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Showing posts with label Gail Ross SNP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gail Ross SNP. Show all posts

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Popping the question: the space between words - the Referendum question - or questions?

I have had this little 48 second clip up since the 15th of January, but kept it private on YouTube because I still don’t know what to make of it. 



 

Let’s examine the exchange verbatim - questions put, questions answered. Or are they?

Isabel Fraser: So. Are the politicians letting us down this week? Is party politics taking too much of a role when they should be looking at the wider interests of Scotland, do you think?

Question type and the formulation of questions - meat and drink to a negotiator like me - are all the rage this week, so let’s analyse this one, or rather these ones, since Isabel Fraser poses three questions in her statement, albeit within a single theme -

Are politicians letting us down this week?

Is party politics taking to much of a role?

when

they should be looking at the wider interests of Scotland?

The first is a closed question demanding a YES/NO answer, as is the second, and the third is technically a statement of fact that assumes a YES to the first two and offer an value judgment of what politicians should be doing, or invites a NO to the first two which implies a YES to the third proposition, which is in fact also a question.

Before I analyse further, here’s how I would have answered Isabel’s deceptively simple, but in fact complex bundle of questions. Bear with me in a lengthy digression - I have never been know to use a short word when a long one will do, or choose brevity over a prolix mode, except under duress on Twitter …

PC:No, they are not letting us down, because it is impossible to separate party politics from the wider interests of Scotland. We live in a democracy, the interests of the people in that democracy are served by elected politicians who operate mainly within a frame of party, and it is the primary role of politicians in that democracy, whether in government or in opposition, to attempt to serve the interests of all of the people within the context of their party policies and beliefs.

There is no objective body that stands apart from party politics that has a greater right to speak or decide. Churches, civic leaders, business and commercial leaders are not apolitical - they act within a frame of belief and self-interest, and are also in the main, politically aligned as well.

Bodies such as Civic Scotland are political groupings - they have a viewpoint, they are comprised of people who in the main have party political views and who voted according to them in democratic elections. Their voice can therefore only be advisory - it cannot be democratic, and they have no right to compel political decision.

There is of course, the Law, which in theory stands outside of, and above party politics. A brief look at the composition of either the Westminster Parliament or Holyrood immediately demonstrates that, while the concept of the rule of law and the processes of the law should be free of influence, the lawyers themselves are not - they are in fact highly politicised.

The Advocate General of Scotland, Lord Wallace demonstrated this in the BBC debate this week. He is a former politician, now an unelected Lord: he is a political appointee representing the Crown: he therefore technically represented the Queen, but in reality the Tory/LibDem Coalition, and was in practice in the debate aligned with the Labour/Tory/LibDem coalition formed to fight against the independence of Scotland and to secure a NO vote in the referendum.”

(If you doubt that the law is politicised, consider this - Tommy Sheridan is being released from prison this week after serving a year of his sentence. Sheridan, one of the most charismatic campaigning politicians Scotland has ever seen, will not be allowed to speak in public after his release. He is, of course, a committed advocate of Scotland’s independence, and an opponent of the nuclear deterrent. Many, including me, saw his prosecution for perjury as a political prosecution, and many will see the ban on him engaging in political activity at this crucial point in his country’s history as a gagging stratagem. A legal justification for the gag has of course been presented and can be defended under the law.)

Isabel may be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief that she didn’t have me on the programme instead of the admirable Joyce McMillan. But here we have the essence of the problem - television, limited by format and by timescale, can rarely do justice to such questions and concepts, even assuming their panellists understand them in the first place. Brevity, concise exchanges and ten minute exchange slots are what television is about, except in rare instances.

Of course, in reality, I would have given a briefer answer -

No they’re not letting us down. This is about party politics and the electorate want the politicians to fight the corners they elected them to fight. Other individuals and bodies can advise, but that’s all - if they want to do more than advise, let them stand for election and run for office.”

WHAT DID JOYCE SAY? AND WHAT DID ISABEL DO NEXT?

Joyce McMillan: Well, I think - just to put it bluntly - I think no one who really cares about the future of Scotland could want to keep the devolution max or the devolution plus option off the ballot paper.

Oh, really, Joyce. So anybody who doesn’t agree with you doesn’t care about Scotland? There are many who do care deeply about Scotland who seem to want to do just that. I’m not one of them - I want a single question because I think the devolution max question is a trap for nationalists, but as a democrat, I agree with you, with great reluctance, and I have offered a ballot paper which covers all reasonable bases, an analysis to support it, to which no one has paid a blind bit of notice. Anyway

Joyce McMillan: It’s quite clear that that’s the kind of option that most Scottish voters would feel, or the largest minority of Scottish voters, would feel most comfortable with - at the moment.

Isabel Fraser: Should it be a direct independence versus devo max question?

Joyce McMillan: No - absolutely not.

Now that answer is crystal clear - it should not be a direct independence versus devo max question. Or is it?

Joyce McMillan: It should be a question which allows people who want to opt for independence to opt for independence - and then, for those who have not opted for independence to say - well, what short of independence, would you like to open negotiations for devo max.

Joyce McMillan has just confirmed a YES to Isabel Fraser’s question, in spite saying absolutely not to it initially. Since a YES answer to any referendum question is a mandate to the Scottish Government to open negotiations for that choice, what Joyce has just said is that there should be two question, and if you say NO to independence, you also - or is it then - get a devo max choice, in which case it is “a direct independence versus devo max question”.

The confusion arise because not enough consideration is being given to the sequence and structure of the ballot paper and whether there should be conditionality between questions. I have addressed this at length, and doubtless tediously for those who don’t want to come to grips with the complexity that lies beneath apparent simplicity of any ballot paper. I have offered a ballot paper recently that I think covers all the reasonable bases, except the atavistic Tam Dalyell/Michael Forsyth option of reverting to a pre-devolution Scotland.

I am rather giving up hope than anyone will read or listen until the merde hits the fan, which it is already beginning to . If a 48 second exchange requires this kind of analysis, God Save Scotland - or Somebody Save Scotland …

MY BALLOT PAPER as posted earlier in the week

CONSULTATIVE REFERENDUM

Answer only one question - tick only one box.

If you answer more than one question, your ballot paper will be null and void. CHOOSE ONLY ONE OPTION - GIVE ONLY ONE ANSWER

I want a fully independent, sovereign Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with no increased in current devolved powers to Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with some additional powers devolved to Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with all powers devolved to Scotland except defence and foreign policy.

N.B. If you have answered more than one question, i.e. ticked more than one box, your ballot paper will be null and void.

________________________________________

COMMENT

A minority, presumably led by Lord Forsyth, may call for a fifth question - a reversion to pre-devolution status. I believe there is no evidence for other than a tiny Tory minority asking for such an option, and that it therefore should not be offered. (A caller on Call Kaye this morning asked for just that!)

Some nationalists - how many  I do not know - might want devo max as a fifth fall-back question if independence fails. I do not believe such an option should be offered, because it would require a transferable vote option.

Is it too complex? I do not believe it is. There are no gradations of independence - independence delivers devo max and negates the other options. The last three questions are all the reasonable options for those who do not want independence.

Some might argue for a YES/NO on independence, but that again would require a conditionality clause, and answering more than one question, e.g

If you say YES to independence, do not answer any other questions. If you say NO to independence, choose one, and only one of the following two options

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with some additional powers devolved to Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with all powers devolved to Scotland except defence and foreign policy.

This is too complex and confusing, in my view, especially since the first question, the independence question would be a YES/NO, but the other two would be box tick answers.

Doubtless, some will argue over the sequencing of questions, i.e. the order they are set out on the ballot paper. Since it is a referendum with the overarching theme of independence, I believe the order I have set out is reasonable.

 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Bank holiday trivia

May be --- but …

I may have complained about the media’s lazy use of the “may be … but” formulation, but it has done no good at all. BBC and STV may pay their presenters good salaries but they are incapable of thinking up another way to introduce items. This lazy formulation is now as embedded as sports journalists’ clichés, and almost rivals the television cliché of all time, “You’d better come in …”, which is what everybody who opens a door to another says in TV drama and soaps. In the Western movies of my youth, it used to be “You’ve got it all figured out, haven’t you?

The sun may rise in the morning but it gets dark at night. Alex Salmond may be First Minister of Scotland, but … Oh, for God’s sake stop it! The sun does rise in the morning and Alex Salmond is First Minister of Scotland.

Elizabeth is the Queen but Charles may be king - but then again he may not … Now, that formulation is correct – OK? Trust the but – it’s all you need to do the job.

