SNP’s ‘Wheesht for Indy’

There comes a point when arguing for self-governance, faced by politicians intent on doing nothing much to secure it, told a curious or a querulous nature is a risky thing, you lose the impetus to write anything at all. Is it worth the trouble? The trundling nature of the current SNP administration is sure to bring on a dose of writer’s block. No one can sustain loyalty in elected representatives to deliver a promise who are busy avoiding or blocking contact with the electorate.

It’s cosy in here

One of the pleasures of living in a small country is how close, physically as well as communicatively – sorry, too lazy to think of a shorter word – our daily life is in proximity to the government of the day. Unlike Westminster, Scotland’s MSPs don’t disappear to multi-million pound apartments in Knightsbridge, London, or estates in the Highlands for a day’s grouse shoot surrounded by bored security guards.

We see them, we know their background, we know their successes and failures, we see them go to work. Knowing we know, keeps their feet on the ground, or it should if ever they succumb to delusions of grandeur.

A dilettante’s life

And yet, here we are watching SNP politicians, proud dilettantes, deriding voters who have an opinion, who dare express it publicly. How did we get to a place where our elected representatives think people are hostile, so they treat the voter with contempt?

They think nothing of condemning bloggers devoted to the cause of civil rights. They belittle free expression, keen to stifle dissent and debate. Is it cleverly counter-intuitive? The double bluff? Fooling the right-wing into a false sense of security? No, it is rather the tired and jaded taking refuge in a bunker mentality.

When you note what has accumulated you cannot escape the conclusion the SNP has taken to judgemental authoritarianism faster than John Knox. I refer to recent events, here are a few: damning as offensive legitimate enquiries into a missing referendum fund, the ‘Hunt for Wed Salmond’, summary ejection of members for trifling Internet errors, social site bloggers denounced as a threat to life on Earth, the ‘Wheesht for Indy‘ creed sponsored by Duct Tape, and finally, the infantile, inane adoption of the Thatcher mantra, ‘if you’re not for us, you’re against us’.

The frontal attack on liberalism

Authoritarianism is the enemy of liberalism. Hard to think of a country this decade which has not taken to it like a dictator to a mistress. It was tried in Iceland, when their prime minister and bankers ruled the roost to line their pockets. Being a small country where most folks are concentrated in a small geographical area, it was pretty daft for anybody to try a wee bit of trouser lining. People saw what was happening and dumped their parliamentarians for new ones, chucked them out, jailed their bankers.

People usually point to China as the worst example of authoritarianism. I have never felt China should adopt western-style democracy, not when the most densely populated country in the word, all those mouths to feed. Until recently, opening up parts of China to the worst excesses of capitalism, it was an agrarian society. We stole invention from them. Russia and Stalin come next in the list of totalitarian regimes to be reviled, yet, like jeering at China, we veer from trading as a way of enticing them to see things our way, to boycotting their trade to see things our way, depending on who is president of the United States at the time.

Controlling the masses

Everywhere is social control and political disruption, governments leaning on Internet discussion platforms to censor accounts, Boris’s gang throwing over Whitehall traditions and proroguing the UK parliament. Entirely fraudulent companies and flaky think tanks have appeared in the United Kingdom in the last few years aiming to earn a fast buck from the clandestine task of gathering information on private citizens by Internet and disseminating disinformation to the same folks.

I am in no doubt the SNP is infiltrated by spooks, crooks and aspiring dukes. All parties are. Fifth columnists are trained people adept at reaching into the very heart of liberal societies to undermine them from within. The nefarious in the spy trade would have a field day watching the SNP foundering, out of its depth, against the British state, were it not for the rear guard neo-fascist action of the Tory party inadvertently compelling people to vote for independence as a safe haven.

You do not have to be born into a poor household to understand what a caring liberal environment means for hope, but it helps. It helps to recall how and why you are where you are, how you got to this point in your life, how critical the welfare state was to your survival and may be still. Ask JK Rowling about state benefaction, the abandoned single mother, she knows how the system works.

A caring society

To be disadvantage and be given a ‘leg up’ is a minor miracle. For some, like me, it was a grant to get to college and university, and then offered the best ladder of all to reach the middle-classes, to become a teacher, a lecturer, for others a nurse or a doctor, professions seen as serving society, wholesome, noble, not merely given brief applause on a Thursday at 8 o’clock.

Some people were creatures of habit and settled for a job for life to raise a family. Others used the system to question what could be done better in a liberal era. But all the time, the extreme capitalists, the authoritarians, who gave themselves the false name of ‘libertarian’ to imply they were free spirits, were planning to take back what they regarded as their natural hierarchies, their divine entitlements, privileges and power, the things that determine our existence.

As soon as liberalism makes an appearance and attracts followers, autocrats begin a campaign to bring it down. Autocrats and liberals have never been good bedfellows. It was the autocracies of Russia, Austria and Prussia that crushed the French Revolution, had Beethoven rededicate his Third Symphony, scoring out Napoleon’s name from the manuscript’s cover, and saw Robert Burns bemoan the loss of liberty.

Those regimes did all they could to keep liberalism at bay. There were early prototypes of the modern police state. Stalin merely improved the mechanisms. Nor did they limit their attacks against liberalism to their own people, they intervened with extreme force to crush stirrings of liberalism in Spain, Italy and Poland.

They engaged in extensive censorship, closed universities, maintained networks of spies to keep an eye on ordinary people, and jailed, tortured and killed those suspected of fomenting liberal revolution. They gave the modern world the example to follow.

Meanwhile, we see Hungary’s Vicktor Orban doing his best to give freedoms a kicking, proclaiming his ‘Illiberalism’ with pride. He sets Christian against ‘heathen’ migrants protected by that other liberal bastion he detests, the European Union. Witness too, Tayyip Erdogan dismantling Turkey’s oldest liberal institutions in the name of Islamic beliefs and traditions. Spain had a go at authoritarianism, the remnants of Franco still in power, determined to extinguish Catalonia’s aspirations. Dictators are everywhere. There was one in the US Whitehouse for four inglorious years who has shown us a coup of western democracy is a distinct possibility.

But there are glimmers of warm sun; the far-right is routed in Greece and Italy, fascist Steve Bannion, the man who tried to unite far-right groups in Europe, awaits trial for alleged financial larceny, and Ireland is ready and willing to show Britain it has become a pariah state, bereft of basic humanity.

Not the SNP!

Before readers throw their hands up in the air, shocked I might be comparing those brutish eras to the SNP this last decade, be assured, Scotland is not there yet. But it has indulged in mock political trials, is attempting to bring in an odious Hate Crime Bill that threatens free expression, and it has humiliated erring politicians and private citizens in the press, just as any good authority figures of a Chinese province might do to a dissident rice grower until he confessed his wayward ways, or a Hong Kong protestor till she ceases political attacks on the administration.

I like to think it is the teething pains of an old nation shaking off its colonial past and faltering momentarily until it stands on its own two feet, but at the back of my mind I know I am witnessing amateurs at work, scared of looking foolish.

With a majority of eighty in the House of Commons, now an unapologetic English-only parliament, the British authoritarians have regained their confidence and found their voice. They impose dullards and the unelected on Scotland’s democracy, elevating them to give them more power to compensate for the few grey cells they have knocking around in their thick skulls, House Jock servants such as secretary of state Alister Jack, a ventriloquist’s dummy, bully boy Ruth Davidson now a baroness, and Lady Mone, a courtesan in the old mould minus the long white gloves and frenetic face fanning.

Those people and their paymasters are determined to roll back liberal advances as much as they can, as quickly as they can, and so far they are succeeding, the welfare state, the English national health service, and Scotland’s right to be an equal partner in the United Kingdom crushed under their onslaught. They succeed because we fail.

The Yes movement has never faltered

The unceasing, well-planned anti-liberal attacks is the thing that angers independence supporters who view the SNP’s quietly adopted policy of gradualism to be a disaster.

They Yes movement knows what the British state is capable of doing, intent on keeping a territory from exercising free will. They know England has isolated itself from Europe without calculating on a No Deal from the EU, or an Ireland determined to break the Tory party’s hold on the north of Ireland. And Yes see an England that calculated without a new US president who has already made plain he wants no border in the Irish Sea that jeopardises the Good Friday Agreement. The British state is snookered, yet the SNP, the party of independence, drags its comfy velvet slippers.

All that is left for England is to hold tight to Scotland and its wealth, not to show how much the Union means for democracy, but to eradicate liberalism exercised by Scotland and the Islands, Wales too. That the SNP think delaying a battle against such belligerent colonial aggression is a ‘Gold Standard’ of anything is unadulterated hokum, the naive promise of David never to use his slingshot and stones if confronted by a big bully.

To those who have acquired power through wealth – which means most of the Tory party now constructed – liberalism is a limp amalgam of idealisms, people who cannot face real-politik, losers and grievance monkeys. The power elite lose touch with their roots, their ancestors and their heritage. Those cultural aspects become meaningless in the quest to own material things, conspicuous consumption to denote status that remove you from the daily life of the masses. Monaco, here we come!

In summary

Without know it, Scots who protect their land, their language, traditions and mores, are greater liberals than any career politician worried about what other nations might think of Scotland’s rightful political ambitions, and who think being upright and well-spoken is keeping a clean square of handkerchief in your top pocket.

The SNP’s confidence in gradualism is not only wholly misplaced, it is guaranteed lethal to Scotland’s sovereignty. The promoters of blind faith have lost sight of a simple and very practical reality: that whatever we may think about the persistent problems of our lives lived in a colonial reality, our hopes for justice and equality, our belief in faith and reason, only liberalism guarantees the right to hold and express those ideals and battle over them in the public arena we value as a democracy.

Wheesht for Indy‘ should be shot at dawn and buried in an unmarked grave.

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Reforming the SNP

We reproduce here the second selected article penned by Dr Roger Mullin, NEC candidate and former SNP MP, selected from five he has published. Readers should refer to his blog to read the others, and this site for the one reproduced a few days ago. They make interesting and informative reading, and by implication, the observation that not all is healthy with the SNP’s internal organisation.

When I indicated in my blog of October 7 Time to Stand Up: Running for the NEC that I was putting my name forward as a candidate for the National Executive Committee of the SNP, I was very uncertain regarding where it would lead.

I have since then published on my site over 7,000 words on governance arrangements, held a range of Zoom meetings with party branches and members, and had many individual conversations. I am more convinced than ever of the desire for constructive change. In this final blog in my series, I am not going to summarise all my arguments. If you haven’t been following my blogs on party governance, and would like to read them as a complete set, I have put them together in a .pdf document which I can email out on request. Please email me and ask at: roger.mullin@momentouschangeltd.co.uk

Let me reflect on what I have learned in the course of the last few weeks. Somewhat to my surprise, in my Zoom meetings with branches not a single person challenged the idea that there was a need for change in the way in which the National Executive Committee works. The concerns of members mainly centred around the following areas.

First, a perceived lack of transparency. Such concerns often centred around hearing of contentious decisions made by the NEC via the mainstream media or social media but with no communication directly from the NEC and no convincing explanation to members or branch officials of the reasoning involved.

Second, a concern about an apparent lack of focus on Scottish Independence. Many claimed in discussions to be aware of other political interests that were being pushed within the NEC, but at the expense of a lack of focus on Scottish Independence.

Third, and related to the above points, a perception of cliques or factions within the current NEC that were not putting the interests of Scottish Independence at the forefront of political deliberations.

Fourth, a lack of effective leadership of party staff, with a wide range of criticisms of lack of responsiveness to branch concerns. There was a related perception that there was a disregard for the membership as a whole.

Fifth, a lack of accountability. With a small number of notable exceptions, some claimed they had no significant communication or engagement with regionally elected NEC members following the last conference, despite the role they were expected to fulfil. Some also felt there was a lack of effective communication from some senior office bearers.

Sixth, there was widespread agreement with my proposition that much more needs doing to both identify and utilise the talent within the party. It was leading some members to opine that they felt as if they were seen as simply here to be rolled out to campaign at election time, and to be otherwise kept in the dark.

