Let me put one thing to rest; it is almost impossible for a country to lose its sovereignty. In the exchange of goods, in intellectual research, and by sharing a stretch of no man’s land on a border, a little give and take sovereignty is traded, retaken if an agreement falls or is outdated. In the extreme case of a brutal invasion by an enemy state overthrowing the indigenous government, people and institutions thoroughly taken-over, colonised, local values banned or discarded by the usurper, sovereignty remains intact, in line with international law.
In this scenario, the challenge is how to regain that sovereignty by statecraft in a modern age if the usurper has a tight grip on all aspects of daily life. England does not have full control quite yet, though it is trying hard to achieve it by stealth and bullying. For the information of the uncertain, the doubters, spooks and leaden balloons, Scotland’s sovereignty remains intact, both as a separate nation from England, and by the law of the land that states categorically Scottish sovereignty rests in the people, not in its elected government, a government of any political hue.
Liberty and free will
If Scotland was a free state we would not be troubled by so many paid infiltrators on social media, and MI5 working in the press and television. We would not have our Parliament back in place. We try to convince incomers, settlers and uninformed indigenous Scots to help reinstate our autonomy. The enemies of democracy are trying to do the opposite, convince the majority self-governance is potentially hazardous. They play upon our fear of the unkown, and yet there is much that we do know would exist in an independent Scotland. What would be new to us is the joy of free will exercised in all national and international decision making.
The unionists have a tricky time winning hearts to a dislocated Scotland that cannot survive without England because Scotland is the oldest nation in the world. They are forced to pile on the black propaganda and brazen lies solely because we are sovereign.
Convincing us with kindness is not a rule in the colonial’s Guide to Dominance manual. When Greenland secured its independence (they are keeping the Danish monarch). the leader of the campaign said the islanders were generally happy with the years of Danish rule because “The Danes allowed us to rule ourselves and actually encouraged us to retain our own language and nurture our culture. Thank goodness they were not English!”
Magna Carta belongs to England
Ill-informed, malicious unionists, the English ‘no foriegner’ nationalist and base troll should not be tolerated desperate to convince Scots we and they are governed by Magna Carta. We have the Declaration of Arbroath.
For a start, few English lawyers bother to cite Magna Carta these days, nevermind English live by its principles. Those were eroded almost the minute England decided it wanted to be a world power. To dominate other nations by force you first have to convince your own population they are superior to other cultures, and it is worth dying for your land in order to subdue people of other lands.
England acknowledged Scotland’s sovereignty
Precedents in Scotland’s favour were created by the September 2014 referendum, better referred to by its official title: The Edinburgh Agreement. These are indelible from the point of view of sovereignty.
1. The 2012 Agreement has the form of an international treaty between two governments signed appropriately by both parties. This status reflects acceptance of Scottish sovereignty not a denial of it.
2. The Agreement provided for the legislation to be carried forward by the Scottish Parliament – again a de facto acceptance of Scottish sovereignty.
3. The process provided a precedent whereby Westminster accepted the mandate obtained by the SNP that a majority in the Scottish Parliament (obtained by over 45 per cent of the vote) was respected.
Should or could?
A key objective of Alex Salmond throughout his political career is addressing the central difficulty of Scottish nationalism which “has not persuaded people it should happen, only that it could happen”.
That is where the referendum tactic came from, which he first introduced in the 1992 General Election. The Edinburgh Agreement was no more a retreat from Scottish sovereignty than Bruce sealing the Treaty of Northampton in 1328. It was an affirmation of it and a valuable precedent. (These matters are discussed at length in the introduction to Salmond’s book “The Dream Shall Never Die”.)
Alex Salmond puts it succinctly: “It can be argued that the hand left to Scottish nationalism in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum has been ineptly played. This, despite the commanding electoral success. This in turn has been based on the transformation in Scottish thought provoked by that very referendum process. That political failure applies to the SNP both in Scotland and Westminster.”
All the Queens men marched down again
Salmond is criticising Nicola Sturgeon for her timidity, “a victim of her own self doubt”, as he puts it. She is lethally cautious. It does not help her to be badly advised by a talentless clique of hangers-on. Repetitous speeches from the front benches of the House of Commons, Angus Robertson and then Ian Blackford, are exposed devoid of strategic thinking, without apparent leverage, or threat to the Union or Commons process. Scotland gets ignored comprensively, other than to reject its rights.
Brexits remains an open wound in the Scottish psyche, hard evidence of a dominant England that places imperious self-interest above care of the UK nations. The SNP elevated the status of the European argument out of any context to the pursuit of Scottish independence, as memorably exemplified on the SNP campaign bus which said “Stop Brexit” instead of “Independence Now!”.
Salmond again: “There are a number of answers to what do you do when Westminster says No to another referendum.
One one of them is not to sit on your hands and do nothing.” Concisely, they are political, legal and electoral. I add to that, do not make empty threats of ‘we will not allow this to happen to Scotland!’ knowing it will happen because vacuous rhetoric is all you have prepered the night before the debate.
The referendum of 2014 was lost by a small margin, but it established Scotland’s sovereignty as unassailable and sacrosanct. That process made renewed efforts for self-determination available without recourse for permission from an antagonistic UK government.
There is a good reason why unionists want us to become copies of Englishmen and women, albeit, second class. Edward II moved an army north to break the siege of Stirling Castle and reassert control of Scotland. Robert the Bruce defeated that army at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, securing de facto independence. That is why the dependable guards of our future, the often demeaned ‘blood and soil’ nationalists should be respected when others fall by the wayside.
The question is, does the current SNP leadership have the will or the wit to do anything in pursuit of the Party’s central goal? Former SNP members who have decamped to the ALBA party or the ISP think the SNP incapable, their policies corrosive. A loyal SNP member will argue the SNP is intent on independence. If you are not one, aware of exhorations from SNP MPs for greater and greater majorities until Nicola Sturgeon feels confident, you will say independence is lost under the current SNP leadership. All is not lost, our sovereignty is watertight, no matter how many unionists drink to Scotland’s demise.
As I said, we Scots have a tendency to achieve our political goals the hard way.
Three years ago I planted twelve multi-stemmed silver birches on the slopes of my ground, a tree native to Scotland. They are the kind that has the bark peel off and rolls up as it grows. I removed alien trees whose roots were thin and spread outward, not down to keep a tight hold of the earth and sustenance. The birches were 12-feet tall when they arrived and in huge heavy pots, a killer to drag down a hill and drop into a pre-dug planting hole. They are 20-feet or more now. Not one died. I think I have planted over thirty others kinds of trees, including Douglas firs.
A few years back it was my luck to visit the Giant Redwoods north of San Francisco, an experience never forgotten. Those trees justify the over-used adjective awesome! They can live for over 1,500 years and surpass 300 feet in height, their massive girth one of nature’s wonders.We have a few in Scotland The oldest two coast redwood trees are at Rossie Priory in Perthshire, and at Smeaton House, East Lothian and planted in 1845 and about 1844 respectively.
In the contuinuing series on Climate Change, Michael Viney, the Irish Times environmental journalist, explains why the the giants of California are so important to the Earth’s existence– they can remove a lifetime of carbon from the atmosphere. (As usual, items in blue link to other articles or reseach papers.)
EARTH’s FRIENDLY GIANTS
The rope climber in my illustration are ascending one of the tallest trees on Earth, Sequoiadendron giganteum, otherwise the giant redwood, growing in the dense rainforest of northern California. I hope it’s still alive and not one of thousands already killed by the heat of the infernos.
The plight of California’s great sequoias made the world’s front pages recently as the largest known tree on the planet, the General Sherman, had its huge base wrapped in foil. This was meant to offer some protection as the latest blaze headed towards its forest in the Sequoia National Park.
Little known at that point was the full toll of redwoods in fire that had swept through 20 groves in the Sierra Nevada last year – a loss now put, from satellite imagery, at 7,500 to 10,600 trees. Many were comparatively young as sequoias go (just a few centuries), but among them, in groves where fire burned hottest, were trees aged in thousands of years.
To stay alive so long has meant surviving many of the blazes regularly begun by lightning. With bark 2ft (60cm) thick. sequoia can survive if even 5 per cent of its crown remains unscorched, but the intensity of the new fires can be all-consuming, the heat killing even the seeds in their cones.
The fluted, massive cylinder of the General Sherman weighs some 1,500 tonnes, but its height of 275ft (83.82m) falls well short of the 350ft (106.68m) that marks the class of tallest redwoods on Earth.
I switch back to feet for these incredible spires because that’s the way they take shape in my mind and because it’s the usage of the wonderful book in which I found the climbers of my drawing. The Wild Trees was published in 2007 in the US, and I had just enjoyed it for a second time when the menace to General Sherman became news.
Its author, Richard Preston, a writer of New Yorker quality, came to learn of the remarkable group of wild tree climbers and naturalists devoted to scaling the sequoias. In the uppermost crowns they discovered a new botanical ecosystem. In hanging gardens of ferns, mosses and lichens, branches fuse with each other to make walkways between the trees, creating strange and magical canopies.
Preston shares the committed and dangerous lives of the climbers in unexplored canyons of the Sierras. The valleys are tangled with rocks and huge fallen trunks, setting obstacles to finding tallest trees that have never been climbed or named.
In 2006 Preston joined in the first ascent and measurement of Hyperion, the newest tallest tree in the world at 379.1ft (115.5m). Its location is still unpublicised to protect it the thousands of footsteps that would trample the soil at its base.
Along with an historically moist climate and rich soil, the reason for California’s exceptional groves of redwoods is their forested togetherness. Their roots fan out to mingle with each other and the close sharing of light draws them up towards the sky.
There is a theoretical limit to tree height. It was recently projected as the point, somewhere between 400ft (131.92m) and 426ft (129.8m), where the energy from leaf photosynthesis is outweighed by the pull of gravity in drawing water up from the roots. (The Dublin Spire, in comparison, is 390ft/118m.)
When sequoias reached Britain in the 1850s (the trees renamed as Wellingtonias) their one-guinea seedlings were widely planted. Rarely set in groves, they grew fast but lonely, short and fat and thirsty for regular water.
