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Friday, 23 March 2018

A question of two Unions – and Brian Cox on Question Time

Unpublished Letter to Herald 21 March 2018

Dear Sir/Madam,

Brian Cox's Question Time remark on Scotland, the Union and England provoked a reaction on the programme and subsequently, as he countered the false parallel drawn, and the implied contradiction between Scotland's wish to remain in the European Union and its wish to leave the Union with Great Britain - and dared to mention England in that context.

Firstly, a couple of incontrovertible facts -The UK - or an independent Scotland in EU - can take a unilateral decision to leave that union at any time by giving due notice (UK has recently done just that with Brexit.). They don't need EU's permission, and neither does any member state - all they have to do is invoke Article 50.

Scotland, in contrast, having surrendered all sovereignty to England in 1707. was (and is) locked into a Union that it could only exit with the King of England's permission then, and with the Prime Minister of UK's permission now, backed by The Scotland Act - or leave by a unilateral declaration of independence after a Scottish Referendum held without UK's permission.

Our 'glorious Union' was formed by armed conquest of Wales and Ireland and by initial failed attempts by England to conquer Scotland by force of arms (failing decisively at Bannockburn) then by a sordid mixture of economic intimidation (Darien) and bribery that led to a voluntary union that was much opposed, and subsequently derided, in 1707 and subsequently contested by an armed revolt (Culloden), one that was brutally crushed.

Brian Cox's reference to England was relevant to both earlier history and present realities. The Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the rump of an English empire formed by conquest,economic intimidation and bribery. The European Union was created by free men and women with a great vision of free association and mutual benefit of the free sovereign nations of Europe in the aftermath of the second devastating European conflict in the 20th century.

There is no valid comparison whatsoever between the two unions.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

End of Year Tweeting Time. Have a Merry Christmas and a Guid New Year

  1. Peter Curran‏ @moridura

    'The Referendum Murders' re-titled The Scottish Referendum Murders to avoid confusion with EU referendum. …

  2. Peter Curran‏ @moridura 

    Scotland thanks #Richard_Leonard, not just for giving us the biggest #Holyrood laugh of 2017, but a #key_objective with which to enter 2018 - "To join the #small_independent_countries with higher #GDPs and #growth_rates by becoming independent ourselves."

  3. Peter Curran‏ @moridura 

    All #Scotland's problems won't be solved by getting the hell out of this #Disunited_Kingdom - just most of the key ones. We'll still make mistakes - we're human - but they'll be our mistakes, not those of a Scotland-hostile government in Westminster - a self-serving narrow clique

  4. Peter Curran‏ @moridura

    The #Blue_Brexit_Passport is a #Passport_to_Penury and isolationism. In contrast #Scotland has always looked outward, and as a truly internationalist country, knows that #internationalism begins with secure #nationalism and real identity as a people. #indyref2 late2018/early2019

  5. Peter Curran‏ @moridura

    Peter Curran Retweeted Paul Lewis

    The "security bits" for UK citizens are all being subtracted in UK, as it blunders into this #Benighted_Brexit, full of empire-nostalgic bluster, Land of Hope and Glory nostalgia: a synthetic patriotism for a country that never existed, #Britain', a conglomerate of four countries

    Paul Lewis @paullewismoney

    Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis cannot promise that new blue passport will be made in UK @BBCr4today though the security bits he says are all added in UK

  6. Peter Curran‏ @moridura

    2018 is the year the small cloud on the frozen horizon of Scottish unionists will grow insistently larger, as will the question "Is staying with this disunited, politically and economically chaotic and blinkered Union really the best thing for Scotland?" Help them find the answer

  7. Peter Curran‏ @moridura

  8. Peter Curran‏ @moridura

    #separatist A person who supports the separation of a particular group of people from a larger body on the basis of #ethnicity, #religion, or #gender. #Scotland and #Catalonia do not seek independence on any of these, but on historical, geographical, economic and cultural grounds

  9. Peter Curran‏ @moridura

  10. Word #ethnicity is now confusing, and original definition is inadequate, with usage tending to refer to #racial_origin and physical characteristics, rather than just #national_origin. e.g. "a common national or cultural tradition", as census questions on #ethnic_origin make clear

    Peter Curran‏ @moridura

  11. I almost felt sorry for #Tom_Gordon. How to write a sketch piece on #FMQs and omit mentioning #Richard_Leonard's own goal on "small independent countries" - the highlight of FMQs this week. But he managed - …

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Queensferry Crossing debacle - a classic piece of destructive unionist politicking over a great Scottish land mark project

Nicola Sturgeon, FMQs 30th November 2017

"Firstly, what Willie Rennie want to call pedantry, I call accuracy and honesty.
Secondly, as the Transport Minister has set out - as I have set out today - it was not known in August what would be required to be done in order to fix this particular stretch of road.
There had to be investigations, and a design for this repair had to be prepared. When that had happened, and when it was known that that would require a lane closure and the diversion of southbound traffic to the existing Forth Road Bridge, minsters were informed of that - they were informed of that last week - and when it was known when the weather would allow the repairs to be carried out, Parliament and the public were informed of that.
That is exactly how these things should happen.
And more generally here, what we have is, as I've said repeatedy today, one of the biggest construction projects in the history of this country, with some snagging work requiring to be done.
Now I know that politics comes into play when we debate these things in this Parliament. I'm not complaining about that - we all are guilty of that - but I think most people who use the bridge, and most people who travel across this bridge will understand that once a bridge like this is in operation, there will require to be to be pieces of work done to deal with any snagging defects that arise. That is what is happening.
I regret that it is happening, because I don't want to see any inconvenience to the travelling public - but it's important to put these right, not least when it's 70 miles per hour. Speed limits can be introduced so that people can continue to use this bridge in the way intended - so let's focus on that - and with the greatest of respect to Willie Rennie, let's stop mischaracterising what is happening.”
Gaun yersel, Nicola – show them how grown-up politics are conducted …

Sunday, 12 November 2017

The choice of media channel becomes the message - a McLuhanesque cautionary Russian fable …

Update 16th Nov 2017: Link to the first Alex Salmond Show -

On Thursday, 10th of November, worried by Alex Salmond’s decision to accept an offer to host his own show on Russia Today (RT), I posted a tentative enquiry on Twitter -

Alex Salmond to host politics show on Russian broadcaster RT (Russia Today) for SNP/indy or bad idea - what do you think?

