Thursday 31 December 2015

Universalism versus exclusivity

Beware of journalists telling you what SNP policy is. Even National columnists and respected commentators such as Lesley Riddoch. Whatever their other qualities, they can all too often be too susceptible to the cosy consensus of the establishment media clique to avoid its distorting influence. Even when the person referring to "the prevailing SNP orthodoxy" is as illustrious as Lesley Riddoch, we should not be deterred from questioning their assertions as to what that "orthodoxy" is.

Whenever journalists critique some supposed SNP policy, that policy tends to be represented as whatever fits neatly with the writer's criticisms and conclusions. In the words of the great lyricist, Ira Gershwin, it ain't necessarily so. (Note to editors: I can do David Torrance-style name-dropping too. Gie's a column!)

I do not speak for the SNP. But I understand party policy from the perspective of an actively involved member and an engaged voter. I also speak as an ardent advocate of universal provision of fundamental public services. In neither capacity do I recognise the "orthodoxy" described by Ms Riddoch. I do not maintain that "popular public services must be free for everyone, even if that means other, more vital services are withdrawn or rationed as a result". And I strongly suspect that Nicola Sturgeon would also reject this as a description of her party's attitude to universalism.

In the first place, I would avoid the word "free". It is, in this context, a pejorative or, at least, an emotive term. I would not be shy about using the more accurate and honest phrase, "provided by the state".

More importantly, I do not accept that universal provision must be at some cost to other services. And certainly not "more vital" services. The idea that we might want to fund services that we regard as important at the expense of services that we hold to be even more important is, quite frankly, nonsensical. The suggestion that this is "orthodoxy" for either the SNP or proponents of universalism such as myself would be offensive but for Ms Riddoch's charming reputation,

Such simplistically mechanistic modelling is not appropriate to something as complex as an economy. Nor even the tax/benefit system within that economy. It simply is not the case that spending money on one thing means that you have to stop spending on something else. If, for example, spending on "free" prescriptions leads to lower rates of chronic illness and fewer hospital admissions, the policy can more than pay for itself.

A cost benefit analysis is aptly described as a complicated way of getting from a preconceived idea to a foregone conclusion. It all depends on what is included as a cost or a benefit.

Apart from the all too frequently discounted "ancillary" benefits of universal provision - minimal administration cost, better uptake rates etc. - there are two things that should be borne in mind when considering universalism versus means testing.

Where there is a genuinely progressive tax system, universal benefits will tend to be self-financing.

If we want a cohesive, inclusive society, a proliferation of artificial distinctions creating ever more exclusive groups is hardly the way to go about it.

Monday 28 December 2015

The circus is in town

Ladies and gentlemen! Fluffy Mundel's Lying Circus proudly presents, David "Trapeze Man" Torrance!

Watch with barely suppressed ennui as, resplendent in his smug-spangled leotard, he swings in graceless arcs between clumsily contrived name-dropping and ill-informed commentary!

Gaze in perplexed wonderment as he turns intellect-defying somersaults of illogic in mid-air while flitting from dull incomprehension to clunking misrepresentation and back again!

Hands dusted with the rosin of self-righteousness the better to grip his prejudices, David performs his tired old routine for an eager audience of adoringly uncritical hard-core unionists.

He can, of course, afford to be both bold and inept. He has the safety net of the British media to ensure that he won't ever land on his arse in the sawdust and elephant shite of reality.

If only they'd told us!

If I cared in the slightest what Brian Monteith's views were on the issue of the British parties in Scotland becoming more like Scottish parties then I would come away from this article feeling somewhat frustrated. Having read it twice now I'm still not sure whether he thinks Scottish Labour and/or the Scottish Conservatives breaking away their "maternal parties" is a good idea or a waste of time and effort. He seems to suppose that the Davidson-Dugdale double-act "showing the courage to challenge their own UK leaders" would be a good idea, but acknowledges that this is unlikely to impress voters in Scotland.

Monteith seems to recognise that the people of Scotland are clued-up enough to be unimpressed by cosmetic changes to the North British branches of the establishment parties. Which is odd given that he evidently supposes us to be singularly stupid in other regards. Too stupid, apparently, to have noticed a "substantial body of evidence" supporting claims of the SNP's serial incompetence. We are, it seems, smart enough to immediately spot Tory and Labour attempts pass off their operations in Scotland as "autonomous" parties. But we're way too thick to notice that we're living in a failed stated, courtesy of the hated SNP.

It would have been nice if Brian Monteith had made some attempt to enlighten us. Perhaps by detailing just a little of the "substantial body of evidence" which supposedly proves the gross failings of the SNP administration that we are so dumbly unaware of. But no. In common with his fellow British nationalists, Monteith regards SNP badness as a given. The voters who insist on supporting the SNP are, by Monteith's account, blind to this badness despite it being so glaringly obvious as to require no illumination.

But we are, it appears, not entirely to blame for being oblivious to the ongoing chaos in our public services. Monteith bemoans the fact that the media has done so little to point out the catastrophic failings of the SNP. Only a massive cover-up could explain our continuing to trust the SNP despite their being unable to do anything right. If only they'd told us!

If only somebody in the media had dubbed the SNP record "scandalous"!

Because, of course, that NEVER happens.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Legal depravity

When I hear Scottish Labour justice spokesman, Graeme Pearson, refer to the need to "choke off supply" I despair. He seems to be under the impression that the "War on Drugs" is an experimental approach whose efficacy has yet to be tested, rather than a project with a decades-long record of very costly failure.

The novelty here is the fact that Pearson's response is an exception to British Labour in Scotland's usual knee-jerk disagreement with the SNP administration. Although I'm not sure there is anything like complete agreement between the two, Pearson has managed to resist the Bain Principle imperative which would normally have had him taking a position diametrically opposed to the hated SNP. Well done him!

The statement from the Scottish Government spokesperson inspires slightly less despair. Although I am with Kenny McAskill on the issue of decriminalisation of drugs, I accept that the SNP would have to be sure they could carry the party with them on such a contentious issue. They must also be aware that the slightest hint of a will to reform drugs legislation will be seized upon by British nationalists and portrayed as a dastardly SNP plot to turn Scotland into a hotbed of drug-fuelled depravity.

Not that anyone would notice. At this time of year they're likely to be distracted bu all the drink-fuelled depravity that is perfectly legal.

Monday 21 December 2015

The transition

English: Logo of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
One might reasonably expect that the British establishment's cheerleaders in Scotland would learn something from this poll. But that fails to take account of the British nationalist mindset. The notion of British exceptionalism precludes them accepting that anything they do might be wrong. The closest they get to a reflective assessment of their performance is the thought that they aren't doing enough of whatever it is that failing.

And it is glaringly obvious to sane, sober and sensible observers that the anti-independence / anti-SNP propaganda campaign is failing catastrophically. Voters in Scotland are simply too engaged and aware to be swayed by what is essentially just a crude extension of Project Fear. Lessons were learned on the Yes side, even if none were learned by unionists.