The Irish experience
In Ireland, sequoias took the fancy of big house planters, notably Viscount Powerscourt. A lone specimen below the waterfall has a beautiful shape, reaching just over 150ft (45.72m).
Today, the biggest grove of giant redwoods outside of California is beginning to take shape on 20 acres of the grounds of Birr Castle in Co Offaly. Launched by the present Earl of Rosse in 2016 in partnership with Crann, the project aims at a final grove of 1,000 giant and coastal redwoods, underplanted with shade-tolerant native Irish trees.
The first growth of the redwoods is four years into a potential 1,200 year life cycle. Their numbers will increase as more sponsors respond to the project’s elaborate website (giantsgrove.ie).
Giant sequoias can also inspire as absorbers of man-made carbon: General Sherman is already credited with removing 1,500 tonnes of it from the atmosphere. A UK project called One Life One Tree calculates that growing a sequoia to a trunk diameter of 3 metres will make up for one person’s lifetime carbon footprint.
An online search for giant sequoias to plant in Ireland found the Clarinbridge Garden Centre in Co Galway offering a 45cm seedling in a pot for €28.99. Not the best choice, perhaps, for your front lawn.
Given months to live and no change in the prognosis since, this year has been a momentous one. There was priorities to see to, write and sign a Will, choose where to die, who gets the car and who gets the servicing and repair bills. You ponder on who is a valued friend, who is an acquaintance, and who one loves above all others, unconditionally, though they can still annoy the hell out of you now and again. You regret shouting at the ones you love.
The high point was given an honorary membership of ALBA by the Right Honourable Alex Salmond, MP., and the ovation from patriots, a thank you for services to Scotland, or at least that is how I want to think of it. Sadly, there was no cheque attached. (Laughs) I joked that I thought the honour was from the SNP making a magnificent gesture of reconciliation to an indigenous person. (Chuckles) If I am still here this time next year I might feel obliged to hand it back. I wouldn’t want folk to think it was accepted under false pretences. (Smiles)
Time passes. October, melancholy autumn, the crisp chirrup of the fearless, territorial robin, woollen scarves and hats, cold winds and windy bus shelters, birthday month told I would not see. Time passes too fast now. Did the boy ‘done good’ or is he a figment of his imagination? Worth asking the grizzled old sage to shake his glass snowdome and tell us what he sees inside – a Scotland free, or should we move to enjoy our days in an independent country?Questions, questions, questions.
Interviewer (IN): Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.
Grouse Beater (GB): This might be the equivalent of meeting your lawyer proposing to ask a couple of questions, and he answers, “Sure. What’s your second question?” (Chuckles) Please call me Gareth.
IN: In the arts world you’re regarded as a low-profile professional. Why?
GB: I avoid the spotlight. It took Roddy MacLeod almost six months to entice me to join a discussion panel on his always excellent broadcast Through a Scottish Prism. In this instance, I trust you to publish exactly what I say and not interpret what I say, or produce a ‘personality’ piece full of cod psychology. (Chuckles.) Everything ‘entertaining’ is actually vacuous celebrity these days, academic ability ignored or belittled of no worth. Which reminds me, I’d like to see political parties governed by a small group of elders, but am forced to admit people want the ‘big personality’ to lead them.
IN: Compared to other bloggers, you appear to be jaunty about the future, not much depressed by Scotland’s current situation under an SNP administration facing a far-right Tory government?
GB: To me ‘blogging’ is writing a diary, or running a themed site, like cooking, or cars, or what I did on my holidays. I write in the long-form to be read and I assume my readers are bright folk. To answer you, yes, I am concerned. The SNP is as wobbly as a jelly and not as nourishing. Asking the UK’s prime minister to allow or reject a legal referendum is evidence of a colonial mindset; not using an election as a mandate is dereliction of duty.
IN: I take it you’re a fan of Alex Salmond?
GB: That’s a sly segue. I admire what he has done for Scotland, and knew he would be crucified for it, but not by his own side. The SNP is doing their best to offer anti-Scots the head of their worst enemy, a crime none have paid for – yet. Like Boris Johnson buying water cannon to beat off Londoners participating in street protest, our elected representatives want to silence the streets where Edinburgh folk rioted against the signing of the Treaty. I do not see a difference between Boris and the SNP in this regard. I’m reasonably optimistic about Scotland’s destiny because of our 1,000 years of history as a nation. And I know there is no stopping a revolution. You can delay it or deflect it for a time, but revolutions grow bigger and angrier if repressed.
IN: In recent essays you castigate the SNP for not concentrating on independence.
GB: Not quite. I rebuked the SNP for not educating doubters of the great benefits of running your own country cut loose from an authoritarian interloper, quite a different thing from demanding a referendum tomorrow. The SNP turned off educational propaganda back in 2015. On referenda, the evidence is there to tell us our First Minister has not got the skill to poach an egg let alone steer this nation to the ideal. So far its all selfies, and draped over a comfy sofa reading Mills and Boon. She has surrounded herself with poor advisers, the chronically incompetent and infiltators, disciples of her shortcomings.
IN: So where is Scotland politically, Indy-wise, in this decade, in your view?
GB: We are England’s poodle if we do not do something dramatic to show we mean business. Currently, we are no threat whatsoever. By throwing away the easy route in 2014, we’ve added a third existenial threat to the two already existing, two on top of the reprisals from the British state for our audacity in daring to seek reinstatement of free will. We are undergoing a profound loss of rights, powers withdrawn, quasi-direct rule from Westminster established with Tory councils, on top of dramatic changes in our climate and the infrastructure damage it brings. The third threat is war.
IN: War? In what way?
GB: Starting a small war somewhere is the classic Bishop’s Move, as I call it, (the church usually endorses a Christian war), a war to concentrate the public’s mind away from their government’s anti-democratic policies. A war whips up the wrong kind of patriotism. If your popularity is waning, a call to patriotic ferver usually works. We stop being Scottish to become British. Thatcher’s star was falling when the undeclared Malvina’s war, a wholly contrived affair, boosted her Boudicca image no end. Boris Johnson doesn’t know whether he wants to be Thatcher or Churchill but he will reinstate conscription as a way of uniting the UK. He has an excuse now – Brexit chaos, the army driving delivery HGVs. The press whip up anti-foreigner fever. Very hard keeping up with who is this month’s enemy, Iran, China, France, or perhaps Russia, the Hate Putin campaign and by association, all Russians. That implies a nuclear war where only the last man standing wins.
IN: You mentioned the Treaty. Do you believe in UDI?
GB: That’s the extreme question, thrown in by those claiming to uphold law and order and not have us fall into anarchy, when in reality they are doing the opposite, they are keeping Scotland in economic chains and people’s aspirations suppressed. The colonial is a pacifier. They chant ‘no UDI’ knowing it has an unthinking emotional reaction – Ian Smith and Rhodesia. They say, “Look what happened there”, forgetting Harold Wilson refused to send in the troops, and in the end the white colonials lost to the black indigenous people.
IN: What do you mean?
GB: We could withdraw from the Union tomorrow. A treaty is a treaty is a treaty, that is, a document understood in international law to be a mechanism by which the signatory entities can withdraw at any time. Understandably, honorable nations try to uphold treaties, but normally only if both are benefitting to an equal extent. Scotland is the all-time loser in this corrosive, grossly extended tryst with England. And when the Treaty was signed, this nation was under coercion, threatened with invasion and trade blockades. That’s a good argument to put to any international body of judges, that and how few were allowed to vote for the sale of this nation’s wealth. In fact, we are effectively blockaded from trading with other countries now, with Ireland in the west and the EU in the east, an intolerable, repressive situation. It is an echo of 1707. The British state is suppressing the development of a neighbour. But as I said already, we have an SNP administration that is ‘frit’ as Thatcher would have said, to confront the British state. They forget sovereignty lies with the people, not with Westminster. The SNP has failed miserably to assert that sovereignty.
IN: So you see things getting worse?
GH: The longer this currest stasis continues, the more frustration will increase. We have to decolonise Scotland. (I know a man who wrote a whole book on that subject, Professor Alfred Baird!) As that process gathers momentum, people will get angry. They will see how their lives are controlled, how we remain an underdeveloped country. Brexit has accelerated a perception we are unable to alter or solve what’s happening to us. What has the SNP done to counter this alarm? Nothing. “We won’t let it happen”, promise our Westminster MPs – and then it happens. The SNP doesn’t seem to understand a referendum is now the weakest route to freedom, to a new Accord with our neighbours, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, aye, and the Republic of Ireland too.
IN: Are you referring to who should vote in another referendum?
GB: Employing a franchise of residential status alone is dangerous, guaranteed to lose independence. That’s a parish conception. No country uses that process alone to decide its entire destiny. In a country where we cannot even control our borders, Scotland, agreeing to a vote for residents, is a colonial trap.
IN: One of Wings’ parting shots, the site closed by its editor, Stuart Campbell, argues anything less than redsidential status is repulsive. He wants nothing to do with what he terms ‘blood and soil’ attitudes.
GB: I think Stuart has lived in Bath too long. He should come live in Scotland and meet English folk who bought a house cheap and brought with them their colonial baggage. Or meet a few of those in charge of our institutions who consider their role part of an English franchise, their next job promotion down south. It is not a matter of ‘hating English’, another cheap gibe to make political opponents suffer guilt. We have to formulate a plan that outwits our colonial masters. Voting to restore Scotland’s rights is too much to ask of them. Scotland has been England’s backyard for generations. All they will do is drape the polling station in Union Jack bunting.
IN: Wings seems to feel we must convince incomers to vote for Scotland.
GB: Are you suggesting an entire nation delays its liberty so as not to upset Stuart Campbell? His site did sterling work in its early years pointing up the duplicity of our press, and unionist politicians. That was his prime motivation. He admitted he would not know what to write about “if it wasn’t for our newspapers”. For that he will always be thanked. But his ‘blood and soil’ gibe is uneducated, a prejudice he has acquired espoused as if a moral imperative. An invitation to everybody and anybody to vote is an accommodation with our colonial masters. David Cameron spotted our imprinted deference, confident we would vote against our interests.
IN: I think I should change the subject.
GB: Look, for the last year and more Wings site has been a bleak read, pushing a defeatist outlook, one man’s view, ‘independence lost for years to come’, even to the point it found no one worthy on the Yes side to whom the remaining donations Wings holds should be distributed. (Wings lost £220,000 on a miscalculated libel case.) Leadership, takes a constructive path.
