All very nice, but…

Lovely! It’s great that Common Weal is doing this work. But it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if the question at the heart of the constitutional issue were to be obscured by a plethora of policy options.

That core question is not about what kind of social security system is best for independent Scotland. Nor is it about what sort of health service we should have. Or how our military should be organised. Or how much tax we should pay. Or what our currency is called and whose picture appears on the notes.

The core question does not concern policy at all. It concerns principle. It is about who decides what kind of tax/benefit system we have. It is about who is acknowledged as the ultimate constitutional authority. It is about where power lies.

It is about addressing the fatal anomalies which have dogged the political union between Scotland and England since its inception. It is about rectifying the democratic deficit inherent in the grotesque asymmetry of influence. It is about deciding, once and for all, the contest between the incomparable and irreconcilable concepts of popular and parliamentary sovereignty.

When, in September 2018, the people of Scotland vote again on the constitutional question, we will not be voting for any policy or any party or any ideology. As was the case four years previously, for the fifteen hours that the polls are open, the people of Scotland will hold in their hands total democratic power. Or something as close to that as we can ever hope to have. The choice facing us will be whether to keep that power to ourselves, or whether to hand it back to a political elite that is remote from us in every sense of the term.

In 2014, we chose to relinquish our democratic power. More than that! By voting No, we not only gave the British political elite our power, we gave them licence to define the power that we had given them. They were allowed to decide what a No vote actually meant after the votes had been cast.

We cannot afford to make that mistake again. So we cannot afford to be distracted by debate about policy in an independent Scotland. Thinking about policy is essential. Discussing our options is important. This is just normal political discourse. It is relevant regardless of and quite apart from the issue of independence. But the matter of being independent cannot possibly take precedence over the matter of becoming independent.

Those whose support for independence is conditional on a particular policy agenda are putting the cart before the horse. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that they have abandoned the horse completely and are sitting on the cart hoping that the fervour of their dogma will be enough to get the thing moving towards independence.

It cannot logically be maintained that independence is about seizing the power to decide whilst simultaneously insisting that the decisions have to be made before the power is seized.

So, fine! It’s good to have a vision. It’s even better to have a range of visions. But can we please keep at the forefront of our minds that, while the Yes movement is very much about developing such broad and diverse visions, the independence campaign is about achieving a very specific goal – bringing Scotland’s government home. Should we fail in that mission, all the thinking on policy will be for nothing. Without independence, the vision will fade to black.

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A duty to speak

Alan Bissett and I generally see things in much the same way. And I would not demur at all from his conclusions about Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour and their Scottish branch operation. The only thing I have a slight problem with is his reluctance to criticise those self-proclaimed Yes supporters who nonetheless voted for the British nationalist Labour Party in the 2017 UK general election.

Having assembled and presented a cogent, coherent argument that “voting for Corbyn” is totally inconsistent with the aims of Scotland’s independence movement; and of dubious utility, at best, in terms of advancing progressive politics in general, Alan then offers comfort and succour to those who did the very thing he has just put some effort into persuading us is grotesquely illogical, if not face-slappingly stupid.

Why? Why hold back? If a course of action is illogical and daft, then it follows that the people who follow that course of action are guilty of doing something daft and illogical. What purpose is served by pretending otherwise?

Alan is a nice guy. But politics isn’t known for rewarding niceness. Particularly the politics of the British state. We have to be prepared to condemn where this is appropriate. And do so in terms that leave no room for doubt or pretence about the fallacies and foolishness we are speaking against.

Of course people are entitled to vote as they please. Nobody, that I am aware of, is arguing otherwise. What would be the point in doing so? There is no way to compel anybody to vote in a particular way. Under normal circumstances, we have no way of even knowing how a person has cast their ballot. Of course people can vote in any way they want.

But if someone decides to publicly proclaim that they have voted in a particular way, they implicitly invite comment on their electoral choice. If they have voted in a way that contradicts previously declared principles, then they are perfectly legitimate targets for criticism on the grounds of hypocrisy. Although we might still opt to set aside such criticism. Particularly if we’re a ‘nice guy’.

