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Showing posts with label AndeCuts Trident. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AndeCuts Trident. Show all posts

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

That naughty, nasty NATO thang …

The Scotsman has one undoubted talent – it can recognise an SNP Achilles Heel when it sees one, and aims its arrows accordingly. It’s a pity the SNP didn’t spot its own vulnerability on the NATO membership question, but there’s a reason for that – it is often described in the media as a disciplined party, as indeed it has been. But there is a fine line between a disciplined party with a clear vision presenting a unified front to a hostile world and one that is suppressing – or ignoring – dissenting voices within its own ranks.

The latter approach runs the risk of creating a climate in which dissent is perceived as disloyalty, and bland conformity to the party line being seen as a virtue. This danger becomes greater when a party that has had to struggle against enormous adversity to gain a foothold in the political life of the nation suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, finds itself with an unchallengeable majority under a charismatic, powerful leader. It is further compounded by the presence of a large number of new members in a Parliament who are equally surprised and delighted, but anxious to please the established power structure. Tony Blair posing with his new intake of Blair’s Babes in 1997 comes to mind.

I’ve been trying without success to track down a quote, which I hazily recall as being in Aldous Huxley’s collection of essays Ends and Means. The idea within it is that at the heart of every major religion exists a core of powerful people who believe exactly the opposite in key doctrines and dogma to the version promulgated to the faithful. This is almost certainly true in politics, and within political parties. It’s sometime called realpolitik, although this doesn’t exactly capture it. An additional factor is that a political party can be a very convenient vehicle for a powerful man or woman at a point in time, even when they do not share its core philosophy, ideals and values.

Again Blair comes to mind. Some believe – and I am one of them – that Tony Blair, an Old Fettesian who was nonetheless of humble origins and and certainly not ‘one of us’, in Maggie’s phrase, and not part of any Establishment power networks, simply looked around -from a position of no real values of any kind - for the political vehicle most likely to allow him to rise to power. As a young lawyer, he found it in the most unlikely of places for one of his class and background, in the mining communities of Durham, and aided by Joe Mills, Regional Secretary of the T&GWU, found his constituency in Sedgefield and his power base in Trimdon village. (I knew Joe Mills very well indeed for ten years or so, and I know Trimdon village, Sedgefield and Durham equally intimately.) The rest is history, a history that brought great wealth and influence to Blair but misery, death and devastation to Iraq  and Afghanistan, terrorism to Britain, and the transformation of the Labour Party into a thing utterly alien to its roots and values.

Now let me be clear – I do not believe that Alex Salmond or any of his key ministers are cut from the Blair cloth. Leaving aside my judgement of them from their actions and statements, their intellect and huge political talents mean that the fastest route to power and influence for any one them would have been through a unionist party to Westminster. They are driven, not by personal ambition, but by personal conviction and a belief in the independence of Scotland. (For example, no objective commentator doubts that Alex Salmond has all the qualities of a world statesman and could have had a glittering career in UK, European and world politics.)

However, the SNP - like any political party – contains men and women of lesser talent who are content to play on a smaller stage, and are realistic enough to constrain their ambitions within their modest abilities. Among that group, it is likely there there are some – I hope only a few -  who hold personal and political views contrary to the SNP’s social democratic, anti-nuclear beliefs which they are willing to subordinate to their career interests.

And the top group may contain some who do not quite burn with a gem-like flame in their belief in a non-nuclear Scotland, and whose key focus is economic and social.

We now know that ministerial group most certainly contains perhaps a majority who believe in an independent Scotland being a member of NATO, a military alliance firmly committed to the possession and use of nuclear weapons.

I also believe that this group contains some who are prepared to see the nuclear disarmament of Scotland and the removal of Trident take a very long time indeed if realpolitik demands it, and are prepared to accept constraints and a radical dilution of the pure vision of speedy removal of WMDs from our land.

All of this is mirrored in the party membership as a whole and in the SNP-supporting electorate who are not party members. Such is democracy, and we must recognise the reality of it, but argue for our own beliefs within that democratic framework.


I expressed the view recently that the SNP was either muzzling internal criticism of the NATO U-turn or those who opposed it were self-censoring. This produced cries of outraged denial from some party members. The Scotsman today believes it has evidence of suppression of open debate, based on a leaked memo from Erik Geddes, an SNP Group Communications Officer. (I have reason to be grateful for Erik’s many informative press releases.) Here is the memo -

I understand some of you may be getting calls about defence policy. Please ask them to e-mail you any questions and respond with the following:

We are looking forward to an excellent debate within the SNP on Nato, which will be democratically decided at party conference in October – the SNP’s clear policy is for Trident nuclear weapons to be removed from Scotland, and independence is the only constitutional option which enables this to be achieved.”

