Thursday 28 January 2016

No negativity

Having read the headline over Iain Macwhirter's article in the Herald, I scoured what followed looking for some statement from Nicola Sturgeon quoted as evidence that the SNP is backing a "negative pro-EU campaign". I wasn't disappointed. But only because I knew better than to expect one. Instead of something - anything! - to justify the headline all we get is some wild imaginings about and "alliance" between Sturgeon and Tony Blair and the even more surreal notion of the First Minister putting her signature next that of David Cameron on a new version of the infamous "Vow".

The important thing to remember here is that none of this is real. There is no Sturgeon/Blair "alliance". There is no "Vow" with Nicola Sturgeon's signature on it. There is no SNP backing for a "negative pro-EU campaign. None of this has actually happened. Having seen it in print, the more susceptible British nationalists will adopt it as fact. They can't help themselves. The rest of us really need to avoid that kind of stupidity.

But this is not the limit of Iain Macwhirter's imaginings. There's the fiction that "the SNP has always held up Norway as the model for an independent Scotland". In reality, independence supporters sometimes refer to certain aspects of Norway's social and economic policy as examples which might inform possible alternatives available to an independent Scotland. See the difference?

Then we have possibly the most bizarre bit of Macwhirter whimsy with the suggestion that the SNP is "keen on relinquishing Scottish national sovereignty". Underlying this daft comment is the inanely simplistic notion that the UK and the EU are the same. The atrociously shallow idea that, because they are both political unions, they must be identical. This is obvious nonsense. We don't have to dig very deep at all to find an essential difference between the two in the way each treats the matter of sovereignty.

The EU is an association of nations founded on the defining principle of democracy - pooled sovereignty. That's all democracy is. A pooling of our individual sovereignty so as to facilitate the governance which makes large and complex societies viable. Our individual sovereignty is not diminished by this pooling. Neither does membership of the EU involve any "relinquishing" of sovereignty.

Some will object that this democratic pooling of sovereignty is an ideal which is far from fully reflected in the institutions and procedures of the EU. But this refers organisational and structural failures which betray the founding principle, rather than evidence that this principle doesn't exist or isn't relevant. In the same way that denying an individual or group their due according to the principle of inalienable human rights does not negate those right, so the organisational defects and deficiencies of the EU do not alter or eradicate the principle of pooled sovereignty upon which this political union was founded.

The UK could hardly be more different. The political union between Scotland and England was not a pooling of sovereignty. It involved Scotland's national sovereignty being subsumed into an entity which was effectively "Greater England". It still is. But "Greater England" has now been re-branded as "Britain". The concept of pooled sovereignty is anathema to the ruling elites of the British state now just as it was inconceivable to the predecessors of today's ruling elites when they contrived the political union.

The EU is a bold, and in many regards successful experiment, in post-imperial international association founded on noble ideals of peaceful cooperation. For all its failings, it does a lot of the things it's supposed to do passably well.

The UK is an archaic and self-evidently dysfunctional arrangement born of avarice and lust for power among a privileged few. For all its pompous posturing it serves none of the people of these islands any better than one would expect of a set-up devised in total disregard of their interests.

There is no contradiction in seeking to restore Scotland's rightful constitutional status, and with it the popular sovereignty which the British state explicitly denies as it imposes the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, while accepting the pooled sovereignty of the EU. It is entirely reasonable to reject the idea that the people are subordinate to a ruling elite operating as the Crown in Parliament while embracing the idea of nations pooling sovereignty for mutual benefit.

It makes perfect sense that Scotland should aspire to the capacity to freely negotiate the terms on which it associates with other nations. A capacity which those other nations assume to be theirs as of right.
There inevitably will be a "Project Fear 2016". But there is no more reason to suppose that the SNP will be part of this negative campaign than there is evidence that they are in Iain Macwhirter's article. The fact that we are still waiting for the oft-promised but never delivered "positive case for the (UK) union" doesn't mean we can't make a positive case for remaining in the EU.

The difference between a negative and a positive campaign lies in the fact that the latter offers an alternative. A positive campaign is not one which totally eschews pointing out potential negative implications. It is a campaign in which the negative implications being highlighted are both realistic and, crucially, weighed against positive arguments.

The SNP would be derelict in its duty if it failed to inform people of the potential detriment to Scotland of withdrawal from the EU. It would be irresponsible not to point out the flaws and fallacies in the anti-EU propaganda that will saturate much of the media. That is not problematic, and does not qualify as negative campaigning, so long as it avoids the dishonest, fantastical, sensationalised doom-mongering of the anti-independence campaign. And so long as it is accompanied by an honest and pragmatic assessment of what Scotland gains from being part of the EU.