Seventh, a concern that debate within the party is being deliberately stifled with, for example, a loss of the open policy debating that used to be the norm at conference and elsewhere.

The above made me realise more than ever that the primary concerns amongst members related to issues that don’t necessarily require any constitutional change, but do require a change in “culture”, a change in the ways in which we as a party behave towards one another, make and explain decisions, communicate and engage, show respect and build trust. This is very important.

In another aspect of my life I have for many years taught post graduate students about aspects of organisational change. There is a considerable amount of research that shows that when organisations fail to achieve their intended objectives, in around 70% of occasions it is because of a weakness in “culture”. My discussions over the last few weeks have led me to the belief that the types of concerns being raised by members, precisely mirror organisational culture issues.

In some respects, this is very encouraging. With effective leadership, and particularly from the NEC, it is quite possible to put in place the building blocks for a more purposeful culture. It is a matter of collective will to want to become more transparent; to ensure a focus on our primary goal of independence; to increase both the quantity and quality of communications; to facilitate member engagement; to encourage real political debates throughout the party; to show respect to member interests, and so forth.

Research shows us that by taking action on such culture issues, a likely consequence will be to raise both trust and motivation. We will be building a culture where other issues, such as natural justice and dispute resolution have a much stronger foundation of trust and respect to build upon.

I realise that in my blogs to date I have raised a wide range of other issues. Some of my own ideas may ultimately require some constitutional change. Others will require those in elected positions to accept more responsibility (myself included should I be elected to the NEC). But I think I agree with the many members who have so eloquently in recent weeks made clear to me that an early focus on “fixing”some of the issues affecting party culture should be a key and immediate focus.

I therefore offer my thanks to everyone who has constructively engaged with me over the last few weeks. Should I be elected to the NEC you have not heard the last from me.

Roger Mullin

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Scotland, Right or Left

‘Scotland, Right or Left’ is a title paraphrased from a seminal essay by George Orwell, ‘My Country, Right or Left’. It used to be a question Scots answered without hesitating – ‘left’, because we invariably elected Labour politicians to Westminster. When we regained our Parliament all that changed. Labour, Tory, Lib-Dem lost their main seat of power. Naked, we saw them for what they really are, schizophrenic, loyalties divided between two masters, pro-London, their advocacy of Scotland a sham, our democracy a sham too, all the parties were unionist parties.

Is the Scottish National Party left-wing or right-wing?

I think it does not know which it is. It has a left-wing attitude, a disregard for colonial authority and concern for the less fortunate, but a right-wing love of entrepreneurial adventurism. This dichotomy is in the Scottish blood. Those who sought work abroad and became successful became successful in a big way. Andrew Carnegie is a classic example of the breed. I have a cousin who went to New York with his family, a joiner to trade, and within five years built up and owned a major construction company.

Early last century, our politics were rebellious and radical. And yet when the ‘red Clydesiders’, as the 1930s radical socialists were termed, were wooing and winning crowds in Glasgow’s George Square, Scotland voted Conservative. Willie Gallagher, John Maclean, David Kirkwood, etched their name into the national psyche. Life was a simple struggle of worker against boss. The masses had no power, the bosses had it all.

The socialist, the conservative, the Liberal, Uncle Tam McCobbly and all are now in the Scottish National Party. It takes all sorts. The SNP’s birth issued from a clash of right and left ideologies, but as it consolidated its influence it tended to move into the centre ground, both to attract support from all sections of society, and to demonstrate a certain sense of stability.

From the SNP’s earliest days, via its highs and lows down the decades, and even today, those on the left are frequently thrown out for expressing dissent too far, or in Alex Salmond’s case, a party within a party. The SNP has arrived dead centre once again.

A time of hope

When the SNP won their first landslide victory I was overjoyed to see our nation take a giant step toward maturity. Exciting times. It was a pleasure to see Alex Salmond outwit Westminster by altering their derogatory title of ‘Scottish Executive‘ to the confident ‘Scottish Government‘. And he was smart enough to notice Westminster had omitted to reserve renewable energy which he duly grabbed running, and promoted to the benefit of our nation, far and ahead of English environmental policy. He took Scotland into the modern age. We questioned everything, and that alone is left-wing.

What I wanted to see happen next was our government begin a round of Celtic and international meetings with ambassadors and heads of other governments, and again, Salmond did not disappoint. His visit to New York to chivvy up a greater interest in an annual celebration of Scotland, to match American love of Irish culture, got us noticed. The photographs of the parade helped to wipe out the previous image of Labour’s dolt, Union Jack McConnell, posing in a grey pin-striped skirt someone told him was a kilt.

Salmond showed us international politics, what being on a world stage was like; this was the start of a new Scotland, statesman-like, outward looking, making friends of nations we had been denied by Westminster, forever a jealous proxy.

We were vigorous, certain of our destiny. On the right-wing side of things, Salmond had been an executive with a leading bank, the RBS, but was a champion of civil rights. He brought to his role a caring right-wing background when it came to finance, investment and attracting big business to our shores.

The Gradualists take over

Then came Nicola Sturgeon. Knowing her experience of international affairs was limited, I hoped she would follow Salmond’s example, seek out international support for independence, return us to grown up politics that spoke sense without a dozen marbles in its gob. I hoped she would grow into the job of First Minister.

Her trip to Dáil Éireann and her speech to the politicians of the Republic gave another lift to our spirits. I reported on it, something few UK newspapers did. (See Notes.) On socialist principles, Sturgeon has maintained the SNP belief in a welfare state, in free education, in a secular society, and on open immigration, if only Scotland was able to organise immigration, a power retained by London.

Unlike Salmond who busied himself meeting influential people, Sturgeon embarked on a mission to meet the masses. She indulged in thousands of selfies visiting schools, nurseries, hospitals. She became the people’s First Minister.

Sturgeon’s trip to New York was for a celebrity interview on the satirical John Stewart Show, but that was okay. She made her mark. It was like seeing Billy Connolly on the Parkinson Show for the first time, you felt pride in a Scot attain that amount of attention. We did not notice there was something shallow in how she went about her role. We gave her the benefit of the doubt. After all, we were not the British ambassador for so-and-so colony there to cement England’s loyalty to the US. We were our own boss with a mind of our own, or so I thought.

A loss of momentum

From there on events took a downward trajectory. Despite a number of announcements from the SNP that it was embarking upon a radical manifesto, we never seemed quite to achieve that goal. The jolt arrived with incautious pronouncements on international leaders that sounded hellishly like those made by Tory politicians, and worse, allied to American foreign policy. When did the people of Scotland debate foreign policy? A new, free-thinking Scotland was not supposed to be a carbon copy of an old England.

New social policies were waved about with abandon, but soon disintegrated into sloppy thinking, shabby argument and a general messiness of message, football team intolerance, thought crimes, gender equality, and the shrill hunt for Alex Salmond’s scalp, all took their toll on what was once a rock solid administration.

The party admired for its ethics, its discipline and its boundless energy, began to look lost and defensive. Where was Sturgeon taking us?; it is not clear and is still not clear.

The most recent events portray an SNP as creator of its own misery. One day Sturgeon announced she was here to stay, supervising a pandemic her central task, civil and constitutional rights sidelined. The SNP had chosen the line of least resistance, it had become comfortable in its dressing gown and slippers. It began to talk like old Labour, complacent, boasting it was the natural party of Scotland.

Holding onto power

Holders of power will always use their position to gain more power and privileges. Along with that they will defend the status quo, the last thing they want is chaos that might undermine efficiency in the system that provides their livelihood. This was one unspoken but obvious reason for Scottish companies warning they would move to England if Scotland regained it liberty – they feared greater taxation and loss of profits. This is an odd attitude to take because moving lock, stock and barrel to another country is costly, and invariably means loss of loyal customers. The abhorrence of change is also why the SNP lay aside any risk in choosing more than one way to attain independence.

Unlike Westminster, our current parliament is not populated by a monopoly of people who have big business and management experience, ensconced in Holyrood to protect their interests. We have a few lawyers, and some from small businesses, but with the glaring exception of Labour and Tory contemptuous of Scotland’s ambitions, most are good, ordinary folk dedicated to serving Scotland’s interests. However, once Scotland regains the full powers of a nation state, we can expect that to change, and the big boys muscle in to look after Number One.

Tartan Tories

The SNP were often called ‘tartan Tories’, less so these days, having served up a diet of socialist policies, including protecting the NHS and education as best they can. The phrase ‘tartan Tory’ does its best to suggest the SNP is full of bone idle capitalists and massive share holders, who have the luxury of doing nothing except pay managers to keep an eye on staff, and other specialist staff to keep an eye on the stock exchange.

Big time capitalists today are mere recipients of profits. Those who created Internet companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook, are extra-ordinarily wealthy, way beyond the dreams of Victorians. Their empires are so vast and far-reaching they can undermine the state – imagine a pandemic lock-down without Amazon – but their owners do little more than discuss a company issue or two once a month with a few chosen colleagues. They are extremely powerful, able to alter social trends and habits without actually being elected to govern or ever having championed a political ideal. You will not find one major capitalist in the SNP.

As for the SNP being a left-wing party, or left-leaning, there is, as I have stated, lots of evidence to support that observation. Countless policies now in operation protect the weak and the vulnerable, all of them anti-neo-liberal. In addition, we want to be part of Europe, we feel European.

Marx and Scotland

When I attended an SNP meeting some years back, I was surprised to discover as many ex-communists as socialists in the group. If they wanted to see the destruction of the boss class the subject never arose. Meetings were taken up with post-independence matters, and campaign strategy to win the popular vote.

Of the age of the Internet and drone warfare, Karl Marx – munching his apple and cheese packed lunch in the British Library – had nothing to say. He arrived too early to see the development of the digital age. But the Communist Party still exists. Followers of Marxian theory have given socialism the erroneous image of standing for worker’s rights against the rich, coincidentally, also for manual workers against wealthy white collar workers, that is, people who earn a living by their intellectual skills.

Marx says nothing of small businesses, people who work hard running a corner shop, the local post office, a fish and chippy, or a florist. The self-employed barely existed in his day. You were salaried, a seller of materials, unemployed or a beggar. He glorified manual work as against intellectual work, that is, he disregarded the bourgeoisie’s contribution to an economy. This was a serious theoretical error that has seen a climate in the United Kingdom of small business owners identify with the Tory party for protection, a party determined to wipe out union rights, which it has done, and many freedoms with it.

In Scotland, the Tories crushed the miner’s union and destroyed our great ship building yards and steel works. We voted Labour in retaliation and got much of the same. Anti-union laws were not repealed under the Blair or Brown administrations.

With the connivance of the Lib-Dems, Labour and Tory stole Scotland’s oil. Some will argue it matters not a jot; Marx was right to maintain that the poor are brutally exploited by the rich. He did not think it worthwhile distinguishing one kind of rich person from another, or for that matter, one comfortable member of the middle-class from another. The important thing was to end exploitation and monopolies. So what kind of Scotland does the SNP hope to create? I wish I knew.

SNP and monopolies

At least the SNP is not for exploiting anybody, other than its member’s patience when it comes to attaining self-reliance.

The SNP is a socialist party in many things, definitely not in others. But then, if a new Scotland was to attempt to wipe out or demote entrepreneurs in order to abolish exploitation it might leave workers of all grades worse off than before, unless some sort of acceptable profit-share partnership was carefully devised, acceptable to both sides, where the many could feel they see the right return for a day’s labour.

The power to exploit people depends on the possession of a monopoly. Being the only political party of worth in a nation is a kind of monopoly, but that can alter in a single election. Having a large majority can motivate a party to imposes inhumane policies, such as we see pursued by the Tory party of England.

Those who possess land are few in Scotland, yet they to possess a monopoly of power. Almost all our landowners are right-wing, supporters of an unequal, crooked Union. Landowners live on rent they extract from the use of their land. Landowners write their own terms, leaving just enough for renters to earn a profit from their labour. It can be land that offers up wind farms, oil, gas and minerals.

