Monday, 6 May 2019

Keep quiet and carry on

Yesterday there was an article in the Sunday Herald entitled 'SNP declares war on cybernats' which was written by Neil Mackay, and in which there were quotes from Angus Robertson, Alyn Smith and Stewart MacDonald of the SNP on the subject of social media and the independence movement. 

The article itself was a travesty. In the third paragraph we see this:
They described online abusers as "cowards", "weird", "creepy", "snarling", "vicious", "poisonous" and "vile".
Wow, strong stuff!  Except if you read a lot further down you'll see that the above has been taken out of context.  For example, Stewart MacDonald
... described some abuse by Yes supporters as "creepy", "vicious and poisonous", and "vile"
So it's 'abusers' in the opening paragraphs, but 'abuse' in the actual quote.

Mr MacDonald also said
They hunt in packs and it looks weird to people.
Again, not the impression given by the opening paragraphs.  And, by the way, there are only two instances of the word 'weird' in the entire article: the quote from Mr MacDonald and the out of context use of the word in the preamble.  I could go on.

Mr Mackay defends his article by saying that he provides balance by mentioning abuse by Unionist supporters on social media.  He does indeed, but only in the final few paragraphs.  The ones that most readers won't read far enough to get to.

So, what's this about?  In my opinion, it's no coincidence that this appeared the day after the massively successful All Under One Banner march in Glasgow, during which there was no trouble.  Indeed the only abuse I heard was from the tiny Unionist counter-demonstration in George Square, most of which was drowned out by cheers, whistle-blowing and vuvuvelas from the marchers.  The above article will have served to divert attention from the success of the march and onto 'all online independence supporters are abusive idiots' instead.

The SNP have not done themselves any favours by being associated with this article.  Firstly because they seem to be the only political party who see it as their job to police all supporters of their key policy.  Do we have the Tories or Labour wringing their hands over abusive Brexit supporters on Twitter (of which there are many)?  No.  The SNP need to grow a pair, and point out that independence supporters are not necessarily SNP members, while condemning abuse from any side.

Secondly, the SNP are far too passive.  Day after day independence supporters see the usual lies being peddled by the Unionist-dominated media (variations on the theme of 'too wee, too poor, too stupid') and the SNP does nothing refute the stories.  It launched a fact checking service with great fanfare, which has turned out to be a resounding damp squib.  The 'cybernats' step into this breach, attempting to refute these inaccuracies as they see them.  Perhaps if the SNP were a little less passive this wouldn't be necessary.  It's this which leads to accusations of SNP politicians getting a bit too comfortable with their positions in the current Establishment.

Thirdly, the SNP need to get away from the impression they give of a paternalistic 'just keep quiet and leave everything to we grown-ups'.  Scottish independence is far bigger than the SNP.  They are a key part of it, but they are not the sum total of it, and the upper echelons would do well to remember that.

The other purpose that this article will serve is to scare the undecideds and soft Nos away from social media.  The social media arena is one where the Yes campaign dominates because the message is not filtered by media barons and the Establishment.  It's one of the strengths of online campaigning, as well as one of the weaknesses, because it allows any and all opinions on an equal footing.  While not in any way condoning the abuse that some have received online, it's in the nature of the beast.  Fortunately the trolls and abusers are a very small minority, which can be tackled at its simplest by simply blocking or ignoring the culprits or by reporting to the police where appropriate.

We are getting far to close to suppression of free speech and this is not a good thing.  It used to be the case that we believed in 'sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.'  That no longer seems to be the case.

I do not condone online abuse.  However, in the words famously misattributed to Voltaire, we should remember that
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.




Sunday, 24 March 2019

Division bell

Today Nicola Sturgeon appeared on the Andrew Marr show to give her views on Theresa May and Brexit more generally.  During the interview she stated that
Another Scottish independence referendum is going to happen. Nothing in this life is absolutely certain but I think it's as inevitable as its possible to be.
She also added
Before I set forward a path for Scotland I think it's reasonable for me to know what the starting point of that journey is going to be and the context in which we are going to be embarking on it. We need to know - and hopefully we will know this over the next few days and over the next three weeks. Is the UK leaving the EU? Is it leaving with a deal? Is it leaving with no deal or is it not leaving at all, perhaps looking at another referendum?"

