A wondrous epiphany

As both my regular readers will be aware, I have previously castigated – as gently as I might – both Tommy Sheppard and Pete Wishart for their ideas about the timing of a new independence referendum. The notion that the vote could be put off until 2021 or later was always the height of folly. If these gentlemen now want to attribute changes in their thinking to the political landscape shifting on Brexit, I’m content to go along with that. This is too important a matter to be disputing such details.

I don’t even want to know what it is that they imagine has shifted so dramatically as to cause this change in their thinking. I look at the whole Brexit fiasco and I see the same Brexit fiasco I was looking at last year at this time. It’s a year older. But it has matured not one jot. I can’t even make some smart-arse comment about it actually having regressed. Because the whole Brexit fiasco was never at any time in a place where regression was meaningful – or even measurable.

But if Messrs Sheppard and Wishart want to claim that the British political elite’s behaviour has moved from moronic to sub-moronic, what might be gained from disputing the point?

It is time to move on from debating the scheduling of the new poll. We all know it’s going to be Thursday 20 September 2018. Or, at least, we all do now that Tommy and Peter have received the memo. What we should be discussing now is, not the date of the referendum, but how we go about ensuring the most emphatic Yes vote possible – plus one! For me, this is as clear as the fact that the referendum has to be held in September next year.

But let’s leave that for another day. Today, let’s just celebrate the wondrous epiphany enjoyed by Tommy Sheppard and Pete Wishart.

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It’d drive you to drink!

It is unfortunate that this historic affirmation of Scotland’s distinctive political culture has been marred by so much comment based on near-perfect ignorance of the minimum unit pricing (MUP) measure and the wider strategy of which it is a part. It is truly remarkable that, in an age when it has never been easier to find information and check facts, such huge numbers of people simply don’t bother.

I readily acknowledge that, initially, I was very sceptical about MUP. I never doubted that it was well-intended – unlike some of the more wild-eyed zoomers who managed to convince themselves that the entire apparatus of government in Scotland had been fallen prey to the plotting of a particularly dour and puritanical religious cult determined to render the nation drier than a Tory’s tear ducts. But I had grave doubts about any attempt to change Scotland’s relationship with alcohol through price-based measures.

Where I differed from what was surely a large majority of those commenting on social media in the wake of the announcement that the Scotch Whisky Association had failed to block the legislation is that I was open-minded enough to listen to the arguments. I didn’t automatically assume that I knew better than all the experts whose research and knowledgeable opinions informed that legislation. Crucially, I was prepared to question my own assumptions, prejudices and preconceptions.

The arguments were powerful. The evidence conclusive. The plan both reasonable and promising. But, for me, the ‘eureka moment’ was when I recognised the stupidity of conflicting messages telling young people in particular that alcohol is potentially very harmful, while supermarkets trivialise strong drink by selling it like sweeties. How could we expect children to take the warnings about alcohol seriously when it is being marketed as a mere confection?

I also took the trouble to learn how the measure would operate in practice. Something which woefully few people seem to have done. The Scottish Government’s strategy was published all of eight years ago. It is freely available, readily accessible and easy to understand. And yet, as a despair-inducing perusal of comments on Facebook and Twitter will confirm, there are still any number of people insisting that MUP is a tax that will add fifty pence to every drink and other equally nonsensical stuff.

This is massively disappointing. Part of the legacy of the first independence referendum is a certain conceit of ourselves as more politically engaged and aware and astute than is generally true of voters across the UK. This may be true. But the appalling drivel being talked about minimum pricing suggest we’ve still a long way to go.

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In a good place

So, filtering out all the diplomatic fluff, what is the substance? No change! After the meeting that was never supposed to happen, all we know is that Theresa May continues to be locked into a ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project that is all ideology and no ideas, and that Nicola Sturgeon remains content to let Theresa May bounce from gaffe to faux pas to scandal like the ball in a pinball machine – only without the same degree of control. Which is precisely where we were before.

We saw Nicola Sturgeon strut the stage of political theatre like a seasoned professional. We saw Theresa May tread that same stage like it was her gallows. Just as we’ve seen so many times before.

It’s not difficult to imagine what went on in the meeting. Theresa May unable to move. The First Minister refusing to blink. The British Prime Minister, stiff and uncomfortable as she is obliged to stick rigidly to her script; terrified that she might say something meaningful or significant. Now is not the time to be saying anything that might hint at now being the time for anything. Nicola Sturgeon, perfectly at ease as she enjoys the luxury of options. There are things she could say. But she knows that Theresa May hasn’t finished blundering yet. There’s no pressure. Her mandate from the Scottish people isn’t going anywhere. She has an authority that May didn’t possess even before she squandered whatever authority she did have in that crazy snap election.

