The Ben Bradley inside

While the call for Ben Bradley to be sacked is entirely justified by the obnoxiousness of the views he has expressed, it does nothing to alter those views. It does not address a mindset that finds police brutality justifiable. It doesn’t affect a worldview that regards the unemployed as lesser beings and children as no more than the products of breeding. The attitudes and prejudices evinced by Bradley will persist. They are deeply ingrained in a significant part of society. And influence a far larger part than we would, perhaps, care to acknowledge.

Each of us has a Ben Bradley somewhere in our psyche. It’s just that most of us have the good grace to keep that bit of ourselves caged. And the good sense to keep it gagged. Which of us has not secretly wished a dose of police brutality on some particularly nasty piece of humanity found to have visited unspeakable horrors on a child? Who can honesty say they’ve never entertained a single negative thought about those society labels failures?

But these unworthy thoughts are not expressed. The inclinations to violence are not revealed. They are not allowed to become part of our public persona. For the most part, there is no conscious effort involved. We are not perpetually engaged in an effort to suppress these things. Nor are we constantly aware of them being forcefully repressed by some external agency. For most us us, it’s a totally subconscious process as base urges and social pressures find a workable, liveable balance.

What should concern us is, not that those base urges exist, nor even that there are some among us who find themselves unable to keep their inner Ben Bradley caged and gagged, but the possibility that those social pressures may be altering in a way that makes them less effective as moderators of our base urges.

There will always be Ben Bradleys among us. They won’t always be elevated to high public office. The necessary conditions won’t exist. The normal constraints of society will prevent it. And if they don’t, we should be concerned.

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Busy going nowhere

Guy Verhofstadt points out that the UK can’t have “a better position, a better status outside the EU than inside“. Something which has always been obvious to those wise enough to add even the smallest pinch of salt to the broth of fantasy, delusion and dishonesty served up by the Mad Brexiteers. Even if we suspend healthy cynicism sufficiently to accept notions of ‘soft Brexit’ and ‘hard Brexit’; even if we allow ourselves to believe that there are enough different flavours of Brexit ‘deal’ to satisfy any palate; even if we loosen our grip on reality to the extent that we may imagine the UK having the option to freely and unilaterally select any permutation of options from that menu whilst retaining the right to change that choice without limit of time or frequency; even if we suppose there may be a Brexit ‘transition period’ so finely contrived that the frogs don’t even notice they’re being cooked; even given all of this, it takes a very special kind of mentality to be utterly convinced that the outcome of Brexit might be any kind of improvement in the UK’s position or status, far less the milk-swimming, honey-dripping utopia envisaged by the Mad Brexiteers.

I don’t expect the likes of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson will ever have statues erected in their honour. But it’s distinctly possible that they may lend their names to a psychological syndrome. Although they would surely fall out spectacularly in a petty and petulant squabble about whose name should come first.

As Guy Verhofstadt says, there is no good Brexit outcome for the UK. Even if the captain and crew of HMS Britain were the most competent mariners since humanity first ventured upon the deep; even if their vessel were not a dilapidated rust-bucket held together with the Blu Tack of myth and the wire coat-hangers of pretension; even if this ramshackle craft could be powered by sails of tattered and tawdry bunting flapping in winds of banal jingoism, the voyage is a disaster because the stated destination doesn’t exist.

It’s not that anybody is trying to prevent the Mad Brexiteers getting to the place they say they want to go. It’s that the place they want to go is rather less real than Brigadoon – which at least has some sort of fictional substance once every hundred years. It needs no malice on the part of European nations to frustrate the Mad Brexiteers. It requires only the normal operation of real-world politics. The British political elite has, by hubristic incompetence, placed the UK in a position of such vulnerability that, even in defending and pursuing their own interests without any great vigour, and absent any ill-intent, the EU and Norway and each and all of the nations of Europe must inevitably and unavoidably inflict harm on the UK.

This does not end well. There is no good outcome. There is only spin and blame.

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It’s the little things

This article first appeared in the January 2018 issue of iScot Magazine.
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We are all the products of small changes. That’s the way evolution works. All life is a testament to the power of tiny, incremental change. Seemingly insignificant incidents can alter the course of history. Apparently minor scientific and technological innovations can turn out to have huge implications.

An organic soup has been transformed into a bewildering diversity of life-forms. The fate of nations and their populations has turned on a single momentary act. Basic implements fashioned from elementary materials and crude procedures based on scant knowledge have developed into the dazzling complexity of modern technology and science that is unlocking every secret of nature. All of this by the power of small changes.

