They came for the protestors, but I wasn’t a protestor….

As immediate fall-out from the Alex Salmond trial stitch-up, the commentator Craig Murray is being prosecuted for saying that the Alex Salmond trial was a stitch-up. The grounds for the prosecution are that, by saying that the Alex Salmond trial was a stitch-up, he committed contempt of court. Contempt-of-court cases are heard not by a jury, but only by judges, and carry a possible sentence of two years in prison.

The first step is a procedural hearing, scheduled for Wednesday 10th June at 10:00 a.m. This hearing will be on line, and therefore open to anybody with an internet connection. But you need to apply for access. Please do so – it’s important that as many people as possible know what was actually said in court, because the mainstream media and the judiciary will try to stamp on anything they see as threatening, and what Craig Murray has to say undoubtedly fits that bill.

You can apply for access by emailing judicialcomms@scotcourts.gov.uk. And please circulate this to friends, and post it on any internet forum you have access to, so that there’s more public observation of these proceedings.

POSTTHOUGHT: The amount of effort that the authorities are putting in to suppress allegations that the Salmond trial was a fit-up does suggest that it was.

Where it’s *really* at

My last post has been met with incredulous hostility by some commentators, hostile incredulity by others (all in personal communications), so I need to flesh it out a bit. To provide continuity with the previous post, I thought of heading this one “Where it’s really at, asshole”, but since the skeptics were my friends I’ve forborne to do this.

The first point in my previous post – that Nicola Sturgeon would either commit or not commit to an indyref this year – was not controversial (how could it be? – it covered all possibilities). In the event, NS’s response contained many fine words and high aspirations, but you should always listen to the small print. What she actually said was, “it is still my hope [that we can get an indyref in 2020]”. That doesn’t sound like commitment to me.

My second point – that SNP policy is based on the belief that indyref without a Section 30 order would create too much hatred and division to be sustainable – attracted no adverse comment. Looking at it again now, I’m not sure that it’s true, but that question needs a separate post.

My third point – that the SNP doesn’t want independence, it just wants to stay in power for ever – is the one where my skeptical friends thought I’d lost my grip on reality. However, there are plenty of pointers in the SNP’s conduct over the last six years:

– The only actions the SNP have taken to further independence is Ian Blackford saying repeatedly and untruthfully that Scotland won’t be taken out of the EU against its will (it has been), and Nicola Sturgeon saying repeatedly that Scotland’s right to a referendum will be recognised (it won’t);

– They’ve mounted no legal challenge to the need for a Section 30 order, their refutation of mainstream media lies is non-existent, and they have not moved the opinion polls by any noticeable amount;

– The Scottish political scene is glacial, with the SNP running a straightforward social-democratic programme, and the opposition ineffective beyond belief. But with independence, that will change. After the honeymoon period, the growth of better-formulated dissenting views on how run a country will mean that they’ll have to work for their living;

– Their record in government has seen some ill-prepared legislation put forward – the Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act, the Named Persons Scheme, the Gender Recognition Act. They’re good at managing money, but poor at managing public opinion. So the return of normal politics is a threat to them;

– Their finances won’t cover a second indyref. They have £400,000 cash-in-hand, membership has halved since 2014, and indy will mean losing their £1.5m per annum share of the ‘Short money’ gifted by the UK Government to opposition parties.

More on the SNP’s true policy below.

On my fourth point – that the Salmond trial is a stitch-up and Sturgeon helped bring it about – the skeptics really had a field-day; “About as realistic as eating fish and chips on Mars,” was one comment. But my analysis is not unrealistic: my information comes from Craig Murray, the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who was hounded out of office for showing that Britain relied on intelligence obtained from torture. You can read what he has to say here, and it’s very disturbing. By “at the heart of Holyrood” Craig means, of course, in the heads of Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, Chief Executive of the SNP. And as a coda to this, let’s note that the name of Alex Salmond is not now to be found anywhere on the SNP’s website. Here is everything the SNP has to say on the 2014 referendum:

The 2014 independence referendum was Scotland’s greatest ever democratic event. In the months building up to the vote, the Yes campaign – spearheaded by the SNP and its then depute leader Nicola Sturgeon – engaged with every community in Scotland. Support for independence reached record highs[,] and levels of political participation blossomed across the country.