But the battle to come is a gargantuan one against those who own giant Internet monopolies. Other than send a letter to the leader of the Conservative party asking for leave to leave, so far, the SNP has done nothing to prepare it and us for that battle once the land called Scotland is in Scottish hands.

I argue, the SNP is neither one hundred percent socialist, nor one hundred percent capitalist. Currently, it’s ideologically nowhere. Some might feel that a good thing. But on the issue of removing Scotland from a corrupt and aggressive UK, it seems not to feel it a matter of urgency.

In fact, in the last six years the SNP has done only the minimum to win our liberty and that is unforgiveable. There is no middle ground here. The enemy is at the gates.

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NOTE:

Report on Nicola Sturgeon’s official visit to Dublin: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-bwJ

Sturgeon discussing human rights with a UN committee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA4-kIdBQ_U&feature=youtu.be

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Reforming the SNP NEC

Grouse Beater is republishing the well considered article below written by former SNP MP, Roger Mullin in his blog ‘Independent View’.  He is seeking election to the National Executive Committee. The article explains why he feels the NEC must be reformed and why good administration is crucial to how the public sees the SNP and how it governs itself.

There has been a lot of anger and concern expressed at the way some members of the NEC have exploited the platform, notably to block discussion of alternative routes to Scotland’s self-governance, presumably in preference for Nicola Sturgeon’s now defunct one route ‘Gold Standard’ – asking the Tories to endorse a second referendum, a request refused whenever the issue is mentioned.

Some background: Roger graduated from the Edinburgh University with M.A. Honours in Sociology in 1977. He was a Member of the Institute of Personnel and Development. He is an Honorary Professor at the Stirling University, lecturing postgraduates on Applied Decision Theory, The Political Environment, and Organisation Change. He has also undertaken research into Brexit and Scottish Business and initial research into a stock exchange for Scotland along with former MP colleague Michelle Thomson. He was SNP MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, ousting Kenny Selbie with almost a 10,000 majority, Selbie’s hopes to succeed Gordon Brown dashed. For a while Roger was SNP Treasury spokesperson. He left Westminster in May 2017.

It should go without saying that the views expressed are not necessarily those of this site, but it can be taken for granted they are reproduced here because the site has a lot of sympathy with the need for radical overhaul of the NEC which many in the SNP feel has become a citadel within a party, diverting it from its main task.

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Why Governance?

“The great strength of the SNP is that it knows quite clearly its intended destination: Independence for Scotland.

The route map to the destination is however less precise, hence debates about plan A, plan B, strategy, democratic mandates, timing of a referendum and so on. I would describe this as a debate about choosing a democratic route to our final destination, but with all the uncertainties that entails, and with lots of high consequence decisions to be made along the way. Like a train journey, we need not only to know the final destination, we need to choose the best route to get there, and to have the right people driving the train.

Taking this analogy of a journey to be navigated, we need to have tracks laid to follow and we need to have drivers to make the decisions along the way: when to switch tracks, when to slow down or accelerate, when to toot warnings and so forth.

A political party without effective governance, is like a train without tracks and drivers.

I see governance in two ways.

First, what I would call the governance architecture; the fixed components that should be able to be described in diagrammatical form. Reading the latest version of the party’s constitution and rules our architecture includes a National Conference, a National Executive Committee and its related committee structure, Regional Steering Committees, National Assemblies, Constituency Associations, Branches, and Affiliated Organisations. They need to have very clearly defined membership and powers. It should be very clear how they all relate to one another. This is the basics. (I can’t find it described in diagrammatic form which I think might help).

Second, and of particular importance, we need to know how things work throughout this architecture. We need in particular to understand the processes and decision making that takes place. Where does authority lie? How should decisions be taken? What are the actions and behaviours expected of everyone from branch member of party leader? What are the ethical standards required? What communications must take place? How open and transparent should processes and decision making be? In other words, what is the working culture of the party as well as its structure.

For large complex organisations in particular, we need to establish some basic governance principles to guide us and make sense of our organisational architecture and working practices. Indeed, in organisational research that I used to undertake in an earlier life, searching out the underlying principles that guided organisation was always an important starting point.

So today I read all 193 pages of the party’s constitution, rules and standing orders (November 2020 edition). To put it charitably, I have struggled to find a coherent set of underlying principles that have been clearly and consistently applied. Now, I am the first to recognise there are many sets of governance principles to choose from, from formal principles that are a legal requirement for large corporations, to less formal principles for local community organisations. But all should be clear, consistent and applied however simple or complex they may be.

Since we are dealing here with a political organisation, it might be instructive to consider the twelve principles of Good Democratic Governance as set out by the Council of Europe. They cover issues such as ethical conduct, rule of law, efficiency and effectiveness, transparency, sound financial management and accountability, under the following headings (in no particular order):

Participation and representation; Competence and capacity; Ethical conduct; Efficiency and Effectiveness; Openness and transparency; Responsiveness; Rule of law; Sound Financial management; Accountability; Human rights and cultural diversity; Innovation and openness to change; Sustainability and long term orientation.

I am not arguing this has to be the set of principles the SNP should adopt. What I am arguing is we need to agree what our set of underlying principles should be.

However, if I use the above as a working example of principles what would I say in relation to the National Executive Committee? First, there is no serious commitment to openness and transparency. For example the only statement relating to minutes and papers in the standing orders are as follows:

Minutes and other papers submitted to the Committee shall be treated in confidence. Any complaint that a Committee Member has injured the interests of the party by sharing the contents of, or copying such papers to, or wilfully misrepresenting the discussions of the Committee to the media or another political party, will be reported by the National Secretary to the Disciplinary Committee, for investigation under the Disciplinary Rules”.

There is however no balancing statement of any rights of access by members or local office bearers. Indeed, there is no statement relating to openness or transparency at all. Secrecy is enshrined, openness is ignored.

Take two other principles that might be considered as complimentary, the need for both diversity and competence. There is positive emphasis on some aspects of cultural diversity. However, there is nothing at all related to competence and capacity. It is perplexing to me that competence and capacity is not considered at all throughout the 193 pages.

I also have a professional interest in ethics and the importance thereof. At its most basic there are two ways of looking at ethics. First, are there clear and sensible rules to be followed by members and office holders? Second, does the outcome of behaviours do no unjust harm to others? Nowhere in the 193 pages is there any consideration of both aspects of ethical behaviour. I believe there have been examples of actions and decisions taken that have done unjust harm to individual members. Few have had any effective redress. Should we not be seeking high ethical standards and make them explicit?

And so on. Oh, and one more point. Where are the Regional Steering Committees? Written into the constitution, but nowhere to be seen.

I think therefore there is much work to be done to agree the fundamental principles which should govern party governance. If we don’t deal with this, it creates a context for abuse of power and denial of basic rights to members. But we can fix this.”

Roger Mullin

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Posted in Scottish Politics | 2 Comments

Scotland’s Central Bank

If there is one thing we can bank on – pun intended – in this self-inflicted struggle to regain our democratic freedoms, being the butt of propaganda and jokes from soldiers of the British state is a certainty. When all else fails, telling us we are too poor to survive as a normal nation, is the colonial’s evergreen taunt. They succeed so well, our own folk repeat it as Gospel: our good neighbour saves us from perpetual penury. This myth has been sold to us for over 300 years. 

Not an exponent of economic intricacy, I try to seek economists who are not members of some creaky far-right colonialist club. I can avoid the fraudulent ‘Scotland in Union’, the academically woozy, racist ‘This Island’, or a flaky obscure think tank nothing more than a brass plate on a London door, a pin-striped suit paid by the Koch Foundation to spread lies and disinformation. Argument rebuffed by honest economists, the phony balonies return to the Darien Adventures as ‘solid’ proof of the righteousness of their argument, a time when, in fact, Scotland was far more prosperous than England.

Economists with nothing to gain who tell is the truth have my full attention, how Scots live in the wealthiest small country in the world. It is not unusual to hear that opinion. So far, all the best of them feel a central bank is a good idea, when independent again.

Every nation England overran in the name of the British Empire they pillaged while telling the population they were too poor and to  uneducated to fend for themselves. They deserved British rule. Now that our elected representatives have begun putting a Central bank together we should be prepared for the onslaught of falsehoods from our latter-day colonials along the same lines, a central bank will be useless to save us.

Next comes the lie that, without England offering funds – actually a portion of of taxes usually kept by the UK Treasury, Scotland would be sunk by the Coronavirus pandemic, and the same goes for any future virus. The liars have been gifted the best subject to exploit ceaselessly in a scaremongering list of scares- a pandemic.

To avoid straying into areas for which I have no expertise, I shall stick to the basics of a central bank, the pluses and the myths of our opponents. I shall try to make things easy to follow, for my own understanding, if not the reader’s.

Myth One – Currency

Let’s get out of the way clunky jokes about the name for a Scottish currency: Poonds, Groats, Bodles, Lowie, Bawbees, Folding Tartan, Smackeroonies- that’ll do for now!

Wealthy members of the European Union use the Euro – a currency system that has not hurt the Republic of Ireland. Smaller nations use their own currency. Attachment to a shaky pound leaves us at the mercy of interest rates levelled by the Bank of England. The bank is supposed to be politically impartial, but the old saying still holds true, when England gets a cold, Scotland get pneumonia. In other words, whatever is stuck upon unfortunate English to address their economic woes, will affect Scotland adversely.

If we get an antagonistic Tory chancellor, or find ourselves in loggerheads with England for a time, there is every reason to believe Westminster might burden Scotland with high interest rates to curb our influence and shrink our economy.

There was a long period where the Euro was worth more than the pound sterling, and that may well come around again from 2021 onwards, when the UK steps out of the EU leaving the UK’s economy on shifting sand.

Scotland does not have to join the Euro to be a member of the EU, only to ‘consider it in the future’. But while so many members have different economic agendas and GNP that fluctuate year-by-year, using the Euro might be hazardous in the medium to long term. We should look to Ireland for advice on this issue, not our colonial opponents. From the Irish I am prepared to listen for advice when, or if, to join the Euro. 

Myth Two – Epic Pandemic

In addition to closing our borders as an independent nation, using our own currency allows us to handle pandemics and epidemics suitably funded.

There is such as thing as a ‘magic money tree’, the hand-wringing lie that none exists exploded by Westminster when the Bank of England printed oodles of money to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, and did it right in the middle of an artificial policy of austerity. You print what you need. The Bank of England has bought billions of gilts, providing the chancellor with a £20 billion of 0% interest overdraft on the Ways and Means account.

The state is the issuer and source of our money, thus making it impossible for it to run out. Politicians warn us daily, extra funds come off the taxpayer’s back. The taxpayer does not print money, the central bank does that job. We pay tax to the Treasury.

That aside, expect to hear and read the taunt about a pandemic killing off Scotland in more ways than one, repeated endlessly as we move closer to a referendum vote.

 Myth 3 – The Scottish Pound in Reserve

Another benefit of using our own currency goes unnoticed. Using the Scottish Pound on a daily basis offers the opportunity to be a voluntary choice. That means you can save in any currency. When you wanted to buy Scots pounds you could use existing sterling. The result of this policy means on the first day the Scots pound comes into existence it would have 100% foreign reserves backing in the form of the sterling we used to buy it.

I mention this because one of the great questions among voters in the 2014 Referendum was an understandable fear, if baseless, of losing the value of the pound sterling, Scotland left with a worthless Scots currency.

Scots are cautious about how they use their hard-earned cash. I am sure some folk will wait to see how a Scots currency fairs. Confidence is sure to rise as time goes by. As a ‘foreign’ currency, a Scottish currency is subject to foreign exchange rates. Economists argue, this is a good thing, because it takes it out of the control of the pound sterling.

