Friday, 5 February 2016

An immodest proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The art of losing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know who speaks for Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Lord Cochrane of Bile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Cochrane of Bile, perhaps?

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A novel election strategy for the British parties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 1 February 2016

What's in a headline?

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

So what's the point?

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

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

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

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

Such is the British media.

With us? Or against us?

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

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

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

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

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

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