Thursday, 11 September 2014

Last word

As we move into the last few days of the referendum campaign, I wonder if there is much more to say. Surely, with all the millions of words that have been written, everything that might be said on the matter has already been said many times over. The lies of the No campaign have been exposed. Their scare stories have all been comprehensively debunked. The manifold positive arguments for independence have been stated and restated in every way imaginable.

But still there remains the nagging feeling that there's something that has been left unsaid. The sense that there is some concept or some form of words not previously thought of that might move the remaining undecideds and perhaps even get through to a few of the more open-minded among No voters. I have a profound fear, which I'm sure is shared by other independence campaigners, of waking up on the morning of 19 September with a big cartoon light-bulb over my head illuminating the absolute clincher of an argument that had not previously occurred to me.

This, of course, is all tied up with my absolute dread of a No vote. Having reflected long and hard on the consequences of failure to grasp this opportunity at this time, it is only natural that I should be deeply concerned. The concern remains even as the possibility of a No vote recedes. And it has certainly receded. There is a thrum in the air that tells me to be ever more confident of victory. Almost as if events are about to unfold that are of such magnitude that the vibrations of the future can be felt in the present. The talk now is not so much of a Yes win as of how big that win can be.

As confidence grows, zeal diminishes. By which I do not mean that my commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland's rightful constitutional status is lessened. Nor that I suppose there can be any let-up in the campaign to persuade people to vote Yes. I mean only that I am now somewhat more inclined to be patient with obstinate No voters. More ready to sympathise with the plight of those who have succumbed to the counsel of fear. More sad than frustrated that they have not been inspired by the possibility of creating a better politics and a fairer society.

And I am well aware that it is no more than the possibility of positive change that is in prospect with a Yes vote. Even if there were any truth in the weary myth of utopian promises from the Yes campaign, I am far too long in the tooth to be taken in by such things. But I am mindful that we are faced with two options in this referendum. And the possibility of positive change must trump the impossibility of positive change every time.

I have little time for those who argue that a Yes vote will make no difference because politicians are all the same and we would simply be trading one bunch of venal, self-serving careerists for another of the same ilk. This is an argument that disregards the nature of the transformation which the referendum has wrought in Scotland's political environment. The old politics is already dead in Scotland. It is just waiting to be buried so that a new politics can develop in the conducive atmosphere which now exists. A Yes vote sounds the death knell for the old order and the old ways. A No vote restores and revivifies them.

The "politicians are all the same" line is vacuous in any case. It is the resort of those who seek to mask the intellectual indolence which prevents them analysing and differentiating by adopting an air of world-weary cynicism. A facade which the naive often mistake for political sophistication.

Independence is self-evidently right in and of itself. It is, after all, the normal status of a nation. But independence is not a solution to any problems in and of itself. It is merely the gateway to being able to address Scotland's  problems in our own way and according to the needs and priorities of Scotland's people - the people who call Scotland home.

Those needs and priorities are not significantly different from those of people in the rest of the UK. Our attitudes and values are much the same. But the deeply ingrained political culture of the British state is such that those attitudes and values are all but totally excluded from the process of formulating public policy. The needs and priorities of people are not addressed. They are subordinated to political expediency and an overarching economic imperative.

By virtue of its separate democratic institutions and processes, Scotland has developed a distinctive political culture in the sense that, at least relative to the British state, the attitudes and values of people find more effective expression and their needs and priorities are therefore better addressed.

Independence is the prerequisite to allowing that distinctive political culture to grow and develop. A No vote empowers those who regard this more responsive, participative political culture as anathema. A No vote takes the awesome power that the people of Scotland will hold in their hands for fifteen precious hours on Thursday 18 September and hands it to a small elite who detest the very idea of such power being possessed by anyone but themselves.

I like this idea of independence being but a stage in the process of our society growing and developing. Almost like a metamorphosis. We need to work our way out of the cocoon of the British state in order to flourish.

This is not a destructive process. Nothing is destroyed by Scotland bringing its government home. Notions of shared history being "lost" are patently ludicrous. History cannot be lost. It is not a concrete thing. It is not a series of events. (And even if it is viewed as such then those events cannot be "unhappened".) It is an ongoing process. The past is no more fixed than the future. It is constantly changing as every day that passes becomes a new part of the past; adding to it and, thereby, unavoidably changing it.

