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Monday, 29 February 2016

Realistic expectations

Scottish Government logo
I do not doubt the SNP administration's commitment to creating a welfare system fit for a modern civilised nation. I know that the determination to guide us away from the corrosive austerity of British politics and back to being a humane society is absolutely genuine. I know also that there is some cool-headed calculation involved in the plan to remove the stigma from benefits and put the 'security' back into 'social security'. The potential advantages that flow from this are evident to all but the most unthinking adherents to neo-liberal orthodoxy.

What I doubt is the extent to which any of this can be achieved within the constraints being imposed by the UK Government. Because, while it suits the British parties to talk up the shiny 'new powers' being so ungraciously granted to the Scottish Parliament, the reality is that the latest round of constitutional tinkering is no less about withholding real and necessary powers from the Scottish Parliament than any of its failed predecessors.

Lesley Riddoch takes an optimistic view of the situation. She chooses to suppose that John Swinney will be able to contrive ways to work around the fiscal traps embedded in the new Scotland Bill so as to make the 'new powers' work in ways that the British government certainly didn't intend.

Let there be no mistake about this! The intent of the latest Scotland Bill is malicious. It's purpose is to force the SNP administration into doing things that will make it unpopular with voters. Devolution was never about addressing the aspirations and priorities of Scotland's people. It was always about securing the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. But the latest legislation goes beyond this. It seeks to turn devolution into a political weapon against a party seen as representing a threat to the established order. A weapon wielded with absolutely no regard for any 'collateral damage' that might be done to Scotland's economy and democratic institutions.

To hope, as Lesley Riddoch appears to do, that this sword might be beaten into a ploughshare by the Scottish Government may well represent and unjustified raising of expectations.

Ms Riddoch's motives are not in question. But we must be mindful that others will similarly seek to raise expectations whose motives are very far from benign. British Labour in Scotland has already started to demand that the SNP work all manner of miracles with these 'new powers'. In an alliance with the Tories which is only marginally less formal than Better Together, British Labour in Scotland will continue to insist that the Scottish Government is choosing not to use powers that it actually doesn't have. Or poweers whose use would have implications that Kezia's Kiddies choose to pretend don't exist. We need to be aware that British Labour and the Tories are working hand-in-hand to harrass the Scottish Government and force it into the various fiscal and political traps that have been laid.

We need to be aware that everything the British parties say and do has but one objective - the return of Scotland to British control and the eradication of Scotland's distinctive political culture.

Like most people in Scotland, I trust Nicola Sturgeon and her team. I have confidence in them. But I do not underestimate the forces that ranged against them. If they are to succeed in turning the 'new powers' to our advantage, they will need our support. And our understanding of just how difficult this will be.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

The simple election

Do you get the sense that there is something different about the coming election? You may not be one of those politics anoraks to be found constantly sniffing the air trying to pick up the scent of a trend. Or the kind who spends their days peering into a metaphorical microscope at the denizens of the political pond trying to discern patterns and purpose in their obscure activities. You may not be able to quite put your finger on what it is. But you may yet be troubled by the feeling that the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections are extraordinary in some way.

And you'd be right. The circumstances in which we find ourselves conspire to create a context for this election which sets it apart from the carefully crafted norm of the British political system, with its stultifying obsession with economics; its mechanistic resort to well-tried propaganda techniques; its artifice and insincerity and triviality; its concerns and priorities contrived as distractions from uncomfortably real issues; its faux rivalries between and among cliques barely discernible in terms of ideology and policy; its reliance on disaffection and apathy... its awful Britishness.

Those special circumstances include, but are not necessarily limited to, the aftermath of the first referendum campaign; the looming EU referendum; and the issues surrounding the British establishment's efforts to foist upon Scotland yet another round of constitutional tinkering - this one distinguished only by having added malice to ineptitude in its formulation.

To this list we might add the efforts of large parts of the political left in Scotland to persuade voters that, by some never quite explained process, we might have now that which we hope to achieve as an independent nation. The pernicious notion that devolution might, after all, be enough. An echo of the unionist rhetoric about "using the powers we have (or soon will have)".

All of these things come together to create a quite distinctive context for this election.

We have an electorate that is more aware and engaged than is usual. We have the prospect of an EU referendum which serves to push the constitution to the forefront rather more than the British establishment is comfortable with. Piling in on top of that we have the Scotland Bill/Financial Framework, which makes it doubly difficult to bury the constitutional issue under a tsunami of economic and performance statistics.

And we have the radical left unconvincingly setting aside their customary factionalism in the hope of extracting some electoral advantage from all of this by peddling a magical formula that will supposedly bring about a more diverse parliament and much else without the inconvenience of having to go through the process of restoring Scotland's independence.

But what does it all mean for voters? Well, the good news is that it makes things simpler.

Simpler because we cannot choose the things that the radical left tempts us with. We are not yet at the point where we are choosing between conventional and radical policies. We are at the point where we are required to defend our potential to have such choices in the future.

Simpler because, in this election, there is a single overriding imperative which is so crucial that it relegates all policy considerations to a distant second place.

Simpler because the choice is not between the principled, if often irritatingly cautious, pragmatism of the SNP and something bigger, bolder and brighter. The choice is between a party which, at the very minimum, has accommodated the opening of Scotland's political space to the progressive; and political forces which absolutely exclude the progressive and would see it crushed out of existence.

I realise that this is hard for some to accept. I know that I will be accused of "defeatism" by those whose hunger for change leads them to misread our current situation. I expect to be assailed with taunts about "blind allegiance" to the SNP. I'll shrug this off. Because I know that none of those reacting to my remarks with that kind of vehemence would be able to explain what progressive objective, on any reasonable time-scale, is not entirely dependent on returning a majority SNP government in May.

Which means #BothVotesSNP. It really is that simple.

This article first appeared in The Grist #6

Friday, 26 February 2016

Dropping jaws and sinking hearts

Legend has it that the heavens trembled in fear the day Jim Murphy was appointed branch office manager for British Labour in Scotland. In reality, that noise wasn't thunder. It was the sound of thousands of Yes supporters' jaws hitting the floor simultaneously. For most of us, only one thing could explain such monumental crassness - from within the British Labour bubble, the real world is invisible.

This same explanation works for them opting to commit so wholeheartedly to partnership with the Tories. Although this move was less surprising to those of us who had long recognised that British Labour was just another face of the British establishment, it was nonetheless striking just how oblivious they were to the implications of brazenly acknowledging the faux rivalry at the core of the British political system.

But arguably the most striking revelation to come from this leaked research is the fact that nobody knows who made the decision to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories. The immediate reaction among many will, I suspect, be to scoff and assume that it's just a case of nobody wanting to admit responsibility. And this would be a very natural reaction, given what we know about British Labour in Scotland. But what if this isn't merely an example of passing the buck until it gets lost? What if, in fact, nobody did make the decision?

Is it not shockingly easy to imagine the pretendy wee party so devoid of effective leadership that it could simply drift into a situation that was almost certainly going to be fatal to its electoral fortunes? Is it not disturbingly plausible that, rather than the then nominal leader (Whichever unmemorable cipher that was!) calling a meeting and thrashing out a strategy, there was just a press statement from one of the London-based 'big beasts', and everybody then went along with it because nobody knew how to do anything else?