Unlike the careful advocate – or American DA or defence lawyer - in court, I was not asking a question to which I already knew the answer, although I had a shrewd idea of what the balance of responses would be, nor did I, at that point, know the position of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. I did have my own view – it was a bad idea – a very bad idea. The responses were few, and that few were polarised, as was my yes/no question.

At this point, I perhaps should give my general views, held long before this debacle blew up, on both Alex Salmond and Russia Today.

I regard Alex Salmond as the architect of the modern Scottish National Party and of the 21st century drive to Scotland’s independence, as a key initiator of the YES Movement, the mastermind of the SNP’s 2007 and 2011 election victories that brought Scots closer to independence than they have ever been since 1707, and a superb Westminster politician to boot. I believe Scots owe him a great debt of gratitude for his contribution to Scotland as a nation, one on a journey towards being an independent nation state once again.

I also recognise that, like all politicians – and all human beings – he displays traits that render him vulnerable at crucial times, notably a love of the limelight and a tendency to shoot from the hip. While these are part of his total personality and charisma - and endear him to many - they can be a vulnerability in a politician - and they can make his party vulnerable.

Some of those defending his RT position say that he is now a private citizen, no longer FM, MP or MSP, and he can do what he likes. While this is technically true, such a defence is naive to the point of disingenuous – he is a former FM, an elder statemen of Westminster, Holyrood and his party, the SNP, and the idea that he has abandoned politics is ludicrous.

I regard Russia Today (RT) as a propaganda vehicle for the foreign policy of the state of Russia in countries outside of Russia. For instance, the US Government has required RT to register as a foreign agent by tomorrow. 

(I do not use the word propaganda in its pejorative sense – information of a biased or misleading nature – but in its core meaning of information used to promote a political cause or viewpoint.)

I regard the Russian State as a partial, flawed but evolving democracy, one that was comparatively recently (1989) created from the total collapse of the totalitarian, closed Sovet Union that had lasted for 72 years. As such, I regard it as crucial to world peace, indeed to world survival, that we establish and maintain a wary, but open diplomatic, cultural, human connection and effective communication with Russia. I believe RT is one channel of that process, to be consumed cautiously, with an antidote of sceptical judgement and respect for fact close to hand at all time. I have no doubt that the Russian Government and many ordinary Russians take a similar view of the BBC. I do not, however suggest similarity means equivalence in the case of both mediums.

The idea that Alex Salmond could accept an offer to star as principal in an RT show and not attract criticism, some derision, and a full-blooded attack from the unionist British media and political opponents, an attack designed to damage Scotland’s independence movement through an attack on its party of government, the SNP, was totally - and now patently - nonsense. The supporting idea, advanced by Salmond’s YES defenders, that somehow he would be a great voice for freedom of speech and provide an antidote to the resolutely unionist biased UK media is equally ludicrous. With all his rhetorical talents, analytical gifts and formidable – in some cases unique – political experience, Alex Salmond could provide such a voice, but only in media that would be seen as objective.

His defenders, including some notable online and YES-supporting media channels, are now using the entirely predictable media storm the RT decision provoked as evidence that he was right to accept the offer, and that this somehow will benefit the independence cause.

Many of these supporters entertain the dangerously naive belief that all media channels not totally committed to pumping out a simple independence line are beyond the pale, can never say anything accurate or truthful, and are staffed by unionist shills devoid of journalistic standards.

Some, incredibly, even regard the independence-supporting Sunday Herald – a superb example of what a truly Scottish newspaper with high journalistic values and an unswerving commitment to tell the truth to power can be – as not sufficiently Pravda-like or on message! 

What,  in effect, such a defence does is address  only the substantial part of the core YES support that provides the core audience and funding support for such media, media that performed a key role in the 2013/2014 referendum campaign.

What it patently does not do is address the impact of the Salmond decision on the wider Scottish electorate, who either do not support independence or are undecided – the voter group whose views we must influence and whose allegiance we must change.

MY  TWEETS of 12th-10th November – they convey my unfolding view of the Salmond decision and the reactions to it.

Defending crass political misjudgments by saying they're not as bad as the worst transgressions of your opponents is a poor sort of defence.

Measure your politicans against the best standards, not the worst. 

Blind loyalty to politicians is never a substitute for intelligent support - the support of critical friends is crucial to political survival.

A measure of indy media is degree to which they can offer such support, and not default to keeping the donations flowing by its absence.

For many Scots committed to independence, the condition of dependence seems to have created a kind of infantilism - an instinct to impotently blame stereotyped devils and a desperation for unimpeachable heroes and gurus: a strange aspect of the union-induced Scottish cringe
One of the reasons I look forward to Scotland's independence is that it will help a chunk of indy supporters to grow up - when we face hard realities and have to do something about them, instead of laying it all at the door of unionists, BBC, MSM and anyone else we can think of.   

"I could select from the crowd no one whose opinions were worthy of preference, and thus I found myself constrained to use my own reason in the conduct of my life." RENE DESCARTE   

I fear Alex Salmond is now treading the Geroge Galloway path to media celebrity and political irrelevance. If he wished to use his formidable talents in media, he should have pursued a UK path. The magnitude of his political misjudgment may become evident very soon.   

"..any medium has the power of imposing its own assumptions on the unwary. Prediction and control consist in avoiding this subliminal state of a Narcissus Trance"  Marshall McLuhan UNDERSTANDING MEDIA   

One aspect of the Salmond RT debacle is that I'll spend more time watching RT. Maybe that was all they hoped for- the Kremlin are Krafty buggers ....   