IN: Like Wings, you don’t hold a good view of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Your own essays this last year have a few highly critical of her.
GB: Two essays, and one on her nefarious, unscrupulous husband, CEO of the SNP, Peter Murrell. He is a rogue. I try to concentrate on policies, not personality, but sometimes that can be hard to sustain. I have two essays from 2015 talk in glowing terms of Nicola Sturgeon’s down-to-earth approach to things. They have not aged well. There was a high point when she went to the Irish Republic’s parliament, the Dáil Éireann. I covered it fully in an article. (Scottish press hacks ignored the visit.) She was warmly welcomed and gave a good speech, but it has been downhill thereafter. The trouble is her competency. I thought she’d gather experience. She has no state craft. She has no agenda. She has no vision. Her marriage to the desultory Scottish Green Party is only to bolster her personal power base. Just believing in Scotland’s constitutional rights is not enough. Her civil servants must wonder why they bother going to work each day when she calls upon their advice so little to help shape withdrawal from the awful faux Union. Alex Salmond handed her a gift at the expense of his political career: a landslide victory, the potential of a 58% vote for Yes, and six mandates so far. SNP will soon have the whole set.
IN: So, what do you think she should do?
GB: Step aside or resign, but that is not up to me. Like any person in any job, when people feel you have not got the skills to accomplish the tasks appointed to you, you are given a different brief so someone more qualified can fill your old job. That’s the dignified exit. That said, I still put up positive news on my site from SNP, and from the First Minister’s office, but now they compete with the ALBA party, and the ISP. When revolutions are delayed or betrayed, new independence parties arise.
IN: How do you answer those who say criticism of the SNP is divisive?
GB: We are sitting ducks – or should I say grouse (chuckles), for Westminster’s guns. Johnson heads the most right-wing UK government since Thatcher. It’s called neo-liberalism. The Fifties and Sixties that I lived through saw what some call ‘regimented capitalism,’ where wealth was controlled to a great extent, spread reasonably well across our infrastructure, roads, social security, hospitals, libraries, and schools, an egalitarian growth making advances in social justice, and so on. By the Nineties the neo-liberals had managed to convince governments, via placemen and bribery, that less democracy frees people, a clever myth. It does the opposite, it leaves us exposed to robbery and theft and loss of rights. Noam Chomsky warns us: “The main principle of neo-liberalism is undermining the mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support.” In other words, the right-wing seeks to remove participation in the democratic process. For example, a Tory neo-liberal will be quite happy seeing demonstrations banned around our parliament building. They see the people as the problem. Now we have an SNP aping Tory ideology, a colonial mindset.
IN: Surely freedom means freeing us from too much bureacracy, too many laws and contraints?
GB: The ‘freedom’ you talk of is a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s your ‘freedom, the neo-liberal notion of freedom. It includes avoiding taxes, and squandering your money on ostentious living, a lifestyle your staff worked to produce but do not share. Of the kinds that could allow people to participate in decision making – those are weakened. When we lose participation in political decision making democracy is weakened. This is the source of my wry riposte, “Scotland gets too much democracy!” Tories and Labour might as well adopt that slogan because blocking our independence, ignoring our sovereignty, robbing us of our wealth, reduces our freedoms dramatically. Just on a social level, we used to be able to go anywhere for our holidays. That is now severely limited ever since the Tories and our English ‘friends’ dumped Europe.
IN: What’s the antidote?
GB: An engaged public. Activism. Marches, protest rallies, petitions to parliament, badgering our MP and MSP, until our usurpers poop their pants out of fear and anxiety. Agitate, refuse to conform, refuse to accept what’s offered. Refuse the role we are forced to take, a mendicant, bowl held out for more of what they stole. Do not betray the working class of Scotland who voted in toto for Scotland’s liberty. For lots of good reasons some of us cannot manange physical activism: illness, caring for someone, working long hours. That’s fine, so long as we are informed, which is my chief gripe about the SNP – they decided good governance was all that’s needed to sway a vote to Yes, the indolent route. They are content to draw salaries until doomsday if we leave self-governance to them.
IN: You want Scotland to rejoin the European Union. ALBA want us to join EFTA.
GB: If EFTA is the way back to the EU, good and fine. Scotland has a long noble, illustrious history of working with European nations, their universities too, until dragooned into regiments to fight two world wars. But I am also a member of DiEM25 agitating change in the EU. There aspects of the EU that await democratisation. Economic decisions are made by three institutions that govern economies as far as loans and payment of loans is concerned, what the respected economist Yanis Varoufakis calls the troika: the European Commission, unelected; the IMF, unelected; and the European Central Bank. They must change, and soon! I guess this is the Age of Resentment, anger against socio-economic policies which have harmed us. The cure for an ailing democracy, is more democracy.
IN: Looking back through your political writings since 2012, is there anything you feel proud of?
GB: A few essays hold up well, mainly because they are historical recounting, not base opinion, and they have a literary elegance that pleases. I am proud of my Constitution for Scotland, a building block, an intellectual exercise I almost filed away. I wanted to create something easy to read and easy to pass one person to another, like my tweets I call Postcards of Wisdom. The Constitution was published in the superb iScot magazine. I wrote for iScot in its inaugural year. I’m proud of that. The 2014 Referendum gave rise to a terrific output of communication sources, releasing a ton of creativity, a genuine free press, iScot magazine is top of the list. Bizarrely, SNP saw fit not to reward innovation, but to hand £3 million of public money to private enterprise, to the unionist press who want to bury the SNP. The SNP has learned to love our captors.
IN: Finally, a sensitive subject – may I enquire about your health?
GB: My terminal cancer? There is no reprieve. I told my medical consultant I am against the party led by Death the Unreasoner. The Reaper will never get my vote. In any event, I have three big projects to complete, two books and my final landscaping challenge, a Roman Garden, on Roman ground. Like Scotland’s independence, they are works in progress. Anyhow, I have no towel to throw in. (Chuckles) I need my towel to dry myself after each morning ablution. I will not go naked into the debating chamber!
IN: That last remark, a reference to Aneurin Bevan, and Labour retaining the bomb. So, still game?
GB: Game until the end. (Laughs) I will fight for Scotland’s proper place in this world, confident others will lift up the flag when I fall still holding it in my grasp. Onward, onward, onward! Each time I convince someone to vote for Scotland’s liberty I regard it as a tiny revolution.
IN: Thanks for the interview, Gareth, and the coffee.
GB: You’re welcome. Now, if you don’t mind, this interviewing game is an indulgence; I’ve work to do. And so have you.
In the second of our climate change articles, environmentalist and activist George Monbiot warns the rape of our Earth, and the pollution that follows it, cannot continue. As ever with climate warnings, the read may be depressing but necessary to educate us of the dangers around the corner. Words in blue are links to support research and papers.
‘GREEN GROWTH’ DOESN’T EXIST
There is a box labelled “climate”, in which politicians discuss the climate crisis. There is a box named “biodiversity”, in which they discuss the biodiversity crisis. There are other boxes, such as pollution, deforestation, overfishing and soil loss, gathering dust in our planet’s lost property department. But they all contain aspects of one crisis that we have divided up to make it comprehensible. The categories the human brain creates to make sense of its surroundings are not, as Immanuel Kant observed, the “thing-in-itself”. They describe artefacts of our perceptions rather than the world.
Nature recognises no such divisions. As Earth systems are assaulted by everything at once, each source of stress compounds the others.
Take the situation of the North Atlantic right whale, whose population recovered a little when whaling ceased, but is now slumping again: fewer than 95 females of breeding age remain. The immediate reasons for this decline are mostly deaths and injuries caused when whales are hit by ships or tangled in fishing gear. But they’ve become more vulnerable to these impacts because they’ve had to shift along the eastern seaboard of North America into busy waters.
Their main prey, a small swimming crustacean called Calanus finmarchicus, is moving north at a rate of 8km a year, because the sea is heating. At the same time, a commercial fishing industry has developed, exploiting Calanus for the fish oil supplements falsely believed to be beneficial to our health. There’s been no attempt to assess the likely impacts of fishing Calanus. We also have no idea what the impact of ocean acidification – also caused by rising carbon dioxide levels – might be on thisand many other crucial species.
Pollution kills whales
As the death rate of North Atlantic right whales rises, their birthrate falls. Why? Perhaps because of the pollutants accumulating in their bodies, some of which are likely to reduce fertility. Or because of ocean noise from boat engines, sonar, and oil and gas exploration, which may stress them and disrupt their communication. So you could call the decline of the North Atlantic right whale a shipping crisis, or a fishing crisis, or a climate crisis, or an acidification crisis, or a pollution crisis, or a noise crisis. But it is in fact all of these things: a general crisis caused by human activity.
Or look at moths in the UK. We know they are being harmed by pesticides. But the impact of these toxins on moths has been researched, as far as I can discover, only individually. Studies of bees show that when pesticides are combined, their effects are synergistic: in other words, the damage they each cause isn’t added, but multiplied. When pesticides are combined with fungicides and herbicides, the effects are multiplied again.
Simultaneously, moth caterpillars are losing their food plants, thanks to fertilisers and habitat destruction. Climate chaos has also knocked their reproductive cycle out of sync with the opening of the flowers on which the adults depend. Now we discover that light pollution has devastating effects on their breeding success. The switch from orange sodium streetlights to white LEDs saves energy, but their wider colour spectrum turns out to be disastrous for insects. Light pollution is spreading rapidly, even around protected areas, affecting animals almost everywhere.
Destroying living systems
Combined impacts are laying waste to entire living systems. When coral reefs are weakened by the fishing industry, pollution and the bleaching caused by global heating, they are less able to withstand the extreme climate events, such as tropical cyclones, which our fossil fuel emissions have also intensified. When rainforests are fragmented by timber cutting and cattle ranching, and ravaged by imported tree diseases, they become more vulnerable to the droughts and fires caused by climate breakdown.
What would we see if we broke down our conceptual barriers? We would see a full-spectrum assault on the living world. Scarcely anywhere is now safe from this sustained assault. A recent scientific paper estimates that only 3% of the Earth’s land surface should now be considered “ecologically intact”.