While the result delivered in the wee small hours of September 19th fell short…

I know that memory plays us tricks, but I think I remember Alex Salmond being around at that time. Wikipedia supports me on this: in its article on the 2014 referendum, it mentions Alex Salmond by name 89 times. The SNP names him, um, zero times.

Putting my third and fourth points together – the SNP’s inactivity and the Salmond stitch-up – we can derive a coherent account of the SNP’s policy over the last six years:

a. The UK will never let Scotland go if it can avoid it, because Scotland is too valuable. (For a summary of this, read Craig Murray’s opening paragraph here.) This makes independence is virtually unachievable, except by UDI and the risk of bloodshed (which the UK is perfectly capable of fostering). Sturgeon understood this early on, and decided not go go for it;

b. Her career plan is therefore to leave the SNP after five to ten years, and move on to an international career;

c. The modus operandi will be to talk up independence, but do nothing, just as the Brexiteers have talked up a “free” Britain, but will balk (we hope) at actually making much of a difference with Brexit;

d. Salmond is a threat to this, because he’s a cunning political animal and is committed to independence. He must therefore be neutralised;

d. The Gender Recognition Act – which gets you lots of brownie points internationally – is the jumping-off point for her international career. This is why she’s packed the party with transgender activists. The GRA is her passport out, and needs to be more or less in place if possible before the Salmond trial, which could see her forced to resign, and in any case before the 2021 Holyrood election, which could be the high point at which she departs.

That may all sound out-to-lunch, but in my view it adds up. So that’s all I’ll say for the moment, except for one final point. One of my skeptical friends describes BoJo as “a fatuous prick”, meaning (I assume) that he needn’t be taken seriously. I disagree. BoJo’s fatuous prickery is a stance, an act, designed to endear him to the voting public; underneath it, he’s a shrewd performer with a steely grasp of all the things he needs to do to further his career. He’s ruthless and skilled and uncontrollable, and that adds up to dangerous.

The Salmond trial opens on Monday. We live in interesting times.

Where it’s at

That title reminds me of a linguistic joke, so let’s get that over with:

New student at Harvard, seeing a clearly established student whom he can ask for information: “Say, is this where the library’s at?

Established student (snootily): “This is Harvard. We don’t end sentences with a preposition.”

New student: “Oh, I’ll rephrase my question. Is this where the library’s at, asshole?”

To the point, now. It’s been a long time since the Scottish independence movement has been anything other than murky, unpredictable, unbelievably baffling or just plain hopeless. However, things are beginning to turn the corner, with some upcoming dramatic events:-