HOGMANAY/NEW YEAR’S MORNING MUSIC

Choosing the TV channel to usher in 2012 was a problem as usual for me. I tend to default to BBC1 but much as I admire Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham’s musicianship, I do live in hope that some other talented Scottish musicians may be found. I regret that once again I was disappointed in this expectation of the other groups that were on. I have a low tolerance for young musicians with capo and left fist firmly locked in one, or at the most two places on the fretboard, while they deliver ‘songs’ with negligible harmonic movement and a melodic line that is less complex than a pre-school child’s nursery rhyme.

The young traditional groups are a little better, but not much. Of course, BBC2 offers some more sophisticated music, but it comes with Jools Holland, someone I cannot stand, as either musician or presenter.

I had a bright idea – BBC Alba – and initially found it more acceptable, simply for the manifest genuineness of the musicians and the audience, who behaved as if the cameras weren’t there, and simply enjoyed themselves. But alas, the intonation of the singers left a great deal to be desired, and there is a certain monotony in the music which means that a little goes a long way with me.

I eventually gave in, and surrendered to BBC2 and Jules. To my shame, I found myself longing for the days of Jimmy Shand and the White Heather Club. Eventually, I put on an old Billy Connolly audio CD to cleanse my mind of such base thoughts, and as those inimitable tones demolished the Wild Rover, four-guys-in-cardigans, - and all civil servants - styles of the time, and the wee Glesca wifie stridently demanding Ten Guitars, I felt better.

Billy Connolly – a comic genius. What a pity he doesn’t view his country’s independence differently …

Ho! Hima – Ha- hnobies chi-hald – Hima, ha-nobodies cha-hild ah!” A Samurai invocation …

Alex Harvey said to a 16-year old Sydney Devine – the Tartan Rocker, as he was then – “Don’t worry aboot yer career, Sydney – jist learn twenty auld Scots songs an’ twenty country and Western wans as well, an’ ye’ll still huv a career fifty years from noo.”

As he said these words in the old Austin funeral car that was the band bus for The Kansa City Counts Alex’s first band, in the autumn/winter of 1957,  I recognised the truth of them. So did Sydney, and he never looked back. I wonder if he remembers?








Monday, 2 January 2012

Alex Salmond on The One Show–YouTube comments



Alex Salmond’s appearance on BBC’s The One Show was pure gold for the SNP and the cause of independence. My clips alone – and there were others – on my TAofMoridura channel got what, for me, are big numbers, and it still gets views.

It is, however, sad that some pro-independence supporters are still in a very anti-BBC and po-faced mode about such programmes, desperate to find bias in presenters, and to dismiss the The One Show as trivial.

You got “to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with Mr. In-between” guys and gals …



THE COMMENTS

  • The Anglocentrism of this show is just as embarassing for English people as it is for Scots. Then again most people who watch The One Show probably have the IQ of an Alsatian.

    pidgin

  •  

  • @pidgin You're too harsh. The One Show is a light entertainment show, and a successful one. It doesn't embarrass me in the least when I watch it. They provided an invaluable platform for Scotland's First Minister, and the programme has had a huge positive impact for the SNP and the cause of Scottish independence.

    The presenters are not political interviewers, but were clearly delighted by Alex, his humanity and intelligence. It is important not to be negative about such vital exposure.

    TAofMoridura 1 minute ago

  • It annoys me how 'England' centric UK television is, I think Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are just saw as a county of England and not actual countries themselves.

    Sazz12 2 days ago

  • Love Scotland, hope they get their independence ;) greets from Northern Ireland

    haz464 4 days ago

  • I'm English and i can sence the English-Centric nature of this program, it's almost as if Scotland is some distant holiday destination, and not a part of this country just like England.

    wank0r 1 month ago

  • @wank0r westminster is also english centric the only reason why labour want us to stay is there comfy secure jobs and the tories r a english national for the union party and libdems betrayed the scots

    MrScottishJamie 3 weeks ago

  • The Scots will make the correct choice and that will be independence. In 3 years time all the fiddled figures and skewed balance sheets will be revealed. It is already started. All the lies and scare stories will have been exposed by then except in the Daily Record, on the day of the referendum they will run the headline, "WE ARE ALL DOOMED, A SECRET REPORT SHOWS".

    chancergordy 1 month ago

  • @chancergordy Blame Youtube for delay, chancergordy! And I pre-moderate comments, and therefore don't get round to them instantly 27/7

    TAofMoridura 1 month ago

  • We would be better off independent, Can't see any advantage now for being tied to a country with 60,000,000 squeezed into a very small area. England used to be a very industrial country but cannot sell to other countries which have their own industry now. Britain doesn't produce enough goods now.

    England is not self sufficient on food production either.

    Britain is finished! it is only a matter of time.

    chancergordy 1 month ago

  • SCOTLAND FOR INDEPENDENCE

    CoolCollectableToys 1 month ago

  • @CoolCollectableToys agree with you, but for some reason all my other comments are sitting waiting for approval!???

    chancergordy 1 month ago

  • They didn’t ask him about the oil, you know the black stuff found by a British company with British money that Scotland want ALL for themselves, shame that.

    RonSuperJet 1 month ago

  • @RonSuperJet You mean that the Scottish GOVERNMENT want all to themselves. Most of the people I've talked to around here are actually kinda iffy about independence, don't be so quick to paint us all with the same brush.

    alphaprawns 1 month ago

  • @RonSuperJet. What British company found THE oil? doesn't matter who found what, in international law, the resources in that country's territories, owns the rights to that resource.What happened when Australia became independent. LOndon rule and control stopped.

    Also, don't make the mistake of assuming that anything that is British is English.ie, Scotland will have an airforce, a navy, an equipped army, it's already bought and paid for by the British taxpayer and some of them are Scottish.

    chancergordy 1 month ago

  • @RonSuperJet. What British company found THE oil? doesn't matter who found what, in international law, the resources in that country's territories, owns the rights to that resource.What happened when Australia became independent. London rule and control stopped.

    Also, don't make the mistake of assuming that anything that is British is English.ie, Scotland will have an airforce, a navy, an equipped army, it's already bought and paid for by the British taxpayer and some of them are Scottish.

    chancergordy 1 month ago

  • He really is a great politician and man! We are so lucky in Scotland to have such a great statesman as our First Minister and soon to be Prime Minister :)

    YES FOR INDEPENDENCE

    glasgow1234 1 month ago

  • @glasgow1234 Well said

    CoolCollectableToys 1 month ago

  • Cheese and biscuits indeed?

    markolalanamila 1 month ago

  • Can I pester you for part 2 matey? :o)

    vibrationaluniverse 1 month ago

  • Absolutely brilliant as always. Thanks for posting!

    vibrationaluniverse 1 month ago

  • Sunday, 4 December 2011

    Great Scot! – great Scots …

    From

    You will instantly recognise the man in the middle in the picture above – the rail-splitter from Illinois, President Abraham Lincoln. Unless you are a student of the American Civil War, you won’t recognise the military man on the right – Major General John McLernand.

    But who’s the wee man on the left, at the right hand of the President, with one hand suspiciously inside his coat – not a Napoleonic pose, more like readiness for a fast draw with a derringer?

    If I told you he was from the Gorbals, was a cooper by trade,a power loom dresser, had been a violent left-wing activist, and was the son of a Glasgow police sergeant who exited Glesca hastily to avoid prosecution, you would understandably say Aye, right

    If I said he married a singer called Joan Carfrae some thirty years before you could get a car frae anywhere in Glesca, you might say Gie’s a brek, Peter – huv ye been at the electric soup?

    But it’s all true, because there he is - Allan Pinkerton, founder of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, familiar often as villains to anyone who who is addicted to the Western movie genre, the Wild Bunch, the Molly Maguires, Jesse James, train robberies – and he or his agents were involved in all of them and more besides.