The past only appears fixed if it is viewed from the perspective of a particular point in time. There is no rational reason why one arbitrarily selected vantage point should be any more valid than another.
We are both the product of and the makers of the past. As individuals and as societies we are formed by our history. And that which is formed by history in turn forms history. History is never lost. It is always part of us. But we grow and change nonetheless.

That is what Scotland needs to do. We need to grow and develop.

Independence is, in fact, a creative process. It is not about severing relationships. It is about redefining and reforming and renewing relationships in a way that is better suited to our times and our circumstances. It is about giving relationships a form that takes due account of how history has changed us since the time when those relationships were first forged.

It's not as if independence is some outlandish exercise in madcap political adventurism. It is part of a very familiar process. It is a path that has been trod by scores of nations since the collapse of European (and Soviet) imperialism. It is simply the next step in a quite mundane political and historical process that Scotland has been subject to for several years, if not decades. Those who cite the age of the union as if this was somehow relevant should note that the independence movement is at least as old.

The historical process that is in train will run its course. Nothing now can prevent Scotland becoming an independent nation again. In the same way that reconvening the Scottish Parliament subtly but decisively changed the Scottish people's sense of themselves; and in the same way that the referendum campaign has transformed Scotland's politics, so the asking of the referendum question has altered forever the dynamics of a political union which is visibly disintegrating under the strain of even this entirely peaceful, lawful, democratic challenge.

There is no going back. The past is a place that no longer exists. There is no alternative route - as the laughable shambles of the British parties' proposals for the next round of pointless constitutional tinkering amply demonstrates. The only way is Yes. To vote No is, apart from anything else, to deny political reality. 

I may not be saying anything new here. I may not have swayed any opinions by what I have written. But I have said what had to be said. And I'll keep on saying it right up until the polls close at 22:00 on Thursday 18 September 2014. By which time I hope enough people will have got the message to ensure that the result is a resounding Yes.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

It's not complicated

It really isn't. In fact, it's magnificently simple.

I seek for Scotland no more than that status and those powers which other nations assume to be theirs by right.

That's it! That's all this referendum is about. I could say that it's about restoring Scotland's rightful constitutional status. But it's really just about getting back to normal. Independence is normal. It is the default status of nations. The condition to which the people of all nations aspire.

Depending on how you count them, there are approximately 200 independent nations in the world. Most, if not all, of those nations have endured bitter political struggle and even bloody conflict in order to secure or defend their independence. All of the independent nations of the world agree that threatening the independence of another nation is one of the worst crimes that any nation can commit. None of those nations is currently seeking an alternative constitutional arrangement which involves relinquishing their independence.

Is it not strange, therefore, that British nationalists cannot find a single positive thing to say about independence?

Independence is normal. It's the contrivance of inequitable devolution within an asymmetric union which is anomalous. The political union between Scotland and England was never satisfactory. It was contrived in a time long past by powerful elites for purposes that had nothing whatever to do with the good governance of Scotland or the welfare of the people of either Scotland or England.

The inadequacy of this union has been acknowledged in the increasing amount and rate of constitutional tinkering that has been required in order to keep it together. But, like the original union, that constitutional tinkering has never been for the benefit of the people of these islands or for the purpose of improving government and society. Its sole purpose has been the preservation of the structures of power and privilege which define the British state.

Devolution, as it is understood and implemented by the British state, does nothing to address the fundamental flaws in a political union which explicitly denies the sovereignty of the people of Scotland and not only tolerates but actually requires an unacceptable democratic deficit.

I seek for Scotland no more than that status and those powers which other nations assume to be theirs by right.

I have always maintained that it was up to those who defend the political union to convince me that it was worth the sacrifice of Scotland's status as a nation. It is for unionists to persuade me that the constitutional arrangement which they favour has such extraordinary merit as to transcend the essential principle that the people of Scotland are sovereign. It is for them to make the case that the democratic deficit which the political union imposes on Scotland is a price worth paying.

