Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Next time will be very different

Willie Rennie MP addressing a Liberal Democrat...
It seems that both Kezia Dugdale and Willie Rennie have realised that there is definitely going to be another referendum. And that it is not going to be possible for British nationalists to deploy the same lying, scaremongering tactics as before. I suppose they are to be commended for their willingness to change. But let's not be fooled into imagining that they do so with any enthusiasm. They really had no choice.

To a very considerable extent, the divide in the first referendum campaign was not so much between Yes and No as between those who had questioned the political union between Scotland and England and those who had never even thought about the matter. That is why there was never a coherent case for the union such as we were constantly being promised. You can't make a persuasive argument for (or against) something unless you have first examined it; scrutinised it; challenged it. The Yes campaign was built on the foundation of a long tradition of asking awkward questions about the constitutional settlement. It drew on three centuries of internal debate concerning every aspect of the political union. The anti-independence camapign had nothing remotely similar.

The initial Better Together message was no more sophisticated than an imperious command to, "Just say NO!". No need to think about it. The union is fine because... well... because it's old! It's all any of us have ever known. What's the point in changing anything? Besides! Everybody knows that "Bigger is Better!".

From there it descended into the grindingly negative litany of mainly economic doom-mongering (because nobody does doom-'n'-gloom like a hired economist) that it remained right up to the final stages when, in a fit of panic, the infamous "Vow" was cobbled together, adding empty promises to the "smears and fears". It was a campaign which would have shamed all who were involved, but for the fact that they were rendered impervious to shame by their arrogant self-righteousness.

The No vote was a triumph of fear over hope. But it was a hollow victory. At one of the counts in the miserable early hours of the Friday morning when the outcome was clear, I recall speaking to a senior figure in Scottish Labour who had the good grace to shake my hand and offer his commiserations. In my exhausted and distracted state, I don't recall whether I actually said the words or merely had the thought, but it certainly occurred to me at that point that they had fought what was essentially a party political campaign. They had won that campaign. But, in the process, they had lost the country. How true that has turned out to be.

In the whole of the two years of the last referendum campaign the unionists never once addressed the fundamental constitutional question. The whole purpose of their effort was, not to win people over, but to brow-beat them into submission.

The next referendum campaign will be very different. To whatever extent there may be a single anti-independence campaign along the lines of Better Together, it will not be able to rely on the methods of Project Fear. It will be less able to avoid the fundamental constitutional issue. It will be forced to face intense scrutiny of the union, and try to come up with satisfactory answers to penetrating questions.

The No campaign, if there is such a thing, will be obliged to campaign on the basis of what the union actually is, rather than on the basis of luridly dystopian fictions about what independence might bring.

Dugdale and Rennie appear to have had it brought home to them that leaders who attempt a rerun of the earlier anti-independence campaign are highly likely to part company with members and voters who are now better informed and no longer susceptible to scare stories. They will be dealing with people more inclined to question the worth of the political union. They will be addressing an electorate that is less likely to be unthinkingly enamoured of the British state.

Dugdale and Rennie have had to accept that independence can no longer be represented as unthinkable. Because there are just too many people thinking about it.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Keeping it together

If there is one thing that the independence movement needs less than the infamous factionalism of the left it is people jumping on the bandwagon as the media exploit personal antagonisms and jealousies among leading figures on the left for the purposes of a vendetta against one of the establishment's most reviled hate-figures.

I am not enamoured of the term "feminazi". But my dislike for language which trivialises a truly abhorrent ideology is in conflict with my predilection for the bon mot - the word which captures the very essence of something, or which describes perfectly a particular phenomenon. I regret to say that "feminazi" is very much the apt term for some of those who reacted to the above comment on Saturday's Hope Over Fear rally and its aftermath with such unbridled venom and brazen dishonesty.

I feel somewhat justified in using the term "feminazi", not least because those who responded so vituperatively to my comment were themselves guilty of using language in a way that trivialise an abhorrent ideology. I refer to people who deploy the word "sexist" as a cudgel with which to bludgeon into silence those whose views they take exception to - however irrationally - without regard for the appropriateness of the language.