Myth 4 – Foreign Reserves

When I first heard the idea of a ‘foreign’ Scots pound, backed by 100% foreign reserves, opponents claimed our currency would collapse, but they were talking about sterling, not about foreign reserves.

Our colonial masters invariable compare Scotland to their situation, whatever that is.

Myth 5- A Central Bank Needs Trillions of Start-Up Capital

Used to banks as monumental establishments, housed in big buildings with a multitude of stiff collared staff to run them, readers will be surprise how little a Central Bank needs to get up and running. A no frills, no gimmicks, no liabilities, basic Central Bank could open with as little as £20,000 in the kitty.

Beyond that there is the obvious, a few desks, telephones, a package for accounting software, connection to the inter-bank payment system, a receptionist, perhaps three staff for the initial year, a chairman, a board of directors (more on that later), and a brass plaque on the door. My private bank contacts tell me that really is it, well, maybe a coffee machine, and a filing cabinet.

All a Central Bank has to achieve is debit and credit the bank accounts of the Treasury and the reserve accounts of the commercial banks.  

Myth 6 – Deficits Are Bad

Shrill opponents are want to scream a deficit is a bad thing. If Scotland amasses one it will shudder to a halt. This is just so much baloney. No countries runs its economy on the basis of domestic home economics. If they did, bankruptcy beckons. All nations live on a deficit.

A deficit of anything from 5% to 10% is healthy. A deficit is an IOU from the state. A new Scotland will luxuriate in having no debts, almost unknown in the modern world, a great attraction for inward investment. I can see that being the situation in our formative years, as we rearrange the mechanisms of our democracy, and enlarge or amalgamate our institutions to suit our autonomy. 

Myth 7 – Interest Rates

Somewhere recently, I heard a Tory talk of the market helping to control interest rates. The interviewer did not question his opinion. A check in the pages of  ‘Basic Economics for Dummies‘ tells us the state controls interest rates, not markets. The state can borrow from its Central Bank by the process of ‘Quantitative Easing’, that magic money tree. 

Myth 8 – UK Assets Mean UK Debts

There is no law that states a ceding country automatically shares a proportion of the original state’s liabilities. Why? Because there is no law stating we have to accept a share of the assets. Do we really want a piece of the Falkland Islands? Have we not enough sheep of our own? If we refuse a share of rUK’s debts, we begin with no debt whatsoever.

The UK government under Cameron made plain it wanted to be ‘the Continuing State’. That is because England wants to keep its seat on the UN Security Council. Let it keep all it’s liabilities. Depending on the timing, Scotland will get £40 billion of Foreign Reserves automatically from the sale of the Scottish pound, on the assumption a low turnout sees folk convert only 40% of their sterling at the outset. (I see Twitter posts appearing from English nationalists jeering ‘if’, ‘but’ and ha ha, ‘maybe’.)

On Independence Day, Scotland takes back everything it owns, including all sources of taxation and all oils reserves. From that day on we build the nation that was once as economically independent as any other. Revenue acquiring institutions removed from us, such as the DVLA, we reinstate. The first two years will be a busy time reorganising our own affairs to suit our own needs.

If we join the EU, as many economists say we should to prosper, we will cede a little sovereignty to the EC – we lose a huge chunk to the UK currently – but that is the way of gaining trading rights. All nations are interdependent to some degree.

There is no record of a country that managed to extricate itself from the British empire taking a share of the UK’s debts. Ireland, still under England’s thumb, had money to pay back on loans it had taken out under Lloyd George’s Liberal administration, used for Irish tenant farmers to buy out their landlord.

Myth 9 – Small Countries Always Decline

Greenland is doing well, Iceland recovered from the ravages of the 2008 bank crash, Norway protected itself well, and Ireland bounced back in the face of English colonials calling it a basket case, as if their murderous rule of Ireland was not enough to subdue its ire. Scotland has truly vast sources of natural wealth, and is already proving it can be self-sustaining in renewable energy. Like Ireland, it will attract inward investment because it can arrange its own tax incentives.

True, there is urgent need to invest in the Highlands, and to reduce poverty in our main cities to a smattering of pocket areas, but falling apart at the seams is not a calculation. At the moment there is every indication our economy will contract severely, blocked from trade to Europe and trade to Ireland, relying entirely on the goodwill of England whose government has never shown financial kindness to Scotland in centuries. 

As for a sudden collapse, I turn to Richard Murphy, visiting professor in international political economy at City, University of London. He cites two eastern European states as examples of nations with far fewer wealth reserves than Scotland:

“Estonia became independent on 20th August 1991 introducing their currency 9 months later. They had no warning the Soviet Union was about to collapse. Slovakia set up a currency in two months after the planned shared currency with Czechia collapsed almost immediately (which is what would happen to any plan to share sterling!). Timing is not a problem then.”

Myth 10 -The Growth Commission Way

Everything I have written here is a repudiation of the timid, one step at a time, Tiggy Winkle proposals in the Wilson penned, Sturgeon championed ‘Growth Commission’. Only a few ardent fans refer to it still.

It was designed to make the ‘White Paper’ – a milestone in Scotland’s history – look misjudged and misleading. The White Paper still holds answers to questions persistently asked. We should refer to it more than we do.

Within weeks of analysis, the flaccid ‘Growth Commission’ looked timid and small-minded. But it did propose a Central bank. And that brings me to my final remarks before I step out of my understanding of  Scotland’s economic choices.

Just as in the past I argued a new broadcaster for Scotland should not be the old BBC Scotland with a new title and the same ethos, the same argument applies to a Central Bank. Pack its board of directors with old school bankers and inveterate gamblers gets old school thinking, the self-indulgent climate of ‘paying big salaries to attract the best talent’, a self-serving piece of arrogance is ever one was coined.

The names of the directors of the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) have been announced. There is not a revolutionary among them. They are from the Dickensian school of fat bonuses and fatter cheque books. It does not bode well for a Central Bank. Employing flotsam and jetsam from the era of corrupt banking ensures they replicate the neo-liberal austerity guff they have been selling for the last two decades. 

Yours, in confidence

Scotland is famous for inventing any number of great things in the modern age. The age of the Enlightenment spurred on our ability to see things anew.

It is that adventurism based on science that propelled our economy, a sound one until we were dragged into an unwanted union. Our standing in the world back then was not because of over-weight bankers patting themselves on the back for acquiring another little earner with expenses. The intellectual causation of economic processes is the thing that saw Scotland prosper.

And this is a why a modern Scotland must be part of the world’s nations, exchanging ideas, not tied to one grudging partner, forced upon us and interested only in itself.

 

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NOTE

For information on how the Central Bank (Scottish Reserve Bank) should be organised, see website: https://www.reservebank.scot/news

 

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SNP or Independence?

Readers are forgiven for thinking the title a contradiction. After all, the SNP is the party of independence. Unfortunately, just as a mule is a breed of workhorse but not a Clydesdale, saying you are utterly dedicated to regaining Scotland’s liberty is not the same as saying you will make it happen.

An unaccountable party

The SNP hierarchy has ‘acquired’ powers never given to them by voters. They choose not to fulfil their manifesto, they choose to adopt a gradualist approach to autonomy, to block candidates they feel do not respect some of their policies, to use subscriptions to save the skin of miscreant colleagues, and to smear private citizens they feel are asking awkward questions. Protests are dismissed, citizens held in contempt, addressing the electorate as ‘conspiracy theorists’. The people have become the problem.

One can choose from a long list of issues that undermine confidence of an SNP-led victory for Scotland’s rights. They add up to the view the SNP top officials feel it won’t happen in their tenure of office. Faced by an obdurate Tory party in power with an 80 majority, a party so brazenly right-wing it refuses to feed hungry children, the SNP feels free to look to other goals easier to obtain than the protection of Scotland’s citizens.

For my part, I cannot see how any informed person can vote for the SNP as presently constituted, not while it labours under its present amoral hierarchy, with an NEC that is keener on power than people. This is a party desperately out of touch with its ideals.

When you add it all up, you are left with a top layer of a very tired party hell bent on protecting it’s power and entitlement and not the people who elected it. It makes for depressing reading, but facts that should be faced.

The Gold Standard

The ‘Gold Standard’ is a slogan conjured out of thin air, nick-named with a vacuous catch-all meaning of the type we usually hear repeated endlessly by the white supremacist Tories, a catchphrase as stupefying as ‘the SNP is not Scotland’. The ‘Gold Standard’ is Nicola Sturgeon’s one-note illusory path to Palookaville.

There are many ways to regain autonomy. One is a sustained clamour for it that the international community cannot ignore. Who advised Nicola Sturgeon to buy a cheap day-return to independence and back? That she holds tight to her shibboleth as if the Ark of the Covenant, is defeatist, wildly misguided, unskillful management.

If Scotland’s rights are gutted like a herring by Westminster, her time as First Minister, her ‘Gold Standard’, her gradualism, her two-year pursuit to reverse Brexit, her entire accomplishments, and they are many, will be as nothing to her political fate.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and the excuses

Almost any excuse is good enough for the SNP not to inform the populace of impending repressive, totalitarian Tory policies, some already in motion, imposed by stealth and openly by Westminster Bill. Independence is relegated to yesteryear.

The list of cynical get-out clauses reads like an insurance company’s small print.

Here is the litany of excuses to delay moving on independence: 51% for Yes not enough; respecting the anti-democratic mantra ‘now is not the time’; waiting for withdrawal of Scotland’s major parliamentary powers to see what has been removed; waiting for Brexit to be implemented; 53% for a Yes vote not enough; waiting to see who is elected leader of the Tory party; waiting until implementation of a No Deal Brexit is signed; waiting to discover Boris’s attitude to a referendum; 55% for a Yes vote not enough; waiting to see exactly what deadheads and rejects do settled in their Edinburgh office, to govern Scotland over the head of its parliament; ignoring Tory a warning they will remove a chunk of Scotland’s Barnett Formula and – pork barrel fashion, distribute it among Tory councils; 58% for a Yes vote not enough. And tomorrow – 60% for a Yes vote probably still not enough – ad infinitum.

And all that well before the Covid-19 pandemic took over as Grim Reaper.

Counter to the myth, Nicola Sturgeon did ask Downing Street for a second referendum endorsed by the UK government, a request easily waved aside by Theresa May and by Boris Johnson, as easily as a Georgian fop would waft aside a vagrant with a single flip of his hand, handkerchief held tight over his powdered nose.

No one noticed that in asking for another plebiscite Sturgeon signalled she believes a vote can be won. Therefore, excuses given subsequently for delay are antithetical.

Non-impartial civil servants

So far, in the ignominious rush to put Salmond on trial, a third time fronted by BBC Scotland with an outrageously inflammatory documentary, the key civil servants, and significantly, Nicola Sturgeon herself, all under oath, have apologised to the Holyrood committee for statements they made now seen on hindsight as erroneous.

Each forgot, overlooked, misspoke, or didn’t check with their personal secretary, about a critically important facet of their involvement in the scandal. This is the same SNP that ejects individual supporters for a misplaced comma or an iffy sentence in an essay.

Nicola Sturgeon prides herself for having a first class legal mind, yet we are asked to accept that her customary astuteness let her down. She did not see the repercussions guaranteed to cause mayhem by endorsing insidious retroactive rules, rules composed by harpies on horseback with questionable track records in past jobs.

The civil servants were certain to be spurred on by the Calvinist righteousness of their cause, but ought to have been cautioned and curbed before they got out of the paddock.

Was Nicola Sturgeon not aware her top civil servants were chivvying witnesses, some unwilling to take part in a group assassination? Did she not survey the accusations and see how many were concocted, superficial and vexatious? If not a fine legal mind, then surely a sloppy and unprofessional attitude, contemptuous of human rights.

The Murrells

For an enterprising married couple to run a small commercial business, a shop, a mail order firm, a farm, one the buyer, the other the treasurer, is an everyday occurrence. For a married couple, one running a nation and the other running the party running the nation, that is highly irregular, unhealthy, and downright unethical.