  1. This coming Wednesday, it is said, Nicola Sturgeon will set out her response to BJ’s refusal of the request for a Section 30 order. This either will or will not contain a commitment to an indy referendum this year. It’s difficult to see how it will plausibly do that. But if it doesn’t, the SNP’s credibility will slide down by another notch.
  2. The background to this, and the basis of all SNP policy on independence since 2015, is their belief that independence can only be securely won with the consent of the British government; anything else will create too much division in Scotland, and too much risk of non-recognition abroad.
  3. An alternative explanation of the SNP’s conduct since 2015 is that they don’t in fact want independence – they want to stay in power and keep their jobs and perks for ever. Political life after independence will become much more difficult for the SNP, with their primary aim accomplished and the rise (let us hope) of a proper Scottish opposition.
  4. The Alex Salmond trial opens soon, and there’s open discussion among commentators that this will destroy the SNP. It will destroy the SNP because the accusations against Salmond are (commentators say) a stitch-up, and Sturgeon (they say) played a large part in setting that stitch-up up. She did this (they claim) to demolish a rival who wanted to take the party in a direction she didn’t favour. (The thought of the honest, open, red-headed wee wifie whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt in being revealed as a corrupt and self-seeking political turd is an unsettling one, until you remember Blair’s metamorphosis in just a few years from left-wing poster-boy to financial scammer and international war criminal.)
  5. A line of argument that might mitigate the SNP’s dishonesty is that their proposed direction – indy with consent – is truly the only viable one, but that this will take ten to twenty years. Their only dishonesty is that they haven’t admitted to that timescale.
  6. If the SNP is eviscerated by the Salmond trial, a new party will head the independence movement (let’s just assume it’ll call itself the Scottish Independence Party, for heaven’s sake!). It’ll be much more aggressive in calling out the lies of the mass media on Scotland’s economic and cultural strengths, and in challenging Westminster’s machinations to erode devolution. If the movement is eventually forced to go for UDI, it will be a UDI which Scottish voters are in favour of because they’ll have listened to all the arguments, and one for which international recognition has been prepared through diplomatic initiatives.
  7. This might not be far off. After January 31st, an EU that wanted Scotland to join it (because of its economic potential and cultural compatibility) would be able to twist the arm of the UK, because the UK will no longer be an EU member and the UK will want a trade deal.

The Scotsman doesn’t believe this last point: it reports that the EU has stated categorically that it will not readmit a Scotland that has separated from the UK without consent. What The Scotsman doesn’t say, however, is that the EU will twist the British government’s arm to give consent, and that will be the price of the trade deal. So there’ll be consent, and therefore indy. And the Northern Ireland settlement shows that BoJo does actually back down when he has no cards.

Construe as Mince

Craig Murray’s petition to bring in OSCE observers for the next Scottish referendum (which I hope you’ve all signed – DO IT NOW!) has resurrected the doubts about postal votes in 2014. These doubts solidify, for some people, into the claim that the 2014 referendum was rigged by the UK Government packing the postal vote with “No” ballots, as evidenced by the extraordinarily high postal turnout. This is a consoling narrative for those indy supporters who were gutted by the massive “No” wrecking-ball that crawled out of the woodwork on September 18th to steal the referendum (which many Yessers feel in their bones was in truth a clear victory for Yes) and demolish their dreams. So we need to look at that claim again now.

The claim

The detailed account of this rigging (the “Dunoon Report”) has gained some traction among the Indy community. It was authored by Andy Anderson, Education Officer of the Dunoon Unit of the Democratic Socialist foundation, and a video of Andy explaining the report to a group of activists shows him as a sober, thoughtful and concerned individual. We can summarise his report as follows:

1. Three public figures (John McTernan, political strategist and advisor to the Labour Party; Susan Dalgety, former Labour councillor and civil servant; and Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives) said in public, before the count had started, that the postal ballot showed a clear lead for No. It’s illegal to count postal votes early, so these people couldn’t have acquired this information legitimately: there must have been government malpractice.

2. The reported postal-vote turnout is not believable as it stands, and broke world records in four local authority areas. To quote the Dunoon Report, “[The Electoral Management Board’s] claim that there was a spectacular world record 96.4% turnout in the PB in Argyll and similar spectacular results in the PB all over Scotland, needs to be carefully assessed, before it can be accepted as a fact.”

2. In Argyle and Bute, more people voted postally than were on the postal-ballot register. “We have a grand total of 743 people on the PB register who could not vote,” says the Report, when the count shows that only 526 people did not vote.

3. Areas with a higher proportion of postal votes returned a higher proportion of No votes; this correlation held across all 32 local authority areas. In the words of the Report, “[A]s the level of the [postal ballot] rises, so the No vote rises with it and takes a stronger and stronger lead.”