 This should cheer up independence supporters, a minority of whom have been expressing their doubts that Ms Sturgeon still has any interest in pursuing Scottish independence.  In my opinion, if you look closely you can see the outlines of a long-term plan behind Ms Sturgeon's actions over Brexit, which includes doing her level best to ensure that Scotland's vote to remain in the EU is somehow taken account of, as well as forging ties with European leaders, whose support she will need in the event that Scotland takes back its rightful position as an independent nation.

Needless to say the usual suspects have trotted out their usual counters to this.  For example, Adam Tompkins, the Scottish Tories spokesman on constitutional affairs, said
Nicola Sturgeon's visit to London was a scam. She wasn't there because she cares about the UK leaving the EU or to try and influence proceedings in the coming days. She was there to agitate for a second independence referendum, and to set Scotland up for even more years of division. Independence is the only thing on her radar. Her obsession is stopping Scotland from getting on and doing the things that really matter to people.
This is somewhat amusing coming from a party that had a sole policy of 'say no to another independence referendum' in the most recent elections, but who nevertheless bring up the topic at every opportunity.  He also seems to have failed to notice that most of the things that really matter to people are doing pretty well under the SNP government, although there is always room for improvement of course.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union said
The only thing inevitable in politics is that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP want to create further division in society. Regardless of what she says about Brexit, the First Minister's priority will always be to break up the United Kingdom.
The interesting thing about these comments is that both stress that, in their opinion, a second independence referendum will cause 'division'.  This tends to imply that they think that, prior to the last independence referendum, Scots were a homogeneous people who all had the same opinion, namely that Scotland was and ever would be part of the United Kingdom.  This was never the case.

Their real issue is that the previous independence referendum got people thinking.  Maybe things don't have to be this way.  Maybe we can do things differently and better.  And having thought this people started having ideas about what an independent Scotland could look like, and how we could achieve those things.

People having thoughts and opinions are anathema to the Unionist parties.  The Tories, Labour and the LibDems simply regarded the Scots as voting fodder, useful only in playing their part in allowing these parties to play their games on the larger stage of Westminster.  No thinking required on the part of the electorate.

The previous independence referendum shattered that comfortable status quo for ever, and there is no going back,. however much the Unionists wish it.  Scots have woken up to the political realities of the Union, and nearly half of them (currently) are not minded to go back to sleep.  That's what terrifies the Unionists, hence their harping on about 'division', as if any population (other than in North Korea) has the same opinion about everything. 

Half of Scotland has already moved on.  It's time the Unionists started giving it some thought or be lost to history.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Beating a grouse

Yesterday a huge argument blew up about a blogpost by Grousebeater in which he examines the role of the GMB and Rhea Wolfson in the recent strike by female employees of Glasgow City Council in pursuit of their claim for equal pay.  The controversial passage was this:
In Part 1 of Mein Kampf Hitler attacks unions over an over again. Unions are fascism’s Public Enemy Number 1. He went further. He accused ‘The Jew’ of gradually assuming leadership of the trade union movement. Hitler wanted a blindly obedient fighting force loyal only to the national leader of government.
As it turns out Ms Wolfson is of Jewish heritage and apparently interpreted 'The Jew' as being a reference to this, despite the fact it is a direct quote from Mein Kampf illustrating how trade unions have been viewed unfavourably by Fascists in the past. This led to a complaint being made to the SNP (of which Grousebeater is a member) of antisemitism, which led to Grousebeater being suspended from the party pending investigation.  This has not gone down well with many party members, with some saying that they will consider their membership status over this.

I myself had similar thoughts, since the SNP have not covered themselves in glory by their handling of it, especially when they said that 'the blog should not have been shared by any SNP member'.  Indeed it was evident that some MSPs were commenting unfavourably on the blogpost without actually having read it.  On reflection, however, I will adopt a wait-and-see attitude.  Of course, being an SNP member and having shared the blogpost in question, this decision may well be taken out of my hands.

