Friday 24 April 2015

England beware!

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
English: Logo of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
The oft-quoted words of Martin Niemöller stand as a powerful warning against apathy and complacency. As the surge in support for the Scottish National Party (SNP) prompts an ever more hysterical response from the British establishment, they may serve as a timely caution to the people of England.
Numerous journalists and commentators, from the thoughtful Lesley Riddoch to the hilariously angry Mark Steel, have written lately of the extraordinary vehemence of attacks on Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP coming from British politicians, the British media, and the antiquated cast of Spitting Image. The intemperate language in which these diatribes are couched is striking enough to warrant comment. But what is truly alarming is that the baby of democratic principle appears to have been thrown out with the bathwater of rhetorical moderation.
The language being deployed by British nationalists may have become distinctly more xenophobic as the British parties' frustration increases in the face of an evidently unstoppable wave of democratic dissent rising in Scotland. But it would be a mistake to think of this as nothing more than ordinary bigotry - deeply unpleasant, but largely ineffectual. Vile as the hate-speak is, it is superficial. Beneath the offensive exterior lies a very real threat to democracy. And not only in Scotland. But there is more to it than that.
If it was no more than the customary rough-and-tumble of election-time politicking taken to new extremes, we might safely dismiss the name-calling; the portrayal of Nicola Sturgeon as some sort of comic-book super villain; and the representation of the SNP as an ominous alien force, as nothing more than symptomatic of the competitive sensationalism which leads to social media platforms such as Twitter repeatedly breaking out in a rash of mindlessly abusive messages.
If the SNP itself was pursuing a particularly radical agenda, rather than being, in European terms, a fairly run-of-the-mill social democratic party with a moderately progressive platform, then this might have explained - but not excused - the viciousness of the British establishment's reaction to its rise. But that reaction is out of all proportion to the reality of the SNP and its potential impact on British politics.
We need to understand that, whatever the words used, it is not really Scotland or its people being attacked. Nor is it even Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. What has provoked the extreme reaction from the British establishment is the threat of the "C"-word - change!
Britain is not a country. In the words of author, James Kelman,
[Britain] is the name used by the ruling elite and its structures of authority to describe itself.
Britain is an edifice. All nations are political constructs. Britain is a political contrivance. It is a structure of power, privilege and patronage.
It is, moreover, a structure designed (or evolved), not to withstand challenge, but to prevent it. The two-party duopoly of the British political system, with its faux rivalries barely concealing a common agenda, represents the very epitome of entrenched power. So much so that, on the kind of close examination which is actively discouraged, the British state more closely resembles a one-party state than a functioning democracy.
Entrenched power defends itself primarily by making meaningful reform all but impossible. The more entrenched it becomes; the more successful it is in building barriers to change; the more its capacity to defend itself by the normal democratic means of persuasion atrophies.
Thus, entrenched power will ultimately resort to the extraordinary strategy of demonising those categorised as "the enemy" in order to justify "amendments" to the rules and procedures which effectively deny reforming influences access to political power. And that is what is happening in the case of the SNP. In response to the challenge of democratic dissent, the British state is in the process of instituting a form of "managed democracy" which ensures that only political parties approved by the ruling elites can participate fully and on an equal footing in the parliamentary process.
The people of England should take heed. Because entrenched power will defend itself against the threat of change wherever that threat comes from. Let no-one in the rest of the UK be under any illusions that the orchestrated onslaught on the SNP is specific to that party. Any progressive movement that might gather significant momentum in England will surely be subject to the same treatment. And the measures implemented to combat the "threat" posed by the SNP will be all the more readily deployed to thwart a democratic challenge to entrenched power wherever this might arise.

Friday 10 April 2015

The emptiest of threats

Not for the first time, the British parties are talking utter drivel. There is only one thing you need to know about Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) - it isn't going to happen!

I have seen some of the more deranged British nationalists talking about SNP MPs "forcing through" legislation to give Scotland FFA. Arithmetic is not the friend of those making such outlandish claims. Even if the SNP won every seat in Scotland that would only give them 59 out of 650. It's pretty safe to assume that every one of those non-SNP MPs would oppose such a move. And, given that neither of the parties which may be in government is going to introduce such legislation, it's never going to come to a vote in any case.

Talk of an "FFA threat" to Scotland's finances is palpable nonsense. There is no such threat. It is not even substantial enough to be called a phantom threat. It is no threat at all.

So, why is it even being discussed? The answer is simple. Scaremongering! Vacuous, clumsily contrived scaremongering to rival the worst of what we saw from Better Together during the referendum campaign. The hope is that if talk of a "£7.6billion black hole" is bandied around enough some of the mud will stick and the SNP will be associated with an economic catastrophe that is entirely mythical.

British nationalists will doubtless retort that Nicola Sturgeon stated that she would vote for FFA; and do so in the first year of the parliament. The British nationalists may be too stupid to know the difference between a hypothetical and a factual question, but Sturgeon most certainly isn't. Had she been asked if she would vote for an end to all disease tomorrow then she would surely have said yes. But only an idiot would imagination this to mean either that she would have the opportunity to vote on such a matter or that her vote would be meaningful.

Of course SNP MPs would vote for FFA! As a matter of principle, they will always vote for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. That doesn't alter the fact that there is not going to be a vote on FFA.

But the deception being perpetrated by the British parties does not end with silly scaremongering about an impossible scenario. It hardly needs to be said that they alo totally misrepresent the effect of FFA. They trumpet this £7.6billion deficit as if it is a consequence of FFA. It is not! Even assuming that the actual figure is not inflated, the reality is that we already have this deficit by virtue of being part of the UK.