We are probably all familiar with the concept of the ‘butterfly effect’. The term first coined by mathematician and meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, to describe how infinitesimal variations in the initial conditions of climate models produce massive differences in outcomes. The origins of a tornado may be traced back to a single flap of a butterfly’s wing at some distant point on the planet. Or, to put it another way, a butterfly twitches in Brazil and, some time later, entire towns are flattened in Kansas.

It is a concept that is being milked by the ‘life-coaching’ industry. A quick web search will discover countless offers to explain (usually for a price) how your entire life can be transformed with the absolute minimum of effort simply by harnessing the power of small changes. Do these three things every day and you will be the person you always thought you should be! You’d be well-advised to put avoiding the pedlars of ‘personal excellence’ at the top of that list of things to do every day. You’re already excellent. Succumbing to the blandishments of snake-oil merchants can only make you less so.

It is curious, given the widespread recognition of the power of small changes, that we so often fail to appreciate this concept in the context of our politics. Largely, we might reasonably suppose, due to the dumbing-down effect of media sensationalism and over-simplification, there’s a tendency to focus on the ‘Big Fix!’. The one marvellous policy innovation that will transform the nation. The nature of ‘traditional’ politics is such that this big idea will rarely amount to more than a snappy slogan behind which lies nothing but a reformulation of the old orthodoxies – threadbare, ill-thought and all too familiar from past failures.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if there were a political culture in which the limitations of government power are recognised? Even embraced. A political culture in which notions of a ‘Big Fix!’ are, for the most part, eschewed. A political culture in which the power of small changes is genuinely appreciated and applied in the process of formulating public policy. A political culture in which doing the right things at the right time and in the right order is considered more important than finding the most media-friendly sound-bite or the most expedient political gesture.

If you find the thought of such a political culture attractive then you may, like me, be heartened by the behaviour of Scotland’s SNP administration.

I must, at this point, register a personal interest. I am a long-time member, and life-long supporter, of the Scottish National Party (SNP). So readers might be forgiven for thinking ‘he would say that, wouldn’t he? But my support for the SNP has, until fairly recently, been entirely on account of this being the party of independence. Since the SNP took power in 2007, a new facet of the party has emerged and developed. As well as being the political arm of the independence movement, the SNP is now a party of government. It must be assessed as such quite separately from its role as the sharp end of a campaign to restore Scotland’s independence.

Leaving aside the constitutional issue and as much of our political prejudice as possible, the way the Scottish Government is conducting the nation’s affairs is certainly interesting. The Baby Box is one of those small things that can potentially have a major impact on society. Unit pricing of alcohol, for all the fuss that was made about it, is actually just one small part of a strategy that has over forty elements. Likewise, the named person measure is actually no more than a relatively small tweak to the substantial child protection system.

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

Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay’s recent budget proposals seem perfectly in keeping with this idea of bringing about significant reform by way of small changes. Some have thoughtlessly dismissed his tax reforms as mere tinkering at the edges. But these are changes of a kind which have apparently been beyond the capacities of successive British Chancellors, despite them having powers which are denied to Mr Mackay by the stultifying constraints of devolution. They are progressive changes. No ‘Big Fix!’. No promise of immediate gratification. Just the assurance that, given time and careful nurturing, this ‘tinkering’ might produce an outcome out of proportion to the changes being implemented.

The tax changes have already produced a reaction from the British parties at Holyrood and Westminster which is out of all proportion to their actual effect on incomes. But that’s just political posturing and can safely – not to say wisely – be ignored by any rational analysis.

The reaction from the media has also been depressingly predictable – echoing and exaggerating and amplifying the hysteria of those British politicians. Common complaints included the SNP’s failure to do more and/or their failure to do it sooner. The shallowness is woeful. Quite apart from the obvious impossibility of altering the tax regime before they had the necessary powers and/or beyond the scope of those powers, there is the wider question of the economic and political readiness of the nation. In a representative democracy, we elect governments precisely for the purpose of making such judgement calls. And, going by the reaction of the Scottish public, rather than the British establishment, Derek Mackay got that just right.

Another part of the media spin on the budget, as with other new measures introduced by the Scottish Government, is the assertion that the SNP was forced into some kind of policy shift by pressure from this or that quarter, depending on the allegiance and agenda of whoever is making the claim. This, too, is nonsense. Looking back through the past ten years of SNP administration one can discern a pattern of small changes building on one another. Undoubtedly, continuity has helped. But continuity means nothing if a governing party is looking no further than the next election. The fact that we can make out this continuity with hindsight certainly suggests that SNP administrations have not been prioritising elections in quite the manner or to quite the extent that we’re accustomed to.