The more media-cautious personalities of the YES Movement were waiting to see which way the wind was blowing on the Salmond RT question before committing themselves. Mustn't do anything to damage careers! But expect a rush of comment now ...   

I see the new vogue phrase for all would-be trendy journalists is "the optics". Expect it to fall regularly from the mouths of the kind of politicians who adopt trendy phrases ...  
The prompt and unequivocal reaction of the best of the SNP to Salmond RT show will ensure that this does not do long-term damage to the independence cause, which has deep stable roots that can weather the storm. But expect a negative  hit in the short-term: that's inevitable  
Tom Gordon on Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh's role on SNP National Executive in context of Salmond and RT Gordon  Salmond playing Russian roulette with the SNP  39 s cause/ …   

I said my little bit early yesterday on Salmond and RT. Today the story explodes in the media, with Tom Gordon's piece in the Herald perhaps being the most excoriating. Anyone who thinks this is good for independence needs to think hard.   

Nicola Sturgeon has condemned Alex Salmond's chat show on Russian TV

" First Minister said she had not been asked about the arrangement, and that if she had been, she would have advised against it."   

STV News  "Alex Salmond to host politics show on Russian broadcaster (RT). The Russian embassy in London was among the first to share the news."    
Nov 10   

Alex Salmond to host politics show on Russian broadcaster RT (Russia Today)

Good for SNP/indy or bad idea - what do you think? POSTSCRIPT

Monday, 6 November 2017

Sexual harassment, Ministers, MPs and resignation or removal from post

The sexual harassment scandal has led to a great deal on ill-informed nonsense being talked online and in the media, not least by professionals who are paid to know better. So let’s get a few things straight, in what is probably the vain hope of changing that. Let’s start with MPs …

Westminster MPs – Members of Parliament
(I addressed a few aspects of election of politicians and role of political parties and parties in government in a December 2014 blog – after the Independence Referendum and less than six months before the 2015 General Election.

1. Our UK democracy allows the citizen to vote for a candidate for the Westminster Parliament. Any citizen qualified by law (not by party!) may stand for Parliament.

2. A candidate may elect to stand under a political party labelif that party agreesor stand as an independent. If the candidate stands under a party label, the party is identified on the ballot paper.

3. Political parties must have processes to identify potential candidates, nominate them for assessment, assess them, and decide if they are to be adopted as a prospective Parliamentary candidate.

What this means is an elected MP is either a party MP or an independent, i.e. they have either agreed to take the party whip and be bound by the rules and voting instructions of that party (except on free votes; so-called conscience votes) or they are an independent and may vote as they choose. Either way, they have been elected to Westminster by the voters, not by any party - and can only be removed in special circumstances under tightly-defined law as applied to Westminster MPs or by personal resignation

 An MP cannot be removed by a political party, nor by a Government, nor by voters. At the next election voters may choose not to vote for their former sitting MP if he or she is standing as a candidate – that is not sacking them but simply declining to vote for them. (At the time of the general election they have ceased to be an MP, as has every other MP.)

There are, of course, mechanisms by which a party can shows its displeasure or rejection of an MP who takes the party whip so they can no longer be seen as sitting as a member of their party. They can simply remove the party whip, which effectively means that they are still an MP, but not a party MP.

In such cases MPs might decide to offer themselves to another party and take their whip, or sit as an independent. A political party might or might not expel an MP from the party at the point they remove the party whip. In the latter case, the MP may either retain membership of the party or resign his or her party membership.

Constituency parties can refuse to nominate the candidate in the next election.

An MP at any time may resign, either completely voluntarily or under pressure to do so and to save face. But there is a quaint twist involved here – MPs sitting in the UK House of Commons are technically not permitted to resign their seats. But they have a typically ‘British’ escape mechanism …

Once upon a time, appointment to an office of profit under the Crown disqualified an individual from sitting as an MP, so the hell-bent-on-resigning MP – or coerced MP! – acquired a very temporary office of profit by being appointed to either the office of Steward of the Manor of Northstead or Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds. If more than two MPs are trying to resign at the one time (as has happened, e.g. 1985 walkout of Ulster Unionist MPs) they are appointed, then fired from office two at a time till they’re all out – a typically British Whitehall farce …

For what offences or behaviour can an MP be removed by law?

Since I am not a lawyer and have no legal qualifications, I can only suggest that readers refer to either Wikipedia - The Recall of MPs Act 2015 - or a legal text book – or a lawyer, if they feel so inclined, to anwer this. Suffice to say, it has to be something pretty damn serious, as the Expenses Scandal showed, not just something somebody or some group finds distasteful behaviour. In very serious cases, read Misconduct in Public Office. (Note that dependent on the offence, this can mean life imprisonment!)

The reason it’s so difficult – and should be difficult – to remove an elected member of Parliament is that removal of a representative of the people of a state, duly elected, is a very serious matter indeed, one subject to serious abuses, ones that  can threaten the democratic process, as the behaviour of banana republics or states metamorphosing into autocracy, dictatorship or worse throughout history demonstrates.

(Current events on Spain over the Catalans’ bid for independence should give us all cause for pause, especially in Scotland.)

Removal of Government Minister from office

The difference between removal of government ministers from office and MPs who hold party posts but are not MPs in the Government and removal of a sitting MP from the Commons and stripping them of their MP status should be blindingly obvious to our media pundits, political journalists and even politicians. But quite patently it is not, hence the proliferation of nonsensical staement like “If he can be sacked as a minister, why is he still an MP?

A UK government minister, a prime minister or a party leader functionary is either appointed unilaterally by another politician or politician group, or by election by members of a political party by processes which have a kind of democracy, often a very dubious one. They are not elected under the law and constitution of the UK state by an electorate comprised of all eligible UK voters in a constituency of that state, as a member of the Westminster Parliament is.