    American history tends to gloss over the circumstances of Allan’s hasty departure from Glasgow. He would have given a wry Glesca grin at this sanitised little extract from  About - American history

    “Born in Scotland, August 25, 1819, Allan Pinkerton was a cooper or barrel-maker in his native land. He immigrated to the United States in 1842 and settled near Chicago, Illinois. He was an industrious man and quickly realized that working for himself would be a much better proposition for himself and family”

    In a short speech – always the best kind – last night at my Edinburgh Western SNP branch St. Andrew’s Night event, Kenny MacAskill spoke on a ‘My Scotland’ theme, about how struck he was in his travels abroad by the reputation of emigrant Scots in their adopted land who were virtually unknown back in Scotland. One of them was Allan Pinkerton, and Kenny said that although history had tended to give him a bad press, most of the bad things happened after he died, when the agency figured in anti-labour activities against the nascent trade union movement in the United States. (I was able to tell our Justice Minister later in the evening that the wee cooper frae the Gorbals had been the son of a Glesca polis, something Kenny didn’t know about Allan Pinkerton …)

    The Pinkerton Detective Agency is still very much around, part of Securitas - History of Pinkerton Detective Agency

    I have an image of Allan Pinkerton shouting at Jesse James “Jist haud oan a minute, pal - Ah widnae dae that if ah were you. An’ by the way, watch yer back when ye’re hangin’ pictures …”

    He’s buried in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, but I have no evidence that Elvis had Pinkerton in mind when he built his home. Nice thought, though …

    Sunday, 20 November 2011

    The GUU debate - This House believes in an independent Scotland

    Last night, STV, to their credit, provided a live feed from the Glasgow University Union debate on the motion that This House believes in an independent Scotland. Unfortunately, I missed John Nicolson's and Frank McKirgan’s opening speeches for the motion and Kevin Sneader opening for the opposition. (The sound quality of the STV feed was OK but the video was appallingly poor. Quite why it should be so hard to transmit an adequate image across – in my case - miles or so, when we can transmit perfect images across the globe is not clear to me. Still …)

    The motion was defeated, and that says nothing about the likelihood of Scotland achieving its independence, any more than the notorious Oxford Union debate motion of 1933, “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country", passed by 275 votes to 153, said about Britain going to war in 1939.

    The general atmosphere of the debate was that of a self-congratulatory, complacent establishment elite, well lubricated by the national beverage, having a re-union with auld acquaintances, kilted, sporraned, privileged and utterly remote from the brutal realities of life for many Scots in 2011.

    The underlying atmosphere, however, was a very different one, that of a complacent elite who had done very nicely, thank you, out of the United Kingdom, uneasily aware that they were fast becoming irrelevant to their country -if indeed they regarded that as Scotland - and that they were on the wrong side of history.

    This was pointed up by the composition of the teams. The team for the motion included a journalist, two lawyers and a politician, and the opposing team  a vice-president of Proctor & Gamble, two directors of management consulting firms and the MD of a venture capital company: three out of four of the opposing team were not resident in Scotland and not eligible to vote in the referendum.

    I would like to give more time to analysis of this debate, not because it in any way predicts the outcome of the referendum – nor would it had the vote gone the other way – but because it was very revealing as to core elements of the unionist argument, and the kinds of people who are advancing it. Unfortunately, I cannot do this in full because of the speakers I missed. I hope for a repeat  of the recording, or a transcript being made available.

    But I will offer my impressions, based on what I did hear.

    One of the opposition speakers, Gordon Peterson, former rugby internationalist and now ‘innovation consultant’, after announcing that his wife and mother were in the audience, then opened with an anecdote of a pre-marital sexual adventure with a transexual that involved “heavy pechin’” and closed with a reference to a wet dream. However hilarious this kind of content might be at all-male rugby dinners and ‘innovation consulting’ engagements, it seemed to me not only inappropriate for a mixed audience, one containing his wife and mother, but also deeply irrelevant to the debate. But it seemed to go down well enough with the GUU audience. Perhaps standards have changed …

    But let me come to a more significant point. Austin Lally, the second speaker opposing the motion made the following remarkable statement as his core argument for retaining the Scotland in the UK.

    Scotland has a purpose in this world that transcends her borders … If we choose to leave the UK, we will leave behind a conservative, Atlanticist, eurosceptic, intolerant, permanently conservative rump, which will change the balance of power in England, which will change the balance of power in Europe, which will be a bad force in the world. My argument is that Scotland can lead the UK, the UK can lead in Europe, and we can make the world a better place, and fairer place, in line with our destiny.”

    Austn Lally, advancing this extraordinary argument was clearly of a Labour persuasion. Leaving aside the fact that it is probably deeply insulting to the people of England, Wales and  Northern Ireland, it in fact contains the central reasons why Scotland should get out of the 1707 Union as fast as possible.

    A few figures -

    Out of 650 seat in Westminster, Scotland has 59 – just over 9%. The 2013 review proposes 600 seats, of which Scotland will have 52 – just under 8.7%

    It doesn’t take an Einsteinian grasp of mathematics to assess just what influence that represents if the UK had a truly representative democracy, with proportional representation. But we don’t, thanks to the Tories and a significant block of Labour MPs and Lords, including our very own Lord Reid, who mounted a virulent campaign to protect the first past the post system. (Of course, this same group installed a form of proportional representation for Holyrood that would neuter the SNP. Didnae work, did it?)

    As a result of this, we had a Labour Government dominated by Scots for 13 years, whose contribution making the world “a better and fairer place, in line with our destiny” was to increase the gap between rich and poor, increase child poverty and launch two destructive wars – one illegal – and wreak death and destruction on innocent men, women and children of two other countries, while killing a significant number of British soldiers in the process. So much for the morality of Labour, which may be summed up in two words – Blair and Iraq. As for the morality of Westminster, the expenses scandal that rocked the nation revealed a greedy, amoral, unscrupulous political class feathering their own nests, one in which criminal Scottish MPs and Lords featured.



    It therefore comes as no surprise that the latest YouGov poll is summed up in a Scotland on Sunday headline today as English move away from being British. They have every reason to – being British - i.e. being part of the corrupt conspiracy undemocratic of wealth and power called the UK - has delivered them into the hands of unrepresentative Scottish carpetbaggers called the Labour Party for 13 years, and now an unhappy and incompetent Coalition of rich and privileged men and women who are busy destroying the jobs and the fragile economic base of the most vulnerable, while protecting the rich and their own narrow circle of friends and financial backers.

    Professor Murray Pittock, closing for the proposers of the motion – the pro-independence team – summed up the debate perfectly. He observed that in the 28 years since he had first stood at the lectern in such debates, nothing in the arguments of those opposing the independence of their country had changed. “Then the argument were about devolution: now they are about independence – and they are the same arguments the same objections. The same tittle tattle of fear, bad jokes, insults and shouting …”

    That about summed it up. I hope this will be re-broadcast – Scotland should hear it and judge.

    Saturday, 12 November 2011

    Independence and the voters - where are we at?

    I try to maintain a perspective that reflects that of an ordinary voter. This is almost certainly a vain attempt, since ordinary voters are not SNP party members, or indeed members of any political party, nor do they expend a considerable amount of effort on writing about politics, and although I am no sense a political or legal expert, I have acquired an awareness of the main political issues that is greater than that of most voters, but falls well short of political sophistication.

    So what about the voters – how do I see them? A politician or a psephologist will see them  through a web – or a prism – of demographic tables, social groupings and with the benefit of research, questionnaires, focus group, etc. and I can only offer a perception. Here it is …

    A core group comprises party activists, not necessarily party members – voters who have a very tangible allegiance, understand the issues, the options and the policy differences and who make a fundamental contribution to our democracy in a range of ways. This group entertains few doubts as to how they will vote in any key political event, be it election or referendum, unless of course a major policy rift opens in their party, or a crisis of confidence creates the possibility of a change of allegiance, e.g. disaffected LibDems. (I myself was such a disaffected Labour voter, and jumped the dyke in 2007.)

    There is also a highly aware sector of the electorate who know what they are talking about in certain areas, including some who are clearly professional in their fields, and can claim authority for their views, and some who are not and cannot, but are nonetheless well-informed. In almost any day’s letters in the Scottish press I can find correspondents who seem to be ordinary voters, but who are better informed than I am on aspects of the political debate, whether it be legal, constitutional, scientific or economic.

    Among my range of friends, relatives and contacts, there is a clear majority who give little attention to politics or world affairs on a day to day basis, unless or until a major event impinges on their consciousness, or, significantly, when a major political decision point is imminent, such as a local election, a Scottish Parliamentary election or a general election – or a referendum! Then they focus, and try to make up lost ground and evaluate the arguments. I cannot claim that my range of contacts in any way constitutes a representative sample, but I suspect this may constitute the majority group of voters.

    Within this group there are those who are essentially apolitical, holding no party allegiance, and who would not place themselves anywhere on the left/right spectrum. Nonetheless, they do occupy a position on that spectrum – and a few key questions rapidly establish it – but they simply do not label themselves as such, and conceive of themselves as pragmatists. Members of this group are sometimes described as floating voters – they must by definition exist, or governments would never change and MSPs and MPs would never lose their seat nor new candidates be elected.