Reading the below-the-line comments here and elsewhere, as well as articles by some journalists, is revelatory. A common theme is that the British parties might as well resign themselves to another humiliating electoral slapping next year, but that's OK because come the next election - or, maybe, the one after that - the SNP support will collapse.

Interestingly, this doesn't involve the British parties actually doing anything to win the trust of voters. The "theory" relies entirely on the SNP losing support, rather than the others winning it. It assumes that the electorate are getting it wrong and that all it will take to set us straight is another few years of the same grindingly negative tactics which have thus far only succeeded in bringing the British parties into ever greater disrepute.

Some fantasise about a "Grand Alliance" of unionists that will sweep the SNP from the electoral map. More acute intellects will reflect that this would hardly be much different from what we have now. There is no doubt that the three main British Parties in Scotland - aided and abetted by the media - are already coordinating those "attacks" on the SNP, and on institutions such as NHS Scotland, Police Scotland etc. This is part of the reason people have stopped believing any of it.

The possibility of this cooperation developing into a formal electoral pact is vanishingly small. And, even if it did happen, it would only confirm the collusion that voters already disapprove of. We can also pretty much discount informal tactical voting. Experience tells us that few participate. And those taht do tend to cancel out each others' efforts resulting in a negligible overall effect.

So, all we can expect from the British parties is a ramping up of the SNP BAD! rhetoric and ever more contrived and blatant anti-SNP propaganda in the media. With a heavy dose of British nationalist jingoism thrown in.

As an SNP member, I am delighted. Why should I be anything less than gleeful if the British parties choose to commit electoral suicide?

As a lifelong advocate of the restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status, I should be ecstatic. Because the SNP is the essential political arm of the independence movement. At this juncture, what is good for the party is good for the independence campaign.

As a democrat who aspires to a better politics for both Scotland and the rest of the UK, however, my elation must be tempered with regret at the path down which the British establishment is taking us. Their idea of politics is an astronomical distance from what I hope for.

Neither is it healthy, in the longer term, for politics to be dominated by one party. This is not ideal. But it is necessary. And we have cause to be grateful that the dominant party is the SNP. We have to go through a transition to the new politics and independence - not necessarily in that order. To make any kind of accommodation with the British parties, who flatly refuse to adapt to the new reality, would be to turn away from that transition and take our politics backwards.

The polls indicate that we have the momentum. We have an opportunity to transform our politics. The SNP is our big stick. It is the lever by which we will move our nation. All that is required is that we put our weight behind that lever.

Both votes SNP!

Quality journalism? Still but a Christmas wish!

In his usual shallow, blinkered fashion David Torrance acknowledges that the media in Scotland is generally regarded with a profound contempt which, if novel at all, is so only in terms of a more widespread readiness to express that contempt. Being blinkered and shallow, Torrance doesn't trouble himself unduly with the matter of why journalists are held in such low regard by the public. To the extent that he addresses the question at all, he contrives an answer which is entirely shaped his prejudices. An answer which, moreover, lends no credibility whatever to his comical claim to some special insight into the "mindset" of independence supporters.

His verdict, unsurprisingly, is that the media is innocent in all of this and that the charges of distortion of facts and downright dishonesty can simply be dismissed for no other reason than that are levelled by Torrance's curious trio of "Scottish Nationalists, Corbynistas and supporters of Donald Trump" - the last of being included, one supposes, lest we should in any doubt that the intention was to suggest a shared "eccentricity".

Apparently, we are supposed to disregard the lies and the smears peddled by journalists in the service of the British establishment on the grounds that those journalists are actually a convivial bunch who work hard and don't get paid as much as they imagine they're worth. Torrance's feeble defence of the media is, not that it doesn't wantonly sensationalise and wilfully mislead, nor even that there is some justification for such behaviour. He offers no defence or plea in mitigation because he doesn't accept that the media can do anything wrong.

His argument appears to be that, if we want a "free press", we must accept whatever we're given in the name of this "press freedom". Apparently, the proper functioning of democracy requires that there should be no constraints whatever on the media. We are told that "press freedom" means the right to exert political influence, however minor, with total impunity. A "free press", by Torrance's self-serving definition, is a press which has an unfettered right to push a particular political agenda, by absolutely any means, without being answerable to anyone.

Torrance makes the bold assertion that the Scottish media "has heaps more self-awareness and integrity than many of those who zealously traduce it". A claim which he seems to imagine is conclusively proved by the fact that diverse journalists are prepared to have the gentle piss taken out of them while they enjoy the doubtless generous hospitality of the junket's sponsors. I'm going to be so bold as to suggest that not everybody will find this "evidence" as persuasive as Mr Torrance does.

We are told that, "the problem is the capacity and ability to carry on producing quality journalism, not the media’s constitutional stance". But who is to judge what constitutes "quality journalism"? Not the consumers, that's for sure. Torrance is at pains to tell us that, should our opinions be less than flattering to the media clique, then those opinions are either misguided or irrelevant. The media itself is a "great issue". And newspapers must be free to judge the great issues of the day on their own terms.

The fact that increasing numbers of us do not recognise what we are being offered as "quality journalism" has, according to Torrance, no bearing on the matter. There is more to quality journalism than good writing. A lie is yet a lie when it is couched in the prettiest of prose.

And it is not, as Torrance supposes in characteristic blinkered and shallow fashion, a matter of "constitutional stance". Across the independence movement, during the referendum campaign and since, people like myself genuinely craved honest and factual engagement in the constitutional debate from the British establishment - in particular, the British political parties and the British media. It was, and continues to be, one of the great frustrations of that debate that the unionist side simply does not participate in any meaningful way.

I would love to be responding to some rational analysis or dispassionate commentary from unabashedly pro-union journalists. If only I could find any. Instead, I find myself replying to the shallow, blinkered drivel that David Torrance hopes will pass as quality journalism.

Talking sense

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill
Kenny MacAskill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have always had a degree of admiration for Kenny MacAskill. He always struck me as someone who was not afraid to tackle the kind of issues that politicians normally skirt around. It is, therefore, not too surprising to find him putting his head above the parapet on the issue of reforming drug legislation.

Only those with their heads stubbornly buried in the sand will dispute that such reform is necessary. The "war on drugs" has been a decades-long squandering of resources for no discernible social gain. But for the resistance of vested interests, there would have been a total rethink long ere now. There is always a tipping point in such matters. It would be gratifying to think that McAskill's intervention might prompt other senior figures to speak out.