What people have to ask themselves is what do Labour have to gain from this?

The main players in the complaint are Rhea Wolfson and Neil Findlay, both of whom are of the Corbyn faction of the Labour party who are desperate to see their man in Downing Street after the next General Election.  (Bear in mind also that Ms Wolfson herself is a failed MP candidate from the last General Election). The party's Brexit 'strategy' is to let the Conservatives make a mess of Brexit on the basis that this will surely see them win the next General Election, at which point they can fix all of the problems that have been created.  One might think that it would be better to prevent the problems from occurring in the first place, but it must be borne in mind that Mr Corbyn is a Eurosceptic too, although for different reasons to most Conservatives.

Currently the polls are not in their favour.  They are in opposition to one of the most inept governments in living memory, whose handling of Brexit has been laughable, and they should therefore be out in front by a country mile in any polls on Westminster voting intentions.  Instead the two parties are pretty much tied, suggesting that the next election will see a hung parliament again.

Labour north of the border have never got over seeing Scotland as their private fiefdom in which they were entitled to Scottish votes in perpetuity and therefore see the SNP as a party which has 'stolen' their rightful votes.  In their view, in order to win a General Election, they need to get back all of the seats they lost in the recent past if Mr Corbyn is to stand any chance of winning the next General Election.  They therefore need some means of discrediting the SNP in order to try and win back those seats.  It is evident they will use any means possible to try to do this.  Indeed, one might think that the recent strikes are also part of this strategy.

The Labour party itself has recently had to deal with accusations of antisemitism, which have been quite damaging.  It is coincidence, I'm sure, that they are now using similar accusations against the party they see as their bitterest enemy in Scotland.

The fly in the ointment, however, is that even if the SNP loses some members over this, it does not necessarily mean that the voters will flock back to Labour.  Independence is the lynchpin of Scottish politics at the moment and Labour, being a Unionist party, is not going to pick up votes from those who support independence.

Was the blogpost antisemitic?  I don't think it was.  The reference to Hitler and his views was always going to be controversial, and could probably have been omitted without detracting from the point he was trying to make.  However, there is, as yet, no law against expressing your views, even if those views may be distasteful to some.  Let's hope we never become the sort of society where controversial views can no longer be expressed.




Saturday, 16 June 2018

Eyes on the Prize

Last week the SNP announced the results of the election for Depute Leader of the party. which was won by Keith Brown.  The Conservatives in Scotland were moved to tweet this in response:

At first glance, this would seem a nonsensical thing to say.  The Depute Leader of the SNP supports independence for Scotland?  Definitely high on the 'D'uh' scale. If you think about it, though, this reveals a little more than they might have thought.

Let's take the Labour party.  Formed in the late 19th century as the Independent Labour Party, this had its origins in the growing Trade Union movement and had as its aim the representation of working class interests in Parliament.  They formed their first government in 1924, and became the official opposition when not in government after that.  Fast forward to today, and the Tory and Labour parties are almost indistinguishable apart from some tinkering round the edges.  To all intents and purposes the Labour party has been absorbed into the Establishment and the threat they originally posed to the interests of the wealthy and property-owning classes has been essentially neutered.

Evidently the Establishment thought that the strategy that had worked well for Labour would also work for the SNP.  Give them some privileges, show them how things really work and they will soon be at the trough with the rest of them. The Establishment can relax once more, the threat to the their power neutered.

The tweet above reveals, I think, a certain frustration that the strategy doesn't seem to be working.  The SNP need to be very careful that they don't fall for the same tricks that the Labour party fell for and don't get too comfortable with their positions in Westminster and Holyrood.  First and foremost the aim of the SNP is to obtain a return to independence for Scotland, and they need to keep their eyes on this prize and not get too comfortable with the trappings of power as currently constituted.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Wha daur meddle wi' me

Last night the Westminster government essentially drove a coach and horses through the current devolution settlement by only permitting 15 minutes for debate on clause 11 of the EU Withdrawal Bill and filling that time with a speech from David Lidington, a Tory minister.  No Scottish MPs were allowed to speak.  This now means that powers being repatriated from Brussels which are currently within the competence of the devolved parliaments will be instead retained by Westminster.  The government claims that this will be for a period of seven years, after which the powers could be devolved once more.  However, a week is a long time in politics, and it's not as if the major parties have ever reneged on a promise before.  Oh wait...