The "feminazis" were repeatedly invited to point out what was sexist in my post. None could do so. But this didn't deter them from repeating the inane accusation, ad nauseam and with ever increasing shrillness - as if that alone would make it true.

It wasn't only these bile-spewing harpies who reacted to my rather innocuous remarks with melodramatic hysteria. Another category included those who regard even the slightest reluctance to join in their "Two Minute Hate" as a wholehearted endorsement of the subject. One is either an enthusiastic participant in their game of detestation trumps, or one is unceremoniously assigned to a diametrically opposed camp reserved for those who perversely venerate the hate-figure du jour. There is only pure hatred or cult-like devotion. No other possible attitude exists. Not even benign indifference.

The hate-figure in question on this occasion is, of course, Tommy Sheridan. Although astute readers will have noticed that my original post made no mention of that particular individual. Or any female persons. Or any persons at all. And for very good reason.

Those who imagined that my post was all about Tommy Sheridan were guilty of what I call "creative reading". That is to say, they read something other than what was written. They added their own content and connotations so as to create the thing they were geared up to react to. It's rather similar to, if considerably more crude than, the politician's "art" of fitting the question to the answer that they have prepared, even if there are two totally unrelated topics involved.

This isn't about Tommy Sheridan. It would be gratifying if some people would get over their inane obsession with the man. The self-destructive factionalism to which I refer was rife on the political left long before Sheridan was even born. And the establishment has always stood ready to exploit such divisions for its own nefarious ends.

My concern is that the Yes movement might be tainted by this puerile internecine squabbling. The strength of the Yes campaign has been its inclusiveness. Now, coteries are forming and asserting the right to determine who is and is not deemed fit to be part of "their" movement. People are denounced as "not fitting into the ethos". They are declared persona non grata by self-appointed gate-keepers of the independence movement. They are cast out by self-ordained guardians of the purity of the cause.

To anyone who has had even passing experience of group-based left-wing politics, all of this will be sickeningly familiar.

Tommy Sheridan is merely a high-profile target. But there must always be a target. Because these groups define themselves by their targets. Once they have flexed their muscles on Sheridan, they will move on to others - all the while cheered on by the ruling elites who have everything to gain from a weak and fragmented countervailing power.

This is a familiar process. Familiar enough that it should be easy to avoid. And yet we are seeing people rushing headlong into it as if totally unaware. Or as if carried away by the thrill of the witch-hunt.

Saner heads must prevail. The Yes campaign was a wonderful thing to be part of. It was was bold and aspirational; peaceful and lawful; good-natured and cooperative; imaginative and humorous; worthy and honourable. But most crucially of all it was inclusive. It was truly a people's campaign.

It can be still. But not if we let these self-important, self-righteous, self-serving packs prevail. Our independence movement must be open to all who seek the restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status. The only qualification required is a genuine desire to bring Scotland's government home for the benefit of all who call Scotland home.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Talking to the clenched fist

A response to Ewan Gurr of The Trussell Trust writing in The Herald on Sunday 26 July 2015.

I will not call Ewan Gurr stupid. And if he is an idealist then I will not criticise him for that. It is a sad reflection on the politics of the British state that calling someone an idealist might be considered an insult.

I will, however, call Ewan Gurr naive. He is naive to imagine David Mundell might listen to him or be influenced by his accounts of the impact of austerity fetishism on real people. He is naive to imagine that there can be meaningful dialogue with the administration Mundell represents.

Ewan Gurr is naive to suppose that the ruling elites can be made to care by any appeal to normal human empathy. The story of Suzanne will not touch these people as it evidently does Mr Gurr. Such tales leave them cold. Even if they actually heard what was being said, they are incapable of relating to hardship and distress. And even if some vestige of humanity remained which allowed the faintest glimmer of fellow feeling to glow in the foetid murk where once resided a human soul, the ember would be instantly doused as a sign of deplorable weakness and betrayal of the cause.