This Daily Politics exchange on Monday exemplifies the specious rubbish talked on this subject – although they began to almost get there near the end of it …


UPDATE : They're asking the same stupid question again at FMQs today. Read my blog, guys!

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Flower of Scotland–singing it, keys, pitch and bagpipes

This is the text of a letter I sent to the HERALD in reply to two letter sent by Ian Macdonald. At the point of emailing it, I felt it was probably too technical for the HERALD. Seems I was right …

To try to help Ian Macdonald with his problems on keys, notes and ranges, let me offer the following clarifications. 
The range of the melody of Flower of Scotland is from the low 5th to the high 5th of whatever key it is being played in, e.g. in the key Ian eventually cited, D, from A below the keynote to A above it. In tonic sol fa, from low soh to high soh. This narrow compass is well within the range of even the most limited singer - one reason for the popularity of the song. It sticks to the diatonic scale throughout except for the flattened 7th - the 'think' in "to think again". 
In Ian's example of the key of D, the highest note and lowest notes sung would be the 5th of the scale i.e. A.  Since the only accidental in the melody in key of D is the flattened 7th, namely C, the "high Fs" Ian quotes do not occur anywhere in the key of D. 
As well as having problems over keys, Ian seems to be oblivious to absolute pitch. Singers can sing the same melody in the same key an octave apart, as frequently happens with male and female singers, e.g. concert A can be sung at 440 cps, an octave higher at 880cps or an octave lower at 220cps. (The Highland bagpipe tunes A470Hz –480 Hz, over half a tone higher than concert A440, hence Ian's understandable Bb confusion.) 
Although I think the song is uninteresting melodically, rhythmically and lyrically, it clearly has a wide appeal among my fellow Scots that transcends these limitations - in other words it is undeniably a popular anthem that transcends conventional musical criteria, one held in wide affection and esteem, and its place in the hearts of many Scots is secure. Few of them have any difficulty singing it, indidvidually or en masse, in a variety of keys, as a cursory listen to multiple versions on YouTube will confirm. I can even manage it myself ..

yours sincerely,

Peter Curran

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Independence: Where is SNP at? Where is YES at? Where am I at?

All that follows is a highly personal view – I speak for no one but myself. It is also very much a minority view among SNP and YES people, as far as I can determine. It is a view that some feel I should not express except in private forums. I reject that position completely.

Where is the SNP at?

The SNP has been engaging in a process of retreat from its manifesto commitment on the EU Referendum and from a second independence referendum any time soon - and certainly not before 2021. They were bounced into this posture by Theresa May’s 2017 snap general election.

They have conspicuously failed to take successive tides at their flood and failed to capitalise on the staggering advantages and opportunities conferred on them by events after the 2014 Referendum – the YES surge, the incredible membership surge, the even more incredible 2015 general election result, the third term win in 2016, and the chaotic state of the two main UK parties and the UK Government.

They have concentrated on “the day job” and taken #indyref2 off the agenda (effectively adopting their opponents definition of what SNP’s objectives should be), with the FM saying she “doesn’t honestly know” when the next one will be.

They were spooked by Brexit and their policy on the EU has often seemed equivocal, despite nominal commitment to Scotland in EU. Following the Brexit vote, their position has often seemed as though they regarded independence as negotiable in return for a soft Brexit. The nuclear issue is rarely mentioned except in a cost context, with rare nods to the inhumanity of nuclear WMD, the gaping logical flaws in the deterrence doctrine, Scotland’s NATO membership and the appalling consequences of a nuclear war for the planet.

Despite all of this, the SNP remains the only pragmatic political choice for Scots old and new who are both anti-nuclear and committed to independence. I am one of them.

They are still the best choice for delivery of competent, equitable and just government in a devolved Scotland, given the present parlous state of the Scottish Tories and Scottish Labour, the near-irrelevant and faintly ludicrous Scottish LibDems and the well-meaning but tiny Greens, who are nevertheless  crucial to a YES majority in Holyrood.

Where is the YES Movement at?

The reality of indyref1 was that people got off their arses and did things, quite spontaneously as individuals, and the incredible political mass movement YES was born and grew on a grassfire basis. It didn't require roles and hierarchies for people - often put in contact by the developing medium of social media - to get together on an ad hoc or regular basis as either local groups or periodic events or initiative-based groups, sometime funded by ad hoc collections. And those same individuals were often already members of political parties - or gravitated to party membership - and took some of their ideas with them into their chosen political parties.

Political parties need hierarchies, they need minutes, they must operate within an identity and structure constrained in part by stringent legal requirements, must account for their finances - and are geographically limited by the constituency boundaries of branches, with only HQ operating in a wider context. Their principle activities are focused around referendums or elections - and they by definition have a limited agenda - i.e. to get their own candidate and their own party elected to a Parliament or to local government, and crucially in that respect, are in direct competition at crucial times with other political parties who share their independence committment, e.g. Greens, SSP, Solidarity, etc.

YES, a mass movement with a single focus, independence, doesn't need any of these things nor does it need to accept any of these constraints - its strength is its loose, spontaneous character, its focus in the individual acting occasionally within a political party, or operating occasionally with focused cross-party/no party campaiging groups, e.g. CND, feminist groups, land campaigners, Amnesty International etc.

In my view, the YES movement of, say 2009 to early 2012 was YES as its best - a loose, spontaneous flexible resource, able to get behind the YES party of its choice at key times and to operate within YES party branch structures as members, but also outside of them.

The confusion and loss of effectiveness came with the launch of YES Scotland in June 2012, with the creation of a Board, bank account, hiring of full-time staff, etc. This predicably descended into the often misdirected use and depletion of scarce funds for a bureaucracy, and accusations from the Left YES movement of being simply a tool of the SNP. The true spirit of the YES Movement spontaneously shook off the often dead hand of YES Scotland and simply got on with it, but crucial limited resources were frittered away in during the life of YES Scotland.

