Wednesday, 29 August 2012
Sunday, 19 August 2012
I felt this comment and reply warranted being pulled out on to the main blog page
DougtheDug Sunday, August 19th 2012
I find that there is a question which is much more interesting than whether or not the SNP will agree to a simple Yes/No question on the ballot paper.
It is, "Why are all factions in the unionist camp, Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem so hell-bent on burying the second question as soon as possible before the results of the consultation and the presentation of the referendum bill?"
It doesn't really make sense on the surface. A devo-something option, properly spelled out and offered on the ballot paper would kill independence by either splitting the independence vote or winning outright and since all three of the UK parties have been heavily hinting that there's going to be a feast of new devolved powers for Scotland if it votes no then a second question on devo-something seems to agree with their future policies on Scotland.
If the unionist parties simply stay quiet the SNP don't have the power implement a second question even if they have a brainstorm and put one on the ballot paper.
The reason of course is that despite the "jam tomorrow" hints the unionists have no intention of offering anything significant to Scotland if it votes no and what they want is for the SNP to accept corporate guilt by shutting off the second question early in agreement with the unionists.
That way the SNP cannot then point at the unionist camp and say that they have denied Scots any other option apart from independence once the unionists fail to come up with an amendment to insert a second question in the referendum bill because they were party to the decision to kill the second question before the bill was presented.
You raise relevant points, DougtheDug. My perspective is as follows -
Q. Why are the unionist factions insisting on a single question and opposing devo-max?
It makes sense to me on several levels -
Firstly, based on the polls, they expect to win on a single question.
Secondly, they believe Alex Salmond and the SNP strategic leadership want a second question (I believe they do too) and that devo-max is his fallback position. They don't want the SNP to have a fallback position - they believe a NO vote will neuter them if not destroy them.
Thirdly, they don't want to deliver any more economic powers to Scotland, not because it would be a stepping stone to independence (in my view it would kill independence stone dead if delivered) but because an economically independent Scotland challenges frontally the UK's conspiracy of wealth, power and privilege, and it might well be more successful socially and economically than the UK.
Fourthly, they believe (accurately in my view) that while the Scottish people have a de facto right to unilaterally determine their independence, they do not have a legal right to unilaterally determine the degree of devolution they have while remaining in the UK.
I don't agree with you that the SNP could not put a second (or a third, fourth etc..) question on a consultative ballot. They could, legal or not, just as they can put the independence question. But the UK would have a much greater legal - and ethical - right to reject it.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, saw it clearly – or at least Will Shakespeare saw it clearly for him. “To be or not to be – that is the question.” Hamlet asked himself whether he wanted to live or die – to exist or not to exist.
I considered exploring this in more depth in relation to the referendum, only to quickly be faced with the blindingly obvious realisation that Shakespeare has an unparalleled understanding of human nature and the human condition and I don’t.
There was no second question for Hamlet. In some way I feel that fact is significant to Scotland’s choice in 2014, but without Will’s help I do not have the capacity to develop the concept. This will regrettably be no barrier to those equally lacking in capacity but also seriously deficient in judgement who will latch on to the quote and take it further.
I can only shudder at what the Daily Mail, The Times, or Johann Lamont or Ian Davidson, or his partner in The Coalition against the Independence of Their Native Land (BetterTogether) Ruth Davidson might do with it. Perhaps that master of pompous – and vacuous - neo-Churchillian cadences, William Hague might wrap his rhetorical gifts around the idea.
Iain Macwhirter had his own question today in the Sunday Herald – Has Salmond said yes to no second question?
While lacking the eternal nature of To be or not to be? this question has a catchy, journalesy feel to it, and is undoubtedly relevant. Well, has he, in private or otherwise? Here’s what that well-known figure, a spokesperson for the First Minister said today -
“We have always said that we have absolutely no objection to a Section 30 Order in regard to the referendum, and the UK Government has to understand that the terms and timing of the referendum must be decided in Scotland, by the Scottish Parliament – not dictated by Westminster – and that includes a possible ‘more powers’ option. It is only right that these matters are carefully and properly considered, which is exactly what the Scottish Government are doing in our consultation.”
The ‘We’ is not the Royal ‘We’, it means the Scottish Government. If I may be so bold as to translate the statement, it means something like this -
‘We don’t need the UK’s legal approval to hold our referendum or frame our question – or questions – but if a Section 30 order helps to avoid the nuisance of legal challenges, that’s OK with us.