We are told they never cross talk. Of course a couple will discuss the day’s events when at home. Of course they will discuss individuals they want promoted and those they feel problematic. Of course they will have a good old nag about somebody who got on their wick. Assuredly, one will support the other when criticised or attacked, or in a fix of their own making. That is marriage the world over.

That’s the loyalty we expect husband and wife to practice, especially when both are successful in their chosen vocation. Here I am discussing the vehicle for independence.  Here we are assessing a nation’s future, not a wee corner shop in a village. Scotland is not Argentina (Juan and Eva Peron), or Rumania (Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu), or the United States of America (the Trump dynasty). The debate here is uncomplicated, did Peter Murrell exceed his authority, and what he admits to doing, is it illegal?

Peter Murrell ought to be automatically disqualified to chair a party of government while his wife presides over a nation’s destiny. His position is dishonourable. It places him in difficult, unpleasant, and embarrassing situations. Murrell’s real role should be to commiserate about the bad day his wife had at First Minister’s Question Time, pour her a gin and tonic, and run a bath sprinkled with scented salts to ease her stress.

You are left with the nagging question, who is running Scotland? Is it the will of the sovereign people, the Murrells, or a bunch of unscrupulous civil servants? A ‘better future’, justice, honesty, integrity and  liberty, begins with the people taking us there.

Referendum fighting fund

Some years back, Edinburgh University arranged a London auction to sell off valuable artwork in their care. The collection was a bequest, given to the University to protect and exhibit, on behalf of the people of Scotland. The University authorities argued a gift is their possession. They were taken to court by concerned citizens, the auction halted with several thousands of pounds of auction catalogues printed and distributed.

The University was humiliated in court and cancelled the auction. The SNP’s missing money ear-marked, actually sold to the public by the SNP as ‘ring-fenced’ for a second referendum, does not appear on the annual accounts. The party Treasurer says it is there on the page, just not identified. He treats it like a game of ‘Where’s Wally?’.

Following the same principle as the bequest to Edinburgh University, the Referendum Fund is decidedly not the institution’s to do with as it pleases. Funds solicited for a specific purpose must remain untouched until required for that purpose.

And in the same annual accounts, a cursory glance shows up an alarming increase in the party’s legal fees. The blunders they make cost them dear. The party has been sued successfully a few times. There are two ways to view an experienced politician who advocates caution as a policy, and then insults another political party to the extent they sue for slander successfully. Is the individual inept or an opposition’s stooge denuding their party of funds? Why bail them out with party funds?

Looking at the bald financial figures made public, mysteriously delayed many times, it is obvious the SNP is in a very weak financial position to fight itself out of a paper bag. Perhaps this is a reason for a one-route only is sold to us as a sure fire delaying tactic.

Eyes Wide Shut

‘You shouldn’t brag that some of our greatest adversaries think that they’d be better off with you still in office! Of course they do! What does that say about you?!’ said Barack Obama about Donald Trump. I thought his remark apt applied to where we are now with Nicola Sturgeon as leader.

One day she is lampooned mercilessly for the brand of coffee maker she keeps in her kitchen, the next praised by the right-wing press as the saviour of Scotland facing a killer pandemic. When your most implacable enemy suddenly says you are the greatest thing since vegetarian haggis, run for cover!

I don’t care to analyse if she duplicates England’s pandemic rules and schedule, or has gone her own way. For my part, she communicates a strategy to outwit coronavirus exceptionally well, honest, uncomplicated, with a sense of urgency and responsibility her opposite number in Downing Street cannot muster. Unless discovered to have conspired in the Salmond scandal, she has a role fronting the pandemic for a while yet.

What concerns me is her lack of statesmanship and political guile at a most dangerous time in Scotland’s history. Those qualities are wholly absent. The Tories are coming, and they are not bearing gifts.

What now?

People must take the wool from their eyes; too many things are going wrong, a series of belly flops, prat falls, gaffes, policy over-sights, blaming the people, and too many scores being settled on dissenters by a party that has lost its passion and mettle. In panic, officials block debate, narrowing discussion to a few items they can control. This is the law of the mentally bankrupt. Nicola Sturgeon should step back to allow the better equipped, intellectually and strategically, to handle independence.

The Law of Averages tells us, with so many SNP politicians and members leaving the party, at least some surely think we are going backwards. They see hope crushed.

I see a tired and jaded party lost for ideas, bereft of political imagination, shooting its supporters and beating its best brains to a pulp. Just as our enemies fall back on old slogans, our own repeat the same expressions of outrage. We have heard it all before.

We need new leadership. We have need of fresh impetus. In this, the electorate is well ahead of the Scottish Government. If only eloquent, well-informed people were ready to take their place, such as Duncan Hamilton QC, we will have potential leaders in waiting.

The current top level of the SNP ought to be very worried, and if they are not, resign.

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NOTE:

If you have eight minutes to spare, you won’t waste it watching Duncan Hamilton QC, eviscerate Old Colonial Men in a debate, demonstrating what is missing from the chamber in our Parliament: https://youtu.be/KxS3RjilBzg

FURTHER READING: ‘An SNP in Disarray’: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-ouY

Posted in Uncategorized | 35 Comments

Civil Disobedience

A nation betrayed

Looked at dispassionately, the poor and the downtrodden of Glasgow and Dundee voted overwhelmingly Yes to improve their lives under an independent Scotland. The well off and the highly influential tended to vote No, and won, thus effectively enslaving the poor and the downtrodden.

This has been the way of it ever since 1707, and indeed, in many other countries where rebellion was the only method to release men and women from enslavement.

Insurrection

When the French revolution began, it began by releasing the prisoners in the Bastille, many incarcerated there for trumped up political ‘crimes’. In Scotland, our juries, our peers, good men and women in the community, are still in charge. They decide guilt or freedom, as they did in Tommy Sheridan’s first case, and spectacularly so more recently in Alex Salmond’s trial. Good people in the right places can alter society for the better.

Before feelings of complacency overtake common sense, take stock; almost every person who has been outspoken in the cause of Scotland’s liberty, both pre and post Referendum 2014, has been smeared, condemned by the press, faces court action, jailed, or driven out, this in our supposed free society. That is not a coincidence.

The Scot who wants to govern their own nation has been persecuted down the decades, and to a great extent still is, their representatives treated as lepers and shunned. This situation is taken to its greatest degree by an anti-democratic Westminster hell bent on circumventing law, and Treaty, to emasculate Scotland’s elected government.

No one asks the people

History, they say, is written by the victor, but it is truer to say history is written by historians who rarely talk to ordinary people, or if an event in the past, bother to find out what people felt, or how they suffered. Historians talk of ‘the people’ and ‘public opinion’ but that is not where they gather their facts. They get their facts from official records, but above all, from newspapers.

One of the unusual and welcome aspects of Scotland’s march to self-governance is the accumulating archive, some interviews, some in video form, of ordinary folk explaining why they want independence restored, or why they moved from voting No to vote Yes for independence. This must be unique in the annals of historical record.

Traditional modes of communication are eschewed in preference to Internet social sites. The power elite and their press offer us token gestures to be heard, notably television and radio phone-in programmes purporting to give the person in the street a hearing, or to cross examine politicians. In reality, we participate in window dressing. Those pseudo outlets alter nothing. They rarely illustrate anger and frustration.

Scotland’s very existence is under threat. Scotland borders are shut off from trade. Freedom of choice is reduced to Westminster diktat. Independence is blocked both by the government of Boris Johnson and by the administration of Nicola Sturgeon, she determined there is only one solution to acquire independence, the one that will always get rejected. Alarm and despondency is everywhere expressed, real, understandable fury in some quarters.

Scotland’s government is perpetually distracted, by Brexit, by successive secretaries of state, by UK prime ministers, by its own flawed policies, seemingly more interested in quoting from their prayer book, immersed in navel gazing and juggling with botched business they themselves created, easily out-flanked by a Tory party; it all leaves the electorate feeling rudderless, its government weak.

Passive – aggressive

Talk of civil disobedience is countered by calls for passivity, the ‘wait and see what happens’ creed.  Something has to give. It won’t be the Tory party, not while luxuriating in a massive majority. The informed try the courts for redress but now learn Tories aim to remove some transgressions from court jurisdiction.

Justice Lord Neuberger affirms, such a move that withdraws the right of a person to challenge the government through the courts, turns democracy into “a dictatorship, a tyranny”. A tyranny is how one can describe England’s governance of Scotland, ample evidence to support the description ever since 1707.

Civil disobedience is a topic one sees appearing with regularity in social sites. It ought to be a salutary warning to too comfy politicians – if our elected representatives will do nothing, the people must do something.

Danger – colonials at work

The Tory party plans to reduce Scotland to a vassal province, its inhabitants effectively slaves of a power and profit-orientated regime, one with no regard for the semblance of a democracy.

Tories recognise Scotland will never respect them, and thinking us a small, militarily weak but wealthy nation, aim to keep us obedient and passive – as were slaves in their day. The Whigs, a party that supported slavery, once venerated the Scots as patriotic, brave soldiers and duly used us in regiment after regiment for wars that pursued their love of dominion. Their successors, the Tories, now say we once patriotic Brits have sunk to ‘whining, complaining, seditioners and grievance monkeys’.

Incidentally, be forewarned, history illustrates the conflation of mass unemployment together with a far-right government, usually results in the introduction of conscription to soak up men destitute, out of work, and youth from street corners and mischief. Once conscription becomes an army it is put to good use, ‘calming’ dissent at home as much as to wars in far off lands.

“Never trust a Tory” is a common slogan, and it is backed up with ample examples of their perfidiousness. Back in the 1960s, Lord Douglas Home, Tory leader, promised Scotland Home Rule in return for a Tory majority. He got it, and promptly renounced Home Rule.

If you vote Tory, you might well feel elevated for a time, that is, you, your family and your company business, but you will have enslaved your community if you gain a Tory MP. Scotland’s prosperity is the last thing on the mind of a dedicated Anglophile.

Who dares wins

In 1849, Henry David Thoreau argued that individuals – that’s us – should not allow governments to overrule their consciences, and that they – us again – have a duty to avoid allowing their fears and meekness to enable governments to make them the agents of injustice. Thoreau was motivated in part by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican–American War (1846–1848).

Thoreau hated the American-Mexican war and denounced it. In rebellion, he refused to pay his poll tax. That was all the excuse the authorities needed to throw a vexatious objector in prison, and he was duly jailed, as are men of principle on these occasions. His friend, the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, visited him in jail.

“What are you doing in there?” said Emerson, shaking his head and what he considered stubborn stupidity. “No. What are you doing out there?” replied Thoreau, shocked that Emerson’s anti-war sentiment did not motivate him sufficiently to following his beliefs to their logical conclusion, a term in jail.

What kind of civil disobedience?

People ask what civil disobedience means in practice. As Thoreau demonstrates, it can mean small sacrifices, boycotting  corporate  organisations, right up and to going to jail. Withholding your television licence is civil disobedience. Currently, you can be fined or jailed if you continue with defiance. This is the one area Tories say they will rescind, but that’s because they view the BBC as a ‘lefty’ organisation and want its influence muted, an odd ambition considering the BBC is a conveyor belt of orthodoxy and right-wing propaganda.

The current director general, Tim Davie, is a former Tory candidate, and there is talk of appointing a Tory as chairman. Stocking an institution with political acolytes, an institution that exists to serve all the people, is a classic fascist tactic.

The real issue

Civil disobedience is not the real issue. The real issue is civil obedience. Americans knew what civil disobedience meant, and they knew it worked when you attacked businesses that supported the British government, but did not affect their own communities negatively.

They enjoyed throwing tea overboard into Boston Harbour. Tea in those days was a priceless commodity, worth locking up in case the servants stole some. In the modern age, anything causing corporate entities fear of losing profits, sufficiently to motivate the bosses to demand the government of the day meet the public’s demands, is a good strategy.

