Saturday 9 April 2016

Disowning idiocy

Neat move from Carole Erskine. Rather than take personal responsibility for the ill-informed drivel, she dumps blame on some anonymous dinner guest.

One can readily understand why she would want to deny ownership of comments such as the threadbare inanity about a "one-party state". And, as a self-styled 'politics reporter', it is not unreasonable that she would be eager to disown the fallacy about using the second vote to "ensure an effective opposition to the SNP". But it seems a little unfair to make some quite possibly entirely innocent third party the unwitting butt of others' ridicule.

It can hardly have escaped the notice even of one so obviously immersed in the cosy consensus of the mainstream media that there are actually numerous parties standing candidates in the coming election. Not that 'numerous' is necessary. It would require only a single party other than the SNP to make a nonsense of the claim that Scotland is a "one-party state". As pretty much everybody apart from Carole Erskine... Sorry! Carole Erskine's unnamed dinner guest will willingly acknowledge, two is more than one.

But the pish about a "one-party state" isn't only an insult to arithmetic. It is a slur on all of Scotland and its people. It implies that we are no more than the pawns of some arch-manipulator. It portrays us as mere ciphers, rather than effective actors. It discounts the fact that the electoral dominance of the SNP is something knowingly and purposefully engineered by Scotland's voters.

With an arrogance that is offensive in a scatter-gun sort of way, Carole Erskine (and/or some random diner) supposes that the people of Scotland are no more than biddable sheeple being herded by devious politicians. Their sneering contempt for Scotland precludes consideration of the possibility that it might be the other way around. That it may be the people of Scotland who are using the SNP as a tool to shape a new politics of their choosing. That the SNP is being deployed by Scottish voters as a weapon with which to defend Scotland against an increasingly antagonistic British state.

And what of the suggestion that the regional vote can be used to "ensure" anything? If Carole Erskine is truly qualified to be a 'political reporter', why does she not immediately shoot down this daft notion? If it really did come from this mysterious 'dinner guest', oerhaps she was just too polite to point out to them how misguided this is. That must be it! Because it surely couldn't be that a professional journalist was seeking to mislead voters into imagining that Scotland's voting system could be gamed. Perish that thought!

The biggest lie

It is frequently pointed out that “Scottish Labour” is not a real political party. Although not often enough to prevent them persisting in the pretence. There is no such party registered with the Electoral Commission. There is only the British Labour Party. “Scottish Labour” is, in fact, British Labour in Scotland (BLiS).

But they are not alone in attempting this ruse. The “Scottish Conservatives” and “Scottish Liberal Democrats” are no more real than “Scottish Labour”. Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie are no less mere proxies for their bosses in London than Kezia Dugdale. Of all the deceptions perpetrated by the British parties in Scotland, surely the most reprehensible is passing themselves of as autonomous Scottish parties able to formulate policy independently of the ‘parent’ party.

This has profound implications for democracy in Scotland. As Scotland’s political culture diverges from that of the rest of the UK (rUK) the fact that the ‘leaders’ of the British parties in Scotland cannot formulate policy that is informed by this distinctive political culture is increasingly relevant. Ultimately, policy is formulated by the real party leadership in London. A leadership which shows no signs whatever of being aware of the prevailing political culture in Scotland. A leadership which is, in fact, determined to deny any distinctiveness whatever. And to eradicate those differences that cannot be denied.

Whatever the ‘leaders’ of the British parties in Scotland may say, they are subject to the authority of the ‘parent’ party in the same way as any ordinary member of that party. They are prohibited from promoting any policy other than that adopted by the UK party. However much they may pretend otherwise, they cannot make policy for Scotland.

And make no mistake, this applies to devolved areas every bit as much as to reserved matters. It may be that the ‘leaders’ of the British parties’ operations in Scotland are occasionally consulted on policy in devolved areas. But that is as far as it goes. The final decision will always be in the hands of the real leadership. And that decision will always reflect the interests of a UK party immersed in the political culture of rUK. A political culture that is significantly different from that in Scotland. A political culture which steers policy formulation in directions that bear little or no relation to the needs, aspirations and priorities of Scotland’s people.

What this means is that the British parties in Scotland are touting for votes on a false prospectus. They are presenting themselves as Scottish parties when they clearly are not.  Voters may want to reflect on the fact that, by voting for any of the British parties, they are effectively voting for London rule.

Monday 4 April 2016

Infantile antics

"Questions raised over SNP's £10bn Chinese trade deal", declares the STV website. But are they sensible questions? Is it even a "trade deal"? And, whatever it is, was it actually shrouded in secrecy?

Or is this no more than the kind of infantile antics that have come to characterise the British parties in Scotland?

There was no secret. The signing of the memorandum of understanding was reported. If it was only reported in the niche media that's because it is a matter of only niche interest.

It isn't a trade deal. It's an agreement to have discussions about meetings to have talks about talks about something as yet unspecified which may, some time down the line, become something significant. It's a trivial procedural matter such as is part of the day-to-day business of any government. If the Scottish Government didn't release any "details", it's because there are no "details". There's nothing to report. Nothing has happened, except the opening up of the possibility that something might happen.

There are no sensible questions to be asked. There is nothing more to find out. Everything there is to know is already known. And none of it is stuff that we needed to know anyway.

The overblown, theatrical hysterics of the British parties would be comical were it not for the fact that it is yet another attempt to deceive the people of Scotland.

Are the people of Scotland fooled by this? Only those who want to be. Are voters impressed by the screeching of Jackie Baillie or the whining of Willie Rennie? Not if the polls are within an astronomical distance of being accurate.

Will the British parties ever learn that the people of Scotland are no longer susceptible to their puerile efforts at manipulation? It seems not.

Thursday 31 March 2016

Killing politics

I am 65 years old. In the, slightly more than, half a century that I have been politically aware, I cannot recall a time when ‘we’ were not in the midst of an economic crisis; on the verge of and economic crisis; or struggling to recover from an economic crisis. In all circumstances, the measures commended as the solution to the economic crisis; the means of avoiding it; or the way to ‘safeguard the recovery’ varied, not according to the nature of the crisis, but in line with the personal and partisan interests of the person doing the commending.

There’s rarely anything new in politics. There’s just different ways of presenting the same old crap. The faces change… slightly. But the message remains the same. Be afraid!

Be afraid that you will lose whatever you have. Be afraid that you will lose relative to some other individual or group. Be afraid that things will get worse. Be afraid that you will miss out on an opportunity to make things better.

Be afraid to choose. Be afraid to decide. Be afraid to act. Be afraid to do none of these.

Politics, which should be a contest of dreams, hopes and aspirations has become, instead, a battlefield of nightmares. The dreamers, whose visions of a better community, a better society, or a better world, once inspired endeavours to realise that better community, society or world, are now mocked as woolly-minded fantasists or vilified as dangerous radicals.

To speak of such things as hope and aspiration is to be relegated to the fringes, well away from the ‘real’ politics. Politics has become the near-exclusive province of the pedlars of doom. Once we might have been lifted up by ambitious reformers – bright of eye, big of heart and bearing bold messages of promise and potential and possibility. Now, we are daily brought down by the purveyors of despair and their pebble-eyed, abacus-hearted priesthood of economic orthodoxy.

Alistair Darling is an arse. I guess that’s what I was leading up to. But the statement that this or that British politician is an arse is such a commonplace that some preamble seemed to be required. He’s an arse.

During the first referendum campaign, Darling’s role was to present blatant lies and patent nonsense with a desperately dull, desultory, droning delivery that his operators hoped would lend the authority of a dispassionate automaton to the dishonest drivel oozing out of his head. Many of you will recall that his favourite gobbet of untruth as being the maliciously inane fiction that an independent Scotland would have been liable for the full cost of bailing-out the nominally ‘Scottish’ banks. A plainly false claim that was, of course, never challenged.

The British establishment rewards its loyal servants, and Darling has now been moved from storage in a dusty cupboard at British Labour HQ to the rather more salubrious surroundings of the home for discarded political whores within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. From whence he can be dragged to recite some portentous scripted pish at the press of that button located just below the slot with the sign saying, “Insert thirty pieces of silver here!”.