Thanks – Erik Geddes, SNP Group Communications Officer

The most likely interpretation of this email is that Erik is simply doing what any communications department in any political party does – advising its parliamentary members how best to respond to media and external queries in a way that protects consistency of response and accurately reflects policy. However, it is rather oddly worded and sequenced -

I understand some of you may be getting calls about defence policy.

Please ask them to e-mail you any questions

and respond with the following:

That suggests the following sequence of events and action -

1. MSP receives a telephone call asking for information about defence matters, and specifically the Party’s NATO policy.

2. MSP requests that questions be emailed to him/her.

3. MSP does not answer specific questions but responds with the bland pro-forma message.

If the above is an accurate interpretation of the memo – and that is exactly what it says, even if it may not have been intended that way, then it essentially is an instruction, not a suggestion, to MSPs not to answer questions, not to offer their own views – bear in mind that in our democracy MSPs and MPs are elected as individuals, not party drones – but in effect to say “Bugger off, this is a party matter for Conference, and we’ll tell you in our own time what we decide.”

That might just be acceptable if the SNP were not the governing party of Scotland, but to me, it is unacceptable from the party of government to  a free media in a country that aspires to open government.

This would be bad enough if it only applied to media and external queries, but if it applies to voters and specifically also to party members and constituents, it just ain’t on

If a matter as fundamental – and it is fundamental – to the Government of Scotland’s anti-nuclear policy and to NATO membership is open for debate in the confines of a venue in Perth in October, it sure as hell should be open for debate in the media and among the electorate of Scotland.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Referendum – and a Trojan Horse

The independence referendum is now the defining issue in virtually all Scottish political discussion, and a significant one in UK politics. Political points are made on a range of issues, but with the independence question always explicit or implicit. UK politicians and media commentators have been wrenched on to the Scottish narrative, whether they like it or not – and they clearly don’t.

Michael Moore is reported today as demanding that Holyrood stop being negative about issues and cheer up. While the office of Secretary of State for Scotland still exists, we have something to be negative about, and as for cheering up – why not resign, Michael, and give us all an excuse for a party?

Tuition fees rears its head again as the reality bites for England. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, KCMG says the Scottish Government’s position is unfair. This archetypal Scottish Tory, who served as a minister under Major and Thatcher, a former Secretary of State for Scotland, and a failed Scottish politician - dumped twice by the Scottish voters - found a safe haven as MP for Kensington and Chelsea, which is about as far from the realities of Scotland as one can get. He has nothing of value to say to Scotland. He is exactly the kind of Scottish product of the Union and the British Establishment that Scotland can do without – a decision that Scots have already made, about him and his party.

John Redwood, the man who had trouble with the words of the Welsh national anthem, thinks that the Scottish Government is using the tuition fees issue “to radicalise the English”. They are not, John – they are living up to their manifesto commitment to maintain a key Scottish value – free education for all – and they have used their powers legally and properly in a devolved Parliament to do so. Dare I suggest that, on this issue and many others, it appears to be the Coalition Government – and before them the Labour Government – who are trying to radicalise the English by their disastrous policies, greed, and venality.

But let me comfort you, John,  by saying that I am trying to radicalise the English, at every opportunity I get, to recognise that the root of their problems is not the Scots or the Welsh but the Union – a failed, corrupt political system. I plead guilty as charged.

Radicalise, England – regain your country and your self respect – dump the Union, and with it the Lords, the knights, the barons and the whole corrupt mechanism of patronage, wealth and undemocratic institutions. You have nothing to lose but your Garters!


I have requested many times that the Scottish National Party, the Government of Scotland, clarify their position on, what for me, are the fundamental issues on Scotland’s independence – nuclear weapons, nuclear bases, foreign policy and fiscal control. To try and focus the debate on these fundamentals, I wrote my own little credo of two key principles and three core objectives, and offered it for consideration and downloading where appropriate.

The referendum on Scotland's independence

I have no idea how many people share these views, inside or outside the Scottish National Party. I do know that if you are a supporter of the Labour Party, the Tory Party or the Liberal Democrat party that, either you do not support these views – since all three are opposed to Scotland independence, committed to the Union and to the nuclear deterrent – or you are in a state of doublethink, entertaining two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time.

So I feel it is reasonable to ask the Scottish Government to be clear on its stance on these vital issues. But I do not believe that the Scottish Government must – or should – respond to clamorous demands from those diametrically opposed to independence to spell out every detail of policy and procedure and the exact structure of the independence agreement before the referendum and before the detailed negotiations on the terms – assuming a YES vote to independence.

The demand for more detail comes also from other voices and groups, who range from those fully committed in Scotland’s independence, through those as yet undecided trying to evaluate the pros and cons, to business, financial and commercial groups, and the main religious groups. I accept fully the rights of these groups to express their views on what kind of independence they want to see, and to use the media and whatever direct lobbying clout they may have to influence the Scottish Government.