They haven't exactly excelled in their efforts to win me over. Most of what I've heard from the unionist side has been a series of clunky variations on the old theme of "Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!". Of course, only the more mindlessly rabid British nationalists actually say this outright. The rest consider it politic to put some effort into pretending that they are saying something else. Thus, we are not "Too wee!". We are just not big enough. We need to be an appendage of something bigger because, as everybody knows, bigger is inevitably and invariably better.

Exactly what "better" means in this regard is, like so much else, never explained. We are simply expected to accept that this is the way things are. Bigger is better. No further thinking required.

We are not "Too poor!". Ask the direct question of any politician from the British parties or any spokesperson from the anti-independence campaign and they will be at great pains to state categorically that of course Scotland would be economically viable as an independent nation. They will then go on to tell you that we will not be able to afford welfare or pensions or healthcare or defence or pretty much anything else. But of course we would be economically viable.

They have a strange notion of what constitutes economic viability these British nationalists.

We are not "Too stupid!". Perish the thought! It's just that we need Nanny Britannia's hand to hold onto just in case we do something stupid. (Like allow the banks to crash or get mired in catastrophic foreign military adventures, perhaps?)

I ask unionists to sell the political union to me on its merits, and they insult me.

And when it's not insults, it's threats. In all of the propaganda coming out of Better Together and its highly dubious affiliates (Orange Order, Ukip, BNP, Britain First etc.) there is a constant undercurrent of threatened reprisals should the people of Scotland dare to exercise their democratic right of self-determination in order to normalise Scotland's constitutional status.

There is the threat of low-level economic warfare with the erection of trade barriers and even border posts. Never mind that all of this would surely be illegal under European law, the implied threat is there anyway.

There is the threat of isolation. The insistence that, as an independent nation, Scotland would be cut off from the world and shunned by the international community. Scotland, it seems,  can only have relationships with other nations if these relationships are mediated by the British state. Nobody, we are assured, wants to deal with Scotland directly. Without the British state to speak on our behalf, we will have no voice at all. Never mind that, on many, many issues (e.g. Palestine), Scotland has something quite distinctive to say. That voice must not be heard.

There is the threat to abolish the currency union. Never mind the fact that this is a mutually beneficial arrangement the ending of which would have serious implications for the economy of the rest of the UK, the British nationalists see in the currency union nothing more than a big stick to wave in Scotland's face.

As I write, it seem that the British nationalists are going with the "currency threat" as their main gambit. Yet another committee of British nationalist politicians at Westminster has just issued yet another "report" that consists of nothing more than vacuous anti-independence propaganda. This lot have distinguished themselves only by the ludicrous claim that Scotland could be left with no currency at all and be forced to resort to barter. Some might consider this no bad thing at all, but the claim is, nonetheless, ignorant to the point of being laughable.

Every note issued by the Scottish banks is backed by the equivalent in Bank of England notes held by the Bank of England. The only way that Scottish notes could become worthless is if sterling itself became worthless. Or if the Bank of England reneged on its legal obligation to accept Scottish notes in exchange for Bank of England notes. Is this what is being threatened? What would this do to the Bank of England's credibility?

It's all nonsense, of course. But it is telling that the British state feels it must resort to threats and coercion in order to keep Scotland in the union. It clearly indicates that they have no positive arguments beyond fatuous slogans such as "best of both worlds".

To the extent that a case had to be made for independence rather than the political union, that has been done.

The economic case has been made. Scotland can be more prosperous as an independent nation. In fact, Scotland would inevitably be more prosperous as we shed the financial burden of supporting the British state's profligacy and posturing post-imperialist pretensions.

The social case has been made. Independence offers the opportunity to build a fairer society. A society in which are reflected the values of justice, compassion and egalitarianism which, while by no means unique to Scotland, cannot find effective expression whilst we remain in the suffocating, stultifying embrace of the corrupt and dysfunctional political system of the British state.

The democratic case has been made. We can have governments that we actually elect and which are answerable to the people of Scotland. We can have a written constitution that will be the foundation of a more inclusive and participative politics built on the new engagement and activism that the referendum campaign has inspired.

No alternative case has been made. In fact, it has not even been attempted. Nobody has tried to persuade me that the union is the best option for Scotland. British nationalists have sought to preserve the union, not with reasoned argument, but with scaremongering and bullying. If this is the basis of the political union they want to preserve then I want no part of it.