Nothing has changed. For all the theatrical hand-wringing and pompous rhetoric about 'listening and changing', British Labour in Scotland remains the same pathetic entity it was when it tripped over one of its egos and fell into the Tories' lap.

It is the same scabrous coalescence of arrogant, unthinking entitlement it was when, in a fit of prideful pique, British Labour shoved Jim Murphy in the faces of the people of Scotland.
We know it occupies that same reality-obscuring bubble because it continues to behave in ways that defy any explanation other than that it hasn't a f****** clue what it is doing. Or what is happening all around it.

We know it hasn't changed because only last year it allowed itself to be manoeuvred into siding with the Tories as the British establishment parties yet again joined forces in an effort to stem the tide of democratic dissent rising in Scotland. The Tories took the line that an SNP/Labour alliance was unthinkable. British Labour in Scotland not only endorsed this propaganda but sought to outdo their Tory allies in ludicrously portraying the SNP as the spawn of Satan.


We know that British Labour in Scotland is no more conscious of the political realities in Scotland now because they persist with the strategy that has come to be referred to simply as #SNPBAD despite all the indications that it is having precisely the opposite effect to that intended. We watch their antics over tax, to give just one example, and we recognise immediately that no thinking whatever has gone into the proposal beyond the potential for further sniping at the SNP administration in that infantile manner that has become so depressingly familiar.

Only one question remains. How can this lot imagine themselves credible as a party of opposition, far less a party of government? It's bad enough waiting for the next moment of jaw-dropping ineptitude when it will cause problems only for the dutiful hacks who must try to spin it as an act of deft political genius and a 'major blow to the SNP'. As the campaign for May's election gathers pace, British Labour in Scotland are asking us to imagine them in government. For most of us, that is a prospect which doesn't only make the jaw drop, it makes the heart sink.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Rejoicing and resentment

While John Swinney deserves all the plaudits he's getting from those who appreciate his achievement in defending Scotland against the predatory efforts of the British Treasury, we should be a little cautious. There is no question that he did a superb job. We expect no less. To a possibly dangerous extent, we take for granted the fact that we have a government dedicated serving the interests of Scotland's people. And a team that does so with often remarkable tenacity and competence.

But it is possible to interpret the concessions screwed out of the British state in a less triumphalist way. We can see the climb-down as an indication of how absolutely determined the British establishment is that the latest round of constitutional tinkering should go ahead. And we'd have to be terminally naive to suppose that this is because they wish Scotland well and hope that this Scotland Bill will address the priorities and satisfy the aspirations of Scotland's people.

The UK Government is eager to implement this legislation solely because it is hoped that it will create untold fiscal problems for the Scottish Government, and devastating political problems for the SNP.

And not everybody is congratulating John Swinney on a job well done in defence of Scotland's interests. The endlessly bitter British nationalists certainly aren't. The mouthpieces of the British state in the nominally Scottish media responded to the news of Swinney's success with characteristically rancid sniping. And the same arrogant dishonesty that won them such deserved disdain in the course of first referendum campaign.

The caustic carping from such as Kenny Farquharson and Alex Massie merely confirms their well-established contempt for Scotland. "Oh dear. The Vow is being delivered. Awkward.", gloats one of them on Twitter - unable to pass up the opportunity to lie about what the Scotland Bill actually means. "The Whining Shall Never End", carps the other - actually capitalising the words as if he supposes he's delivering some portentous truth. It matters not at all which said what, because they are equally hateful.

The sulphurous glee of these two loyal servants of the British establishment at the prospect of significant harm to Scotland's economy, and their drooling anticipation of an easy opportunity to blame this on the SNP, is tempered only somewhat by their resentment of Swinney's success in preventing at least some of the more immediate damage.

It pleases the likes of Farquharson and Massie - and they are merely representative of a greater malignancy in our midst - to suppose themselves the elite arm of the British nationalist propaganda machine, carrying the battle against democratic dissent from the old order and the old ways to the heart of Scottish society by way of the unionist media. In reality, what they do is offer us a glimpse of the true and utterly repellent nature of a British nationalist ideology bent on preserving the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state at any cost to the people of Scotland - or the rest of these islands.

Scotland's rightful constitutional status must be restored, not merely on account of the positive things that we aspire to for our nation and people, but because of the dismal fate we must save them from.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Dubious plotting

I think we have to be very cautious about this story of a new Yes organisation. On the surface, it looks very like Jim Sillars and Robin McAlpine trying to seize ownership of the Yes movement and bring it under the control of factions whose support for independence is conditional on a narrow policy agenda. But there is good reason to wonder precisely how real this effort is. In reports elsewhere it was claimed that Women for Independence (WfI) was involved in what Robin McAlpine referred to as "talks" about this new Yes campaign management structure. WfI subsequently denied this claim. So we should, perhaps, be wary about taking any of this too seriously.

But let us suppose for a moment that Messrs McAlpine and Sillars are seriously trying to appoint themselves leaders of a movement whose organically networked nature made the very concept leadership redundant. Suppose it was actually possible for the disparate groups that made up the Yes campaign to be corralled under the direction of some committee. Would Jim Sillars and Robin McAlpine be the people we'd choose to take a lead role in this management structure? I'm dubious.

I have always maintained that it would be useful if some organisation or group emerged as the entity around which the wider Yes movement could coalesce. But I never envisaged this as resulting in a top-down organisation. What I felt would be useful is a body able to represent the Yes movement at a national level. Something akin to what we had with the official Yes Scotland. It is important to understand that Yes Scotland had a very limited role in the first referendum campaign. It set broad strategy parameters, coordinated speakers, and dealt with the media at a national and international level. But it was merely the tip of a huge iceberg made up of hundreds of almost totally autonomous groups based on localities or special interests.

If I understand the ambitions of Robin McAlpine and Jim Sillars correctly, they are seeking something much more akin to a formal nationwide campaign organisation. And I don't think it will work.

I don't think it will work in part because the format is inappropriate to a mass popular movement. And in part because I think anybody who wants to control this movement is automatically disqualified from doing so.

While I have great respect for Jim Sillars and Robin McAlpine, I simply cannot see them as representing a unifying force for the independence movement. Quite the contrary. I regard them as regrettably divisive. I listen to Jim Sillars and what I hear is pointless sniping at the SNP. It is not clear what role he wants for the SNP. But he seems to be in denial of the fact that the independence movement needs an effective political force able to operate within the British political system. A force powerful enough to mount a serious challenge to the British establishment. And he appears desperately unwilling to admit that this force must be the SNP. For the simple reason that there is nobody else anywhere near being in a position to fulfil that role.

To the extent that the SNP did "dominate" the first referendum campaign this was only because the British media chose to sideline Yes Scotland. The SNP took a lead in setting up Yes Scotland precisely because it wanted to avoid being the focus of the campaign. Unfortunately, many in the wider Yes movement opted to play the British media's game by going along with the idea that it was "all about Alex Salmond/the SNP".

Until Jim Sillars gets over his "issues" with the SNP, he can never be a unifying influence in the independence movement. Because, however much he may resent it, the SNP is the de facto political arm of that movement.

And Robin McAlpine is almost as guilty of compounding the anti-SNP propaganda of the British establishment. He criticises the Scottish Government's White Paper on independence as if it represented a policy prescription for post-independence Scotland instead of the broad depiction of potential that it was intended to be. In other words, he adopts the anti-independence campaign's rhetoric.