One way of making civil action get results is to withhold taxes, but that requires a lot of co-ordination and courage to stay the course, to stay united, while a few are picked out by the authorities for an appearance in court. However, if enough defy core taxation courts cannot cope with the numbers referred to it.

Setting up his Committee of 100, a force to release Britain from amassing weapons of mass extinction, philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell said:

‘”There is a very widespread feeling that the individual is impotent against governments, and that, however bad their policies may be, there is nothing effective that private people can do about it. This is a complete mistake. If all those who disapprove of government policy were to join in massive demonstrations of civil disobedience, they could render governmental folly impossible and compel the so-called statesmen to acquiesce in measures that would make human survival possible.”

Political activist, Professor Noam Chomsky feels civil disobedience effective insofar as it achieves its objectives, that is, alters government policy. He suggests civil disobedience in modern western societies can be effective only under two conditions: when the issue at stake is ‘a marginal class interest of the ruling class which will be conducted if the costs aren’t too high at home’; and where ‘a large part of the population understands that the policy in question is morally wrong’.

“In these circumstances, civil disobedience can mobilise the large part of the population who see the policy as objectionable, and this mobilisation can raise the costs of the policy to the point where people who run the society will decide that it’s not worth pursuing it.”

Chomsky observed in 1974 that civil disobedience in these circumstances ‘is useful and important and, you know, a courageous thing to do, and I’m all for it’. But he adds that collective  actions must be well organised, sustained, and non-violent. And with that sentiment, I think I am saying marches for Scotland’s self-governance are a great thing, but we have to do more. We have to get the right people into the right places.

More than a shout and a placard

So, though marches and disobedience get attention onto the wickedness of government policy, we need much more than that – we need people in our parliament of like mind, naysayers expelled. This is why I welcome the advent of more than one party devoted to independence. That is why new independence parties are dismissed by Holyrood,  an unwanted form of civil disobedience.

The use of civil disobedience as a social tactic has developed dramatically within the past several years. What was once confined to Indian nonviolent protest has grown to encompass moral and political demonstrations of various forms the world over.

But talk is easy, action harder. We can tie ourselves up in aimless arid debate about what is morally justifiable, or we can unite to regain Scotland and its wealth for its people, and yes, that’s us.

Where would women be today if the majority felt chaining themselves to railings and street marches useless to secure voting rights and put women in government?

 

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FURTHER READING: ‘Crowd Power’https://wp.me/p4fd9j-6YZ

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 18 Comments

Scotland’s Declaration

The Declaration of Arbroath – The Shining S.T.A.R.L.

“For as long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we, on any conditions, be subjected to the lordships of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

The Declaration of Arbroath

Two things are missing from that oft-repeated, soul stirring quotation from Scotland’s Declaration of Arbroath, three if you count the patches lost because of poor storage down the ages.

The first is any mention of women; back in the day they didn’t hold power, an omission corrected now we have so many running Scotland’s governance. Women are in the ascendency and men pray they do not govern badly, or as badly as men do.

The second is harmful, the inability to foresee that a long period of peaceful co-existence with the kingdom next door would convince swathes of Scots to trust their duplicitous neighbour, a fact exploited by every English politician with a swagger stick and a colonial mentality.

Fools rush in

As soon as one dares mention the document on Twitter, or on this social platform, you can guarantee some venomous descendant of Longshanks – denying all Norman blood in his veins, of course  – will pop up to claim the Declaration has no meaning today. He will argue it was written solely to receive the Pope’s blessing, His Holiness’ recognition, but as it never received as much as an autographed photo of Priest of the Month in reply, it survives only as a worthless piece of torn paper.

The Pope did not write back, but he did as the document asked, he wrote to Edward I and asked him to desist from land grabbing, plundering, and generally being a bastard, which is as good as an endorsement.

Tell a patriotic Englishman Magna Carta is a soiled rag barely fit to clean a parking warden’s boots, eons distant from England’s corrupt institutions, crooks and thieves given legitimacy in law, and you had better stand well back to avoid the Alien spit burning your eyes out of their socket.

The Declaration is really a fancy letter hung with the seals of Scotland’s powerful earls and barons – eight earls and probably forty barons – written in Latin, sent to Pope John XXII in April or May 1320.

It was most likely drafted in the scriptorium of Arbroath Abbey by Abbot Bernard on behalf of our nobles and barons, one of the few moments in Scotland’s history when a strong, democratically-minded war leader, Robert the Bruce, managed to convince our bickering clans and septs to unite as one, for a bigger prize, Scotland sovereignty and their liberty.

Our right, not their right at our expense

As its contents presuppose, the Declaration was written during the struggle for our rights – the same rights we treat so casually today in No votes – human rights embodied in the war of independence begun in 1296 with England and Edward I’s attempt to have Scotland be North England, permanently. By that era, England’s powers were well on their way to assuming the mantle of a burgeoning empire building state.

With the death of Alexander III and his granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway,  Scotland was left without a head of state. In 1306, a fearless Robert the Bruce, grasped the thistle to secure his position.

Like now, England was not Bruce’s only murderous bete noir, there was Scotland’s own naysayers to fight, the plotters, fair weather pasties, and turncoats. Some could be far more treacherous than his English opponents in what they could do to undermine his plans and his authority. Lined up on a battle field, his external enemy, the world’s most fearsome and best trained army, the invading English regiments, could be seen and assessed easily, their foot soldiers, superb archers, and horsemen.

A duplicitous confederate could do greater harm to the cause of Scotland’s autonomy than Edward’s refusal to recognise Wallace’s victory at Stirling Bridge, a battle most presumed put the final seal on rescuing and protecting Scotland’s self-governance.

Peace and goodwill

Pope John wanted peace in both kingdoms. No pope likes their theologian property and wealth the casualty of warring skirmishes. Like any other small country harassed by a larger neighbour, Scotland disliked unwanted interference in its affairs. On the other hand, England was not bothered by a Pope hundreds of miles away. 

At that time Scotland’s relationship with the Catholic Church was at an all-time low. Displeased at Scotland’s rejection of a papal edict demanding a truce with England – the Sturgeon Gold Standard of its day – Bruce and his supporters felt it good psychology to offer renewed respect to Pope John by asking him to endorse the Declaration, a sly counter-diplomatic offensive, if you like. The Pope on your side removes him from the other side.

Call it by its name

Scots know of the Declaration’s existence but most nothing much of its contents beyond the paragraph quoted at the start of the essay. This is a shame. It ought to be standard curriculum in Scottish schools.

To study only one central paragraph is enlightening. The authors of the document were marvellously adept at ingratiation, and spin. They knew how to construct a sentence that went from the factual to an outright cri de cœur. Making sure the wording showed due deference to England’s place, and skillfully taking care to get the Pope up-to-date with events and names without patronising him, guide him toward his prelates sufferings, the letter emphasises the Declaration is about people, not possessions.

The Most Holy Fathers,

Your predecessors, gave careful heed to these things and strengthened the same kingdom and people with favours and numerous privileges, as being the special charge of the Blessed Peter’s brother. Thus our people under the protection did indeed live in freedom and peace up to the time when when that mighty Prince, the king of English, Edward, the father of one who reigns today, when our kingdom had no head and our people harboured no malice or treachery, and were then unused to wars or invasions, came in the guise of a friend and ally top harass them as an enemy. The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, burning down monasteries, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number, which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no-one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eye.

The Declaration goes on to plead that English should be happy with their lot and stop coveting the land and wealth of its neighbour nation, a statement which  contains the same power of truth today as then. “Leave us in peace” ends one paragraph, a phrase you can read every day in social sites dedicated to Scotland rights.

The penultimate paragraph ends with the document stating a similar situation as now, that the news disseminators of the day favoured the English point of view, not Scotland:

“But if your Holiness puts too much faith in the tales the English tell and will not give sincere belief to all of this, nor refrain from favouring them to our undoing, then the slaughter of the bodies, the perdition of souls, and all the other misfortunes that will follow, inflicted by them on us, and by us on them, will, we believe be surely laid by the Most High to Your charge.

And so, with an audacious flourish effectively making obvious the Pope will carry the can of continued violence if he fails to condemn hostilities on both sides, the equivalent to ‘on your watch be it’, followed by the expected respect appended to the end of any letter in which you seek support for your plans, “May the Most High preserve You and His Holy Church…” the Declaration of Scotland’s sovereignty in the people was sent on its journey to France.

And yet here we are, in the 21st century, saying the same thing and for the same reason. “Exhort the king of England to be satisfied with what belongs to him”, says the letter, which just as easily could be said about Westminster’s avaricious power grab today.

Records indicate the letter was delivered to the Pope in Avignon and then lost, however, he did write to England’s new monarch, the less able or smart, Edward II, urging him to drop hostilities, and in reality, be nice to Scotland, a quality unknown in a nation intent on territorial ownership.

Signatories to the Declaration, some autographs omitted but known by their seals, read like a Who’s Who of of the day, patriots and unionists. Many seals are missing – the document must have been carried in a wooden box, so bulky was it with all the seals and tassels – and the majority are missing now, the Declaration stored so badly a large portion of it rotted away. In alphabetical order they are:

Sir David Brechin: Untrustworthy supporter of Bruce, hanged, used his wife’s seal.

Arthur Campbell: Campbells of Strachur, supporter, Constable Dunstaffnage Castle.

Reginald le Cheyne: Lord of Duffus and Inverugle, land in West Lothian, supporter.

Patrick Dunbar: Eighth earl of Dunbar, supporter after Bannockburn ‘convinced’ him.

John Duraunt: Unknown, probably landowner in south-west.

Sir Gilbert Hay of Erroll: Supporter, granted heritable office of Constable of Scotland.

Sir Alexander Fraser: Married Bruce’s sister, Mary, became king’s chamberlain.

David Graham: Supporter, received from Bruce land of Old Montrose in Angus.

John de Inchmartin: Sheriff of Perth, later knighted.

Sir Edward Keith: Supporter, subsequently Marischal of Scotland.

Alexander de Lamberton: Landowner in Angus, former supporter of Edward Balliol.

Malcolm Lennox: Fifth earl of Lennox, received sheriffdom of Dumbarton.

Thomas de Menzies: Lands in Perthshire and Dumfriesshire, strong supporter.

Thomas de Morham: Stirlingshire and East Lothian landowner, last of his lineage.

Sir Roger de Moubray: English supporter,turncoat, involved in 1320 conspiracy.

Sir William Oliphant: Lord of Dupplin and Aberdalgie, awarded land grants.

Sir Alexander Seton: Made king’s household steward, owner of land in East Lothian.

Malise Strathearn: Earl of Strathearn, strong adherent of the Cause, mother was not.

Sir Ingram de Umfraville:  Fought for English, made peace with Bruce, went home.

If that list does not give the reader a strong flavour of Scotland in the 14th century, its divided loyalties, the argumentative and the vacillator, they will not understand why some Scots argue for Westminster rule forever though the Union has been a fraudulent institution for most of its length since 1707, and is now wholly unfit for a recycle bin. 

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POST SCRIPT:

I have a beautiful, full-sized, framed copy of the Declaration hanging on my office wall.  It reinforces friends and relations that they enter an independent republic when they step inside my property, my domain, and they had better respect it. My currency is friendship, my passport, a saltire. Moreover, I defend my borders if the need arises!

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 9 Comments

Scots Versus Irish

Only two Galway TDs voted to change housing policy - Galway Daily

Listening to Mary Lou Macdonald in a television interview, leader of the Irish social democratic party, Sinn Fein, I was struck by how unselfconsciously she used the phrase English nationalist, rather than British nationalist. She was not, after all, referring to Welsh or Scot. If the term is used in Scotland it meets with inane cries of ‘racism’. In the Republic of Ireland, English nationalism is an all too real legacy familiar to Irish from centuries of brutal Westminster rule.

Introduction

In Scotland we prefer to blank out similar suppression of our rights littering 300 years of London rule. Far too many Scots suppose life in modern Scotland enjoys unfettered freedoms and full democracy. What is there to worry about? We can buy what we want, just not get the government and policies we want. But who cares about politics? We see no Stasi agents arresting dissenters and disappearing into the night.