Radical Independence, formed in the same year, 2012 (but not formally constituted till 2015) was essentially a left wing movement committed to a socialist Scotland, predominantly a central belt organisation with an urban west of Scotland bias organisationally.

It probably made the major contribution to weaning the Scottish urban working class away from their traditional Labour allegiances to the idea of independence, and to vote for YES political parties, which rather inconveniently for RI included the SNP, a pragmatic, slighly left-of-centre social democratic party with strong neo-liberal instincts, which was not at all what RI wanted.They wanted - and I believe still want - a new left-wing party, and even made an abortive stab at one with RISE. They almost certainly still intend to pursue that objective.

Radical Independence - in my view - are responsible for a very large part of the success of SNP electorally and for the peak level poll of YES in 2014 at 50% and of the shift of a 28% poll rating to the final Referendum 45% - but I believe that, in their left-wing vision for Scotland, they also inhibited the centre-right and right of Scottish voters from coming across to independence and YES.  (Most recent polls show around 46% for independence.)

Radical Independence peaked too, after the 2014 Referendum, but in the process frightened the horses - the innately conservative demographic, the older demographic, and the Scotland-the-Timid tendency.  Common Weal and Common Space came into being out of that (and out of The Jimmy Reid Foundation), and have a closely similar agenda. With the exception of independence, they are probably closer to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party - the Momentum wing of it - than Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP.

Where am I at personally, as a left-wing social democrat?

I represent no faction or school of thought, and I recognise that my views outlined above are very much a minority view, and almost certainly those of a tiny minority, perhaps even a minority of one.

I have given up on trying to offer these views through formal SNP structures or formally structured YES groups.  From today on, I intend only to -

remain a subscribing member of the SNP

make ad hoc contributions to SNP and YES groups if requested when I am able.

continue to vote in any relevant candidate selection ballots or election ballots, local and national elections and referendums or plebiscites.

In summary, I will get out of the way of the dedicated SNP and YES activists operating through such groups and I will revert to functioning as the vast majority of non-activist political party members and YES voters function.

I will maintain an online online presence on Blogspot, Twitter and YouTube, but as a citizen/voter commentator on political and other international, social and cultural matters.

(This decision is based on a number of complex reason, some related to strategy and direction of SNP and YES, some to personal priorities and circumstances.)

My commitment to an independent, nuclear-free Scotland remains, and I can think of nothing that could change that.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Nicola's decision on indyref2: a defining moment for SNP, for independence - and for me

I am currently an SNP member. I do not speak for SNP nor for my SNP branch, nor for any YES group or organisation. I hold no office or role in any political party or YES group or organisation. I have no personal political career ambitions. I offer my views on Nicola's decision on indyref2, a defining moment for SNP, for independence - and for me - in this extended blog on that basis, as one Scottish voter.

In June 2016, I attended a YES group meeting hosted by my branch. There was a vigorous discussion about the way ahead for the independence project, campaigning, the implications of the May Holyrood election, the role of the Greens, and the perennial pantomime villains - the BBC and MSM!

I raised the question of the imminent EU Referendum on the 23rd of June, which was greeted by what I can only summarise as a collective shrug. This was understandable, since the consensus of the media, the commentariat and pollsters was that it was an unfortunate distraction, but there was going to be a NO vote, so why worry. I agreed that a NO vote seemed highly likely, but pointed out that one poll had shown a much closer-run outcome. If in fact it was a YES vote, the bulk of what we had just discussed would be almost irrelevant, since the implication of a Brexit decision by the electorate would be mind-blowing. Again, I received the collective shrug and the comment "Well, we'll cross that bridge if we come to it ..."

SNP HQ, despite the FM and senior party figures publicly campaigning for REMAIN on media, showed a marked disinterest in offering our branch any advice or polling day support on the EU Referendum, and the dedicated and hard-working group of core branch activists, pretty well exhausted after the 2015 general election campaign and the bruising year that followed it - culminating in the May Holyrood 2016 campaign - could have been forgiven for virtually ignoring it.

I did my stints at my local polling station, and as the morning passed, became increasingly worried as many of my neighbours and friends passed, making it abundantly and forcefully clear that they were about to cast a YES vote for Brexit. The rest we know. As the definitive results came in, I had mixed emotions - utter horror at what the UK electorate had done, offset by infinite relief that Scotland had voted a resounding NO, and the implications of that for independence.

I was clutching and re-reading the 2015 general election SNP Manifesto I had voted on just over a year previously - and its explicit page 23 commitment, clear and unambiguous.

I was very clear what that wording meant, having been present and heard Nicola at the 2015 Manifesto launch event in the Edinburgh International Climbing Centre, secure in the knowledge that the First Minister was a lawyer and would have reviewed the words with a legal eye and a legal understanding. The first paragraph seemed clear enough - that, as in 2014, the majority of my fellow citizens had to vote YES to independence in a Referendum called by the Scottish Government, and for that to happen there had to be a vigorous campaign before a referendum that persuaded a majority. However, the first part of the second paragraph introduced a tiny nagging doubt in my mind, given that the only possible ways of obtaining clear and sustained evidence of the preferred option of any electorate are elections, referendums or by sampling - i.e. opinion polling

However, since we were clearly not going to have a referendum on whether we should call a referendum, and no political party in its right mind would regard individual polls, or polls of polls as other than highly uncertain predictors of what an electorate might vote in a ballot - snapshots of volatile trends of opinion - the SNP and Green parties, sophisticated political thinkers, would rely on their own information from activists, data analysis and most significantly, on their campaigning strength and the quality of their arguments to shift electorate opinion towards YES during the pre-referendum campaign.

After all, Alex Salmond had called the first indy referendum when polls stood around 28%, and brought them at one point to 51% and finally the 45% result, in a partially flawed but hugely energetic committed campaign against seemingly insuperable odds, when every major UK party, media channel, the money men, big business, and global figures from the Pope through the President of the United States to the Queen of England (sic) were ranged against us on the NO side of the argument. 