I seek for Scotland no more than that status and those powers which other nations assume to be theirs by right.

Unionists have had ample opportunity to persuade me to abandon my aspirations for Scotland. Unsurprisingly, given the methods they chose to adopt, they have failed. It's simple. I'll be voting Yes.

This article first appeared in Aye Magazine issue no:17 - August 2014.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

English: Alistair Carmichael MP addressing a L...
Alistair Carmichael MP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There is actually nothing at all surprising about what Alistair Carmichael has admitted about the aim to reassert Westminster's authority over Scotland in the event of a No vote in September (Carmichael accused of hopes to strengthen Westminster ties). Other, perhaps, than the fact that he has admitted such a thing. It has always seemed to me to be a glaringly obvious fact of realpolitik that a No vote - by any margin - would trigger a veritable storm of British nationalist triumphalism in which the result would be hailed as an absolutely conclusive affirmation of the union while the views of the substantial minority of yes voters would be summarily dismissed.

Unionists genuinely seem to believe that a No vote will settle the constitutional issue once and for all. And there is nothing in the slightest bit surprising about the fact that they intend to take steps to ensure that the constitutional question is buried for all time. A No vote will be used to justify measures to effectively prohibit further referendums - probably through legislation to establish that any constitutional referendum in Scotland will require the approval of a majority of Westminster MPs.

We can also expect that the electoral system will be "reformed" in such a way as to ensure that Holyrood is brought back under the control of the British parties for all time. The Scottish Parliament will be undermined at every opportunity - mainly by way of tightening constraints on its budget combined with increased responsibilities in various areas. As confidence in the Scottish Parliament is eroded the Scotland Office will seek to enlarge its role, with the British parties in Scotland actively colluding in the process of shifting power away from Scotland's elected representatives and putting it in the hands of those who can be relied upon to put the interests of the British state first in all things.

All of this is no more than we would expect in a situation where a No vote has empowered those who regard the Scottish Parliament, Scottish political parties and the progressive/independence movement in Scotland as a threat to the structures of power and privilege which define the British state. If the referendum campaign has taught us anything it is that British nationalists will seek to defend the British state by any means and at any cost to the people of these islands and even democracy itself.

Why has Alistair Carmichael acknowledged all of this now? It could, of course, be because he is stupid. By which I mean that he is dumbly unaware of the implications of what he is saying. An unawareness that arises from that curious detachment from Scottish politics that seems common to all British politicians.

Carmichael is not addressing his remarks to Yes voters. Like most (all?) of his associates in the anti-independence camp, he is quite incapable of talking to people who aspire to the restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status because he is as unthinkingly convinced of the righteousness of the established order as anyone who has never spent so much as one second reflecting upon the possibility of alternatives.

Carmichael cannot even comprehend the desire for independence. So he is ill-equipped to talk to those who hold this principle dear. He can only really talk to fellow British nationalists. His comments were made, not in the hope of posing a threat to the independence campaign, but as an inspiration to those who see Scotland's subordinate status within an anachronistic political union as part of the natural order.

The anti-independence campaign long-since gave up trying to win converts to the cause of denying Scotland's nationhood and the sovereignty of Scotland's people. Their sole aim now is cling to the lead that they believe they have just long enough to survive the vote in September. Then, as Alistair Carmichael has made clear, they intend to ensure that they never face such a challenge again.

Be in no doubt about this. In the event of a No vote, the British nationalists fully intend to put Scotland back in what they consider to be its proper place.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Please stay: A response to Jim Sillars's essay in the Daily Record

Jim Sillars: A concerned grandfather
Jim Sillars is, of course, fully justified in being deeply concerned about the consequences for Scotland of a No vote that will empower people whose purpose is to keep power from the people.

I was among the first to write about what a No vote would mean for Scotland more than two years ago when such "negativity" was generally frowned upon within the Yes campaign. I have had no reason to revise my views since then, other than to acknowledge that the aftermath of a No vote is likely to be even worse than I supposed back in June 2012.

As the referendum has come closer minds are increasingly focused on the question of what happens if we vote No. A question that the anti-independence campaign has determinedly avoided addressing in any meaningful way, and an issue that the mainstream media has almost totally ignored in favour of an unthinking assumption that a No vote would mean a return to the status quo ante of the late 20th century.

