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Showing posts with label The Union. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Union. Show all posts

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Lessons from Canada: Michael Ignatieff says Scottish independence is coming – one way or another …

Illegal voting, illegal campaign spending, both sides bending the rules to meet their own advantage in a referendum?

A forecast of things to come in the Scottish 2014 referendum? No, Glenn Campbell describing the two Canadian referendums on Newsnight Scotland’s Canada feature last night.

Jacques Parizeau, the leader of the unsuccessful nationalist campaign for independence in 1995, for Quebec Premier chillingly said they were beaten by money and the “ethnic vote”. The latter, Canadian government fast tracking of immigration applications to pack the electorate has no relevance to Scotland, but big money will certainly swing behind the UK unionist campaign, and from very dubious sources once it gets its act together.

The military/industrial complex, the armaments companies and their complicit politicians and M.O.D. people headed for the revolving door to lucrative directorships and consultancies have a lot to lose if Scotland achieves independence. And there are a lot of right-wing industrialists with a primitive, neo-conservative, not to say neo-fascist agenda with big bucks to put behind the unionist campaign.

The fascinating thing about the current Scottish climate is that the non-SNP independence-supporting left, together with a significant sector of the trades union movement are now alive to this risk, and this poses a real problem for the Labour Party at UK level, and a painful dilemma for Scottish Labour. I have been arguing that this is one reason why the SNP will have to think again about their deeply misguided attempt to sanitise and justify NATO membership for an independent Scotland. A YES vote cannot be delivered without this crucial constituency of left of centre, social democratic values.

The spectre of the Canadian Clarity Act hangs over the Scottish referendum – here’s what I said in November 2011 -

EXTRACT – November 2011 blog

Here are what I consider some essential facts about Quebec, its referendum, Canada and the Scottish/UK parallels, with quotes from Alan Trench, with the intention of pointing my readers towards his vital extended observations and arguments. Devolution Matters

BRIEF CALENDAR OF EVENTS

The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, a centre right party with roots going back to 1867, were the government of Canada from 1984 to 1993, when they lost out to the Liberals, who replaced them in government.

In 1994 the Parti Québécois (PQ) won the election in the province of Quebec, the largest province of Canada by area and the second largest administrative division. Since they are a party advocating the independence of Quebec, this had similar repercussion to the SNP winning the May 2011 elections in Scotland.

They launched a campaign that led to a referendum in 1995, with a badly-worded and confusing question, which produced a very narrow No (just over 1%) to independence.

The federal government promptly launched an aggressive programme to promote the idea of the federal government in Quebec (roughly equivalent to the UK government promoting the UK in Scotland) which led to a major political scandal, Sponsorgate, that eventually brought down the Liberal Government, who were replaced by a Conservative minority government in 2006.

However in the period between the referendum and the fall of the Liberal Government – 1995-2006 – a number of interesting things happened in the legal and constitutional areas.

The federal government mounted a challenge through the Supreme Court to the Quebec Government’s right to unilaterally secede from Canada, but they didn’t get the result they had hoped for.

The Supreme Court held that -

Quebec did not have a unilateral right to secede from Canada, either under Canadian or international law.

It did have a right to hold a referendum

Providing a clear question had been put in the referendum and providing it produced a clear vote in favour of independence, the federal government would be compelled to enter into independence negotiations which it would have to undertake in good faith, i.e. no stalling, or attendance at the negotiating table but with a refusal to discuss the terms of independence..

This left hanging the question of what constituted a clear majority. (It seemed that the Supreme Court thought that 1% was not enough, but no figure was recommended or specified.)

The Canadian Government responded to the Supreme Court judgement by introducing a bill – Bill C-20 – which was enacted as The Clarity Act in 2000, defining the conditions under which it would enter into negotiations on the independence of Quebec. Effectively, it put this decision in the hands of government, rather than the courts, and this politicised the issue. What infuriated the Quebec independence party and most Quebecers was the requirement that all ten provinces of Canada be involved multilaterally in the negotiations. (Roughly equivalent to the argument that all four parts of the UK be involved in negotiations on Scotland’s independence.)

Quebec promptly responded by passing its own Act, asserting the sovereignty of the Quebec people to assert their right to self-determination under international law, and arguing that any dispute that arose between the Clarity  Act and the Quebec one should be resolved by the courts.

Alan Trench, in his blog Devolution Matters comments trenchantly as follow -

“What in a Canadian context looked like a rather aggressive and partisan move would look ten times as much so in a UK context. And that in turn would invite the SNP to question the outcome of any referendum if they wished. Far from bringing ‘clarity’, it would risk bringing yet further confusion and rancour to the debate.

“The second issue is to ask at what stage a ‘clarity provision’ should be included. There is clearly some pressure to include it in the Scotland bill. That sort of provocation would be a good way of ensuring that the Scotland bill did not get legislative consent from Holyrood, forcing the UK Government either to drop the bill or impose it regardless of the Scottish Parliament’s opposition.”

SUMMARY

The Canadian experience will have been closely studied by Alex Salmond and his key strategists, and we can rely on them to draw relevant inferences from it, while clearly recognising the key constitutional and historical differences and the limits of the parallels that can be drawn.

We can also rely on the fact the the UK Government under Cameron and Osborne - a shaky Coalition comprising a LibDem Party in a state of utter demoralisation and electoral irrelevance, and a deeply-divided and accident-prone Tory Party (Cameron has already lost Coulson and Liam Fox in scandalous circumstances and may lose Theresa May) that may not survive much longer – will be highly aware of  the Canadian experience and will inevitably draw all the wrong inferences from it, and be at least as cack-handed as the previous Canadian Conservative government was.

What is certain is that the Canadian experience will significantly shape our great debate over the next couple of years. Scotland could conceivably be dealing with a different UK Government in the lead-up to the referendum.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

I woke up this morning - England and Scotland

One of the great blues opening lines has always been “Woke up this morning …”, and it almost became a cliché of the blues lyric.

I woke up this morning, ready to pen my riposte to Kenny Farquharson’s article in Scotland on Sunday, which he had trailed in advance on Twitter last night was to be about the SNP embracing Britishness.

But having come out of my corner swinging, I find I have nothing to fight. This is a perceptive and insightful analysis of the sea change that has occurred in the SNP in the last decade and a half over their concept of independence. For me, it is one of the best things Kenny has written, and is a vital contribution to the independence debate. He has rightly said that some in the party won’t like it, but they would be foolish in the extreme to ignore it.

So I have no comment to offer at this time, because I think it is that comparative rarity in the great independence debate – an objective analysis from a senior Scottish journalist who I think would accept that he is a supporter of the Union. He also cares about Scotland. Read it carefully and reflect …

Cultural revolution as SNP learns to love the Brits


Saturday, 28 January 2012

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

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



 

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

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

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

Are politicians letting us down this week?

Is party politics taking to much of a role?

when

they should be looking at the wider interests of Scotland?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joyce McMillan: No - absolutely not.

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

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

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

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

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

MY BALLOT PAPER as posted earlier in the week

CONSULTATIVE REFERENDUM

Answer only one question - tick only one box.

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

I want a fully independent, sovereign Scotland.

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

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

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

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

________________________________________

COMMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday, 20 January 2012

The UK’s nuclear panic - and devo max

To see oorsel’s as ithers see us - Al Jazeera - Breaking up Britain? 19th Jan 2012

Among the many perceptive insights in this article are these -

When independence comes “the UK will lose 90 per cent of its oil and gas reserves in the North Sea and almost half its land mass.”

Malcolm Rifkind (“who is himself a ScotAye, right) says "It would certainly open up the question of permanent membership of the Security Council in a way that would be quite awkward for the UK."