But we won’t be told by the UK government how many questions we will have, nor will we accept that as a quid pro quo for a Section 30 order, but since we are not hell-bent on having a second question (despite outrageous statements about the nature of our relationship with Civic Scotland, Future of Scotland and the SCVO, and the fact that everything we do and say seems to suggest just that) we still have the opportunity of the consultation outcome, and its interpretation, to justify a decision to go for a single YES/NO question, opinion polls permitting, of course.
Such a decision would, of course, be completely unrelated to the granting of a Section 30 order.’
I wonder what the Prince of Denmark – somewhere in literary eternity - will say after the referendum about all of this – and whose skull he will be contemplating as he considers the result?
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
I first put this piece up about a year ago. It seems it needs updating -
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE – SCOTTISH VERSION
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. But then again, perhaps they would prefer full fiscal autonomy rather than dissolve the political bands, and let’s face it, we’ll still be British – Long Live Queen Elizabeth and her successors in perpetuity, of course …
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – but sometimes they’d rather have devo max, and a kind of independence lite – and we know that Civic Scotland and a whole host of organisations who are essentially undemocratic and don’t like the sound of the voice of the electorate also like that kind of thing …
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security – or if that seems too extreme, perhaps we should go for full fiscal autonomy and leave them in charge of the vital things, like nuclear weapons, and the God-given right of the British empire (sorry, UK) to rain destruction on foreign countries to protect them –well us – well, really the United States from – er, well you know the kind of thing – terrorists, that sort of thing …
My apologies to the Founding Fathers of a great independent nation, the United States of America and their unanimous declaration of independence, July 4th, 1776
BRUCE’S ADDRESS TO HIS CAPTAIN’S BEFORE BANNOCKBURN – 2014 VERSION
And certis me think well that ye
Forout abasing aucht to be
Worthy and of gret vasselagis
For we haff thre gret avantagis
The fyrst is that we haf the rycht
And for the rycht ay God will fycht.
The tother is that thai cummyn ar
For lyppynyng off thar gret powar
To sek us in our awne land,
And has brocht her rycht till our hand
but then again, maybe we should settle for full fiscal autonomy, sterling, the Bank of England, the English monarchy, Britishness – and we’ll be a member of NATO, a nuclear defence alliance, but only if they disarm …
LIBERATION ARMY LEADER, IN THE LAST STAGES OF THE LIBYAN OR SYRIAN FIGHT FOR FREEDOM (SCOTTISH VERSION)
“Maybe we should settle for full fiscal autonomy, guys – a kind of freedom-lite. Let’s see what the freedom fighters think, shall we? Maybe Gadaffi and Assad will be OK with it … We can have a constitutional dictator and a central bank – and after all, we all still feel Arab don’t we?
WILLIAM WALLACE, HANGED, CUT DOWN AND BEING DISEMBOWELLED, 2014
“Full fiscal autonomy, the Queen – and NATO!”
I offer these alternatives to great historical events in the birth of nations as inspirational slogans to nationalist Scots, young and old, as they fight for hearts and minds of their fellow Scots in the lead-up to the Referendum on their freedom and independence – well, maybe not quite freedom, perhaps full fiscal autonomy. (What’s the Gaelic for full fiscal autonomy?)
Yes, yes, I know Westminster would still be in charge, still sovereign, still free to **** up the economy, engage in foreign wars, kill our young servicemen and women, keep obscene weapons of mass destruction in our country, enrich the South East of England, etc.
For God’s sake, what’s your problem? Politics is the art of the possible! Look at the polls – the Scottish people are feart – let’s reassure them that nothing is really going to change. What’s wrong with going into battle with a banner that says Independence Lite – it has a kind of resonance, don’t you think? Devo Max? How about that, then?
But anyway we might actually win and get a YES, and then we can change anything, repudiate all treaties, renege on all promises – we can have referendums on everything. Just you tell me what you want a referendum on and you can have it – the currency, the monarchy, NATO, Britishness, the BBC, the Beano, the Dandy, The Sunday Post ... Look, see my magic wand – it’s got independence written on it. But I’ve still got the devo max one, not quite in the Harry Potter league.
A vision for Scottish society? Ah, well, that’s a hard one – maybe we should have a free and open debate on that at the next party conference – I’ll listen to all you have to say, then tell you where you’re wrong.