The various impacts have a common cause: the sheer volume of economic activity. We are doing too much of almost everything, and the world’s living systems cannot bear it. But our failure to see the whole ensures that we fail to address this crisis systemically and effectively.
Neglect equals more disasters
When we box up this predicament, our efforts to solve one aspect of the crisis exacerbate another. For example, if we were to build sufficient direct air capture machines to make a major difference to atmospheric carbon concentrations, this would demand a massive new wave of mining and processing for the steel and concrete. The impact of such construction pulses travels around the world. To take just one component, the mining of sand to make concrete is trashing hundreds of precious habitats. It’s especially devastating to rivers, whose sand is highly sought in construction. Rivers are already being hit by drought, the disappearance of mountain ice and snow, our extraction of water, and pollution from farming, sewage and industry. Sand dredging, on top of these assaults, could be a final, fatal blow.
Or look at the materials required for the electronics revolution that will, apparently, save us from climate breakdown. Already, mining and processing the minerals required for magnets and batteries is laying waste to habitats and causing new pollution crises. Now, as Jonathan Watts’s terrifying article in the Guardian this week shows, companies are using the climate crisis as justification for extracting minerals from the deep ocean floor, long before we have any idea of what the impacts might be.
This isn’t, in itself, an argument against direct air capture machines or other “green” technologies. But if they have to keep pace with an ever-growing volume of economic activity, and if the growth of this activity is justified by the existence of those machines, the net result will be ever greater harm to the living world.
Ramping up the load
Everywhere, governments seek to ramp up the economic load, talking of “unleashing our potential” and “supercharging our economy”. Boris Johnson insists that “a global recovery from the pandemic must be rooted in green growth”. But there is no such thing as green growth. Growth is wiping the green from the Earth.
We have no hope of emerging from this full-spectrum crisis unless we dramatically reduce economic activity. Wealth must be distributed – a constrained world cannot afford the rich – but it must also be reduced. Sustaining our life-support systems means doing less of almost everything. But this notion – that should be central to a new, environmental ethics – is secular blasphemy.
This is the second article in the new category of ‘Climate Change’. Phoebe Weston explains the plan toenrich a large area of the Highlands once populated with villages that might eventually see new communities evolve as well as better land management.Readers are encourages to comment about the plan. [Titles and words in blue link to more information.]
A large swathe of the Scottish Highlands stretching between the west coast and Loch Ness is to be rewilded as part of a 30-year project to restore nature.
The Affric Highlands initiative aims to increase connected habitats and species diversity over an area of 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres), incorporating Kintail mountain range, and glens Cannich, Moriston and Shiel. Plans include planting trees, enhancing river corridors, restoring peat bogs and creating nature-friendly farming practices.
The project has been launched after two years of conversations and meetings between local communities and conservationists from rewilding charity Trees for Life. Similar to the WildEast project in East Anglia, it is a community-led effort to restore nature over a large area, which organisers hope will be a catalyst for social and economic regeneration.
“This was once a much more peopled landscape that was rich with wildlife and we think we can find new ways to establish that connection again, today,” said Alan McDonnell, a conservation manager at Trees for Life, and the project leader. “The idea of doing it at scale is that you get a much bigger natural response because you’ve got room for change and dynamism in that landscape.”
The Affric Highlands initiative is located west of the Cairngorms Connect project, which is one of the UK’s largest land restoration projects at 60,000 hectares. In terms of total area, it is three times the size of Cairngorms Connect but at present only a quarter of the Affric Highlands area is managed by people who have signed up, including farmers, landowners and fishers. McDonnell hopes more will get involved once the project has launched.
One of the challenges has been bringing together people reliant on traditional land management practices to work on large-scale landscape restoration. McDonnell has had meetings with around 50 local stakeholders and has been working with a psychologist to help him communicate with people who might feel sceptical, and to allay the fears of damage to livelihoods that have accompanied other rewilding projects in the UK.
“Rewilding is a word that people define differently. For some people, it’s wolves and bears. For Trees for Life, it’s about the land, and what it can support,” he said. “We’re primarily motivated by the nature that will come with that, but that’s not to say that we don’t value everything that comes with it, so whether it’s opportunities for businesses and job creation, or natural capital and the ability to monetise that, there are a lot of ways we can use land better and increase what it can offer.”
Native wildlife set to benefit includes a range of river species such as salmon, trout, ospreys and otters, as well as montane species such as golden eagles, red grouse, short-eared owls and mountain hares.
A £200,000 grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation will help fund a two-year development period, during which time McDonnell will be recruiting three people to work on the project full-time. Practical work on the ground is set to begin in 2023.
Trees for Life has already established 2 million trees as part of the restoration of the Caledonian Forest. In 2022, the charity expects to open its rewilding centre on the 4,000-hectare (10,000-acre) Dundreggan estate. The centre will have 40-bed accommodation, events spaces, classrooms and a cafe.
McDonnell said: “In 10 years’ time I would hope to see some significant changes happening … in particular I would love there to be more riverbank woodlands, which would increase insect life, help fish species and support richer river ecosystems. That might mean fencing off part of a landowner’s riverbank, planting trees, or allowing natural regeneration.”
The project also aims to help individuals get funding from government and other sources for green initiatives on their land, so people who sign up to it can financially benefit.
Frans Schepers, managing director of Rewilding Europe, said: “Our decision to accept the project as our ninth rewilding area reflects the hard work and achievements of Trees for Life, its volunteers and its partners. Including Affric Highlands in our portfolio of major European rewilding areas will help magnify rewilding’s impact in the Highlands, and put it firmly on the global map.”
Pheobe Weston is a biodiversity reporter for the Guardian.writing mostly about British wildlife. Phoebe grew up on a farm and is particularly interested in how agriculture and conservation can work together. Phoebe previously worked as the science correspondent at the Independent.
A lot of men and too many women are scared to challenge the ‘transgender’ nonsense. Personally, I readily admit I was bewildered by the arguments and apprehensive about writing on the subject.
Establishment figures who support Stonewall’s utterances and edicts, and social media sites too, can shut you down for expressing a view contrary to the received wisdom. The press avoid the subject, bar a few courageous columnists. Why are intelligent people and those in positions of authority getting behind the faux trans ‘gender’ campaign? Well, it makes them feel good, morally upright; they support an allegedly victimised minority. This is a nightmare.
Some people are confused by the terminology bandied about and withdraw, others repelled by theaggression used to push opinion, especially trans people with a score to settle with society.The reality of alien laws, however, are upon us. By devious routes and stealth this warped doctrine has managed to become legislation in various countries, advocated by politicians for reasons that are obscure. Our own SNP administration has embraced it with a vigour one wishes they had applied to securing Scotland’s independence.
In effect, the SNP has declared war on women, the First Minister stating that objections to proposed laws are not valid. Seeing a cash-strapped City of Edinburgh Council put £5 million of rates into creating single sex public toilets should tell women fighting to retain their rights the end is nigh. When our institutions are against women’s very existence they need a revolution, a popular mass movement, if they are to repeal laws, bills, and heal the damage done so far.
As a male of the species, one who penned a much praised screenplay exploring the sources of male aggression on women, physical and psychological, I cannot believe the fiasco has gotten this far. Do parent know what is being taught in our schools on this subject? I am all for children being knowledgeable not kept innocent, but trans gender theory is dangerous indoctrination. Scots are supposed to be famous for our down-to-earth common sense. And yet some women are leading the trans gender contortions as if biological fact.
All the experts tell us the ‘trans‘ gender does not exist.I see it as a patriarchal invention to make the categories of women and men invisible, to substitute feminism with something more generic. It undermines the feminist struggle for equality. As one feminist put it, “The word ‘gender‘ has replaced those of ‘women‘ and ‘men’; ‘gender violence law’ has replaced patriarchy, feminism, feminist struggle.”To my certain knowledge, trans people share the same civil and human rights as the rest of us, which makes the screams and squeals from certain frantic quarters very odd.
A man can become a woman just on saying that’s what he wants to be. And he can retain his beard and join all-women sports. The radical feminist Germaine Greer who knows her subject inside out – if you can forgive the pun, and is not someone to annoy by spouting waffle (I’m six feet, she’s taller), put it succinctly. “If I put on a long brown coat with big black buttons, and a pair of ear muffs, that doesn’t make me a f**king bloodhound!”
As the gender debate has esculated so has the tiny transexual lobby increased its demands. The debate has become bitter. Suddenly ‘queer theory’ is defussed, sexuality a fluid thing. I do not recall any societal threat to their existence, but here we are liable to be faced by a long-running perverse conflict. Having worked in theatre with some trans actors, and having known a few in ordinary professions, one an accountant, another an antique dealer, their existence is part of life’s rich pattern. They are friends, and that is that. What I see now is a madness, a profound detraction from far greater pressures on society, namely Scotland’s destiny and climate change.And I cannot recall voting for this grotesque trans policy, or the SNP explaining their intentions in detail to the public before an election. It has arrived by force.
Anybody trying to study the arguments is confronted by incomprehensible discussions aboutthe meaning of the term ‘gender‘. It has gone so far that women are now the people marginalised and oppressed.A massive amount of the SNP’s time has been devoted to and still is, invested in, pushing forward legislation that will see a small group dominate the mass of the population and effectively have women disappear. It is the rot that will kill the SNP.
On independence, the SNP has declared war on its own people, shutting down honest criticism and dissent about ways and means. They have also weaponised the trans ‘gender’ debate and used that too to declare war on women. The First Minister – a woman opf sorts – dismisses protest as ‘not valid’. Politicians are not elected to wave aside protest, but to listen and understand its source. Helping the SNP to build this Trojan Horse is their political partners, the Scottish Green party, and yet that party is also riven by the debate it has helped create and nurture.
The biological disaster that is gender identification belongs at the door of Stonewall and compliant institutions and governing bodies, using arrant nonesense to further its financial ends.Writer Sarah Ditton put the issue in a nutshell: “You might consider those consequences good, bad or irrelevant. But as a society we never got the chance to discuss them, because rather than wait for parliament to pass a bill, Stonewall simply wrote its own version of the law as it would like it to be, and then disseminated it through the training it provides to various public bodies, which have promptly fallen into line.”