He also embraces the unionist narrative of "unanswered questions" on things like currency, when he should be pointing out how badly the Scottish Government's position was misrepresented by the British media. And how the British media utterly failed to scrutinise the British establishment's threat to abolish the currency union in the event of a Yes vote.

Coming up to date, Robin McAlpine has opted for a needlessly antagonistic attitude to the SNP's stance on a second referendum. For whatever reason, he chooses to focus obsessively on talk of potential "triggers" and totally ignore Nicola Sturgeon's insistence that demand for a second referendum must be led by the people and not the politicians. One might have thought that this championing of people-power was something Robin McAlpine would welcome. But apparently not if it comes from the SNP.

I know Robin acknowledges the need for the SNP as part of the independence campaign. It would be good if this awareness informed his rhetoric. Nobody is saying that the SNP should be above criticism. But those who are making common cause with the SNP in the campaign to bring Scotland's government home surely have a responsibility to criticise responsibly.

Taken as a whole, this would seem to imply that we should be giving a big thumbs-down to this latest bit of plotting by those whose sole purpose seems to be to ride the independence bandwagon into Holyrood. It may well be that the Yes movement needs to come together as a "coherent whole". But that entity can only work if it has at its core a commitment to independence which is unconditionally founded on the principle of constitutional justice. Independence is about rectifying an ancient constitutional anomaly. It is not about parties or personalities - or post-independence policies.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Media wars

It's good to be reminded that sensationalising media spin is not reserved for anti-SNP propaganda. The habit of dishonest representation is deeply ingrained in the culture of the British media.

To say that I am no admirer of Margaret Thatcher, or the unsavoury gang of sycophantic puppets with which she surrounded herself, would be a planet-sized understatement. The woman was maliciously stupid on her best day and a borderline sociopath on her worst. But I am nonetheless struck by yet another gross mismatch between the headline and such facts as are presented in the story.

For pointing this out I will doubtless be vilified as an apologist for Thatcher. Regrettably, there are all too many who are open to having their buttons pressed by a media always keen to flex its manipulative muscle in even rather trivial ways. They do it because they can. So long as people let them, they will continue to spin and distort in order to provoke a reaction. The manipulative power of the traditional media is honed in all manner of throw-away pieces which desensitise the audience to dishonesty in order that this power might be more effectively deployed in important contexts - such as elections and constitutional referendums.

There was an example of this just yesterday evening. Somebody posted on Facebook a link to a story about a pay increase for MPs. The story was, of course, spun for sensational effect. And pretty much all of those responding duly obliged by launching themselves enthusiastically into an orgy of righteous indignation.

I commented that MP's did not set their own pay and that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) had instituted a system whereby increases were now tied to public sector pay. I further pointed out that there had been a great deal of misrepresentation on this issue and that the previous substantial increases laboured by the newspaper story were, in fact, parts of years-long process of reform by IPSA which had made MPs' remuneration package considerably less generous than it once was.

Cue a shit-storm of abuse. Almost exclusively from people who clearly hadn't read beyond the headline. The facts were irrelevant. Politicians are hate-figures and you better go along with the pack mentality or you become prey just as much as they are. The reality of the issue is of absolutely no consequence. Prejudice rules! No thinking required!

You get the picture.

Why do I mention this? Why is it important? Why do I not just dismiss my abusers for the credulous fools that they so evidently are?

Allow me to explain.

It is in the nature of things that most of those castigating me for contaminating their Two Minute Hate with factual material were pro-independence. I'm a 'Facebook-famous' member of the SNP and activist in the campaign to restore Scotland's rightful constitutional status; as well as a champion of what we may, for convenience, refer to as progressive politics. So most of my followers are people who are sympathetic to this agenda.

The media is, inevitably, a major battle-ground in the fight between established power and the forces of democratic dissent. And the lines are these days drawn, not between different sections of the mainstream media, but between a mainstream sector all but undifferentiated in terms of support for and obedient service to the British establishment, and a nascent, but rapidly developing, alternative media in the virtual realm.

In this battle, it is crucial that people learn to be active consumers of media messages. In particular, they must become consciously aware of the way the mainstream media operates. Only then can they hope to avoid the manipulative traps by which the media captures their minds and disables their critical faculties.

I find it deeply frustrating that there are still people who have learned no lessons from the first referendum campaign and the dishonesty of the British nationalist campaign to deny the sovereignty of Scotland's people. The media can still press their buttons with a headline about MPs' pay. Or about the Thatcher regime.

But there is more. I am firmly persuaded that it is not enough to win the media battle simply in terms of statistics for circulation versus unique visitors. The alternative media is clearly winning in that regard. Although there may be still some way to go. Just as important, however, is the effort to win the public's respect. Counter-intuitive as it may be when we see journalists held in such low esteem as to be ranked with bankers, the traditional media yet retains considerable authority.

If alternative media is to pose a meaningful challenge to established power then it must capture the authoritative status once associated with the 'quality' newspapers and the BBC.

It's all relative. There is no absolute measure of authority. All sources of reporting, analysis and comment are assessed relative to one another. Even as the status of the mainstream media declines, it is essential that the online media come to be regarded as the authoritative alternative. This means they must not emulate the habits and practices of the old media, but should offer something different.

As a very small cog in the machinery of the alternative media, I believe it is important that we should demonstrate a capacity for dispassionate critical scrutiny that is generalised, and not restricted to British establishment propaganda attacking the independence movement, or the SNP, or political progressives in general.

If the alternative media is to have credibility, it must stand ready to point out the facts and/or the reasoned arguments even where these relate to emotive trigger topics such as MPs' pay or the Thatcher regime.

If we want people to listen, we should seek to win their interest with the quality of our presentation and the force of our message, rather than try to grab their attention with lurid headlines and prurient content.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Facile assumptions, fallacies and falsehoods

The Green's failure to capitalise on STV's decision to include them in its pre-election debate line-up is far from an exceptional occurrence. They have form on this kind of thing. I well remember when, during the first referendum campaign, the Scottish Greens officially announced that they were joining Yes Scotland. This should have been an entirely upbeat moment focused on the aims of the independence campaign. Instead, Patrick Harvie found himself unable to resist some petty sniping at the SNP. He too readily succumbed to the very partisan politicking that the holier-than-thou Greens claim to eschew.

And yet Lesley Riddoch assumes that we must all "admire" the Greens. They are the eternal "good guys" of Scottish politics. Such is the myth.

Some might argue that these PR failures are trivial. That there are more important matters to deal with. Well, one can always make that claim. Whatever particular issue happens to be the focus of discussion, somebody can always resort to the diversionary tactic of insisting that we really should be talking about something else. And they will tend to do so whenever the discussion looks like it might get "interesting" in ways that make them uncomfortable.

The Greens aspire to play in the big leagues. They want to be taken seriously as a party of opposition and, potentially, as part of government. However much they might turn up their noses at the thought, presentation is a crucial part of politics. Always has been. If the Greens can't get their act together in this regard, maybe there is less cause to "admire" them than Ms Riddoch takes for granted.