What words of wisdom is the ‘Arse That Saved The World’ bestowing on us now? What pearl of profound witlessness is he casting before the plebeian swine? Turns out ‘wur doomed’ again! Who would have thought it? If we don’t do what Darling has been instructed to tell us to do, a bad thing will happen that is worse than the bad thing that will happen if we do (or don’t do) the other thing which some other Darling-thing is telling us is the only way to avoid bad things happening that are worse than the bad things that are going to happen regardless of what we do – or don’t do.
Specifically, the cost of your mortgage will rise if you vote to leave the EU.

Are your knees jerking yet?

A question occurs to me when I hear this. It’s a question that often popped into my mind during the first referendum campaign when I heard the latest pernicious propaganda from Project Fear. Does Darling know that he’s talking nonsense? Or does he actually believe this stuff? Is he a liar? Or is he just unbelievably stupid?

Just as it was obvious to any thinking person that independent Scotland would NOT have been burdened with the cost of rescuing criminally incompetent bankers (for reasons I long since wearied of explaining), so it is just as glaringly obvious that mortgage rates are going to rise regardless of anything else that happens. That’s because there is no other way for them to go. The only way really is up.

Is Darling aware of this? Has it occurred to him? Does it matter? Would he read the script supplied for him anyway?

It’s of no consequence whether there is any truth in the script. It doesn’t even have to make sense. The only consideration is that it is a message of fear. For such is the language of a politics that has been left a dessicated, hollowed-out husk, sucked dry of all dreams, hopes and aspirations. A politics that has been stripped of any relevance to people. A politics that is lost to us – unless we seize it back. And soon.

This article was first published at Indyref2.

Monday 28 March 2016


For thinking individuals, alarm bells should be ringing as soon as they recognise the involvement in the debate about Named Persons of prating religionists. People who put faith before facts and dogma before reason. People who hold absolute belief in the face of irrefutable contrary evidence to be the purpose and ultimate achievement of the human intellect.

People who have forsaken knowledge, reason and enlightenment in favour of medieval superstition, primitive fear and sectarian intolerance.

When considering the issue of child protection, who but a reckless fool would turn, in the expectation of a rational assessment of policy, to those who worship a deity notorious for its cruel and hateful attitude to children?

If this was not enough to set off those warning klaxons, take a look at who these religious zealots are associated with. Self-serving politicians interested only in scoring points against hated rivals. And irresponsible media mouthpieces interested only in flexing their manipulative muscles.

Were this not enough, even the most moderately intelligent person who has not completely relinquished the capacity to think for themselves should be deeply suspicious of the highly-coloured, blatantly pejorative and unashamedly emotive language deployed by those who, for whatever dubious reason, so vehemently oppose efforts to improve the effectiveness of systems and procedures intended to safeguard our children and young people.

Terms such as 'spies', 'snoopers', 'state guardians', and worse, have no place in serious discussion of child welfare policy. This is not the language of rational debate. This is the language of unreasoning fanaticism. This is not language intended to inform. It is language intended to inflame.

Such language is used to obscure rather than illuminate. We are entitled to wonder exactly what agenda this disreputable rabble are trying to conceal in a fog of grotesquely misleading rhetoric.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

The blinkered Brit

What David Mundell needs to learn is that his inability to comprehend something doesn't necessarily make it "odd". The problem may well not be with the concept that is perplexing him, but with his own intellectual capacities.

Mundell's comments suggest that he makes no distinction between the UK and the EU. Both are political unions. Therefore, to his evidently limited way of thinking, they are the same. Thus, he is left utterly confused by the notion that people might want to end one political union, but preserve the other.

This is not a problem for people who understand the nature of the EU and the UK. But, like other British nationalists, Mundell has no idea what the UK is. He doesn't understand it,because he has never questioned it. He has never even thought about it. His attachment to the British state is more instinctive and emotional than intellectual and pragmatic.

This is why the anti-independence campaign was no more than that - an entirely negative anti-independence campaign. There was no pro-union campaign. There could be no positive case for the union because, in order to formulate such a case, unionists would have had to reflect on the question of what the union is. And they simply can't do that.

I doubt if Mundell has any better idea of what the EU is. So it is, perhaps, unsurprising that he can so easily fall into the simplistic folly of equating it with the UK. So, the SNP's position of independence in Europe is bound to be incomprehensible to the poor soul.

He is not alone. Many people make the same mistake. Those on the Yes side in Scotland's constitutional debate are generally people who have questioned the whole concept of the political union between Scotland and England. They are the ones who have scrutinised this constitutional arrangement. And they have found it to be profoundly unsatisfactory.

Yes voters are people who think for themselves. They get behind the propaganda and beyond the sentiment and they look at the reality of the union. Pretty much everybody who does this ends up supporting the restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status.

The lever that moves No voters away from their unthinking attachment to the British state is the question that prompts them to start thinking about it. That may well be a different question for each. There is no one 'magic question' that will do the trick. But once the barrier of blind allegiance is breached, the process is self-fulfilling. And there is rarely any going back. Once the illusion is broken, the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state cannot be unseen.

The political union between Scotland and England is an arrangement that we, the people, had no part in creating or sanctioning. It is an anachronistic, disfunctional, corrupt union which serves none of the people off these islands well.

It is a union which was always intended to serve the purposes of the ruling elites. A union which, in that regard if no other, has not changed one iota in the last three centuries.

It is a union that sucks the human and material resources out of our nation and in return gives us government by parties that we have emphatically rejected at the polls.

It is a union that imposes policies which are anathema to our people. Policies which have been rejected by our democratically elected representatives.

It is a union which, were we being given that option now, not one of us would vote to join.

For all Mundell's inability to appreciate the fact, there is no meaningful similarity between the UK and the EU. For all its defects - and there are many - it is a modern, democratic organisation. Not perfectly democratic. But the perfectly democratic organisation doesn't exist.

The EU is, in its essence, a bold and largely successful experiment in post-imperial international arrangements. Politicians and bureaucrats may have buggered-up bits of it. But the fundamental idea is sound. Far more sound than the underpinning concept of the UK - which is, basically, just the latest formulation of the 'Greater England' project.

Seeing things as they are dispels confusion. Scotland is a nation. The EU is an association of nations. The UK is more like a cartel dominated by an entrenched clique.

All we seek for Scotland is the right to freely negotiate the terms on which our nation associates with others - be that England, the EU, or any other nation or international organisation. British nationalists are determined to deny us this right. The EU does not. That, if nothing else, is a difference that should be apparent even to a blinkered, dogma-bound unionist ideologue like David Mundell.

Sunday 20 March 2016

BLiSsful ignorance

If you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle

There are many reasons why British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is so lamentably failing to address the electoral challenge of the Scottish National Party (SNP). But the ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, may have captured the essence of this failure in the aphorism quoted above.

As a political campaigning organisation pretending to be a political party, BLiS lacks that essential attribute - a clear vision of what it is and what it stands for. Like any organisation which so completely loses sight of its purpose, BLiS has come to serve only its own perpetuation. It no longer has any objective other than survival. It has no focus outside its own organisational structure. It has no locus other than the machinery of the British political system. It exists only because it has existed. And because its continued existence provides some sort of career prospects for a certain clique.

It's not clear at what point BLiS ceased to be defined by the core principles of a socialist movement. With hindsight, it is possible to see how the Blairite obsession with power and expediency so weakened the links to these core principles as to leave BLiS ripe for transition to an organisation absolutely defined by jealous resentment of and visceral opposition to the party which offended its towering sense of entitlement.

Whatever the historical process involved, there is no denying where BLiS is now. It survives as an empty, hollow thing suspended in a limbo of political pointlessness; anchored to Scottish society only by the increasingly frayed and brittle lifelines provided by the British media. It has no political identity. It has no ethos. It has no plan.

From out of this void come voices every bit as vacuous as the organisation from which they emanate. Voices which speak, only to emphasise the absence of any meaningful message. To hear these voices is to understand just how bereft of ideas BLiS is. There is no coherence. Everything sounds as if it is being spouted on the spur of the moment. Not thoughtful responses, but impromptu retorts and off-the-cuff interventions.

