Friday, 24 April 2015

England beware!

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

Friday, 10 April 2015

The emptiest of threats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Wiping the smear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Cap in hand no more!

English: Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland
Let's start by pointing out to Simon Jenkins that Alex Salmond is NOT "the putative Scottish leader in the commons". (An antidote to Alex Salmond: offer the Scots home rule) The denizens of the London bubble have only convinced themselves otherwise because his name is conveniently familiar. If they actually knew anything about the politics upon which they pontificate, they would be aware that Angus Robertson is the leader of the SNP group at Westminster. And there are no plans for this to change after May.

Doubtless commentators such as Simon Jenkins will protest that he is the "obvious" candidate. By which they mean that he is the individual who comes closest to being the kind of high-profile political celebrity that makes easy, eye-catching copy for commentators such as Simon Jenkins. If the SNP were to allow itself to be forced into the mould of British party politics, Salmond would certainly be appointed leader of the party's MPs. But the SNP is more into breaking moulds than being shaped by them.

In Angus Robertson the SNP already has a formidable and experienced leader at Westminster. It is entirely possible, even probable, that Salmond would prefer to take a role such as spokesperson on constitutional affairs and make his presence felt in the committee rooms rather than the chamber. He may even be attracted to the freedom that being a simple back-bencher would afford him.

As Salmond himself has pointed out, he's already held the highest office he might aspire to. His place in history and the hearts of Scotland's people is assured. The trappings of status within the Westminster system have little to offer him.

Of course, we will not know for certain what role Salmond will take until after 7 May. And he still has an election to win. But there is no good reason to assume that he will be the SNP's Westminster leader.

As to the suggestion that Miliband offer "Home Rule", we've already been there. Through their deniable proxy, Gordon Brown, the British parties promised Home Rule - or something very close to it - in return for a No vote. They have already reneged on that promise. If any of the British party leaders had the will or the authority to give Scotland Home Rule, they had the opportunity to do so through the Smith Commission. Even if they were to offer it now, nobody in Scotland would believe them. Nobody is even listening to them.

Scotland's politics has changed. Our future will be decided, not by the Milibands and the Camerons, but by the people of Scotland and those we elect to represent our interests. Talk of "giving" Scotland Home Rule is as pointless as it is condescendingly offensive. We are not waiting to be given anything. We are taking that to which we are entitled.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The real choice facing voters

Labour denounced George Osborne's budget cuts as "extreme".

But, asked by the Today programme what he would reverse from Osborne's Budget yesterday, British Labour Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, replied that there was nothing.

I've never been entirely comfortable with the "Red Tories" tag now commonly applied to British Labour. Resorting to saying "they're all the same" is generally to be avoided as being simplistic to the point of intellectual indolence.

What cannot be denied, however, is that the British parties offer no meaningful choice to voters. In terms of outcomes, it makes no difference whatever whether we end up with a Tory government or a Labour government committed to precisely the same austerity fetishism. Whatever may differentiate the partners in the "Great British Duopoly", the distinction is superficial, almost entirely cosmetic and, for all practical purposes, meaningless.

And this will not change, other than to get worse. As both parties continue to chase the votes of the same relatively small group of electors within a system which effectively excludes the majority, policy convergence is inevitable. The message from both will be the same. Only the language will be changed to protect the illusion of democracy.

So! What can be done to avert this?

Faced with the threat to their cosy arrangements posed by the SNP, all the British parties have been remarkably explicit about their willingness to subordinate democratic legitimacy to the imperative of preserving the status and privilege which is their reward for loyal service to the ruling elites of the British state. By their response to this threat, the British parties tell us in the plainest manner imaginable exactly what we must do if we wish to save our democracy. We must do precisely that thing which they are most afraid we will do. We must do what they tell us we mustn't. We must defy them.

We must vote SNP on 7 May.

We must do so as a matter of great urgency. The British establishment has identified a threat to the structures of power which define the British state. It will act to neutralise that threat. It will not be constrained in its actions by Labour denounced the proposals as "extreme".

If you think the vicious anti-SNP and anti-Scottish onslaught that we are seeing at the moment is a sign of the British state flexing its power, think again! It is actually a sign of its powerlessness. It is a frenzied reaction to a situation which the British state cannot control. You can be sure that it will not allow itself to be found in this situation again.

The British establishment has been caught unawares. It was not prepared for the tide of democratic dissent that has risen in Scotland. It was never anticipated that a party from outside the Westminster elite could secure significant influence within a system designed to ensure the dominance of the establishment parties. The SNP, as agents of the people of Scotland, has found a chink in the armour. If we do not exploit that weakness now, we may never get another chance. Failure to seize this opportunity will leave the ruling elites of the British state even more firmly entrenched.