But there is another point being made here. Kenny McAskill also highlights the need for control over drugs legislation in Scotland to be brought home. We have now moved past the stage where we had to argue the merits of devolving powers. The onus now is on the UK Government to justify the withholding of powers that should logically and rightfully be vested in the Scottish Parliament. Increasingly, the British establishment's insistence on denying power to Scotland's parliament looks perverse and obtuse. Where people used to wonder whether devolution of particular powers was a good idea, more and more they are coming to question why, when Scotland has its own democratically elected parliament in Edinburgh, those powers are still in the hands of British politicians in London.

Friday 18 December 2015

The madness of Jenny Hjul

A catalogue of distortion, lies, ill-informed comment and mindless hatred. Or. as it is otherwise known, an article by one of the more bitterly fanatical British nationalists, Jenny Hjul.

I read vile diatribes such as this and I am put in mind of the kind of demonising propaganda pumped out by the British state on the all too frequent occasions when it is seeking to justify some murderous overseas military adventure for the purposes of "regime change".

In tone, if not in the precise detail of language, Hjul's rant is barely distinguishable from the British establishment's fulminations against Saddam Hussein, or Muammar Gaddafi, or Bashar al-Assad. Or, in an earlier era, Mohandas K Gandhi, or any of many others subsequently acknowledged by the world as honourable and brave leaders of the struggle against brutish imperialist domination and exploitation.

Some will dismiss the comparison. But, apart from the stylistic parallel between Hjul's bilious bombast and state-sponsored hate-mongering, there are valid similarities in respect of the motivation for such intemperate vilification. In all cases, it is primarily about protecting the interests of the ruling elites of the British state. What the episodes of demonising propaganda have in common is that all are mounted against perceived threats to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

Jenny Hjul is clearly not clever enough to realise it, but the one thing that is clear from her rancid raving is that this is a political union which cannot possibly last. No union in which one of the parties is subject to this level of abuse can conceivably survive. It is not a matter of whether the union ends, but when.

And how. The SNP and the wider independence campaign have sought an orderly, amicable dissolution of the union in which those aspects which are commonly valued may be preserved, in some form and as far as possible. A break-up of the UK brought about by pedlars of hate such as Hjul is a very different matter. And a prospect relished only by those on the extreme lunatic fringe of British nationalism.

Sunday 6 December 2015

Moving on

Just what we needed! Another London-centric politician demonstrating how little he understands Scotland's politics. Or even the fact that Scotland has a politics which is distinct from that in England. Livingstone seem to imagine that it is all a simple matter of degrees of apparent left-winginess. Like many in British Labour's North British branch, he clings to the notion that the SNP's electoral success is merely a matter of the voters giving British Labour a wee slap to get them back on track. He genuinely seems to believe that all it takes to restore normality north of the border is a wee wave of the red flag.

Livingstone simply cannot appreciate that British Labour in Scotland is being punished for more than just the aberration of Blairism and the betrayal of Better Together. And he surely could never admit that the SNP might be winning on merit. Compromising of principles and collaborating with the Conservatives are merely symptoms of the deeper malaise which has occasioned Scotland's increasing disaffection with British Labour. The problem is not that British Labour hasn't been left-wing enough, but that it hasn't been Scottish at all.

And I don't mean Scottish on any saltire and tartan sense. I mean Scottish as in being relevant to Scottish politics and society. Former Labour voters used to say that they didn't leave the party, the party left them. But we've now moved on a few episodes in that soap opera. We're now at the bit where British Labour tries to come back, only to find that their one-time partner has matured, moved on, and formed a new relationship.

British Labour in Scotland is the second time suitor pleading that it could be just like the old days and unable to accept that we are delighted to have left those days behind us. They're trying to return to a place that no longer exists. It's not us, it's them. They just don't fit in our lives any more. And in their forlorn frustration they lash out at their replacement thinking to undermine our new relationship with insults and malicious gossip, but only managing to alienate us even further.

Ken Livingstone seems to think that all "Scottish" Labour needs to do is put on that old record we used to dance to and we'll swoon again like we did last century. Sorry, Ken! We still love Slade. But we're listening more to Young Fathers these days.

Thursday 3 December 2015

The war I want

Let there be no doubt that I want to see Islamic State obliterated. Whether that is actually possible or not, my instinctive reaction to this vile cult is to want it destroyed. Eradicated. I abhor Islamic State with a fervour that disturbs me, lest it resemble in any degree the fervour which drives these murderous thugs.

Let's be clear that I entertain absolutely no illusions about the repulsive nature of Islamic State's odious ideology. No more than any other sane individual do I relish the prospect of humanity being dragged by black-clad, sword-wielding psychopaths to ultimate oblivion via a purgatory that compresses all the horrors of ancient religious ignorance, intolerance, zealotry and brutality into the shortest period of time possible as it rushes towards the obscene embrace of Armageddon.

Let's have none of this nonsense about it being "nothing to do with religion". Let's dispense with the fallacy (which I confess to having been lured towards on occasion) that Islamic Sate is not Islamic. Or non-Islamic. Or, even, anti-Islamic. The reality is that it is too Islamic. It is excessively Islamic. It is a manifestation of what we can only call hyper-fundamentalism, ugly as that term may be. Only in that sense is the Islam of Islamic State alien to the Islam known and practised by millions of perfectly decent, caring, peaceful, hard-working law-abiding Muslims throughout the world. The people who are our neighbours, our colleagues, our friends and, crucially, our allies in the fight against a cult which is at least as much of a threat to "ordinary" Muslims as it is to anyone else. Statistically, a vastly greater threat.

Let's have no self-satisfied smugness or self-righteous condemnation, either, from adherents of and apologists for the other Abrahamic cults - Christianity and Judaism. It is only by serial accidents of history and various catastrophes of geo-politics that this hyper-fundamentalism has arisen where it has. Had circumstances been no more than somewhat different, either of these creeds is perfectly capable of throwing up its own brand of hyper-fundamentalism. Indeed, it might well be argued that both have already done so, albeit on a scale that cannot rival the massive madness of Islamic State.

There is no such thing as benign religion. What we are pleased to regard as "moderate" religion is the fertile soil in which grow orthodoxy, absolutism and fanaticism. Religion sows the seed of blind faith - belief against evidence - and the world reaps the whirlwind of hyper-fundamentalism. Religion bids us abandon our intellect and put mediaeval superstition, proud ignorance and the dogma of long-dead scribes before progressive enlightenment, accumulated knowledge and intuitive awareness of the constraints on our behaviour derived from our shared humanity and sociability.

For the most part, we cope with this incipient malignancy. For the most part, we keep it in check. Islamic State is what happens when we fail.

Listen to buffoons such as Stephen Daisley and you'd suppose all those whose voices were raised against the UK joining in the bombing of Iraq were as absolutist in their opposition to military action as the warmongers were in their pursuit of armed conflict. Not so. I do not claim to speak for others, but my opposition was not to action against Islamic Sate, but to action that was ill-conceived, needlessly murderous, utterly pointless, and almost certainly destined to be ineffective.