There is a pervasive sense that, every time Kezia Dugdale opens her mouth, she is like an ill-bred child rudely interrupting a serious conversation between the SNP (along with a few others) and the people of Scotland.

As little as BLiS know themselves, they know their 'enemy' - the SNP - very much less. Because they know less than nothing. Here is Dugdale at her fatuous best addressing the BLiS conference,

That’s the difference between socialism and nationalism.

I know that where you are born is an accident of birth, a geographical lottery.

I can’t base my political vision on that.

I didn’t come into politics to help those at the top of Scottish society, just because they are Scottish.

Nor would I turn my cheek to a child living in poverty just because they are born on the other side of a dotted line on a map.

I came into politics to make sure that where you are born doesn’t matter.

I want a country where the place you are going in life isn’t determined by where you began your life.

That’s what being Scottish means to me.

It’s not the idea of Scotland that I love.

It’s the people of Scotland.

How to make any sense out of this! Never mind the fact that she can't seem to make up her mind whether the people of Scotland are insignificant or all-important. Never mind the confusion in the argument that Scotland doesn't matter and being Scottish doesn't matter, but being a person born in Scotland does matter. Or does it? Who the hell knows?

There are rather disturbing hints here of distasteful ethnic nationalism desperately trying to disguise itself with sugary rhetoric.

But it is also clear that Dugdale is not addressing the SNP as we know it but, rather, some grotesque caricature of the party conjured in the minds of British nationalist zealots and those whose rancorous hatred of the SNP has crippled their intellect. It is clear that Dugdale does not know her 'enemy'. It is obvious that she has completely failed to grasp the concept of civic nationalism.

What we have from Dugdale is, not so much a speech, as a collection of noises made by someone with nothing to say. Not only is there a complete lack of understanding of the SNP and its appeal to voters, there is not even an attempt at understanding. It is evident that neither Dugdale nor, as far as can be discerned, anybody else in BLiS has made any effort to understand their electoral foe. And this is why they are, in the words of Sun Tzu, "imperilled in every single battle".

Such analysis involves asking questions. Most of all, it requires a willingness and capacity to question ones own assumptions. If Dugdale would better know her 'enemy' then she could do worse than ask herself this; if the SNP is as she imagines it to be, what does this say about the 115,000 people who have joined the party? Or the thousands more who have declared their intention to vote for the SNP - including members of other parties? What does it say about the 73% of Scotland's people who say that they trust the SNP administration?In the heat of her anti-SNP fervour, Dugdale grossly insults the very people she claims to "love".

BLiS has no clear idea of what it's for. BLiS has no idea at all of what it's against.

I'm pretty sure Sun Tzu would advise Dugdale to desist from mindlessly lashing out at the SNP at least long enough to have a stab at identifying what it is about the party that has struck a chord with the voters. He might even suggest that, having identified this factor, she attempt to emulate it in some way. We might suppose that he would counsel her to reflect on the possibility that it is not the larger par of the Scottish electorate which is wrong - as she persists in implying - but the SNP that is doing something right.

It's a radical idea for BLiS, but they might consider respecting the judgement of Scotland's people. The people know both sides. Only their assessment of the political contestants is of any consequence. And their verdict is pretty clear. BLiS might do well to heed what the people are telling them. That way, they may just get to better know their 'enemy'. And themselves.
That’s the difference between socialism and nationalism.
I know that where you are born is an accident of birth, a geographical lottery.
I can’t base my political vision on that.
I didn’t come into politics to help those at the top of Scottish society, just because they are Scottish.
Nor would I turn my cheek to a child living in poverty just because they are born on the other side of a dotted line on a map.
I came into politics to make sure that where you are born doesn’t matter.
I want a country where the place you are going in life isn’t determined by where you began your life.
That’s what being Scottish means to me.
It’s not the idea of Scotland that I love.
It’s the people of Scotland.
- See more at:

Being irrelevant

I find it intriguing that we should be expected to take such a close interest in the views of the Scottish Tories' leaderette. How things have changed! Only a few weeks ago, the Tories were generally regarded as a toxic irrelevance in Scottish politics. Now, due to the continuing precipitous decline of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), Ruth Davidson seems almost significant.

But look at the underlying issue here and we find that it is the same problem that besets all of the British parties in Scotland. The question being asked of Ruth Davidson is to what extent she toes the line drawn by her bosses in London. The very same question as constantly hangs over Kezia Dugdale.

Take the analysis a stage further and we come to an even more pertinent question. Does it matter? Supposing the British Tories' leaderette and/or the BLiS office manager in Scotland were to disagree with their respective superiors down south, what difference would it make? In both cases, it is what London says that matters. It is what London decides that will be effective. In every instance and in all matters, the Davidson/Dugdale double-act will be overruled by the Westminster elite. They don't decide what party policy is. Neither is a real leader of a real party.

Davidson's views on the British state's latest round of punitive measures against the vulnerable matter only to the extent that disagreement with her bosses might offer a titillating diversion. It's an opportunity for some finger-pointing and taunting. It's no more than that.

Ultimately, Davidson's policy preferences are of no more relevance than Dugdale's. Both are mere front-persons for the British establishment parties' operations in Scotland. They do not make policy. At most, they attempt to splash a bit of tartan paint on the policies set by head office.

Which begs our next question. How can the British parties in Scotland possibly have any meaningful role in Scottish politics when they are unable to formulate policies that are relevant to Scotland's increasingly distinctive political culture?

Does it really matter to the people of Scotland which of the British parties occupies the seats reserved for the official opposition at Holyrood when, to coin a phrase, they are mere 'conveyor belts' for the policy agenda of a British ruling elite completely in thrall to neo-liberal orthodoxy and British nationalist ideology?

Saturday 19 March 2016

Dugdale dumps on doctors

Once again British Labour in Scotland takes the pish out of the people of Scotland with ill-thought, half-baked pronouncements that have more to do with grabbing headlines than offering cogent policies. Pretendy wee party loyalists and British nationalist fanatics will lap this up like Pavlovian dogs. Thinking people, on the other hand, will ask the pertinent questions.

Questions such as: is there actually a 'crisis' relating to GP appointment waiting times? British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) and their allies in the other British parties declare a fresh 'crisis' in NHS Scotland almost daily. And yet our health services continue to function rather well. Users of those services are, according to surveys, reasonably satisfied. While the British parties and their friends in the media constantly paint a picture of NHS staff of failure and a system in a state of collapse, the people who actually use NHS Scotland appear bafflingly oblivious to the catastrophe unfolding around them. You'd really think they'd be the first to notice.

Alternatively, we might conclude that the ongoing denigration of NHS Scotland by BLiS and their Tory allies is all malicious, politically motivated distortion, exaggeration and downright lies. So, when Dugdale starts screeching about yet another 'crisis, we'd be well advised to be sceptical. Very sceptical!

The reality is that the majority of people get to see their GP in good time. Not all visits the the doctor are urgent. If it is, then most GP practices have arrangements for emergency appointments; or early/late sessions; or facilities to refer the patient to another doctor.

In many cases, it isn't even necessary to see your GP. Increasingly, practice nurses are the appropriate person to see. Many have specialist skills. Some even have the authority to prescribe. Others have rapid access to persons who may prescribe on the strength of the nurse's recommendation.

Pharmacists offer a Minor Ailments service and will often be able to provide advice and access to medication without the need for an appointment.

In short, there may not even be a problem, far less a 'crisis'. And to whatever extent there is a problem, measures are already being taken to address this. I don't doubt that there is scope for improvement in GP services, as there is in any endeavour. But I see absolutely no reason to put my faith in politicians who are all too evidently concerned mainly with petty politicking when we already have an administration which seems to be doing a passable job.

We might also wonder how feasible Dugdale's 'plan' is, even if there was any pressing reason for it. We might ask pertinent questions such as whether GPs were consulted before she started making commitments on their behalf? At present, each practice has its own system for appointments. As must be the case with every practice being different in terms of number of doctors; number and qualifications of ancillary staff; facilities for various treatments etc.

Is Dugdale proposing that a Scottish Government under her leadership [a shiver runs down the spine] would impose on GPs a unified system for handling appointments? How would this work? Have GPs given their consent?