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Research Director at the Royal United Strategic Institute, notes the central nature of the nuclear issue, and the desperation of the UK to force Scotland to retain the bases. The observation is made that if the bases go after independence, “it is a real possibility that the UK could be left with no operational nuclear deterrent because the submarines could not be safely berthed.”

The article also notes that “The ability to continue formulating its own policy is also a factor motivating Scotland's drive [towards] independence.”

And there you have it in a nutshell - defence, the nuclear bases and the UK’s status in world affairs hang on Scotland’s independence, and nothing else really matters as much to the Unionists.

I’ve said a lot about the nuclear and defence issues over the years, and you can find my views by looking down the right hand index of blog search terms.

But the essence is this, for me at least -

1. I want a nuclear-free Scotland, and the only way to achieve this is full independence. I am totally and utterly opposed to the concept of the nuclear deterrent and WMDs.

2. I do not want anyone other than the Scottish Government that I elected to commit my country to war and to foreign engagements.

3. I do not want anyone other than the Scottish Government that I elected to send our servicemen and women into harms way and to die.

4. I am not a pacifist, and believe in conventional defence forces, and in joining with other countries in international military operations, e.g. peacekeeping operations or strategic interventions that Scotland supports.

The only way to achieve these objectives is the full independence of Scotland as a nation, since all of the UK parties are committed to nuclear weapons and the ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent.

Independence delivers devo max, i.e full fiscal autonomy, by default. The price of devo max without independence exacted by the UK is -

1. Retention of Scottish nuclear bases.

2. Retention of the Trident weapons of mass destruction.

3. Retention of the concept of the nuclear deterrent.

4. Retention of the right of the Westminster Parliament to send Scottish servicemen and women to war, and to die.

If you want to retain the UK, by definition you are endorsing all of the above.

If you want devo max without independence, by definition you are endorsing all of the above.

If you want neither devo max nor independence, by definition you are endorsing all of the above.

The Labour Party, the Tory Party, the LibDems are committed to the UK, therefore they are committed to all of the above.

THAT IS THE STARK REALITY OF REJECTING SCOTLAND’S INDEPENDENCE - THERE IS NO OTHER POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION.

The media slide away from these issues whenever they can, and focus instead on the economy. The economy is important - defence issues are vital.

Unionist politicians slide away from these issues whenever they can, at least until they are driven into panic mode by being forced to face them, as  Jim Murphy has been today by  Alex Salmond’s position on Scotland defence forces and resources..

Last night on STV, a politician I have some respect for, Henry McLeish, slid away from these issues, because despite his realism on Scotland and Scottish politics, he is a Labour politician and shackled to nuclear weapons like the rest of them.



Until very recently, these issues, and therefore the lives of Scottish servicemen and women were in the hands of one Liam Fox, the then Defence Minister. The circumstances leading to his downfall - preceded by desperate attempts to defend him and prop him up by Tory politicians - told us all we need to know about the reality of defence matters, defence procurement and the M.O.D. when in such hands.

At the moment, more Scots seem to want devo max than want independence. If they reject independence, there is no guarantee they will get devo max, because it will then continue to be in the gift of the Westminster Parliament, and Scotland has no democratic way of securing it, nor any negotiating card to play.

If the Scottish voter in favour of independence cannot persuade those against it to change their minds, then we default to nuclear weapons, war and death.

It’s as simple as that, and nothing will ever compensate us for that fatal choice. Make it with care, Scottish voters.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

O the naughty cybernats in the Scotsman!

Interesting comments float in the stagnant sea of bile in today’s Scotsman, alleged swimming ground of the nasty cybernats. Here’s one comment on the item -

Westminster may hand over control of referendum

- from a loyal supporter of the UK and all that makes Britain great.

52 B Cole

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 03:55 PM

You Scots don't know how lucky you are , We English have been successfully neutered by the Scotch Raj sitting in the English Parliament. Give us a referendum and England will ditch the United Kingdom and with it the whingeing Scots. Voila, Scotch independence by default As to starting wars, correct me if I'm wrong but the last two wars were started by the Scotch. But then again if things go wrong blame the English. Sadly the English now consider Scotland a bit of an irrelevance so get on with it and get out.

A true cybernat, Trogg, was immediately outraged by this comment – a Trogg feeding a Troll – but his complaint of foul abuse was rather blunted by his calling B. Cole a “a nasty, racist, xenophobic pig!

Lads, lads, please … (surely not lassies?)

The Scotsman, needless to say, loves this kind of thing, and as befits a responsible national newspaper, justifies it on the grounds of it being the voice of the people, rather than poor editorial standards and sloppy moderation policies.

Unionist politicians manage to avert their eyes from the UKnats and see only the cybernats, allowing them to tut-tut periodically


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Referendum and the Question(s)?

Last night’s Newsnight Scotland highlighted the utter confusion in the media mind about the referendum, the nature and wording of the questions, the definitions of independence, full fiscal autonomy and its jargon titles – devo max and indy lite.

Neither Gordon Brewer’s questions nor the panel’s responses shed any light into this increasingly murky pool. There is a distinct lack of clarity of thought evident on this vital process – if anyone, politician or media interviewer possesses such clarity, they are doing a bloody good job of concealing it, for whatever reason.



(It’s not as if detailed consideration hasn’t been given to this – in February/March 2010, a detailed consultation exercise was launched, and I responded to it, both directly and in my blog. Unfortunately, I cannot trace my original blog response, but ones immediately after it are reproduced below. Of course all that was in the context of Calman, but the essential arguments are still there. Two alternative versions of the question on Ballot Paper 1 were  consulted through the National Conversation, not just to the opposition parties but to the entire electorate. So much for the unionist nonsense that the SNP hasn’t consulted the people of Scotland – they have. )

THE IMMEDIATE PROBLEM

I will leave aside the exact wording of the question or questions that may be put in the independence referendum. They will be the subject of much partisan argument, with the extremes of both nationalist and unionist caricatured as

Do You want your country to be free of the venal and warmongering UK ,and be independent at last?

to

Do you want to rip the heart out of a 300-year Union that has served the Great British People well by separation?

(In point of fact, the nationalist have never even come close to such an extreme version, but the unionists are trumpeting very similar phrases daily!)

The SNP wants full independence, a concept that has never required definition by any nation in history, and therefore they ideally want a single YES/NO question, which however it is worded, means Get out of the UK or Stay in the UK. In fact, my ideal question to a Scottish electorate would be Get oot or Stay in?

However, the elected Scottish Government are democrats, and all the polls indicate that the Scottish electorate see an alternative choice to the simple out or in choice, i.e. maximum powers to the devolved Scottish Government while remaining part of the sovereign state of the UK, sometimes called full fiscal autonomy, and colloquially devo max or indy lite.

Although the official stance of the main opposition parties at UK level is against such a referendum option, significant Scottish unionist voices seem to favour it.

So, both on the apparent wishes of the people of Scotland, and some significant Scottish unionists, another referendum choice seems inevitable, even if it is not what the SNP wants.

The SNP knows very clearly what full fiscal autonomy means, but the unionists seem to be in a state of deep confusion about what they mean by additional powers. Not unreasonably, the SNP feels that it is up to the unionists to define what they mean by it if it is an option that they want.

However, the bigger question is this -

What if successive opinion polls between now and the referendum continue to show a wish for this option by Scottish voters, but the unionist parties are totally against it?

If this is the situation, the democratically elected government of Scotland may feel that the voters must be offered this alternative to full independence.

 

THE UNIONIST ARGUMENT (as I understand it)

If the Scottish people vote for full independence, this will automatically deliver full fiscal autonomy. If they reject independence, this maintains the status quo, but does not preclude post-referendum debate about, and progress towards additional powers for Scotland, perhaps even full fiscal autonomy.

