Nothing meaningful

Let’s not get too carried away. Whilst it is always delightful to see the British government in disarray, it’s not as if this is such an uncommon sight these days. May’s humiliation will sweeten many a breakfast this morning. But the defeat she suffered doesn’t really solve anything.

MPs will now be permitted a “meaningful” vote on the final Brexit deal. Cue protracted arguments about the meaning of “meaningful”. We are told that it means “MPs can now tell the Prime Minister that her deal is not quite right, and that the Brexit day can be delayed until a good enough deal is reached“. But how can that be? It is the EU that will decide the terms on which the UK leaves the club. It is the EU that will decide whether the two-year negotiation period allowed by Article 50 can be extended. MPs have secured a meaningful vote on something over which they have no meaningful control.

The narrative offered by the British media has the British government in the driver’s seat of a Brexit bus that more closely resembles a clown car. By her own account, Theresa May is the ringmaster of this circus and David Davis the star performer on the flying trapeze. The notion being peddled here is that the circus just got a wee bit more democratic. That the acrobats and jugglers and drivers and riggers have taken over at least some part of the ringmaster’s powers. But the real power lies with the circus owners.

There is no pick ‘n’ mix Brexit. MPs aren’t going to be able to select which bits of the ‘deal’ they’ll accept and which bits they’ll reject. There is no wriggle-room on the departure date. Not without the highly improbable and inevitably very expensive consent of all the real EU member states.

When the whole Brexit fiasco is over, there will have been only two meaningful decisions that were made in the UK – the Leave vote itself, and the invoking of Article 50. These two choices effectively eradicated all possibility of further choices. The treasure of political options was traded for the magic beans of British exceptionalism.

Labouring our circus analogy, last night’s vote at Westminster might be like the bit of the performance where the clowns stop the pratfalls and custard pies long enough to display some serious talent as tumblers or wire-walkers; eliciting warm applause and surprised respect from the audience. Applause that quickly dies and respect that almost instantly evaporates as the jesters revert to their more accustomed role as objects of derision. The clowns get briefly to feel appreciated for something important. The audience gets the momentary gratification of supposing they have glimpsed something out of the ordinary. But, after this fleeting episode, the clowns are still clowns and the audience mere onlookers. Nothing meaningful has changed.

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Moving on

I’m not quite sure why there is so much excitement about these ‘trade talks’. They can only be very limited in scope. My understanding is that the EU will only formalise any deal once the UK is a ‘third country’. Which means that nothing will be finalised until after 29 March 2019. Any discussions that have taken place before then could be rendered meaningless depending on whether the UK qualifies as a ‘third country’. So why the frantic focus on ‘trade talks’?

The suspicion must be that, as well as being desperate to draw a line under (or a veil over?) the issues of the Irish border, the ‘divorce bill’ and citizens’ rights – the British government is eager to get on with spinning the line that a future trading relationship has been secured that is as was promised by the Mad Brexiteers. As I recall,the idea was that the UK was going to shed all the obligations, responsibilities and costs of EU membership whilst retaining most, if not all, of the advantages, privileges and benefits.

The British political elite will be anxious to divert attention from the intractable problems, and the fact that they had totally failed to consider these problems, and start promoting the notion of successful negotiations winning a great deal for ‘Britain’. They won’t be so keen on questions which expose the tenuousness of that ‘great deal’. They won’t welcome any suggestion that their ‘trade deal’ might be no more real than the agreement that was supposed to settle the Irish border issue.

The good news, from the British government’s perspective, is that they can be fairly confident they won’t be subjected to any rigorous questioning by the British media. They can be reasonably sure there will be no awkward questions about the substance or the solidity of the ‘trade deal’. They fully expect that the media British media will collude in the deception. And why should they not? Was it not ever thus?

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Seen it all before

I take you back to 13 February 2014. That was the day British Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, ventured north from his London fastness to tell those uppity Jocks that if they dared to vote Yes in the first Scottish independence referendum, the British state would retaliate by unilaterally abolishing the sterling currency union that had existed for over three centuries. The intention was to convey to the more gullible voters in Scotland the notion that the price of independence would include being left with no access to the pond and, therefore, no functioning currency.