What about the cost? There surely will be a cost. Talk of online booking suggest yet another big government IT project. Experience tells us that those tend to be very expensive.

And the costs may not all be financial. What about the additional pressure on GPs and their staff? At present, people will be reasonable about appointments. If it is a non-urgent matter, they will be content to wait a week or more. A guaranteed 48hr waiting time changes the landscape completely. Bad enough if there is only the expectation of an immediate appointment regardless of need. Much worse if there is a contractual requirement for doctors to see patients within 48hrs without regard for clinical considerations.

This is reckless, irresponsible stuff from Dugdale. Once again she demonstrates that she is unfit for office. And that BLiS is unfit for government.

Friday 18 March 2016

Processes and tipping points

What John Swinney suggests regarding a Scottish Chancellor makes perfect sense. Unless you are ideologically opposed to the power of the Westminster elite being diminished in any way. We are on a trajectory which inevitably leads to independence. With every bit of power that is wrested from the jealous grasp of the British establishment and returned to the Scottish Parliament where it belongs, it becomes increasingly difficult to rationalise the continued withholding of related powers.

It is an incremental process. It is gradual. But it is also an accelerating process which must, at some juncture, arrive at a tipping point. The point at which it becomes patently untenable for powers to continue being withheld. That point is likely to be reached rather sooner than most people suppose. In fact, it could readily be argued that we have already passed that highly significant milestone where the locus shifted from Westminster to Holyrood.

For too long people have been asking the wrong question. They have been asking what powers should be exercised by the Scottish Parliament. The stunningly obvious answer to that question is that Holyrood should exercise all the powers of a democratically elected parliament. Those powers rightfully belong with the body that has a mandate from the people of Scotland. To assert that a body rejected by the people of Scotland has a superior claim to authority is plainly anti-democratic.

The question we should have been asking all along is, what powers are we prepared to assign to Westminster to be exercised there rather than in the parliament that we actually voted for. Those who would allow any powers at all to be added to this list are becoming an increasingly beleaguered minority.

John Swinney's suggestion of a Scottish Chancellor further chips away at the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. As with every other stage in this process of dismantling the anachronistic and dysfunctional political union, the idea will be met, first with ridicule; then with opposition; then with acceptance; then with claims to ownership.

And so it goes. Few will recognise it. Some will vehemently deny it. But Scotland is already in the process of transitioning to independence.

Thursday 17 March 2016

How to appear stupid

An abiding, and betimes perplexing, feature of Scotland's constitutional debate has been the willingness - even eagerness - of unionist commentators to make absolute fools of themselves in the name of defending the ruling elites of the British state. It is an aspect of the British nationalist mindset that is perhaps even more noteworthy than the well-documented facility with lies, or the clumsy ease with which they stumble into obvious fallacies. The proverbial dispassionate observer would have little alternative but to rate the British establishment's propagandists an uncommonly dense breed.

We are obliged to Fraser Nelson for providing us with a telling illustration of this point. Credit where it is due, there is a certain grandeur in the scale and scope of the stupidity on display in this article.

I don't mean just the drivel about North Sea revenues being the "bounty of gold that would be lavished on an independent Scotland". That is little more than the standard dishonest misrepresentation of the SNP's position that one might expect to find in any example of a British journalist sacrificing professional reputation and intellectual rigour to the exigencies of ideological unionism. The pages of the British press are daily littered with such distortions. This alone is hardly enough to set Fraser Nelson apart from the rank and file of British nationalist foolishness.

But we must add to the foregoing the childishly naive fallacy of believing that the UK Government's 'rescue' of the oil industry is motivated by some form of altruism - either towards the industry or, even more unbelievably, towards Scotland - rather than the expectation of a future quid pro quo. By Fraser Nelson's account, the oil sector is being propped up by a benign and beneficent British state out of paternalistic concern for workers and for the Scottish economy. The way he tells the tale, it has nothing whatever to do with the fact that oil companies are investing at record levels in exploration and in new extraction technology in a way that can only suggest anticipation of a new 'oil boom' on the horizon.

The patent puerility of this is perfectly in keeping with another characteristic of unionist argumentation that Fraser Nelson brings into play and attempts to raise to the level of art - the glaring contradiction and/or inconsistency. Note how, having gone to some effort to demonstrate how volatile is the price of oil and, therefore, oil revenues, he then proceeds to argue as if the current low price is permanent. Conveniently, the price of oil is simultaneously subject to massive movements AND fixed at the level which best suits his case. It's a wonderful world when you get to make it up as you go along!

Which brings me to the gobbet of folly that makes Mr Nelson's little offering stand out even in the catalogue of inanity that is hard-line unionist commentary. It seems that, by some 'idiosyncratic' logic, we are to take the wild - almost manic - fluctuations in oil revenue forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) as proof of the reliability of those forecasts. The fact that these erratic oscillations may occasionally have coincided with reality is held to be evidence of the OBR's impressive perspicacity and Delphic prescience.

In a final twist to the tail of ordinary sense, the roulette-wheel randomness of the OBR's guessing game is compared with the fixed point projection offered by the Scottish Government during the first referendum campaign. It's as if Alex Salmond got to roll the dice once and is stuck with the result for all eternity, while the OBR is allowed to roll the dice as often as it likes, and only count the times it happens to be right.

It may be that Fraser Nelson is not an idiot. But he certainly puts on a remarkably convincing act. And if he isn't an idiot, then he obviously thinks the rest of us are.

Devolution gone mad

Lallands Peat Worrier neatly illustrates the madness of devolution premised on the imperative of maintaining established structures of power, privilege and patronage.

That the tax/benefit system should function, and be administered, as a coherent whole is a truth too obvious to be worth exploring. It stands to reason, therefore, that the very worst arrangement that might be envisaged is one in which the tax/benefit system is fragmented - with the devolved administration having partial and constrained control over only disparate bits of the system, while control of crucial aspects is retained by the central government.

If one were determined to find a way of making this situation even more fraught with the potential for conflict, confusion and catastrophic failure, then one would surely choose to divide control of the tax/benefit system between two governments operating in significantly different and increasingly divergent political cultures.

Such is the British establishment's 'solution' to the Scottish problem.

Were one so inclined by a healthy cynicism honed over many decades of observing the British political class in action, one might fancy there was a certain maliciousness underlying the evident ineptitude of the UK Government's latest round of constitutional tinkering.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Perpetual lies!

Following hard on the heels of the lying headlines from The Herald and The Scotsman, here we have another example of dishonest British establishment propaganda from right-wing rag, The Express, claiming that public confidence in Police Scotland has fallen.

Once again, we need only compare the headline with the actual content of the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2014/15 in order to expose the lie. Here is what the Executive Summary has to say,
  • The majority of adults were very or fairly confident in their local police force across the six measures of confidence asked about in this survey.
  • Since 2008/09, there have been statistically significant increases in confidence across all six measures
 The British media is lying to the people of Scotland. Every day, they lie. They lie about everything. Much of the time, they don't even try to conceal the fact that they are lying.

I have never suggested such a thing before, but I'm starting too think we need a massive boycott of the mainstream media in Scotland. Even if only to bring to the attention of the wider public the extent to which they are being lied to.

Nothing but lies!

After the earlier example from The Herald, here we have another dishonest headline, courtesy of The Scotsman, and another bit of British establishment propaganda designed to pander to British nationalist fanatics rather than to inform.

Take this article at face value, as most unionist ideologues will, and you'd suppose that the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) was castigating the Scottish Government for its plans to improve childcare. The truth, in which unionists will have no interest whatever, is that NDNA is totally supportive of the SNP administration's proposals. The caveat about funding being nothing more than a statement of the obvious and a standard stipulation by an organisation representing those with a financial interest.

Those who are not British nationalist bigots might be interested to know what the NDNA actually says,

NDNA welcomes the Scottish National Party’s plans for expanding free childcare – but funding needs to be sufficient for the scheme to be successful.

Adequate funds to pay for the funded places would unlock enough capacity within Scotland’s private, voluntary and third sector nurseries to meet demand.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, NDNA’s Chief Executive, said: “We welcome Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘revolution in early years education and childcare’, outlined in her conference speech.