This is obvious folly. The referendum process has wrought a transformation in Scottish politics - and there's no going back. The genie of political activism is well and truly out of the bottle and it is not going back in. Scotland's people have found a voice and awakened to their own power. The British state will have to silence that voice and crush that power. That's not scare-mongering. It's just realpolitik.

The first targets will be the Scottish Parliament and NHS Scotland. The parliament because it represents a challenge to the power of Westminster. Our NHS because it stands as arguably the most potent symbol of Scotland's distinctive political culture. The parliament will slowly, but inexorably be emasculated while Westminster uses its control of Scotland's finances to force a privatisation of the health service to bring it into line with England. Those who want all healthcare services sold off to the private sector, whether for reasons of personal gain or hidebound ideology, cannot afford to have a functioning example of a genuine public health service just across the border.

It won't stop there. But just as Thatcher chose to attack the miners so as to break the whole labour collective so Cameron (or Miliband, it doesn't matter) will go for our parliament and our NHS in the hope of breaking the people of Scotland. Those intending to vote No should bear this in mind.

So, i find myself in total agreement with Jim Sillars on that point. A No vote will inevitably be massively detrimental to Scotland. where I part company with him is in the suggestion that the situation will be hopeless.

I take the view that independence is now inevitable and that a No vote can only postpone it for five or maybe ten years. I take this view not only because I believe that the spirit of progressive activism that has been arisen in Scotland will not be suppressed, but also because I recognise that the response of the British state to a No vote will, itself, provide greater impetus for the independence movement. My concern is not that the restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status will not be achieved but that, in the interim, irreversible harm will have been done to Scotland's institutions and that serious, perhaps irreparable damage will have been done to the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Unionists/British nationalists do not care about any of this. Some because they lack the foresight to see what will happen. All too many because they reckon Scotland deserves to be punished for exercising its right of self-determination. Almost all because they hold as an article of faith that the British state must be preserved at any cost to the people of these islands.

In advising his grandchildren to leave I don't doubt for one moment that Jim Sillars is acting as a loving grandparent. Being able to adopt a more detached perspective, I would urge all who wish Scotland well to remain. I would implore them to tough it out during the political and economic onslaught that will surely follow a No vote. I would ask that, should that need arise, they lend themselves to the peaceful, democratic, constitutional fight to restore Scotland's self-respect and standing in the world following the humiliation of rejecting our own independence and denying our own sovereignty. And I would tell those young people that we will need all of Scotland's talents in order to do that.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Sacrificing Scotland

David Cameron: British patriotism trumps Scottish patriotism
David Cameron insists that it is not anti-Scottish to reject independence and vote to stay within the UK. But is that true?

Can it be in Scotland's interests to vote against the sovereignty of Scotland's people?

Can it be in Scotland's interests to vote against Scotland having the normal constitutional status of a nation?

Can it be in Scotland's interests to vote No and thereby endorse a process by which we get governments that we have rejected at the polls?

Can it be in Scotland's interests to vote No and thereby endorse a process whereby governments that we have rejected at the polls impose policies that we abhor?

Can it be in Scotland's interests to vote No and thereby empower a political system which is increasingly inimical to the political culture of Scotland?

Can it be in Scotland's interests to hand over to the ruling elites of the British state the power that we will hold in our hands on Thursday 18 September in exchange for a handful of vague and worthless politicians' promises?

Can it be in Scotland's interests to vote No and inflict on generations to come the humiliation of being the nation which rejected its own independence in favour of subordinate status in an anachronistic, dysfunctional political union within which we are treated with ill-concealed contempt?

If "anti-Scottish" is defined as that which is contrary to Scotland's interests then it can readily be argued that voting No is "anti-Scottish". At the very least, those intending to vote No should be aware of the fact that are choosing something which must inevitably be harmful to Scotland and its people in ways that are more or less tangible.

Those intending to vote No need to be very sure that the British state to which they are giving their allegiance is worth the sacrifice of Scotland.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

More than a bad apple

Like most of the media - The Courier being, to some extent, an exception - The Scotsman entirely misses the point. To portray Kathy Wiles's posting of the Nazi image as an isolated, if deeply offensive, incident obscures the fact that she has a history of such unpleasantness. And, more importantly, that this history must surely have been known to those who selected her as a British Labour candidate in the 2015 UK Parliamentary elections.