Wednesday, 1 August 2012
The Scotsman has one undoubted talent – it can recognise an SNP Achilles Heel when it sees one, and aims its arrows accordingly. It’s a pity the SNP didn’t spot its own vulnerability on the NATO membership question, but there’s a reason for that – it is often described in the media as a disciplined party, as indeed it has been. But there is a fine line between a disciplined party with a clear vision presenting a unified front to a hostile world and one that is suppressing – or ignoring – dissenting voices within its own ranks.
The latter approach runs the risk of creating a climate in which dissent is perceived as disloyalty, and bland conformity to the party line being seen as a virtue. This danger becomes greater when a party that has had to struggle against enormous adversity to gain a foothold in the political life of the nation suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, finds itself with an unchallengeable majority under a charismatic, powerful leader. It is further compounded by the presence of a large number of new members in a Parliament who are equally surprised and delighted, but anxious to please the established power structure. Tony Blair posing with his new intake of Blair’s Babes in 1997 comes to mind.
I’ve been trying without success to track down a quote, which I hazily recall as being in Aldous Huxley’s collection of essays Ends and Means. The idea within it is that at the heart of every major religion exists a core of powerful people who believe exactly the opposite in key doctrines and dogma to the version promulgated to the faithful. This is almost certainly true in politics, and within political parties. It’s sometime called realpolitik, although this doesn’t exactly capture it. An additional factor is that a political party can be a very convenient vehicle for a powerful man or woman at a point in time, even when they do not share its core philosophy, ideals and values.
Again Blair comes to mind. Some believe – and I am one of them – that Tony Blair, an Old Fettesian who was nonetheless of humble origins and and certainly not ‘one of us’, in Maggie’s phrase, and not part of any Establishment power networks, simply looked around -from a position of no real values of any kind - for the political vehicle most likely to allow him to rise to power. As a young lawyer, he found it in the most unlikely of places for one of his class and background, in the mining communities of Durham, and aided by Joe Mills, Regional Secretary of the T&GWU, found his constituency in Sedgefield and his power base in Trimdon village. (I knew Joe Mills very well indeed for ten years or so, and I know Trimdon village, Sedgefield and Durham equally intimately.) The rest is history, a history that brought great wealth and influence to Blair but misery, death and devastation to Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism to Britain, and the transformation of the Labour Party into a thing utterly alien to its roots and values.
Now let me be clear – I do not believe that Alex Salmond or any of his key ministers are cut from the Blair cloth. Leaving aside my judgement of them from their actions and statements, their intellect and huge political talents mean that the fastest route to power and influence for any one them would have been through a unionist party to Westminster. They are driven, not by personal ambition, but by personal conviction and a belief in the independence of Scotland. (For example, no objective commentator doubts that Alex Salmond has all the qualities of a world statesman and could have had a glittering career in UK, European and world politics.)
However, the SNP - like any political party – contains men and women of lesser talent who are content to play on a smaller stage, and are realistic enough to constrain their ambitions within their modest abilities. Among that group, it is likely there there are some – I hope only a few - who hold personal and political views contrary to the SNP’s social democratic, anti-nuclear beliefs which they are willing to subordinate to their career interests.
And the top group may contain some who do not quite burn with a gem-like flame in their belief in a non-nuclear Scotland, and whose key focus is economic and social.
We now know that ministerial group most certainly contains perhaps a majority who believe in an independent Scotland being a member of NATO, a military alliance firmly committed to the possession and use of nuclear weapons.
I also believe that this group contains some who are prepared to see the nuclear disarmament of Scotland and the removal of Trident take a very long time indeed if realpolitik demands it, and are prepared to accept constraints and a radical dilution of the pure vision of speedy removal of WMDs from our land.
All of this is mirrored in the party membership as a whole and in the SNP-supporting electorate who are not party members. Such is democracy, and we must recognise the reality of it, but argue for our own beliefs within that democratic framework.
THE ERIK GEDDES MEMO
I expressed the view recently that the SNP was either muzzling internal criticism of the NATO U-turn or those who opposed it were self-censoring. This produced cries of outraged denial from some party members. The Scotsman today believes it has evidence of suppression of open debate, based on a leaked memo from Erik Geddes, an SNP Group Communications Officer. (I have reason to be grateful for Erik’s many informative press releases.) Here is the memo -
I understand some of you may be getting calls about defence policy. Please ask them to e-mail you any questions and respond with the following:
“We are looking forward to an excellent debate within the SNP on Nato, which will be democratically decided at party conference in October – the SNP’s clear policy is for Trident nuclear weapons to be removed from Scotland, and independence is the only constitutional option which enables this to be achieved.”