“Her pledge to expand 30 hours childcare free to all three- and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds will have great benefits for child development and increasing their life chances, especially the most disadvantaged children.

“But the funding formula needs to be sufficient to keep private, voluntary and third sector nurseries in business and able to provide enough capacity to satisfy demand. Parental choice is extremely important and private nurseries can be flexible to meet the needs of working parents – but they have to be part of the funded scheme in order to provide this.

“NDNA also welcomes the plans to have an additional teacher or childcare graduate in every nursery in the most deprived areas which would keep the quality of early education high – this would need Government support to happen in private nurseries. We would be happy to work with the Scottish Government to make this a reality.”

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Let’s talk about independence

Hands up everyone among the 115,000 SNP members who is grateful to Poor Old Cockers for explaining to them why they signed up. Nobody? That's what I thought. After all who would place any value on the conclusions of someone who persists in congratulating himself on having engineered Alex Salmond's 'downfall', despite the fact that Mr Salmond's career has continued to flourish in ways that must rouse great jealousy in most other former party leaders and holders of high office. Surely someone so deluded is vanishingly unlikely to have anything sensible to say about... well... anything, really.

Readers not afflicted with the virulent form of British nationalist fervour that afflicts Poor Old Cockers are like to have noticed that, while the fool accuses those SNP members of being obsessed with the first referendum and claims that 'we wuz robbed!', it is in fact he who is still banging on about the 2014 vote. He and his fellow British nationalist fanatics just don't seem to be able to let it go. They seem to need to constantly remind and reassure themselves that they actually won. Time does not seem to be helping them deal with the hollowness of a victory in which all the prizes went to their hated opponents.

Of course, events just keep picking at the scab on their bitter resentment. The reviled SNP goes from strength to electoral strength. In the British nationalists' more orgasmic triumphalist fantasies, the party was to shrivel up and die in the wake of defeat in the first referendum. That contrast between fantasy and reality is clearly hard to deal with.

The collapse in the price of oil was greeted with drooling glee by these same British nationalist fanatics. They fervently hoped that it would bring economic ruin to Scotland. They relished the prospect of gloating over the measureless misery of Scotland's people. But the cup of schadenfreude that was supposed to runneth over has turned out to be empty of all but the bitter lees that have further soured the mood of hard-line unionist ideologues. The oil-price collapse has had no more than a barely perceptible impact. British nationalists, who had hoped for endless feasting on Scotland's misfortunes, find themselves instead forced to resort to their standard tactics of disinformation and lies - banging on about an entirely imaginary fiscal 'black hole'.

As if all this was not enough to feed the bilious rancour of Poor Old Cockers and his ilk, they are further driven to distraction by the realisation, increasingly forced upon them despite the barricades of arrogant delusion, that nobody is listening to them any more. Few people hear their shrill and hateful voices. Fewer still believe what those voices say.

What Poor Old Cockers and his ilk crave is power. The power to persuade. They regard themselves as 'opinion formers'. They fancy themselves masters of manipulation. Nothing aggravates them more than knowing that their smearing, lying, fear-mongering efforts are to no avail.

Not that this stops the lies. Poor Old Cockers claims that Nicola Sturgeon announced a new initiative to build support for another referendum. In fact, what she announced was a new initiative to build support for independence. The difference is significant in ways that Poor Old Cockers is not equipped to understand.

In a toe-curlingly embarrassing effort to position herself as the figurehead for British nationalism in Scotland, Ruth Davidson responded to Nicola Sturgeon's announcement by launching a petition to oppose a second referendum. This was idiotic in so many ways. Not least, the fact that she's just as cloth-eared as Poor Old Cockers and has failed to either hear what Sturgeon said or comprehend the implications. And what does she hope to achieve with this daft petition? If she gets anything less than half the voters in Scotland to sign she will have proved the precise opposite of what was intended. In the vastly more likely event that she gets only a derisory response, she will be left looking as silly as if she had herself photographed straddling some massive military hardware.

What neither Davidson or Poor Old Cockers have the wits to realise is that they are the only ones obsessing about a second referendum. (While still carping about the first one!) The SNP has moved on. What Nicola Sturgeon announced was not a drive to secure a second referendum. She knows that this will happen anyway, when the time is right. It is not about building demand for another referendum. It is about articulating the case for independence.

People like Poor Old Cockers no longer have any power to persuade because the obviousness of the disconnect between their bigoted perspective and observable reality is just too great. Even a moderately astute observer can see what Sturgeon is doing, even if it is invisible to the closed minds of British nationalist fanatics. This summer will see a revival of the Scottish independence movement that unionists thought they had killed stone dead. The SNP, together with the wider independence movement, is set to re-engage with the fundamental constitutional issue that the British establishment has sought to bury under an avalanche of economic drivel and arguments about procedural niceties.

While unionists continue to rant about imagined 'once in a generation' pledges and imaginary fiscal 'black holes', we will be talking about how independence is normal. While they wallow in their fantasies of Scotland's social and economic disintegration, we will be talking about the potential benefits of bringing our government home.

While the British establishment mounts a frantic last-ditch defence of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state and serve its ruling elites, we will be talking about the sovereignty of the people, and the simple good sense of having our country run by those we elect, rather than those we reject.

Friday 11 March 2016

Oh, to be a fly on the wall!

There's a lot of understandable and perfectly justified anger about the BBC Question Time broadcast from Dundee on Thursday 10 March. Even for the BBC, there was some quite remarkably blatant bias on display. Were the preposterously arrogant management of the corporation given to explaining themselves at all, they would surely be struggling to account for the very obvious dearth of local people in the audience. Although the unionist/anti-SNP weighting of the panel was pretty standard.

But what had most people choking on the breakfast cereal of grovelling humility that these days is supposed to supplement our regular diet of haggis, porridge and shortbread, was the appearance of, not one, but TWO relics from British Labour in Scotland's humiliation at the hands of the Scottish electorate last year. One of these was a nonentity of such profound blandness as to have made no impression on me at all. But the appearance of the other had jaws hitting floors the length and breadth of Scotland.

Kathy Wiles! Remember her? She's the one whose likening of Scottish school kids to the Hitler Youth proved too distasteful a gobbet of vicious hatemongering even for British Labour in Scotland. And this is a mob that boasts such poisoned tongues as flap in the empty heads of Ian Smart and Blair McDougall!

Even a whiskery old political anorak like myself was taken aback by such effrontery. So much so that, until it was pointed out by others, the supernatural coincidence eluded me of two 'figures' from British Labour in Scotland, not only being in the vetted BBC Question Time audience, but also being afforded the opportunity to speak. I was starting to smell a rat even through the powerful fishy odour that always seems to accompany the BBC when it deigns to venture out of its London lair to dip a Dimbleby in the pond of provincial politics.

Aside from all of this - which, after all, is only standard BBC bias taken up a notch - what intrigued me was the thought of the planning meeting - or meetings - that surely preceded this episode of BBC Question Time. For we have to assume that these programmes are planned. Somebody makes decisions about where the show is to be broadcast from and who the panellists will be. Somebody decides who will be in the audience. Somebody decides what questions will be asked. And, however professionally the Dimbleby may pretend to be running the show, somebody is shouting instructions in his ear as he goes round the panel and elicits follow-up points from the floor. Those contributors, if not their specifics of their intervention, also being carefully selected by BBC staff.

In other words, it's all staged. What we see and hear is, almost without exception,only what the BBC's production team has decided we should see and hear. They do like the occasional 'surprise', to keep things as close to interesting as BBC Question Time can get. But, mostly, it's all under control.

So, it is no accident when the programme is broadcast from Dundee with little discernible local presence. It is not mere happenstance that two British Labour in Scotland representatives are planted in the audience, primed with comments, and allowed to speak at length. This is all stage-managed. This must have been discussed at production meetings.

Even if the two British Labour in Scotland drones had somehow contrived to both secure invitations, somebody must have noticed that they were on the audience list. Their invitations were positively confirmed. Did nobody ask any questions about this? Are we seriously supposed to believe that it didn't come up at one of those production meetings?