The threat, one of many issued by the aptly name ‘Project Fear’, was made in response to the Scottish Government’s eminently reasonable proposal that the remaining UK (rUK) should agree to the currency union continuing after independence in return for Scotland continuing to contribute towards the cost of servicing UK debt accrued up to the date of independence. Such an arrangement, whilst not ideal for either party, was, on balance, the best for both. It allowed for continuity and stability and avoided any significant ‘market shocks’ resulting from the ending of the Union.

Although this was never explicitly stated – for reason which should be obvious – the Scottish Government’s proposal could only be a transitional measure. But there was no way to know how long the transition period would be. This would depend on the rate at which the economies of Scotland and rUK diverged after independence. Also, the point at which that divergence made the currency union unsustainable would be a matter of political judgement as much as economic necessity. The important thing is that both parties would know well in advance that the time was coming to end the currency union. They would be able to plan for it. The process could be managed jointly. It wouldn’t be sudden. It wouldn’t be arbitrary. It wouldn’t be unilateral.

The Scottish Government’s proposal was simple good sense. Something that had been worked out as part of a rational process. It was a thoroughly considered compromise and deserved to be treated as such.

The British state’s position, by contrast, was just plain madness. It was an act of wanton economic vandalism driven by a frantic fear that the people of Scotland might vote Yes and thus begin the process of dismantling the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. The British ruling elites were in a state of panic which would ultimately lead to the infamous ‘Vow’.

What happened next was that, predictably, the British media ran with a narrative which made Alex Salmond personally responsible for a proposal that was assumed to be totally unworkable. He was pounded with a barrage of demands for his ‘Plan B’. The idea that Scotland – a modern, wealthy, developed European democracy – could be left with no functioning currency was taken completely for granted. The reality of the Scottish Government’s position was distorted and misrepresented in myriad ways to make it look unreasonable and presumptuous. The media was filled with ‘analysis’ which, for the most part, disregarded the content of ‘Scotland’s Future’ in favour of a nonsensical caricature of what was actually being suggested.

(That a large part of the Yes movement picked up and ran with the narrative peddled by the British state’s propaganda machine is a matter of deep regret. And of more personal anger on my part than it is proper or politic to express here. Suffice it to say, an opportunity was missed to exploit a huge weakness in the false prospectus being offered by Better Together.)

The British state’s position, meanwhile, was subject to no scrutiny whatever. With pitifully few exceptions – an article by Professor Anton Muscatelli stands out – there was absolutely no critical analysis of what was being threatened by the British government, in collusion with all the British political parties. Nobody in the mainstream media asked the obvious and awkward question that should be the first resort of anyone presuming to call themselves a journalist.

Think about it! Abolishing the currency union represented a massive shift in UK economic policy. At least as massive as, say, joining the euro. Can anyone imagine a British Chancellor casually announcing the intention to adopt the euro, and them not being interrogated at all my the media? Now try to imagine that, instead of grilling the Chancellor about the decision to use the euro, the media launching an onslaught against the First Minister of Scotland because he/she said we should continue to use the pound.

Stop imagining! This, in effect, was precisely what happened in 2014. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer made what should have been an enormously controversial announcement about what should have been a tremendously contentious shift in economic policy, and only the bold Bernard Ponsonby made even a token effort to question him on it.

The list of questions that should have been asked, but weren’t, runs to dozens, at least. Who actually made this decision? Was it discussed in cabinet? Had the Bank of England or the CBI or other interested parties been consulted?


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Independence! Nothing less!

We do not yet know whether there actually is a ‘special deal’ for Northern Ireland. But that really doesn’t matter. By even discussing an arrangement which allows NI to retain access to the EU’s single market the British government has signalled its willingness to compromise the ‘One Nation’ dogma which it had previously insisted was non-negotiable. The obdurate “harrumphing” which they tried to pass off as principles has been shown to be as devoid of substance as the rest of this abysmal administration’s pathetic posturing.

But some caution is required lest the impression be given that there is some sort of Brexit deal for Scotland which might negate the need for a new independence referendum. That the two big constitutional issues should become so closely associated was, perhaps, unavoidable; especially given the media’s tendency to massively oversimplify. But we must be absolutely clear that Scotland’s independence is a separate issue from Brexit. The two matters run side-by-side and may occasionally overlap. But a new referendum on restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status was always going to be required. Brexit isn’t the reason for that referendum. Brexit, and the behaviour of the British political elite, merely bring into stark relief the fatal flaws in the Union which will always drive demand for independence among the increasing numbers of people who are coming to recognise those flaws.