    I have to reluctantly face the undeniable fact that there are also political primitives out there who know little, are not well-informed, but nonetheless hold strong opinions. This group, always an uncomfortable one for a democrat to contemplate – and the malleable raw material of the demagogue and the anti-democrat – nonetheless have a vote, and most of them probably exercise their right to vote. They may also have long-term, fixed party allegiances. This is the group that terrifies the Labour and Tory Parties among whose support they are concentrated, lest they defect – and they have, notably in May 2011. As a democrat, I must respect this group’s right to exist and to vote, and fight down my elitist instincts to patronise or even despise them, if for no other reason than the fact that most of the people I grew up with and loved were part of this group, and in a sense so was I.

    And of course there are those who have opted out of the political process – or say they have – the “Politicians are all the same, out for themselves – I wouldn’t vote for any of them …” brigade, a group for which I have mainly contempt, leavened with a little pity – but not much. My fear about this group is that when the chips are down, in a big political decision point, such as a referendum, they do actually vote, and for the most reactionary option they can find.

    What messages are coming across to all of these groups on independence?

    You’ll have to wait for my answers to that, if indeed I have any – I’m still sorting my thoughts out on it …


    Tuesday, 25 October 2011

    On the right side of history – neutrinos, the speed of light and Bannockburn

    THE SCIENCE BIT

    I always watch television documentaries on particle physics and quantum mechanics in the hope that one day I will get a glimmering of real understanding of the universe and everything. My understanding is constrained by my lack of any real mathematical understanding, limited as it is to arithmetic and very basic algebra and geometry. As a child and young man I was fascinated by astronomy – and science fiction – and my window to the universe is therefore somewhat occluded by garish images of rocket ships and brass-bra’d blondes being carried off by bug-eyed monsters.

    But from very early days spent staring at Fulton’s Orrery on the upper floor of the People’s Palace on the Glasgow Green, I gained the concept of the vastness of space, so watching last night’s documentary on the recent mind-blowing discovery that the speed of light may have been exceeded by neutrinos rushing under a mountain, out of our brane into the bulk and back to the brane struck home to me. The neutrino, the tiniest and most mysterious of the particles was compared in relative size to a golf ball in the entire solar system. Now that’s wee – really wee! Yet these wee things are essential to everything, and effortlessly penetrate everything – nothing is a barrier to them, not even time, apparently.

    The scientist’s joke, delivered with an understandable lack of comic timing, was -

    Barman:We don’t serve neutrinos in here …”

    A neutrino goes into a bar …

    In other words, in the new neutrino world we may have glimpsed, you get the answer to your text message before you have sent it.

    And so it has been throughout recorded history with the concept of freedom – a tiny idea in its emergence, apparently insignificant in the context of the power struggles all around it, almost invisible among the titanic struggles of powerful men and institutions, yet ultimately vital to humanity, permeating everything and essential to everything. And freedom is inseparable from the idea of independence within a framework of inter-dependence. Freedom and independence always take the powerful by surprise – initially ignored, then suppressed, but eventually triumphant. Because ultimately, we can never be content without it.

    THE HISTORY BIT

    I bought a book in Waterstones last week. It had no price on it, so I took it to the counter and the assistant scanned the barcode. “That will be £30, sir …” I flinched, but since I’d rather go bankrupt than look like a cheapskate, I bought it. And given the book’s title, I couldn’t have given it back without loss of face as a Scot – there might have been a unionist watching!

    The book was Bannockburn – The Triumph of Robert the Bruce by David Cornell. I read it in a few days, and it is the best thirty quid I’ve spent in a long time.

    The book wasn’t written by a starry-eyed Scottish nationalist, but by a sober English academic from Durham University, a man born in Leicester, and his concern is to present as faithful an account as he can of a 700-year old event that was pivotal in British history, and the event that shaped Scotland as a nation. Despite all the inadequacies and the blatant bias of history as taught in Scottish schools in my schooldays, there wasn’t a Scottish child who had not heard of Robert the Bruce and Bannockburn.

    I chose this version because it was new (2009) and precisely because it was written by an English historian and published by Yale University Press. I wanted as objective an account as I could find, to avoid the charge by unionist critics that Scottish nationalists are lost in a kind of Brigadoon and Braveheart land, sentimentalists with a romantic and unrealistic view of their history.

    It was a fascinating read, presenting an unvarnished account of the brutal realities of politics and power in the early 14th century, and Bruce emerges as the complex figure that he was, expedient, power-hungry, driven by personal ambition, willing to change sides, forming shifting alliances, often treacherous and occasionally murderous in his actions. He could have been little else, given the world he lived in, which was hardly a place for starry-eyed idealists. But along the way, a vision emerged of a united Scotland – Scotland as a nation, and Bruce became larger than his personal ambitions.

    A few quotes from the book serve for me to illustrate its relevance to Scotland today, at another pivotal point in its history.

    On Bruce on the eve of battle

    In life, few men find themselves empowered with a decision that has the potential to dictate the fate of a nation. To possess such an awesome responsibility is both a privilege and a curse. A correct decision promises unsurpassed success, but a wrong one invites catastrophic failure. Such a man holds in his hands the lives of those who follow him.”

    On the significance of Bannockburn

    Bannockburn, therefore, is certainly deserving of our fresh attention. It was both a great victory for Scotland – arguably the greatest in its history – and one of the most humiliating defeats that England has ever suffered. As such, it remains inscribed in the pantheon of each nation’s history, albeit with directly contrasting emotions.  Bannockburn was a pivotal event in the shaping of British history: both the battle and its enduring legacy have proved of crucial importance  in the forming of national identity in both countries.”

    On the behaviour of the English Establishment and power structure

    The magnates  were not men who attached themselves to causes for altruistic reasons. Their decisions were ruled by their own best interests. The political world they inhabited was shot through with bitter, frequently venomous personal rivalries featuring rapidly shifting alliances and amoral self-aggrandisement. This was a ruthlessly self-interested , intensely emotive environment, prone to antagonisms and feuds, in which the currency was wealth and status.”

    On Bruce’s political situation at the time of Bannockburn

    … the underlying strength  of Bruce’s political position was, that due to his military success in the Scottish civil war, his Scottish enemies had been forced to either join him or fight alongside the English. By 1314, his Scottish enemies relied on the English to continue their war against Bruce.”

    The parallels are blindingly obvious, especially with that last quotation – it describes almost exactly the position of the Scottish Unionist parties vis a vis Alex Salmond in the crucial period we are now in, following the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections and in the lead-up to the forthcoming referendum on Scotland’s independence. 

    MY MESSAGE TO LEADING FIGURES IN SCOTTISH PUBLIC LIFE AND THE ARTS

    There is a tide in the affairs of men, etc. There is such a thing as the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. The spirit of the age is freedom, of independence, of throwing off the suffocating embrace of the old power structures, challenging the dominance of giant corporations, the military/industrial complex, global financial structures inimical to human happiness – big is no longer beautiful – small is beautiful, independence in a context of inter-dependence, a world of free nations cooperating dynamically for humanity and the wider interest.

    I have this to say to leading figures in Scottish public life, those with high visibility and influence, whether in the field of politics, of business, of finance, in the arts, in entertainment, in literature, who are not yet committed to Scotland’s independence as a free nation -

    Make the quantum leap to endorsing Scotland’s independence publicly, and campaigning for a YES vote to independence. In so doing, you are not saying that the new Scotland will be run in perpetuity by the Scottish National Party, you are saying that it will be run by Scots elected by the new political process in that new Scotland to a Parliament that has full autonomy over Scottish affairs.

    You stand, like all Scots, at a pivotal moment in your country’s history. Align yourself with the spirit of the age and with the rebirth of a nation – your nation, Scotland.

    Do so now, and you will be respected for a principled decision.

    Do so after independence, and you will be regarded as simply expedient.

    The time is now - come out for Scotland

    Wednesday, 19 October 2011

    Religion in politics: Two letters – two faiths – and alarm bells ring for me

    I subscribe to no religious faith, but I defend the right of members of any faith to worship in accordance with their faith without interference from the state, and to live out their beliefs in their daily lives, and without interference or persecution or threats or sectarian abuse calculated to lead to violence. I support their right not to be discriminated against in employment, in business or in politics.

    I also believe in freedom of the individual within the rule of law in a secular democracy, and I expect the state to reflect core values that are shared by all in that democracy, values that are best expressed by and derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    What I oppose with every fibre of my being is any attempt by a religious group, or coalition of religious groups to attempt to deny these core human rights to anyone within their faith group or groups, or attempt to impose a belief that is not supported by or founded in law in the wider society of which that that faith group or coalition of faith groups is a part, beliefs based on holy books, ancient writings and ancient traditions.