5. The fraud was committed by the UK Government replacing unused postal votes with fake votes for “No”. Clandestine government agencies will have access to local authority records, and therefore will have known how many postal ballots had been issued. They also knew, as the referendum approached, who had voted and who had not, and had copies of their signatures (which are on local government computers). So they printed postal ballot papers for electors who had not voted, and submitted them in the normal way through the mail or at local authority offices, reversing the result of the referendum. To quote the Dunoon Report, “[A] massive No vote was inserted into [the postal vote], ensuring an overall No vote majority at the Referendum.” This fraud left no trace in the counting process.

Evaluation

I found this account persuasive (and worrying!) when I read it in detail for the first time recently, so I decided to flesh it out with numbers. The data I used comes from Wikipedia, with postal ballot details from the Electoral Management Board, as quoted in the Dunoon Report. A copy of the Dunoon final report, and my extracted data-sets, are on my website here. Let’s take the Report’s five claims in order:

1. Public figures knew some postal results before the count. These politicians’ comments are consistent with there being government-sponsored fraud: they would have made the comments to soften up the public for the massive No that was about to engulf them. An alternative explanation is that some unscrupulous busybody had counted postal votes, and had primed three political idiots to talk about it in support of No.

2. The postal turnout was unbelievably high, and set world records. The postal-vote turnout was 93.7%, as against 82.5% for the in-person turnout. Postal-vote turnouts are always higher, but I could find no data that would show whether this particular turnout was unbelievably high or not. I could find no data at all on world records for postal-vote turnouts. The claims that these turnouts are unbelievably high and constitute world records are concrete and verifiable, so the absence from the Report of data to support them is worrying.

3. In Argyle and Bute, more people voted than was possible. The electoral register was a year old at the time of the referendum, and therefore included people who could not have voted. The Dunoon Report estimates their numbers as follows:

Those who had died since the register was updated: 125
Those who had moved away since the register was updated: 250
Those in prison: 6
Those with dementia: 362
TOTAL: 743

This total of 743 people who could not vote is clear evidence of fraud. 14,409 people were registered for postal votes, and 13,883 votes were received (13,926 in my data-set, due to rounding differences): so only 526 people did not vote. But 743 people could not have voted, so more people voted than was possible.

If we examine the data critically, however, more holes appear than we can be comfortable with. Firstly, “couldn’t have voted” – the form of words used consistently throughout this section of the Report – is not the same as “a ballot paper couldn’t have been sent in”, and the outstanding case of this is the group of people with dementia.

People with dementia can of course vote; in fact it is probably illegal to prevent a person from registering or voting on grounds of dementia. So care-home staff will take steps to ensure that such people are registered and vote; the care staff or a family member may even mark the ballot-paper for them (and there are statutory provisions for bypassing the signature, for persons who can’t sign their name). So it’s difficult to see the justification for including these 362 patients among those for whom a ballot paper could not have been sent in. Removing them reduces the number of impossible votes from 743 to 381, well within the count of 526 people who did not in fact vote.

Similar considerations apply to those who had died or moved away: the ballot papers were sent to their old addresses, and the current residents there could have sent in those votes, and no doubt in some cases did. This means that the Report’s third claim, that more people sent in ballot papers than was possible, doesn’t stand up.

4. A high postal vote correlated with a high No vote across all 32 local authority areas. This at least looks sound: the chart below shows the relationship between postal votes in the local authority areas (ranked by the proportion of the vote that was postal, and divided into four groups) and the No vote in each group:

dunoon-chart-1“R-squared” is a statistic that shows how closely two data-sets match: 0.0 is no relationship at all, 1.0 is a complete match. A value of 0.98 is extremely good for any human-society data, perhaps even too good to be true. So let’s look at it more closely.