And, even if we stretch our credulity enough to accept that coincidence (or non-BBC contrivance) was behind their presence, how can we possibly swallow any claim that it was just a fluke that both were called upon to speak? The odds here are vanishing somewhere beyond Camelot territory.

Let's suppose for a moment that somebody did bring this up at a meeting. Let's imagine some young intern not yet fully immersed in the arcane ways of the BBC hesitatingly asking if it was really OK to feature two former candidates for one of the British parties currently vying to be the most anti-SNP. How might her seniors have responded? Would they scoff at the notion that anybody might notice the 'coincidence'? These are, after all, only very minor cogs in some remote part of the British Labour machine. Nobody in London would even recognise Kezia Whatsherface, so why would they know who this pair are?

Or was the argument made that this deliberate skewing of the programme content was justified? Was it that, from the perspective of the British establishment, they were on 'enemy territory' and so some preemptive defence was called for? Were the producers prepared to openly admit that they were engineering things to favour the British establishment's anti-SNP/anti-independence stance? Was the minion told bluntly that they had better be prepared to go along with such manipulation if they hoped to have any kind of future at The Beeb?

Or might it have been more subtle? I don't have much truck with conspiracy theories. My attitude is that I am highly dubious about those who peddle conspiracy theories; and very suspicious of those who insist there's no conspiracy. For the most part what, with hindsight, we perceive as conspiracies are simply emergent properties of a situation in which there are a number of people, with enough collective influence, and sufficient commonality of purpose, to bring about an outcome that is more favourable to the group that they represent (by definition invariably the established power group) than any random outcome. Things that look like conspiracies after the event will tend to happen when management fails to effectively manage, allowing control to be incidentally usurped by some informal interest-group.

In the real world, evil villains are as rare as super-heroes.

What I'm saying is that the kind of glaringly obvious bias that we witnessed in this episode of BBC Question Time actually could 'just happen'. It didn't have to be planned. It didn't have to be purposeful. No malign intent was required at all. It's just that the entire BBC is so much a creature of the British establishment that it must inevitably serve the British establishment's agenda in all things unless it is otherwise directed by competent managers. It is an integral part of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

There is a tendency, I suspect, within the BBC to suppose that the organisation is somehow 'naturally' impartial. That impartiality is defined by what it does. What looks like blatant bias from the outside, from within the British establishment bubble just looks 'normal'.

The great failure of BBC management is the failure to question such casual assumptions. The failure to challenge the self-sustaining, self-perpetuating, self-righteous, self-justification. The failure to manage.

I could, of course, be wrong about any or all of this. But I'd still like to have been a fly on the wall at that BBC Question Time production meeting.

Monday 7 March 2016

Rising to the occasion

Even as the Holyrood election campaign is only gathering pace, we have already heard all manner of nonsense from representatives and supporters of the OPIPs (other pro-independence parties) as they are sent into a feeding frenzy by the almost totally illusory prospect of electoral prizes. Carolyn Leckie is to be congratulated on managing to avoid such nonsense right up to her final paragraph.

Not that the article was entirely without its puzzling aspects. Ms Leckie appears torn between a partisan urge to castigate the SNP administration for its supposed timidity in relation to Council Tax reform, and her entirely rational appreciation of the reasons for caution. As she points out, consensus is required if we are to find a lasting solution to the issue of funding local services. But even as she acknowledges this need, she is critical of the Scottish Government for failing to act on a consensus that she admits doesn't exists. That left me scratching my head.

The question we should be asking of the reforms announced by Nicola Sturgeon is not whether they are sufficient, but whether they are as much as could reasonably be expected under the circumstances. We know that they don't come anywhere close to fully addressing the issue. But that was never going to happen at this stage. Those who pretend that the SNP has missed an opportunity to pull a perfect new system out of the hat are either being extremely foolish, or deeply dishonest.

To her credit, Carolyn Leckie looks to have recognised that most of the attacks on the SNP's proposed tweaking of Council Tax are ill-founded. But she can't resist the temptation to have a dig which only looks the more gratuitous in light of the commendable pragmatism that characterises the bulk of her assessment. To say that the decision on Council Tax "casts a shadow of a doubt over the SNP’s stated goal of reducing economic inequality to Scandinavian levels" is plainly silly. That is a long-term goal that wasn't ever going to be achieved in the space of a single election manifesto. If anything, the SNP's willingness to at least 'do something' with the existing system bodes well for the prospect of more meaningful reform once the party - and Nicola Sturgeon - has secured a further mandate from the Scottish electorate.

Which brings us to that hugely disappointing final paragraph and the daft claim that,

"...we need a rainbow pro-independence parliament after May 5, with fresh, eloquent voices from Rise and the Green Party to remind everyone that the independence movement is multi-dimensional."

There is just so much self-serving fallaciousness crammed into that comment. Firstly, the possibility of any of the OPIPs winning seats is so vanishingly small as to be not worth considering. And what could they add to an SNP majority in any case? Eloquent voices? Perhaps! But they would be voices raised in support of policies that would either already find favour with an SNP administration in a position to implement them, or that would be beyond the reach of any administration.

Even if they could get elected - which is extremely doubtful - OPIP MSPs could only have a positive impact when supporting policies and actions that would be more effectively progressed by an SNP administration with an unchallengeable mandate. There are no circumstances in which even a number of OPIP MSPs could significantly influence an SNP administration even if said OPIP MSPs could somehow miraculously agree on a common position.

In terms of the constitutional question, what could the conditional support for independence of the OPIPs possibly add to an administration formed by a party which has an unconditional commitment to independence written into the very top of its constitution? None of the OPIPs is more dedicated to the restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status than the SNP. Mostly, they are less committed because their support is conditional on a particular policy agenda.

To whatever extent you may be treating your vote in May's election as a vote for independence, there is no way to express that preference more unequivocally than by voting SNP on both ballots. And, to the probably greater extent that you are voting for a competent administration, there is no way that denying either of your votes to the SNP can serve that end.

Another thing that Carolyn Leckie does not take into account is the way the British media would use whatever OPIP success might, by some remarkable happenstance, come to pass. The harsh reality is that OPIP MSPs would be entirely disregarded by a mainstream media capable only of portraying politics in terms of simplistic dichotomies such as that represented by the faux rivalry of the two main British parties. Media which, in any case, is only interested in perpetuating a caricature of the independence campaign being 'all about the SNP'.

The only exception to this blanking of OPIP MSPs would be those occasions when they said something that could be spun as anti-SNP and/or anti-independence. At which point said politicians would be splashed all over the front pages. With the distinct possibility that they would be encouraged to make further 'controversial' statements just so as to get some attention.

Thus, there is the very real possibility that those "eloquent voices from RISE and the Green Party" could have a decidedly negative impact on the closest thing to a progressive government that we can hope for at this time.

One final bit of foolishness from that fatally flawed final paragraph. Does Carolyn Leckie seriously suppose that we need to be reminded that "the independence movement is multi-dimensional"? Does she think we don't know that? Among the audience she is addressing there is surely not one of us who didn't spend the first referendum campaign working alongside others from different parties and none, united in our aspiration to bring our government home and create a better, fairer, greener Scotland.

Now, at least as much as then, we urgently need that same unity of purpose. Now, every bit as much as it did then, our purpose must be bent to a particular aim. Then, it was a Yes vote. Now, it is an SNP majority with the most powerful mandate achievable. Not for any partisan reasons but simply because that is the outcome which best serves our common cause.

The ultimate folly of that final paragraph is that it argues against the #BothVotesSNP strategy which will be most effective in achieving what we might safely assume to be Carolyn Leckie's long-term aims, in favour of some dubious short-term party political advantage. Surely now is the time to rise above such foolishness.

Seize the 'Scottish Six'!

I entirely agree with Richard Walker. We have to beware the inertia born of despair. We have to resist the urge to be dismissive of the possibility of incremental change. We must not succumb to a tendency to resist change simply because it is deemed to be inadequate. So long as the steps we take are in the right direction, it is always better to be moving rather than standing still. Because inaction breeds inertia.