    I extend that opposition to political philosophies or political parties, whether religious based or ideologically based, that seek to subvert the processes of democracy and the rule of law to deny core human rights to any individual or group, and to impose ideological behaviours and constraints that deny core human rights.

    The fact that most religions subscribe to the core values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, either wholeheartedly, or in some case, nominally, does not mean that religious groups or any particular religious tradition or faith group invented them or owns them. The essence of these core values of the human species, painfully developed and asserted, often in the face or religious or secular persecution, the rack, the scaffold, the stake, the firing squad, the gas chamber, the executioner’s block, is that they are the fundamental, shared core of our common humanity, and not the property of any faith or ideology.

    For all of the above reasons, I support and will defend a secular democracy and I am opposed to any move towards a theocratic state, and I oppose faith schools, because they have a single core purpose – to indoctrinate, and I include within my definition of faith schools institutions  supported by an ideologically-based or totalitarian state that professes no religion, but inculcate a rigid ideology, such as those that existed in the USSR or Mao’s China, or Hitler’s Germany or regimes such as Pol Pot’s.

    MY CORE BELIEFS AND MY POLITICS

    Anyone who holds strong social democratic values will sooner or later find that they create a conflict with the mundane realities of their political affiliation and their political party. I am no exception to this, and some of what I am about to say may leave the Scottish National Party unhappy at this crucial stage in Scottish history when a great objective – the independence of Scotland – is within sight of being achieved.

    A political party - and a master politician and a great political strategist and statesman such as Alex Salmond - must balance all the forces within the society it hopes to govern and to transform. Scottish society has within it three churches grounded in three great religious faiths – Christian, Judaic and Islamic.

    A politician who ignored the reach and influence of such institutions would not survive for very long, but equally a politician who allowed himself or herself to be dominated by them, and who allowed them to exert an undemocratic influence on the core values of a democracy would not deserve to lead a nation.

    Some political prices are too high to pay. So I must speak out as an individual, and hope that others will do likewise, even if boats are rocked.

    THE TWO LETTERS – The Herald

    The debate that has been building for some time now, at first a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, but now heading for a storm, is the issue of gay marriage, covered by me as best I could in a recent blog.

    Two very recent letters to The Herald have now crystallised the essence of the religious opposition, one from the Catholic standpoint and one from the Muslim viewpoint. Both of these religious groups now appear to speak with a single voice, although I can only hope that this is the voice of the institution and not the unanimous voice of all lay Catholics and Muslims. (The voice of the Kirk has yet to speak out authoritatively, but many individual voices within the Kirk have spoken out and they are divided.)

    The first letter I refer to appeared in Monday’s Herald – the 17th – from a Michael McMullen. The header the Herald gives it is - Church is duty bound to speak out against the promotion of sin – which is a fair summary of its content. Church is duty bound to speak out

    Michael McMullen’s last paragraph says unequivocally where he stands and where he believes the Catholic church stands -

    As a missionary and teaching institution, the Catholic church and its ‘practising membership’ can ‘never’ accept sin. It is duty bound to oppose it: thus its bishops speak out, because they are expected to. This is especially true when a powerful lobby or elite is hell bent on promoting sin.”

    Mr. McMullen was attacking Iain Macwhirter’s article on this matter, and his quotation marks refer to comments from that article.

    The second letter from the Herald today – the 19th – is from Bashir Maan, a man with a proud record of achievement in Scotland, widely respected both within the Asian community and Scottish society, carrying a name that resonates for the SNP.

    He opens by saying that he fully support Michael McMullen’s comments, and he closes with words than send a chill down my social democratic, liberal spine -

    No one has the right or the authority to change the divine scriptures to suit certain times or certain people or for the sake of political correctness.”

    I fear that those words and that sentiment will be fully endorsed by Cardinal O’Brien and his Scottish bishops. and by certain voices within the Kirk, and by some MSPs, including some SNP MSPs.

    As someone committed to a secular democracy, I find them deeply dangerous, medieval in nature, and a denial of our democratic values and the rule of law. They are an attempt to assert religious values and ancient and highly-contested writings from another age as binding for all time, not only on those who subscribe to them, but to others who do not, and they are in conflict not only with the inalienable human rights of a minority but potentially with the rule of law and democratic processes.

    To anyone who thinks that a political process dominated by a specific religion, its doctrines and its concepts of ‘sin’, and ‘family values’, one that has moved from being a secular democracy to becoming effectively a theocracy is a good thing, I recommend a study of Franco’s Spain, or the Republic of Ireland, or of anyone of a number of Muslim states.

    And we don’t have to delve into the distant past to see such ‘values’ in operation – the recent history of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in Britain and in America and the abuse scandals, from the Magdalene laundries to child abuse and the protection of child abusers by the hierarchy, tells an appalling story.

    One might think that the appalling brutalities and persecutions of minorities and the opposition in Franco’s regime in Spain, fully and unequivocally supported by the Catholic Church, are a distant memory. Not so.

    A documentary on BBC2 last night – Spain Stolen Children – demonstrates with chilling force the application of the ‘family values’ of the Catholic Church, with the connivance of the law, the police and the state, that resulted in the theft and sale of children by nuns, priests and doctors, a scandal that has been suppressed since the death of Franco in 1975 by the supposedly democratic regimes that replaced him, but is now growing to a scandal of monumental proportions – a crime against humanity.

    Here are my edited clips of the programme, an attempt to catch its essence in nine minutes or so – but the full one hour programme should be watched, painful and distressing as it is, to appreciate what the dangers are for Scotland.



    Perhaps Cardinal O’Brien, his ever-vocal bishops, and all those who have had a lot to say about what a terrifying threat to family values and the stability of society the attempt to allow to people of the same sex to pledge their vows in a civil ceremony and call it marriage represents, could offer some comment on what the values of two societies dominated by just those religious values actually produced in Spain, in the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere.

    Perhaps Bashir Maan, a good man who has contributed enormously to Scottish society, should consider just what he is endorsing. And lay Catholics, Muslims and Protestants  should also consider what some religious leaders who claim to speak for them are saying in their name.

    Alex Salmond now has the opportunity – and the duty – to demonstrate that he is the true statesman that I and many others firmly believe him to be, by standing up for the rights of all the people of Scotland, and resisting the pressures, the blandishments, the thinly-concealed political threats of withdrawal or democratic or financial support by sectional – and sectarian – interest groups.


    Same sex marriage - Moridura blog

    Sunday, 16 October 2011

    Gay marriage – what is proposed, and the root of religious opposition

    N.B. I am not either a lawyer or legally qualified – this is my layman’s understanding of the law in Scotland. It may be inaccurate – it is certainly limited in scope. As always, I am happy to be corrected on fact and challenged on opinion.

     

    THE LAW AS IT STANDS IN SCOTLAND 

    Any two persons, regardless of their place or country of origin can be married in Scotland providing both persons are at least 16 years of age on the day of the marriage.

    They must meet other conditions, as follows

    They must not be related to each another in a way which would prevent their marrying – the laws of consanguinity (blood relationship) and affinity (restricted non-blood relationships, including by marriage, civil partnership or adoption). The affinity relationships in some cases are permitted if both parties are 21 or over, subject to some qualifications.

    Additional restrictions on affinity relationships

    The parties must be unmarried and if previously married, must produce documentary evidence that the previous marriage has been ended by death, divorce or annulment.

    They must be capable of understanding the nature of a marriage ceremony and of consenting to marriage.

    The marriage must be regarded as valid in any foreign country to which either party belongs.

    They must not be of the same sex.

    TYPES OF MARRIAGE IN SCOTLAND

    There are two ways in Scotland in which people may be married in Scotland -

    by a religious ceremony

    by a civil ceremony

    A religious marriage, whether Christian or non-Christian, may be solemnised only by a minister, clergyman, pastor, priest or the other person entitled to do so under the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977.

    A civil marriage may be solemnised only by a registrar or an assistant registrar who has been authorised by the Registrar General for that purpose.

    WHERE WE’RE AT RIGHT NOW

    The law as it stands requires a couple, who must be a man and a woman, to proceed as follows if they want to marry -

    1. Each of the parties must complete and submit a marriage notice, together with required documents and a fee to the Registrar of the district in which the marriage will take place. This must be done at least 15 days before the date of the marriage, but four weeks is customary – and safer – and if either party was married before, the period is six weeks. This is a legal requirement, not a religious requirement.