The British war-machine may have hitched a ride on the wave of fear and revulsion that Islamic State has provoked, but it would be naive to imagine that Cameron and his British establishment cronies are acting from anything that might pass for honourable motives. The British state's puny contribution to the bombing in Syria has precious little to do with striking at Islamic State and a great deal to do with ensuring Britain is not excluded from the game being played by the big boys in the playground of a strategically important and resource-rich region.

It is about status. It is about the increasingly desperate and unseemly scrabble to maintain the British state's place at the "top table".

And, of course, it is about laying claim to a share of the spoils once Islamic State is "defeated" - whatever that may mean. Not just oil, but influence. British nationalists simply cannot abide the thought of other members of the imperialist club carving up the remnants to suit themselves. It's about power. Power is relative. In this game, it is as important for each player to prevent others gaining power as it is to gain power for themselves.

Those who oppose the intervention in Syria do so for a variety of reasons. They are not, as some of the more shallow-minded commentators seem to suppose, a homogeneous group. These reasons are generally worthy. Or, at least, more worthy than the short-sighted, self-serving motives of the warmongers.  My own view is that, even if Islamic State could be vanquished in a military sense - which is a questionable proposition at best - it would not be wiped out. Something of it would survive. And that something could be even more dangerous and problematic.

When incidents such as the Paris attacks happen, or military intervention is proposed, apologists for the imperialist powers instinctively and vehemently deny any historical context. Any suggestion that the past policies and actions of British state and others are related in any way to the morass that is the Syrian conflict will be met with flat denial and hysterical accusations of terrorist sympathies. Being wilfully blind to history as a process, and thus to the connections between and among past events, there can be no extrapolation to future developments.

Pretty much every one of the imperialist military adventures of recent history, from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan through the "War on Terror" to the invasion of Iraq and "regime change" in Libya, had "unfortunate" outcomes which were both entirely foreseeable and, in every case, well predicted. But the ruling elites, obsessed with the pursuit of power, would not be warned and could not be induced to pause and think - any more than the British establishment could be dissuaded from its latest doomed adventure in Syria.

The likes of Hilary Benn will make rabble-rousing speeches filled with jingoistic historical references of dubious relevance while remaining stubbornly oblivious to the lessons of history which hold the most valuable lessons.

The most fundamental lesson of history is that military defeat of Islamic State - to the extent that this is a realistic prospect - will not be an end point. Something else will follow. And if you do not seek to understand what might follow there is little chance of being prepared to deal with it. What you have then is a recipe for perpetual war. The perpetual war in which we are now embroiled.

I object to UK participation in the bombing of Syria on a number of grounds. (Such as the serious constitutional issues that have been raised. Of which more anon.) Not the least of these grounds is that it is a move which contributes to this perpetual war, rather than offering the possibility of a route out of it. It is a diversion. A side-show. A squandering of effort. And an unforgivable waste of the innocent lives that will be be part of the price of the British establishment's hubris.

I would have preferred to see the effort going into starving Islamic State of money and weapons. I wanted a massive effort, not only to block Islamic State's propaganda channels, but to counter its propaganda. Islamic State will not be destroyed by bombs and missiles and artillery. Islamic State will not be dead until its pernicious ideology is dead. It will not be defeated until it is exposed for the abomination that it is. Exposed in such a way as to arouse revulsion rather than curiosity in those to whom its appeal is directed.

Islamic State will not be defeated until the disaffected, disillusioned and dis-empowered see a viable alternative to the comforting certainties and promised empowerment that Islamic State touts. Until they see a space in which reason can function and be effective.

Islamic State exists because those who possess the power to shape the world have created an Islamic State-shaped space that had to be filled. The decision to bomb Syria is a decision to continue making it a space where hyper-fundamentalists survive and thrive.

Saturday 14 November 2015

The hope of hell

I am an atheist. I have no religion. I have never found the need for it. There is no gaping hole in my existence which cries out to be filled by cant and superstition. Which makes me an equal-opportunities hate-figure for all the diverse creeds which provide the fertile soil in which take root the poisonous weeds of fundamentalism, fanaticism, and extremism.

I embrace no concept of heaven or hell. The world in which we live provides sufficient of both. But I hope the people who brought their mindless, murderous hatred to Paris believed in hell. I hope they believed, with the same demented fervour which drove them to commit these acts of heartless savagery, in the promise of unspeakable eternal torment.

I hope that, in the irreversible moment when they triggered the device by which they thought to escape to glory, the realisation came upon them that they were actually destined for the hell of their darkest fears.

I hope they knew the terror they sought to inflict on others.

Most of all, I want all those who would follow them to know that this is their fate. In the very moment of your death, the core of humanity that dwells within even the worst of us will rise up and inflict a retribution more terrible to you than any that might be imposed by a court of law; a vengeful enemy; or an offended deity.

In the moment of your death, you will know unfathomable despair and the endless hell you have created for yourself.

I am not a particularly good person. So I am able to take a bit of comfort from such thoughts without much guilt.

Friday 13 November 2015

A “Pick ‘n’ Mix” Parliament?

There are a number of problems with the notion of orchestrating voters in order to create a "Pick 'n' Mix" parliament. Others have tackled the psephological aspects. I would suggest that not the least of the problems is illustrated by the lack of any consensus about outcomes. It seems form ll of this that, even if it were possible to achieve coordinated tactical voting - which it really isn't - the result would remain unpredictable.

Superficially, the idea of having a large number of non-SNP pro-independence MSPs seems attractive. And ridding our parliament of as much as possible of the British parties is obviously desirable. But there is reason to question how effective a group of "Other Pro-independence" MSPs might be. In the first place, what chance is there that they would, in fact, be a group. This is the infamously factional and fractious left that we're talking about. Experience tells us that they are likely to expend more of their energies on internecine squabbling and partisan point-scoring than in working together towards a common goal.

We have to wonder, too, if these non-SNP pro-independence parties actually share a goal, either among themselves or with the SNP and/or the broader independence movement. Much has been made of the diversity of the Yes campaign. And rightly so. But the thing that unified the diverse parts of the Yes campaign was a straightforward, no-strings commitment to independence which was not conditional on any particular political agenda. Of all the pro-independence parties, only the SNP maintains this stance. For all the others it's a matter of "independence if" and "independence but".

When we talk about the potential effectiveness of these non-SNP pro-independence MSPs we have to be clear about the context. As the opposition at Holyrood they would have to try very hard to be worse than British Labour in Scotland and the other British parties. It would certainly be good to have an opposition which was doing more than just throwing a ludicrously protracted tantrum at having been dispossessed of the power and status to which it presumes entitlement.