It simply is not credible, taking into account the prominence given to the issue of "online abuse" in the referendum campaign by British Labour and their Tory/LibDem allies, that the chair of Angus constituency Labour party, John Ruddy, or at least one of his colleagues would not have thought to at least glance at Kathy Wiles's social media accounts. And it would have taken no more than a glance to discover that this individual professed some distinctly dubious views on diverse matters, but particularly the SNP, those who vote for the party and independence supporters in general.

One would have to be naive in the extreme to suppose that Kathy Wiles came to the selection process as someone completely unknown to the local British Labour hierarchy. The only possible conclusion is that they knew full well what she was like. And they didn't care.

This whole Kathy Wiles episode is symptomatic of the disease at the heart of British Labour in Scotland and, perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree, the other British parties too. There is a cancerous resentment at the core of unionist politics in Scotland born of an unthinking sense of entitlement being denied, righteousness being challenged and the natural order being disrupted. This has given rise to a malignancy within the British parties - but British Labour most of all - in which a snarling, vicious loathing of the Scottish National Party is seen as normal and even the most splenetic expressions of this irrational hatred are regarded as quite acceptable, if not an actual requirement for acceptance by the group.

This would be regrettable enough in itself. But what we are seeing is a much more disturbing spilling over of this detestation of the SNP into contempt for those who give their vote to the party and, by extension, the democratic system which allows those voters to reject the "right" parties and threaten the established order.

Kathy Wiles may be an aberration in the wider context of a Scottish politics which has, if anything, become much healthier, more diverse, more tolerant and more thoughtful as a result of the referendum debate. But she is far from being exceptional in the context of British Labour tribalism and the odious brand of British nationalism which constitutes a large and growing part of the unionist response to the democratic process of self-determination in Scotland.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The constitutional nub

Freedom Alone
Freedom Alone (Photo credit: Martin Burns)
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled the draft Scottish Independence Bill and plans for a full public consultation on a written constitution for Scotland.

This is the sort of thing that causes unionists most discomfort. They can hope to deceive at least some people with their talk of "more powers", but they simply cannot match the promise of restoring sovereignty to the people of Scotland. The entire anti-independence effort is, in essence, a campaign to deny the sovereignty of the people of Scotland and defend the concept of parliamentary which underpins the power of the ruling elites of the British state.

We can see how uncomfortable the British nationalists are with fundamental constitutional arguments in the way they desperately try to get back to party political sniping and economic mumbo-jumbo that can easily be manipulated for their scare-mongering purposes.

Throughout the campaign I have insisted that, of course, party politics are irrelevant in the context of the referendum. But also that economic arguments are ultimately meaningless. By their very nature they can never be conclusive in the way that dishonest dullards such as Jackie Baillie imagine. Taken as a whole, the economic arguments contradict one another and cancel each other out. Put them all on the scales and the balance will not shift at all. The appearance of meaningfulness is an illusion created by leaving certain things out of the equation.

Both sides do this, of course. But in order to create the impression of impending disaster, the No campaign must set aside huge amounts of data - and rely on the media putting their thumb on the scales to favour the unionists. The Yes side has no such incentive to cheat. The Yes side need only show that the economic scales won't tip dramatically one way or the other. That is why the Yes side is so much more credible when it comes to economic arguments. They just don't have to try so hard. The scales remaining static will suit just fine.

With the party political rhetoric and economic claptrap out of the way, we can focus on what really matters. We can drill down to what the referendum is all about. Power! The referendum puts unprecedented power in the hands of the people of Scotland. The choice we face on 18 September is between holding onto that power and handing it back to British politicians at Westminster.

The British parties, the UK Government and the entire British establishment are absolutely terrified that the people of Scotland realise the power that the referendum gives them and, being aware, choose to affirm their own sovereignty rather than throw away this historic opportunity.

That is why the anti-independence campaign don't want to talk about the basic constitutional question. They don't want the people of Scotland thinking about such things. They don't want us getting ideas above our station. They sure as hell don't want us to vote Yes.