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.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Inexorable forces

Labour's railing against David Cameron for supposedly "playing to English nationalism" is rather silly. It highlights their complete failure to recognise the new political reality in the UK. After all, what else was Cameron to do? While he would surely deny it with all the contrived vehemence he might muster, Cameron was implicitly accepting the fact that the political cultures in Scotland and England have now diverged to the extent that it is all but impossible for a political party to meaningfully address the electorates in both with a consistent, coherent message. Cameron merely opted to tailor his message to the voters who would actually decide the election. I repeat, what else was he supposed to do?

British Labour in Scotland also recognised the need for a message tailored to Scotland's distinctive culture. This was clear from Jim Murphy's desperate and often comical efforts to portray himself as the real leader of a real party able to make real policy independent of the bosses in London. He convinced precisely nobody who wasn't inclined by dumb tribalism to be persuaded.

While Cameron simply wrote Scotland off in order to deliver a consistent and coherent message to voters in England (or those parts of England which matter for electoral purposes), Murphy went a bit crazy. Then a bit crazier. His attempts to pretend that he was making policy while not straying too far from the British Labour Party line resulted in a message that was the very opposite of consistent and coherent. At times, it descended into gibberish. At other times he took the pretence of autonomy too far and was promptly slapped down by his bosses. And he made the whole thing worse by turning himself into a circus act performing his buffoonery for the inexplicably entranced media. 

The essential point in all of this is the increasing distinctiveness of Scotland's political culture. The "One Nation" factions in the British parties will still try to deny this even in the face of the decisive redrawing of the political geography of the UK in the recent election. But the direction of travel is entirely towards increasing divergence. And it is an accelerating process. Because England (if progressives there will forgive the generalisation) is moving in one direction at least as rapidly as Scotland is moving in the other. The sum of the speeds has reached escape velocity. The two political cultures have separated past the point of no return.

Everything that happens from here on simply adds momentum to a process which leads ultimately to a formal ending of the now defunct political union and the opening of an opportunity to forge a new relationship between Scotland and England. Cameron's pursuit of English votes for English laws (EVEL); trade unions having different affiliations north and south of the border; increasingly different policy agendas being followed by the two governments; further constitutional tinkering creating more anomalies to irk Englanders while failing to satisfy Scotland's aspirations; the demise of British Labour in Scotland in favour of a genuine Scottish Labour Party; all of these things and more will be seen by future historians as both cause and effect of Scotland moving towards independence.

The nature of the Tories' election campaign was very largely dictated by this process of political divergence between Scotland and England. British Labour's campaign in Scotland dealt rather more ineptly with the same irresistible historical forces. One suspects that at least a few of the more perspicacious minds in the unionist camp must have sensed which way the wind is blowing. Will they continue a Cnutian resistance? Or will they recognise the need to start managing the process of unravelling an archaic and dysfunctional political union?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Another suicide note

People hoping for British Labour in Scotland to deserve a revival will read Richard Baker's offering over at Labour Hame and despair. Baker evinces all the follies and fallacies which have brought the pretendy wee "Scottish Labour Party" to where it now finds itself - languishing in the remaindered bin of Scottish politics.
In the first place, he imagines that there is a "Scottish Labour Party" to be saved. He stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the true subordinate status of British Labour in Scotland. Not a good start for somebody supposedly seeking a way out of its travails.
We'll gloss over the bit where Baker tries to present Jim Murphy as a unifying figure on the assumption that it is a regrettably discordant attempt at humour.
Of more significance is his attempt to portray the superficial, trivial changes to British Labour in Scotland's "constitution" as if they were profound and meaningful. I have news for Richard Baker. Adding the word "patriotic" served only to make you look more like Better Together and so remind people of your shameful alliance with the Tories in a truly despicable campaign to deny the sovereignty of Scotland's people. There is planet-weight unintended and unfunny irony in your use of that word that does not elude others as it evidently does yourself.
The reason for adopting the word "patriotic" is also based on one of the follies and fallacies that I referred to earlier. Richard Baker displays the complete failure to understand the nature of his nemesis when he contemptuously, and erroneously, dismisses the SNP as being "most comfortable" in the territory of national identity rather than progress. I have another bit of news for Richard Baker. The SNP didn't win the trust of half the electorate by waving a saltire. Or by banging on about how "patriotic" they are. I could explain at length how and why that trust was won. But I'll settle for two words which, I think, sum up the SNP's approach and their appeal to voters - principled pragmatism.
But the greatest obstacle of all to Richard Baker being the one to discover a path to redemption for British Labour in Scotland is his fervent British nationalism. His main argument against British Labour in Scotland taking the logical first step on the road to becoming electable is that becoming a genuine Scottish Labour Party would involve sacrificing its status as part of the British establishment.
Avoiding any concessions to the distinctness Scotland's of Scotland's political culture takes precedence over even considerations of political survival. The voters have sent British Labour in Scotland an unmistakeable message which says that there is a new political reality in Scotland. Richard Baker responds with the dumb denial that has characterised British Labour in Scotland ever since the SNP's first Holyrood administration and despite the message being repeated ever more forcibly in 2011 and again last week.
If British Labour in Scotland are listening as intently as they constantly assure us they are, how have they managed to miss that message from the electorate? When the political map of the UK slaps them in eye with the blindingly obvious fact of massive political divergence between Scotland and the rest of the UK, how can they remain so stubbornly oblivious?
If Richard Baker is speaking for British Labour in Scotland then we might as well give up on them completely. They are beyond rehabilitation.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Scotland's voice