The figure of £7.6billion is Scotland's per capita share of the the UK budget deficit. It is not something that suddenly appears as a result of FFA. It is already there. And we are already paying for it. Scotland's share of costs associated with its per capita share of the UK deficit are paid out of Scotland's contribution to UK tax revenues. In terms of the deficit and what it costs us, FFA actually changes nothing.

So all this scaremongering is doubly vacuous. There is no "threat" of FFA. and even if there was, it wouldn't be a threat.

Sunday 5 April 2015

Wiping the smear

When it comes to who forms the next UK Government, at a personal level, I have no preference. In fact, I find the idea that I must choose between British Labour and the Tories somewhat offensive. While I do not subscribe to the simplistic claim that they are both the same, I am aware that we can only expect the same outcomes regardless of which is in power. Both serve the same master - the ruling elites of the British state - and so both will work towards the same ends, even if they do so by means which are superficially different.

But I suspect that what many people may be looking for is, not my personal preference in the matter, but a reasoned analysis of what would best suit the SNP in terms of the party's immediate and long-term aims. (Aims which I unequivocally share.)

It is first of all necessary to understand what those aims are. The restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status certainly continues to be the ultimate objective. But despite whining claims to the contrary from various British nationalists, the SNP has very much accepted the result of last September's referendum. The party is now totally focused on Scotland's place within the UK and its role within the British political system.

The SNP's immediate aims are to provide a strong voice for Scotland at Westminster; to secure more powers for the Scottish Parliament; to press for a progressive policy agenda; and to break the stultifying duopoly of the British political system so as to facilitate meaningful reform. Analysis of the SNP's preferences as to the hue of the next UK Government must proceed on the basis of recognition of these short- to medium-term objectives.

We also need to recognise that the SNP will be planning for all eventualities. If one was to identify a single factor in the party's success in recent times it would be the skill with which the leadership team has contrived to retain that most precious of political commodities - options.

Bearing all of this in mind, any rational analysis of what might be assumed to best suit the SNP's purposes must lead to the conclusion that The Telegraph (and Damian McBride) have got it woefully, embarrassingly wrong. And it's not difficult to understand why. They've got it wrong because they they proceed from notions of the nature of the SNP which owe more to ill-informed prejudice than rational assessment. They are not talking about the real SNP at all. Rather, they are talking about the ludicrously contorted caricature of the party which is the product of their own increasingly vitriolic anti-SNP propaganda.

In part, this facile caricature depicts the SNP as wholly and exclusively obsessed with independence. It foolishly disregards the rather obvious fact that the SNP is an established party of government, with the kind of broad policy agenda that this implies. This blinds the likes of Simon Johnson and Damian McBride to the what is actually motivating the SNP at this time.

They have also convinced themselves that Scotland's independence movement is driven entirely by anti-English sentiment and that the SNP's sole strategy is to play on grievance. (Never mind the fact that there may be entirely just cause for such grievance. The label is always dismissive.)

By this "analysis", it might seem obvious that the SNP would prefer another Tory UK Government - so long as you don't question any of the exceedingly shallow assumptions underlying that analysis. But any analysis worthy of the name absolutely requires that all assumptions should be challenged. This is where the likes of Simon Johnson and Damian McBride fail so abysmally. They have no interest in rational analysis. They are propagandists, not commentators.

So let's look at the issue with our sensible heads on. In terms of both crude party advantage and progress towards the aims identified above, what does the SNP gain from a Tory government? Fuel for the democratic deficit "grievance"? Certainly! Especially if there is no more than a negligible Tory presence in Scotland. (By which, of course, I mean parliamentary seats, as this is all that matters within the British system.) But, if the polls are to be believed, British Labour is also set to be reduced to a rump in Scotland. So the democratic deficit argument is valid whichever of the partners in the duopoly gets the keys to No. 10.

So, what about "grievance" in terms of policy? Once again, we find little to pick and choose between the Tories and British Labour. In relation to the main areas where the SNP could find cause for complaint, British Labour is as at least as likely to provide ammunition as the Tories.

So far, there is absolutely no rational reason why the SNP should prefer a Tory government. Is there any justification for thinking they might prefer a Labour government?

Bear in mind that the SNP has ruled out any kind of deal with the Tories. This means that the party has also forsaken any leverage it might have had. Without cooperation there can be no concessions as a quid pro quo. Contrast this with the potential to wield significant influence in the case of a Labour minority government dependent on the votes of a large contingent of SNP MPs.

Bear in mind also that, however much the party's long-term aims may be anathema to fervent British nationalists on all sides, the SNP's progressive policy agenda at Westminster is going to find a lot of sympathetic ears among British Labour back-benchers. This would serve to amplify the SNP's voice and increase its influence.

This is crucially important because the people of Scotland anticipate that the British parties will join forces to shut out their elected representatives, so any degree of effectiveness in influencing policy will look all the more impressive.

A further thing to keep in mind is that part of the SNP's message in Scotland is that voting SNP is an effective way of keeping the Tories out of government. One might well ask oneself why Nicola Sturgeon would wish for an outcome in the election that makes the SNP look like they've failed in this respect. One might also wonder why Simon Johnson, Damian McBride et al never think to ask such questions.

It is now plainly evident that a Tory government would provide absolutely no advantage whatever for the SNP. And just as obvious that a Labour government would suit the party just fine. Johnson, McBride and all the screeching hordes of British nationalists who are frantically peddling the smear story about Nicola Sturgeon ask us to believe, not only that one of the most astute politicians around is incapable of figuring out where here advantage lies, but also that she would blurt out something that must inevitable be a massive embarrassment.

The whole smear story only "rings true" if you have a political ear attuned to anti-SNP propaganda and deaf to all rational argument.