Ask an SNP politician to define what a woman is and they choke on their words, scared, as I mentioned earlier, to give a straight-forward answer.This is a party that is in complete confusion about its role and its ideology. They have allied themselves with a fraudulant cause invented by the controllers of capitalist propaganda. We are liable to see us faced by the dangerous absurdity of passing laws to eliminate any reference to women and men. As it is, women are to be seen no longer the exploited class. This puts the women’s cause back a hundred years or more.
The distinguished author and journalist (and independence supporter), Iain Macwhirter tackled the subject in a recent newspaper column. I reprint his observations. They largely mirror my own. Whether his scrutiny or mine, or both, mean anything to readers curious about the bitterness of this supremely divisive subject, is another matter.
DO YOU THINK A WOMAN IS A HUMAN FEMALE?
It’s the shortest questions that are the most dangerous for politicians.
On his television show, Andrew Marr asked the Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, what looked like the simplest question imaginable: what is wrong with saying that a woman is an adult human female? Mr Davey was stumped. He couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t answer after being asked three times. He flannelled about it not being relevant and said that Boris Johnson was “toxifying” the whole issue of trans rights. That may well be true, but it didn’t answer the question: is a woman an adult human female?
That is, of course, the dictionary definition of a woman. It is also a proposition that 99 per cent of British voters would see as wholly unobjectionable, indeed, self-evident. Obviously a woman is female. So why could Mr Davey not answer, and why, indeed, was a LibDem party member, Natalie Bird, banned from standing as an MP because she wore a tee shirt with this dictionary definition on it? Why has the Labour MP, Rosie Duffield, been forced to avoid the Labour Party conference on safety grounds for agreeing?
Is ‘convener’ male or female?
Earlier this year, the SNP’s elected Equalities Convener, Lynne Anderson, and its Women’s Convener, Caroline McAllister, both resigned over the definition of a woman. The Green Party has also split from top to bottom with departures and resignations, including that of the much-respected former Scottish MSP, Andy Wightman who said he couldn’t stay in a party that refused to discuss women’s sex-based rights. The UK Green Party co-leader, Sian Berry, resigned apparently because there was too much discussion of women being female.
Like Ms Berry, Mr Davey was trying to keep on the right side of the transgender debate by not deviating from the Stonewall mantra: “transwomen are women”. He appears to believe that this means it can never be assumed that a woman is actually female. Indeed, a “woman” could be someone who was born a man and has transitioned to female. But this involves an excruciating logical contortion. Why, if a transgender woman is literally a woman, should it not continue to be the case that a woman is an adult female? Hapless politicians like Mr Davey have been forced into holding a proposition which is manifestly absurd: that women are not adult human females but transwomen always are.
Mr Davey’s predecessor, Jo Swinson, got into similar difficulties. During the General Election campaign she dissolved when asked by a BBC presenter whether babies were born male or female. After much faltering and deviation, she said she didn’t think they were and that they might be “non-binary”. Labour’s then Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, Dawn Butler, went further and asserted that “a child is not born with a sex”.
Both of them were basing this on the assertion by transgender activists that sex is “assigned” at birth and not observed. This has become an article of faith in the rarified world of non-binary theory, as expounded by the American gender philosopher, Judith Butler. She says sex is a social construct. Or to be precise: “sex is an ideal construct which is forcibly materialised through time. It is not a simple fact or static condition of a body”. Butler is herself non-binary and insists on being called “they”– which means they is always referred to in the plural.
Waffle and wiffle
Make of they’s definition what you will, but it doesn’t exactly make for a snappy sound bite. Most voters would prefer not to be bothered with incomprehensible structuralist jargon. But they are going to be very bothered indeed if they keep hearing party leaders, like Ed Davey, dissolving into confusion when asked whether a woman is an adult female.
This, of course, has been brought to a head by the row over transgender self-ID, which is coming soon to a parliament near you. One of the key planks of the Green-SNP alliance is a new law saying that, since transwomen are women, they should be permitted to change their legal sex merely by giving a declaration of such. No medical intervention, surgery or lengthy record of living as a woman is necessary.
This is presented as merely a means of simplifying the bureaucratic process of achieve gender reassignment, changing legal sex, which has of course been the law since 2004. But many women, sometimes called “gender-critical feminists” (or “fascists” according to Judith Butler), do not accept that it is or should be legal for people born male to be allowed to enter women’s spaces like changing rooms, prisons, or women’s refuges. Many say they feel threatened by the presence of male-bodied individuals.
The damn thing is everywhere
People may be surprised at how far down this road we’ve already gone. The CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis, Mridul Wadhwa, was born a man. Prisons are now legally obliged to place male-bodied transgender offenders in women’s prisons. Schools are being told to use gender-free pronouns and recognise primary children as transgender whatever their parents may think. Women are often now referred to as “persons with a cervix” or “menstruators” by medical professionals who fear that they might fall foul of the 2010 Equalities Act in which “transgender reassignment” is deemed to be a “protected characteristic”.
But the trouble with the Equalities Act is that it says a lot of things, most of them mutually contradictory. Sex is also a protected characteristic under the legislation, a whole section of which specifically refers to “single sex services” being a “legitimate aim”. A legitimate example given is a transwoman being excluded from counselling group of female victims of sexual assault.
Stonewall says that women do have a right to single sex spaces but do not have a right to exclude transwomen from them, because such exclusion would be discriminatory under other provisions of the Act. This abstruse legal argument used to be very much on the fringes of political life. But it is about to become centre stage.
Nicola Sturgeon says she has found a way of achieving self-ID without diminishing women’s sex-based rights. Good luck with that. We’ll know if and when she agrees that a woman is an adult human female.
NOTE: Over-wrought, verbally aggressive personal attacks are automatically blocked by this site. Similarly, people hiding their email address won’t gain access. Please state your point of view rationally not libellously.
This site published a video on three occasions – all for good reasons – one being First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s visit to the Irish Parliament, the Dáil Éireann.No Scottish newspaper covered the event, a few merely gave it a page two mention. Her speech there and the warm welcome the politicians gave her must have riled our colonial cousins no end. (I switched travel dates to coincide.)
This video is an outstanding interview with the marine industry specialist, Professor Alfred Baird, who has studied the issue of Scotland as a colony of English rule. Since 2014, this site has publishd its own essays on English colonialism as it affects Scotland and countries abroad, pointing out how every aspect of our daily lives are manipulated by London’s power elite, our wealth and talent removed south. And yet when challenged, no English politician, House Jock, or person-in-the-street who calls themselves a unionist, can or will answer the question: if Scotland is an economic basket case, why does England’s hold tight to ownership of us?
Readers will know, Professor Baird contributed ten well-researched articles on the subject of colonialism in all is ugly anti-ethnic cultural aspects. Each is an extract from his book, ‘Doun-Hauden: The Socio-Political Determinants of Scottish Independence’, an indispensible work for any student of the subject. When first published, Professor Baird encountered a lot of animosity from his academic peers (as I did for early essays and writer-illustrator Alasdair Gray did for his ‘Incomers and Settlers‘ seminal essay. To date, the SNP has kept well away from the subject.
Professor Baird’s claim that, the fewer the Scots lecturing in our universities, the greater and the easier is the manipulation of Scotland cultural values, saw him belittled in his own academic territory, though not by the principal of his university who defended him.
He is interviewed by Roddy MacLeod, ‘Barrhead Boy’, about his views, and why he feels the Scottish National Party has let down its supporters on the desperate need for full self-governance. Nothing less protects a nation’s sovereignty than independence.England knows this, and England is happy to have a parliament that puts its people’s needs before any other in the UK.
The MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Neale Hanvey (unseated a Labour MP), is an unusual politician in that he has thought about honesty in his profession and not decided it inefficient, inconvenient, cumbersome, and junked it.
Having a naturally open and trusting personality, he encountered the rage of the Internet mob not so long ago. When an SNP member at Westminster, he was suspended from the party following over-wrought mob allegations that he made an anti-Semitic social media posts years earlier. He compared Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to the treatment of Jews during the Second World War. This is a comment akin to that made by eminent Jewish academics, activists such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein. Unwittingly, the tweet shared a newspaper article that included a cartoon image of the Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist, George Soros.
I have met and talked to George Soros. He is of Jewish decent but does not regard himself as one. In fact, he has attacked Israel for its inhumane policies inflicted on Palestinians. Right-wing Jews detest him. Sometimes, untruths can get ugly.
Readers should keep in mind some lies are justied. If huntsmen stopped to ask me which way a fox had run, I would point in the direction opposite to that it had taken.We lie many times a day in order not to hurt people’s feelings. We lie to ourselves to avoid facing reality. Here, Neale Hanvey discusses honesty as he practices it, in a politician’s day, and when he was a cancer nurse, where truth meets diplomacy and party loyalty.
A POLICY OF TRUTH
At the recent ALBA conference, I recalled when I was a child I was fascinated by nodding dogs on the back shelves of cars in front. Their indication of agreement or dissent completely dictated by the actions of the driver and the surface of the road on which they travelled.
No need to think, just nod along.
It was a fine amusement for a child, but surely we should we expect more from our politicians than to just nod along to whatever diktat is issued from on high – I certainly think so.
In my professional career fudging the truth was never an option. However uncomfortable the news being delivered was, answering tough questions required a level of honesty that was simply unavoidable. It was necessary because my patients (when a nurse) and their loved ones needed that honesty to make informed decisions and to prepare themselves for their all to uncertain futures.
As a consequence I recognise that some folk might consider me to be overly forthright and out-spoken, but for me being direct about issues that affect all our lives and futures is as fundamental to being an effective elected representative as is having the courage of my convictions and the confidence to match words with deeds.
So, while I may have made some decisions or said some things that some consider off-message it comes down to these basic questions – What do you want from your politicians? Do want me to be straight with you, or would you rather be kept in the dark and placated with warm words to sooth?
These are fundamental questions, and surely the only sensible answer is “of course I want the truth”. But from the sexed-up case for the Iraq war to the currently misplaced confidence invested in aspects of Covid strategy, we know the implications of fudging the truth on geopolitical stability down through the ages, and we can see how it distorts our understanding and our response to the pandemic.