    2. Both parties don’t have to personally hand in the marriage notice at the Registrar’s office, but at least one may be asked to attend, either to finalise arrangements for a civil marriage or in the case of a religious marriage or other belief system, to collect the marriage schedule. These are legal requirements, not religious requirements.

    3. The parties then have the marriage solemnised, either by a civil ceremony or by someone representing their belief system, and this may be in a church.  The law specifies who may legally solemnise a religious marriage. These are legal requirements, not religious requirements.

    A marriage solemnised by someone representing a belief system or religion, perhaps in a church, is both a legal ceremony and a religious ceremony. The religious ceremony only has validity insofar as it follows the law – the law makes no distinction between belief systems or religions, nor does it make any moral judgments, other than to specify the minimum legal requirements.

    Any religious or belief system that claimed as a tenet of their faith, with Divine authority, something as part of the ceremony that conflicted with the law would not be able to legally solemnise a marriage. The law does not recognise Divine Authority or a Divine Lawgiver, or Holy Books or writings, or ancient traditions, for the good and sufficient reason that religions and beliefs systems have no consensus on the Divine intention, and often sharply – and sometime lethally – differ on matters of doctrine. There is no Divine Supreme Court that supersedes the law.

    There is no requirement under the law for the parties to a marriage to bear children, or to have an intent to bear children.

    There is no legal obligation on any church, or minister of religion to solemnise a marriage. There is no discrimination legislation that imposes such a requirement. There is no intent to create or enforce such a law.

    WHAT IS BEING PROPOSED?

    A proposal is being made that the provision under law that only a man and woman may marry legally be amended to permit two persons of the same sex to marry and to have that marriage solemnised.

    There is no proposal to require a religion, church, minister of religion or a belief system to solemnise a marriage of two persons of the same sex, even if they meet every specified legal requirement.

    It is also proposed that if a church, religion, minister of religion or belief system agrees voluntarily to marry a couple of the same sex, that such a ceremony be regarded as legal solemnisation of the marriage at law.

     

    WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE OPPOSITION TO THESE PROPOSALS?

    Opinion on the proposed law differs between and within churches, religious groups and faiths and belief system, and ministers of religion on the desirability of such a change.

    Those opposing it argue from one or more of the following standpoints -

    1. Divine authority, i.e. God as revealed through holy books and as interpreted by ministers of religion or individuals within sects, defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

    (So does the law at the moment. This reflects a mixture of tradition and the influence of religion on law and political systems throughout history.)

    2. A prime purpose of marriage is the intent to produce children. (Stated as a religious belief, this relies on either religious tradition or an interpretation of the will of God, neither of which can be reflected in law in modern time. Stated as a historical tradition and the values of a society, it is undoubtedly true that many laws reflect such factors. But societies change, evolve, and their laws change with them

    3. The legalisation of marriage between those of the same sex legitimises homosexual acts forbidden by religious belief, with various authorities quoted for this, all of them religious and none of them legal. (This ignores the fact that homosexual acts, once illegal, have been legal for many years. It is therefore nonsense to suggest that it ‘legitimises’ what is already legal.)

    4. The legalisation of marriage between those of the same sex will in some way encourage homosexual behaviour. (This nonsense is on a par with homophobic beliefs that homosexuality is some kind of acquired perversion, contagious, and one that can be reversed or controlled by exhortation, prohibition and legislation.)

    5. Legalisation of gay marriage, and the use of the term marriage for gay civil partnerships threatens the fabric of society. (Well, it certainly challenges old, entrenched beliefs and prejudices, just as the ending of slavery, rights for women, rights for children, disabled rights, the right of free speech, general enfranchisement, etc. challenged them. It’s called progress towards human rights and the ending  of the dark night of superstition and dogma.)

    But a legal and societal function of marriage as a civil contract undoubtedly is to protect children when they result from a marriage. It has also been very much about property rights and rights to rule, as even a superficial knowledge of Scottish and British history reveals, with the shameless manipulation of infants and children in dynastic disputes and quarrels over kinship, primogeniture, affinity, matriarchal inheritance, etc. In relatively recent history, it was to protect children  from the social stigma of illegitimacy, and its legal consequences. This aspect has evolved and changed radically as society changed, and is virtually irrelevant now.

    Lets face it, as well as being homophobic, the churches are trying to protect their rights to control the mechanics of marriage because it is one of the cornerstones of their power. They have never been very happy about civil marriages with no church ceremony involved, and they have similar views over baptism in a church and the legal registration of births. (I was once told by otherwise nice reasonable people and clerics that children who were not baptised “were no better than animals …)

    SUMMARY

    The present opposition to the legalisation of gay marriage is in direct lineal descent from organised religion’s resistance to just about every advance in human thought and extension of human rights under law to women, to children, to minorities, to ethnic groups. Of course, there have always been members of faiths, and individuals within faiths who have displayed great courage and great humanity in supporting such movements towards a recognition of our common humanity, and indeed who have led some of the great liberating movements.

    Let Alex Salmond and the broad majority of the Scottish National Party, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and our elected representatives stand clear and firm for this change, and resist the pressures of some of the churches to bend the law of the land and our democracy to their undemocratic will by threats. Contrary to the rabble-rousing, the fabric of society will be strengthened, not weakened by this move towards justice and equality under law.

    Thursday, 13 October 2011

    The UK Supreme Court – constitutional and independence implications

    In the light of the recent UK Supreme Court judgment (I spell it judgment against my instincts towards judgement because I believe this is legal practice) and certain remarks about what the Scottish Parliament can and cannot do - which some have interpreted as a shot across the SNP Government’s bows in relation to the referendum - a number of correspondents have asked me if I plan to comment. Firstly, this is properly Peat Worrier’s blog territory, and secondly, I have said pretty much what I wanted to say about the UK Supreme Court in the following blogs -

    The UK Supreme Court and the Scottish legal system

    The UK Supreme Court–FMQs 16th June 2011 – Holyrood

    The UK Supreme Court, the judges–and the Union’s future

    The UK Supreme Court–the debate polarises and takes on new dimensions

     

    There are very fundamental questions raised about constitutional issues and the rule of law arising from the very existence of the UK Supreme Court. I have no legal qualifications or training – I am simply a citizen under the law. But I believe that the setting up of the UK Supreme Court was a political act, and that law and legal systems and processes exist within a political concept and a state – in this case The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - but also within concepts of the rule of law that transcend the state, closely allied to concepts of justice that also transcend the state.

    I have a simple, and some might say, a simplistic view of the Union. It was a contract, entered into under bribery and duress, but entered into nonetheless, that united two kingdoms under a single sovereign state. Each signatory to that agreement and subsequent relevant treaties and amendments surrendered their individual sovereignty as formerly independent nation states to the new state. It was, like any contract, intended to be to the mutual benefit of those who entered into it.

    The question arises inevitably, as in any contract, how does one party terminate that contract if it no longer serves their interests? Since it cannot be argued that any treaty or contract is permanent, there must be a mechanism and a process, especially in a democracy in the 21st century.

    It cannot be argued that all parties to the contract must have unanimity and consensus before one party has a right to withdraw. That would confer a right of veto on withdrawal.

    The normal mechanism for withdrawal from a contract is to serve notice of intention to withdraw, discuss the terms of the withdrawal, and observe any notice periods and cancellation obligations that were part of the original contractual document, or were incurred by subsequent agreed amendments. Parallels can – and have been - drawn with ending an employment contract, a commercial contract or a contract of marriage, the latter to the point of tedium. However, when considering withdrawal from a state or empire, such parallels are not entirely adequate, and in any case, there are more appropriate real life models to consider, namely that of countries achieving their independence.

    WITHDRAWAL FROM A STATE OR EMPIRE

    The British Empire can draw on a long history of events, in the progressive loss of that empire, that demonstrate very clearly what the options have been, and how they have been exercised.

    Without attempting to catalogue that particular history, the options that are evident from a wider history, as I see them, are as follow -

    1. Negotiate a peaceful exit under the terms of the treaties and obligations that exist.

    2. Unilaterally withdraw, but negotiate on the obligations.

    3.  Unilaterally withdraw (unilateral declaration of independence. UDI) and wait to see what the other party does, i.e. secede. (When this is successful, it is called a velvet revolution.)

    4. Unilaterally withdraw and repudiate all obligations as null and void.

    Option One is the clear preferred option of the SNP. They are committed to achieving independence through democratic means.

    If negotiation fails, or any of the other three options are resisted by the existing state as constituted, the possibility exists of at least civil resistance and disobedience, or in the extreme case, violence, which may manifest itself as repressive violence by the larger state against the country attempting to achieve independence, or revolutionary violence by the smaller entity against the state.