The cult of austerity is a rigid, heartless ideology. To the limited extent that they might see it at all, the adherents of this cult see the suffering of others as, alternatively, a misfortune entirely of their own making, or a "price worth paying" for what they absolutely believe to be a "greater good". Their programme involves nothing less than a forced reordering of society such that the fate of Suzanne will not be exceptional as economic and political power increasingly accrues to the elites who are the true and sole clients of the likes of Mundell.

What we are witnessing is the unabashed use of imposed poverty as an instrument of policy. People are being made poor in order that they will be neutralised as a possible threat to the power of those who are, in the eyes of Mundell and his ilk, the only ones deserving of power or capable of exercising it responsibly. With the responsible exercise of power being defined as that which serves those who exercise power.

Ewan Gurr needs to realise that the likes of Mundell cannot be talked out of the circularity of their own self-justification. Like a religious creed, the cult of austerity is entirely self-rationalising and impervious to reasoning which references anything that is external to its own reality.

I don't doubt that, in inviting David Mundell to open a foodbank, Mr Gurr's intentions were entirely honourable. They were also completely and utterly futile. The conditions which necessitate foodbanks will not be addressed by talking, however earnestly and passionately, to those who regard those conditions as inevitable, necessary and desirable. Those conditions will only be addressed by removing the likes of Mundell from power - while we still can.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Reasons to be cheerful

This article was first published on Friday 3 July in The Scottish Independent

In the early hours of the morning of 19 September 2014, I was at one of the referendum count centres where I watched as people who had spent the previous two years loudly and repeatedly proclaiming their credentials as "proud Scots" cheered the humiliation of the country they claimed to love.

Of course, from their own perspective they were doing no such thing. They were celebrating variously a tribal victory over a political opponent; the defeat of dangerous democratic dissent; and/or the triumph of British nationalism. Mostly, they were just relieved that they had succeeded in preserving the old order and the old ways. The structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state had been challenged by a popular grass-roots movement, and that challenge had been seen off. The ruling elites remained in place. Established power was undiminished. Everybody could get back to business as usual.

That's not quite how it was to turn out. But it would be some time before I came to realise that the British establishment may have won the vote, but the people of Scotland were to take all the prizes. At the time, I witnessed only self-proclaimed "real Scots" revelling in the fact that Scotland had declared itself unworthy to be a nation as other nation. I saw only people reacting to the diminishing of Scotland with uninhibited joy.

And I was sickened.

More recently, I read accounts of MPs in the House of Commons cheering the defeat of amendments to the Scotland Bill which would have taken it some way towards honouring the promises by which the No vote was secured. They were openly congratulating themselves on having thwarted the efforts of the vast majority of Scotland's MPs to secure the powers for the Scottish Parliament that were agreed by the Smith Commission.

They were applauding (figuratively, of course) the fact that the democratic will of the people of Scotland counted for nothing against the might of the British state. They were vociferously celebrating the affirmation of Scotland's subordinate status in the UK.

The British establishment has declared its response to the election result which saw the parties of the British establishment all but wiped out in Scotland. The ruling elites have given their answer to the 50% of the people of Scotland who, by voting for the SNP, demanded only that which we were assured was our due as part of the UK. Namely, a powerful parliament in Edinburgh and a strong voice at Westminster.

That answer could be most succinctly expressed in the vernacular. Essentially, it was a curt "No!" to the powers we asked for and a contemptuous "Forget it!" to our demand for simple respect. The British state had declared its position. Its power trumped any "vow". Never mind what was said about Scotland's rightful place in the UK. Henceforth it would be English votes for English laws; English votes for Scottish laws; and no Scottish votes for English laws.

Just as Scotland had been branded inferior in the world by the referendum, so Scotland was to be confirmed as totally subordinate in the UK and, to drive the point home, our democratically elected representatives were to be declared second-class members of the British parliament.

I read about those who had lately professed their "love" for Scotland cheering all of this, and I was sickened.

Then I see the rather more sly and surreptitious pleasure being taken in the plight of Greece. I see the sleekit manner in which people such as Peter Jones in The Scotsman pounce on the situation in Greece, not to condemn the rapacious cabal which has brought Greece to this pass, but to mock Scotland's aspirations and insist that there is no choice other than to submit to the very system which has failed us all so disastrously.