THE NATIONALIST ARGUMENT (as I understand it)

A simple YES/NO vote for or against independence would deny that sector of the Scottish people a voice who want full fiscal autonomy while remaining in the union. Neither outcome to the referendum would meet their dual objectives.

 

The positions I outline above represent the ‘respectable’ public positions of both unionist and nationalist – the realpolitik positions may be stated as follows -

THE UNIONIST realpolitik ARGUMENT

If the polls are accurate, a simple YES/NO option will be a finely judged gamble on a successful NO vote, but it is a gamble we must take, since the referendum is now inevitable. We must rely on our anti-independence campaign to swing the vote. A rejection of independence would remove it from the agenda for a generation, and might fatally damage the SNP.

A third option – full fiscal autonomy – has a greater chance of success, if the polls are accurate, and some nationalists might hedge their bet on that option. If successful, it would create a devolved Scottish Government powerful enough to force another referendum on full independence at a later date. We must reject such an option on the ballot paper.

THE NATIONALIST realpolitik ARGUMENT

If the polls are accurate, a simple YES/NO option would be a finely judged gamble on a successful YES vote if taken now, but it is a gamble we don’t have to take, since the referendum is at least two years away. A rejection of independence would remove it from the agenda for a generation, and might fatally damage the SNP. We will rely on performance in government and our pro-independence campaign to swing the vote.

A third option – full fiscal autonomy – may have a greater chance of success, if the polls are accurate, and some unionist voters might hedge their bet on that option. If successful, it would create a devolved Scottish Government powerful enough to force another referendum on full independence at a later date. If the polls are still finely balanced closer to the referendum date, we must insist on that option. If the polls are running significantly in our favour, it would still probably make sense to include it.

PRACTICAL DIFFICULTIES OF THE REFERENDUM BALLOT PAPER AND VOTING

My speculation above about the realpolitik  (which I regard as flawed in part in both cases) shows that in many respects the nationalist and unionist camps are mirror-images of each other – that’s politics …

If a single YES/NO question is adopted, there are few problems - other than the framing of the question itself – and providing a simple majority of those voting (not of those eligible to vote) i.e. 51%, will determine the outcome.

But if the full fiscal autonomy option is to be offered, there are problems. (They were examined back in 2010 – see below - in a slightly different context, but the essential arguments and problems remain the same.)

Let me leave aside any precedents on how previous referendums were conducted – I believe this one demands a fresh look. Here are the options I see – there may well be more -

OPTION ONE FOR A THREE CHOICE BALLOT

Treat the referendum ballot paper like an election ballot paper in a first-past-the-post electoral system, with three candidates -

FULL INDEPENDENCE (out of UK)

STATUS QUO (stay in UK)

FULL FISCAL AUTONOMY (stay in UK)

Choose only one option – no second preferences, no multiple voting. Option with the highest percentage of votes wins the referendum

This approach contains the key strength and key weakness of a FTP system – it is almost always produces a clear winner (don’t confuse this with hung Parliaments – it about selecting a single option) but the winner may represent a minority of the total votes cast.

A dead heat between the three options or between two of the options is highly unlikely, but clearly a possibility, and it must be specified in advance how such an outcome must be handled. As I see it, the only option to such an outcome must be a new ballot. An example will allow you to consider what your judgement would be in such a situation -

FULL INDEPENDENCE  - 34% of total vote

STATUS QUO  - 34% of total vote

FULL FISCAL AUTONOMY  - 32% of total vote

Some unionists might argue that this represents a 66% vote for remaining in the Union, but such an argument would be as invalid as advancing it if full independence had the highest FTP percentage would be.

A proportional representation argument cannot be advanced in a such a referendum, since it is in fact equates to single representative for constitutional change. It is of course an argument that can be advanced against the referendum ballot structure, and some would argue that a minimum 51% majority of all votes cast should apply. The dead heat example would have to be pre-specified, but any outcome short of a 51% majority would be criticised if this method were adopted, but the criticism could not affect the FTP result if one option had the highest percentage vote, albeit a majority of those voting.

Another dead heat option, albeit one that affects the initial ballot, is to allow the voters to choose a fallback option in the ballot  – a second preference  - (or to choose only one option)and in the event of a dead heat, – but only in the event of a dead heat - the second choice votes would be transferred to their first choice option if no option had the highest percentage of the vote.

All things considered, given the low probability of a dead heat, this seems an undue complication, therefore I favour the ballot re-run option in the event of a dead heat.

OPTION TWO FOR A THREE CHOICE BALLOT – the TWO BALLOT PAPER OPTION

This option recognises that voters who want to remain to remain in the UK and voters who want to leave it may also want full fiscal autonomy.  There also may be voters who want to remain in the UK and do not want full fiscal autonomy. It may be argued that those who want to remain in the UK without fiscal autonomy have their vote recognised by opting for the status quo, and those who want independence by definition get full fiscal autonomy by their vote. The argument for adopting the Option One voting mechanism is that those who want fiscal autonomy and to remain in the UK do not have their preference recognised by a simple YES/NO independence vote.

How else can this circle be squared?

Well, one way, imperfect as all the others are, is to have two ballot papersone, a simple YES/NO to independence and two, a full fiscal autonomy YES/NO ballot paper. The count for each ballot paper would be independent and produce a separate result, both determined by a simple majority. Electors would obviously be free to complete only one ballot paper if they so chose.

This method would produce one of the following outcomes -

1. A simple majority for independence coupled with a simple majority for full fiscal autonomy

(In this outcome, the independence vote has de facto delivered fiscal autonomy, it is supported by the other ballot, and the SNP Government’s path is clear. The UK is effectively at an end after negotiations are complete. But see caveat below on the size of the respective votes.)

2. A simple majority for independence coupled with a simple majority for the status quo

(This outcome is a mandate for the Scottish Government to negotiate the terms of independence, but with their negotiating position prejudiced by the status quo vote in fiscal powers. The worm in the apple is that, although the fiscal autonomy ballot cannot overturn the vote for independence. the size of the status quo percentage must be a concern.

It may be a highly unlikely outcome, if one makes the assumption that all voters complete both ballot papers, make no mistakes and vote consistently for or against the status quo, but strange things happen in the voting booth!)

3. A simple majority for the status quo coupled with a simple majority for full fiscal powers

(This outcome means that the Scottish Government may not negotiate the terms of independence but must attempt to secure full fiscal powers from the sovereign UK government, which now has little incentive to offer them, since the SNP Government has been seriously weakened by the vote against independence.)

4. A simple majority for the status quo vs independence, coupled with a simple majority for the status quo on fiscal powers

(This would be a decisive outcome for the UK Government. There would be no new referendum in a generation, and the SNP Government and the SNP Party would be seriously weakened.)

The other problem with this approach is that it faces voters with complex tactical decisions. The independence YES/NO vote is clear enough, except for the tiny minority of unionists who would refuse to complete this ballot paper, but would complete the fiscal powers ballot paper. But the fiscal powers ballot paper  gives rise to difficult choices for both camps, but especially nationalists.

The most problematical outcome, in my view, would be on outcome one, above, despite it being an apparently decisive win/win for the SNP Government -

A simple majority for independence coupled with a simple majority for full fiscal autonomy

Although each outcome is determined by a simple arithmetical majority – a minimum of 51% of the vote – the size of the majorities will be crucial to how the outcome is viewed, and how the outcome is viewed could divide the nation.

Consider this possible outcome – a 51% majority for independence and, say, a 90% majority for full fiscal autonomy. The SNP will argue that this is a decisive majority for independence, because each ballot stands alone, and full fiscal autonomy is contained de facto  within independence, but the Union parties and the Westminster Government will argue, that regardless of the two ballots, it is a mandate for remaining in the union with fiscal autonomy, and the 90% ballot trumps the 51% ballot.