The coming election is crucial in ways that I would sincerely hope Lesley Riddoch understands. It is certainly not an occasion to be making decisions on the basis of facile assumptions about the inherent worthiness of parties or politicians. The Greens and other pro-independence parties (OPIPs) have to prove themselves worthy of electoral support. They are not entitled to demand votes simply on the basis of being pro-independence - however tentatively, nominally or conditionally. They have to demonstrate that they will be effective as parliamentarians. Particularly in regard to taking forward the fight to restore Scotland's rightful constitutional status.

Dispassionate analysis - which seems to be lacking in much of what is being advanced by proponents of 'tactical voting' - strongly suggests that OPIP MSPs would add nothing to the pro-independence credentials of an SNP majority government. Indeed, such rational scrutiny suggests that they might diminish those credentials. For one thing, only the SNP is unconditionally committed to independence. The various OPIPs make their support for independence conditional on diverse and shifting policy agendas.

And, in purely practical terms, we can be sure that the British media would totally discount OPIP MSPs. They would be ignored. Just as Yes Scotland was sidelined in the first referendum campaign in favour of a simplified "all about the SNP/Alex Salmond" approach, so it would be with a handful of OPIP MSPs. They only time they'd get media attention would be when they were attacking the SNP and/or saying something that could be spun as problematic for independence. They would be more hindrance than help.

The facile assumption that more Green MSP must inevitably be a good thing needs to be challenged.

And if the decision in May is too important to be based on facile assumptions, it surely shouldn't be informed by fallacies and falsehoods. The fallacy that there is a simple way to game the electoral system in order to achieve an outcome of dubious value need to be knocked firmly on the head. Especially given the vital nature of what is being risked in the almost certainly futile hope of contriving parliamentary diversity by including people and parties not strictly qualified to be there.

Then there is the fallacy that the essential SNP majority is a foregone conclusion on the basis of the constituency vote alone. This is, of course, pernicious nonsense. Yet it is ever part of the rhetoric of those promoting the notion of a Magic Pick 'n' Mix Parliament.

Most foolish of all, perhaps, would be to vote on the basis of a blatant falsehood. We had enough of that with the false prospectus flogged by the anti-independence campaign in 2014. The assertion that a second independence referendum is "not part of the SNP’s Scottish Parliament manifesto" is such a falsehood. It just isn't true. But, again, it has been absorbed into the narrative of the Green/OPOIP effort to induce voters to put the crucial SNP majority in jeopardy.

It is, to say the least, disappointing to find Lesley Riddoch peddling this untruth. For the umpteenth time, let me remind her and all those who consider trying to mislead Scotland's voters what Nicola Sturgeon said on the matter. I mean what she ACTUALLY said!

"Our manifesto will set out what we consider are the circumstances and the timescale on which a second referendum might be appropriate, but we can only propose.

"It's then for people in Scotland, whether it is in this election or in future elections, to decide whether they want to vote for our manifesto and then if there is in the future another independence referendum, whether that's in five years or ten years or whenever, it will be down to the people of Scotland to decide whether they want to vote for independence or not.

"So at every single stage this is something that is driven by and decided by the people of Scotland, not by politicians."

It must be clearly understood that very particular circumstances prevail in the coming election. Circumstances which dictate that we must be especially assiduous in rejecting facile assumptions, simplistic fallacies and blatant falsehoods. Whatever our preferences and ideals, we must recognise the massively overriding importance of ensuring an SNP majority in the next parliament. Next to that, policy agendas and party loyalties are vanishingly inconsequential.

The only 'tactical voting' strategy that makes any sense in these circumstances is #BothVotesSNP.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

New broom required

There is very much a sense in the "welcome" extended to Holyrood's broadcasting reform proposals of the BBC very grudgingly bowing to what it now recognises is inevitable. The pressure for reform from across Scottish society was simply irresistible.

But there is also a distinct possibility - correct that to probability - that the little power cliques within BBC Scotland may choose to put on a show of grinning and bearing it while assuming that they can 'manage' these reforms so as to preserve their own influence. This would be disastrous.

I have always maintained that the institution of the BBC, along with its independent funding model, represents the best hope for public service broadcasting (PSB). The issues with the BBC are entirely a matter of bad management. Appallingly bad management.

While resisting the dumbly simplistic demands of those who would throw out the PSB baby with the BBC bathwater, I strenuously maintain that any reform which fails to address the ingrained management structures and practices is doomed to fail.

We don't just want a mini-BBC for Scotland. We need a comprehensively refreshed and transformed public broadcasting service.

This may well be the last chance to rescue genuine PSB from the destructive forces of commercialism and casual incompetence. Drastic action will be required. The starting assumption must be that everything must go. Only a ruthless pruning of the layers of old management will leave space for fresh ideas.

Nobody should get comfortable with the notion that any reform acceptable to the existing BBC hierarchy can possibly be the end of the story. The simple measure of how effective reforms are likely to be is the extent to which they are resisted by vested interests. We'll know we're getting it right when we hear them squeal.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Never trust a unionist!

The problem with articles such as this written by hard-line unionists is, not so much spotting the dishonesty and distortion, as deciding which bits of dishonesty and distortion to deal with. Unless one has unlimited time, it is rarely feasible to deal with all the lies and misrepresentation. Often, it is a matter of choosing things at random.

So it is that I find myself responding to this gobbet of dishonesty,

What they don’t want you to know is that it’s £3bn (and probably actually less than that) over ten years.

We should probably make allowances here. The pedant would doubtless point out that it's not actually a lie unless the person saying it knows it to be untrue and is wilfully seeking to mislead. It is entirely possible - even probable - that Alex Massie has genuinely convinced himself that the SNP has sought to conceal the fact that the £3bn in question is (a) an estimate; and (b) a reduction in Scotland's budget spread over ten years. Only a little experience of the British nationalist mindset is enough to be aware it is quite possible for such ideologues to be blind and deaf to what has actually been said if this conflicts with the reality constructed by their dumb prejudice.

Thus, Mr Massie could well have had right in front of his nose a direct quote from John Swinney or Nicola Sturgeon which gives the lie to his assertion, but it would be invisible to him. A quote such as the following from the First Minister (http://bit.ly/1WoRWnL),

The current proposal on the table from the Treasury, which has been described by them as a concession, would, by our estimation, and all else being equal, reduce the Scottish budget by almost £3 billion over the next ten years.

Pardon me labouring the point here. Bear in mind that the purpose is to overcome stubbornly selective blindness/deafness and a pathological urge to deny reality. That is why it is necessary to point out as pedantically as I do that the words "by our estimation" wholly contradict the first part of Massie's claim, while the phrase "over the next ten years" totally demolishes the second.

These are the facts. Those who, unlike Alex Massie, deal in observable reality rather than fantasy and fabrication, must decide for themselves whether the man is a liar. And whether it is advisable to give any credence to the remainder of his scribbling.

Should we, for example, take him at all seriously when he claims to have found a "splendid irony" in an SNP perspective that is entirely a product of his own imagination? Especially when he boldly declares his bias with the assumption that the British Treasury has "fairness and logic on its side" in its dispute with the Scottish Government over a fiscal framework for the latest round of inept constitutional tinkering.