I first asked myself why, and on what basis, the 32 areas had been divided into four groups, but the Report is silent on this. Then I looked at the figures for each of the 32 separate areas, and found that the postal-vote levels do not in fact fall into natural groups at all (red bars on the chart below, which show what percentage of that area’s vote was postal). Similarly, the percentage of No votes (blue bars on the chart below) shows no observable relationship to the size of the postal vote (red bars), and in Group Two and Three goes down as the postal vote goes up:

dunoon-chart-2Deeply suspicious now, I inserted the 32 data-lines for the separate local authority areas into a scatter-plot like the first chart above, plotting the full data, rather than just the four group-averages. The scatter-plot looked like this:

dunoon-chart-3A statistician’s professional verdict on this correlation (R-squared = 0.14) would be that it’s a bit below piss-poor. What the Dunoon Report has done here is to hide the detailed data of the 32 local authorities by reducing it to four averages, which give a spectacularly different result. My own qualifications in statistics are nothing to write home about, but I do know that this is elementary data-rigging, arrived at by ignoring the principle of data integrity. Data integrity says that the investigator should look at all the data, not just the bits she likes; next time you meet a statistician, ask them whether data integrity matters, and then hide under a rock until they’ve finished exploding. So no cigar for the Dunoon Report on this one: the full data shows that the level of postal votes has no correlation with the level of No votes, and blows its fourth claim right out of the water.

5. A clandestine government agency replaced unused postal votes with fake No votes, compromising the result. The clandestine tactic, it is claimed, was to hoover up unused postal votes and replace them with fake No votes. So how many votes would have been available to these purveyors of state-sponsored skulduggery? We’ll have the answer if we can estimate how many postal votes were genuine.

We know the electorate size and the votes cast for all voters, and the electorate size and the votes cast in the postal vote, so by subtracting one set from the other we can get the turnout for the in-person vote. It’s 82.5%, slightly lower than the 84.6% overall turnout, which was inflated by the high postal vote. Nobody thinks that the genuine postal-vote turnout could have been lower than the in-person turnout, so let’s take that figure of 82.5% as our baseline, our threshold for genuine postal votes. The possible number of fake votes is the difference between that number, 82.5% of the postal electorate, and the number of postal ballots received, 93.7% of the postal electorate.

A turnout of 82.5% of the postal electorate gives us 657,410 genuine postal votes; the number of postal ballots received was 746,308. The difference between the two – the window for fraud – is 88,898 votes. However, “Yes” lost the referendum by four-and-a-half times that number, 400,000 votes. These numbers are not shown in the Dunoon Report; but, presented or not, they mean that the Report’s fifth claim, that a clandestine government agency changed the result of the referendum by faking postal votes, can only be construed as mince.

Working through these calculations to verify the Dunoon Report’s claims has made me angry. Not because my comfort blanket – that the referendum was stolen from us by some malign agency – has been stripped away, but because of the egregiously dishonest presentation of data. The Dunoon Report says the postal-vote turnout was unbelievably high and broke world records, but shows no evidence for this; it claims that more people voted than was possible, but the choice of words is sloppy and the figures do not stand up; it says that a high postal vote, area by area, always gives a high No vote, but it does not, and the Report hides the data that show it does not; and the Report says that packing the postal votes “ensured an overall No majority”, when the putative packing amounted to less than one quarter of the majority, and this data is not even referred to. That this dishonest Report should have been going the rounds for five years, consoling Yessers with its unexamined data and false claims, annoys me.

Lessons

What can we learn from this? I think there are two take-aways for us. The first is fairly obvious: if a document comes your way that makes a data-based case, examine the data carefully, compare it with other data that you know or can easily acquire, and verify that it all makes sense. The second relates to how we expect to win IndyRef2. We should not console ourselves with comforting narratives, false expectations and wishful thinking. Instead we need to concentrate on clear, factual arguments, presented soberly and straightforwardly; at the end of the day, we want an IndyRef2 that has been properly thought through by the electorate and reflects the considered consent of most voters. That’s not an impossibility; all the facts are on our side, and we just need to put them over properly.

