonderful example of people coming together to use their collective democratic power for a worthy purpose?

Like all the best popular movements, the origins of Yes are a bit vague. Inevitably so since such movements are not created but, rather, emerge from the populace – the demos. Popular movements are not launched, they arise. There may be a single spark, but it ignites many fires. In the case of the Yes movement, the spark was the 2014 referendum and the separate fires were the various Yes groups which sprang up all over Scotland. Initially, these groups were initiated by Yes Scotland, the official pro-independence campaign organisation. With a speed which I think it’s safe to say startled everyone, these groups began forming spontaneously, facilitated and fanned by social media. At some indefinable point, due largely to the networking capacity offered by the web, that scattering of individual groups became a movement. An amorphous, organic and rather chaotic phenomenon gradually realising the potential of its power.

Power itself is useless. In order to do anything it must be fed into some kind of machine. It is the machinery which does the actual work. As Gerry Hassan makes clear, All Under One Banner (AUOB) is an illuminating example of a mechanism by which raw people power is transformed into operational effect. It is organisations such as AUOB which draw together the different strands of disparate and diffuse people power, amplifying it and applying it to specific tasks or functions.

Which brings us to what I have previously referred to as the ‘organisation problem‘.

Yes is a diverse, open, inclusive, unstructured popular movement. It is NOT an organisation. That is as it should be. That is its strength. It is not hierarchical. It is an amorphous, informal, organic network. That is the essence of its power.
There are no leaders of the Yes movement. But there are leaders IN the Yes movement. Leadership arises as leadership is required. When that leadership ceases to be necessary, it merges back into the movement ready to be called upon if needed. The Yes movement has no need of leaders so long as it has this potential for emergent leadership.

Some of the Yes movement’s activities demand organisation. People put effort into creating the appropriate organisation within the movement. This is NOT a simple task. Creating an organisation within an organisation is relatively easy. Creating an organisation within a movement which eschews and is averse to formal structures is a hugely demanding task.

In that article I went on to observe that,

It takes a special kind of character to even attempt such a task. It takes extraordinary commitment, dedication and sheer hard work to see it through.

Neil Mackay is representative of that kind of character. Although anything but a ‘one-man band’, Neil’s name serves as a metonym for AUOB and, to some extent, for all the organisations which have been formed within the Yes movement.

The lesson here is that, however much the idea of people power may appeal to us, it doesn’t actually do anything absent the individuals and organisations which give it operational effect. The idea of Scotland’s independence being won by people power is at best misleading fallacy and at worst counter-productive delusion. There is a purist notion of people power which rejects, or only reluctantly accepts, the need for any machinery. This is simplistic nonsense. Ultimately, power of any kind has to use, or be used, by some form of organisation in order to have any effect. And organisations rely on individuals with particular abilities and attributes. Organisations like AUOB. Individuals like Neil Mackay.

Political parties are also part of the machinery which gives effect to popular power. All too many people won’t accept this. How often do you hear people say that they ‘hate political parties’, or ‘detest party politics’? I could discuss at length how this is a prejudice which established power is happy to encourage. And why wouldn’t they? What could suit prevailing power better than that countervailing power should spurn the means to challenge the status quo?

People power requires the machinery of organisations in order to build a campaign. That campaign requires a political party in order to be translated into effective action through the institutions and processes of democracy. There is, and can be, no direct connection between people power and social or political reform. It is critically important to recognise that movement, campaign and party are separate and distinct. They interact. But each has its function and all are crucial to success in effecting change.

The analogy which best represents this relationship portrays the SNP as the lever by which Scotland will be prised out of the Union; the Scottish Government is the fulcrum on which the lever turns; the Scottish Parliament is the base on which the fulcrum rests, and the Yes movement is the force which must be applied to the lever. No component works without the others. Each component must perform as required and work well with the rest of the system.

Which brings me (at last!) to my main point. From all of the foregoing it can be seen that it matters a great deal that people power is correctly directed. No useful purpose is served if that power is organised into a campaign only for that campaign to be spent on a political agent which cannot translate that power into the desired political effect. Which is why I was delighted to see the following quote from Neil Mackay.

AUOB’s aim is to push the Scottish Government and to emphasise the power underneath them. We are here to hold them to account and to hold their feet to the fire as much as we do to Westminster.

Look back at that lever analogy. Do you see any mention of Westminster? It is not there because it has no place. It contributes nothing to the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. If Westminster was to be shoe-horned into our analogy it could only be as the resistance to the lever’s movement. Scotland’s independence will not be restored by, or by way of, Westminster. People power applied to the British establishment is, in terms of the objective, all but entirely squandered. The British state has a capacity for disintegrating and/or deflecting and/or absorbing popular pressure that has been acquired and perfected over several centuries. There is no possibility of help for the Yes movement from that direction.

Neil Mackay is right. The power of the Yes movement must now be turned on the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon, both in her role as our First Minister and in her role as leader of the SNP. Their purpose is to provide the Yes movement with effective political power. The Yes movement must put pressure on them to use that power effectively.



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Whatever happened to wotsitcalled?

And so it begins. Or doesn’t. 2020 has barely started and the #indyref2020 hype is already faltering. Actually, the signs were there even before 2019 was consigned to the bin marked ‘annus horribilis’. Which, disappointingly doesn’t mean ugly arsehole. Or maybe I was reading too much into all the talk of decades rather than years.