And so, the more adventurous among us look for historical parallels in an attempt to understand our situation. We can do no better than study Ireland’s bloody struggle.

For the curious a good starting point is to follow Churchill’s wake. If anybody stood for the imposition of rule by the British Empire, he did. He was its champion. Anything less, a concession here or there, he considered appeasement or even defeat. There are plenty of modern-day English nationalists who express the same hostility to any suggestion of Scottish hegemony no matter how mild.

Liberal with far-right Tory inclinations

In 1922 Churchill was still a Liberal working in the War Office under the party’s then leader Lloyd George. Together, they had had to come to terms with the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, that it was there to stay. Revolution made British politicians jittery. They sensed the old world order was in for a kicking.

It is important to know the restless, impulsive nature of Churchill. He contemplated overthrowing the Russian revolution before sanity got the better of ambition. Colleagues thought him more of a Tory than Tory ministers. For his part, Lloyd George considered Churchill ‘an obsessive’. He was no less so when it came to giving Ireland its liberty. Though the Easter Rising in 1916 barely altered the Liberal party’s attitude to a united Ireland, Churchill seemed perturbed by the growing rebellion and thought it should be put down if the need ever arose.

Even when moderate nationalists were swept away by the party for full independence, Sinn Fein, in the 1918 British General Election, securing 73 seats, the British parliament was not much moved. They would not see a Sinn Fein MP in the halls of power for they refused to take their seats. One supposes Boris Johnson and his cohorts will respond likewise, with a yawn and a racist remark, if poll predictions come to pass and the SNP wipe out all but three MSPs at the 2021 Scottish Election, deciding to withdraw MPs from Westminster. Tories need do nothing. They hold all the cards.

Master of all he surveyed

By 1921 Churchill was master of the Colonial Office, ensuring that Britain’s domain of colonised countries remained ruled by whites. America was not yet a greater military power, Britain still able to tell ever nation under the sun what was good for them and who should rule them.

Whenever the question of Ireland was brought up, Churchill’s view was the same as when at the War Office, he advocated suppressing rebellion with fiscal and trade coercion or armed force.  However, he recognised his policy of reprisals, destined to fail, was not winning hearts or minds. IRA guerrilla attacks continued unabated.

The only solution was to allow an election to take place in Southern Ireland – Ulster being protected from any fallout – and see what happened. There was lots of talk about a truce, but as far as can be gleaned from historical reports, this tactic relied on lots of anti-republican candidates standing for election.

Had Churchill been able to commandeer ‘Sinn Fein is not Ireland’ to paraphrase an inane Scottish Tory slogan, he would have used it. Back then, ‘Ireland is British’ was good enough.

What he did say was, “If necessary, we can break up the Irish parliament and resort to coercion.” (David Brynmor Jones Diary – Vol 3.) Alas for Churchill and Empire loyalists, the election resulted in a walk-over for Sinn Fein. The British state has a similar problem with Scotland, how to deal with the rise of the SNP without having the democratic authority needed from the Scottish electorate.

Politeness doesn’t always get the desired result

Finally, the government of Lloyd George was in a panic. They had no strategy to stop the march of Irish nationalism. The only voice heard was Churchill and his ‘shoot ’em up’ solution to everything.

Meanwhile, politicians in the Ulster Parliament watched with increasing alarm events unfolding and resorted to what they do today, put pressure on Westminster behind the scenes to gain favour.

With Churchill banging his fist on the cabinet table, the alternative was to adopt martial law in all the Irish counties and govern unelected, or do a deal with Sinn Fein.

The former idea was a logistical and costly nightmare, the latter initially unthinkable. In keeping with English colonial rule, the British government did what it had always done, refused to talk to elected ‘upstarts’, (see Gordon Brown and SNP example), and instead imposed martial law, backed by the infamous Black and Tans that Churchill declared “were getting to the root of the matter quicker than the military”. (ibid.)

An interesting fact: Churchill was not given a place on Lloyd George’s Irish Committee – a committee the mechanism by which you delegate matters of state to consider specific events and make recommendations. Churchill was distrusted by his own party and by the Tory party he was soon to rejoin, with whom he had a lot in common.

His absence was explained as presenting a caring, benign face to the disconsolate Irish. The tactic worked. In Churchill’s intimidating absence, the committee looked at the implications of stomping all over a nation they had let starve during devastating potato famines, and pulled back, making conciliatory offers of a truce.

Churchill never liked the word, a quirk that came to his rescue when facing Nazism. He thought a truce gave kudos to IRA tactics. Outnumbered by colleagues, he accepted his heavy-handed approach to contain Irish dissent had not succeeded – for the moment.

IRA force Britain to the negotiation table

And so it came to pass the IRA strategy of organised dissent and dissonance worked. The British government acknowledged acceding to a truce left Republicans in charge of the Irish Parliament, they controlled most of southern Ireland.

Likewise, if current polls prove prescient in Scotland in 2021, the SNP look to be in full control of all constituencies bar one in Shetland, one in Aberdeen, one in the Borders. There is no doubt the SNP hope this forces Boris Johnson to negotiate and endorse a  second referendum on independence. But they reckon without Boris modelling his persona and his policies on Churchill.

Lloyd George packed his bags and organised successive meetings with the Republican leader Èamon de Valera, to agree upon the basics for full-scale negotiations.

Unsurprisingly, the Irish wanted a republic, no half-measures. The British wanted negotiations to stretch endlessly and tire out Irish demands, In the event, Republicans eventually accepting dominion status – no better than a colony or a protectorate. More on that shortly.

An ulterior motive in protracted negotiations was to cause the Republican movement to split into soft and hard factions, and with luck and infiltration, start an internal war.  The British way of control has never varied, generation after generation, divide and rule, and if uncontrolled disorder arises, step in as the saviour of law and order.

In Scotland there is a view held by Nicola Sturgeon’s supporters, that the do nothing sudden or shocking, a rose petal diplomacy – a modern version of hippy flower power – is by far the best route to independence. They hope to seduce English power into submission. Nothing could be further from the Irish experience. Hence, an opposing faction in Scottish politics, the realists, if you like, feel the SNP liable to accept a compromise if they ever get to the negotiating table.

Powers we did not give

At this point, I am obliged to digress for a moment to preempt alarmists among us by stating the obvious. I am not advocating violent insurrection. Scots do not die for their country, they die for other people’s countries.

What I suggest is, the British Tory party, by warlike history and its exceptionalism, now emulating the opportunistic, amoral Donald Trump, knows violent discord wins the day for the party in power. Excessive authority can be stamped on a disorderly society with impunity. Authoritarian regimes know enough people will welcome tough action that helps them get to work on time.

The strong arm approach has a down-side. Strict control is expensive to maintain over a long period. It drains the Treasury coffers. It upsets the social order. Eventually, you are forced to negotiate. Alex Salmond choose debate. He was the one person who could and did rev up the anti and turn a talking shop of unionists in Holyrood into a hotbed of visionary zeal. There seems nothing but calm in the SNP benches since his departure.

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, an articulate prime minister but badly educated in egalitarianism at one of Scotland’s premiere private schools, Fettes College, was smart enough to see what was coming. Reluctant to offer Scots anything more than Labour’s discredited neo-liberal policies, he agreed to the reinstatement of Scotland’s Parliament, later expressing regret over what he saw as devolution “encouraging nationalists to ask for more” – unintentionally admitting Scotland has less than constitutes full democracy!

In Ireland’s case, the intention was to offer a settlement, spurred by Churchill breathing fire and brimstone, allowing limited Republican rule but keep Ireland as a state within the Empire.

It is hard not to see Scottish devolution as a significant parallel, a parliament offered in diminutive form, an ‘executive’, with hobbled powers, a gift on loan. Freedoms limited artificially invariably call for group action to allow people to exercise free will.

In Ireland’s case, after cabinet discussion, the British offered unconditional talks to the Republicans, Churchill having preferred to restart war, over-ruled by his colleagues.

The negotiations

Lloyd George, as unionist as any Scotsman on the make, and in common with today’s English politicians, chose a one-sided, largely unionist negotiating team to do their best to brow beat the Irish down to a free tram pass and a latch key to live in their own country. Scotland should expect the same treatment when its time comes.

Churchill chaired the defence side of discussions with the same arrogance of Theresa May and Boris Johnson waving aside Scotland’s request to be part of EU withdrawal talks. He contemptuously dismissed justified Irish calls that they be responsible for their own defence, had their own army, dispensed with a navy, and wished to be neutral in conflicts involving the British government. Again, Scotland’s team will have all that and more to contend with, assuming they arrive at the negotiating chamber fully prepared!

The dealer always wins

Churchill wanted full control of strategic ports in Ireland, a condition that had de Valera’s team scoff in disbelief. From this one can see clearly how Westminster will demand retention of Faslane Dockyard in a future Scottish settlement. This is why I suggest the counter offer, they rent it for £3 billion a year for a maximum of 10 years, leaving on the ninth, and clearing up any toxic mess left behind at their expense.

For the initial talks, Churchill was sidelined a second time, watching in annoyance as Lloyd George saw to the detail of the settlement. By any standard it was a case of the invader demanding restitution for things he had actually stolen.

A brief example of conditions the British wanted reads like a duke’s list of what he wants in taxes and tithes from the commoners tilling his land: members of Ireland’s parliament, the Dáil, must take an oath offering loyalty to the British King; respect for the Crown to be accepted in the new state, including hereditary land ownership – Scottish landowners will like that one; recognising the Ulster Parliament together with a Northern Ireland boundary, partition – a ‘boundary’, that old problem again! – must be accepted, Ulster kept as a separate province; no fiscal autonomy, the reverse of which currency will you use? thrown at Scotland; countries with which Ireland could and could not make a treaty – British enemies must be, ipso facto, Irish enemies; trade with England before all others, and so on, and so forth.

Behind those conditions was Lloyd George and Churchill’s avowed determination to keep Ulster Unionists happy, as the Tory party does now with billion pound bungs from the public purse for DUP support. Scotland can expect a similar hidden agenda when facing England’s conditions, a bridge to Ireland probably still a delusional proposal.

Sign Here – Brits Rules rule

Lloyd George managed to have de Valera sign an outline agreement which virtually reduced Ireland to dominion status, one of the key issues that opened wide the schism between de Valera and Michael Collins. For de Valera’s part, capitulation to too many British demands troubled him deeply. His subsequent volte face, was to have tragic consequences.

To his credit, for it effectively created the Republic, Churchill stood by the Agreement and expected to implement those sections under his brief, but he is recorded belittling the accord as ‘wicked’ in later months. He thought the war against Sinn Fein should have been continued until they were truly broken.

As Colonial Secretary, Churchill  took on the role of handing powers over to Ireland but made the process a tangled web. There is scholarly disagreement he did so deliberately to gain advantage, another angle, so much money was involved he wanted to keep out of Ireland’s hands. By January 1922 a provisional government was established with Michael Collins and the writer and newspaper editor Arthur Griffiths drafting a constitution.

Coincidentally, the SNP has a draft Constitution for Scotland, but it lies dormant while the SNP chase faulty policies on social issues better tackled in a constitution after Independence Day. There is a loss of dynamism the Irish would never have allowed. They knew how to capitalise on principles to encourage adherents to the cause.

Collins, Minister of Finance, and Griffiths leading the delegation, handled negotiations, de Valera staying in Ireland to allow the plenipotentiaries to refer back to him without being  pressured into any agreements. “To me, the task is a loathsome one,” Collins wrote. “I go in the spirit of a soldier who acts against his best judgment at the orders of his superior.” In a letter he wrote that he had “signed my death warrant”.

He was right to be on his guard. De Valera suddenly rejected the Agreement because it involved the partition of Ireland and did not create an independent republic. In Griffiths and Collins in particular, de Valera had found scapegoats. The SNP are just as guilty of creating scapegoats when it comes to protecting their perceived reputation.