So the SNP is different. Maybe. A bit. It’s not like other political parties. Not entirely. To whatever extent that this is so. to what might we attribute this difference? Is it that the SNP is new to the job? Is it that it hasn’t (yet?) fallen into bad habits?

Is it that the party is different due to its size and its structure and the influence of members?

Is it that the party leadership are working to plan? That this difference is intentional and purposeful?

Probably all of these things play a part. But more important than all of this, I believe, is Scotland’s electoral system. Our method of ensuring proportional representation (PR) in the Scottish Parliament isn’t without its critics. The perfect PR system has yet to be devised. But it works. The Scottish Parliament is more representative of the electorate than it would be without a PR voting system – however imperfect. It is certainly has greater democratic legitimacy than Westminster. But that, perhaps, is not such a huge achievement.

It’s another example of small things producing good outcomes. The PR system need only very, very slightly enhance the tendency for the government to reflect the needs, priorities and aspirations of the electorate for this to trigger a positive feedback loop in which this responsiveness to the electorate makes voters more likely to vote in the expectation of responsiveness. This, in turn, creates an imperative for the political parties to be more responsive. And so it continues. A process of positive improvement.

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

In isolation, individual changes may seem inconsequential and ineffectual. But the cumulative effect may reward patience. We know the power of small changes. Be encouraged by the fact that Scotland seems to be developing a political culture which takes its lead from the people. The steps may be small. But we’re headed in the right direction.

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An abusive relationship

We already know all we need to know about Brexit. Scotland voted against it. There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which negates that vote. There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which is not an insult to Scotland. There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which can possibly compensate Scotland for the harm done by Brexit. There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which fixes the fatally flawed Union.

When somebody is threatening to push you off a high building you don’t have to wait until you land to know it isn’t going to end well. For most people, the threat of being pushed would be enough reason to put some distance between themselves and the person making the threat. Most people would read the signs. Most people would take the hint.

The Union has often been likened to an abusive relationship. The ‘wait and see’ argument is reminiscent of the way victims of bullying commonly react. They try to appease their tormentor. They tell themselves that it might turn out all right. That the bully may not be such an odious individual after all. They deceive themselves about the reality of the situation so as to rationalise inaction.

The whole of the Better Together/Project Fear campaign was just one long, dire argument against standing up to the bully. The entire anti-independence case, during the first referendum campaign and since, distils down to the argument that, however bad the bullying is, it’ll be worse if you try to stop it. However bad the relationship is, it’ll be worse if you try to leave.

The bully’s greatest victory isn’t making you afraid of them, it’s making you afraid of yourself. Making you afraid of your own capacity for control. The bully strips their victim of their defences by making them afraid to use them. Just as they strip their victim of dignity by making them afraid to assert it. The bully makes the victim complicit in their own victimhood.

We know what pandering to the British state with a No vote got us. Only more and worse abuse. Have we not learned that lesson? Are we to appease the British state over Brexit as well? Are we really going to wait and see in the hope that this time it really will be different?

Are we, against all evidence to the contrary, going to tell ourselves that the British state actually does have our interests at heart. It’s not so bad. All that other stuff was just in the heat of the moment. OK! They lied to us.They threatened us. They broke every promise. But they’ve changed. This time, we can trust them. They’re not going to use Brexit to keep us locked into the Union. It’s not like an abusive partner cutting us off from family and friends.

Let’s just wait and see. Maybe that next blow won’t come. Maybe, if we’re quiet and obedient, we won’t get shouted at. Maybe if we just accept whatever we’re given we won’t lose whatever we’ve got. Maybe if we give up what we’ve got, what we’re given might be not so bad.

Aye! That’ll work.

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Putting things right

The situation in which those in the agriculture and fisheries sectors find themselves is, of course, very largely a bind of their own making. Satisfying as the schadenfreude may be, it is hardly constructive. By all means, enjoy a bit of finger-pointing. But don’t settle for that. Farming and fishing are hugely important to Scotland – economically, environmentally and culturally, We must resist the base urge tell farmers and fisherman who campaigned and voted to stay in the UK and leave the EU that they’ve made their bed and must lie in it. Those who got it right are perfectly entitled to remind No/Leave voters how they got it wrong and point out the consequences of their tragic misjudgement. But we must also get past this instinctive reaction and be prepared to engage with these people positively if and when they recognise their error and determine to rectify it.