If the concept of Red Tories/Blue Tories is to be useful let it be as a reminder that, for the people of Scotland at least, this election is not about a choice between "traditional" parties. It is about a choice between our democracy and an undifferentiated Westminster elite which sees democracy as a threat.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Fanning the flames

English: Logo of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
Let's be clear. Allan Massie is a British nationalist.* Not quite in the spittle-flecked, purple-faced, ranting style of Alan Cochrane. (Although he appears to be competing with Poor Old Cockers in this diatribe.) But a British nationalist nonetheless. As such, he portrays the SNP, not as they are, but as British nationalists would like them to be seen by the public.

The same applies to Scotland's politics and what we might term the "mood of the nation". Either Mr Massie is so completely detached from the political scene in Scotland that it is invisible to him, or he is deliberately trying to mislead when he describes that mood as "ugly". In fact, the mood is very upbeat and hopeful. One might almost say exited at the prospect of putting a democratic dent in the the armour of a British state that has hitherto been deaf to the voice of the people and impervious to meaningful reform.

There is ugliness,of course. But it comes, not from the ranks of the SNP and other progressive parties in Scotland, but from the relatively small band of British nationalist fanatics engaged in an increasingly shrill and vitriolic campaign in defence of the ruling elites of the British state.

Massie also claims that the SNP is still fighting the referendum. Again, he is either tragically ill-informed or dishonest. Certainly, independence remains the long-term goal. But the SNP is fighting this election on a policy platform that is progressive and so clear that even a blinkered British nationalist such as Alan Massie can't avoid acknowledging at least some of it.

That policy platform includes such things as,

  • an end to austerity economics
  • no renewal of Trident
  • real Home Rule for Scotland, as promised in the lead up to the referendum vote
  • abolition of the House of Lords
  • introduction of a living wage

While these sort of policies are evidently anathema to right-wing ideologues like Allan Massie, to most people they appear no more than the kind of considered alternatives to the stultifying orthodoxies of the British state which, in a properly functioning democracy, would be on offer from any party seeking to oust the Tories.

Massie opines that Middle England would be "furious" if the British political system fails to ensure that hegemonic two-party duopoly is maintained. His view is that, if any party other than those which are approved by the British establishment gains political power while playing by the British state's own rules, then those rules must be ignored.

His reasoning is that the rules must be ignored so as to avoid a turmoil of public outrage that he himself is doing his level best to whip up. Not because the SNP has broken any rules, but precisely because they are working within those rules.

Massie and his fellow British nationalists are playing a dangerous game with

their hate-mongering. Compare the language deployed by the British nationalist propaganda machine with the reasoned rhetoric of Nicola Sturgeon and other Scottish progressives such as Patrick Harvie. There may well be a whirlwind to reap from the seeds of anti-Scottish animus that they are sowing.

Massie is mightily concerned about a backlash in England to any SNP involvement in the government of the UK. His British nationalist bigotry prevents him giving so much as a moment's thought to the reaction of the people of Scotland if their democratically elected representatives are excluded in a storm of spitting, contemptuous vilification such as Massie gives us a glimpse of in his latest piece for the Daily Mail.

To borrow the most incendiary saying of all: If Scotland rules England, I can foresee the Thames foaming with much blood

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

To a gobbet of congealed unionist fervour

As someone close to the SNP campaign in Perth and North Perthshire, I can assure the spokesperson for the reborn Better Together group quoted in The Telegraph* that Pete Wishart is highly unlikely to be unhappy about further very public evidence of the British parties in Scotland ganging up in an effort to defend the Westminster elite and deny Scotland the strong voice in the UK Parliament that is supposed to be our right within the Union.

Most people in Scotland are perplexed and offended by the British establishment's portrayal of the SNP as some kind of dangerously extreme political force. This is, after all, their democratically elected party of government. It is, by a long way, the largest party in Scotland in terms of membership. And, according to polls, it is even after nearly two terms in office, by far the most popular party with by far the most trusted politicians.

This is not "controversial". This is mainstream.

The problem that British nationalists have is that the SNP is mainstream in a distinctly Scottish context rather than the comfortably familiar context of British politics, with the faux rivalries of its two-party hegemony that is barely distinguishable from a one-party state.

Anywhere else in Europe, the SNP would be regarded as a perfectly ordinary left-of-centre social democratic party. Traditional Labour voters in Scotland are perfectly at ease voting for the SNP. As are many refugees from the doomed Liberal Democrats and even a few thoughtful Tories impressed by the party's effectiveness as an administration.

Even the policy of restoring Scotland's rightful constitutional status is not at all outlandish. Independence is normal. Independence is the default status of all nations. It is the anachronistic, dysfunctional asymmetric political union in which we find ourselves that is anomalous.

So, people in Perth & North Perthshire and across Scotland will inevitable ask themselves whose interests are being served by the British parties' coming together in an effort to pervert the democratic process. They will wonder who benefits from an orchestrated campaign to defeat the party which they are firmly persuaded best represents the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland's people.

The more people see of the British parties standing shoulder to shoulder on the streets of Scotland in defence of Westminster's power and the old order, the more they will be persuaded that their best hope lies in electing as many SNP MPs as possible. I'm confident that, with the help of the little gobbet of unionist fervour that has congealed in Perth, Pete Wishart will be among them.