    The British State can look at both relatively peaceful and amicable examples, and also at notoriously violent examples. The island of Ireland offers many salutary lessons.

    WHERE WE ARE NOW

    A significant number of the Scottish electorate now wish to withdraw from the United Kingdom.

    A significant number wish to remain in the UK.

    An appreciable number have not yet made up their minds.

    These numbers can only be estimated by polling methods, and can only be ultimately determined by a referendum. The Scottish electorate has twice elected a political party to govern them – the second time with a massive and decisive majority - called The Scottish National Party, one that is committed to the independence of Scotland as a nation state.

    The Scottish electorate, in a general election a year earlier, elected a decisive majority of Labour MPS, a party that is committed to maintaining the Union, to govern them in the UK Parliament. (The UK electorate as a whole cast their votes in a manner that was not as clean cut or decisive, and produced a Coalition. Any analysis of the outcome of the 2010 General election revealed a deeply divided nation, with English voters favouring the Conservative and LibDem parties, two parties that were reduced to  a rump in Scotland.)

    Just what the Scottish voters meant by their massive vote for a nationalist party is the subject of partisan interpretation and partisan debate by both sides, but what is accepted, I believe by all parties (and by me) is that not all Scots who voted for the SNP were voting for independence. But it also certain that all of the Scots who did not vote for the SNP in the General election, and voted for Labour, were  not necessarily against independence.

    The only way to settle the question of what Scottish voters want is a referendum.

    Bluntly, what English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters want Scotland to do is entirely irrelevant, whether they favour Scottish independence or are hostile to it – only the wishes of the Scottish people can and must be considered, and only Scottish voters may vote in such a referendum.

    THE TIMING OF THE REFERENDUM

    The world economy, the European economy, the UK economy and the Scottish economy are facing the greatest threat for generations. Two arguments can be advanced – one, that right now is the wrong time to call a referendum because the Government of Scotland must concentrate on facing the economic challenge, and two, that the referendum must be held as soon as possible, to secure control of Scottish resources and permit more effective action.

    A third argument can be advanced in favour a calling the referendum now, namely that the uncertainty is damaging both Scotland’s and the UK’s economic response to the crisis, and it has to be got out of the way.

    The First Minister of Scotland made it clear in the party manifesto and in every subsequent statement, that the referendum will be called in the second half of this Scottish Parliamentary term.

    From a realpolitik standpoint, both nationalist and unionist camps have a vested interest in only calling a referendum when opinion polls suggest the time may be opportune for their desired outcome. Anyone who claims that the parties are not motivated by such a considerations is ether disingenuous or a damned fool.

    The role of the pollsters is therefore crucial.

    One hypothetical situation will suffice to illustrate this – if a series of reputable polls in the next week showed that there was a massive shift among the electorate towards an independent Scotland, the Unionist currently calling for an immediate referendum would suddenly find an enthusiasm for delay and obfuscation. If the polling situation were reversed, the First Minister need do nothing, except wait and hope that they  would shift again before the second half of his term.

    DANGERS

    At the very least, a substantial minority of Scottish voters are unhappy about their membership of the UK and want out, and a significant minority are undecided. Only a minority of Scots therefore profess themselves wholly satisfied with the status quo. No state, however constituted, can ignore such a situation, especially when those who want out are consumed by passionate conviction, are well organised, and constitute the devolved government of that state.

    At a time like this, the people need clear-eyed democrats, both in politics, in the law, and in the media, committed to the rule of law, but also to internationally accepted principles of human rights, free speech and the right to self-determination of free people.

    Failure to understand these aspirations, especially in a time of deep economic uncertainty, risks serious consequences, ones that could be profoundly damaging to the people of these islands. Sinister forces lurk on the margins of such situations, waiting their opportunity to de-stabilise the the situation, and exploit and profit from it. Once the levers of power slip into these hands, they cannot be prised off by rational argument and democratic processes.



    POSTSCRIPT

    Now read this in today's Telegraph, and tell me I have no need to worry.

    Alex Salmond faces Commons grilling over Scottish separation

    Saturday, 10 September 2011

    Silencio

    I have nothing useful to say this morning. Unless some news item galvanises me later, I will have nothing to say this afternoon or tonight.



    But Ieuan Wyn Jones has something very important to say ...

    Friday, 9 September 2011

    PMQs: Oh Gypsy Amalia – did you foresee your own celebrity?

    I found the first PMQs of the new session yesterday good value for taxes, if not for my BBC licence fee (I don’t pay it anymore), with an informative and entertaining mix ranging form low comedy to high seriousness on matters of fundamental interest to the people of Scotland, and in the Megrahi case, far beyond Scotland.

    But I clearly watched a different programme to Eddie Barnes of The Scotsman, who has a piece today entitled Luck be a lady for Dundee for gypsy king Alex. The piece is under the category New parliament Sketch. Sketch is a word journalists use to justify abandonment of objectivity and a descent into leaden humour and rampant bias, and Eddie Barnes doesn’t disappoint. (I hold the view that political editors and reporters should stick to objective reporting and telling the truth to power, leaving comment to journalists who specialise in that, and to editorials.

    I won’t waste space quoting Eddie Barnes’s pejorative comments and biased analysis of the proceedings, because, thanks to alternative media, Scots can read, listen and view the real things without the distorting prism of The Scotsman. Here are a couple of clips – judge for yourselves. If you can be bothered, the Eddie Barnes piece is here .










    Wednesday, 7 September 2011

    Cameron say Nadine Dorries is frustrated – much laughter in the House – meanwhile, the economy goes to hell …

    Nadine Dorries at her right-wing primitive best - Cameron at his sexist, superficial, Old Etonian worst.

    And our elected representatives find it all hugely funny. Bosom pals Cameron and Clegg - the Two C**** - giggle and slap each other on the back.

    Meanwhile, the UK goes to hell in a handcart ...


    Monday, 5 September 2011

    The Force is with us – 39% 38% 23%

    39% 38% 23%

    Today’s TNS-BMRB poll reported in The Herald means a majority of Scots declaring a preference are now in favour of independence, and this is consistent with every indicator since May 6th 2011, from the election results to the recent Ipsos MORI poll that a great sea change has swept across Scotland and the political consciousness of the Scottish people. It reflects the assertion, across the globe, of the right of the people to throw off the conspiracy of wealth, power and inherited privilege, often backed by force – a movement that is throwing off old hegemonies, whether they be totalitarian dictatorships or corrupt, flawed democracies, or the relics of old empires. It is the zeitgeist, and it will not be denied.

    We are fortunate in Scotland that we can do it by democratic means, by the ballot box, without the use of force, and without a blood sacrifice of our bravest people. But our bravest people, our servicemen and women are being sacrificed weekly in the misguided foreign entanglements of the UK government, as it desperately tries to hang on to its image of itself as a global power player. And our entire country, Scotland, is being placed at risk by being used as the base for outmoded weapons of mass destruction in our Scottish waters.

    The task ahead is clear – to progressively shift, a percentage point at a time, the undecided 23% towards asserting their independence at the ballot box, and convert as many of the 38% committed to a failing corrupt, incompetent United Kingdom to support for their own freedom as a nation – Scotland.



    Sunday, 21 August 2011

    The smell of the newsprint, the roar of the racks

    I went into the paper shop this morning, and the newspapers stared at me reproachfully from the rack. “You’ve betrayed us,” they seemed to say plaintively, "we’ve served you for decades, and now, when we’re at our most vulnerable, you attack us … You’ve had circulation problems yourself, you should know how it feels.”

    I tried to resist the seductive smell of the printer’s ink as I reached down for my Sunday morning supply, and sent a subliminal message to them – “You’ve betrayed the Scottish people – but I live in hope …”

    I crossed the road, in what passes for a sprint these days, with the Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Herald (among others!) under my arm, firmly in what I call car jack mode.

    (Carjack mode refers to the old joke of the motorist who gets a flat tyre on a lonely country road late at night. He finds he has no jack to change the wheel, and heads for a lonely farmhouse to see if he can borrow one. On the way up to the farmhouse, he reflects on the hostile reception he will get from the farmer, wakened by a stranger in the middle of the night. He knocks on the door, an upper window opens, the farmer looks out and says politely “Can I help you, sir?” The motorist looks up and shouts “Stick your ******* jack up your ****!”)

    I have good reason to be in car jack mode over The Scotsman’s shameful week, where every story, however flimsy, was converted into an attack on the First Minister. But I am falling into the old trap of thinking of Scotland on Sunday as simply a Sunday clone of The Scotsman, when it patently is not, with the key difference being Kenny Farquarson.