SUMMARY

I found this very difficult to think through – as I did in 2010 – and my analysis may well be deeply flawed, have missed other possibilities and options, and may be contradictory in some aspects.  But I am trying, as a voter, to understand, and I don’t envy any thinking voter faced with such choices.

Please offer your contributions, corrections, value judgements, etc. but please don’t offer URL links unless you are prepared to insert the proper hyperlink codes at either end of the URL – I have not got the time to do it for you in the comments boxes.

 

The 2010 background -

Consultation Questions Scotland’s Future: My response in 2010

Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill Consultation Paper 

Question 1: What are your views on the proposed referendum which seeks the people’s views on two proposals for extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament?

I am fully in favour of a referendum on the options on Scottish independence

Question 2: What do you think should be the first proposal in that referendum: full devolution (Version 1 of Ballot Paper 1), or the Calman-based option (Version 2 of Ballot Paper 1)?

Full devolution

Question 3: The Scottish Government proposes voting method 2 (two separate yes/no questions). What are your views on this?

I agree with two YES/NO questions

Question 4: What are your views on the wording and format of the ballot papers?

The wording and format are acceptable, but the voter choice of completing one or both ballot papers creates complex tactical voting options, and may confuse voters, however, I see no alternative that is more satisfactory. A lot of pre-referendum educational work (non-partisan)has to be done to ensure clarity for voters. Inevitably there will also be party propaganda from all interested parties and the media, and much distortion of the choice. Again, I believe this to be one of the untidy but necessary parts of democracy.

Question 5: What are your views on the proposals for how the poll is conducted and on eligibility to vote?

The poll should be conducted at a time well distant from any other local or national elections, and should be subjected to all the safeguards and checks and balances of a general election. Ideally, I would like to see all Scottish permanent residents of 16 years of age or over to be eligible to vote, but I realise that major difficulties would arise over eligibility of those not yet on the voters roll, i.e. under 18 years of age. My default is therefore all adults eligible to vote in a local or general election.

Question 6: What are your views on the proposed rules for the referendum campaign?

I am in full agreement with the rules as set out in the draft bill.

Question 7: Do you have any other comments about the proposals in the draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill?

They are all contained in my blog  26/27 February 2010

BLOG COMMENTS 2010

Friday, 26 February 2010

It has been pointed out to me that the two alternative versions of the question on Ballot Paper 1 are being consulted through the National Conversation, not just to the opposition parties but to the entire electorate. I accept this factual correction, but my view is still that it is in essence aimed at the opposition parties, since their reaction to it will be of major significance if one or more of them shift their total opposition to the independence referendum after the general election.
The electorate has no formal vote on this, just the opportunity to respond to consultation - not quite the same thing. Whether they can ever vote on Ballot Paper 1 in whatever form will depend on the opposition parties and Holyrood.
Nevertheless, I apologise if my analysis was misleading in this regard.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

I thought my analysis had perhaps over-complicated a simple choice, but more correspondence suggests that my analysis – and dismissal - of voter types Three and Four did not go far enough, and that I should leave such arcane speculation to psephologists. I accept the criticism, but reject the advice.

Ordinary voters are faced with this analysis and these choices, and need help in thinking it through. Who will offer that help?

The point has been made that Voter type Three has a more complex choice to make than I had originally stated, and that the option of disregarding one of the ballot papers is a valid option for him/her, and  requires more analysis. Let’s look again …

Voter Three believes that more devolved powers are a waste of time – what is required is full independence.

Ignoring Ballot Paper One and voting YES, I AGREE on Ballot Paper Two rejects more devolved powers but endorses independence, but it risks losing the chance of influencing devolved powers as a fallback if the overall independence vote fails to secure a majority.

However, voting YES, I AGREE on both ballot papers runs the risk that if the total number of votes cast for more devolved powers exceeds the votes for independence, opponents of independence can argue that one outweighs the other, and the electorate prefers the devolution option. (However, a simple majority for independence would still trump devolution – see below.)

Voter Four believes that more devolved powers are the right way to go, but believes that a vote on independence should not have been offered and is a waste of time.

Voting YES, I AGREE to more devolved powers on Ballot Paper One but ignoring Ballot Paper Two loses the opportunity to influence a rejection on independence, and is a far more risky option than ignoring Ballot Paper One, with much more significant implications.

Voting YES, I AGREE to more devolved powers on Ballot Paper One and NO, I DISAGREE on Ballot Paper 2 can only help his/her position, and runs no risk equivalent to Voter Three’s more complex choices.

The difficulty with the above analysis is that if a simple 51% majority determines the outcome, independence trumps devolution. If, say, 60% of the votes cast were for devolution and 51% for independence, an independent Scotland would still be the outcome.

More devolution is a fallback position for supporters of independence, but independence is not a fallback option for opponents of independence.

EXAMINING SOME POSSIBLE OUTCOMES

Outcome One:

49% vote for devolution option, 49% vote for independence.

Voter Three: By ignoring the devolution ballot paper, he/she has contributed to a no change outcome, and may have missed the chance of devolution max – surely a better outcome than no change?

Outcome Two:

90% vote for devolution. 51% vote for independence.

Voter Four: By ignoring the independence ballot paper, he/she has missed a chance to contributing to a defeat of the independence vote.

Although this should be a clear win for independence under the 51% rule, unionists might mount a challenge to the validity of an independence outcome, on the basis that a massive majority of voters preferred devolution extension to independence.

Although such a challenge ought to be invalid under the rules, and on the challengers’ unsubstantiated conclusion drawn from the outcome, don’t think that the unionist opposition parties wouldn’t use it, and don’t think it wouldn’t be a major negative factor in the Scottish Government’s attempts to negotiate the terms of the independence settlement.

Remember, a referendum ballot majority for independence doesn’t bind the UK government to grant it, and Westminster would use an outcome similar to Outcome Two to deny it.

POSTSCRIPT

I readily admit that I am finding difficulty in getting my thinking straight on the voting options, and I am open to any help I can get. My wee heid is hurting …

More pragmatic political animals might argue that all such tactical consideration should be ignored, and that everyone should vote on both papers for what option they believe in. They may be right …

But I fear that some confusion will reign in the polling booth unless some objective guidance is given. In a situation where unionists have no interest at all in the existence of an well-informed, politically-aware Scottish electorate, the default position will be emotional unionist rhetoric rather than objectivity.

The SNP, of course, will be on the side of the angels and will avoid such populism. Well, I can hope, can’t I?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

What Scots thought about government in 2010 - Scottish Social Attitudes Survey

A fascinating document, the findings of which are not as easily attacked by the Unionists as the ComRes poll and other samples.

But the big question is where does Scotland stand today? And where will it stand on the fateful day when its electors cast their votes on independence?

On that day, be on the right side of history, Scots - vote YES for freedom.


Monday, 26 September 2011

The Union and Kenny Farquarson

Kenneth Farquarson – now there’s a resounding Scottish name.  Kenneth, a  Pictish forename (Cinoid) linked to the Goidelic Cináed, meaning firehead or born of fire. And Farquarson – son of Farquar, the dear one.

The Farquarson clan were Jacobites, staunch supporters of the Stuarts, and fought in many battles against the British state, including  Culloden.

One might expect that those bearing this great name might put Scotland first, but strange things happened after the Union, especially among the High Heid Yins of the clans.

The present chieftain of the Clan Farquarson is Alwyne Farquharson of Invercauld, and sports a nice coat of arms with heraldic lions, a couple of daggers and two coniferous trees. But where is his seat – the seat of the clan chief? Why, it’s Valley Farm, Norfolk!