Our only criteria when considering new developments in Scotland's media should be concerned with whether they tend to lessen the grip of those who are ideologically or instinctively bound to the old order and the old ways. So long as doors to further progress are kept open, any move towards a media which better reflects and represents Scotland's distinctive political culture has to be welcomed.

There is a tendency to think of the BBC as an unshakeable bastion of the British establishment. But it is not as powerfully impenetrable as people suppose. I cast my mind back to the campaign to save BBC Radio 6 Music. The smug complacency of the corporation was severely shaken on that occasion. It demonstrated that there are chinks in the BBC's armour of self-righteous authority. It can be challenged.

My sense is that people outside the bubble of British nationalism are not so much opposed to a Scottish Six as massively - and understandably - sceptical about the ability of BBC Scotland to deliver the kind of programme that is wanted. I would say to them that they are correct to be doubtful. But, while they are justifiably dubious about the BBC, they should not doubt their own power. They should have confidence in their ability to seize upon the opening offered by the creation of a Scottish Six and, by the sheer force of public demand, turn it into the thing that they want it to be.

The BBC earmarked Radio 6 Music for failure. It tried to drive the digital radio station off the air. It failed. The station now thrives because it is serving a committed and demanding audience. I am convinced that we can do something similar with the Scottish Six. I am firmly persuaded that, once it is brought into existence, the Scottish Six can become a creature of its audience, rather than the colourless, pointless sop to public opinion intended by the quality-sucking grey army of BBC management.

Let's take what the BBC is offering us. Then let's make them regret it.

Rousing the beast of British nationalism

The very fact that the questions are being asked about Ruth Davidson's future as leaderette of David Cameron's North British operation tells us that her future is not as secure as she likes to pretend. It also suggests that she is being held personally responsible for the decision to stake the Scottish Tories' electoral fortunes on a desperate bid to lure hard-line unionist votes away from British Labour in Scotland with a campaign designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator among British nationalist fanatics.

Internally, of course, Davidson has undoubtedly pinned her future on "beating Labour into second place in the Holyrood election". Much as the polls may have prompted second thoughts about her boast that the Scottish Tories can go from toxic support act for their British Labour allies to a leading role as official opposition, that moment of braggadocio will inevitably come back to haunt her if she fails to come first among failures.

What may be interesting about this developing sideshow is the way it is coming to serve, if not entirely satisfy, the British media's need to get back to the 'normality' of British politics, and the faux rivalry between British Labour and the other half of the double-act. I suspect we will see an increasing focus on the runners-up and an effort to portray this as the really significant aspect of the election. The SNP is, of course, 'only' a Scottish party. How can it possibly be as important as the 'main' British parties? Such is the mindset of the British media. Whether with malicious intent or merely as a function of their primitive instincts, they will tend to seize upon any opportunity to sideline the Scottish in favour of the British.

Which will, incidentally, feed nicely into a battle for the crumbs off the Scottish Parliamentary election table fought as a contest of increasingly extravagant displays of Britishness. British Labour in Scotland will, as ever, allow their Tory dancing partners to lead. They will take their cue from Ruth Davidson as she prances and postures before the lumpen loyalist mass. Even as I write, the moths are being shaken out of lurid union jack clown-suits and the tawdry baubles of 'Brand Britain' are being dusted off. The appeals to sickly sentimentality for a mythical past are being prepared. The militaristic jingoism is being rehearsed. If at all possible, royal buns will already be in aristocratic ovens. The British bit of the Scottish General Election will come to look like a badly printed scene from a cheap commemorative plate. It will not be pleasant.

But there is a serious side to all of this. One wonders if Ruth Davidson is aware of the dark forces she is toying with as she seeks to rouse the monster of British nationalist fanaticism in aid of her electoral ambition. Is she genuinely naive enough to suppose that she can control the slavering beast she seeks to unleash? Is Kezia Dugdale smart enough to avoid being drawn into a fight for the favours of elements that less desperate politicians would shun?

Having observed the conduct of the British parties in Scotland over the past few years, there is no cause to be hopeful. Neither can we hope that the media will behave responsibly. The expectation must be that the British media will relish the contamination of Scotland's politics that the British parties are set to visit upon us. If we are not careful, Ruth Davidson's political career may be the least of the casualties in the coming election.

Saturday 5 March 2016

Relics and rejects

The fact that a British Tory Prime Minister can venture out of his London lair to seriously suggest that the Scottish branch of his party might become the opposition at Holyrood is a measure of the abject failure of British Labour in Scotland. To mistake the dismal decline of one of the British parties for the rise of another is nothing more than shallow-minded folly. Or, perhaps, desperate wishful thinking.

There is more to being the official parliamentary opposition than throwing infantile taunts at the party of government and its leader. It requires something other than dumb, knee-jerk adversarialism. If unthinking prejudice and blind hatred born of an offended sense of entitlement were all that was required to qualify as a credible opposition party then British Labour in Scotland would have no rivals.

It is not merely the British parties that have failed the people of Scotland, it is the entire British political system. Scotland has changed. We've moved on. We've developed an increasingly distinctive political culture. We've outgrown the ritualised pettiness of British politics. The faux rivalries of British Tory and British Labour are gratingly irrelevant. The threadbare rhetoric of right and left rings totally false within Scotland's refreshed political discourse. The obsessive focus on economic orthodoxy no longer distracts us.

In our new politics, aspiration has supplanted despair. We are moved more by what we wish to achieve than by what we are afraid of losing. Where once we flinched in fear, now we reach in hope.

The British parties are squabbling over a role neither is fit to fulfil. They are fighting over which is most representative of the failed politics for which we no longer have any use. It is a regrettable but unavoidable fact that, after May's election, one of these relics will trespass on the place in our parliament that should be occupied by those better fitted to serve the people of Scotland as the official opposition. It matters not at all which it is. It matters only that we be assured of the temporary and passing nature of their intrusion.

So long as we ensure a majority SNP government with a powerful mandate then we will have the opportunity in a future election to complete the transformation of our parliament. The British parties are desperately trying to drag us backwards. We have the means to resist them. The SNP is our best weapon. Let's use it!

Friday 4 March 2016

The disrespect we must expect

We have to keep reminding ourselves that hard-line unionists in Scotland are not only content to bend over for this kind of contemptuous treatment from British politicians themselves, they also insist that the rest of us should be just as ready to be dealt with so disdainfully. Their acceptance of the superiority of the British state is so complete that there is no humiliation they will not perceive as no more than our due.

Most of us, I'm sure, strongly suspect that Chief Treasury Secretary Greg Hands is refusing to give our democratically elected representatives access to documents associated with negotiating the Fiscal Framework because this would expose the UK Government's attempts to cheat Scotland of billions of pounds. There is always good reason for such suspicion. The British establishment is no friend to Scotland.

But, even if the withholding of these papers is explained by nothing more devious than the British state's habitual obsession with secrecy, the casual disrespect shown to our parliament has to be deeply offensive.

Unless you are a British nationalist.

Because, as a British nationalist, you do not consider Scotland's democratic institutions to be worthy of respect. At best, you consider them inferior and a presumptuous imposition upon the established order.

At worst, as a unionist ideologue, you consider Scotland's parliament and government a menace to the very fabric of the British state. A threat to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which you hold to be almost divinely ordained.

We should not be under any illusions about the true nature of British nationalism. We should never suppose that those who subscribe to the ideology of British exceptionalism can ever have any genuine concern for - or even understanding of - the aspirations and priorities of the people of Scotland. Or, for that matter, any of the people of these islands. Their only allegiance is to the ruling elites of the British state. We should never doubt the viciousness with which the British establishment will defend that which it claims to own.

The disrespect shown to our politicians by Greg Hands may be the least of it.

Thursday 3 March 2016

A healthy attitude

When reading articles in the unionist media, it is invariably a good idea to skip to the final paragraphs first. That is where the important information tends to be buried. Information which frequently refutes, or at least casts doubt, on the spin of the article.

Here we have a case in point. The entire piece is contrived to convey the impression of 'secret' plans to slash local NHS services. Only in the final paragraph are we informed that "there are no proposals for closure of any of these services". Read that final section first, and the rest of the story takes on a very surreal quality.