Telling people the truth is not always easy, indeed it can be incredibly hard, yet it is almost always necessary.
Life before politics
In my life before politics, I had a successful career in cancer nursing. Originally training as a mental health nurse, following further study I took that experience into the world of cancer care. My clinical specialty was in adolescent services, principally dealing with blood cancer and bone tumours. Further to this I led cancer services at University College London Hospitals as Senior Nurse, and latterly was Nurse Director for the Rare Cancer Division at the internationally esteemed Royal Marsden Hospitals. All this experience is invaluable to my practice in politics and that rich life experience and expert knowledge is the lens through which I assess the ethics, humanity and justness of policy and legislation.
As a cancer nurse there have been many times in my life where telling patients and their loved ones the truth was unbelievably tough, yet it was a necessary part of the job. This was no more so apparent than during my years as Charge Nurse on University College London Hospitals’ Teenage Cancer Trust Unit.
The diagnosis of cancer during adolescence is thankfully a rare thing, but when such a diagnosis is made it is devastating. It’s like a bomb has gone off in family life, where nothing makes sense anymore and everyone around the young person is completely disorientated. In my mind’s eye I can still see the lift doors open to reveal the shellshocked faces of young people and their parents struggling to comprehend their unwelcome new reality.
There was no such thing as a routine admission. Some young people had been reasonably well prepared by the referring clinical team, but others arrived wondering why they’d been sent to a cancer unit. While the confirmation and delivery of any cancer diagnosis is a deeply significant moment, it happens in a surreal context where the disintegration of a world previously taken for granted is unique to everyone.
However, what was routine and fundamental across the multi-disciplinary team was a determination to provide confident, expert clinical practice, emotional support, information, honesty, and teamwork. In the first few days and weeks much of the information provided must be repeated as the young person and their family slowly adjust to the diagnosis, learn a new language of blood results, types of scans and tests.
In short, the team around the young person and their family must be the strength to bare their pain. Simultaneously there is a need to ensure they develop their own understanding, so they have confidence in the decisions they begin to make about their future treatment and care.
Although it may be first in the chain, breaking the news of a diagnosis of cancer is by no means the only tough conversation to be had, and not every tough conversation is necessarily ‘bad news’.
Loss of functions
The effective treatment of many types of cancer in young people can result in the reduction or complete loss of fertility. Explaining this to parents and young people can be just as devastating as the original diagnosis as they are confronted with a further significant loss, but there is also a need to talk about techniques to preserve fertility.
Females must consider fertility treatment and the freezing of unfertilised eggs or ovarian tissue. However, for males, the process for obtaining a sample is, well, more rudimentary. As this realisation dawns on the young men and their parents the levels of discomfort can go off the chart.
It’s often the dads who really struggle. They think it is somehow something they should know how to take care of, but they also know that this is not a ‘father-son’ conversation anyone prepares for. When they are reassured that this is a conversation I or one of my colleagues would have the release of pressure is palpable.
Of course, conversations don’t come tougher than when treatment hasn’t gone as hoped and it’s time to prepare for the worst. It’s a bit like the original diagnosis where there is a big event with the consultant and core team members, but it’s all the conversations that follow where much of the hard work is done. Where those uniformly wonderful young people I knew confronted their end-of-life choices with a maturity that still humbles me to this day.
Throughout all my days on the Teenage Unit the culture was imbued with compassionate, yet frank honesty and the importance and value of that culture lives in my memory.
I know that people have an enormous capacity to deal with the truth, however hard. To make good decisions they need and deserve to have the facts or an honest appraisal of the possible options before them. There is no value in sugar-coating tough information, or pretending everything is fine, it does not change reality. In fact, it disempowers us adding to a disorientation where hope and belief lose all sense of perspective and where bad or reckless decisions can and will be made.
Bringing that, and my subsequent NHS leadership experience into politics has not been without its risks. While I believe in being frank and truthful, it can be perceived or portrayed as being disloyal or harsh, but just like cancer care politics effects real people’s lives, it demands an ability to deal with hard truths. And while I am not one to keep concerns to myself, it can be very frustrating when I find myself unable to provide the softer explorative and supportive work required to help someone adjust to sometimes uncomfortable realities.
This can be particularly tough on social media like Twitter, where one person’s brutal truth is another’s necessary information, but the message is often lost because most people are opinionated (like me) and have a strong political position (me also).
However, the exchange of information, facts and ideas needs somewhere to be explored, considered, and debated. While I do not have a solution to hubris and hyperbole, I do know that I can’t and won’t sit on my hands or shut my mouth when I see injustice, malfeasance, or mendacity.
Nature and nurture
We are all products of our life experiences, and our history of learning informs our future behaviour and choices. I am enormously privileged to serve the cause of independence as an ALBA party MP and I take my responsibility to speak up and speak out seriously. I know as well as anyone that the messages I give can be hard to hear and sometimes unwelcome, but for independence to be realised we must resolve to have sufficient collective honesty to deal with every obstacle placed in our way.
As a movement we share a common purpose. However, to have confidence in the Scotland we collectively seek to build, we must be sufficiently secure to accommodate honest and forthright debate. It is only through such a policy of truth, industry and trust that we will truly become a nation again.
James Neale Hanvey (born 28 December 1964) is an Alba Party politician who has served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath since 2019. Formerly a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), he left the SNP to join the Alba Party in March 2021. He was the SNP member and spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Select Committee and he was briefly Shadow Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment. Born in Belfast, Hanvey was the son of James Stafford Hanvey and Mary Isobel (Ismay) Hanvey (née Withers). He was educated at Glenrothes High School before starting a twenty-five year career in the National Health Service. In 2005, he was appointed as divisional nurse director for rare cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital. He has been a contributing author to medical textbooks.
Neale Hanvey MP has written to senior parliamentarians at Westminster calling for a “united front” to defeat the proposed draconian powers to limit the right to peaceful demonstrations and protest at the Scottish Parliament. He has written to former Conservative Cabinet Minister David Davies MP, SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP, Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray MP and Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Spokesperson for Scotland Wendy Chamberlain MP. This follows the request from the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) to the Home Office for the power to remove protestors under threat of criminal prosecution from the Scottish Parliamentary Estate. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Designated Scottish Sites under Section 129) Order 2021 (SI 2021, No. 1021) will come into force on1 October, unless it is annulled.
In this article Professor Alfred Baird looks at recent policies of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the nascent ALBA party in relation to Scotland’s civil and constitutional rights. He finds the SNP severely wanting, and hopes ALBA will not stray from its core reason for existing.So long as Scotland is governed by Westminster, its taxes and oil profits sucked into the UK Treasury to be spent on England’s priorities, so long will Scotland be the immature adolescent neighbour living on pocket money.
The ALBA party’s inaugural conference in which its executives and members reaffirmed their total commitment to an autonomous Scotland made glaringly obvious how far the SNP had strayed from its core ideal. In the 1980s one could have attended Labour party conferences to hear speeches on ‘Home Rule’, Scotland later ‘granted’ a limited-power devolved assembly (removal of Scottish ownership in North Sea Oil taken as a quid pro quo) given the patronising title ‘Executive’.
This title reflected its status – a subordinate colonial administration. The comedian Billy Connolly was quick to cast Holyrood as a ‘pretendy parliament’. Though the remark was glib and crass, it touched upon the reality of the assembly being a fraudulant democracy. All the parties dominating the assembly were unionist parties – a phony choice – its election system composed to ensure the one independence party, the SNP, remained a minority contributer.As frustration with the inability to make real change to society’s ills grew, and the imposition of wars Scotland had never begun but were expected to support in troops and taxes, chiefly the Iraq fiasco, scunnered Scotland’s voters, the SNP was seen as a choice worth making. They were finally elected to govern, taking London by surprise and angering London’s power elite.
THE FUNDAMENTAL CASE FOR FREEDOM
The first ALBA Party conference re-affirmed the quest for independence as being the main priority. Thereafter the emphasis rather reverted to type, however, with energy focused on a wide range of the usual aspirational policy areas; alleviating poverty, removing nuclear weapons, developing clean energy, managing social security payments better, and so on. Whilst important, it might be argued these are all symptoms of the real illness, which relates to the fact that people in another country are still making most of the big decisions on our behalf.
Alex Salmond talked eloquently of ALBA’s priority ‘to inform our fellow citizens of the case for independence’. He declared that: ‘what wins people to the independence cause is the arming of the people with information’. He talked here about giving people ‘the facts and figures illustrating the fundamental case for freedom’ and referred to Wing’s Wee Blue Book which he believed helped shift significant numbers of people to the cause last time round, and the need now for a similar publication.
But, is the matter of Scottish independence really that simple? Will presenting a few ‘facts and figures’ really convince people of ‘the fundamental case for freedom’? And was that ‘fundamental case for freedom’ really defined or explored by the first ALBA conference? We talk about independence but do the Scottish people really understand what independence means and why it is necessary?
Neither the leader of ALBA nor any of its speakers discussed what Gareth Wardell (aka Grouse Beater) termed our ‘colonial reality’, as he addressed what he called ‘the indigenous people of Scotland’ at the ALBA conference. Wardell is the first person to be honoured by ALBA for his contribution to the cause as one of the leading thinkers and yes, philosophers on Scottish independence; so, let us duly consider his message.
According to the UN, independence and decolonisation represents the ending of the scourge of colonial oppression over a downtrodden indigenous people; is this not then the real justification and hence ‘the case for freedom’ of any people seeking national liberation? In this context Wardell reminded ALBA delegates of a key feature of colonialism, primarily that ‘the people who make decisions for us Scots are not in Scotland’; so long as that remains the case, our people will continue to feel culturally inferior and, moreover, internationally we will remain, as Albert Memmi said, ‘out of the game’.
So, fundamentally, we must address our colonial reality, and that begins by first acknowledging and understanding the deceitfu an mankit naitur of our colonial subjugation in the quest towards what Wardell rightly described as ‘reinstating Scotland’s liberty’; for that is what independence means.
The Independence movement
In addition to listening to politicians, we really ought to listen a bit more to what is a rapidly developing intellectual wing of the independence movement, which decolonisation environments always tend to produce; and not least because this is where many of our best ideas, concepts, theoretical perspectives and hence our deeper level of understanding comes from. It is no accident that an astute ALBA leadership laud the excellent work of leading indy bloggers, for their ongoing intellectual contribution is crucial to the cause of independence.