But in the context of advancing the cause of restoring Scotland's independence, there is reason to doubt that these other pro-independence parties would have much impact. Principally because the British media would simply airbrush them out of the picture altogether. Cast your mind back to the referendum campaign and ask yourself how often Yes Scotland or any of the myriad organisations and groups operating under the Yes Scotland umbrella were even acknowledged. As far as the Brit-centric mainstream media was concerned, it was all about the SNP and Alex Salmond. The same attitude would prevail in relation to RISE, Solidarity etc. To the considerable extent that being effective in the independence campaign requires a significant media profile, these parties and their MSPs would be only marginally effective as they were denied any media profile at all.

Look at the way the Westminster elite have sought, with some success, to sideline and exclude the SNP group at Westminster, despite their massive democratic mandate. A handful of Green/RISE/Solidarity MSPs at Holyrood will be as nothing by comparison.

The only exception to this media blanking of the entire Yes campaign other than the SNP was when one or other of the Yes groups or organisations did something that could be spun as embarrassing to the SNP. Likewise, any non-SNP MSPs at Holyrood after May would only ever find themselves getting any media attention if they were sniping at the SNP administration. They would, in effect, be used as sticks to beat the SNP, and little else.

And we have good cause to suppose that these other pro-independence parties would lend themselves readily enough to being thus used by the British nationalist propaganda machine. Far too many of their supporters appear content to take their cue from the British parties and the British media rather than formulate their own rational and nuanced critique of the SNP. If all we are going to get from the Green/RISE/Solidarity contingent is a dumb parroting of "SNP BAD!" drivel then we'd find no improvement over the British parties at Holyrood. Indeed, it might be argued that we'd be worse off. At least we can attack the inanity of the British parties' anti-SNP propaganda without being seen to condemn another part of the independence campaign.

That these other pro-independence parties are guilty as charged will be proved by their response to these remarks. That response will consist almost entirely of an echo of the unionist line that exposing the distortions and dishonesty of the anti-SNP propaganda equates with a claim that the SNP "can do no wrong". More thoughtful people will realise that refuting one allegation, or even a series of allegations, in no way implies a total absence of imperfection. But it is much easier to eschew such thoughtfulness and go straight to idiocies about "blind allegiance".

To summarise, I see two very big questions looming over the notion of a "Pick 'n' Mix" parliament. Is it even feasible? And even if it was, would it be of any great utility to the independence campaign?

My expectation is that Scotland's voters will, for the most part, disregard all the conflicting and confusing pleas for cunning tactical voting. I think they will make their choices in much the same diverse ways as ever. I am not about to join in with those who presume to tell people how to vote. Not least because I am perfectly aware that I will be ignored. And deservedly so. I would say only this. In the SNP we have a force sufficient to shake the British establishment. That force has been created by the people of Scotland, and it is at their disposal. It is our big stick.

As I have found occasion to remind people, the SNP offers the ONLY path to independence. It is the agency by which the people of Scotland will achieve the goal of securing their nation's independence. Without the SNP, that simply isn't going to happen. You can be non-SNP and pro-independence. You cannot be anti-SNP and pro-independence. Bear this in mind both in the campaign for the Holyrood elections and when you vote. Think very carefully before being tempted to set aside the dull, misshapen, imperfect but very, very big stick that we have in favour of some smooth and shiny but rather small new stick.

Thursday 5 November 2015

The immaculate innocence of journalists?

A recent piece on the excellent Lallands Peat Worrier blog contained the following less than flattering assessment of mainstream political journalism,

Understanding the politics of devolution increasingly demands that we understand the law of devolution. Regrettably, most of our key commentators and opinion formers still haven't the nearest, foggiest clue about how the powers and reservations of devolution are delimited. And more frustratingly still, they tend not to stir themselves to find out. Instead, they spend their time discussing political tactics, impressions, aspirations, court politics -- and as a result, allow politicians to peddle guff unchallenged.

On Bella Caledonia, Peter Burnett begins his review of George Gunn's book, In The Province of the Cat with a justifiably scathing attack on an article in The Economist,

These attempts to portray a lawless government north of the border in an article supposedly about the crofting industry in Caithness and Sutherland are not reportage, but are unsubstantiated and un-referenced opinions reliant on undemonstrated assumptions. Nobody is interviewed and the article quotes nobody, cites no external sources and presents no evidence that its author, Jeremy Cliffe, has even been to Scotland.

I, too, have found cause to write of "toxic media" and "the agenda-serving distortion of facts and downright dishonesty that is increasingly commonplace in the British media, and increasingly resented by audiences".

All of which is by way of providing context for something which caught my attention in one of Kenneth Roy's increasingly bilious columns for Scottish Review. Bemoaning the declining fortunes of newspapers in general, and what he inexplicably regards as "quality" Scottish newspapers in particular (The Scotsman!?), Roy remarks,

What surprises me is that this is the case at a time when Scotland is supposedly politically conscious and active as never before.

The entire piece is pretty much one long whine about how awful it is that the public are being derelict in their duty to provide secure and lucrative employment for self-regarding, self-important scribblers by purchasing newspapers in the quantities that once they did. But this one sentence seems to encapsulate both the dumb refusal to accept that journalists themselves bear any responsibility for the decline of the print media, and a telling illustration of the kind of observational and analytical failure that has contributed to that decline as surely as any social, economic and technological factors.

It simply doesn't occur to Kenneth Roy that the new political engagement in Scotland, far from being anomalous in relation to the decline of newspapers, goes a long way to explaining why people are abandoning traditional media in droves. He has found something rather puzzling. But he declines to reflect upon it. He utterly fails to ask the obvious questions about the possibility of some kind of causal link between rising political awareness and diminishing interest in what people such as himself have to say about politics.

It's not as if such a link is at all implausible. It makes perfect sense to suppose that, as political awareness and engagement increases, so does the capacity for more critical consumption of political messages, including those served up by "key commentators and opinion formers". Indeed, one wonders what political engagement might look like if it did not include an  ability and readiness to actively scrutinise the perspectives and interpretations offered by political journalists.

And it seems perfectly reasonable to suppose that, should more critical consumption of media messages lead to dissatisfaction with the product, then consumers will turn to alternatives. A proposition made all the more credible by the fact that such alternatives have lately become available in the form of what Kenneth Roy rather contemptuously dismisses as "social media", but is in fact a range of online sources of information, opinion and analysis which is growing in size, diversity, sophistication and, crucially, authority.

There is a train of reason here which appears to have totally eluded Kenneth Roy. If I can immediately identify this gaping hole in his analysis, so can others. Having found what he has to offer so badly flawed, why would we not seek something better elsewhere?

As others have noted, this kind of inadequate, inept and often maliciously biased commentary is hardly uncommon. It makes up the larger part of the content of the politics pages of what Roy, however laughably, deems to be "quality" newspapers, as well as other "respected" publications. But it no longer goes uncontested. "Her Majesty's Press" no longer pontificate with impunity. And, all too evidently, they aren't happy about it.

