Civil Disobedience

Extinction Rebellion Scotland launches three-week 'civil disobedience'  campaign | The National

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.


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 commonly heard 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 prison. “What are you doing in there?” said Emerson, shaking his head and what he considered stubborness. “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 jail term.

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. That means removing the colonials in our intitutions, and in the civil service put there by Whitehall, a critical task in tandem with securing independence.

More than a shout and a placard

Though marches and disobedience place attention onto the wickedness of government policy, we need much greater than that. This is why I welcome more than one party devoted to liberty and independence cavassing for seats, but beware the SNP, esconsed in a comfy political niche, will dismiss the new as 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?

NOTE: Further reading: ‘Crowd Power’



This entry was posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Civil Disobedience

  1. Andrew Haddow says:

    If it’s got a Jack, put it back.

  2. Do you really believe that setting up or voting for an alternative Independence Party is tantamount to civil disobedience?

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    As that passage states, I do not, but the SNP’s negative response to new parties shows they do. Naturally, they are duty bound to ask people to vote SNP, but they should welcome more participants into Holyrood who are determined to see Scotland regain free will.

  4. Yes. Thanks. That’s what I thought you meant and I agree. But it is a sad indictment of these times that a new political party is seen as seditious.

  5. Absolutely to the point , accurate, and indeed, thought provoking. “ who dares wins” yes they do. One absolutely inescapable fact is the those who do not dare ,have already lost.

  6. The problem with the idea that civil disobedience will move us towards independence is right there in your article – you must make it more costly to continue the policy than to stop it. How in the world do we make it more costly for WM to keep Scotland than to let us go? WM needs our resources too much, I fear.

  7. Grouse Beater says:

    As I see things: our government has done very little to make Westminster feel in the least uncomfortable, or to contact the UN or world leaders to put our case for reinstating autonomy. As Tory power envelopes our hopes and chance of freedom from tyranny, civil disobedience is a tactic we have to employ to repel them. The Yes movement have been hyper-active on the Internet in this regard, and in marches, both activities the SNP, Nicola in particular, largely disavow, one of the oddest quirks of any revolution for liberty I have ever encountered.

  8. Pingback: Bits and Pieces | Grumpy Scottish Man

  9. Amandine Guise says:

    A small typo in your Chomsky quote, I think: should it not be ” society will decide that it’s not worth PURSUING it.’? Good article, though.

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    Typo corrected, Amandine. Ta.

  11. Muscleguy says:

    We see how terribly and inhibitory the SNP has become far too Establishment. We see it in the sneering at Martin Keeting’s S30 case, telling him apparently without any irony that he ‘had no standing’ to take the case. They seem to have forgotten that The People are sovereign in Scotland, not Mrs Murrell.

    This is part of why I joined the ISP, the first party I have joined in my 54 years on this earth. Women’s Rights and Independence are issues of our time which call to all of us to do the right thing, to do what we can. I also joined twitter to keep up the good fight when the SNP twittler Youth got all the Rev Stu Campbell’s twitter accounts banned on a still uncorrected piece of imisinformation showing twitter is deeply sexist.

    The idea at the start of the year that I would do either of those things would have horrified me. I see both things as necessary in the circumstances which prevailed and still prevail. Everyone needs to stand up and take a stand on these issues. If we allow half of us, the better half of us, to be legislated out of existence, to have their safe spaces made manifestly unsafe, to go back to Victorian times in terms of public toilet provision then we will have manifestly failed as a society.

  12. Muscleguy says:

    How long I wonder before there’s a NATO debate like campaign to force through Conference a withdrawal of the stricture against SNP members accepting peerages?

  13. I read the following yesterday. Not intended by me as incitement, just insight. I do very much agree that any disobedience should be “civil” in every sense.

    The words are by major Irish literary critic Gearóid Denvir in honour of the pre-eminent Irish-language writer and activist of the twentieth century, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, who died fifty years ago on the 18th Oct 1970:

    “Agus muid ag ceiliúradh leathchéad bliain a bháis, ní miste a mheabhrú go raibh aisling shlán ag Ó Cadhain a nocht sé gan fuacht gan faitíos i saothar a phinn agus i mbriathra a bhéil. Má chreid sé go raibh ‘an ghrian ag gabháil siar, ionann’s gaibhte siar’ ar an Éirinn b’ansa leis féin a fheiceáil i réim, ghin an creideamh sin beagán dóchais, ainneoin na n-ainneoin. ‘Níor dhúirt muide, muide Éireannaigh, gur throid muid ariamh an cath deireanach,’ a dúirt sé leis an Albanach ar pháirc Chath Chúl Odair.”

    My rough translation:

    [“And as we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his death, it is worth remembering that Ó Cadhain had an inviolate vision which he expressed without fear or hesitation by labour of pen, and by word of mouth. If he conceded that ‘the sun was declining, had even set’ on the kind of Ireland he dearly wished to see prevail, that conviction bred a degree of hope regardless. ‘We never stated, we the Irish, that we had fought our last battle,’ he put to the Scot on the field of Culloden.”]

  14. Grouse Beater says:

    Hi Fearghas – as ever, you post really interesting material, and this latest Is worth a quote or two on Twitter.

  15. Thanks Grouse Beater. Permission freely given for anyone to requote the English translation, such as it is. No attribution to me needed or sought.

  16. A short youtube clip (less than 3 mins) giving a glimpse of Máirtín Ó Cadhain and his involvement in the Gaeltacht Civil Rights Movement —

  17. Grouse Beater says:

    I enjoyed that video a lot. Takes real dedication to know your at life’s end and still get out to cajole folk to join the struggle.

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