Unlike many other former colonies this intellectual wing cannot come from inside Scotland’s elite universities which are arguably the most status-conferring and conservative institutions promulgating a British and Anglophone cultural hegemony, and in which barely one tenth of the academics nowadays are Scots anyway. Rather, the intellectual ‘wing’ of the independence movement is epitomised by the extensive online writings and discussions of indy bloggers such as Wardell-Grouse Beater, Iain Lawson at Yours for Scotland, the now imprisoned Craig Murray, Roddy MacLeod at Barrhead Boy, and a few others. It is they who are the essential radical intellectuals and it is they who, to use the revolutionary metaphor, are ‘standing on street corners handing out leaflets to an oppressed people’. Why do we think it is they and other leading independence campaigners who are being so targeted by the forces of colonialism, and through legislation coming out of the Holyrood colonial administration?
What is independence about?
Is national liberation and ‘the case for freedom’ not about rather more than political policies on this and that, some ‘facts and figures’ about the economy, the poond in oor pocket, or how we might better use our resources – if and when we ever get control over them?
Of course, we are doing the right thing here in exploring policy options for this and that and aw thing else for ‘efter’ independence; however, this is not the same thing as presenting the real ‘fundamental case for freedom’ and independence, and especially the ‘why’ of independence, as well as the ‘how’ of independence. In other words, we need to ensure the Scottish people really do understand why independence is necessary and how independence will be delivered, in addition to how they might benefit personally and collectively afterwards.
Arguably the vast majority of the Scottish people today do not yet know what independence really is, what it actually means, or even why it is necessary. This results in ongoing confusion and misapprehension which a few ‘facts and figures’ will not necessarily overcome. Many Scots appear to think independence is merely about a change in governance and in political ideology and policies, perhaps a wee shift from right to left.
The people do not yet understand that independence is about a downtrodden people removing an oppressor and reclaiming their culture, their land, thair ain braw langage, their very soul and hence their very being; in other words, yes, their ‘freedom’. Independence is also about preventing a people from losing their national identity and their existence through ongoing colonial exploitation, oppression and the cultural assimilation, the latter facilitating our domination and with that creating and perpetuating structural societal inequalities.
ALBA versus SNP
ALBA appear to be going about setting up its organisational structure in much the same way as that of traditional political parties. We see created a ‘youth’ wing, a ‘woman’s’ wing, and an ‘ethnic/Asian minorities’ wing. Whilst admittedly this represents an important feature of today’s politics, we should not forget that independence is fundamentally about the liberation of an entire oppressed minority ethnic group and nation – i.e. the Scots and Scotland – contained within the context of a ruling British state and Anglophone hegemony.
The SNP has previously gone down the route of prioritising, elevating and legislating for the ‘rights’ of numerous minority interest groups, and we see where that has gone – shifting the independence movement in a very long diversion from the core aim, and arguably resulting in the replacement of that core aim, in addition to often questionable legislation being brought forward to ‘protect’ the interests of minority groups (and lobby groups!).
The next part of ALBA’s development strategy is to contest local government elections. Whilst again this is a normal feature of traditional political parties, the reality is that no matter how many ALBA councillors may be elected this will not secure independence either. Some may say the experience as councillors stands people in good stead to become career politicians, but do we really want or need career politicians?
The ALBA strategy, structure therefore appears similar to the development process of any other mainstream political party. However, securing national independence is not about mainstream party politics, nor is it about political ideologies of left or right. Independence is far more important than this, being primarily about the national liberation of an entire people. The quest for independence therefore requires and depends on a different approach to the standard party political strategy or organisational structure.
An independence movement does not need another political organisation that thinks and behaves like a mainstream political party; we saw what happened with the SNP as it followed that same developmental process. What an independence movement requires is a political leadership, a focus, a strategy and an organisation structure that reflects and can deliver on the fundamental goal, which is independence and the liberation of an entire people.
Questions to ask
In this respect there are clearly questions to be asked on ALBA Party strategy and structure, which are matters that link back to the vision and strategic planning that takes place in any major organisation. In the context of national independence, that primary objective is often confused by mainstream party political factors and influences and the perceived need to focus attention on a range of other factors. Here ALBA to some extent seems to be mirroring the old SNP approach, an approach which admittedly got close but failed to deliver independence, and an approach which also arguably failed to convey to most Scottish people the real reason for independence. The fundamental philosophical rationale for independence remains a political void because the people still have limited understanding about what independence really is about and why it is necessary.
The Scots must first begin to understand the root of their inequality, their subordinate status (within the UK union charade) and their oppression. The people must also understand why they still hold and value a Scottish ethnic identity – though it is ebbing away – and why they exhibit a Scottish national consciousness which is what provides the primary motivation and desire for independence and national liberation. This national consciousness, as with any ethnic group, is based on our Scottish culture and Scots language – a langage oor bairns dinnae e’en lairn in schuil – such is the inferior regard for a native mither tongue under colonialism, despite being a fundamental part of who we are.
An ersatz English existence
As Gareth Wardell reminded us, an oppressed people are lacking in confidence and opportunity; this is because their culture and language and hence their ethnicity is rendered an inferior status under colonialism. The scourge of colonialism is not predicated only on class but on status which reflects an ethnic and cultural division of labour, and hence institutionalised ethnic oppression, i.e. racism. And here we can be sure that colonialism always involves racism.
The Scots must therefore understand that independence is about decolonisation, which reflects the desire and human right of any people to bring to an end their colonial domination by another people and another culture, and its language and ‘values’. They must understand that colonialism involves: racism, prejudice, and worse; that colonialism depends on force and lies at the root of fascism; that colonial oppression involves ethnic discrimination which is culturally and linguistically driven; and that colonialism is the root cause of inequality among a subjugated people in a bountiful though economically exploited and plundered land.
Here, inequality is reflected in an ethnic and cultural division of labour which favours the dominant culture and language, which is Anglophone. In Scotland the indigenous Scots language is intentionally marginalised, is not taught, and is considered invalid; yet most Scots remain ignorant of their cultural oppression and the critical importance of language in the context of national identity.
As Wardell said at the ALBA conference: ‘it wasn’t until I came into contact with the people who made decisions, and they weren’t in Scotland’. This in large part reflects an imposed ethnic and cultural division of labour that lies at the root of inequality and the lack of opportunity too many Scots still face, and will always face under colonial and cultural domination.
Independence is people power
Independence is inevitably about a people taking control (and from whom must control be wrested from, other than the colonial usurper?) over their nation’s affairs, as well as its land, seas, borders and population. Independence is necessary to ensure and maintain the sovereign integrity of a people and their nation which may all too readily be diminished and ultimately extinguished through imposed cultural and population change. Colonial driven demographic change can result in the loss of a peoples’ sovereignty – as reflected by major changes over time in the national identity and sense of belonging of a population; this process may continue to occur as each year passes under colonial domination.
The wholly negative effects of colonialism are not therefore well understood in Scotland, yet this is a fundamental aspect of nationhood and a key determinant of independence which was not even discussed during the ALBA conference, and is never explored in any SNP conference. This reflects an institutional and political failure to understand and appreciate even the basic desire and motivation for independence and the critical importance of protection of a peoples’ sovereignty, the latter arguably the highest political priority.
If those advocating independence never mention, never mind analyse the C-word – colonialism – then how do we hope to ever address our predicament and the rationale for independence and hence decolonisation?
The ‘why’ of independence is always the same – which is to bring about decolonisation and the ending of the oppression of a people. Yet Scots never talk about independence in this way, despite repeated and blatant disrespect and deceit by the colonial power, Scotland’s enforced Brexit and rejection of successive electoral mandates in favour of holding another independence referendum being merely the latest examples.
The ‘how’ of independence
A National Party with the aim of national liberation must plan and set out its proposals to liberate the people. Instead, with ALBA and also previously with the SNP what we see is much discussion and debate of policies on this and that, which may or may not be developed and implemented after independence. This focus on policy factors as rationale for independence is largely superfluous and premature and often assumes the main challenge – which is to secure independence – will somehow be achieved at some point in time. Such focus also still ignores the lack of essential comprehension by the people of what independence is and why ‘their’ independence and liberation is necessary.
In this sense the proposed ‘Wee ALBA Book’, while no doubt informative, is primarily going to tell folk how better off the less well-off sections of society might be in an independent Scotland and how life might look in a ‘socially just’ society; but it will be unlikely to expand on or explain the fundamental truth of the matter behind our longstanding institutionalised inequality and oppression, which is to do with our colonialism and the forceful subjugation and exploitation of a people, their culture and language, and the theft of their resources. Neither will it explain to the people the fundamental purpose of independence nor the reasons why independence is necessary in the first place.
Without this basic understanding of what independence is, and why Scotland is not independent, or what independence really and actually means and why it is necessary, we will always be left with a mostly mis-informed people and a confused cause lacking strategic direction. It is this lack of focus which then gives rise to a reliance on inappropriate traditional British political party structures and strategies, as was and remains the case with the SNP, and stands to be so with ALBA unless a different approach is considered.
Independence is about civil and constitutional rights
So let’s think about this, about how we can better communicate to the people what independence really is about and why it is necessary. Once we tell the people the true story of their wretchedness, their exploitation and culturally enforced inferiority they will surely move to support the cause, which is a just and right cause that must prevail.
And let’s develop a political party – ALBA or otherwise – that is structured and focused only on delivering that essential message and objective – to return sovereignty and yes, freedom, to the Scottish people.
NOTE: Professor Baird has written an analysis of Scotland’s colonial straight-jacket in his publication: ‘Doun-Hauden: The Socio-Political Determinants of Scottish Independence’. The article is also published in the blogsite of ‘Barrhead Boy’.
“It will be an offence to enter the area without lawful authority. That simple fact will deter protest, don’t you think? A sheriff won’t listen to a defence that “I read on Twitter that it would only be enforced in extremis…” Roddy Dunlop QC
Holyrood Parliament is changing its legal status to make it easier for the police to removedemonstrators, whether angry or peaceable, individual or group. This is a full-frontal assault on collective freedom of expression, a people’s parliament ring-fenced from the hoi polloi. Before going into detail about the imaginary threat to a building already well protected against terrorist bomb attack, and by breach of the peace laws, it is worth comparing attitudes to democratic assembly elsewhere.