The SNP's Commons leader, Ian Blackford, is permitted two questions at Prime Minister's Questions and today used one of them to request an immediate vote to hold a new debate on devolution issues connected to Brexit.  This was denied by the Speaker (although the rules permit it) and Mr Blackford was ordered to leave the chamber after refusing to resume his seat despite being told to several times by the Speaker.  He was followed by the entire contingent of SNP MPs.

This will have an interesting consequence.  The mainstream media did not think that the devolution part of the 'debate' last night to be of much interest to their readers, and we were lucky to see as much as a paragraph about it.  However, the SNP walkout has generated headlines, which will bring the matter to the attention of a large section of the population, who might just perceive that the SNP alone are standing up for Scotland's interests.

Another consequence of last night and today is that the SNP have seen a surge in applications to join the party, with almost 1,000 people joining today. Many individuals have tweeted that they have joined, generally saying that last night's sham of a debate was the final straw, and many of them also claiming to have been No voters in 2014 who have realised that they were lied to on 2014.

Also today an interesting post has been circulating regarding the Act of Union 1707 and a possible way in which it could be dissolved by legal means.  I am no lawyer, so cannot speak to whether this is the case or not.  However, it's worth remembering that Nicola Sturgeon was a lawyer before she was a politician.  One wonders whether we may be seeing a plan long in the making coming to fruition.  The case is due to be heard before the Supreme Court in late July, so watch this space.

It certainly seems that the events of the last 24 hours have seen Scotland finally waking up to what is being done to the devolution settlement and many are at last coming to a realisation of just how much we have to lose if the Westminster government is allowed to get away with what it is trying to do. And an awakened Scotland is exactly what the Westminster doesn't want.  Many Scots have come to like the fact that we have our own parliament again, even if it is restricted in what it can do, and would not want it removed.

The Stuart dynasty in Scotland had as a motto 'nemo me impune lacessit', which translates as 'no-one gets away with attacking me'.  The Scots translation is generally 'wha daur meddle wi' me' or, in English 'who dares to meddle with me'.  Scotland is awake and is becoming angry, and that might be all we need to remove ourselves from this very unequal union.   Let's make sure that we tell everyone what is being done to us.  The tide is turning and we need to be ready .

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Never trust a Tory

Today Ruth Davidson has written an article for the Guardian entitled 'My fellow Tories, I'm afraid the crash generation just doesn't trust us'.  It's been written on the back of a YouGov poll on behalf of the Centre for Policy Studies which says that
nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds say that there is zero chance of them ever voting Tory. 
Honestly I'm surprised that it's as high as that, especially as the following sentence says
 Among under-40s as a whole, those who says they are certain to vote Conservative is now less than one in 10.
 So logically it would seem that 18- to 24-year-olds are actually more likely to vote Tory than 25- to 40-year-olds?  She doesn't go into detail on this.

Anyway, not to worry, Ruth is on the case.  She goes on to say
But – after making gains in both the Scottish parliament and Westminster elections in recent years – it’s also something that we know we can change. There are some lessons for the whole party in our experience.
Now there's no denying that there are now more Conservative MPs and MSPs in Scotland than there have been for a generation, so she must be doing something right.  But if we look at the campaigns she ran for the last Holyrood and Westminster elections in Scotland her strategy consisted of 'never mind the policies, we don't want a second independence referendum' and 'vote for the Ruth Davidson party'.    In other words, she appealed to the die-hard Unionists in Scotland and carefully played down any mention of the Conservatives.  It worked for her this time, but one has to think that she has already reached the peak of that particular constituency.

Ruth goes on to say that her success is because
We’ve sought to make an optimistic, positive case about that union
She has?  She kept it very quiet then.  One of the things that Yes supporters have been asking for is a positive case for remaining in the Union, and we don't appear to be any further forward on that score as a result of either of Ruth's campaigns.  Dog-whistles about 'we don't need no stinking second referendum' don't really count as a positive case for anything.