It would be extremely foolish to assume that the SNP had not learned lessons from the first referendum campaign and the all too frequently appalling behaviour of unionists. I hadn't taken Iain Macwhirter for such a fool.

Sunday 24 January 2016

Wrong narrative

All of this from Pete Wishart, Tommy Sheppard and others might make some kind of sense if anybody was actually pressing for an immediate second referendum. Or if the Scottish Government's ability to call another referendum was critically dependent on a manifesto commitment to a specific timetable. Or even if talk of a "once in a generation" undertaking wasn't the vacuous nonsense that it is. Inexplicably, these people are allowing the British establishment to dictate the narrative. And I suspect I am not alone in being both disappointed and thoroughly pissed off.

Let's deal with the most obvious fallacy first. I am, frankly, appalled that a politician with Pete Wishart's experience should make a statement to the effect that the SNP had committed to an independence referendum being a "once in a generation" event. I can only assume that he's read this so often in the British press that, like so many others, he has been duped into accepting it as fact. But, not only was no such undertaking ever given by the party, it would be utterly meaningless even if it had. As Nicola Sturgeon has very firmly pointed out, the whether and when of a second referendum is entirely a matter for the people of Scotland. We tell the politicians. They don't tell us. Individual politicians may offer their personal opinions on the matter, but only the people of Scotland have the legitimate authority to decide.
Pete Wishart needs to pay closer attention to what his boss is saying.

But that is not the only aspect of the unionist narrative that is being echoed by SNP politicians who really should know better. The idea that the manifesto must contain a detailed commitment to a second referendum in order for that to be possible is every bit as fallacious as the "once in a generation" nonsense. The wrong-headedness of it is exposed by a set of simple logical statements.




Absent a manifesto statement explicitly ruling out a referendum in the period of the next parliament, commitment to the principle of a referendum is absolutely implied.

And there is going to be no such ruling out of a referendum. Again, Mr Wishart and his colleagues need to listen to the party's leader.

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

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

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

Nicola Sturgeon has precisely seized upon the essence of the issue. Instead of responding to demands for an immediate referendum that are all but entirely a product of the British establishment's propaganda machine, she is acutely aware that the real issue is our right of self-determination. It is the right of the people of Scotland to be the ultimate authority in relation to the constitutional status of their nation that must be affirmed and defended.

I am at a loss to understand why Pete Wishart is taking his lead from the unionist narrative rather than from a party leader who clearly has a firm grasp on the situation. I accept that it is necessary to emphasise the SNP's standing as the only credible party of government in Scotland. But I see no reason why this should require talking down the party's role as the political arm of the independence movement.

The people of Scotland are not stupid. They are perfectly capable of understanding this dual role.

If the SNP is to be the spearhead of the independence movement, it's senior figures should not be confirming unionist drivel about a "once in a generation" promise. They should be treating it with the derision it deserves.
They should not be allowing unionists to set contrived constraints on the Scottish Government's right to demand a referendum on behalf of the people of Scotland. They should be forcefully arguing the case that a democratically elected Scottish Government ALWAYS has that right.

They should not be allowing that the right of self-determination can be limited by the text of a party election leaflet. They should be insisting that this right is absolute and inalienable.

Friday 22 January 2016

Just Jim

Jim Sillars is very popular. He is, with some justification, regarded as a stalwart of the independence movement. For this reason, there is a tendency in certain quarters for his pronouncements to be received rather more uncritically than is, perhaps, wise.

In the first place, we must always keep in mind the fact that Mr Sillars harbours some resentment for the current SNP leadership. To put it as tactfully as we might, the party's achievements under the auspices of gradualists such as Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon only serves to underline just how wrong the absolutists were - and continue to be. As a leading proponent of "pure" nationalism, Jim Sillars is bound to feel the sting of this unflattering comparison.

It is a curious characteristic of internal party politics that, the more the SNP succeeds, the more the "old guard" berates them for the error of their ways. I swear the likes of Sillars and Gordon Wilson will wake up as Independence Day dawns still complaining that the party is doing it all wrong.

If all of this were not sufficient to give us pause for thought then alarm bells must surely be triggered by the fact that Jim Sillars is content to be counted part of a group which includes among its leading lights such titans of political thought as Nigel Farage and David Coburn. The petulant jibes about disagreement with party policy on the EU leading to members being branded "disloyal" can be put down to simple jealousy. In the first place, being a member of a political party necessarily implies acceptance of, if not wholehearted commitment to, the policies which have been developed through internal democratic processes. Publicly speaking out against those policies is, by definition, disloyal - even if only in a sense that is barely pejorative.

And is it true anyway? One of the distinguishing features of the SNP is a tolerance of dissent which is remarkable, at least by the standards of British party politics. Recall, for example, the debate over Nato policy. A debate which was noted for the lack of acrimony. Go to SNP gatherings of any kind - in either the actual or the virtual world - and you will find disagreement on various matters of policy being openly expressed without anyone batting an eye.

