Sunday, 1 September 2013

More Power to our Enemies

It is easy to forget that in the History of the SNP they have not always been in favour of a devolved Scottish Parliament.

Going back as far as the period immediately after the Second World War it saw "King" John McCormick depart the organised Nationalist movement over the unacceptability of his view that half a loaf was better than no bread.

The decision by the Nationalists to support the 1979 Devolution scheme was not without internal controversy and in the aftermath of that process they reverted to an absolutist position of Independence or bust which led to them refusing to participate in the Constitutional Convention and even caused momentary doubt about whether they would campaign for a Yes vote in the 1997 Referendum.

Insofar as there was an SNP strategy to achieve independence during these periods of disengagement from the wider home rule movement it anticipated a sort of democratic insurrection.

A majority of Westminster seats would be secured and then that majority would withdraw from Westminster and declare the formation of a sovereign Scottish ParliamentGovernment. Essentially this was modelled on the formation of the Dail Eireann by Irish Nationalist MPs after they won a majority of Irish seats at the 1918 UK General Election.

Issues such as whether a majority of seats might have been achieved based on something well short of a majority of votes (something Labour has done in Scotland for the best part of fifty years) were kind of glossed over in this scenario, in keeping with much of the woolly thinking of the Nationalists at the time. But so was how  this "sovereign" Parliament might proceed once set up, for there was no "Scottish" Government for them to take control of, only the British Government in Scotland. Indeed that was the Nationalists principal complaint!

So what would they do if their Parliament was ignored by Westminster? And more importantly, if at the direction of Westminster, or more precisely, "The Queen in Parliament", it was ignored by the Police, by local government and by the myriad agencies, from Tax Offices to Post Offices, essential to the operation of a modern state?  Ultimately, what would it do if it was ignored by the "British" Army?

The only official answer to this was similar to the Nationalist answer to many post referendum questions today. That counter-intuitively, the English Government which had treated us appallingly while we were in the same Nation State would suddenly become the soul of reason once we'd decided to set up a nation state of our own.

But of course there was always a less official answer lurking in the background. That in that scenario more direct action might be required.

And for that reason, the SNP were not, historically, as willing to completely distance themselves from those who showed a willingness to participate in that direct action as their impeccably democratic rhetoric might have suggested should be the case.

And I actually have some sympathy for that position. It was an entirely natural, indeed almost reasonable, feature of the commitment to a democratic insurrection. And, so long as it continued to be utterly intolerant of the handful of "Tartan terrorist" elements who contemplated an undemocratic insurrection; which intolerance, to be fair, has always been the overwhelming mainstream Nationalist sentiment, there was no great harm in it.

But, politically, the insurrectionist route to Independence always had far too many imponderables to be attractive to a Country which (WW2 Bombing aside) had last seen major organised violence on its soil as long ago as 1746.

All logic dictated that Independence would only be achieved through some sort of half way house of the creation of a non-sovereign Scottish Parliament  and a Government machinery at least partially directly answerable to it. That Parliament and that Government could then press on to its "logical" destiny. Indeed it is that version of history which the SNP are selling to us in the Referendum campaign as having always been the only game in town.

But there was a consequence of the Nationalists earlier flirtation with direct action and that hurt them politically before and, initially, after 1999. Much of Scottish Civil Society saw some part of the Nationalist movement as little better than a rabble, immune to rational thinking and not necessarily to be trusted to behave within democratic norms.

That was the unspoken thinking which underpinned Labour's comfortable victory in 1999. The SNP were no less trusted to "stand up for Scotland" then than they are now. They just weren't trusted to do so very democratically. And the Nationalists knew it.

And the guy who sorted that out was not Alex Salmond (although he was its ultimate beneficiary). It was John Swinney.

During his brief leadership, it was he who professionalised the SNP, modernised its internal democracy and, most importantly for the purpose of this argument, made clear to the wild men that if they wished to prosper in the Party they should keep their wildness well out of sight. Better still, they might actually decide to join civilisation or depart the stage altogether.

So, by 2007, my own Party's argument, that, if you couldn't thole the Tories, the only option in the Scottish Parliament was Labour or anarchy, simply didn't ring true with the electorate. And, having put their toe in the water, the voters were rewarded between 2007 and 2011 with patently competent government with patently reasonable people in its ranks.

And even I can see the attraction of a strategy that then proceeds on the basis that these competent and reasonable people should be given the powers of independence if that's what they believe is necessary in the interests of the Nation.

Which is why I am so bemused that Yes Scotland has been allowed, for the purposes of the Referendum, to allow the wild men back out of their cage.

I am moved to this thought by this this brief video of the "demonstration" that took place outside of Yesterday's launch of Better Together Glasgow. It was accompanied inside by another "patriot" whose contribution was to shout abuse until he was thrown out. There was no secret made of the intention to carry out this exercise which was advertised on Yes Scotland websites. The guy in the "see you Jimmy wig" is such a caricature of a Scottish Nationalist of the old type that if we had thought him up for our propaganda then we would have been accused of everything from outdated stereotyping to racism. Yet his diatribe from start to finish through a loud hailer was supervised with approval, by all accounts, by a prominent SNP Councillor.

