Can-kicking.

It’s disappointing, for three reasons, to see that the EU has extended the Brexit deadline to October 31st. The three reasons are:

  • It’s a compromise between those EU leaders who called for an extension of a year, and those who called for no extension. What do you do when you have opposing extreme viewpoints? You agree at a half-way point. However, that doesn’t deal with the underlying issues, which are that one side thinks the UK can get its act together if given time (Donald Tusk), and that the other side thinks that EU should cut its losses and terminate the Brexit process in short order (Emmanuel Macron). The ‘half-way’ compromise doesn’t settle that point (it doesn’t even come near to acknowledging it), and the underlying issue bubbles on, underlyingly.
  • The second reason it’s disappointing is that the EU, in my view, has misjudged the UK’s ability to come to a consensus. The UK – and that means England – doesn’t do consensus: it’s the only European country, and one of only one-third of countries worldwide, to use First Past The Post in national elections. Its record of consensus-building since the EU referendum is beyond non-existent. So if we can guess at the future by looking at the past, the UK Parliament is not going to agree any deal before the October 31st deadline. (And how does the end-of-June review change that prospect? Not at all. “They’re not ready. – Oh, dear, we must tell them again.”) The EU has bottled it. The April 12th deadline was firm and final, and the October 31st deadline is equally firm and final, which means that the EU will bottle it again then.
  • The third reason it’s disappointing is that it kicks not only the Brexit can down the road, but also the IndyRef2 can. Nicola Sturgeon’s constant promise had been that she will lay out the IndyRef2 strategy “when the terms of Brexit are known”, and they won’t be known now until maybe six months hence, and possibly not even then. This leaves the SNP open the charge that it’s not really serious about independence, a charge that’s difficult to refute without revealing prematurely your strategy, and it demands from supporters more trust than many feel comfortable with. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the SNP is playing a very long hand indeed, keeping the independence démarche under wraps until most voters give it their engaged support. That (as Ian Blackford has said) is the kind of IndyRef2 we need, where we convince doubters by the merits of the argument.

We live in interesting times.

 

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Hands full of Aces?

What is going to happen with the indy ref? And why did Theresa May call the 2017 general election?

Theresa May didn’t call the 2017 general election to strengthen her majority – she already had a working majority of 17 seats. And she didn’t call it to weaken Labour – Labour was weak enough. In fact, that was the problem. Labour’s job – from the Conservative perspective – was to contain the SNP in Scotland, and Labour wasn’t doing that. But Scottish independence on the back of Brexit would be a disaster for the Conservatives, since the loss of Scottish resources could lead to the annihilation of the neo-liberal dream. So they needed to get into Scotland, win the seats that Labour wasn’t defending, demolish the SNP, and squash the independence movement for ever. They threw at it money and data: data to identify target voters, and money to inundate them with leaflets. And they nearly succeeded: the SNP lost more than one-third of its seats (21 out of 56), its vote-share went from one-half down to one-third (50% to 36%), and Alex Salmond was out. They didn’t reach their goal – the didn’t quash the SNP, or demolish the independence movement, and polls show that support for independence continues to hold up – but they sowed misery and dismay through the upper echelons of the party. They even left some prominent party members brainwashed into believing May’s mantra that “now is not the time”.

I’m indebted to the blogger at A Wilderness of Peace for the above analysis of this election, which I find convincing. But what has it to do with the indy ref? The answer is that it gives us a pointer to the UK government’s likely attitude to the first port of call in the independence journey, namely Section 30 permission to hold an indyref. Other things we need to factor in are what to do if permission is refused, and the SNP’s constant prediction stating that “Scotland will not be taken out of Europe against its will”.

So this is where I think we are now:

  • The UK government will not grant a Section 30 order. David Cameron agreed to one in 2014 because he thought indy would lose, and that that would remove independence from the agenda. That’s no longer the case. The 2017 general election didn’t demolish the indy movement, and the UK government isn’t fool enough to believe the mainstream media’s constant burble that the people of Scotland don’t want another indyref (they jolly well do). No way will they now see a Section 30 order as a risk worth taking.
  • The First Minister has said, pretty well unequivocally, that she won’t mount a referendum without UK agreement. There are obvious tactical risks in doing so (the opposition will make hay with the Scottish Government for allegedly exceeding its powers, an anti-indy boycott could deprive the result of authority, a challenge in the Supreme Court could delay the whole thing), but surely the real point is that it wouldn’t achieve the independence movement’s, and more particularly Nicola Sturgeon’s, overriding strategic priority. This is that independence, when it comes, must be with the consent of the whole country; the last thing we need is a vicious campaign like the EU referendum, that leaves a country irreconcilably divided and bitter. There’ll always be a hard core of bigots, of course, and for some the consent will be grudging, but we must leave every voter in no doubt that the issues have been fully and fairly debated, and that this is what we’ve agreed to do as a nation. That can take time. Phantom Power’s recent report on Norway set out how Norwegians reach consensus by debate before doing anything at all, and “it took us forty years to build an airport”. Let alone a new country.
  • If a Section 30 order is off the table, and the Scottish Government will not mount an independence referendum without one, that looks like the end of the road. It leaves only the option of UDI (which can be dressed up in various ways, but is still UDI). Given that we need to build a consensus, however, UDI would be catastrophic. So it really is the end of the road, isn’t it? Well, no, if we listen to what our politicians have been saying, and perhaps it isn’t.
  • “Scotland will not be taken out of Europe against its will”, they say constantly, turning the issue into one of EU membership, rather than one of Scottish independence. So the next Scottish referendum will not be solely about independence, it will also be about the EU, and the two issues will be bundled together. “Should Scotland join the EU?” would be a good first shot at a question. We all know that Scotland can’t join the EU without first becoming independent, so the question is a proxy for that. And it’s difficult for the UK government to forbid us to ask that question, since they asked it themselves in 2016. Also, there are further factors that make it attractive to bundle the two issues together:
    •  It acknowledges both the conditions set out in the 2016 mandate: “clear and sustained preference for independence” and “material change of circumstances”;
    • It makes victory wholly attainable: 62% voted to Remain in 2016, and that figure has almost certainly increased since then;
    • If the 38% Leavers boycotted the referendum, that still wouldn’t be enough to cast doubt on the result.

The clincher, of course, is that if we can run the campaign like we did in 2014 – that is, as a largely straight campaign that engages people with the issues, rather than like the EU referendum, which was based on all sorts of make-you-boak nastiness and lies – then we place anti-indy in a deep cleft stick. The only argument they have for keeping the Union together is that England needs Scotland’s wealth, and that’s the one thing they can never admit. So it looks like our hands are full of aces here.

 

Game, Set and Match to the Indy Challengers

Had to get this up as soon as possible – stunning performance by Ian Blackford. (Ignore the wrong video for the first 20secs – IB can still be heard as voice-over.) The interviewers’ questions are pedestrian, poorly researched, and out of date with any current realities – pretty much the same as the UK government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations, really – but IB’s responses are pithy, informative and challenging. Share widely. Do it now!

Quips for today

Nice wee comment from Dr Jim on Wings over Scotland recently, about Scottish cultural practices:

Damn Scots insisting on being Scottish, they’ll be wanting to speak their own language next, dear God what’ll happen if they decide to drive on the wrong side of the road or do *all* their counting in centimetres

Yoon wummin/manny goes into a shop and says can I have 3LBS of Ayrshire potatoes please, the assistant says *It’s aw Kilos noo* Yoon wummin/manny says OK 3LBS of Kilos then

It’s the future

Trouble is, I can’t find this comment on the WoS website. I think it was time-stamped as 12:56pm on 1 March 2019, but there’s no post of that date in the WoS archives. But thanks to Dr Jim all the same.

It’s wrong to think that politicians are more hated now than they’ve ever been. Viscount Castlereagh was probably the world’s leading politician in the first 20 years of the nineteenth century, masterminding the recovery from the Napoleonic Wars, re-establishing the old elite and stifling aspirations of liberty throughout Europe. So it wasn’t unexpected that he should be savaged by Shelley:

I met Murder on the way,
He had a mask like Castlereagh.

and (of Castlereagh and his buddy Sidmouth):

Two scorpions under one wet stone…
Two vipers tangled into one.

Castlereagh, the epitome of stability and frozen power, committed suicide by cutting his own throat on 12th August 1822. Byron marked it with this epitaph:

Posterity will ne’er survey
A nobler grave than this.
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.

Our invective skills aren’t what they were. I blame the SNP.

Success comes from Success

Had an interesting conversation a couple of days ago with an undecided voter. He was behind the counter when I went in to get my monthly top-up of gut-rot spicy proteins, in the shop that his father, a Muslim from Pakistan, set up twenty or thirty years ago, with a strong unique selling proposition that has turned it into a Glasgow landmark. Spotting the SNP badge that’s welded to my left shoulder, he said, “Can I ask you about independence?”

“Absolutely! In fact, I can overwhelm you with opinionated bludgeoning before you’ve even got to your first pause!” I said. Or rather, thought. I didn’t say that. But I gave a sort of indication.

“Breaking up a country is a really serious thing to do,” he said.

“Heard that one before,” I suggested, disappointed that he’d swallowed whole the toxic Yoon slogan of “breaking up the country”.

“We’ve been in the UK now for three hundred years,” he went on, “and it’s always better to be together than to be apart. We should co-operate, and seek a common solution to the problem. Co-operative solutions are what we Muslims always look for.”