However, if an individual appears to be trying to persuade others to emulate behaviour that undermines a dearly held principle or worthy cause, then surely we have a responsibility to speak out. We have a duty to discourage that behaviour.

Actions have consequences. If someone asserts that voting for a British nationalist party has no possible adverse implications for the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence, they are either a fool or a liar or both. I, for one, will have not the slightest compunction about saying as much.

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Come together

That BBC Scotland is a shamelessly unprincipled propaganda arm of the British state is something we have come to take for granted. It is right, however futile, that it should be roundly condemned for its treatment of Michelle Thomson.

To whatever extent recriminations against the SNP may be justified, it is likely that they will be counterproductive in terms of the independence project. So some caution is advisable.

It can readily be argued, with the benefit of hindsight, that the party should have been more supportive of Thomson. But surely the same could be said of most of the Yes movement. Given that Thomson was certainly being targeted by the BBC and the rest of the British establishment because of her association with the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence, it was incumbent on all who support that cause to come to her defence.

If there is a lesson here for the SNP, then there is also something for the wider Yes movement to learn. We must be more ready to demonstrate solidarity in the face of attacks such as that on Michelle Thomson.

We must not be intimidated by the power of the British state’s propaganda machine. We must be prepared to take risks in the name of a worthy cause. And we must be prepared to stand by those who challenge established power on our behalf.

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Not the greatest

Ruth Davidson is “seen as a rising star in the Tory party” only because that is how she is portrayed by the media. She is being touted as a “potential future leader”, not on account of any talent other than a certain flair for self-promotion, but because the media have elevated her well beyond her true worth.

With their customary superficial understanding of Scottish politics, the parochial, London-centric media have totally bought Davidson’s self-proclaimed status as ‘Queen of the British Nationalists’. The BBC in particular, has convinced itself that she is the scourge of the SNP. They now seek to persuade the rest of us.

They have a problem. Precious few people are as impressed with Colonel Tankstraddler as the media are. And nobody is as impressed with her as she is with herself. Davidson earned a rebuke from her bosses because she has come to believe her own myth. She imagines she has real influence. Even actual power. She supposes herself to be a brilliant political strategist and a wise and charismatic leader.

She is none of these things. Davidson is a political cipher. A nonentity. She is regarded by the British establishment as a convenient tool against the hated SNP. Beyond that, they have no use for her. She will fail. She will fall from favour. And, sadly, she will not handle ignominy well.

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Getting the game

I used to hate Wimbledon fortnight. Back in the days when the game was played in black and white on a screen the size of a table mat, I found it the most tedious spectacle. It wasn’t until I acquired the maturity and wisdom that comes with reaching the age of eight or nine that I realised the reason the younger me so detested tennis was their failure to understand it. They just didn’t get the game.

The older me recognised that the silly child I once was understood neither the objective of the game nor the way it was scored. To my childish mind, it seemed like all the fun of tennis lay in batting the ball back and forth. It made no sense that one or both players looked to be deliberately making it difficult for the other to hit the ball back. (Or ‘return’ it, as I later to say.) They were spoiling things. They were causing the game to be interrupted. They were making it fail.

The man in the high chair shouting random numbers and words just made the whole thing even more aggravatingly incomprehensible. While the reaction from the crowd was just unbearably perplexing. They actually seemed to like it when one of the players caused the game to break down by hitting the ball where the other player couldn’t reach it. Madness!

It was only when I came to understand the basic rules that I was able to make proper sense of what was going on. Now that I’m as grown up as I’m ever likely to be and Wimbledon is in colour on a screen the size of a dining table, I can quite enjoy it.

Politics is a game. Or, at least, it can be thought of as such. There are rules. There is a form of scoring. And it is only when one has at least a rudimentary grasp of the rules and scoring that one can begin to appreciate what may otherwise seem quite baffling – and very boring.

Sometimes political negotiations are supposed to fail. Not all negotiations are meant to end in agreement. It’s not always about maintaining a smooth back and forth between the parties. Just as in tennis, the objective can be to force your opponent into making an error. This is not spoiling the game. It is playing the game.