So what's a Scottish Tory leader to do?  Trumpet Conservative values apparently. 
The younger generation, and society at large, is not yearning for a five-year plan of centrally delivered tractor quotas. Instead, we are a society that prizes individual autonomy and freedom of expression, and expects government to help us to achieve our goals, not set them.
Nice dog-whistle in the 'five-year plan' reference, which will quite possibly not work on younger generations, unless they've been studying the history of Soviet Russia.   As for 'prizing individual autonomy and freedom of expression', there's a great big unspoken addendum to that, which is 'as long as you don't expect anything more than lip-service to actual support'.  Tell that to disabled people, whose goals are to live a dignified and happy life, or students from poor backgrounds who don't have family money to rely on to get an education.   Life in Toryland is grand as long as you stand on your own two feet and don't expect any practical support.

Then we get to the meat of the matter.  Ruth is helping to launch a brand new think-tank.
Next week I will help launch Onward, a new think-tank, which will work to offer practical policies to support families across the country, focusing on the under-45s
Focusing on the under-45s presumably because the poll has told them that essentially their natural constituency is older people who have a bad habit of being more likely to die, thus whittling away at Tory support.

The major priorities will be affordable housing and education.  Sounds very laudable.  Who wouldn't want to improve these areas?  But here's the thing, the Tories have been in government at Westminster for a number of years now, and we have a shortage of affordable housing and, in some areas of the UK, the highest student debt ever.  Why should we believe that this time things will change?  Mind you, think-tanks are a perfect way of making it look as if something is being done while changing not very much at all.

I think that Ms Davidson and her cohorts underestimate the younger generation.  They're not stupid, and can see for themselves the utter mess that the current government is making of things. And it's not just the younger generation that don't trust them.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

They walk the line

You can't please all of the people all of the time.  All you can do is try to please as many people as possible most of the time.  This principle applies in all sorts of situations in life, and there's often a fine line to be walked.

The history of the Labour party is a good example of this.  It was originally formed out of the trade union movement, with the intention of representing the interests of the working class in politics and fighting for changes that would benefit the working man.  People would vote for it, especially in Scotland, trusting in their representatives to do their best for them.  However, gradually the party began to see working class votes as an entitlement which would enable the political class to get into power/remain in power - a means to an end, if you will.  This has led the the situation where the Labour party in Scotland has no idea how to campaign, because for many years they could rely on the working class voting for them by default without having to have too much in the way of policies to attract them.  Nowadays we hear a repeated cry of 'come home to Labour' aimed at voters in Scotland who are now voting for the SNP.  The Labour party in Scotland has not yet lost its sense of entitlement to votes.

The SNP, the main rivals to Labour in Scotland, would do well to learn from this example.  Following the referendum in 2014 they saw a massive increase in membership, mainly from supporters of independence who see the SNP as the main way in which this goal will be achieved.  Four years on, however, the SNP are in danger of falling into the same trap as Labour.  At branch level they seem to be seeing the massive increase in membership as a resource to be leveraged in order to get the SNP into power at all levels from local councils upwards.  In the process they appear to be losing sight of the bigger picture, the reason why many of the new members joined.

Most of the new members did not join in order to become embroiled in the local minutiae of bus routes, community councils and budgets. They joined in order to fight for Scottish independence and are not particularly interested in schools or waste collections.  There is a danger that, in losing sight of the bigger picture, the SNP leadership risk losing many of their new members, who will be quite happy to move on to some other group if they offer a more direct fight for independence.

The SNP as the Scottish government have concentrated on the past few years in offering decent governance, which is important in demonstrating that there is no reason why Scots can't run their own affairs competently.  However, at the moment the SNP seem to be forgetting their core reason for being, and would do well to bring it back into focus.

There will never be a time when the fight for independence will be without some risk.  No major change has ever come about without it.  The time is fast approaching where the SNP will either have to offer leadership in the struggle for independence or move over to allow other groups to take the lead, in the process becoming just like all the other political parties in Scotland.  Let's hope they opt for the former.