I see how Greece's travails are being gleefully exploited by Europhobes and British nationalists alike, and I am sickened.

If you are desperate enough to seek a silver lining in all of this, consider only that where you see humiliation, insult, wanton disregard for democracy and callous exploitation of the powerless by the powerful, others see an excuse for a party.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The death of decency

English: Charles Kennedy, British politician a...
Charles Kennedy, British politician and former leader of the Liberal Democrats. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I never had much sympathy for Charles Kennedy's politics. But he always struck me as a decent man endowed with great wit, warmth and sincerity. A man who served both his party and his constituents well despite a considerable handicap.

There was an essential genuineness about the man, and a strength of character which helped him deal with his alcohol problems in a way that commanded sympathy and respect.

These qualities may explain why he always seemed so uncomfortable and out of place with the grindingly negative and endlessly nasty anti-independence campaign. It just wasn't Charles Kennedy's kind of politics.

Given his undoubted talents, abilities and personal qualities, not to mention the tragedy of his untimely demise, it is all the more disturbing to find hard-line unionists seizing on the occasion and manner of Kennedy's death as an opportunity to vent their mindless hatred of the Scottish National Party.

This is but one example of the politics of obsessive, vitriolic hate being expressed in a few callous keystrokes and with varying levels of spittle-flecked vehemence by unionists in the wake of Charles Kennedy's death.

There is a great sickness at the heart of the unionist cause. A rancid rottenness at its core. A bitter, bilious, British nationalist fanaticism has arisen which regards any obscenity as fully justified in defence of the British state. They won the referendum, but lost the country and have since been obliged to watch as those they supposed they had defeated were awarded all the prizes by Scotland's voters. 

Their resentment is implacable. All intellect is crippled by it. Rationality is abandoned in favour of base emotion. Propriety is forsaken for a revelry of petulant anger.

Some of the decency in British politics died with Charles Kennedy. Whatever remained has been killed by the cretins who have laid claim to his newly deceased body, declaring it the moral high ground while using it as a vantage point from which to spit venom at their political rivals.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The new devolution

What a strange demand from Ruth Davidson. In one breath she boasts that her bosses in London are graciously giving the Scottish Parliament sweeping new tax powers, in the next she demands that the SNP make a solemn undertaking never to use those powers.

It all seems a bit crazy and contradictory, until you realise that the whole devolution process has undergone a significant shift in emphasis and purpose. It used to be that the endless constitutional tinkering was intended to fend off the electoral threat of the SNP by putting on a token show of addressing the aspirations of Scotland's people. Now, devolution is all about laying fiscal and political traps for what is presumed will be, for the foreseeable future, an SNP Scottish Government. The whole process has become an exercise in anti-SNP manipulation.

The aim is to force the administration to do things that will make it unpopular with the electorate. Essentially, the UK Government is set upon waging a campaign to undermine the Scottish Parliament in the hope of eroding popular support for the SNP and getting Holyrood back under the control of the British parties.

Of course, this campaign is all but certain to be be damaging to Scotland's economy. In order to be effective, such a campaign must impact negatively on large numbers of people in Scotland so as to provoke widespread dissatisfaction. It is, in essence, an anti-Scottish campaign.

Ruth Davidson's odd demand that the SNP promise never to use the new tax powers is just a foretaste of what is to come. The so-called "powers" being handed to the Scottish Parliament are a poisoned chalice. The Scottish Government will be attacked if it uses these "powers", and however it uses them. It will be attacked even more viciously if it rejects the "powers", or doesn't use them. Devolution is now entirely about contriving opportunities to attack the Scottish Government.

All of which creates some complex problems for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Which is hardly surprising given that this was the intention. With his Commons majority and less than token resistance from British Labour, David Cameron has moved from regarding Scotland as a nuisance to be placated to treating Scotland as an enemy to be subdued. But it may not be politic for Sturgeon to respond in similar vein. She and her team have an increasingly complex political maze to negotiate.