Which is not to say that any party to those negotiations deliberately sets out to sabotage them. Although that can and does happen. But sometimes the purpose of holding talks is to demonstrate that no agreement is possible.

Sometimes a demand is made by one party to negotiations of another in the full and certain knowledge that it will not be met. The purpose of making the demand is, not to have it fulfilled, but to expose the fact that the party of which the demand is being made is unwilling or unable to deliver.

If the demand is reasonable, or made to seem so, then refusal is bound to look unreasonable. If the demand is for something the other side has claimed to have the ability to deliver then pressing them on it may force an admission that they are actually powerless and weak.

Power is relative. So undermining the credibility and authority of your opponents is a perfectly legitimate way of increasing your own power.

At the risk of straining the tennis analogy to breaking point, the British establishment is making a lot of unforced errors. In terms of the Brexit process, the UK Government looks like its feet are nailed to the baseline as the aces fly past.

The parallel negotiations with the devolved administrations actually make more compelling viewing. There’s just a tad more subtlety and nuance compared to the clumsy and amateurish performance of Theresa May’s team in the European game. The talks between the Scottish Government and The British state’s envoys are intriguing – if you understand the rules of the game and the objectives being pursued by the players.

The British side doesn’t even want to play the game. Being British, they feel entitled to a bye. Having been obliged to play, they anticipated a walkover. But that’s not happening. Mike Russell is putting David Mundell under pressure. By demanding what Mundell is not authorised to give, Russell leaves his opponent looking flat-footed and out of his depth.

The more the Scottish Government demands powers for the Scottish Parliament, the more the British side is forced to refuse those powers. The UK Government’s hope and intention was that the whole thing could be presented as a fait accompli late in the Brexit process. The idea was that, under cover of the Brexit negotiations, the devolution settlement could be surreptitiously unravelled. Scotland’s democratic institutions would be seriously weakened. The effective political power of the SNP would be undermined. The threat to the integrity of the British state would be considerably reduced. The inevitable break-up of the UK could be postponed – perhaps for decades.

The very last thing the British establishment wants at this time is for the public to become aware of its intentions. The SNP administration is forcing them to show their hand early. and this does not suit their purpose.

When Nicola Sturgeon demands that the UK Government ensure Scotland’s continued membership of, or access to, the European Single Market, it is not because she supposes that this is possible. It is because she knows that it is not possible. It is because she knows she’s demanding something the people of Scotland voted for, but which they cannot have as long as Scotland is part of the UK.

The talks between The UK and Scottish Government aren’t supposed to end in a satisfactory deal. Both sides know full well that there is no possibility of agreement. The negotiations – to whatever extent they may be so termed – are not about finding a compromise. They are about one side trying to conceal the inevitable outcome while the other side tries to expose it.

The British side doesn’t want it known that they intend to impose a new constitutional settlement on Scotland without the agreement of, or even proper consultation with, our democratically elected representatives. The Scottish side wants make people aware that their democratic rights are under attack, but without making explicit claims about the UK Government’s intentions, which would inevitably be misrepresented by hostile media. They have to extract refusal, denials, obstructions, prevarications and obfuscations which gradually build into a clear impression.

The Scottish side has to play shots that force errors. What the score is right now isn’t clear. But the Scottish side has a distinct advantage. There is absolutely no limit to the powers which can reasonably be demanded for a democratically elected national parliament. There is a very strict limit to the powers that the British establishment is prepared to give up.

In this game, points are not always scored by ‘winning’. In the longer term, not getting what you demand may be the way to victory.

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Enough of this preachy shite!

Strange, is it not, that we rarely if ever hear anybody claim that being abusive and obnoxious will put people off voting No. The Ross Greers and the Cat Boyds and the Lesley Riddochs and the Angela Haggertys and the Robin McAlpines all regularly mount their virtual pulpits to berate the ordinary folks of the Yes movement on their sinful ways. And now Carolyn Leckie joins the ranks of this priesthood of righteous radicals lecturing us about how we’re doing it all wrong. But British nationalism’s posse of amateur propagandists isn’t subject to the same preachiness.