The road to ruin

Of course, failure to identify (or determination to deny?) the role of journalists in plummeting newspaper sales, as described in the first part of this article, is only part of the story. If you omit one highly pertinent question, such as "who?", then you miss other highly relevant questions that arise from the answer to that question - such as "how?" and "why?". Seeking answers to such questions would take far more space than is available. But, with all the usual caveats about the risks inherent in over-simplification, there is no harm in offering a few thoughts on the matter.

It's something of a chicken-and-egg question whether it was budget cuts which precipitated declining standards and falling sales, or some other permutation of these three things. What is reasonably certain, however, is that political editors became increasingly reliant on material fed to them by the political parties to fill the spaces between advertising. That then becomes the norm. Genuine insightful analysis and commentary gradually becomes the increasingly rare exception. Because it is effortful.

In such an environment, political contacts are ever more valuable commodities. Until a point is reached at which these contacts are all but totally dictating the content. No political writer can risk losing the "inside sources" which were once mere accoutrements of their trade, even if very useful.

The need to pander to the machinery of the "major" parties, being common to all political journalists, a cosy consensus develops among them based on what is required to satisfy the beast. Newspapers now have a political agenda which is indistinguishable from that of the British establishment. Dissent or challenge is only possible to the extent that this is within the bounds of the faux rivalries between and among the parties of the British establishment.

This situation might dodge along for a fairly long time. But something happens to disturb the comfortable arrangements between the political press and the Westminster elite. There arises something which is perceived to be a serious threat to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. Structures in which the mainstream media are inextricably enmeshed.
The Scottish National Party wins an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament and a referendum on Scotland leaving the UK becomes inevitable.

This is seismic! Among many other effects, such as the explicit acknowledgement that the rivalry among the establishment parties was all but entirely a fa├žade, newspapers were put in the position of having to choose sides. Not that this posed much of a dilemma for them. The media, being part of the British establishment, was bound to defend the British state.

At first, this makes little difference as the threat posed by the referendum is not taken too seriously. The line taken by the British establishment - and, therefore, the British media - is a kind of paternalistic, lightly mocking condescension which, nonetheless and not in all cases or at all times, sought to at least pay lip service to the fact that this was a democratic process.

Then we saw the rise of the Yes movement, mass political engagement by people determined to challenge the status quo, and an inexorable narrowing of the polls. Within the British establishment, complacency turned to concern; then to fear; then to panic. The mocking condescension of the early weeks and months devolved into a campaign of increasingly vicious smear, lies, distortion, scaremongering, threats and empty promises. A campaign in which the vast majority of the British media colluded eagerly.

Prompted by the need to defend the old order and the old ways that served them moderately well, newspapers abandoned any pretence of impartiality or balance or reasonableness or even honesty to conduct what history will record as arguably the most savage peace-time propaganda campaign since the darkest days of the Cold War.

The newspapers had given themselves over to be transparent instrument of established power. Political journalists had abandoned professional integrity. The media had given itself licence to behave in all manner of reprehensible ways on the grounds that it was being done in the interests of "the nation". Conduct which would otherwise have been universally condemned as deplorable was held to be justified in defence of the established order. While everything said by the Yes campaign either went unreported or was grotesquely distorted, nothing said by Better Together, the British parties or the UK Government was ever in any meaningful way scrutinised.

It worked! Enough doubt and fear was engendered amount Scotland's voters that, when added to the hard core of ideological (and ultimately violent) British nationalists, led to the tragic No vote.

The British establishment thought that would be an end of things. There would still be the "nuisance" of the SNP to be dealt with and, obviously, the threat from Scotland would have to be neutralised by various means, such as undermining confidence in major institutions seen as symbolic of Scotland's distinctive political culture and using devolution legislation to effectively cripple the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. But it was anticipated that it would soon be exploitative business as usual.

Some see the election of a Tory government in London as significant. But as far as "dealing with" the situation in Scotland is concerned, it made no difference which of the British parties was in power at Westminster. All shared the same imperative - destroy the SNP, and put the people of Scotland back in their box.

It wasn't going to prove so easy. Events in the wake of what had at first appeared to be a calamitous referendum outcome showed that, far from subsiding, the tide of democratic dissent in Scotland was stronger than ever. Project Fear, rather than being wound down to a background hum of grinding negativity and denigration of all things Scottish, had to be kept spinning at full tilt.

Newspapers had no way out. Having committed to Project Fear, they could not now abandon it. Having chosen the path that they did, they could not now change course without acknowledging their willing collusion in the shameful campaign mounted by the British establishment against the peaceful, lawful, democratic movement to normalise Scotland's constitutional status.

Unable now to retrieve any semblance of the professional integrity which was abandoned in order to defend the ruling elites of the British state, the British media are predictably artful. They move to make their present condition the new benchmark for journalistic professionalism. Hence, we have an episode of journalistic debasement so despicable that even some journalists were moved to condemn it elevated to nomination for a prestigious award.

The submission by The Telegraph for the accolade of a PressGazette British Journalism award of the iniquitous smear against Nicola Sturgeon in which Scottish Political Editor, Simon Johnson, conspired in the most scurrilous manner imaginable with the then Scottish Secretary and now disgraced but tenacious Liberal Democrat MP, Alistair Carmichael, and its acceptance by the panel of judges, marks the point at which the shark is well and truly jumped.

Whether or not the "story" wins, the very fact of being an accepted nominee gives the journalistic profession's stamp of approval to the complete absence of any professional standards involved. The bar has been lowered to accommodate the gutter-crawlers of the British press. On a good day, The Scotsman and even the Daily Record might aspire to this new standard.

The political press has failed the people of Scotland in the most abysmal manner. It is dealing with this ignoble failure by redefining it as noble success. Is it any wonder that, as Keneth Roy acknowledges - while blaming everyone except journalists - the decline of newspapers in Scotland appears to be terminal?

Is it at all surprising, given the depths to which the old media has sunk, that people are turning to alternatives such as blogs and independent online news websites?

Whether this is to the detriment or otherwise of democracy and society is a question for another day. No matter how obvious Kenneth Roy imagines the answer to be.

Monday 2 November 2015

Bonkers like a Britnat!