But I do not accept their right to try to force the Scottish Government, a government with a secure and decisive mandate from the Scottish people, to give a blow-by-blow account of their policy debates and the minutiae of policy in every area that could possibly arise, at a time when the date for a referendum has not been set, and may be two or even three years away.

No country seeking its independence has ever behaved in this way. They have either seized their independence by revolution or by velvet means, e.g. America, by a war of independence and Slovenia, by a non-violent secession – a velvet revolution, by a long period of passive resistance – India – or by a longer process of gradualism and evolution.

I reiterate two of the paragraphs from my little downloadable credo -

I am prepared to trust the elected government of Scotland and the team it selects to negotiate all matters relating to these principles and objectives. I expect them to consult with the Scottish people on detailed measures only to the degree that it does not prematurely show their negotiating hand or constrain the necessary flexibility that all negotiators must have.

I do not require a second referendum to ratify the agreement reached on the detailed terms of the independence agreement, providing none of the deal breakers above are compromised.

The reality is that the outcome of the referendum, one that will fundamentally affect Scotland’s future for many years, perhaps decades, and which will have a significant influence on UK and European politics and Western alliances, will be determined, not by politicised interest groups, nor by the chattering classes (of whom I am one) but by ordinary Scottish voters, at all levels of Scottish society, voters who have little knowledge of the detail, but a good grasp of the main arguments and issues. Their decisions, like all decisions, will be influenced in part rationally, to the degree that the media, politicians and commentators give them accurate, unbiased facts, but also by emotional factors.

In a democracy, the people decide, as the Scottish people did on May 5th 2011, in defiance of the distorted information being pumped relentlessly at them by unionist politicians and their media and celebrity mouthpieces. The new media played a vital role in this, as they will in the referendum lead-up. Those in favour of Scotland’s independence need to exercise caution in how they discharge this vital duty and beware of being sucked into the agenda of those diametrically opposed to independence.

And the objective of their communications should be to persuade the voters, and to counter the torrent of misinformation, distortions and just plain lies that emanate from the unionist camp. Trying to influence politicians in the Scottish unionist parties is at best a marginal and probably fruitless endeavour, in my view, especially under the mistaken belief that bridges can be built across party lines. Bridges can be built with ordinary people – the electorate – but the only bridge that unionist politicians can cross is the one that leads from their own failed parties to one that unequivocally supports the independence of Scotland – and there is more than one – e.g. the Green Party - although only one that can deliver independence.

Any attempt to secure a common agenda with unionist politicians runs the obvious risk of a dilution of the very heart of the concept of independence, e.g. Independence Lite, fatal compromises that would keep Scotland in thrall to the UK. Bloodied and confused by their election rout, the unionist parties are making conciliatory noise about independence.

Be careful – I hear the creaking of a large Trojan horse entering the gate in these initiatives.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Oh, what a beautiful morning for Scotland and the hopes of its people!

Good news all around today on the polls, although the results clearly stick in the craw of some. The responses range from the objective through the rueful to those still in denial.

No nationalist or fair-minded democrat could quarrel with Scotland on Sunday.

Front page headline - Salmond in poll position as SNP surge, sub-header Labour losing ground in battle for Holyrood. Its Insight section gives excellent three-page coverage with graphical analysis of the polls.

(The fourth page is devoted to an essay on David Hume by Richard Bath, which regrettably tries to paint a picture of the SNP - in one paragraph [para8] and one quote from Professor Moss of Glasgow University - that is entirely wrong in its analysis.)

The editorial comment is headed Salmond turns the tide, and Kenny Farquarson's excellent piece Will hope or fear decide the election? contains  comments that can only gladden the hearts of SNP supporters, even though it closes with a note of caution.

“The SNP lead in our exclusive YouGov poll today is a testament to an exemplary, pitch-perfect manifesto launch by one of the most impressive political machines in the UK , never mind Scotland.”

“The SNP is playing a blinder, and deserves its lead in the polls. The campaign is slick, upbeat and positive.”

Forgive me for picking quotes, Kenny!

The Sunday Times carries the fascinating headline Scots deal may break coalition, revealing that Ed Miliband told colleagues that a Lib-Lab coalition in Scotland could bring down the Coalition, confirming my blog analysis of his Scottish conference speech that he wasn’t trying to help Scottish Labour to get elected on May 5th, but trying to fight the next UK general election using the puppet Scottish Labour group as a tool for his own Westminster ambitions.

It also reveal yet again that the UK parties and media are only interested in Scotland when they occasionally and belatedly recognise that it is their Achilles Heel when it comes to maintaining their hegemony and lunatic foreign policy.