But he has a nice little business in Invercauld, one that the family have owned since before 1432 – a sporting estate in the Cairngorms, with all the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ and holiday cottages and properties for sale and rent. Chief Alwyne was educated at Eton and Magdalen College Oxford, served in the Royal Scots Greys. He has been around a long time, born in 1919. He is on Person page 8051 of Burke’s Peerage.

With that pedigree, my guess is that he is not a supporter of Scotland’s independence, but it’s only a guess …

Coming right up to date, our very own Kenneth Farquarson, Deputy Editor of Scotland on Sunday is not a supporter of independence either. He is a Unionist, and here, I don’t have to guess, since Kenny amiably and articulately argues his case for the Union in trenchant articles in SoS, and on Twitter. He is the kind of unionist one can have a rational debate with, one without acrimony, but vigorous nonetheless. I think, despite our political difference, that the New Scotland needs people like Kenny – so there …

I’m sure Kenny did not become a Unionist because of his clan chief – he is not fond of all that old emotional history stuff, and neither am I. If Scots followed their clan chiefs’ politics these days, the Tories, not the SNP would be in power, and Annabel Goldie would be well on her way to being a Baroness, or maybe a Dame – there is nothin’ like a dame!

Why do I cover this ground before coming to Kenny’s article in SoS last Sunday – Why Union’s fate depends on Fraser ?

Because the opposition to Scotland’s independence can only be understood when one looks squarely at that powerful, entrenched bastion of privilege, unelected and undemocratic – the British Establishment – and the Scottish dimension to it, to fully appreciate the forces that have everything to lose and nothing to gain from independence.

The Scotland on Sunday article

Kenny proposes that the fate of the Union hinges on whether Murdo Fraser gets elected as the new ‘Tory’ leader or not, a proposition that he recognises will be greeted with scepticism, if not derision, by many. Well, not by me …

I think that Murdo’s decision to face facts about the Tory Party and the future of the centre right in Scottish politics was brave and principled. A politician who does not take big risks when the game demands it is no politician at all. I hope he wins, because I think it is unhealthy for the centre right not to have a significant voice in Scotland, because without that voice, we head for the extreme right and neo-fascism.

I also understand and agree with most of Kenny’s analysis of the situation, with qualifications. The unionist parties are moving inexorably towards devo max – greater autonomy from the UK, both in constitutional and party terms, with a greater focus on Scotland and Scottishness. Labour, of course, is moving more slowly than the Murdo camp, but if we listen to Tom Harris, they’re pretty well there too.

Kenny says that the election of Murdo Fraser would recalibrate Scottish politics, a phrase that exactly captures what the consequences would be. The LibDems don’t really matter much, but to the degree that they do, they are a federalist party, so they are basically devo max as well.

KF says that his friends in the SNP (by that I assume he means MSPs or party insiders) assure him that Alex Salmond is still determined to offer voters three options – independence, devo max or status quo. Since I have no insider information (the party are wary of independent bloggers) I can only take what he says at face value.

So it seems assured that Scotland will – at the very least – get devolution max, with the enthusiastic cooperation of all parties. What is devolution max and how does it differ from full independence?

These are easy questions to answer for a supporter of full independence, or for a supporter of the Union, but not only do unionists not answer it, they carefully avoid the question. Home Rule, an ancient phrase from my childhood, now is in vogue again, to deflect attention from this real, crucial difference.

And Kenny is no different – nowhere in his article does he say just what it is he and other unionists are trying to preserve after devo max, not because he doesn’t know, but because it starkly exposes what the Great Game is all about.

It’s essentially defence and foreign policy – the ability to send Scots to war and to die without the consent of their devo max Parliament, or their first Minister, or Scottish voters, or Scottish mothers and fathers.

It’s the ability to make war with weapons of mass destruction called the ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent, one that is patently not independent, since we need the instruction and consent of the US to launch it.

It’s the ability to continue with a Ministry of Defence where incompetence often cloaks corruption, one that enriches favoured politicians and armaments manufacturers, the merchants of death,  a Ministry with a revolving door to lucrative directorships and advisory consulting posts for some of its salaried officials.

It’s the ability to allow political mediocrities to strut on a global stage, to interfere in the affairs of nations far from the UK, and to become obscenely rich in the process, while the democracy that elected them goes to the dogs.

This is the unionist vision, masked by sentimental nonsense about Britishness and shared values. This is the ugly, lethal, venal, inhuman heart of the Union that’s left after devo max. This is what those who profit from it will defend to the death – someone else’s death, preferably a Scottish soldier.

I want no part of it – I want to live in a truly independent Scotland, one where the SNP, the Scottish Labour Party, the Murdo Centre Right Party, the Scottish Greens, and the Scottish minority parties are all Scottish parties, with only the interests of the Scottish people as their primary focus, but a Scotland that cooperates in fully and intimately with its newly free neighbours, the great nations of England, Wales and Ireland, and exercises its international responsibilities through free association with the free nations of Europe and the world.

That’s the Scotland I want to see – that’s the Scotland I will vote for. I hope enough of my fellow Scots agree with me to make it happen.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The M.A.D. Men of the Unionist parties

THE FUNDAMENTALS

The Scotsman is in full unionist mode today – it might as well have put the Union Jack on its masthead, given the space it devotes to the anti-independence voices now clamouring to be heard. Before I come to that – and other matters – let me re-state what I consider to be the fundamentals of the current state of the union -

The choice has to all intents and purposes come down to devolution max or full independence. All the talk of economic factors, of the currency, of borrowing powers, of taxation and of the detail of independence is smoke and mirrors – the last redoubt is defence and foreign policy.

Why?

Because no country can truly be a nation unless it controls its own foreign policy and defence.

No country can be a nation if it lets another nation decide in what cause - and when - to place its servicemen and women in harm’s way, and to sacrifice their lives if necessary.

No country can be a nation if it permits another to determine its fate in the most fundamental areas of nationhood.

Scotland cannot be a nation again unless it is fully independent.

The above principles are entirely distinct from defence alliances and treaties, which can be entered into voluntarily and exited from at will. (An independent Scotland would undoubtedly enter into such alliances, and would also have a range of flexible and common sense areas of cooperation with other nations short of formal alliance.)

Do all of my fellow Scots men and women agree with me on the above principles?

I don’t know the answer to that – I don’t even know if my fellow nationalists agree with them. I don’t know if every member of the Scottish Nationalist Government agrees with them. I must assume that Scots committed to the Union don’t agree with them, or if they do, they only do so for the entity that claims to be a nation – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Only a referendum will determine the answer, and that is why the Scottish electorate must be very clear on the fundamentals – not the detail – of what independence means before they answer a question - or questions - at the referendum ballot.

 

WHY DEFENCE AND FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS TO UNIONIST POLITICIANS

A sharp distinction must be made between why defence and foreign policy matter to Scottish unionist voters and why they matter to unionist politicians, including the Scottish variety.

Scottish unionist voters either have a vaguely romantic notion of Britain’s imperial glories, or they are afraid that Scotland could not defend its security against threat and its international interests independently of the UK. They are rarely, in my experience, clear about what such threats could be, and what Scotland’s international interests are. All they have to do to achieve clarity is to look at any small European or Scandinavian nations, something they rarely do, except to patronise or deride, e.g. the tired old ‘Arc of Prosperity’ jibes. From my perspective, Scottish unionist voters are the victims of 300 years of unionist propaganda and imperial myth, exactly the kind of paranoid, jingoistic narrow nationalism that they falsely accuse the SNP of displaying.