So, Chris Deerin's message is simple. We should ignore all the tangible, objective evidence - much of which he helpfully lists for us - and take his word for it that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are doing it all wrong. That she and her party are enjoying almost exclusively positive outcomes is irrelevant. The reality of their disastrous performance may be hidden to lesser mortals, but all has been revealed to Deerin.
That the fortunes of political parties and personalities wax and wane is a truism so banal that Deerin and his fellow British nationalist commentators cannot help but look extremely silly when they attempt to put a sheen of profundity on it. The notion that, in politics, success is no more than a harbinger of failure is too slickly facile to gain any purchase on the thoughtful mind, regardless of the fact there may be just the faintest whiff of truth about it. The all but unavoidable response to such vacuity is the thought that there really must be more to it than that.
And, of course, there is. But Deerin is so consumed by fantasies of the SNP's downfall that he is blind to pretty much anything other than his own wishful thinking. He fails, for example, to see that the things he perceives - or seeks to portray - as folly on the part of the SNP administration are actually the strengths which underpin its success. Because he has bought entirely into the grotesque caricature of the SNP concocted by the British media, he expects the party to be doing the wild and crazy things that would surely be done by the cartoon characters cavorting in his head.
The SNP has failed only in that it hasn't lived down to the ludicrously low expectations of its more fervent detractors. The SNP has let down Deerin and his like by being too ordinary. Where the British establishment's slavering attack dogs had hoped for the haphazard pyrotechnics of a catastrophically mismanaged firework display, the SNP has delivered only the steady, reliable glow of street-lights. where the British nationalists eagerly anticipated administrative slapstick, the SNP has performed with quiet competence.
Deerin and the rest persist in referring to Scottish Government failure in the areas of education, health, policing etc. precisely because the anticipated failures have not materialised. Therefore, they have to be majicked into existence by the power of repetition in the British media. To the point where even otherwise perspicacious and honest journalists like Iain Macwhirter succumb to the propaganda.
The SNP has frustrated the British establishment by the very caution that Deerin complains about so piteously. They have deftly avoiding providing their opponents with ammunition, leaving them flailing around in ever more desperate and transparently obvious efforts to spin "SNP BAD!" material out of thin air.
People notice. The likes of Chris Deerin flatter themselves that they mould opinion. That they exercise significant control over the way the public perceive the world of politics. But, to whatever extent that may once have been the case, it no longer is. Certainly not in Scotland. People who were engaged and politicised by the referendum campaign see with their own eyes rather than through the distorting lens of mainstream media they long since learned to distrust. They notice the widening gulf between the breathless tales of endless crisis, incompetence and corruption peddled by the media and their actual experience of life in Scotland under an SNP administration.
The popular verdict on the SNP is that, "they're no bad". People actually rather like the quiet competence. They don't want grand schemes. They just want things to be OK. Although they might not use the precise words, most people credit the SNP with principled pragmatism. An unspectacular capacity for management and a preparedness to consider possible solutions unconstrained by dogma.
People in general don't object to the fact that the SNP is committed to seeking independence for Scotland. They are certainly not as horrified by the idea as British nationalists fearful about the consequences for the structures of power, privilege and patronage with which they are comfortably familiar.
People actually like the fact that the SNP is unified by a purpose other than partisan advantage and personal advancement. The idea of a political party with a positive aspiration has considerable appeal.
People find it easy to believe that the SNP will put the interests of Scotland and its people before all other considerations because they see evidence of this all the time. Just as importantly, they see nothing which strongly contradicts this belief.
Chris Deerin wants to tell all these people that they are wrong. And that is really all he has to say. As he suggests, it might sound bonkers. And there may be a very good reason for that.

Friday 23 October 2015

Kenneth Roy is a f***ing bladder!

It is relevant to note that the Scottish Review provides no facility for comment on its articles. Something that will surely sit well with journalists who suppose themselves to have a divinely-ordained right to pontificate with impunity.
Perhaps if Mr Roy were not so preoccupied with wallowing in his contrived sense of grievance he would be able to see the media-generated hysteria about "cybernat abuse" for what it truly is - a form of intimidation. The endless flaunting of theatrically righteous indignation and the deluge of partial, pious condemnation is no more than the British media using its power as a tool of the British establishment to bludgeon into silence those who challenge the inaccuracies, distortions and downright lies which they promulgate.
It's possible that if Mr Roy were not so intent upon casting himself in the role of heroic victim of unjust persecution he might just see that the wilfully one-sided railing against online abuse is a kind of censorship. The British media assumes the role of sole arbiter of what is permissible for the purpose of narrowing the debate to the extent that even fully justified criticism of the media is excluded.
At the very least, it is hoped that the threat of being labelled a "cybernat" will make people prone to self-censorship. The threat of a week-long tirade of vilification in the Daily Record might make any but the most determined champion of truth shy away from condemning some blatant lie or vicious smear that the paper has published.
If Mr Roy was not content to sit proud and prideful in his citadel of self-regard, he might get close enough to reality to discover that this "cybernat abuse" about which he obsesses is almost entirely mythical. It is no more than a noxious fog generated by British nationalists to disguise and distract from their inability to honestly counter the arguments of the independence movement.
When someone of Kenneth Roy's undoubted intellectual acumen descends to inanities such as "Miss Sturgeon's one-party state" then he forfeits any right to demand respect. By his own choice, he puts himself among the ranks of the mindless British nationalist fanatics who lack the capacity to see the idiocy of such remarks.
Kenneth Roy will, of course, insist that anybody so much as referring to this abysmal stupidity is guilty of "vile abuse". He will seek to divert attention from his own prejudice-driven foolishness by bawling piteously about how awful it is of some "cybernat" to draw attention to his gaffe. In doing so, he will provide the perfect example of the true nefarious purpose behind the media's "cybernat abuse" hysteria.
I am not given to self-censorship. I will not be intimidated by the media bullies. I'll not shrink from telling it like it is.

Monday 19 October 2015

Should we be nice to No voters?

I guess it depends on what is meant by being nice. If the question is whether we should maintain reasonable levels of civility in our exchanges with those who voted No in last year's referendum, then the answer is clearly in the affirmative. We should absolutely eschew petty insults and epithets which call into question the No voter's desire to do what is best for Scotland.

Which is not to say that there were not those who urged a No vote knowing full well that it would be to Scotland's detriment. Or that there were not those whose fervent pursuit of a No vote led them to do and say things which were quite purposefully intended to be harmful to Scotland's interests - as in seeking to deter inward investment, for example. But such people were few in number and confined almost entirely to the ranks of the political, economic and social elites who see their own interests as being served by keeping Scotland thirled to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

Amongst what, for want of a better term, we shall call "ordinary No voters", there were no "traitors". There were only people overwhelmed by a veritable deluge of British nationalist propaganda which left them confused and fearful.

But does "being nice" to No voters mean that we should give them succour? Does it entail reassuring them that their choice was perfectly legitimate? Should we be telling them that they weren't wrong in any sense of that term?

Or should we be pointing out, forcefully but with all the courtesy we can muster, that they voted No on the basis of a false prospectus?

As continuing independence campaigners, we are by necessary implication telling No voters that they made a bad choice. Should we be wrapping this message in the cotton wool of prevarication and mealy-mouthed euphemism? Or should we give No voters the respect due to rational human beings and consider them capable of handling the fact that they made a mistake? Especially since we may shortly be urging them to rectify that mistake.

Surely we can, without unseemly gloating, point out to past No voters that the information needed to make a better choice was readily available. When they voted No, it was already known that Gordon Brown had lied about pensions, blood transfusions and transplant services.