A moment's sober reflection reveals why this is so. The SNP is founded, not on the precepts of a particular ideology, but on a simple overarching principle. At all levels of the party, adherence to the essential principle of constitutional justice is no impediment to pragmatism in the realm of policy development. Discussion is unhindered by dogma.

Let's be generous and just say that Jim's portrayal of the situation is inaccurate.

Which brings us to a truth which Mr Sillars may find a bit harsh. Nobody cares! The British media may take great delight in trumpeting his pronouncements on the matter of EU membership as evidence of serious turmoil within the SNP. But the reality is that nobody is either in slightest bit surprised or even mildly bothered.

It's Jim Sillars. This is what he does.

And it's not as if he presents a real challenge to SNP policy on EU membership. If his statements to date are anything to go by, his anti-EU arguments are no more persuasive than those propounded by the ranting Europhobes with whom he has chosen to align himself. If Jim Sillars's "case" is distinguished at all from the blinkered isolationist vacuousness of the "UKIPpers", it is only in the toe-curling childishness of insisting that we shouldn't be speaking to the nasty EU bogeyman because he was mean to us during the first referendum campaign. An argument which is rivalled in its paucity only by its inaccuracy.

It was not the EU that "told us to get stuffed". It was a rag-tag of shadowy "sources";  posturing functionaries; and right wing politicians persuaded to do favours for the British establishment - no doubt in the expectation of some quid pro quo. The EU said nothing on the matter. Its official position was that it had no official position, and could not formulate one until asked to do so by a member state - specifically, the UK. Something UK Prime Minister David Cameron was strangely reluctant to do - in a way that only failed to prompt questions in the minds of those whose minds were firmly closed.

There should be no such reluctance to question Jim Sillars's motives or challenge his anti-EU rhetoric. His status as a champion of Scotland's cause should not exempt him from the requirement to set out an alternative to continued EU membership which does not rely on strikingly implausible assumptions and woolly-minded wishful thinking.

The stuff about accusations of "disloyalty" is a diversion. It's plainly ridiculous to suppose that Jim Sillars's dedication to the cause of restoring Scotland's rightful constitutional status is anything less than total. It is far from ridiculous, however, to suggest that his views on other matters might be somewhat dubious.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Do we need an alternative to the alternative media?

This piece from Wee Ginger Dug is by no means the first article I've come across that seeks to minimise the debate around the issue of 'tactical' voting and disparage those who actually understand what that debate is about. No doubt this patronising mocking of pro-independence activists will delight those "Yooneristas" every bit as much as the serious debate which they are happy to have portrayed as a petty and pointless social media squabble.
The shallow misapprehension evident in all of these efforts to diminish and mock is that the irksome point in recent exchanges on the matter - some admittedly quite heated - is conflict over the advisability and feasibility of tactical voting. While there is certainly disagreement on that count, this is not the real bone of contention. Nobody, I think, is hugely exercised by the discussion itself. Wrong headed as the effort to take from the SNP list votes that may be required in order to secure another pro-independence majority government, nobody is seriously questioning the right of true believers to try and make that argument.
Few, if any, even object to the fact that this is no more than a self-serving vote-grabbing effort by the OPIPs (other pro-independence parties) - and particularly the ramshackle coalition of leftist cliques calling itself RISE. That's just politics. Many observers are impressed almost to the point of fleeting respect that these fractious factional ferrets have been sufficiently sedated by the remote prospect of a place in parliament to temporarily occupy the same sack.
None of this is what has ignited such anger as there may be. That has been provoked, not by discussion of the merits and demerits of various 'cunning plans' to circumvent the d'Hondt system, but by the tactics being used by some of those trying to sell the idea that voters can be directed and coordinated en masse so as to achieve a specified electoral outcome.
In reality, it's not about 'tactical' voting at all. It's about the direction taken by certain sections of the alternative media which, in the eyes of many, have become mouthpieces for partisan interests in very much the same way as the Daily Record is, to all intents and purposes, the house organ of British Labour in Scotland.
Those of us who recognise the crucial role that alternative media have in the independence movement have very good reason to be disappointed and deeply concerned by this development. It is not enough that pro-independence blogs and news websites should be able to boast of their huge following. It's not only a matter of numbers. What alternative media requires in order to be an effective counter to the British establishment's propaganda machine is credibility. It's no good just competing on the basis of unique visitors versus total readership. Alternative media must acquire the authority that is rapidly seeping away from the 'quality' print media.. They need to win the trust that the broadcast media (BBC) has squandered. This will not be achieved by emulating their methods and behaviour.
It is right that people should speak out about standards in the alternative media just as they do about the mainstream media. This is not a trivial matter.