Once again, David Cameron's first instinct is to deliver a contemptuous slap in the face to the people of Scotland.

After the referendum, it was talk of English votes for English laws (EVEL) and his decision to arbitrarily impose conditions on delivery of the infamous "vow" signed up to by the British parties in the panicky final days of the referendum.

The Smith Commission itself was a further slap in the face for Scotland. A rigged talking-shop charged with rationalising the withholding of powers from the Scottish Parliament while maintaining the pretence of honouring the "vow".

The entire 2015 UK General Election campaign was one long slap in the face for Scotland as the British parties vied with one another in a contest to find who could best pander to the basest and most ill-informed prejudices of their target voters in England.

And now, Cameron responds to Scotland's unequivocal affirmation of its distinct political identity with his his own contradictory affirmation of a "One Nation" dogma that disdainfully declares irrelevant and unworthy the democratic voice of the people of Scotland.

How should we react to this. With anger? Of course! But not with rage. Our anger is righteous. But it must also be controlled. It must be directed. It must energise a movement to defend the fundamental democratic rights of Scotland's people against a British state which sees those rights as an inconvenience; an obstacle to the "One Nation" (Greater England) project; and a threat to the very structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

We must put our trust the people we have elected. We must recognise that our SNP MPs will have the difficult task of working within a corrupt, archaic Westminster system which does little more than pay lip service to their right to be there. And do so while maintaining the principled pragmatism that helped them win an unchallengeable mandate from the people of Scotland.

We will not always agree with everything that our representatives do in our name. But we must allow that compromise is part of democracy and that it is sometimes necessary to grit your teeth and tolerate some discomfort for the sake of achieving a greater objective.

But while we support those who now speak for us in the British parliament, we must never lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, it is our voice, the voice of the people of Scotland, which takes precedence. Sovereignty is ours. We merely lend it to our elected representatives in order that they can use our power to serve our interests.

If the British parties in Scotland, and particularly British Labour, had remembered this essential truth they might have fared better. As it is, they lost sight of their role. They forgot their place. And they have been chastised for it.

We have replaced those who failed us with those in whom we have faith. I do not for one moment doubt that those 56 SNP MPs will prove themselves worthy of our trust - even as I recognise that they are human and subject to the same flaws and frailties as any of the rest of us.

As the people of Scotland continue to speak with the powerful collective democratic voice that is the proud legacy of the aspirational Yes movement, we should be wary of undermining our MPs with petty squabbles that will be spun by the British media as major divisions. Criticism should be considered and constructive. That seems no less than obviously sensible.

But continue to speak we must! There are important battles to be fought on many fronts to secure social justice and sustainable prosperity. Much of this campaigning will be, to a greater or lesser extent, in tune with what our elected representatives are doing on our behalf. It will lend strength to their efforts to steer the UK Government away from such follies as continued austerity and the squandering of resources on weapons of mass destruction.

Some of the campaigning will not be so helpful. So be it! We can live with a diversity of views. We are enriched by diversity. It is to be hoped only that such campaigning should not put unreasonable pressure on SNP MPs to deliver something they cannot.

There can be no turning of the other cheek. We must meet Cameron's arrogant scorn with a response that is resolute but measured. The more he refuses to accept the reality of the new political landscape, the greater must be our effort to put that reality beyond the denial of everyone but the most blinkered bigot.

The starting point must be an affirmation of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland and of the right of self-determination that this implies. Let there be no mistake, these things are under imminent threat from the British establishment. We must raise our voice in determined defiance.

Part of this defiance is a movement called Referendum 2018. Its initial aim is to demand that all parties standing candidates in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections should include in there manifestos an affirmation of the sovereignty of Scotland's people and of Scotland's right of self determination.

The longer-term aim of  Referendum 2018 is to be a focal point for the popular demand for a second referendum on the issue of restoring Scotland's rightful constitutional status which will inform and influence party policy on the matter.

I urge everyone who respects fundamental democratic principles and values Scotland's distinct political identity to sign and share the petition -

You can also support the campaign on Facebook -

And Twitter

Use the hashtag #Referendum2018

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Vote SNP, get democracy!

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