But the second clause of the second paragraph clinched it for me, particularly since it used the magic qualifier 'or' instead of 'and'. We would not seek both "clear and sustained evidence" of a majority of the electorate (however obtained) and "significant and material change" in circumstances. We didn't require both conditions to be met, but only one of them - and if the UK accepted the will of the Brexiting electorate, the second condition had just been met

It seemed to me, in the early morning of 24th of June 2016, that the UK electorate had driven its own iceberg into Titanic UK, and if the incompetent crew of that ship, captained by an expedient captain of poor political judgement and faced with rebellion among his mutinous, UKIP-terrified crew, decided to follow through on the Brexit vote, the Scottish passengers should head for the lifeboats as fast as possible, using the SNP manifesto to launch themselves to comparative safety before the big ship, holed below the waterline, sank beneath the Brexit waves.

I was mercifully unaware at that point of the frustration of my hopes for a nuclear-free Scotland and Scotland in Europe that lay ahead, and perhaps for an independence referendum for many years to come - or even for a generation.


I needed a few weeks to collect my thought after June 24, and to evaluate the responses across the UK, Europe and indeed the world - and to a cloud that had started as no bigger than a man's hand on the UK's Atlantic horizon, but was now growing exponentially and alarmingly - the Trump Campaign. My first blog on the unfolding dynamics of Brexit appeared on Saturday July 16th - Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, the Brexit negotiations and the #indyref2 option - and I was still in buoyant mode, reprising the situation as I saw it, offering support for Nicola's mandate, speculating about the way forward for the Scottish Government, and commenting on the then parlous state of the UK Labour Party.

I was confident that the First Minister would proceed on my understanding of the Manifesto commitment, the one I had confidently voted for in 2015 and again in May 2016. But a shadow had been cast across my certainty: the shadow of the YES voters - SNP members and possibly Holyrood and Westminster SNP politicians - who had voted for Brexit, plus the realisation that the 62% REMAIN vote was not only not composed solely of YES voters but of NO voters - and the fact that the percentage of YES supporters and SNP party members who had voted for Brexit was disturbingly high, as this blog extract stated -

But it is the mandate from the June EU Referendum electorate that presents the greatest challenge to Nicola’s formidable intellectual and political mind, since it comes from a REMAIN-supporting Scottish electorate comprising voters both in favour of and opposed to Scotland’s independence, many of whom voted REMAIN specifically to avoid a second independence referendum if they followed their Tory and Labour parties lines. An added complexity is that as many as one third of LEAVE voters supported the SNP and independence!

This was giving me real cause for concern, compounded by the dawning realisation that the First Minister and SNP Cabinet, with an infinitely wider perspective and wider and more comprehensive information sources than the perspective and sources of single voter like me could command, must have been aware of this for many months, and not just through the utterances of Jim Sillars et al. This began to explain the puzzling disparity between the assertively pro-REMAIN arguments in debates by Nicola and others, in a party always publicly pro-European and pro-EU for many years, and their evasiveness, lack of commitment to the EU Referendum campaign on the ground and on the lead-up to the June 23rd ballot.


By the 27th of October, I was getting worried - Federalism, Brexit talks – and #indyref2 - at Kenny MacAskill's enthusiasm for federalism, and at the Tory Government's increasingly hostile attitude to Scotland. I quoted Iain Macwhirter liberally -

"Scotland’s Parliament is effectively diminished and made a “creature of Westminster

UK is a multinational state with devolution of legislative authority. You can’t behave as if UK were ..monolithic unit it was in 20th century

”There's an ugly mood in England over Brexit as lack of any plan becomes apparent and UK Gov resorts to ..lowest common denominator of immigration.”

"I despair at this Brexit dialogue of the deaf…”

I referred to Tom Paulin's play All the Way to the Empire Room which always produces blank looks from SNP MSPS and MPs when I bring it up (SNP politicians wouldn't recognise literature or culture if it bit them in the arse) and I offered a coda - 

I then remained silent, blogwise, until 17th of January, following advice from YES friends that Nicola's initiative had to be played out at least until Theresa's May's response - the "Nicola has to be seen to try!" approach. I never had much doubt what a British PM's response would be to proposals, which, had they been accepted, would have driven a stake through the heart of the Union - but I waited.

Much of it was a reprise of the earlier blog - I had little new to say - but I expressed my rationale for a speedy #indyref2  -

I believe we have never been better placed to fight a successful independence campaign

- in UK Parliamentary and Holyrood terms
- with an experienced and battle- hardened YES
- with media (two newspapers)
- with a major looming issue and threat in Brexit
- and with an extreme right-wing and incompetent Tory Government caught up in desperate attempts to resource a chaotic negotiating strategy, and with wide European goodwill towards us.

As for polls, as in indyref1 - where we started from an infinitely lower base - it's our job to change them, and only a campaign after a starting gun has been fired - #indyref2 - and a named ballot date will do that.

Waiting for some illusory ideal time which will never exist is like waiting for Godot, and risks the fear of failure mood blunting the will to win. We are after all, an independence movement, and independence movements are not characterised by timidity or fear of failure. Let's do it!

Essentially, the above extract still reflects my position, and the view that an independence strategy must be determined by pollsters telling us when it's the right time is risible, and the mantra that we must only call an independence referendum and name a ballot date "when we're sure we can win" is at one and the same time ludicrous and contemptible.

By definition, there can be no such time, and if ever that is in doubt consider this - Jeremy Corbyn, who came to leaderships of the Labour Party on the back of a mass movement, Momentum, faced the most sustained, orchestrated barrage of denigration that any political leader has faced in recent times - from his own party, from the Tory Government, from other parties, from the media and from the financial and business communities.  He entered the 2017 general election campaign with the virtually unanimous verdict that he couldn't possible win, with a 20% poll deficit. As Prof. John Curtice, psephologist extraordinaire said on television "No one has ever reversed a poll deficit of 20%!"