In a very real sense, it doesn't matter whether political propagandists such as Alex Massie are liars, according to any strict definition of that term, or merely the purveyors of untruths that large numbers of people see when they look at journalists. It is of no consequence because British nationalists do not regard it as wrong to lie in the name of defending the ruling elites of the British state. Indeed, if the first independence referendum campaign taught us anything, it is that British nationalists take considerable pride in being effective liars.

This, as much as all the considerable and conclusive evidence of dishonesty, is why we should never trust a unionist.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Variations on a theme of stupidity

We have two different knee-jerk reactions to the announcement of detailed research into fracking both seeking to push the envelope of stupidity.

British Labour in Scotland MSP, Neil Findlay, instinctively resorts to lies. His claim that the SNP has "prevented their members debating fracking" is simply untrue. The matter has been debated at conference. It won't be debated again because such a debate would be a pointless waste of valuable time. Nothing has changed. So there is nothing new to be said on the matter. Another debate would just go over old ground and achieve nothing.

What Findlay and Green MSP Alison Johnstone have in common is the default assumption that absolutely anything the SNP administration does must be bad. In the case of British Labour in Scotland this blind prejudice is born of the frustrated sense of entitlement that was memorably expressed only yesterday by British Labour's ennobled embarrassment, George Foulkes,

"If polls in Scotland don't change revise the saying "you can't fool all the people all of the time" as almost all are appearing to be fooled."

Alison Johnstone may not be afflicted with the same intellect crippling hatred of the SNP as Findlay, but in its way her response to the Scottish Government's fracking research is every bit as stupid. She demands an immediate ban as if oblivious to the fact that this would inevitably be subject to a legal challenge which the Scottish Government would be more likely to lose if it went to court without being armed with some solid scientific research.

Both Findlay and Johnstone eagerly leap to the conclusion that the research being commissioned by the SNP administration is for the purpose of providing a justification for allowing fracking in Scotland. Both seem dumbly unaware of the fact that the research could just as easily give the Scottish Government the legal basis for an outright ban. If Alison Johnstone is as sure of the scientific evidence as she claims then she should be welcoming this research, confident that it will validate her position.

Credit where it's due. At least Johnstone and the Greens are sincerely concerned about the social and environmental impact of unconventional extraction. Findlay and British Labour in Scotland couldn't care less about such things. All they see is a stick with which to beat their hated electoral nemesis.

But if the Greens are genuinely determined that there should never be any fracking in Scotland then they should be supporting the SNP administration. Because, as the Scottish Government spokesman says, "No fracking can or will take place while the Scottish Government’s moratorium on unconventional oil and gas remains in place." The moratorium is secure. It is highly unlikely that it could be successfully challenged in the courts by the likes of Ineos. It makes no sense for the Greens to demand an outright ban which would replace this secure moratorium with a legal prohibition that would immediately come under assault from the energy industry.

There is a glaring inconsistency in the Green's position that leaves them open to charges that they are no less guilty of petty politicking than British Labour in Scotland. Alison Johnstone needs to be careful about the company she keeps.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Honest debate?

It would be gratifying if the worst of the drivel in Kevin McKenna's article was the stuff about the Scottish Government's independence White Paper "over-stating oil revenues". The term "overstate" implies wilful exaggeration. Which is, of course, utter nonsense. The kind of foolishness that can only come from those incapable of grasping the concept of a conditional statement. Many have sought to address this particular manifestation of stupidity. But it persists, nonetheless, among British nationalists and those journalists who unthinkingly subscribe to the cosy consensus of the British media.

But surely the worse folly is to suppose that the so-called tax 'plan' from British Labour in Scotland should be taken seriously.

I was at BBC Radio Scotland's Big Debate in Kinross yesterday and, inevitably, this topic was raised. In the course of the discussion, various of the panellists mouthed words about the "need for a debate" about tax. Politicians resort to the "need for debate" rhetoric when they want to convey the idea that there is something wrong with current policy, but have no considered critique to offer and nothing constructive to suggest in terms of an alternative.

Cue British Labour in Scotland and their back-of-a-fag-packet tax proposal.

The media connive in the charade by pompously congratulating Kezia Dugdale for broaching a previously taboo topic. Like the subject of taxation has never in living memory been part of an election debate! Aye, right!

Let's inject a bit of honesty into this "debate". Let's acknowledge what the real motive was behind this obviously fatally flawed tax proposal from Kezia's kiddies. Let's recognise that they knew damned well that it would be voted down by SNP, Green and Tory MSPs - each for their own reasons.

Let's be clear that the sole purpose of the exercise was to give muppets like Blair McDougall and Duncan Hothersall an excuse to run around the social media playground pointing at the SNP and chanting, "You voted wi' the Toh-rees! Ah'm tellin' on you-ou!", like the players in some obscene parody of Dennis Potter's wonderful 'Blue Remembered Hills'.

Let's face it! This has nothing whatever to do with a serious debate on taxation. It is nothing more than yet another instance of the kind of infantile, petty, unworthy politicking that we have come to expect from the British parties in Scotland.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The voter's dilemma

"I get why people who are passionate about independence have mostly thrown their energy into the SNP."

"The SNP is not the only way to reinforce support for independence."


In those two short sentences Carolyn Leckie neatly summarises the curious doublethink affecting a sizeable part of the independence movement. An intellectual appreciation of realpolitik - or, at least, a claim of such appreciation - existing alongside an almost visceral rejection by the hind-brain of the necessary implications of what the fore-brain knows to be true.

I have previously expressed the underlying dilemma somewhat differently in the aphorism,

"You can be pro-independence and non-SNP. But you can't be pro-independence and anti-SNP."

Carolyn Leckie is rather evidently feeling the torment of this conflict.

There is no irreconcilable contradiction in wanting a diverse, progressive parliament whilst also recognising that there is absolutely no realistic prospect of achieving this in the coming election. There is no magic voting strategy which will give us precisely the parliament that we want. And we wouldn't want there to be. Because if there were such an easy route to determining the make-up of the Scottish Parliament than this method might also be available to those who would create a parliament markedly  different from the one that we want.

It is not unnatural, or even discreditable to aim for that which we find desirable. Especially if it is something as worthy as a better politics. But an excessive focus on that aim can blind us to just how far we have travelled towards our goal. And cause us to lose sight of the path to that goal. Carolyn Leckie appears not to appreciate just how different our politics is already as a consequence of the Yes campaign. And her perfectly understandable desire to recapture (or cling to) the spirit of that great endeavour has, perhaps, overwhelmed the instincts of a "hardened, and older, political hack".

It may not be totally clear to her, but if the ultimate goal is the better politics and the better society that independence makes possible, then the almost certainly futile pursuit of a short-term "fix" of a parliamentary diversity my be no more than a distraction from the greater cause. A quite possibly fatal distraction.

Carolyn Leckie says that she is "not taking too kindly" to what she talks of in terms of pressure and demands that she give both votes to the SNP in May. But if, as she claims, she "gets" the arguments for doing so then the "pressure" is not coming from people like me. It is coming from that internal conflict between head and heart. Her head tells her that #BothVotesSNP is the only rational strategy in terms of protecting what has been achieved and taking the independence movement forward. But her heart craves the immediate gratification of a grand political gesture.

All I, and others are saying to people such as Carolyn Leckie is, by all means vote the way you want. But be aware of the implications. Do so in the awareness that it is not a choice without consequences. Do not entirely lose sight of the realities of Scotland's political circumstances.