Personally, I have no doubt that they are up to the task. But, in the face of the nefarious machinations of the UK Government, those of us who recognise what is going on must all be resolute in our support for the First Minister and our democratically elected representatives at both Holyrood and Westminster. They are there for us. We must be there for them.

Monday, 25 May 2015

A smear backfires

English: Alistair Carmichael MP addressing a L...
Alistair Carmichael MP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Having listened to Alistair Carmichael's defence in the matter of what I suppose we must grit our teeth and call #MemoGate, I am even more convinced than ever that he should resign immediately. Unbelievably, Carmichael is now insisting that we should simply ignore his despicable behaviour and focus instead on some unspecified things he may have done for his constituents in the past.

Even more incredibly, he is trying to portray the SNP as the villain of the piece!

Carmichael's conduct has been, and continues to be, appalling. But the fact that his party refuses to take any action against him is totally inexplicable. They have voluntarily chosen that the whole party should be tainted by Carmichael's offences. We have to assume that this was Willie Rennie's decision, not least because it is backed up by his personal plea that Carmichael be given a "second chance". Such poor judgement must call into question Rennie's fitness as leader.

Rennie has foolishly put himself in the firing line of a scandal which is already threatening to embroil Carmichael's successor as Scottish Secretary, David Mundell as more and more people ask how he could possibly have been unaware of what his then boss was up to. After all, it's not as if Carmichael was acting in a particularly clandestine manner. One of the more shocking aspects of this whole affair has been the casual attitude to deliberate smears and brazen lies displayed by the main players, and the fact that Carmichael believed he could act as he did with impunity, doubtless believing that he would be protected by the British establishment.

Carmichael's apologists will, of course, bleat about a "witch-hunt". I would remind them that their man is being condemned for cause. And very good cause, at that. This is in no way similar to, for example, the way Stewart Stevenson MSP was hounded from office as Transport Minister when he was absolutely blameless just so the British parties at Holyrood and their friends in the British media could claim a scalp.

Carmichael has to go because he did something - in fact, several things - which even he has admitted would require his resignation. Which almost certainly means that the LibDems will be wiped out in Scotland.

Mundell may well have to step down as Scottish Secretary if he cannot offer a satisfactory account of his own part in the affair, thereby creating another constitutional crisis as the Tory UK Government is forced to try and find someone else for the position. Or abolish the office of Scottish Secretary altogether.

And Willie Rennie is, at the very least, weakened as leader by his craven defence of the indefensible.

I wonder if Carmichael still thinks his attempt to smear Nicola Sturgeon was such a wizard wheeze.

But there is more. Recall that the memo at the centre of this affair was actually fourth-hand as it derived from a telephone conversation about a telephone conversation about an account of a conversation given by someone who was not actually a party to the conversation at the heart of the matter, but merely a witness to it.

It is perfectly legitimate to ask why the second of these telephone calls was made. And who gave the instruction for the call to be made. And for what purpose.

Given the events currently under discussion, and the general behaviour of the British parties, it is only natural to be suspicious of everything they do. It does not seem beyond the bounds of credibility that the telephone call to the person who had made the telephone call to the French Consul General was a fishing expedition looking for something which could be spun into a bit of anti-SNP propaganda. Indeed, I suggested as much when the smear attempt against Nicola Sturgeon first surfaced.

There may be a great deal more to this than has hitherto come to light. One person who may know more is Simon Johnson, the Telegraph journalist who was complicit in the original smear attempt. So far, he has escaped the kind of scrutiny that he deserves.

We know for a fact that Johnson simply didn't bother to seek a response from any of the principals in the story. That he has kept his job after such a grievous dereliction of professional standards is a telling comment on how low the British media has sunk. But little or nothing has been said about what questions he asked of his source at the Scotland Office.

Scurrilous journalists also tend also to be cowardly. Johnson would have sought assurances that his arse was covered. It is difficult to believe he wouldn't question the provenance of the story? What questions did he ask? What was he told that convinced him he would not put himself at risk by running the story? Did an experienced political journalist fail to even suspect a smear attempt? Did he just not care?

One way or another, we have not heard the last of this.