Apparently, we’re all talking to the wrong people, about the wrong things, in the wrong places, at the wrong times. Most unforgivably of all, we’re talking in the wrong way. We’re using the wrong language. We’re not using the approved form of words.

Like an army of dour, dust-dry and domineering dominies, these self-appointed gatekeepers of the cause and guardians of the one true word loom over us, crow black and brimming with cant. Armed with the tawse of intolerance and the waggy finger of denunciation, they pursue their joyless mission to purify the Yes movement. To drive out the demons of honest anger and robust rhetoric. To criticise, castigate and condemn those who do not conform to their notions of what is fit and proper.

According to this tutting, clucking clique, we must constantly walk on eggshells. We must treat the population of Scotland as if it were a collection of delicate hot-house flowers poised to wither and wilt if we utter a word out of place. Which is problematic for anybody who wishes to engage on behalf of the independence campaign because it seems that pretty much anything we say is likely to be denounced for bringing the Yes campaign into disrepute. The list of expressions which are liable to put people off voting Yes is apparently endless.

So isn’t it odd that there is no equivalent list of words that are likely to dissuade people from voting No? The prevailing convention seems to be that British nationalists are free to be as “abusive and obnoxious” as they wish, while those who write and speak on behalf of the independence cause are constrained by rigid rules. We are subject to proscriptions defined and dictated by our opponents but enforced by a pompously censorious elite within the Yes movement.

What towering arrogance is it that declares a perspective invalid just because the terms in which it is expressed are disapproved of? Much of the commentary being hysterically denounced as improper by the British state’s propaganda apparatus and Yes movement’s self-deputised internal police force is, for many if not most of us, the language of everyday discourse. It’s just the way we talk.

I’ve a wee message for what somebody very aptly termed the “Holy Wolfie Smiths of the Byres Road Cappuccino Commie set”.

Don’t dare tell people their views are not legitimate for no better reason than that they choose to deploy the odd expletive!

Don’t presume to belittle and denigrate those who may be expressing themselves in the only way they know how!

Don’t dismiss perfectly justifiable anger at injustice just because it resorts to a limited vocabulary!

Don’t ever try to exclude people on the grounds that don’t meet some arbitrary standard of erudition!

And for f*** sake stop feeding the totally contrived British nationalist narrative of ‘cybernat abuse’. That, as much as your high-minded moralising, is what really might undermine the broad and inclusive Yes movement.

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Posted in Politics | Tagged | 12 Comments

Them and us

Few people have more right to be bitter and angry than Michelle Thomson. Her treatment at the hands of the media and the British political parties has been quite appalling. And while her resentment against the SNP leadership is surely unjustified, it is understandable in the circumstances.

I too wish the party would show rather more intestinal fortitude in standing up for those in its ranks who come under attack from the British establishment’s propaganda apparatus. But I understand the difficulty and the risks in doing so. I think Michelle is mistaken if she supposes she was offered less support simply because she is female. That simply doesn’t seem credible, given what we know about Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s strong position on gender equality. Each case has to be dealt with on its merits. In Michelle’s case, the media witch-hunt was quite extraordinarily vicious and sustained. I suspect that, intellectually, Michelle knows that the party had to distance itself from that media-generated shit-storm even as, emotionally, she is hurt by the way she was treated.

With due respect to Michelle Thomson, and fully acknowledging the torment she has suffered, the underlying issue here is, not the differential treatment of women, but the anti-SNP prejudice that is rife within the British establishment. Michelle was singled out for a protracted campaign of hate first and foremost because she was an SNP MP. That her past business activities lent themselves to the maliciously emotive spin of unprincipled media was a bonus for a British political elite desperate for a way to smear the party that it regards as an existential threat.

Can there be any doubt that, had Michelle Thomson been a member of any other party, none of this would have happened? The British establishment is quick to come to the defence of insiders. And sets upon those it regards as interlopers with all the viciousness of a predator pack. Michelle’s crime was being Scottish, rather than British. Her offence was putting Scottish interests before those of the British state. Her misfortune was to be perceived as vulnerable. Scotland needs to get much better at protecting its own.

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Posted in Politics | Tagged | 8 Comments