We might start by joining with No/Leave voters in an effort to understand why they made such unfortunate choices. We could, for example, have a conversation about the way in which the potential consequences were not discussed. Particularly in the case of the first Scottish independence referendum, there was no meaningful media scrutiny of the anti-independence arguments. Statements from the British government and it’s agencies were simply assumed to be accurate and honest. Claims made by the British political parties were rarely, if ever, questioned. Threats and smears coming from Better Together/Project Fear were never challenged. Leading figures in the anti-independence campaign were never interrogated. The lies, distortions and empty promises of British Nationalists were never exposed.

Bearing all this in mind, it is clear that those who voted No in 2014 did so without any hard information about what they were voting for. In reality, they voted for nothing more than a vague assurance that everything would be all right. Nobody really knew what a No vote meant. It was never defined. Those who voted No quickly discovered that their vote could mean whatever the British political elite wanted it to mean. In voting No, they had handed the British establishment a licence to do whatever they wished with Scotland.

Much the same applies to the EU referendum. The negative implications of a Leave vote, potential and actual, were never acknowledged by those campaigning to take the UK out of the EU. It is now clear that the full implications were not even understood by those leading the Leave campaign. The implications were never properly examined. The consequences were never considered. None of it was explained.

Those voting Leave on the basis of the case made by Boris Johnson and his ilk didn’t know what they were actually voting for because Johnson and the rest of the Mad Brexiteers didn’t know – and/or didn’t care -what leaving the EU would entail. Through wilful ignorance or for the purposes of malicious deceit, the Leave campaign peddled a glittering fantasy to obscure the unpeasant reality.

Leave voters aren’t getting the glittering fantasy they thought they were voting for. No voters are getting the very opposite of the certainty, security, stability, prosperity and respect they uncritically and unthinkingly associated with keeping Scotland thirled to the British state.

There is little hope for Leave voters. It looks very much as if they, and the rest of us, will have to live with the consequences of the UK flouncing out of the EU in a self-harming British Nationalist huff. That’s a bitter pill for the Scottish people to swallow, having voted decisively to maintain Scotland’s mutually advantageous relationship with Europe.

Happily, those who voted to relinquish Scotland’s sovereignty to the British state will have a chance to change their minds. Later this year, those who voted No in 2014 will have an opportunity to make a better choice. An informed choice. Very evidently, they cannot rely on British politicians and the British media to provide the information they need. Project Fear and the Leave campaign proved that.

The information is there. The answers are there. It’s just a matter of accessing that information and asking the right questions. Yes campaigners – once they’ve had their fill of schadenfreude – must prompt No voters to question their assumptions about the Union. When we berate No voters it should not be solely for the purpose of recrimination. The aim always should be to provoke No voters into questioning their own assumptions about the Union. To make them look at what the Union really means for Scotland. To break out of the old habits of thought. To stop rejecting independence long enough to wonder why they should just accept the Union.

According to Professor Michael Keating, politics professor at both Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities, we still do not know how much flexibility in relation to agriculture and fisheries policy the Scottish Government – or the other devolved administrations – will have after Brexit.

In fact, we do know – or are obliged by the precautionary principal to assume – that the British political elite intend to allow no flexibility at all. The ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ being proposed suggest anything but flexibility. The phrase reeks of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism and the rigid conformity to imposed policy that this implies.

Professor Keating speaks of “the danger is that a piecemeal approach will make it more difficult for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to forge coherent agricultural and rural development policies tailored to their own conditions”. He seems not to recognise that this is not a potential danger but an imminent threat. It’s not just something that might happen as an unintended consequence of what the UK Government, but the actual purpose of what the UK Government is doing, and something that will happen if the people of Scotland do’t act to prevent it. and quickly.

We have the means to prevent this eradication of Scotland’s distinctive political culture and avoid the looming hammer-blow to our farming and fishing communities from a combination of Brexit and policies imposed by the British government. We can take back the power that was so recklessly handed to a corrupt and incompetent clique of British politicians. We can bring our government home. We can restore Scotland’s independence.

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Kezia’s career

Maybe it’s just because we’ve grown so accustomed to venality and corruption within the British parties, but there’s a distinct sense here of Kezia Dugdale being bought off. One needn’t be hugely cynical to wonder what leverage Dugdale has that could win her a “plum job” on the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) so soon after being reprimanded by the British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) office manager for skiving off work to cash in on whatever celebrity status is associated with being a former BLiS office manager.