Independence is inevitable because any alternative constitutional arrangement which succeeds in terms of the aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. There is no constitutional settlement other than independence which can possibly resolve the issues of asymmetry and sovereignty. The grotesque imbalance of power – which makes a mockery of talk about ‘equal partners’ – can only be rectified by dissolving the Union between Scotland and England. The sovereignty of Scotland’s people – which is absolutely denied by the principle of parliamentary sovereignty – can only be reinstated by restoring Scotland’s independence.

There is no Brexit deal which fixes the Union. There is no Brexit deal which can possibly outweigh the will of Scotland’s people, who voted overwhelmingly to preserve Scotland’s place in Europe.

The only relationship with the EU that can ever be wholly acceptable to the people of Scotland is a relationship freely negotiated by the democratically elected Scottish Government and ratified by the democratically elected Scottish Parliament.

Anything other than a deal directly negotiated between independent Scotland and the EU can only be regarded as a stop-gap measure. The British government is structurally incapable of representing Scotland’s interests. It cannot possibly negotiate on Scotland’s behalf. While Scotland remains part of the UK, the First Minister has a solemn duty to secure the best terms she can obtain. The Scottish Government is obliged to try and mitigate the damage being done by the corrupt and incompetent British establishment. But none of it is a substitute for independence.

Regardless of what happens with this chaotic Brexit fiasco, there must be a new Scottish independence referendum no later than September 2018. The people of Scotland must have an opportunity to end this disastrous Union so that we can create a more appropriate form of association with our neighbours on these islands and begin the task of building a better, fairer more prosperous nation.

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The deal

The only relationship with the EU that can ever be acceptable to the people of Scotland is a relationship freely negotiated by the democratically elected Scottish Government and ratified by the democratically elected Scottish Parliament.

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The British state must be broken

Once again, the role of the British media comes into question. Just as the arguments and evidence put out be the British establishment during the first Scottish independence referendum campaign were subjected to no meaningful scrutiny by the mainstream media, so the claims and assertions of the Leave campaign were never properly examined, or even questioned, during the EU referendum campaign. In both instances, the attitude of the British pint and broadcast media was that British exceptionalism could simply be taken for granted. Statements for ‘British’ sources were to be taken at face value.

Established power is assumed to be right and proper and rational and reasonable. It doesn’t have to justify itself or its actions. There is no need to interrogate it. The very notion is held to be faintly ridiculous. British is best! Everybody knows that!

Except we don’t know that at all. Every scrap of evidence and every bit of experience tells us that the British state is abominably corrupt and abysmally incompetent. But the ugly nakedness of Empress Britannia is not reflected in the media. As the British political class bungle and bluster their way from disaster to catastrophe, most of the media shows us the view though a deeply rose-tinted lens. Even the worst of the malignancy that can’t be prettified by spin is passed off as a singular occurrence or a passing phase. Never is the idea allowed to to gain any kind of traction that all of this is symptomatic of a deep and chronic malaise.

However bad things are, it’ll all turn out OK is we put our trust in those who are making things as bad as they are. It’ll all be fine so long as we maintain our faith in the British ruling elite. The dumb denial about the Irish border issue and other consequences of Brexit is no different from the failure to look realistically at the implications of a No vote in 2014. It’s all down to unthinking assumptions about the nature of the British state.

Even the supposed party political opposition is superficial and ineffectual. Whichever of the British parties is awaiting its turn in power will roar and rail and regale us with slogans and soundbites until we’re intellectually anaesthetised. But behind the posturing and the rhetoric there is just another part of the same structures of power, privilege and patronage. Within the British political system, there is only ever the illusion of possible change. The system itself is unchanging. The organism of the British state has evolved ways of protecting and defending itself. What cannot be crushed and eradicated is absorbed and assimilated.

Thus, there is no real and effective opposition within the British political system. Challenges must come from outside. At present, only the SNP represents such a challenge. Which is why the British state is so frantically determined to crush and eradicate the party. It explains the effort to delegitimise the Scottish Government and undermine the Scottish Parliament the more readily to reabsorb and re-assimilate these within the British system.

Thus, too, there is no real and effective scrutiny of British state by the media. Rather than being part of the checks and balances that democracy requires, the media is, for the most part in the service of established power. Alternative media must attempt to fill the void where the mainstream media has vacated its responsibility. Which explains the British establishment’s relentless and increasingly vicious onslaught against bloggers and social media campaigners.