Unionist politicians believe that defence and foreign policy - especially the nuclear deterrence policy, nuclear weapons and nuclear bases - matter fundamentally, because they are the passport to global politics, international roles, power, prestige – and money, money, money

Tony Blair, a lawyer and subsequently an MP for an obscure North East of England constituency, Sedgefield, now has an estimated annual income of in excess of £15m, and a personal fortune variously estimated at £40/60m. Such wealth was not created by democratically representing the electors of Sedgefield or the interests of the electors of the UK as Prime Minister, it was built on the back of an international career involving death, destruction and war.

Peter Mandelson, an architect of New Labour, had to borrow money from a businessman to buy his first London house. He is now a Lord, an immensely rich man, and is in the process of purchasing an £8m house. Such a fortune did not come from his earnings as a Member of Parliament, nor from his modestly lucrative salary an perks as a European commissioner, not from his liberal daily expense allowance as a Lord – it came from international consultancies and directorships that relate directly or indirectly to defence and foreign policy.

Under Labour, the Ministry of Defence, the legendarily incompetent - but unfailingly lucrative - body that fails to adequately equip our young men and women in the armed forces, spent an average of £5.6m on entertaining each year under Labour and probably far in excess of that under the current regime. We don’t have to be told who they were entertaining, boozing and eating lavishly with while Scottish soldiers died – while Fusilier Gordon Gentle died because his vehicle was not fitted with an electronic bomb detector.

No defence minister has retired poor: no senior MOD official retires into poverty or even a modest pension. They slide effortlessly through a revolving door into lucrative directorships and consultancies with the merchants of death, or with brutal foreign dictatorships of the kind now being overthrown by the people of the Middle East in the Arab Spring.

Scottish MPs on the high road to Westminster head for the lucrative, blood-soaked pastures of defence like heat-seeking missiles – they know where the money and the power lie.

After all, the bloody trail has been blazed for them by their predecessors. Only a state with its operating principle as eternal war, fed by inducing eternal paranoia in the electorate, can satisfy the insatiable greed of the powerful, the privileged, the amoral bankers and the military/industrial complex that ultimately controls this sham democracy, bleeding the people dry in every sense of the word.

The unionist politicians are M.A.D. men in the acronymic sense – they are committing the reluctant component nations of their dying empire to mutually assured destruction.

 

THE MUNDANE AND THE QUOTIDIAN

Back to worldly matters and today …

Scotsman headlines –

I’ll get the whole Cabinet to make the case for Scotland staying in the UK – Moore.

We can’t allow Salmond & Co to shut down opposition (Tavish Scott)

Blair’s secret Libya talks reopen Lockerbie row

So we have Michael Moore – the Colonial Governor, a member of a party reduced to a pathetic rump in Scotland and wholly discredited in the UK, and a failed and bitter former leader of that party in Scotland, Tavish Scott, spewing their bile and frustration against the choice of the Scottish people and the decisive democratic mandate they gave to a party committed to Scotland’s independence. This from the federalist party, while the two solidly unionist parties desperately proclaim their independence from Westminster, wrapping themselves hastily in an ersatz kilt. And the Blair/Libya story appears, fairly presented by David Maddox, while the unionist spinners are doubtless trying to revive the tired lie that somehow the Megrahi release was a result of connivance between Blair, Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill, a fiction so bizarre that it beats Fonzie jumping the shark.

A few days ago the Institute for Public Policy Research tried - in a letter to the Scotsman by Tony Dolphin - to correct the distortions that the Scotsman had placed on their report on the public sector in Scotland. The IPPR denied that report had described the Scottish public sector as bloated, that it relied on out-of-date figures and was an attack on the SNP’s proposals for lower corporation tax. Needless to say, in the best traditions of Hearst-style yellow journalism, The Scotsman (was ever a paper so misnamed?) did not give the prominence to these denials that it did to its original anti-SNP coverage.

But in the Scottish Perspective section, Lesley Riddoch has interesting and objective things to say - Politicians failing to focus on now especially in this mordant paragraph -

Bizarrely, the people talking most about independence right now are the politicians who viscerally oppose it - helpfully pre-airing independence scenarios, pumping the oxygen of publicity into the whole project and making sure that a once inconceivable future can now be visualised by many voters with some clarity. And the SNP haven't even started campaigning yet.”

Gaun yersel, Lesley … that’s journalism! That’s comment!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

UK and No. 10 complicit in torture and rendition in Libya - Is this 'Britishness'?

Watch the first five minutes or so of this, and listen to the categorical denials of senior UK spooks about involvement in rendition and torture.


MI6 is the intelligence arm of the UK government - the one that denied involvement in rendition and torture, denied complicity with Moussa Koussa and the brutal Gadaffi regime - the government that presumed, with barefaced hypocrisy, to criticise the Scottish Government’s legal, moral, principled and humane release of a dying criminal, Megrahi.

The hands of New Labour and Blair and Brown are all over this one, and the benighted Coalition were involved until the Arab Spring caught them with their pants down.

Is this the special nature of the quality of 'Britishness' that is used to justify arguing that Scots should not seek their freedom from a discredited regime, the UK and Westminster government and the poisoned Union that is now crumbling by the day?

Number 10 were up to their dirty necks in the Gadaffi regime, until Cameron expediently jumped on board a NATO and French initiative when he saw which way the wind was blowing. The UK will piously back democracy and freedom anywhere in the world when its suits their purpose - except of course Scotland's democratic and human right to end a union they were bribed and coerced into over 300 years ago.


The CBI and the Ipsos MORI poll - panic in the Union, silence in the Press

THE CBI

I thought of doing a piece on the C.B.I. today, but thanks to a Twitter link from Ewan Crawford, I find that Calum Cashley has already done all the heavy-lifting in his piece on 5th January 2011, an-in depth analysis that effectively demolishes the C.B.I. claim to be representative of anything significant in Scottish industry, except perhaps the personal political orientation of some if its senior officers, past and present. Calum Cashley also trenchantly makes the point that if the C.B.I. made the same sustained, quietly productive contribution to the economic debate as the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, instead of acting as a cheerleader for the Union, it might actually claim to have a real role in Scottish life. I had thought than when Linda Urquhart replaced Iain McMillan things might change for the better. On this week’s showing, they haven’t

 

Ipsos MORI POLL – Scottish Public Opinion Monitor

Yesterday’s Ipsos MORI poll – the Scottish Public Opinion Monitor – was greeted with rapturous delight by nationalists, and to date, if not quite a deafening silence, a muted response by the Herald and the Scotsman, who give it minimal coverage. The superb graphical presentation of the damning statistics for the Union of the sampled will of the Scottish people, which would have been reproduced lovingly in double-paged spreads by both newspapers had they told a different story, have been ignored, and the figures made as dull as possible.

The Scottish public will have to access the original - Scottish Public Opinion Monitor – online, or buy a printed copy to feel the full impact of the statistics.

This is doubtless in sharp contrast to the panic-stricken quacking that will be taking place in various inner sanctums of the Union, as the deeply confused and deeply threatened Coalition demands explanations of its tame Scotsmen – Alexander, Moore, et al - as to why the natives of the northern province are refusing to recognise their Britishness, and that we are stronger together and weaker apart, etc.  The Colonial governor, the hapless Moore, will take most of the flak.

In the Labour Party, with even more to lose when Scotland says bye-bye to the UK , another Alexander, Douglas of that ilk, and other Scottish Labour MPs who lose no opportunity to pledge their undying allegiance to the regime that offered them the high road to England – Jim Sheridan, Ann McKechin, Tom Harris, Cathy Jamieson, etc. – are being asked what the hell is going on.

Jim Murphy will be exasperated that what he thought was his final escape from Scotland to safer pastures in the deep South - and a cosy niche as Shadow Defence Secretary - keeps being threatened by demands that he involve himself in the messy and confused processes of trying to revive the corpse of Scottish Labour.

And that strange, motley band, the Scottish Lords, will squirm on the leather benches and wonder what will become of them if the people of Scotland have their way.