What this is really about is more efficient use of increasingly strained resources within the NHS. It is certainly true that people react negatively to the threat of losing local services. Those are the buttons that this article is aiming to press, with little evident justification. But, in large part, opposition to what is euphemistically termed 'rationalisation' of services is driven by irresponsible politicisation of the issue as parties seek advantage in being seen to 'stand up for local communities'. (And I do mean all the political parties. The SNP is not innocent in this regard.) To whatever extent there is caution (or 'secrecy') surrounding discussion of reorganisation within NHS Scotland (and, again, all parties are guilty of this), it is to a considerable extent understandable given the way highly emotive language tends to get bandied around whenever the subject comes up.

People are not stupid. Something that politicians need to be constantly reminded of. People understand that there are practical problems in providing the kind of health care service that most of us value. Explaining the problems and proposed solutions would surely be preferable to turning every change into a political dispute in which the facts are buried under an avalanche of rhetoric.

Let's get real! Having to travel a few miles in order to undergo a procedure is not, for most people, the horrific prospect so theatrically portrayed by politicians and their pals in the press. It is a long time since Kelty to Edinburgh was a two-day journey only to be undertaken by those with significant resources and very pressing reasons. Outrage at the prospect of travelling from Perth to Dundee to get treatment for a particular condition would hardly exist if it wasn't being driven by self-serving politicians and sensationalist media.

Can we all just calm down and take a rational approach to ensuring that NHS Scotland can continue to be a genuinely public health service.

The art of politics

The SNP's rivals - by which I mean both the British parties and the other pro-independence parties (OPIP) - are obviously massively disappointed that the SNP has not obliged them by providing ammunition to be used against them. In a characteristically clever piece of political manoeuvring, Sturgeon has done just enough to qualify as meaningful reform in the eyes of the wider electorate, but not so much to scare off the voters expected to give the SNP another term in May.

For many of us, this is the way politics should be done. A carefully calculated amalgam of principle and pragmatism. Quietly effective administration that allows incremental change while eschewing the kind of grandstanding that can, and so often does, go badly awry.

We shouldn't take too seriously the raging and petulant foot-stamping of the British parties and the OPIPs. The former, as we know, will react with indignant apoplexy even when the SNP administration makes the very concessions they demand -  for example, on the budget. The latter know damned well that there was not the slightest possibility of any inevitably disruptive and controversial plan to abolish the Council Tax this close to an election. Their outrage really is no more than worthy but theatrical posturing for the benefit of their already committed supporters.

None of this will make the slightest difference in the coming election. Cautious as the changes to local taxation may be, even timid from some perspectives, they represent precisely the kind of measured policy-making that has won the favour of a huge swathe of the Scottish electorate.

Of course it is plodding and guided to an evident extent by the electoral interests of the party. But anybody who imagines Scottish voters are offended by such hard-headed realism is guilty of the kind of naivety that they attribute to others. And so long as the plodding is generally taking the country in a direction that people are comfortable with - or, at least, not terrified by - then the SNP will continue to win elections, while their rivals flail around looking for a way to emulate this winning formula.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Toxic British nationalism

It is certainly gratifying to see in the mainstream media an acknowledgement of the 'dark side' of unionism. But it is not a novel phenomenon. Nor is it as 'fringe' as David Leask would like to pretend. Many would argue that the anti-independence side of the first referendum campaign was dominated by hard-line unionists. Hence, Project Fear. There was nothing remotely moderate about the lies, smears and scaremongering indulged in by the British establishment. That was British nationalism red in tooth and claw.

Nor has British nationalist extremism been relegated to the fringes of political discourse in the aftermath of the first referendum. As David Leask points out, it is increasingly vociferous and vehement in its rejection of anything that so much as hints at a Scottish political culture that is in any way distinctive. Notions of British exceptionalism are at the very core of the dispute about the UK's place in Europe. And Ruth Davidson has been quite open about the fact that the Tories in Scotland will be contesting the Holyrood election on an explicitly British nationalist platform as the Tories seek to lure hard-line unionists away from British Labour in Scotland.

It is right that we should be concerned about the fact that ultra-unionism is so largely going unchallenged. There is a danger that it may be portrayed as simply the other side of the Scottish nationalist coin. But the reality is that there is more relationship between the British nationalism of the British parties in Scotland and Scotland's civic nationalism than there is between the austerity-obsessed neo-liberal orthodoxy of today's Tories and the kind of benignly paternalistic Conservatism that people in Scotland once voted for in huge numbers.

That Scotland has an increasingly distinctive political culture, developing apart from that of the rest of the UK, is beyond question. Were it not so, British nationalists would hardly be working themselves up into such a lather of righteous indignation over even the most minor manifestation of divergence from their rigid concept of 'One Nation Britain'. And Scotland's political culture is particularly healthy - with an openness to novel, or even radical thinking; high levels of engagement; and a great depth and range of political discourse which are the happy legacy of the grass-roots Yes movement.

British nationalism threatens to poison the pool of Scottish politics. Let us hope that others will join David Leask in throwing a spotlight on this odious ideology and the irresponsible politicians who seek to turn it to their electoral advantage.

EU referendum is not Scotland’s fight

It should hardly be necessary to advise people not to be influenced by anything David Cameron says. Many people in Scotland may be tempted to vote Out because they believe what Cameron says about this making independence more likely. Those people need to pause for thought.They need to reflect on the fact that they are taking a Tory British Prime Minister's word at face value.They need to ask themselves why any sane, sober and sensible person would do such a thing.

The first and most important thing to remember is that independence is coming anyway. Independence is inevitable. It is inevitable because any devolution measure which succeeds in terms of the aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the aspirations and priorities of Scotland's people. And this was never more true than it is of the latest round of inept and malicious constitutional tinkering represented by the Scotland Bill.

The EU referendum is a distraction. It is a distraction from - some would say a malicious interference with - the Scottish General Election. And it is a mere sideshow relative to the fight to restore Scotland's rightful constitutional status. It must be understood, firstly, that the EU referendum has nothing whatever to do with economics. There is no possibility of any economic advantage in quitting the EU. It must also be appreciated that the EU referendum has nothing whatever to do with politics outside the narrow concerns of the British Conservative Party. (For most purposes, and certainly in this context, UKIP can be considered no more than a Tory 'rebel faction'.)

The dispute about EU membership is really no more than a squabble among British nationalists about how the British state is defined and which clique most faithfully represents the "One True Britain'. At base, it is a dispute between those who see the EU as a tool of British exceptionalism, and those who see British exceptionalism as requiring no such tool, and/or being diminished by it.

In a very real sense, this is not our fight. Given that independence is about extricating ourselves from the British state and ridding ourselves of the impediment of British exceptionalism, Tory bickering over who has the strongest claim to the bedraggled and besmirched mantle of British nationalism is nothing whatever to do with Scotland.

Unfortunately, being yet bound to the British state, Scotland cannot avoid being impacted by this infighting among British nationalists. But we can avoid being drawn into serving the petty purposes of either faction in this squabble. We can keep our eyes firmly on our own purposes and our own interests. We can close our eyes and ears to the blandishments and beguilements and devious pleading of British politicians and concentrate on what is best for Scotland.

There will, of course, be differences of opinion about what this is. There will be disagreement about whether Scotland's interests are best served by an In vote, or an Out vote. It will doubtless be a matter for considerable debate. But it is not more important than the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Nor does it relate in any direct way to the matter of Scotland's constitutional status.

We do not need to take sides in this British nationalist dispute. Our consideration of the EU issue should be informed by a rational assessment of Scotland's interests and by our own concept of sovereignty and nationhood. A concept of sovereignty which recognises that it is not diminished by being pooled but, rather, that pooling of sovereignty is the very basis of democracy.

A concept of nationhood that rejects both isolationism and exceptionalism in favour of the simple and fundamental principle that all nations are entitled to the capacity to freely negotiate the terms upon which sovereignty is pooled.

Whichever way you, as a Scottish voter, intend to vote in the EU referendum, just be sure that it is for appropriate reasons, and not for the purposes of any British nationalist faction. And always bear in mind that it is a decision that we should be making in our own right as an independent nation.

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