None of this changes until the British state is broken. And the British state will only be broken using the SNP as the lever, the Scottish Parliament as the fulcrum, and the Yes movement as the force.

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Democracy is not for sale

I wasn’t aware that the question of Scottish independence had ever been off the table. I’m know that British politicians and the British media variously, and often simultaneously, assert that the SNP is obsessed with the constitutional issue to the exclusion of all else, and has abandoned independence project altogether. But that’s just the contradictions and inconsistencies of increasingly shrill and irrational British Nationalist propaganda. Here in the real world, the SNP remains the only political party which is unequivocally and unconditionally committed to the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. A reality which, to be fair, one could not reasonably expect might be addressed by the demented dogma of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

Some may find it curious that an academic of Tom Devine‘s standing has, apparently, fallen for the nonsense about Nicola Sturgeon having ‘put independence on the back burner’. I prefer to see this as a warning of just how pernicious the British state’s propaganda is.

I’m more intrigued by the good professor’s notion that Brexit isn’t going to happen. Not that I wouldn’t like to see it stopped. It would be good to have the democratic will of Scotland’s people implemented by the British government, despite there being no hope or possibility of it ever being respected by the British state. But it is extremely difficult to see how the Brexit fiasco might now be stopped. I’ve seen this suggested elsewhere. what I’ve never seen is any credible account of the process involved. We certainly cannot proceed on the assumption that Brexit isn’t going to happen. Not even with assurances from the estimable Tom Devine. We have to assume that it will go ahead exactly as planned – if you”l pardon my foray into the realms of wry humour.

Which means we must consider what implications Brexit might have for the independence campaign which, let us recall, remains very much on the table – as opposed to the shelf – and well away from that back burner.

The first thing to make absolutely clear is that a new independence referendum is not critically dependent on Brexit in any way. The issues are, obviously, linked. Brexit looms large as part of the context in which the independence campaign is proceeding. But it is important to recognise that there was always going to be another independence referendum, regardless of the whole Brexit thing.

It is also crucial that we avoid getting totally hung up on the economic implications of Brexit. The only thing that matters here is that the people of Scotland voted Remain – and did so decisively. There is no ‘deal’ which can outweigh that vote. It is the constitutional implications which should concern us most. The idea that consideration of the constitutional aspects of Brexit should await ‘clarity’ about the economic impact is dangerously wrong-headed. It necessarily implies that democratic principles are subordinate to an economic imperative. It says that, if the price is right, our democratic rights are up for grabs.

It’s not the economy, stupid! You can’t answer a constitutional question with a calculator! You really can’t!

The UK quitting the EU and Scotland restoring its independence are both first and foremost constitutional issues. Economic and trading relationships follow from the constitutional arrangements and not vice versa. As the Irish border situation clearly illustrates, in the absence of a satisfactory constitutional settlement, trade issues become totally intractable. There is no solution to the Irish border situation which is not a constitutional solution. Economic solutions derive from and depend on the constitutional situation being resolved. There is no trade agreement which will resolve the constitutional issue.

What is true of Ireland is just as true of Scotland. We have to sort out the constitutional question first. We cannot simply wait to see whether a trade deal can be struck which will resolve the constitutional issue for us. It just doesn’t work that way round. The properly constituted entities must first exist before there can even be any meaningful discussion of trade deals.

The constitutional issues will be resolved. The problem is that the ‘solution’ is going to be imposed on Scotland by the British state without negotiation or consultation. The British political elite will unilaterally determine Scotland’s new constitutional status as part of the process of defining the UK’s new constitutional status outwith the EU. There is no intention that the people of Scotland will be permitted a say in the matter. There is no intention that our elected representatives will be party to the process. Already, our Parliament and our Government are being undermined and delegitimised by British state propaganda lest they present an impediment to ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

The idea that there might be some economic reward which would justify this denial of democracy is utterly repugnant. Unfortunately, in 2014 the people of Scotland chose to hand political power to an elite which is entirely driven by economic and ideological imperatives and totally contemptuous of democratic principles. We have a chance to retrieve the situation. We must hold another independence referendum no later than September 2018. And we must vote to take back the power that was so recklessly squandered in 2014.

I would expect Tom Devine to understand and support this proposition.

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