Well, he almost did - and he could have formed a Rainbow Coalition government if Scottish Tory voters, deluded Scottish Labour voters and an unknown number of YES defectors hadn't betrayed that hope.

The following day, I was on my favourite theme - the utter bollox talked by media - and most politicians - on negotiation - Theresa May’s 12 EU/Brexit negotiating objectives – except 75% aren’t …

By the 12th of February, I was getting seriously worried about where Nicola might be going with the whole Brexit/Indyref2 thing - Nicola’s four big decisions - maybe the most fateful ones of her career… I offered my analysis, i.e. I was unwisely was presuming, as a voter, to offer the First Minister advice!

I was concerned about the fact that, as I saw it - and still see it - Nicola had been progressively rowing back from an independent Scotland as a full member of the European Union, was focusing almost exclusively on Brexit and her white paper proposals on the Single Market, and the possibility of a Scottish place at the Brexit negotiations, now becoming vanishingly unlikely. Nicola's clear wish and intent to operate as First Minister of all Scots, YES or NO, and of Scotland - admirable in theory - was driving her deeper into her 2015 Manifesto launch stance - after the 2014 defeat - "We lost!", the 2015 election was not about independence, but about working constructively within the Westminster system, etc. Uncharitably, this could be characterised as - We lost, so let's roll over on our backs, wag our Scottish tails, accept what's coming to us and think of England! 

Despite the fact that the SNP effectively seems to have rowed back – and back again – from its 2016 manifesto commitment not to allow Scotland to be dragged out of EU against its will, and has been progressively diluting that commitment to instead settling for some kind of single market deal from a prime minister manifestly disinclined to offer Scotland anything that would signal its status as a nation and one not subject to the arbitrary whims of a sovereign Westminster#indyref2 gives the SNP the opportunity to restate its commitment to EU and its intent to seek to remain in the EU after independence is secured.

I tried to focus on the situation after independence, and how SNP could allay the fears of the YES Brexiters over how an independent Scotland would view EU membership, and posted links to two recent broadcasts.

Theresa May's snap general election result then overturned the applecart yet again. I offered my initial thoughts, then some later thoughts, trying to be positive about the depressing result - we won, but suffered serious Westminster losses - and tried to get my head round Corbyn's relative renaissance.

The Scottish Parliament’s  vote to call #indyref2 at a time of Nicola's choosing - or not - remains. Corbyn must decide on his view of Scotland. We are essentially thrown back to Nicola's strategic position at 2015 manifesto launch - and in this election. It's about Brexit, not indy.

So I waited, Scotland waited and UK waited for Nicola's response to the will of the Scottish people on June the 8th. I said I wasn't despondent, but I was apprehensive. When she announced her decision in the Scottish Parliament - se clip at start of this blog - my worst fears were realised. Where am I now in my thinking? I can only offer this -


Compared to many independence supporters I know, especially the committed men and women of my SNP branch, I am a Johnny-come-lately to independence - my active involvement covers a decade, from my 2007 Holyrood election vote till now. Compared to the vast majority of SNP members and supporters, I am an old man of indy - in every sense of the word! But here's my view, condensed as best I can, of the independence project and the last fascinating, furious, often frustrating and always unpredictable decade.

My beliefs about independence are best expressed in this statement, developed by me during the 2014 campaign - 

I am eligible to vote in a referendum on Scotland's independence, and I subscribe to the following two core principles and three core objectives -

Independence is the fact or process of independence – it is the state of not being dependent, or the process of ending a state of dependency

Independence is the natural state of free individuals and free peoples

I want a nuclear-free Scotland – free of nuclear weapons and bases
I want a Scotland with full fiscal and tax raising powers
I want a Scotland with full control of its foreign policy, defence capability and the decision to commit its defence forces

Having laid that a priori baseline, here is my related thinking.

An independence project requires two things - energetic proponents of the case for independence with the capacity to shift a nation's thinking and inspire a mass movement - and a driving force to achieve the independence objective. Since independence involves removing dependence on the existing state , the choice of methods to achieve that objective are in essence confined to three options - 

persuade the existing state to relinquish control voluntarily

use the democratic process, if one exists

a unilateral declaration of independence

Since the first is almost never a realistic option, the second choice is often the preferred route. The last option can be the initial route, or result from the failure of pursuit of one or both of the first two options. The ideal UDI is a velvet revolution, free of violence, but however it occurs, it require a group willing to seize power, with or without the consent of the people, or in the context of expanding an existing power base. 

Scotland is firmly committed to the democratic route and that requires a political party operating within the existing power structure - the British State and Westminster. That political party has been and is the Scottish National Party.

The Scottish National Party was founded a year before I was born.  I have been aware of it since childhood, and have observed its development over all of my life.(WIKIPEDIAFounded in 1934 with the merger of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party, the party has had continuous parliamentary representation since Winnie Ewing won the 1967 Hamilton by-election)

Through much of that time, the received understanding - received by Westminster because it was seen as vanishingly unlikely - was that if ever Scotland elected a majority of SNP MPs to Westminster, that would be accepted as de facto evidence of a wish of the Scottish people for independence, and it would be granted.  At any point that the possibility of that actually happening occurred, the British State promptly went into initial panic, rapidly followed by pre-emptive strike mode. (See notably Diomhair and its fascinating, indispensable and often dryly-humorous treatment of the history, in the inimitable style of the Gaels.) The Scottish Parliament resulted from one such panic, in the profoundly mistaken belief that devolution would "kill independence stone dead".

With one MP ((Robert McIntyre 1945) - no real worries. But Winnie Ewing's 1967 win and the subsequent successes in local election did worry the UK Labour Government enough to set up the Kilbrandon Commission and worried the Tory opposition enough for Ted Heath to commit to a Scottish Assembly if he became Prime Minister.