How likely is it that Dugdale was her new boss’s first choice for the job? Was there really nobody else he could have picked? Is the dearth of talent among BLiS MSP’s so severe that no other suitable nominee could be found? The imperative of working towards gender balance pretty much limited his options to female candidates. But that gave him eleven names to choose from. Even if he wanted to give the job to someone who had held a leadership role in BLiS, the rate of attrition in this area makes it almost a statistical certainty that there will at least a couple of people who would fit the bill.

What might have made Richard Leonard overlook senior figures such as Johann Lamont and Jackie Baillie in favour of Kezia Dugdale? Is she particularly qualified in some way? Does her stint on ‘I’m Pathetic… Point A Camera At Me!’ make her the ideal person to sit on the body responsible for ensuring that the Parliament is provided with the property, staff and services it requires? It surely can’t be her record as leaderette of the pretendy wee party that gets her on the short-list. Or, for that matter, the long list.

I believe Ms Dugdale to be a thoroughly nice person. But it is difficult to make a persuasive case for her possessing any qualities or capacities that would make her the obvious choice for the job. The fact that she once held the title of ‘Scottish Labour Leader’ doesn’t help at all in this regard. And her past conduct rules out the notion of her being offered a sinecure as some kind of reward.

We might also wonder why Kezia Dugdale would want the job. While serving on the SPCB affords a certain status within the Holyrood bubble, it’s an administrative rather than a political role with precious little in the way of public profile. But this may, in fact be the whole point.

Dugdale has the potential to be a bit of a problem for Richard Leonard and his bosses in London. Her commitment to the Unionist line on the constitution has never seemed quite as rigid as the British parties require. There was always something a bit affected about her British Nationalism. While she shared the bitter resentment of the SNP that afflicts BLiS, the rhetoric frequently seemed more dutiful than heartfelt. And I’m not sure she was happy about being relegated to the status of handmaiden as the media crowned Ruth Davidson Queen of the BritNats and faux First Minister.

Freed of the constraints of seniority, there was a distinct possibility that Kezia Dugdale might stray from the party line – if not on the issue of independence then perhaps on the matter of a new referendum. It’s easy to see why Richard Leonard might want to try to keep Kezia sweet. One of his MSPs moving even slightly away from fervent opposition to a fresh vote on independence would be a huge embarrassment for Leonard, and for earn him the wrath and loathing of his masters in London.

What about Kezia’s motives? Well, if she intends to continue her political career then she had to do something to improve her standing. She had to rehabilitate her image following her rather precipitous fall from grace. There was clearly no possibility of her getting any kind of significant role within the BLiS group at Holyrood. The disgraceful way she was snubbed and shunned by her colleagues on her return to the chamber suggests it may be some time before she is forgiven her trespasses. Although it may just have been that her breath still carried the pungent odour of ostrich anus and bull pizzle.

If Richard Leonard was trying to keep Kezia on-side by giving her the SPCB job, how sure can he be that his ploy will work? It is doubtful that there is any formal agreement which might prevent her speaking out on any topic. It’s easy enough to imagine that Leonard has misjudged Dugdale and mishandled the situation. It may be more than mischievous speculation to suppose that Kezia Dugdale has a long-term plan – and that appointment to the SPCB serves her purposes. It is not entirely unreasonable to suppose that, having read the runes, she is positioning herself in readiness for what looks like being a year of intense drama in Scottish politics.

I don’t think Kezia Dugdale is quite ready to fade into obscurity. I very much doubt that Richard Leonard has the nous to thwart whatever ambitions she may have. If she has looked at the way things are going and seen some opportunity, then we may be hearing more from Kezia Dugdale in 2018.

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Cuckoo in the nest

Scotland has a Parliament – democratically elected by means of an electoral system which, for all its faults, works fairly well to ensure proportional representation.

Scotland has a Government – democratically elected by the people of Scotland and trusted enough as an administration to have remained in office for over ten years.

Only the Scottish Parliament has democratic legitimacy in Scotland.

Only the Scottish Government has a mandate from the people of Scotland.

David Mundell was not elected to the Scottish Parliament. He has no claim on the democratic legitimacy of our Parliament.

David Mundell is not part of the Scottish Government. He has no mandate to represent Scotland.

David Mundell is a British cuckoo in the nest of Scottish democracy.

Scotland has a Parliament. Scotland has a Government. Scotland has political leaders with the democratic authority to speak for Scotland’s people.

We don’t need David Mundell. We need politicians whose allegiance is to the people of Scotland, not the vested interests of the British state.

We don’t need the British government. We need a government that is elected by, and fully accountable to, the people of Scotland.

We don’t need Westminster. We need a parliament that is capable of representing the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

We must bring our government home. We must restore Scotland’s independence.


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