All of this predictably has bypassed the Sunday Post, who are engaged, under Campbell Gunn’s byline, in a thinly disguised attempt to prop up Iain Gray’s feeble campaign and image. At least they didn’t trot out Lorraine Davidson to do it for them.

Meanwhile, back at the Royal Stud Farm, the Queen is contemplating gifting Strathearn, no less, to William and Kate “to cement the relationship between the Monarchy and Scotland”. Auld habits die hard. Any Scots - including apparently Roseanna Cunningham - who welcome this are clearly on their knees already and tugging their forelock (and what else besides) as the mud from the Royal horses splashes in their faces.

The new Sunday Herald thinks Tavish Scott is the big story, then follows with page after page of negativism about the SNP, including a sad little piece on party manifestos by Ian Bell. It does, however, give full coverage to Cardinal O’Brien’s admirable attack on Trident and WMD’s in Scottish waters  while managing to ignore the elephant in the room - the fact that the SNP are the only significant party in Scotland and the UK that is totally opposed to nuclear weapons, WMDs and nuclear power.

The Sunday Herald prefers to present Partick Harvie and his Green Party of two, and CND, - which sadly has been totally ineffectual for half a century in opposing nuclear weapons - as the bulwarks against nuclear power.

Well, as champions of the UK (pro-nuclear) and of Labour (pro nuclear), the Sunday Herald would say that, wouldn’t they? They mustn’t support the only organisation that can actually deliver a nuclear-free Scotland, the SNP - if they get re-elected and ultimately secure an independent Scotland they will undoubtedly do it.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tobias Ellwood avoids every question on Defence Cuts

Tobias – there a name one doesn’t often come across. But hold on, isn’t Toby its diminutive? There are lots of Tobys, not counting the jugs. And there was Toby in the West Wing – a passionate man of liberal values. There’s Tobias Mead, of Britain’s Got Talent notoriety.

Tobias comes from the Hebrew Biblical name טוביה which becomes in Greek Τοβίας  - it means Yahweh is good i.e. God is good. If God exists, and is good, then he or she has some explaining to do when contemplating the religious wars that ravage our little planet.

In fact, if God is Yahweh and Allah and the Christian god – usually just called God or God the Father - not to mention a few hundred others, give or take a god or two, then He (or is it She) really must have a word with His most dedicated followers in Israel, in the Muslim world and in the West about settling their differences amicably, instead of massacring each other at regular intervals and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and unspeakable horror to wreak further carnage, called – in the euphemism to end all euphemisms – the nuclear deterrent.

However, I digress, and in the process offend many good people who prefer not to have to consider such fundamental questions.

Let’s come down to earth and have a look at a more mundane Tobias, one Tobias Ellwood, Parliamentary aide to Liam Fox, UK supremo of WMDs, warship and all things designed to attack other nations - called Defence of the Realm – and custodian of the defence budget.

Poor old Liam must at times wish he was a humble doctor again, ideally a country GP, handing out pills and comforting his patients in a quiet Scottish country village, instead of trying to balance the conflicting needs of sustaining Trident as the emblem of power in the remnants of the British Empire, aircraft carriers as a lynchpin of the Tory - and apparently all the other parties’ - job creation scheme, and the embarrassing requirement to stop starving our brave boys of critical equipment in the illegal, immoral wars they are sent to fight in foreign climes. Leaked letters may have been one little weapon in this struggle, even if it backfired a little.

Who better to stonewall to the media on all this than a New Yorker with a European education in Vienna and Bonn, and a former British Army captain, one Tobias Ellwood? Tobias left the Army in 1995, and thus missed the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan by six years. (He may well have faced combat with the Green Jackets between 19991 and 1995 – I don’t know whether he saw combat in this period, but I’m sure he served honourably.)

Today, Tobias faced the politician’s nightmare adversary, Andrew Ferguson Neill. (Paxman has long since become a caricature of his former incisive self.)

Tobias turned out to be an exponent of the torrent of words technique to attempt to overwhelm interviewers, one used by Baroness Warsi, Chairman of the Tory Party, who doesn’t know how many members the Party has. The technique has not been working well for its practitioners of late, since under pressure, it descends into the frantic babbling defence. The Baroness has already failed spectacularly on the electoral fraud allegations debacle, and now today on whether or not Tory Party membership has declined under Cameron.

Poor old Toby must think that God was not so good to him today, since he rapidly followed the same downward path in the face of Andrew Neill’s implacable questioning.

The torrent of words technique fails the Baroness yet again - she doesn't know how many members the Tory Party has. Andrew Neil unkindly point out that she is Chairman of the Party.

The Tories have now raised obfuscation to the status of an art, especially since the coalition - or to put it another way, disingenuousness now reigns supreme.