Oh, bugger, that’s all too sensible, I thought. The triconsonantal Arabic root s-l-m (all Arabic roots are made up of three consonants) means ‘peace’, so ‘iSLaM’ (in Arabic, you sprinkle vowels about like aniseed) is ‘the religion of peace’, ‘SaLaM aleykum’ means ‘peace be with you’, and ‘mu-SLiM’ means ‘one who pursues peace’ (‘mu-‘ meaning ‘pursuer of’, as in ‘mu-jihad-in’: ‘-in’ is the plural suffix, and J-H-D is ‘jihad’). So yes, there’s a strong Muslim tradition that disputes are best settled by negotiation, leading to an agreed solution. All this I thought. I also thought, “Don’t go there.”

“The flaws in the union are too serious to be fixed by negotiation,” I said. “Scotland’s population is one-tenth that of England – Scotland will never have power, or be an equal partner.”

“It’s still a risk,” he said. “Are we economically secure enough to survive alone in a hostile and fragmented world?” What a question! – look at agriculture, food and drink, renewables – wind and wave power – tourism, whiskey – and we still have the best-educated workforce in the western world. I forgot to mention the five Scottish universities in the world’s top 200: Scotland has more world-class universities per head of population than any other country worldwide. But I seemed to have said enough to de-fuse the objection. He nodded, and moved the debate on.

“Politics is changing,” he said, “radically. The Labour party under Corbyn has broken the mould. All his support comes from younger people, and that’s going to change the way politics works. So we have a good chance, by supporting Labour, of reaching a co-operative solution.”

I indicated scepticism. The Union of 1707 had been greeted with riots in Glasgow and Edinburgh and the imposition of martial law; according to the spy Daniel Defoe, nine out of ten Scots opposed it. After the defeat of the ’45 rebellion, the English needed to maintain a garrison of 13,500 soldiers across Scotland. Yes, the Union brought great prosperity to Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but it also brought the Highland Clearances, in which up to 100,000 people were summarily evicted and saw their houses and possessions burned behind them, and a sucking out of resources and population. You can’t negotiate with the English, I said. The entire history of the Empire shows that the English don’t understand negotiation, they only understand winning.

“Well, that may be one view of the English, but Toryism isn’t necessarily like that,” he said. He’d been to hear the philosopher Roger Scruton recently. Scruton said you must look behind conservative policies to the real meaning of conservatism. It was left unclear what the real meaning of conservatism is – presumably it means changing only what is necessary, and only with a specific goal in mind – but the policies we’re now subjected to (I said) – austerity, demonisation of the poor and, of course Brexit – are not to be tolerated, and we have no way of changing them except through independence.

“But if we do go for it,” he said, “we could bring very ugly scenes upon ourselves. Soldiers in the streets, civil war. The same as the Troubles in Northern Ireland, here in Scotland.” I agreed. We need to be careful, and above all we need to be disciplined. But that doesn’t mean we can’t succeed.

And then he made a surprisingly positive move. “Are you a member of the SNP?” he said. “Are you an activist? Can you recommend any books, and how can I get more involved in this?” Gosh, easy-peasy! “The local SNP branch meets two streets away from where we are, you join on the internet for £3 per month and turn up at meetings and just talk. They’ll give you things to do if you simply open your mouth a bit!”

Looking back, I don’t think I brought about about a change in his thinking: I think he had already set out in his mind the quick sight-seeing tour of the reasons against independence so as to settle his fears and reassure himself. What he really wanted to know was just how to get more involved. Still, another saved soul is another saved soul, and the more we talk to one another, the more we can get successs to beget success.

Lousy Stock, or Dumped on by England?

Overheard a bloke in the pub this evening telling his girl that lower Glasgow life expectancy – 15 years less than the UK average – was traceable from grandparents through parents to children. I don’t know whether he was merely quoting this analysis, or actively wanting to promote it, and to my shame I bottled out of asking him, but if it’s being used as an explanation of Scottish disadvantage then it’s a pernicious interpretation. It means that lower life expectancy is genetic; it’s simply part of being Scottish. Scots come from lousy stock, there’s nothing they can do about it, and they obviously can’t run a country with these short life-spans hanging over them. “Too poor, too wee, too stupid and too short-lived.”

The study he was referring to seems to be this one. Its key sentence is:

Conclusions: Males and females in most of the larger ethnic minority groups in Scotland have longer life expectancies than the majority White Scottish population.

The alternative explanation, that Scottish health outcomes and life expectancies have been systematically bashed into the ground by centuries of English political orthodoxy and sycophantic Scottish governmental institutions, is widely judged correct, and gets an airing here.

You pays your money, you takes your choice. And then you does something about it.