When they voted No, it was already known that Alistair Darling had lied persistently about the bank bail-out.

When they voted No, it was already known that the UK government had lied about mobile roaming charges, treaties and start-up costs for independent Scotland's infrastructure, amongst countless other things.

When they voted No, it was already known that Better Together had lied about scientific research funding etc. and even about the referendum itself. When the anti-independence Labour/Tory/Lib/Dem alliance was launched, Alistair Darling stated categorically that they would be campaigning on the basis of a choice between independence and the status quo. That lasted only as long as it took to realise that next to nobody was prepared to vote for the status quo.

In fact, it is difficult to find anything that the British establishment didn't lie about - defence, oil, Europe, currency and all else besides.

The important point here is that the sheer dishonesty of the anti-independence campaign on all these topics was either already known or could justifiably be assumed. The UK Government's position on Scotland's EU membership was plainly nonsensical. Their position on the currency union amounted to knee-jerk economic vandalism.

The infamous "Vow" was as blatant a piece of inept politicking in a blind panic as has ever been witnessed.

All of this was known. It was no secret. It may not have been splashed across the papers or trumpeted on the radio and TV. But the information needed to make an informed choice was easily accessible online from a multitude of different sources. It was available in just about every format there is and, in many instances, in a wide range of languages.

Is it not reasonable to conclude, therefore, that No voters made a choice that was definitively irrational, in that it was predicated on information they could hardly have avoided being aware was, at the very least, highly suspect?

Should we be nice to No voters? The answer is a not entirely unequivocal, Yes. But not at the cost of conceding the legitimacy of the anti-independence campaign's tactics of lies, smears, scare stories and empty promises.

Nobody relishes admitting that they were duped. Nobody particularly likes owning up to a mistake. But there is a grating illogicality in allowing past No voters to believe that their choice was perfectly legitimate whilst strenuously pointing out all the things that served to undermine that legitimacy.

A shorter version of this article first appeared in The Grist #5

Wednesday 14 October 2015

A question of trust

One of the most despicable aspects of the anti-independence campaign was the targeting of older people in Scotland with scare stories about pensions and benefits. Gordon Brown was particularly guilty of this, as he plumbed new depths of lying depravity in his determination to defend the ruling elites of the British state against the threat of democratic dissent.

And they're still at it!

By the simple expedient of pretending that Alex Neil said something that he did not, the British parties at Holyrood seek to cause fear and alarm among what they regard as a vulnerable section of Scotland's population. There never was any suggestion of means-testing of Winter Fuel Payments in the consultation document on Social Security. And none of the ideas set out in the paper has been adopted as policy, so the notion of a "U-turn" is nonsensical.

Most of us would see in this consultation document a perfectly reasonable, perhaps even laudable, effort to explore ways of ensuring that Winter Fuel Payments work effectively as part of a wider strategy to tackle the scourge fuel poverty. Contemptible mischief-makers like Alex Johnstone and Willie Rennie see only an opportunity to frighten the elderly in the hope of scoring some points against their hated political rivals. For these bold defenders of the British state, wantonly scaring older people is regarded as a legitimate tactic. Gordon Brown would doubtless approve. Decent people might see it differently.

I wonder, too, if the people Rennie and his Tory chums are trying to alarm are quite as vulnerable as they suppose. They may not be the easy target they suppose them to be. Analysis of the referendum has revealed that older people overwhelmingly voted No. It is reasonable to suppose that this is because they were considered fair game by Project Fear and subject to some of the most intense propaganda.

Pensioners were the target of some of the most appalling scare-mongering during the referendum campaign, with British nationalist activists - often bussed in from England - going to their homes to threaten that payments would stop should they dare to vote Yes. But the deluge of propaganda to which older people were subjected by the totally unprincipled alliance of British parties included some of the most brazen lies and baseless scares of the entire anti-independence effort. And it is these lies and scares which have unravelled most spectacularly in the months following the vote.

These people are not stupid, whatever Willie Rennie may imagine. They know they were lied to. They know who lied to them. They know very well that it is Rennie and his odious ilk who callously abused their trust during the referendum campaign. They won't get fooled again.

Monday 12 October 2015

An urgent warning

Mundell is so proud of the fiscal traps that the UK Government is laying for the Scottish Government that he can't help boasting about them. What he is talking about is an effective transfer of Scottish tax revenue back to the British Treasury's coffers. We first saw this with the Bedroom Tax. I, and many others, asked then how long it would be before we saw Son of Bedroom Tax, Bedroom Tax 2 and Bedroom Tax: The Sequel. As it turns out, we're getting all of these and more rolled up together in the latest round of inept constitutional tinkering.
It's actually a very simple scam. Although there will inevitably be a fog of complexity intended to conceal the true purpose of the supposed "new powers". Basically, Westminter delves into the benefits paid to people in Scotland leaving a big hole which the Scottish Government has to fill from a budget which is constantly being reduced on the grounds that the Scottish Government is being granted the "power" to fill holes left by Westminster's delving.
The obvious question is, where does it end? The Scottish Government has to take money from other areas in order to fill these holes. Effectively handing that money to the British Treasury. There is a limit to the resources that the Scottish Government has for hole filling. But there is no limit imposed on Westminster's power to dig ever deeper.
The entire purpose of the measures is to tighten the British state's stranglehold on Scotland's budget so as to leave the Scottish Government (presumed to be an SNP administration) with only three choices -
  • Emulate UK Government policies in Scotland
  • Impose their own cuts to public services
  • Increase taxation - but under constraints that make it impossible to avoid hitting the poorest
These are NOT powers. They are political and economic weapons being deployed against Scotland.

And don't imagine British Labour are innocent in all of this. They stand ready to work with their Tory allies just as they did during the referendum campaign. Just as with the Bedroom Tax, they will campaign vigorously, with the aid of the media, to force the Scottish Government into these fiscal traps. They will make ever more ridiculous demands for "mitigation" knowing full well that there is no way of funding this.
Make no mistake. The British establishment is out to destroy the SNP, which is regarded as a threat to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. And they don't care what damage is done to our parliament, our institutions, our economy and our people in the process. They are determined to put Scotland back in its box. And the only truly effective means we have to resist them is to bolster the democratic mandate that we afford the SNP.
The British establishment recognises that the SNP is the de facto political arm of the independence movement and the most potent anti-austerity force in the UK. They know that the SNP is the agency through which the people of Scotland will express their dissent from an anachronistic political union and neo-liberal economic orthodoxies. They will stop at nothing to neutralise the SNP.
The various groups and parties hoping to use the Yes movement as a springboard to electoral success at the expense of the SNP should take heed. For if the British state can destroy a political force such as the people of Scotland have created in the SNP, then these others will represent nothing more than a mopping-up exercise.
Forget the policy agendas. They are meaningless without independence. We must fight with the best weapon at our disposal. Like it or loathe it, that weapon is the SNP.