Thanks – Erik Geddes, SNP Group Communications Officer
The most likely interpretation of this email is that Erik is simply doing what any communications department in any political party does – advising its parliamentary members how best to respond to media and external queries in a way that protects consistency of response and accurately reflects policy. However, it is rather oddly worded and sequenced -
I understand some of you may be getting calls about defence policy.
Please ask them to e-mail you any questions
and respond with the following:
That suggests the following sequence of events and action -
1. MSP receives a telephone call asking for information about defence matters, and specifically the Party’s NATO policy.
2. MSP requests that questions be emailed to him/her.
3. MSP does not answer specific questions but responds with the bland pro-forma message.
If the above is an accurate interpretation of the memo – and that is exactly what it says, even if it may not have been intended that way, then it essentially is an instruction, not a suggestion, to MSPs not to answer questions, not to offer their own views – bear in mind that in our democracy MSPs and MPs are elected as individuals, not party drones – but in effect to say “Bugger off, this is a party matter for Conference, and we’ll tell you in our own time what we decide.”
That might just be acceptable if the SNP were not the governing party of Scotland, but to me, it is unacceptable from the party of government to a free media in a country that aspires to open government.
This would be bad enough if it only applied to media and external queries, but if it applies to voters and specifically also to party members and constituents, it just ain’t on …
If a matter as fundamental – and it is fundamental – to the Government of Scotland’s anti-nuclear policy and to NATO membership is open for debate in the confines of a venue in Perth in October, it sure as hell should be open for debate in the media and among the electorate of Scotland.
Saturday, 21 July 2012
I thought this comment and my reply warranted being pulled out on to the blog. The comment, from someone I respect, resident in America, whose commitment to a vote for independence and a nuclear-free Scotland is unquestionable, gives me the opportunity to crystallise my present position.
BLOG COMMENT AND REPLY
I am fairly rabidly anti-WMD, but I suppose I disagree with you in this. This IS something that should be debated and debated before the referendum campaign.
It is the SNP's strength, not its weakness, that it can look at policies and bring them before their conference for open debate.
Undoubtedly it should be debated, Jeanne - and it will be. Whether it can be categorised as open is another matter. It's backed by the party's strategist and defence spokesman, Angus Robertson. It's backed by Alex Salmond, the party's Superman. Dissenting voices are few, and muted (or being muted!) The party leadership simply can't afford to lose this vote, and they won't.
The party is in "Let's avoid dissent on everything until after independence - then everything will be alright" mood. But it won't be. There is a growing blandness in the party's approach and what they risk is not the loss of core activists campaigning and voting for YES (like me, in or out of party), but the increasing body of the uncommitted saying "So if so little will be different after independence, why not stay in the UK?" Without their votes, there will be no independence.
If the party votes to join/stay in NATO, I might see independence in my lifetime, but I will never see a nuclear-free Scotland. Trident decommissioning and removal will be at least 10 years away, perhaps 20 - and that means never – it will disappear into very long, polluted NATO/rUK grass.
Sorry to see you on the wrong side in this Jeanne, but at least you've got loads of company. I will be looking for a realignment on the Scottish Left (there is no such party - yet ...)
Friday, 20 July 2012
Commenting (Scotland’s NATO membership) on Alex Salmond’s response to George Robertson's rubbishing of his claims on Scotland, nukes and NATO, I predicted that the wee Lair of Islay would come right back at him. He promptly did, in a letter in today’s Scotsman. (PS 21st July - and today in the Herald!) I can’t abide Lord Robertson or what he stands for (UK bombers in attack mode) but he has the better of this exchange so far, and in my view, I regret to say in this interpretation he is right.
The defence debate – the true, evil heart of the UK’s opposition to Scotland’s independence – now rages across the media – sorry, across the print media, since television coverage has been woefully and shamefully inadequate so far.
Today’s Scotsman devotes acres of column inches to it, because they see it, with some justification, as the SNP’s Achilles heel. Not even Achilles managed to shoot himself in the heel with an arrow, but this is what the SNP leadership seem intent on with their NATO U-turn.
And right on cue, scenting blood and pre-conference notoriety, in jumps Jim Sillars, full of I-told-you-so and realpolitik. His article is titled We’re all in the real world in the print edition, but more cosily titled Scotland is bound to stay in the club in the online Scotsman.
He tries to beg the question by describing a “geopolitical reality” that he claims requires accepting membership of NATO. The geopolitical reality he describes is, of course, NATO’s self-justifying paranoid fantasy, an outmoded cold war world view that ignores the radical changes in geopolitics over the last twenty five years since the collapse of the Soviet bloc and notably since the world banking crisis and the Arab Spring.