Lord, Lord! We didnae ken … they cry. Aye, weel, ye ken noo! replies the Lord

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

News of the World: a note of distinct unease among the unionists - and others…

I never went to university, having been forced to leave school at fifteen to earn a living to support myself and my widowed mother. The Glasgow of 1950 was an unforgiving place to someone of my class and economic circumstances. But over the years, especially during my management consultancy years, I have had contact with universities, enough to realise that the groves of Academe are as rife with feuds and petty politicking as industry and commerce, and that such behaviour often rages unabated, unchecked as it is by any accountability to shareholders, give or take the odd undergraduate riot.

So I took some amusement from reading in today’s Scotsman of the behaviour of sundry professors at the University of Abertay, and the clear evidence that fancy dress doesn’t protect one’s back from being bitten.

But what caught my attention was a little piece tucked away up in the corner of page 7, at the end of a four-page coverage of the phone hacking affair. It is by a sociology lecturer at Abertay University, one Stuart Waiton, and it is entitled Analysis: NotW closure an act of liberal intolerance.

I wouldn’t exactly describe it as an analysis, more a little anti-liberal rant. Stuart is fond of inverted commas, which doubtless in the flesh he would offer as raised eyebrows while twiddling two raised finger as enclosing quotes to what he says. Paraphrased, his piece comes down to saying that the News of the World closure is a bad thing, brought about by “right thinking” people, the “liberal” elite - a “tolerant” group, driven by snobbery and fear of the “mob”. He dismisses the idea that the “right” is all powerful in our “neo-liberal” world as a myth. The quotes are all from Stuart, who clearly deeply distrusts “right thinking” people, “liberals” and their “tolerant” pretensions.

Tell it as you see it, Stuart. The only obvious omissions from your piece are references to the silent majority and an attack on The Guardian. It’s safe to assume that Stuart and I would not choose each other as drinking companions. Sociology must be an interesting discipline at Abertay, in among the coup plots, the spying, the allegations of the incompetence of the university court, the grievance letters, the resignations - a rewarding research laboratory right on a sociologist’s doorstep, with the conflict doubtless being exacerbated and its extent exaggerated by tolerant, right-thinking liberals and the mob.

For the record, Stuart: Rupert Murdoch took the decision to close the NotW, not tolerant, right-thinking liberals or the mob.

However, this strange little outburst, and a piece on essentially the same theme on page 29 by Allan Massie - who could not easily be mistaken for a liberal - gave me cause for wider consideration about just what is happening here …

The phone hacking crisis has been building for some years, but the accelerated pace of events over the last week, the enormity of the revelations, and the magnitude of the impact on the hitherto seemingly impregnable News International monolith have been welcome to many - including me - but deeply threatening to some.

Professional journalists have been uneasy over the closure of The News of the World, and are worried about just what form regulation of the press might take. These fears are entirely understandable, and in some respects, well-founded. When journalists of the reputation and calibre of Harry Reid and Tim Luckhurst call for a period of sober reflection before rushing into regulation of the press - as they did last night on Newsnight Scotland - we must listen and take account of their views.

But the collapse of the News of the World, the sudden ebbing away of power from the Murdoch organisation, the threat to the BSkyB takeover, the serious questions over the behaviour of the Metropolitan police, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron towards News International are of deep concern to other groups, with very different motives, sharing very different fears about the pattern of recent events and the forces that precipitated them.

The Guardian newspaper played the central role. This venerable news organ, once The Manchester Guardian, with a formidable reputation beyond its regional origins, was a formative influence on my political thinking throughout my youth and during my middle life. It is of course the bête noire of the right, infested as it is by tolerant, right-thinking liberals.

Throughout my career in business, espousing liberal - with a small l -values and ideals was treated with deep distrust by my main employers, and reading the Guardian newspaper was regarded as clear evidence of pinko-lefty tendencies and general unsoundness. One employer objected to my bringing it into the senior management/directors dining room, the existence of which, in itself, was evidence of their non-liberal values!

The forces in our society that were hostile to liberal values had initially seemed to me to be the forces of the right in politics, e.g. the Tories, and amoral big business, the military/industrial complex, and fundamentalist religious groups. However, this distinction - which had been blurring for decades - became irrelevant from Tony Blair onwards, as the Labour Party effectively became - and remain - the Tories Mark II.  Since the Liberal Democrats were becoming increasingly illiberal and undemocratic, especially in Scotland, it seemed at one point as though the game was lost to the forces of the right, and liberal values were in total retreat. The only gleam of hope for me was the SNP win in 2007.

In the absence of any effective opposition to the juggernaut of right-wing values and the increasing dominance of war, the military/industrial complex and the nuclear deterrent as the operating principles of the United Kingdom, those of a liberal persuasion in Scotland had the Scottish National Party, whereas the the people of England were left with no real political choice except the feeble, vacillating Liberal Democrats, who experienced a dramatic but short-lived revival of their electoral fortune before the 2010 general election, but then promptly betrayed their mandate utterly in coalition.

In short, the forces of reaction, anti-liberalism, anti-democratic values, anti-Europeanism, power and privilege were incarnate in the UK, in its three main political parties  - Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats - and the ever-present, ever-powerful unelected British Establishment.

The only possible response of the people to this denial of their democratic rights and freedoms was to operate outside of the perverted democratic process, through alternative media, friendly mainstream media and the power of social networking. Since the UK is not yet a totalitarian dictatorship, it has been possible to do this effectively without the use of violence, although inevitably some mass demonstrations had egregious episodes of violence by a tiny and unrepresentative minority. This has been in marked contrast to the so-called Arab Spring - a spontaneous wave of people power, with violence as its only route, provoking even more violent responses, with as yet unresolved and unpredictable outcomes.

The Scottish Parliamentary elections exploded into the complacent UK Establishment  consciousness in May of this year, delivering an unequivocal mandate to the Scottish National Party, and the ability to call a referendum on Scottish independence.

In the space of 24 hours, the possibility of the break-up of the UK, the removal of the nuclear bases from Scottish waters and Scottish soil, the removal of Scottish armed forces from Westminster control, the removal of Scottish oil revenues, Scottish tax revenues, Scottish whisky duty revenues - all of these things became a frightening reality for the UK Establishment and Westminster.

The present outbreak of consensus between the three UK parties, their enthusiastic but belated condemnation of Murdoch, News Corporation, News International, Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks, the police and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all, is an attempt to mask their complicity in what had gone before. This entire web of corruption and influence was and is the UK in all its sordid operating reality - a conspiracy of the rich and powerful - and those politicians who aspire to be both - to exploit the ordinary working people of this kingdom in its four component parts.

It was forced upon them, as was the exposure of the expenses scandal, of the cash for influence scandal, of the revelations of egregious incompetence of the Ministry of Defence, of the sordid machinations of the UK’s complicity in illegal and/or misconceived wars by the actions of those organs of the Press and media that remain beyond their influence and control - and most of all by the people, in their campaigns, in their use of the new media, and in their overwhelming disgust for what is being done to them in  the name of democracy.

And the Scottish manifestation of this deep unease with the true voice of the people, and their aspirations for a real democratic state has been to give a powerful mandate to a party they believe in. This mandate cannot be attacked directly by Scottish unionists, but they have targeted it obliquely by every avenue open to them, questioning the reasons that led them to decisively reject the unionist parties, trying to pretend that the electorate were fools and had been manipulated, that the turnout and the proportion of the vote was not a real mandate - the list of ‘charges’ is endless.

But in the phone hacking scandal, the unionists have taken to attacking the people themselves as deluded, complicit, as bringing it upon themselves.

Allan Massie, Defender of the Union par excellence, closes his otherwise bland piece - which contained no new insights, and says little that has not already been said - with an extraordinary final paragraph.