Arguably, the most useful of the various simplistic dichotomies available to us as we contemplate the issue at hand is that based on the difference between being independent and becoming independent. In a generalisation of the kind which is essential to such simplistic dichotomies we might state that the pro-independence political left in Scotland is highly focused on the former. They think almost exclusively in terms of what can be achieved with independence. They see independence as serving a particular policy agenda. (And, being the left, there is already a proliferation of policy agendas.)

In the discourse of the left, there is little or no consideration of the process of becoming independent. No thought of the practicalities. Almost nothing beyond an insistence, from some, that they must be part of a process that they disdain to even think about - dismissing such 'managerialism' as an affront to the purity of their ideology.

The other half of this simplistic dichotomy is concerned with becoming independent. It is about process and practicality. It is about recognising and dealing with the realities of extricating Scotland from an anachronistic and grossly asymmetric political union. It is aware of the fact that this must be done from within a political system that is totally dominated by a powerful and antagonistically defensive establishment. It sees the necessity of playing the British establishment at its own game. Because until we are independent, that is the only game there is.

But perhaps the most important thing about the 'becoming' side of our dichotomy, as opposed to the 'being' side, is that the latter's disregard for the former is not reciprocated. We can put all our efforts into becoming independent without losing sight of what being independent means.

There is no disputing the point that 'becoming' independent takes precedence. Without it, there is no 'being' independent. And none of the things that we hope and intend will flow from being independent. We must beware pernicious arguments such as that there is no point to independence if this or that outcome is not tied to it. Or the suggestion that much, if not all, of what might be achieved as an independent nation can be realised by some simpler method, such as electing a few representative from this or that political faction.

There is no realistic path to independence, on any reasonable time-scale, which does not involve the use of the Scottish National Party as the agents of the people of Scotland. Carolyn Leckie is right to remind everyone that the independence movement is "broad and diverse and not under the control of any single party". But what made the Yes campaign so powerful and effective was the fact that it harnessed that breadth and diversity to a single aim - the restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status. It set aside party politics and policy agendas in favour of a shared commitment to bringing Scotland's government home - ALL of Scotland's government, for ALL of Scotland's people.

The error lies in imagining that the SNP seeks to usurp that spirit of common cause for the sake of some purpose which is never quite identified. The attitude seems to be that they are successful, ergo there must be something wrong with them. (Is that a "Scottish" thing?)

But it is not the SNP that is tying the cause of independence to any policy agenda. It is not the SNP that is making support for independence conditional on 'being' independent meaning one particular thing. It is not the SNP that is diffusing the energies of the independence movement into mass of favoured causes.

It is most certainly not the case that the SNP seeks to "control" the entire independence movement - as if that were even possible. On the contrary, the SNP exists to serve that movement. It is, inescapably and undeniably, the political arm of the independence movement. It is essential to the success of that movement. But it is also entirely dependent on that movement. It only has the power that we give it. And we only give it that power for one purpose - to take us through the process of 'becoming' independent. A process which requires careful and clever management.

The question then becomes, given where we are in terms of the political realities of the moment; and given what the role of the SNP is in relation to the independence movement; why would anybody who aspires to the restoration and transformation of Scotland even consider voting in a way that might jeopardise the SNP majority - and thus the entire independence project? (Not to mention the implications for our governance and economy in the interim.)

I say to Carolyn Leckie, we don't need to "recreate a broad, grass-roots Yes movement". That movement still exists. It is not the movement she remembers from "standing in the middle of a sun-bleached Buchanan Street in Glasgow on the Saturday before the referendum". And there is some sadness in that. But it is no longer that movement, not because it has decayed, but because it has matured. It has gone from being a movement that changed Scotland's political culture to being embedded in the new political culture that it created. If it is invisible, it is because it has become the change it wanted.

Not that this implies an end to the process of change. Only that we now have other ways of bringing change about. We have the very thing we were seeking. We have political power. The potential power of our popular movement has been transormed into real political power. In order to be effective, that political power needs to be focused and purposefully applied. Like it or not, within the British political system that absolutely requires that the political power be concentrated in a single political party.

I say to Carolyn Leckie, and others who are tempted to risk squandering the political power that the independence movement has won, giving both your votes to the SNP in May's election is NOT a betrayal of that movement. It is something which is, in its way, as important to that movement as the "sassy, vibrant, creative energy" that young people brought to the first referendum campaign.

A massive mandate for the SNP is the essential next step in taking the independence movement forward. That is what will make an impact. That is what will be effective. You may detest political 'big sticks' but don't be fooled into imagining we can take on the might of the British state without one. The SNP is our 'big stick'. As 'big sticks' go, it's not bad - largely because we fashion it for our purposes. Let us not throw it away in the faint hope of finding some prettier twigs along the way.

Friday, 5 February 2016

An immodest proposal

One might generously suppose that Bill Jamieson's aim was to emulate the satirical hyperbole of Jonanthan Swift's "Modest Proposal" that the children of the poor be processed as food for the rich. But it would, I suspect, be a mistake to credit Jamieson with anything remotely resembling Swiftian wit and wisdom.

One might instead dismiss Jamieson's little offering as nothing more than the ineffectual grumblings of a 'Grumpy Old Man'. And one would surely be closer to the mark. It could readily be argued that his elitist rant is no more to be taken seriously than... well... pretty much anything Jeremy Clarkson says on any subject at all.

But this would be to overlook the fact that, for all the offensive fallaciousness of his anti-democratic proposal may be obvious to most of us, he doubtless speaks for a certain constituency. It is a constituency which is to closely associated with established power to be ignored. It is a constituency which may not be as dismissive of his multiple-votes idea as the rest of us. Because it is a constituency which jealously guards such power and influence as it has with little regard for inconvenient principle. A constituency for whom the niceties of ethics and morality are readily overwhelmed by the rationalisations of entitlement.

Bill Jamieson speaks to/for the lower-to-middle echelons of the British ruling elite.

Distil his argument in this article to its essentials and what do you find? Only the assertion that the capacity to determine the criteria by which power is justified lies entirely with those who have power. Power serves Power.

To illuminate the fallacy in Jamieson's argument that electoral power should be so distributed as to disproportionately favour those who are 'older, wiser and wealthier', we have to understand what he is arguing against - the fundamental democratic principle of 'one person, one vote'.

Democracy is defined as 'a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives'. The key terms in that definition are 'whole population'; 'eligible members'; and 'representatives'. The starting point, and default assumption, is that the 'whole population' is involved. All the governed govern. Everybody has a vote so that government is truly representative.

We then move to the matter of eligibility. Or, more precisely, ineligibility. Because if our default position is, as it must be, that everyone should have a vote, then any process or procedure which qualifies this is, by definition, removing eligibility. Denying eligibility to vote is a very serious matter for a truly democratic society. It is not something that can ever be undertaken lightly. If the right to vote is to be denied to any individual or group, then a clear and very persuasive case must be made.

The most obvious criterion for denying eligibility to vote is age. It is trivial to make the case that infants should be denied the right to vote. As the individual matures, however, it grows increasingly difficult to justify withholding this fundamental right. What is easy to argue in the case of a two-year old is less easy to argue in the case of a twelve-year old, and seriously problematic in the case of a sixteen-year old who is deemed to have most if not all the other significant capacities of an adult as these are defined by the society within which the individual is immersed.