Mozart on Debates

The memory-failing spouse and I attended a dementia-friendly performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, by Scottish Opera, a few days ago. It was a matinee, sparsely attended, disappointing no doubt for the singers, but for the audience it meant that there was no audience-intrusion to distract us from the top-notch performance, and the unpretentious simplicity of the occasion was overwhelming.

Readers will remember that there are three strands to this opera – the heroic couple Tamino and Pamina, who undergo ordeals, and summon up their courage by playing a magic flute; the nasty flim-flammerie of the Queen Night, whose aim is to plunge all other characters into such despair that they kill themselves; and the earthy clowns Papageno and Papagena, who just want to shack up together and have a million kids.

It’s all underpinned by a fourth strand in the person of the sorcerer Sarastro, who runs what can only be called a think-tank. This is an institution that promotes the same equality-and-brotherhood ideals as those of Robert Burns’ “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, and more broadly those of the French Revolution (the opera premiered in 1791, two years after the storming of the Bastille). Sarastro’s think-tank holds everything together, brings about the happy ending, and gives us to understand that the other three strands are nothing more than a top-dressing of frivolity.

Sarastro’ aria, “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” is the crunch-point in this fourth strand: the lyrics say, more or less, that in these holy halls we think clearly, and respect each other’s views, and do not turn our opponents into enemies. In this performance our Sarastro delivered the aria with no stage-business, standing more or less still. (You can see a similarly understated performance of it here.) As the melody unfolded, I found myself gasping and snuffling, unable to catch my breath, choking, with surprising tears running down my cheeks. The ideals that you believe in can be complete buggers when they catch you unawares.

Think about that.

Soldiers of the Queen

If you think this post is going to be a rant about unredeemable bigotry among those that fought under the butcher’s apron, think again. We need to be more nuanced than that.

My wife and I had an encounter with a non-indy person after the march, two Saturdays ago, as we were coming out of the Mitchell Library (ah, the arcane leisure pursuits of the Byres Road glitterati!). He’d been leaning on the balustrade by the kerb opposite the outside door, smoking, and walked across the pavement to speak to us, a bearded and tidily turned-out man in his twenties. “See this march,” he said, making eye contact. No doubt he’d noticed the SNP badge throbbing yellow on my lapel. “Ah don’t haud wi’ a’ that.”

We raised an eyebrow.

“See me, Ah’m a soldier,” he said. “Ah wiz sent by Blair and Bush to Iraq, and when I came back, there was no help of any kind for me. Naethin, not from the British Government nor from the Scottish Government. So these politicians, Ah don’t believe anything they say. That’s why I think this Home Rule is a’ mince.”

Home Rule is an endearingly old-fashioned way of describing what we campaign for (is that really what the British Army calls it?), but this wasn’t the moment to take up that point.

“They should have helped you,” I said. “Whether they’re Scottish or British, they’re the government, and they should have helped you.”

“Helped me!… Helped me!!!…..” He roasted them for their failure by producing a content-free stream of expletives, sullying the ears of my public-school-educated octogenarian partner. And with each expletive he reached out and touched her, apologetically, reassuringly, on the arm. “Sorry…sorry…” He really was contrite; they teach you manners in the British Army, and deference towards the posh elderly. “See, Ah fought for Britain. And this Union – it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.”

My answer needed some thought. This Union is broken – England has exploited Scotland for more than 300 years, sucked the lifeblood out of it, and is still sucking benefit from the husk. But being a soldier is no joke, and someone who’s shown that level of commitment is not going to react positively when told they’re talking nonsense by some toffee-nosed tosser with an Oxford accent. So I discarded, “We never get the government we voted for,” and, “They’ve stolen all our oil,” and settled for, “This is a rich country. We have renewables, oil, water, agriculture. We could be much more prosperous that we are.”

He didn’t look convinced.