As well as the luxury of options, Sturgeon has the bonus of time. She knows that there will be another independence referendum. She is aware of the factors which will influence the timing of that referendum. She is cognisant of the fact that, while much depends on what Theresa May does over the coming weeks and months, nothing that May might do is critical. The referendum will happen regardless.

In the meantime, Sturgeon can be confident that pretty much everything Theresa May says and does will serve to bolster the Scottish Government’s position on Brexit and further weaken the British state’s crumbling defences.

Which is not to say there are no pressures on the First Minister. She will be thinking ahead to the referendum campaign and the process following a Yes vote. She will already be considering the inevitably tricky parallel negotiations with the rUK and the EU. She will be working hard to keep a Scottish foot in all the doors that the British are so wilfully determined to close.

But perhaps the most immediate concern for Nicola Sturgeon is the matter of when to declare the new referendum. She could do it now. This would certainly please some of the less thoughtful elements of the Yes movement. But that doesn’t make it a smart move. Other than placating that clamorous clique, it’s difficult to see what else might be gained by launching the referendum campaign proper while the British establishment is still working up its slapstick routine.

The Downing Street meeting between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon changed nothing. But, from Nicola sturgeon’s perspective, that’s no bad thing. Politically, she’s in a very good place.

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No ‘influence’! No democracy!

Here’s the first evidence Russia used Twitter to influence Brexit

WTF is the problem? Democratic exercises are there to be influenced. Influencing them is part of the democratic process. How do we exclude influences without the very grave risk of undermining democracy?

WTF does anybody think the British establishment was doing during Scotland’s first independence referendum if not trying to influence the outcome? WTF do you think the British media is doing day in day out if not trying to influence a constitutional debate that is Scotland’s alone?

I’m sure certain regimes, not least the British and Russian ones, would be salivating at the thought of being able to restrict access to voters. I’m perfectly certain they’d love to be able to pick and choose which influences voters are subject to. But I’m not sure democracy would be served were this possible.

And it’s not possible. Barring some Draconian measures such as would make North Korea look like an open, democratic society, it simply isn’t possible to prevent open, democratic media being used to exert political influence; just as traditional media has done for as long as there has been media. Which is as long as there have been people and language and stories.

It’s just one more thing we have to cope with if we want to maintain our democratic freedoms. The influences that some are getting in such a knicker-twisting, pant-wetting turmoil about are just another facet of the democratic process. If people engage with and participate in that process, they will be able to deal appropriately with the influences. They will learn how to detect and evaluate those influences. Just as they must learn how to handle the pernicious influence of mainstream media, which lie to us all the time in an effort to influence us.

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RT or not RT…

…that is the question.

The sight and sound or tweets of Unionists frothing at the mouth over Alex Salmond’s TV show being shown on the RT News channel has been; churlish, childish and just downright comical.    The likes of Ruth Davidson and Patrick Harvie have shown themselves to be very hypocritical on this issue.  Davidson has been on the channel and I would like to hear from Patrick Harvie why it’s OK for Caroline Lucas to be on RT but not Salmond?  I didn’t really trust the Scottish Greens before, but it’s even less now.  They are doing themselves no favours at all.

To finally see Mr Salmond on a Talk show where the Unionist propaganda machines can’t touch him is going to be interesting.  Personally, I think the thought of this show being broadcast outwith their control has the Unionist media running scared.  I’m not sure why because if they have been doing their job properly they have always been truthful and worked with integrity, no?

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A horrifying prospect!

I would not seriously dispute Richard Murphy’s assessment of the situation. If anything – and hard as it may be to believe given the despairing tone of his article – I suspect he is being overly optimistic in a few areas. He appears, for example, to reckon that Article 50 might be revoked, and at reasonable cost. I’m trying in vain to envisage the political process that would take us to that destination.

He is also able to imagine a “clear statement of what hard Brexit actually means and what planning is needed for it, with a timescale and costing attached”. I can only suppose the conjuring of such a document to involve faux-Latin incantations, choreographed stick waving and, perhaps, a liquor distilled from the tears of a unicorn.

I don’t condemn Richard Murphy. He is reaching for reason. But if reason there be in the current situation I fear it lies well beyond the reach of any mere mortal. The implications of Brexit may be unfathomable. They are surely not readily amenable to scientific certainty. They reach far and deep into a four-dimensional matrix so complex that even short-term variables may proliferate past any realistic possibility of the kind of comprehension that is a prerequisite of control or management.