Other criteria may be used to justify denial of voting rights - such as incarceration for crime - but all are, to a greater or lesser extent, controversial because the default assumption is that everybody should have a vote.

Why? Why should this be the default assumption? We must ask this question because rationality requires that all assumptions must be open to challenge.

There is, of course, an argument from principle. Democracy means everyone. Therefore, everyone must be included - or we lose the right to claim democratic status. But there is also a pragmatic argument for maximising the franchise. and, incidentally, maximising participation in the democratic process. That argument stems from the fact that a universal franchise (conditional on high levels of engagement) serves to disempower narrow interests and the extremes by ensuring that they are never a significantly higher proportion of the electorate than of the population as a whole.

Bill Jamieson might argue that his 'modest proposal' does not deny anybody the right to vote. He even concedes that those aged sixteen and seventeen should cease to be denied this right. But this is to ignore the fact that power is relative. He may not be proposing to deny the right to vote to a massive swathe of society, but he is suggesting that the power of their vote be reduced relative to his chosen elite. In effect, he would deny a fraction of the voting rights of large numbers of citizens.

And he would do so on the basis of arbitrary criteria. If we must have secure grounds for denying someone the right to vote, then it stands to reason that we must stipulate an equally secure basis for creating a differential in the power of that vote. The justification for removing half of the right to vote must be no less than the justification for removing all of it because the right to vote is absolute and, therefore, indivisible.

Jamieson's criteria are arbitrary because they do not specify something unique to either the group he would elevate to the status of an elite, or the group he would relegate to an inferior status.

There is nothing that can be true of a person at age 64 which cannot also be true of someone age 16, other than that numerical difference. A 64-year old who has never travelled furth of their village is, in this regard, less experienced than a 16-year old who has been on a few school trips to different European countries.

Why is the experience of being young any less to be regarded than the experience of being old? They are merely alternative experiences. Why should we not adopt youth as our criterion for advantage in terms of voting power?

In all too many instances age brings only prejudice and a set of rigid assumptions about the world and people. In what way does this make an individual better qualified to make policy judgements?

If wealth were a reliable indicator of valuable human qualities then we'd have an insurmountable problem explaining the charcters of some of the world's richest people. Besides which, young people can also achieve considerable wealth by their own efforts. It is hardly unknown for them to do so.

Since most people are relatively poor, how might those with no experience of poverty be better qualified to chose how the poor are governed than those who do have the experience? After all, Jamieson's argument is very largely founded on the value of relevant experience.

We could go on. But I think the pernicious nonsense of Jamieson's proposal is sufficiently evident.

This will not prevent some supporting his call to partially disenfranchise the sections of society which  already tend to be disadvantaged in variety of ways. This support will come from those who see true democracy as a threat to their status and influence. We should heed them. If only because it is useful to be aware of who they are.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The art of losing

George Gunn's article is too short. It ended before he got around to setting out his alternative. So all we are left with is some pointless carping about the SNP.

"The art of losing isn’t hard to master"

When I hear that line I am put in mind, not of the transformative events of the last decade in Scotland's politics, but of the defining tendency of the left to prefer the simplicities of "honourable" defeat to the responsibilities of success. The true masters of the art of losing" are the posturing "radicals" who can talk endlessly of where they want to be without ever touching on the matter of how to get there.

It is vacuous to talk about Scotland being independent if you are not prepared to consider the process of becoming independent. Before anyone can even begin to appreciate this process of getting there, they must first understand where we are now. And George Gunn seems rather confused about that. He imagines that what we will be offered by the SNP in the coming election is "a defence of what we have got, constructed as an advance on what we had". That is just plain wrong.

What we are being offered is an opportunity to construct and reinforce the platform from which will be launched the next stage in our progress towards independence. We are being asked to give the SNP the mandate that it needs if it is to be effective both as an administration and as the political arm of the independence movement operating within the British political system - from where independence must be won.

There is absolutely no suggestion of "settling". If what we've got is "constructed as an advance on what we had" it is only in the sense that it is an advance of the campaign to restore our nation's rightful constitutional status. For this to happen, we need a metamorphosis in which the campaign for independence is transformed into a plan for actually achieving the aims of that campaign.

We can't get there from here. Neither in terms of independence or of a progressive policy agenda. This election is about putting us in a position from which we can get to where we want to go.

I hear voices urging a different way. A way which is never better than very vaguely defined. I hear talk of being independent that seems to assume we can choose to dispense with the process of becoming independent. I hear those voices and I can't help but wonder whether they really want independence. I wonder whether they might not be more comfortable with honourable defeat.

I wonder if they do not already hear themselves saying, "Look how gloriously we fought! See how magnificently we failed! See how thoroughly we have mastered the art of losing!".

We know who speaks for Scotland

Most people will, I think, be curious as to why the British parties are so anxious to have the Fiscal Framework/Scotland Bill rushed through with the minimum of scrutiny. Certainly, those who are aware of the British establishment's agenda will be extremely suspicious.

The fiscal framework is crucial to the entire Scotland Bill. We know that the legislation is a mess cobbled together more as a means of making life difficult for the SNP administration than with the interests of Scotland's people in mind. John Swinney will be the one who has to find a path through the minefield of fiscal traps that the Scotland Bill will lay. It makes perfect sense that he would seek to make this task slightly easier by ensuring that the fiscal framework does not support the malicious intent of the Bill itself.

He, along with Nicola Sturgeon, will also have the job of selling this fiscal framework and the Scotland Bill to a Scottish Parliament that will naturally be very sceptical. The British parties at Holyrood will want to push it through as it serves their petty political purposes. But the Scottish parties will, by contrast, be primarily concerned about the impact on Scotland's economy and people. Securing legislative consent is not going to be an easy matter. So it stands to reason that Sturgeon and Swinney will want to be able to give MSPs an assurance that the legislation has been very thoroughly scrutinised in committee.

As ever, the media portray the SNP as being "unreasonable" while the British establishment is all paternalistic patience. Look at the language used by Mundell.

But "reasonableness" depends very much on your perspective. And your priorities. If the main concern is the best interests of Scotland and its people than clearly it is the British parties that are being unreasonable by trying to obstruct and harass those who have a democratic mandate to look after those interests.

To put it as simply as one might, in this matter John Swinney speaks for Scotland. David Mundell only ever speaks for the ruling elites of the British state.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Lord Cochrane of Bile

Few things have exposed the "Union At Any Cost" dogma of British nationalist fanatics more effectively than the fiscal framework talks between the Scottish Government and the British Treasury. And, as one would expect, nobody expresses this demented dogma in more infantile and irrational fashion than Poor Old Cockers.

There is, of course, nothing exceptional about hate-crazed zealots such as Poor Old Cockers being content, if not eager, to see Scotland suffer economic ruin in the name of preserving the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. These, after all, are the same people who expended much effort during the first referendum campaign bombarding Scotland with unsubtle threats of low-level economic warfare should they dare to insist upon that which is theirs by right.

Hard-line unionists now casually acknowledge that the No vote was won on a false prospectus. Then, they trumpeted the "advantages of pooling and sharing". Now, they whine about "Scotland being subsidised by taxpayers elsewhere in Britain".