To the crushing disappointment of Collins the revolutionary, de Valera reverted to war to achieve a genuine, self-reliant, obsequious to no nation, republic. Because of the Oath to the King, he and his followers could never, ever, vote for the Treaty. Collins thought it a paltry excuse, something not worthy of breaking a treaty.

De Valera was heavily castigated for his alleged deviousness and vanity. What remains is a master politician, a man who knew his constituency and understood his place in history. He understood he was a symbol of Ireland’s struggle for independence. Nothing less than a true republic would do. But it was Collins who had fought and beaten the British to the negotiation table by his brilliance for intelligence work and intimidation. We do not have a Collins or a de Valera in the Scottish parliament … or do we?

Churchill put his trust in Collins and Griffiths to deliver the dominion state negotiated, which they did with great reluctance. Like Scotland’s devolution, to them it was only the beginning of things. Churchill was shocked at de Valera’s renunciation, an Englishman who did not understand the passions that motivate revolutionaries.

Jolly bad mannered chaps

The IRA repudiated the Provisional Government and promptly resumed its forays into Ulster. Churchill retaliated by submitting a bill to the Westminster parliament asking for support for an invasion force if the IRA declared a republic. He employed all the  leverage he had. He refused to supply arms to the Provisional Government unless they used them against the IRA. England’s age old tactic of divide and rule took on a bloody aspect, not resolved until the Good Friday Agreement.

In April 1922 Churchill approved the Special Powers Act that suspended habeas corpus, removed civil rights, including detention without trial, legalised street searches and house raids without warrant, and instituted imprisonment for refusal to comply.

By the next election, people fearing conflict, the Provisional Government achieved a win for the pro-Treaty side, and Churchill used that to drive a wedge between Irishman and Irishman.

Compared to the contempt with which Boris Johnson treats Ulster’s expectations by tearing up the Brexit Withdrawal and endangering the Good Friday Agreement, Churchill gave his full support to Ulster Unionists. He did not betray them.

Churchill had no fear of Catholics fighting Protestants, they were too few, but he  guessed correctly Protestants would be hostile to Catholics. Today, the Protestant community finds itself in the minority compared to the growing increase of Catholics, both numerally and politically, something Churchill never foresaw. A Catholic majority is more inclined to vote for a united Ireland.

Once more, England’s departure from a territory it governed resulted in partition and prolonged violence. So, despite Churchill’s many attempts to derail the Irish Agreement (“a sane chauffeur who suddenly drives you over a cliff”), it came to pass without his Machiavellian intervention.

Could we see a similar outcome with Scotland’s independence negotiated by a bellicose Boris Johnson? Tories usually arrive with gifts of money and false promises. Johnson chooses the Churchillian path, divide and rule. In Scotland’s case, he proposes a policy in which the Tories appropriate part of the Barnett Formula (in reality Scotland’s taxes), and they themselves dispense the largesse to Tory supporting constituencies in Scotland, an English version of American pork barrel politics.

The Dissolution of the Union

At this point my research for this essay ends, chiefly because the well informed know the rest of Ireland’s tortured history, a war that lasted until the end of the 20th century.

What we see now is a proud, confident, independent nation state, recovered quickly from the financial crash of 2008, still belittled by a jingoistic England, ironically prospering at the expense of England’s grand folly – the dumping of European co-operation, culture and values. Over time, Ireland removed the remnants of dominion status and, with a new Constitution in 1937, became fully independent.

There is one more important comparison to discuss. Scotland’s independence is inevitable. It will be aided and abetted by forces outside the UK, stronger than the UK with the leverage to make Westminster listen, those third parties repulsed by Tory contempt for the rule of law and human rights.

However, the question I ask myself is this, is the current SNP crop of MPs and MSPs clever enough, tough enough, to negotiate our freedoms without compromise, without concessions, and without a politician who can scare the living daylights out of the destroyers of democracy? I remain to be convinced. The cunning of the British government is these matters is legendary.

Missing the small print is the difference between a new Scotland and Scotland cheated.

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NOTES:

Film Dramatisation: This early Irish dramatisation of the Treaty negotiations has the look of a school’s broadcast but is no less accurate or truthful for all that. You’ll enjoy recognising a few fine Irish actors in their fresh-faced youth. If you have an hour-and-half, spend it viewing this informative piece. https://youtu.be/RUfr0FgZz_8

Further reading: Churchill’s tenure as Dundee MP – link: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-oRE

An apology: I am half-Irish, born in Scotland; my grandfather is a Reilly from County Mayo, but some Irish will surely find fault with my interpretation of events. 

Another apology: Unlike previous essays, paragraphs cannot be blocked like a book (justified) under the annoying Gutenberg Format imposed on users by WordPress.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 16 Comments

Tenet – a review

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The central star, John David Washington, not quite the charisma of his dad, Denzel

How grand to see cinemas reopening after months of lock-down, and better still to see small production companies and the major studios show there work on the big screen again, not constrained to a television transmission. There is no doubt the pandemic and Netflix have altered things radically in the movie world, but that’s another story to be analysed at a later date when we see how cinema releases pan out.

In the meantime, we have Christopher Nolan’s latest mind bender Tenet to enjoy or not as the case may be. I say enjoy, but it is a cold fish dished up on an over-heated, expensive plate.  This is a serious sci-fi oddball of a movie, a head scratcher.

When his Memento burst onto the screen I hailed a new talent. The back-to-front plot was audacious and clever, the protagonist suffering from anterograde amnesia, the star actor Guy Pearce perfectly cast, and yet there was something alienating about a study of a man losing his memory while trying to track down his wife’s murderer who was hunting him. I think I felt he ought to be among therapists not on his own. Then came a string of well-made blockbusters, Insomnia (2002), Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Interstellar (2014), and finally in 2017, the flaccid Dunkirk, a war epic homage to British pluckiness and stiff upper lips. What they all have in common is alienation – today, firmly inscribed in stone as Nolan’s obsessive subject matter.

In Tenet, Nolan returns to dimension-bending visual trickery, the kind that made Inception too clever by half. He describes Memento and Inception as his masterworks, and they are by any standard of a high order in cinematic skill. How much they will be remembered is debatable. I rate Memento way above Inception for it did not require the massive suspension of disbelief Inception demanded.

There’s a hellova lot riding on Tenet – it must recoup a huge production budget and it has to rejuvenate cinema chains on the brink of insolvency, and all the staff that depend on them. That’s a megaton of pressure for one sci-fi action film with a relatively little-known lead actor, John David Washington, eldest of Denzel Washington and actor Pauletta Washington’s four children, last seen in BlacKkKlansman, here energetic but a little dull. That last remark warns readers I am not going to give this film a lot of stars.

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The man in charge, Christopher Nolan, takes a lunch break on the move

Tenet is Nolan back on familiar ground. The word is a palindrome, spelled the same backward as forward. Nolan chose it for a story about technology that can make men capable of going back in time. It has all the visual  pyrotechnics of Inception and all the, what the hell’s going on? reaction too.

In truth, I could not make head nor tale of the plot and was forced to turn to the studio press release for help: “In a twilight world of international espionage, an unnamed CIA operative, known as The Protagonist”, is recruited by a mysterious organization called Tenet to participate in a global assignment that unfolds beyond real time. The mission: prevent Andrei Sator, a renegade Russian oligarch with precognition ability from starting World War III. The Protagonist will soon master the art of “time inversion” as a way of countering the threat that is to come.”

Okay, so Tenet tells the story of “The Protagonist” (John David Washington), who finds himself embroiled in a convoluted conspiracy, but it involves spy stuff, time travel and World War III, and … big sigh … yet is nowhere near as interesting as that might suggest. I’d rather do algebraic equations than try to explain things but here it is:

Along the way, Protagonist (what a terrible name), meets up with Neil (Robert Pattinson), who appears to be a mysterious ally, and nefarious Russian arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Brannagh), whose tortured accent is often incomprehensible – Russians are the cliché baddies. Branagh is not good at accents as his over-blown version of Hercule Poirot amply demonstrated.

Among the notable cast brought in to justify a mega-budget and attract bums on seats from all nations is a shamelessly underused Elizabeth Debicki as Sator’s wife, Kat, whose entire character repeats endlessly “I have a son!”.

This is supposed to represent her inner turmoil in lieu of an actual personality or internal life. Walk-on and walk-off cameos by the likes of Michael Caine and Martin Donovan are easily forgotten.

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Tenet could so easily be renamed ‘Men in Suits’

Did I like anything? Yes. The action is spectacular as always, and the whole reversal of physics, time-flowing-backwards, a fist fights seen from different angles, the magic of it all is a neat trick, but only for the first couple of times, thereafter getting increasingly predictable and boring.

The problem is that everything around these moments – the characters, the story, the leaden exposition dumps – are just so lacking in anything remotely human that you can latch onto. The Protagonist barely registers as a character, despite Washington’s best efforts – he’s too po-faced – and it’s hard to follow his adventures when the jeopardy and rewards are so  low. Moreover, even the best action sequences are smothered in a ton of vacuous dialogue about the end of the world and “temporal pincer movements”. Eh?

For example, the protagonist discusses the classic paradox of time travel with his colleague, Neil (Robert Pattinson). He asks: If you went back in time and killed your grandfather before you were born, would you instantly disappear? “There is no answer”, Neil replies unhelpfully, dodging the paradox. The actual answer is, yes, of course I would bloody disappear! My grandfather would never have begat my mother, and my mother would not have begat me, if you can excuse the Biblical expression. Trite dialogue abounds, summed up in Neil’s comment later, “Whatever happened, happened.” Man, that is so not profound.

There are references to today’s political machinations; Trump gets a look-in over his indifference to 170,000 Americans dying from coronavirus, and counting, that “it is what it is”, a line Michelle Obama re-purposed for her convention speech recently. Perhaps Nolan was  giving us a hint that the fashion governments are showing in how callous they can be for death and the destruction of small nations is at the core of his unsympathetic story – call it, a lack of empathy for humankind.

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South Korean Kia cars are going up in the world

As in the dreams in Inception, the Nolan film Tenet closely resembles, each reverie within a nightmare is just another shoot ’em up movie with guns and car chases, and for this reviewer risking Corvid-19 in a cinema, truly boring. Is there a studio gangster film we have seen in thirty years that does not have a car chase ending in an explosion and conflagration? Showing us death as a cheap thrill goes all the way back to American atrocities in Vietnam.

In the opening sequence of Tenet, a whole auditorium of classical-music concert goers are put at risk of being blown up by an explosive device, a fact the Protagonist seems to laughs off. “Only the people in the cheap seats” might get killed. Dear me, what has he against lovers of Beethoven, Mozart and Bartok?

Nolan throws himself at a whole realm of human experience that he usually avoids, because he knows his literary weaknesses, apart from the murderous imaginary wife Marion Cotillard played in Inception. Otherwise, wives in Nolan films are almost always saintly or dead except when in flashbacks. He is a really bad writer of female roles.

Nathan Crowley, a regular Nolan collaborator and DP Hoyte van Hoytema adhere to a stark palette of neutral tones of the type we are used to seeing in a dystopian nightmare, mostly the color of concrete and rusty steel. We are given moments of respite in images of blue water and sky but just as cold as all the other sequences.

Altogether, Tenet is a chilly, cerebral exercise. You admire what you see not what you hear. You are aware Nolan is repeating himself. It lacks humanity, the very stuff of memorable stories. Will it help save our cinemas? Well, a family film it ain’t. And it outstays its welcome at the two hour mark with more to go.

  • Star Rating: Three Stars
  • Director-Writer: Christopher Nolan
  • Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia
  • Cinematographer: Hoyte van Hoytema
  • Composer: Ludwig Goransson
  • Visual effects supervisor: Andrew Jackson
  • Special effects supervisor: Scott Fisher
  • Adult Rating: PG 13
  • Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?

 

 

 

 

Posted in Film review | 9 Comments