What conceivably did they think this would do to assist the Nationalist cause? The attendees at this event were self selecting No voters. Did anybody think they might be persuaded to change their vote in this manner? Or indeed that any don't knows visiting the Mitchell Library for other reasons would be impressed by the allies of the putative sovereign Government of Scotland.

Insofar as anybody from the higher ranks of the SNP or Yes Scotland was there at all, it should surely have been to tell him and his companions to get to...........You know the word that follows.

Yet disrupting or attempting to disrupt Better Together meetings is an avowed tactic of  some Yes Scotland supporters and indeed, since it has gone has gone uncommented on by their leadership, we can only assume it has their support. The Glasgow event is only the most high profile example to date.

A bit of advice. For the avoidance of any doubt, this is not the behaviour of people who undecideds are likely to entrust with greater power. It is not even the behaviour of democratic insurrectionists or democrats of any sort.

From a purely partisan point of view, long may it continue. I suspect however that Kevin Pringle knows that as well, even if Blair Jenkins patently doesn't.


  1. Time for our regular Sunday night game of Spot the Smartarse Inanity.

    And we have a good one to start with. One that nicely illustrates the self-serving inconsistency and duplicity of the British nationalist. As we know, it is the British parties, including British Labour, who cling to the first past the post (FPTP) electoral system. It is they who insist that the proportion of the vote obtained in elections is irrelevant and that it is only the number of seats won that counts for anything.

    Right up to the point, that is, when FPTP produces a result that they are not happy with. Then, all of a sudden, they rediscover the democratic principles for which they otherwise have only contempt.

    A minority of the votes cast is perfectly acceptable when it results in one of the British parties taking power. But for anyone who wishes to challenge the two-party faux-adversarial hegemony of the British state, the bar is set very much higher. They will require, at the very least, a clear majority of the votes cast if not an absolute majority of all those entitled to vote.

    Inanity number two (and I may have skipped a few in the interests of brevity) come in the form the reference to a "leadership" of Yes Scotland. This demonstrates an ignorance of the nature of the independence campaign that is strikingly common among British nationalists and just one of the things which gives rise to the distinct impression that they really don't have a clue what's going on.

    Yes Scotland has no "leadership" in the sense of a hierarchical structure of command. There is nobody at the top directing operations. It is not, as fools such as Ian Smart seem to imagine, an organisation akin to a political party.

    Yes Scotland is a grass-roots movement. It is not a monolithic structure but, rather, a loose aggregation of groups of various types and sizes each of which is quite autonomous.

    Any individual or small group of individuals is free to campaign for independence in any way they see fit. They don't need to seek permission or approval. And there is nobody who has the authority to withhold permission, far less prohibit whatever action is planned or even instruct the demonstrators on how they should behave.

    All of this is clearly incomprehensible to someone accustomed to the comparatively rigid regimentation of British Labour or their Tory allies with its obsession with keeping everybody "on-message".

    Somewhat ironically, the Better Together meeting referred to is illustrative of this control-freakery and phobia of any challenge to the "party line". The demonstration outside could hardly be more different. It was just a few people doing their own thing. One of the myriad different voices in the independence campaign all with the same fundamental message - that it is time to restore Scotland's rightful constitutional status.

    Nobody in Yes Scotland is instructing them on what to say and how to say it. Nobody in Yes Scotland has the right or the authority to reign them in if they get a bit "colourful".

    If it is important to "know thine enemy", then the British nationalists are failing miserably. From a purely partisan point of view, long may it continue. And I'm absolutely certain that Kevin Pringle would echo that sentiment.

    1. The Irony of course being, the seeking of an enemy when we are supposed to be 'better together', whilst what we can gain is a less adversarial system where progress is made through the co-operation of disparate groups and individuals.

      We will still all be here after 2014, yes or no, Those who don't get the message that co-operative working with people we may not agree with wholeheartedly will be the ones walking in the wilderness.

  2. The Labour party once claimed that the were the party of Home Rule and the workers, now they are for centralising power via their friends in the City. Labour especially the Scottish branch, ruled from London, is their default position and hate anything or anyone who jeopardises their individual grasp of untold riches and esteem down in the centre of the universe.

  3. You do use a lot of words to say very little but to miss the the entire meaning of the Yes campaign at this late stage is truly remarkable. Long may it continue.

  4. Ian,

    I'm more than a little surprised by your assumption that the managers of the YES campaign or the leadership of the Scottish National Party, should have or would have a veto upon how individual citizens choose to lawfully engage in the political process.

    Given your own recent incendiary racist remarks on twitter, don't you think many might consider it laughable that you deem yourself qualified to lecture others on how they should conduct themselves in the public space?