At the General Election 1970, Winnie lost her seat, but Donald Stewart won in the Western Isles. Margo brought the total up to two in a by-election, then in Feb 1974 general election, SNP was up to 7 seats, and later in another general election in October 1974, the then fabulous figure of 11. Now the Brit. Establishment and Tory and Labour parties really were worried. But despite the discovery of oil in the 1970s, SNP's fortunes declined - Westminster and the Brit. Establishment, helped by the winter of discontent and Callaghan's cack-handed Labour Government, saw the threat of Scotland's oil all too clearly, and Maggie swept to power (helped, some say, by the hubris of the SNP Westminster MPs).

All that followed, through to the Blair landslide, led to the Scottish Parliament and the new Nationalist era. A period of comparative complacency set in in Scotland and Westminster, but unsettled by the global shock of 9-11, then Blair's Iraq War in 2003.

Then the unthinkable happened, and the d'Hondt system failed to maintain the unionist Lab/Lib coalitions of mediocrity. Alex Salmond confidently set up an SNP minority government after SNP became the largest Holyrood party in 2007, reiterating his commitment to call a referendum within the next Parliament, with a complete absence of weasel words about waiting for opinion pollsters to tell him when to call it, and without demanding the certainty of winning in advance.

(It sure as hell impressed one old Scot of 71 to abandon his lifelong commitment to the Labour party - and to abandon his plans for a quiet retirement walking his two Westies, playing his sax and doing some creative writing - for a decade of online activism as an SNP party member!)

But somewhere along the line between 2007 and the post-2014 Referendum Resurgence and 2015 landslide, this assumption that a majority of Scottish MPs elected from one or more independence-committed parties meant de facto independence slipped away, not only from the lexicon of UK and Westminster, but from the mantras of the SNP. Somewhere along the line of gradualism, pragmatism, the comforts of government and power and office, and the luxury of no longer being a party of protest but being the safely established government in Scotland with a huge membership, celebrity in abundance, and no shortage of SNP bums on cosy media studio sofas, independence has taken a poor second place to working within the Westminster system.

As for the issue of nuclear weapons of mass destruction (always the primary over-arching independence issue for me), it is now rarely referred to, other than token references, almost always in the context of the cost argument, or by the unionist opposition as WMD as job creation scheme, and is left by the SNP to one committed CND MSP, Bill Kidd.

The SNP's central role in the independence project is undeniable, a success hard-won over eight decades from 1934 to 2014. Without it, there would have been no 2014 Referendum. But its landslide success in 2011 and the referendum campaign was significantly due to the emergence of an unparallelled mass movement, the YES campaign, and its dramatic impact on the outcome of that referendum, taking the polls at one point to 51% and ultimately close to victory at 45%.

Its post-referendum dramatic surge in membership and its astonishing electoral landslide in the 2015 general election was even more significantly due almost totally to YES and its impact on the electorate and grassroots SNP activists - a mass movement the SNP HQ and Cabinet had failed to understand during the referendum campaign, the complex dynamics of which it still fails to understand today.

The SNP leadership was handed a series of golden independence gifts by the Scottish electorate - an electorate and dedicated constituency activists energised by the YES mass movement and the membership surge that any independence party in history would have given its soul for -

three terms in devolved government

a mass increase in membership

the 2011 and 2015 landslide electoral victories, the second of which was unprecedented in Scottish and UK political history

It would be an exaggeration to say it has squandered these gifts, but true to say it hasn't capitalised on them or use them boldly, radically or effectively, instead becoming defined by caution, timidity, imagined consolidation and fear of failure in a second referendum. The belated emergence of some backbone in securing  Scottish Parliament approval for enabling legislation to call a second independence referendum was thrown into confusion by Theresa May's snap election - an election campaign Party HQ was woefully unprepared for, resulting in a limp and directionless campaign, offering little or no guidance and central support or clarity of policy on key issues to dedicated activists.

The central contradiction for the SNP is that, as a party of independence in devolved government, it has to find the critical balance between what must be its over-arching goal, independence, and displaying competence in devolved government temporarily within the UK/Westminster system that it is trying to escape from. If that balance slips to far towards the independence goal, sacrificing competence in government, it risks electoral losses: if it slip too far towards settling comfortably into discharging its governing responsibilities within the existing devolution constraints and Westminster, it risk being seen as being absorbed by that UK system and its undemocratic power structures, acceding to them and thus alienating its core independence support.

In short, without independence as its main, immediate driving goal and priority, pursued against deadlines, the SNP becomes just another Scottish-based UK party, but one with no electoral base or presence in rUK, and as such, will be judged by the Scottish electorate on that basis.  If it tips the balance towards that accommodation with UK rule, as it is now doing after Nicola's decision on #indyref2, then it must find another name for itself, for it is no longer the party of Scotland as a nation once again, but just another supine minor party in a disintegrating, incompetent Union.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party has entered its post-electoral failure-as-success phase, mirroring SNP's after the 2014 referendum, basking in the the media spotlight, enjoying its Glastonbury celebrity success and showing, unlike SNP, its understanding of the mass movement that put it there and its contempt for opinion polls as a driver of electoral strategy. Scottish Labour, or at least its non-doctrinaire unionist component, watches, takes note - and reflects on the lessons to be learned.

As thing stand today, according to a Survation poll, voting intentions if a general election occurs soon are Tory 41% and Corbyn's Labour 40%. Another modest shift of SNP votes from Scottish Labours voters might just put Corbyn in Number 10.

As for me, I'm still an SNP supporter, and still hope my analysis is wrong. If I vote for them when a vote comes along - maybe sooner than 2021 Holyrood, with another UK general election soon - it will not be as an independence party, but as the Scottish Westminster party best equipped to carry forward Scotland's interests within the UK system. I now realistically don't expect to see Scottish independence in my lifetime and I now see the only the possibility of Scottish independence through English independence, which may well come sooner.