Big can no longer be presented as beautiful – its true face was always ugly and undemocratic – and the advent of the internet and social media is changing the face of power across continents. Viewed through distorting lens of NATO, the former Great Powers still seem great, but the seeds of change are altering the values of their peoples and their view of their leaders, and gradually, their political structures.
The Great Western Powers are still dangerous, of course, in their lunatic commitment to an unsustainable way of life, one that now threatens the planet itself, and the real threat to world peace comes from them, as they attempt to sustain and defend an unsustainable and indefensible way of life. The forces of religious fundamentalism and scientific irrationality pose perhaps the greatest threat. They are present in both the East - understandable because of lack of resources, access to media and to undemocratic regimes or flawed democracies - and in the West, notably America, with none of the excuses of the Third World.
Sillars’ view of the SNP membership and its values is illuminating -
“The coming referendum requires us to shed that constricting band around the national brain, especially so for that part of it represented by the membership of the SNP.”
“’No man can set the bounds of a nation,’ a quotation from an Irish nationalist, when uttered at an SNP conference, is guaranteed to win ecstatic applause.It’s guff. “
But he’s on Angus Robertson’s side. Angus – aided by polemics from Jim -is going to save the members from the constricting band in their brains at conference in October, and from false emotions such as belief in the potential of their little nation, Scotland.
You can relax, Jim – judging by my little range of contacts and from poll surveys, most of them are already either apathetic or already converted. If there is a constricting band round their brains, it’s the one causing them to underrate the dangerous implications of NATO membership, buoyed up by the “It’ll all be alright after independence” belief.
The paragraph that best sums up Jim Sillars’ cold war world view is this one -
“Scotland geographically is crucial to Nato’s integrity and capability in the European sphere. Our land is Nato’s biggest unsinkable aircraft carrier, from which the alliance can prevent an attempted incursion by a hostile naval force, via the North Sea, into the Atlantic sea lanes.”
Well, you’ve certainly captured the essence of the NATO, UK and military/industrial establishment’s visceral opposition to Scotland’s independence in that one paragraph Jim. As you say in your article, you were once a staunch unionist and the hammer of the Nats. It’s seems as if you’ve come full circle again.
Sillars in effect repeats the Aneurin Bevan’s notorious opposition to unilateral nuclear disarmament - "It would send a British Foreign Secretary naked into the conference chamber" - that led the Labour Party into half a century of supporting the concept of the nuclear deterrent, and to Blair and Iraq. Jim’s version, commenting on the fact that, if the UK lost Trident – as it will if the SNP is true to its core nuclear principles – and the consequential loss of its seat on the UN Security Council, runs as follows -
“Without that seat a Westminster foreign secretary would be as influential in the world as the one from Belgium. “
There is no constricting band round my brain. I’ve said about all I can on NATO in recent blogs. I have a larger concept of my native country than as an aircraft carrier – and as a prime target in the nuclear nightmare that awaits us if we see our new nation as simply there to serve the interests of the US/UK/NATO concept of nuclear intimidation (the nuclear deterrent) and its insular, outmoded, profoundly dangerous cold war mindset.
Thursday, 12 July 2012
The voice of the people of Scotland is heard at the ballot box, and if necessary, on the streets, e.g. the poll tax resistance. Listen to it
Beware of equating some of the institutions of Civic Scotland with the people of Scotland - some are the vehicles for powerful individuals.
Who are the real advocates of devo-max/devo-plus? Powerful corporate and financial interest groups with a heavy stake in perpetuating the UK
With a YES vote majority the UK has no choice but to negotiate the terms of independence. With a devo-max vote, Scotland must go cap in hand
The devo-max argument: if we promise to be nice and not demand our independence, will you be nice and give us a little more power? Please?
Federalism, home rule, devo-max and devo-plus are all euphemisms for continued UK control - the power to grant or remove power from Scots.
The Scotland Act is an instrument of UK power. It conferred devolution: it can take it away gradually or totally. Devo-max is a Trojan horse
Some advocates of independence favour gradualism. Vote for devo-max and gradualism may mean gradual claw-back of powers. Only independence!
The Scotland Act can remove powers as easily as it confers them. Devo-max is a trap - UK holds power over what to grant, what to take away.
Imposition of the Stamp Act by Britain led the American people to fight for independence. Scots are vulnerable to Scotland Act impositions.