“Nobody owns the moral high ground in the present kerfuffle - and this includes the public with its appetite for salacious gossip. Of one thing we may be sure. If the Press is curbed, the appetite for such gossip and slanderous comment will not disappear. Already you can find more - and nastier examples of it on the so-called social media. The public indignation now being expressed is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the glass.” 

In other words, it’s all the fault of the people - they are not driven by revulsion at the hacking of the phones of murder victims and their families, of the families of servicemen and woman killed in the UK’s foreign wars, nor at the manifest corruption of the Metropolitan Police Force, nor of those at the heart of government. The people are themselves to blame for bringing all this upon themselves and will do so again - their moral outrage is hypocritical.

I have this to say to Allan Massie - in choosing between the culpability of those who create, feed and profit by depraved appetites and those who suffer from them, the line of argument that chooses the victim is despicable: we have heard it articulated over alcohol abuse, over rape, over drug addiction, etc. and it is usually accompanied by a wish to avoid any form of legislation or practical action that would ameliorate the abuse, substituting instead moral posturing and an attack on the victim rather than the perpetrator.

Any commentator who values his or her reputation for objective comment, as I am sure he does, should consider vary carefully using any argument that contains a hint of this. In his unionist campaign to prevent Scots from achieving their nation’s freedom from and independence of the UK, Allan Massie should be alive to these dangers of unwitting association with the more extreme examples of this blame-the-people mode.

He says that nobody owns the moral high ground. I agree with him on that at least.

But some of us are on higher moral ground than that occupied by the present London-based UK political parties and by the British Establishment, and that higher ground is increasingly occupied by the people, especially the people of Scotland.

I invite him to join us on it - it will be worth the climb …

POSTSCRIPT: As of this afternoon, News Corp has withdrawn its bid for BSkyB.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Allan Massie and patriotism - who are the scoundrels?

Allan Massie had a piece in The Scotsman yesterday entitled False patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

His piece was inspired, if that’s the right word, by Ian Davidson’s description in the Commons of the SNP as neo-fascist. Massie appears to set out to defend the SNP against the charge. I waited for the ‘but’: it turned out to be a ‘nevertheless’, when he finally gets to his real agenda in the third column and the sixth paragraph.

“Nevertheless, there is one respect in which his accusation, however offensive, merits consideration.”

He focuses, not on SNP party officials, MSPs, MPs or commentators sympathetic to the SNP to support his charge, but on cybernats, a blanket term used pejoratively by unionists for any online commentator sympathetic to the nationalist cause. Since by definition online comment includes the spectrum of opinion from the moderate and considered to raving abuse, he will have no difficulty in finding such stuff, especially in The Scotsman’s online comment, which is ineptly and badly moderated by the newspaper itself, apparently using post moderation (and not much of that) rather than pre-moderation of comments. I stopped contributing online comment to The Scotsman for this very reason some time ago, after complaining unsuccessfully about this.

(The SNP government is bringing in a bill, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications {Scotland} Bill, to create two new criminal offences, the second of which concerns the sending or posting on the web of threatening communications of a religious nature, just one pernicious aspect of online abuse.)

Massie manages to ignore the fact of equivalent raving abuse from supporters of the union in The Scotsman, not to mention that mouthpiece of the Union, The Telegraph, where it even invades the letters section of the print edition. He takes issue with one aspect of nationalist comment,  the questioning of the patriotism of non-nationalists, and the tendency of nationalists to describe unionists as quislings.

This ugly word  entered the language during and after the Second World War, derived from Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian politician who collaborated with the Nazi occupation of Norway, ran the Quisling Regime on behalf of the Nazis, and was executed for high treason by his countrymen in 1945. The word now means a person cooperating with an occupying enemy, a collaborator, a traitor. It is certainly too extreme an appellation to give to a political opponent or to someone holding an office, such as Secretary of State for Scotland, that is perceived as having some parallels to the Quisling role.

I don’t think of myself as a cybernat, but I confess to having been tempted to draw such a comparison, and on occasion may have yielded to it, or come close, by loose use of the term.

For the comparison to be valid, the end of the Union and the independence of Scotland would have to be demonstrably the democratic wish of a majority of the Scottish people, that wish would have to have been denied or frustrated by the UK government, by either ignoring a democratic mandate or gerrymandering the political process, e.g. through the mechanics of a referendum, and the Secretary of State for Scotland would have had to be complicit in that process, something that hasn’t happened - yet.

So, I join with Allan Massie in condemning the indiscriminate use of the word quisling to describe the office of Secretary of State for Scotland, although I find nothing to admire or respect in that institution, the contemptible record of which has been documented in Diomhair and elsewhere. I have no respect whatsoever for Scots who choose to accept that office, and will rejoice when it disappears. Until that happens, I will continue to treat it and its incumbents with the contempt I feel they deserve.

I make an exception for the honourable memory of Tom Johnston, wartime Secretary of State for Scotland, the last and perhaps the only incumbent of that role to have acted totally in the interests of Scotland. A socialist, an internationalist and a great Scot by any measures, the things he achieved for his country - and he was never in doubt that it was Scotland - are beyond question.

Allan Massie manages in his piece to move seamlessly from appearing to condemn Ian Davidson’s unfortunate remark, as a Member of Parliament under privilege in the House of Commons, to conflating the most extreme remarks of sundry anonymous online posters to draw parallels between  some Scottish nationalists and Hitler’s Germany, anti-semitism, Franco’s Spain, and to describe them as “at least proto-fascists”.

I have something to offer Allan Massie that may assist him in understanding fascism, and identifying political behaviour that tends towards that ugly and, George Orwell notwithstanding, completely identifiable tendency.

Fascist states are obsessively militaristic in character, consuming a wholly disproportionate part of their national resources on armaments.

They appeal to a nostalgic and glorious past that has little to do with present social and economic realities.

They exalt the Head of State, whether monarch or dictator, and claim either a hereditary or nepotistic right to succession in key offices of state.

They maintain the semblance of a democracy, while effectively nullifying, or as they describe it, ‘balancing’ the democratic institutions with non-democratic, unelected bodies.

They have key linkages between the military and relevant sections of industry in a military/industrial complex. Defence procurement is perceived by the public as incompetent, when in fact it is mainly corrupt, and unfailingly enriches the politicians associated with it.

They claim a right to intervene by force in the affairs of other nation states, and occupy them, always with the claim that they are acting in the interests of the people of the occupied territories.

They have a cult of blood, death and sacrifice in which the Head of State plays a major role. They exalt the dead as heroes of the nation: the children of the governing elite are rarely if ever among the dead. They drape the coffins of the dead with flags.

They are given to militaristic displays at any and every opportunity. They blatantly use military contracts and jobs as a political lever to influence the vestiges of true democracy that remain in the state apparatus.

When the voice of the people is heard, either through popular protest or electoral success, a sustained attack is made by the fascist state on the legitimacy of such protest and electoral success, and the democratic mandate is challenged frontally. The fascist state exercise significant or total control over media.

The fascist state has an elaborate system of patronage, titles and honours to sustain its power and to limit the democratic mandate where it exists.

The fascist state will sacrifice any public service rather than contain its military ambitions or curtail the profits and privileged of the rich and powerful. It deeply distrusts the public services of the nation. It readily blames the poor and the vulnerable for the ills of the nation and holds them responsible for their own miseries.

All of the above characteristics are either currently present or developing in the state of the United Kingdom.

None of them are present in Scottish nationalism, the Scottish National Party, nor in the vast majority of its supporters.

Let me end by saying that I am in fundamental agreement with Allan Massie on one thing - false patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and I am clear on who the scoundrels are, even if he is not.