    I skimmed the headlines and got rapidly to KennyFarq (see @KennyFarq on Twitter – always thought-provoking and relevant), ready to shout “Stick the UK up your ****, Kenny.” But I am instantly confounded, not to say dumfounded, by a brilliant, visually arresting cartoon on a Glasgow zombie theme by Brian Adcock and beneath it, an attention-grabbing headline – Home truths for the new Unionist party with Kenny’s pic and by-line beneath it.

    My normal approach to Kenny’s pieces in SoS of late could be categorised as hostile dissection. But this piece speaks clearly and utterly authentically for itself and says something that has never been said in quite this way, although many turgid analyses have infested the media lately on this theme.

    So I have nothing to say, because Kenny Farquarson has said it superbly and concisely, and he deserves to be read, not quoted. Go out and buy Scotland on Sunday for this article and this cartoon.

    Brad Pitt – eat your heart out! Sorry, Brad – it’s the other way round, isn’t it?

    Friday, 12 August 2011

    The London riots - the Commons debate and the media

    When events go wrong in a country, the government feels under pressure. If it is a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans in 2005, the government cannot be held responsible for the hurricane, but they are responsible for dealing with it, and not only their actions in handling the crisis can be called into question, but also their foresight - or lack of it - in preparing for it, not only in the period when it was known to be imminent, but in previous long-term preparations for ‘known unknowns’, the knowledge that there will be hurricanes and floods, although the exact timing cannot be predicted far  in advance.

    When things go wrong that seem to be clearly linked to either the action or the inaction of government, for example the failure of an economic or social policy or programme - or the lack of one - or a diplomatic or defence initiative, or the lack of one, governments are subject to even greater direct criticism. To take an example that is half a century old - currently being dramatised in The Hour on BBC - Prime Minister Anthony Eden was criticised by the United States and the USSR for supporting Israel by bombing Egypt in the Suez crisis (The Tripartite Aggression) in 1956, and he resigned in January 1957. He would also have come under heavy criticism from allies France and Israel and from some sections of his own party had he not acted.

    (The posture of the US and President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles was highly ambivalent, as revealed by subsequent unguarded remarks by Dulles.)

    The measure of a government, a politician, or an industrialist - or indeed any man or woman - may be gauged by their willingness to take unpopular decisions, either to act or refrain from action. But refraining from action as a conscious choice is not inaction - the failure to act out of cowardice, political expediency or lack of imagination or vision most certainly is inaction.

    GOVERNMENT DEFENSIVE ARGUMENTS

    They can be summarised as -

    No one could have foreseen this - it was totally unexpected.

    This is caused by global factors beyond our control.

    This was caused by the actions of the last government (when it wasn’t us) or, in the event that we were the last government, by the irresponsibility of our political opponents.

    This is not representative - it was one rogue individual, company or group.

    This is a failure of personal morality, family, schools, academics, i.e. anybody or anything but us, the government. Government policies and actions never lead to bad outcomes, except when our opponents are in government.

    This was an act of nature - or God - and we now must deal with it.

    THE WESTMINSTER RESPONSE

    The Westminster response, from the headless chicken initial response of Cameron, Clegg and the Coalition  to the response of Parliament in the debate yesterday, with the political solidarity characteristic of a threat of war rather than an outbreak of civil unrest, contained elements of almost all of the above defences with the exception of global factors, and they would have thrown that into the  excuse pot if they could have got away with it.

    The consensus analysis seems to be, in a classic exercise in doublethink, that the riots just happened, could not have been predicted, had no contributory causes that in any way could be attributed to government policies or actions, past or present, but nevertheless were the entirely predictable result of a long-term decline in family values, loss of parental control, marriage, personal morality, a failure of discipline at all levels, the Human Rights Act, social media - the list goes on.

    I watched the first hour and a half of the debate, gave up in disgust, recorded the rest and sampled it. Here are a few of my increasingly exasperated tweets as the debate droned on.

    TWITTER 11th August 2011 @moridura

    Peter Curran

    moridura Peter Curran

    It's the gangs - but why did young people join gangs? Always the same reasons: failure of government to provide jobs, hope, and purpose

    It's all about crime and criminals - blame the culture, the parents, social media - everything and everybody except Government

    Cameron/riots: Will the de-masking deal with religious masking?

    Cameron catalogues what he will do - concentrating on compensation for damages

    Police may remove face coverings - I agree with that - no one should be allowed to go masked in public - no one

    Cameron/riots. What does a government do when public order fails as a result of their policies - attack human rights. And there will be more

    Cameron: "The riots are not in any way representative of our country" Not representative but symptomatic...

     

    Ed Miliband - usual preamble - true face of Britain, etc. Wait for the beef ... Where's the beef?

    Get past the clichés, Ed - say something for god's sake ...

    Ed M. Go out and listen to the people. Explain how their voices will be heard. Independent commission of enquiry - reaching out ...

    Ed M: Deeper reasons - "To seek to explain is not to seek to excuse" Good one, Ed ...

    Ed M: Will there be a cap on help fund?

    The PM and the police cuts - will he think again? Swifter justice system - capacity of courts? Tough sentence deserved and expected.

    Ed M: The Army? Funding of operational costs? Increased police presence? How long?

    Ed M: Questions of hope and aspiration. Not about any one government. You're right there, Ed - it's about the 13years of Labour too

     

    Cameron: Cosy regards to Ed - all sweetness and light - for the moment ...

    DC: Tear up the manual of public order

    DC: Not about resources - about deep moral issues. (Growls from House)

    House starts to growl and mutter at police cuts. DC begins to face the flak

    DC: Vague rabbiting on. Gets to operational costs - vague, evasive answers. Police budgets - cash reductions over 4 years - 6%!

     

    Pompous old Scots git Malcolm Rifkind -

    DC: Stonewall on police numbers - but it won't wash, David ...

    Jack Straw: PMs repetition of Treasury lines about numbers not good enough

    David Lammy: Lost homes -where were the police? PM must speak to Tottenham victims. Public enquiry - skirmishes led chaos

    David Davis: Ethnic tension over young Asian deaths. Measures?

    Wee Hazel Blears. Criminality, etc. Like the criminality of MPs over expenses? Where were the polis then, Hazel?

    They're all sliding away from reality into denial of accountability of any government, any UK policy. I've had enough - lunch!

    Oh, God! Nadine Dorris - water cannon, tear gas - the whole right-wing repression, dangerous crap. Go ahead, UK - attack the people!

    Now more than 1.5 hrs into 'debate' - a cosy consensus between the parties - it was Blackberries, crooks, parents, morality, etc.

    (At this point, the tedious sequence of predictable, formulaic contributions led me to produce a few stereotypes -)

    Fragrant Tory babe Penny: "No moral compass, positive role models." e.g. Sir RS Likr, XBE, YBE, ZBE

    Sir RS Liker,XBE, RBE, ZBE (etc), failed Scots Tory: "May I - etc. etc." Oh, God ...

    Tory Babe: May I welcome - congratulate the PM - praise police - blame parents and Blackberries - demand the police are set free ...

    Sir RightWing Nutter, KBE: Give the police flame throwers, grenades, napalm etc. These teenagers must be dealt with. Rule Brittannia!

     

    Making political capital out of the riots. It is political, stupid - it's the bloody UK in operation

    DC: Admiration for Strathclyde police. They'll be even better when Scotland is free of the UK - and you, Dave -

    No real debate - Commons is the UK in denial and complacent conspiracy of silence. Why? Because the three main parties are culpable.

    RW F.Luent Tory: Thugs, hooligans, etc. Compensate businesses.

    Speaker reprimands Cameron!

    SNP leader Angus Roberston is told PM not aware of any conversations with Scottish gov on riots, but Cameron praises police co-operation.

    (At this point, I gave up in disgust, and went for lunch.)

    THE MEDIA

    A special edition of Question Time was scheduled. I looked forward to it eagerly - I should have known better. Essentially it mirrored the vacuity of Westminster, but with some flashes of real insight from Fraser Nelson, whose politics I don’t share, and whose persona is that of one of the kind of Establishment Scots that I can’t stand. But he does talk some very hard sense at times, and I delighted in his demolition of the increasingly ridiculous John Prescott, who lathered up with synthetic indignation in his plain-spoken, man-of-the people Lord Something or Other style, seemingly unaware that he was part of the group who are supposed to be governing the country.

    Newsnight Scotland again was a deep disappointment - what can I say that I haven’t already said? They also missed the point completely on the Jimmy Reid Foundation and the Scottish Left, who apparently feel left oot!