Kenny MacAskill certainly doesn’t seem uncomfortable with a year turning into a decade. I agree with him that the chances of a new referendum in 2020 are probably nil. I have been saying as much for a while now. Much to the annoyance of those who prefer their politics with a sprinkle of faerie dust. It’s really just a matter of counting up the ways that Nicola Sturgeon has of making it happen, supposing she wanted to, then compare with the ways Boris Johnson has of stopping it, as well as his all too evident eagerness to do so. It’s no contest. The referendum loses. No credible scenario leads to referendum in the second half of 2020. No amount of wishful thinking will change that. Unless you have another use for those unicorn tears, you might as well stop telling it My Little Pony is prettier.

Where Mr MacAskill and I part company is in our very different attitudes to this non-magical reality. I cannot possibly agree with his conclusion that further delay is “no bad thing”. And let’s be clear about what further delay means. If the new referendum doesn’t appear out of a multi-coloured cloud of sweet-scented smoke by late this year, it will be at least another year before it is even possible. on account of the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2021. It could be much longer. Because the Brexit farce goes into act three at the end of January and by year’s end everybody will have lost their trousers and had an embarrassing encounter with Aunt Harriet’s aspidistra before the curtain comes down on the transition period.

It could be never. Because the foregoing account looks positively rose-tinted compared to one which takes account of what the British political elite will be getting up to while Pete Wishart & The Postponers are on their ‘Optimum Time’ tour performing their hit single ‘Gentle Persuasion’ on doorsteps the length and breadth of Scotland and Kenny MacAskill makes a start on restoring the Volkswagen camper van – which has been rusting in Blair Jenkins’ garage for over five years – as part of the preparations for getting ready to start the lead-up to the campaign that the SNP somehow hasn’t found time to work on because they were too busy prancing about with their gold underpants on over their black tights pretending to be the super-hero who was going to stop Brexit.

I read the extracts from Kenny MacAskill’s article for the Scottish Left Review and I discover that what used to be the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence before it became the campaign to restrain England’s insanity may now be about to undergo a startling transformation into the campaign for turning Holyrood into the Wolfie Smith Memorial Commune for Happy Clappies, Righteous Radicals and the Kaleidoscope Collective for Random Reform (dress code keffiyehs and Guy Fawkes masks).

Call me old-fashioned, but I liked it when it was the Scottish independence campaign and the closest anybody got to wearing a keffiyeh was when somebody’s giant Saltire got wrapped around their neck on the breezy approaches to Nelson Mandela Place, blessedly stifling their irksomely irrelevant chants of “Tories out!” on one of those AUOB marches for, among other things, independence etcetera etcetera etcetera.

What the hell happened to that campaign?



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Don’t tell me to keep the heid!

If Kirsty Strickland’s aim was to snuff the flame of anger now burning in Scotland then she’s going the wrong way about it. I don’t know about anyone else, but few things are better contrived to arouse my ire than being told to “keep the heid” in the face of what is being done to Scotland right now and what will be done if the scourge of British Nationalism isn’t stopped.

The only people who aren’t angry right now are those who don’t understand the situation and those whose pompous self-righteousness leaves no room for less refined emotions. Those who adopt an air of detached world-weariness imagining that it signals metropolitan sophistication. Those who mistake patronising platitudes for pearls of wisdom. Those who have a conceit of themselves that places them in the vanguard of the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence but who prefer not to come into contact with anything so plebeian as unmuzzled outrage.

Keep the heid? Fuck that! It is one of my proudest boasts that I have reached the age of 69 without losing the capacity to be angered by injustice. I value my anger. I would no sooner lose my capacity to be roused to wrath by diverse iniquities than I would my ability to see or speak. Anger is cousin to passion. Without passion we’re just meat automata.

Ms Strickland makes the fundamental error of using the terms ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ interchangeably. They are not synonymous! Rage goes beyond anger to something unfocused and uncontrolled. Anger can energise a campaign. And if the anger is compartmentalised rather than being suppressed, it need not render the campaign disunited or disorganised.

Things change because people get angry about the way things are. No social reform was ever achieved by calm reason alone. Reasoned and democratic argument is the servant of anger. Anger may be ineffective absent the capacity to formulate and express a rational case. But without an infusion of anger that calm rationality is likely to be all but totally ineffectual.

The impression that Kirsty Strickland is out to provoke irritation if not anger is strengthened by some of her other comments. “Indyref2 will come. It’s not a question of if, but when…”, she opines. A statement which really should be the introduction to at least a couple of paragraphs explaining why this must be so – but never is.

Then there’s the suggestion that what we’re engaged in is a campaign to expose Boris Johnson for “the uniquely unappealing figure he is”. Forgive me, Kirsty, but I had this daft notion that what we were engaged in was the considerably less trivial effort to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status and end the injustice of the Union. What was I thinking!?

Always annoying is the assertion that anybody who is doing something that the writer disapproves of must be aiding the enemy. They must be doing “exactly what opponents of independence are counting on”. It may be a most genteel way of labelling people traitors to the cause, but it is bloody offensive all the same.

Perhaps not in the same league as the thinly veiled accusation of treachery, but vexatious for all that, is the claim that the Yes movement is “stronger and more agile than it was in 2014”. Which would be an innocuous statement but for the fact that Ms Strickland is the one trying to weaken the Yes movement and reduce its agility by denying it the anger which is an essential resource for any reformist political campaign.

Scotland’s cause needs more anger, not less. And denying such anger as there inevitably is an outlet through the Yes campaign is a sure way of having it fester and swell into the rage which really would do serious harm to our cause.

Don’t tell me to keep the heid! I have a perfect right to my anger. And every right to use that anger to motivate myself and others.



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