“It’s England that’s holding us back,” I went on, “because we don’t have the powers to develop our potential.”

That sounded vague and unconvincing to me even while I was saying it, and not surprisingly he still looked sceptical. But he hadn’t interrupted, so I went for the jugular. “Norway has a one-trillion-dollar oil fund. We could have had that.”

There was a lot of harrumphing, and objections I didn’t quite get, and more streams of expletives – all with the obligatory apologetic touches to the arm, of course. When it subsided, out came his summing-up. “See this SNP.” he said, “If we did this, would they be a good government?”

Gobsmacked, I tried to show no emotion. “Yes, of course.”

We parted on good terms.

A Quiet Word about the Debate

Last Sunday, on the day after the AUOB march in Glasgow, the Herald gathered and published comments by three SNP politicians about the conduct of the independence debate. This was a remarkably unprincipled piece of journalism. A four-page front spread, it did two things: it crowded out any mention in that day’s Herald of the joyous and sensationally good-natured 100,000-strong march, and it manipulated the three politicans’ comments into a narrative where Yes-supporters were portrayed as vigorous abusers of their own side. It’s also thrown commentators on Wings Over Scotland (the seriously outspoken pro-independence blog, which Unionists hate and fear in equal measure) into a fury. Fantastic smack in the eye for indy! Herald’s job done!

However, under the fury with and the contempt for the various participants, there’s a serious point which indy-supporters need to consider, namely that our goal is to win the coming referendum. It’s true that our goal is independence, but, as we stand now, we’re not going to reach that goal by declaring UDI, or using the entrails of Michael Gove to strangle Boris Johnson, or by telling the UN that we really, really want it: the only way we’re going to get independence is by winning a referendum. And that means winning over to our side a proportion — a small and manageable proportion — of those who voted No last time. (Even if we went UDI, we’d still have to ratify it by a vote, so that goal would still be there – we’d still have to persuade enough people that it was the right decision.) Think about that for a moment, and think about how you would persuade someone who disagrees with you to change their view. Clearly you wouldn’t shout at them that they’re a lying fascist scum-bag, or a piece of zombiefied Unionist maggot-feed; you’d suggest to them – gently – that Scotland could be more prosperous if England had less say in its development, and you’d do this in a quiet, friendly one-to-one conversation. That’s how we’re going to win the referendum – by a million such conversations.

Wings Over Scotland would be a more effective promoter of such conversations if its comment forums were less strident. At the moment, the forums are unpersuasive – they’re talking only to the Yes side, and participants shout and holler. My guess is that the only non-Yessers who read the forums are Unionist trolls wanting to undermine them, and that Undecideds won’t bother to brave the onslaught of violent opinions. This is a pity, because the Rev Stu Campbell, who runs the site, has created a runaway success in terms of visibility – his readership is awesome, and the sheer quantity of comments on his forums is to die for. More than that, with his political acumen and his formidable research skills, he exposes on a daily basis the untruths spread about by the lying toads who oppose us. The Rev Stu is cantankerous and outspoken, and not easily deflected from his chosen path. But could he be gently nudged to move the forums in a more positive direction, so that they influence more people?

Stu already has form on this – his Wee Blue Book, published one month before the 2014 vote, looks as though it shifted opinion by about 10 percentage points, and it was (as one would expect) abuse-free. So he’ll readily understand how an abuse-free forum could positively influence the debate. The steps that he could take towards this are, shall we say, (KLAXON: PUN AHEAD!) fairly pedestrian: establish a ‘play the ball, not the person’ rule (contravening posts get bombed), ditto for foul language, ditto for posts without substance, spread the workload among a team of moderators, close comments after 24 hours, etc., etc. – and these could be implemented incrementally, so as to make the workload manageable, and to gently nudge the participants towards a more productive engagement.

This is what we need to do to win. Could you give it some thought, Stu?

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.

 

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.

 

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.