Then, they boasted of the protections offered by the "broad shoulders" of the British state. Now, when asked to live up to this boast, they say we're looking for a "risk free economy".

The, they talked about their "respect" for Scotland. Now they insult our elected representatives, accusing them of "behaving like bairns short-changed in a sweetie shop". As if it was acceptable to steal from children buying confectionery!

Those hard-line unionists are very keen on reminding us that the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the UK. They are very much less keen to allow that there were terms and conditions attached. Terms and conditions formulated entirely by the British parties.It is clear that they have absolutely no intention of honouring the commitments they made. If they will not honour their part of the deal, there is no deal.

John Swinney demands no more than what was promised in return for a No vote and what was agreed under the Smith Commission. This entirely reasonable demand is met with spittle-flecked spasms of righteous indignation from Poor Old Cockers and his ilk.

But perhaps we should have some sympathy for this self-appointed defender of the British state. I somehow suspect that much of the rancid bitterness that oozes out of him is occasioned by frustration at watching the likes of Alistair Darling and Danny Alexander being lavishly rewarded by a grateful British establishment when it was he who single-handedly saved the union. By his own estimation, he should already be glorying in one of the titular baubles with which the ruling elites of the British state fĂȘte those who display extraordinary devotion.

Lord Cochrane of Bile, perhaps?

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A novel election strategy for the British parties

What The Scotsman's Scott Macnab doesn't seem to realise is that elections come down to a matter of trust. Regardless of the detail, it's a matter of who the voters reckon is the best bet for prudent management of the economy. If, as we're constantly told, elections are won and lost on the issue of the economy, then it is clear that the people are poised to once again put their trust in the Scottish National Party.

For most, this will be a decision based at least as much on general impressions as on any detailed analysis of economic data or prolonged poring over the economic policies of the parties. This is not to say that, when electors decide what candidate or party to vote for, it isn't an informed decision. Only that it is, for the majority of voters, a choice informed by a broad appreciation, rather than a focused examination.

This is why the SNP retains such exceptionally high levels of trust despite the frantic efforts of the British parties and their media accomplices to portray the party as economically incompetent. The broad appreciation on which electoral choices are based is informed by a range of inputs. Lived experience has always been the most significant of these. The diminishing role of the mainstream media in creating this broad appreciation of political reality is both cause and consequence of the massive disconnect between its portrayal of that reality and the evidence of people's senses. With the input from alternative media simply adding to the process of disaffection.

When the papers are telling us that NHS Scotland is in a state of constant crisis, catastrophe and chaos while in the real world we find health service workers quietly and competently going about the business of serving our needs as well as those of our family and friends, we tend to trust our experience rather than the tales of doom and disaster being peddled by the representatives of the British establishment.

It comes down to a matter of trust. And, going by what they know, people in Scotland trust Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney to look after their interests. The opposition's strategy of trying to undermine that trust by manipulating people's understanding  - deceiving them - has failed. There is no point in the British parties trying to make particular decisions by the SNP administration look bad. Because, even when they don't like the decisions being made by Sturgeon or Swinney, people still assume that these decisions are made with Scotland's interests foremost in mind.

Neither is there any point in the British parties offering election give-aways or "bold" policies. Until they can compete with the SNP in terms of that broad appreciation of their competence and trustworthiness, they will not compete at all.

At present, it's looking as if the best way for the British parties to rehabilitate themselves in the regard of Scotland's people, is for them to remain silent. At least if they're doing nothing they are doing no harm.

Monday, 1 February 2016

What's in a headline?

Neither Lord Kerslake nor Lord O'Donnell speak for the SNP administration. The inferences that they chose to draw from the Scottish Government's efforts to work with the British Civil Service may be of passing academic interests. But their very personal take on things hardly warrants a headline. Especially when that opinion is unambiguously contradicted by explicit statements from the Scottish Government.

So what's the point?

Bearing in mind that the headline always has a purpose; that this purpose reflects a political agenda; and that this agenda is known to be hard-line unionist in nature, what may we deduce about this one? What is it intended to convey? And, just as importantly, to whom? What's the target audience? Whose buttons are being pressed here?

I would suggest that the sub-text is a well-worn theme from the British nationalist songbook. It is the attempt to create the impression in susceptible minds that the SNP isn't really in favour of independence. And/or that the independence that the SNP is prepared to settle for isn't "real" independence. How can it be "real" independence, goes the old song, when they want to stay in the EU?  How can it be "real" independence, drones the next verse, when they are prepared to deny Scotland its own civil service in favour of a joint arrangement with those who were guilt of bias during the first independence referendum?

This message is aimed at two groups. It is, obviously, a cue for British nationalism's rag-tag band of amateur propagandists and assorted online unionist ranters in social media and below-the-line comments. Their buttons are notoriously large and sensitive. For professional media manipulators, they are fish in a barrel.

But there is another group being targeted here. The suggestion that the SNP isn't serious about "real" independence is intended to provoke a reaction from what we might euphemistically call the "purists" in the independence movement. A group which, while small in terms of numbers, can be quite vociferous. More significantly, the most weak-willed in this group can be easily goaded into saying something that the British media can latch onto as "evidence" of divisions and friction within the independence movement and a "surge of anti-SNP sentiment". All of which might be based on nothing more than a single ill-thought Tweet or comment on Facebook.

Such is the British media.

With us? Or against us?

Having heard John Swinney speak on the subject of the financial framework negotiations at the weekend, I am more convinced than ever that we have the right man in place. A man who can be relied upon to tenaciously defend Scotland's interests. A man who will not be intimidated by the looming might of the British Treasury. A man who has the wit, the wisdom and the determination to secure a fair deal for Scotland.
This does not mean that I am relaxed about the whole issue. Whatever deal John Swinney manages to extract form the British state, it cannot alter the fact that the Scotland Bill that will thus be facilitated is massively flawed. To work effectively, a tax/benefit system must function as a coherent whole. Having partial control over wee bits of that system is just about the worst imaginable arrangement. Having control divided between two administrations operating in increasingly divergent political cultures and under very different sets of priorities, is a form of fiscal madness.

In many ways, wrenching a fair deal out of a British establishment which equates fairness with exclusive interests of the ruling elites will only be the start of Mr Swinney's travails. He will then be charged with running Scotland's economy under a system that was formulated for the purpose of making this as problematic as possible.

But John Swinney isn't the only one with problems. British Labour in Scotland finds itself on the horns of a serious dilemma. Do they support the Deputy First Minister of Scotland and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy having a clear mandate from the Scottish electorate? Or do they succumb to the petty resentment of the SNP that informs their every word and deed, and support th Tories, their "Better Together" allies who have no democratic mandate whatever from the people of Scotland?

Accidental Shadow Scottish Secretary. Ian Murray, appears now to be back-pedalling somewhat from the pretendy wee party's initial instinctive position of blaming the Scottish Government for everything - real and maliciously imagined. He has, for the moment at least, opted to berate both governments in the vacuous and ineffectual manner of someone who has nothing substantive to offer.

The crunch point is coming when "Scottish Labour" will have to come down on one side of the fence or the other. Will they be for Scotland? Or will they, as their conduct over the last few years must surely oblige us to expect, put the British state and partisan advantage before the interests of Scotland's people.

Will it be, "Scotland first!"? Or will it be, "The Union At Any Cost!"?