Three examples – Pompidou Art Centre
When the innovative architect Richard Rogers (thought English but born in Florence, Italy) was commissioned by the Parisian authorities to create a high quality arts building in a run-down district of Paris, the Beaubourg area of the 4th arrondissement of Paris, near Les Halles, he created a modern masterpiece for people to use. The Pompidou Centre for the modern arts, including contemporary music, was to be as much an architectural attraction as the activities within it. Rogers drew up plans for his now famous inside-out building.
The first condition was, it had to be a living space for people to work in and visit. The second stipulation was it had to have a large area for people to congregate outside, accessable to the non-ambulant, to meet, talk, debate politics, play music and entertain. Discussion and art was not to take place behind closed doors alone. The city gave Rogers a vast area of land to create the ideal, which he did to international and local acclaim.
To accommodate his brief, Rogers created a very large sunken public area along one side, the area surrounded on three sides with stone steps where people can sit, or use as an auditorium. In other words, a modern version of the Greek amphitheatre. Both assembly area, building and the town around them have been a rip-roaring success. A poor area was rejuvinated almost overnight. restaurants, cafes and shops sprang up, and old residential buildings renovated. The world came to see the unusual Pompidou structure. And if people protested some political matter they used the open public space, not crowd around the centre’s main entrance.
Second example – Alexanderplatz
A second example, surrounded by tall modern buildings, the historical Alexanderplatz in Berlin. The wide square is famous for being the traditional seat of city government. The Rotes Rathaus, or Red City Hall, is located there, as was the former East German parliament building, the Palast der Republik. On May 1st, 2015 a sculpture of four large bronze chairs, three holding people standing on them, the fourth empty, was unveiled by Patrick Bradatsch together with artist Davide Dormino. The first speaker to use the empty chair, the journalists and those who joined the event, made clear the fourth chair was for public protests, or a kind of weekly speaker’s corner, the entire square free to groups to use for similar purposes.
The sculpture ‘Chairs of Courage‘, has the power to make people grow and change their point of view. The chair has a double meaning. It can be comfortable, but it can also be a pedestal to rise higher, to get a better view, to learn more. You can be a person with a topical point of view and a megaphone, or a revolutionary radical. You can use the sculpture to shout about the price of beer or the unlawful incarceration of whistle-blower Julian Assange. (History is rarely kind to contemporary revolutionaries.) It takes courage to act, to stand up on that empty chair and face the public with your grievance.
Third example – Athens Assembly
Finally, there is the seat of democracy itself, in Athens, Greece. The ancient Greeks were the first to create a democracy. The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words, people (demos) and rule (kratos). It is generally accepted the Athens Assembly used nothing more than a large rock on which anybody of any status in society, rich or poor, property owner or stall holder, male or female, with a complaint or protest could stand upon the flat-topped boulder, lay forth their point of view at set times in the week, for a limited number of minutes.
The elected members of the Assembly were obliged to attend and hear out the complainers, or those offering praise of some issue, one after the other. Those protesting about a new law they disliked for some unacceptable reason, or the price of sheep, did not have to apply in advance to speak as nowadays, nor were they banned from speaking if making negative comments. Dissidents complaining of corruption were given similar respect. They were heard, the essence of democracy.
Holyrood got the short straw
Now let me turn to our seat of government, the Holyrood Parliament. We have the rudiments of a representative democracy. It is not yet a constitutional democracy, and of course, it remains a sub-democracy burdened, some argue suffocated, by colonial rule.
The Spanish architect Enrico Miralles Moya – why a Scot was not chosen remains a mystery – was intent on making the building his magnum opus, his all-time signature statement. Nothing in the building was to contain art that was not his art. To accomplish that he created walls fixed at odd angles. Massive ceiling struts were exposed causing visual dissonance. He managed that though confined to a too small footprint by Donald Dewar, the inaugural Labour First Minister. He insisted Miralles’ concept was stuck at the bottom of ther Royal Mile on far too small an area to contain his design of three ‘upturned Scottish fishing boats’. Talk of a public meeting area outside the parliament was soon gobbled up by expanding buildings.
Miralles was warned of impending disaster, Dewar too. Miralles ignored the experienced advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission, an august body (now disbanded), that reviewed architect’s plans for sensitive conservation areas – where were MSP’s car parks? what happens when MSP numbers increase? That is why we have a Parliament that cannot contain the work of indigenous artists not resting on an easel, nor barely accommodate groups outside. And now our parliamentarians want dissidents off the street.
The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), is made up of 5 people: 2 Greens, 1 SNP and 1 from the other parties. MSPs Maggie Chapman, Jackson Carlaw, Claire Baker, Christine Grahame, Alison Johnstone asked Priti Patel to designate Holyrood a “protected site” to allow police to remove demonstrators in “the interests of national security”. (See actual legislation red below.) I repeat, this request came from our elected representatives accountable to us when we are not in a war situation.
The SPCB’s excuse that the legislation will not affect ‘peaceable’ protest is bunkum. All it takes is one individual sent to cause a ruckus among a group and the police can arrest the lot. If they do not like the look of a demonstration they will need no other excuse to move them on.
An immature administration
This is the act of a weak, frightened, immature government acting against the people. While ‘free’ speech is something of a myth – all speech carries responsibility – the assembly of lawful protest is a cornerstone of a democracy. Closing down dissent has been an accelerating trend pushed by Nicola Sturgeon’s administration for the reason of dominating political progress.
From Internet pile-ons against individuals disliked by the party, including SNP’s own MPs and MSPs, to SNP organised newspaper campaigns vilifying private citizens who use social sites, the SNP has become the party of intolerance, of exclusion. This is the hallmark of a political leader struggling to contain a rise in noisy unpopularity. The malady is of her own making. In this regard, and with a majority augmented by the Green Party, it puts the SNP in the same dishonorable category as Boris Johnson’s far-right corrupt gang, governance by the elite.
Get aff the SNP’s grund!
From next month it will be a criminal offence to remain on the parliamentary estate “without lawful authority” punishable by a £5000 fine or a year in jail after a conviction. This could apply to breaking up short-term protests, as well as preventing people setting up camps in the grounds, such as the pro-independence camp evicted in 2016. Women’s groups demanding protection of their rights are as vulnerable to arrest as much as one old man waving a stick.
The change, which will apply to all the landscaped grounds and ‘ponds’ area where most protests take place, (see map below), brings Holyrood into line with Westminster and the Welsh Senedd. As a separate nation with its own law and police force, the question arises, will Scotland’s electorate stomach this official move to censor political speech? So far, England has seen marches in its main cities, riots in Bristol.
Defining para-martial law
A friend asked me to define my profound objection to the draconian curfew. The move to block the right to protest outside our own parliament is a seriously mistaken principle. It assumes anything anybody has to say that is counter to acceptable orthodoxy is hate speech or ugly. Such laws are used to keep one section of society dominant, in this case Scottish National Party officials.
If implemented, that is the way the law will continue to be used, gathering adherents as events progress. There are plenty of act-tough members of the public who welcome severe authoritarian measures, hoping a whip hand keeps people, wives and dogs in line.
People who think censorship a healthy thing want a quiet life. This is a tactical mistake for it frustrates the dissident. The remedy is to find where the concerns come from, their roots, and offer a solution. A democracy accepts you have to listen to your opponent’s argument and learn how to fix it. By silencing honest protest and imprecise ‘hate speech’, you amplify its appeal. Instead of fining the human rights activist Craig Murray, he was given a ludicrously long sentence in prison, thus making an elderly man, a non-criminal, into a public martyr of international interest.
Banning demonstration because they upset people is infantile. The intended effect of protest is to disrupt but also to raise awareness of injustice. Restricting protests based on an undefined noise limit or visual clutter, is a clear violation of the freedoms of expression and assembly.
Up pops MI5
Only one day after this news broke the Scots-born director of MI5, Ken Douglas MacCallum – there’s always a Scot aiding and abetting the goals of the British state, never enough to run Scotland say our tormentors – was given head billing in the media of iminent terrorist attacks, as if Scotland is a hotbed of terrorist cells waiting to pounce on Stoneybridge Council’s weekly dog litter meetings. (In reality, Scotland has Tory colonial cells all over the place running our institutions or having set up offices, units of control.)
MI5 warnings of exestential threat may be a coincidence, but one can bet one’s last dollar our parliamentarians will incorporate the terrorist excuse for implementing the piss-off, go home or get jailed, laws, around a building where every window is barred with steel ‘staves’. To enforce the loss of rights, our police will be well-and-truly politicised. That is fascist territory.
Nicola is no innocent bystander
Nicola Sturgeon knows about this preposterous withdrawal of our human rights.
The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body said: “We are also operating in the context of an increasing level of disruptive activity, including protests on our roof requiring specialist policing and emergency services response, and unauthorised occupation of the Debating Chamber. Actions such as these have the potential to disrupt the Parliament’s ability to meet. Given these factors, the SPCB has, for some time now, been considering options to ensure Parliament’s resilience, including applying for approval under section 129 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) to be designated as a protected site in the interests of national security. At the SPCB’s meeting on 24 June 2021 we took the decision to proceed with the application for designation to the UK Home Office as the department with responsibility for national security.”
A time to go
It has become blasé to laugh at demands for the resignation of the First Minister for any old thing that happens to annoy belligerent attention seekers. However, in this instance, if Nicola Sturgeon refuses to condemn the legislation and outlaw it, she should be forced to leave office. The law will breach basic human rights. She is taking Scotland backwards, acting as if Boris Johnson’s stooge in Holyrood.
The last word belongs to a member of the public: “It saddens me that some members of my family are defending this action. Well I’m not, it’s wrong, and it’s the wrong message to send out about our Parliament which should not fear the people” Fiona Grahame
NOTE: Plan of the Scottish Parliament. The area contained within the dotted lines will be off-limits to protestors and political debate, which is to say, our parliament itself. The legislation exploited is: “approval under section 129 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) to be designated as a protected site in the interests of national security.”