Which is my way of saying that we’re not only f***ed, we can’t even figure out how f***ed we are.

What is becoming clear is that the ‘deal’ for which the brightest and best that the British political establishment has to offer are striving would most appropriately be called, not ‘soft Brexit’ but ‘status quo ante’. It is plain enough to see, even if politically painful to acknowledge, that what the British government is desperately hoping for is an arrangement no different in its essentials from what existed prior to Brexit but of such a character that it can be spun as something close enough to the Brexit that was promised to be seen as a lucky escape by Leave voters newly pounded into pragmatic awareness by a peek into Pandora’s Box, while the madder of the Mad Brexiteers are bought off with their favourite confection of bitter recriminations against the Johnny Foreigners of the EU who have denied them their dream of a return to selling fruit and vegetables in measures based on the weight of a medieval monarch’s turd.

All of which is a hope as forlorn as Richard Murphy’s wished-for map depicting a safe, certain and fully costed route through the maze of Brexit consequences. The UK is not getting a deal such as described. Leave voters will believe the worst, or what the media tells them – which are essentially the same things. And the Mad Brexiteers will not be placated – because they’re mad.

While accepting his dour and dismal assessment of the situation, where I really part company with Richard Murphy is when it comes to his idea of a solution. Talk of a “national government created, temporarily, in the national interest” horrifies me even more than the thought of Brexit. It is based on the truly odd notion that an incompetent and infantile elite can be made more “grown-up” by adding to the numbers who are part of this incompetent and infantile elite.

The fallacy is that it is a particular section of the British political establishment that is in error and that this can be corrected by drawing on the remainder of the same British political establishment. It fails to recognise that all this does is remove even the notional opposition to established power by making it part of established power. The problem isn’t that the British government is Tory, it’s that it’s British. Richard Murphy’s proposal doesn’t make that government less Tory. It merely makes it more British.

A government of national unity in London is a mechanism for entrenching and enabling ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. If the prognostications for the periphery of the British state are dire under the present administration, they are nothing short of calamitous under a regime empowered in the manner suggested by Richard Murphy. If this is a real prospect, then it only makes it all the more urgent that Scotland escape the British state while escape is still possible.

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The alternative

With the complete lack of self-awareness which is the hallmark of the true British Nationalist fanatic, Tom Gordon demonstrates why it is not only right, but essential that Alex Salmond does this TV programme. The arguments about whether it is appropriate to use RT are totally irrelevant. It’s all there is. No broadcaster beholden to the British state is going to allow Scotland’s Yes movement the means to communicate its message directly to the people of Scotland. The real issue here; the issue that’s being obscured by the bitter, vituperative hysteria of British ‘journalists’ like Tom Gordon, is the fact that a lawful, peaceful, democratic movement supported by around half the people of Scotland is denied fair access to the media.

The pertinent question is, not why Salmond is doing his show on a Russian-owned TV channel, but why he is prevented from doing it on any channel controlled by the British establishment.

Of course, Tom Gordon and his ilk would never even think to ask such a question. Which is why, when referring to their profession, the term ‘journalist’ must be placed in quotes. Because the question is the most fundamental tool of the genuine professional journalist. Anyone who assiduously avoids questions which might prove awkward for established power is not practising journalism. They are merely propagandising on behalf of established power. They are protecting established power. And this is true whether they are in the pay of RT or the BBC or the Sunday Herald.

Established power must be challenged in a democracy. There can be no functioning democracy where there is no means, or capacity, or will, to challenge established power.

Alex Salmond has the will to challenge the British state. He also has the capacity. Which is precisely why the British establishment denies him the means. And why British Nationalists are roused to such a frenzy of fearful fury when he acquires the means.

Complaints that Salmond may be self-regarding and self-important and self-aggrandising miss the point about the person every bit as much as the shrill denunciations of RT miss the point about the means. It is precisely Salmond’s nature that makes him willing and able to confront the might of the British state’s propaganda machine.

Tom Gordon’s is the voice of the British state. The voice of the ruling elites. He speaks for the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. That cannot be the only voice we are permitted to hear. For the sake of democracy, there must be an alternative. How else might people even become aware that they have a choice? Arguably, no individual is better placed to be that alternative voice. Certainly, no British broadcaster is going to facilitate that voice being heard.

It has to be done. It has to be Alex Salmond. It has to be RT.

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