The BBC’s Pickle Nick

BBCbritbias

It’s now been confirmed what those of us who were paying attention had known all along. During the independence referendum campaign of 2014, senior journalists within the BBC saw their job as being to discourage and belittle the independence campaign, and not as being to report fairly on the biggest constitutional question facing Scotland for three hundred years. During that campaign, the BBC, a supposedly public service broadcaster, wasn’t acting as a public service. It was acting as a state service acting in the interests of the British state.

First of all was the news that the BBC’s Inside the Indyref documentary was to feature the story that the BBC’s senior political reporter Nick Robinson had taken over a news item first presented by BBC Scotland correspondent James Cook. James had presented a fairly balanced and nuanced report on a speech from the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, on his view of the currency union then being proposed by the Scottish Government in the event of independence. The speech didn’t rule out a currency union, and just last year Mark Carney confirmed that that a currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK would have been entirely feasible. At the time, Alex Salmond believed that Mark Carney’s speech had been helpful to the yes campaign.

That was, more or less, what James Cook had presented in his report. In the report James talked about how the Bank of England believed that “careful consideration” would be needed before entering a currency union. But Nick Robinson wasn’t at all happy with this. He took over the story and suddenly it became a dire warning of the economic cataclysm that would befall us all should a currency union go ahead. It would, according to Nick, raise the spectre of turning Scotland into Greece. Only without the sunshine, the boozed up Ryanair flights from Prestwick, and the ouzo. Nick explained that a good reporter should explain a story to the public and in his opinion the governor of the Bank of England was clearly warning that the sky would fall in.

Although this incident was reported in the press last week, and trailed as forming a part of the BBC’s documentary series on the referendum, it was omitted from the broadcast programme. Because reasons.

Now Nick’s intervention wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if there were other incidents, even just one incident, of a senior BBC reporter looking on a colleague’s reporting of an event during the independence referendum campaign and saying, “Here, just hang on a minute. That’s really terrible. It needs to be firmed up so that it paints a far clearer picture.” And it just so happened that the clearer picture to be painted was one that was favourable to the yes movement.” That’s what a lack of bias looks like. That’s how any reasonable minded person would define fairness and balance.

Such interventions do exist, unfortunately they only exist in one of those parallel universes visited in the cartoons by Rick and Morty. That would be the one in which Nick Robinson was in fact a giant sentient pickle. Pickle Nick! Although to be fair there are plenty of people in the Scottish quarters of this universe who believe that the BBC is disproportionately managed by vegetables anyway. However in this universe, you will search in vain for an intervention from a senior BBC figure seeking to present a news report in a more favourable light for the yes campaign. That’s about as unlikely to happen as an episode of Question Time from Motherwell that doesn’t feature a flute band member having a rant about how much he hates the SNP to a predominantly Brexit supporting audience. Now I’m not saying that it’s never happened. It’s just that if it has then I’ve got a televised interview with a pickled gherkin.

That was last week. Or in the case of the flute band member, most weeks. This week’s episode of the Inside the Indyref documentary features a contribution from former BBC correspondent Allan Little. Allan presented a documentary during of the indyref campaign in which he travelled to Scandinavia and looked at other small independent nations and how applicable the Nordic model would be to the very different circumstances of Scotland. It was widely regarded as being a balanced and fair contribution to the independence debate by someone who was concerned to present the issues in an equal handed manner. Unfortunately Allan doesn’t think that all of his BBC colleagues had the same concern as he did.

According to Allan, certain employees of the BBC thought that their job was to demonstrate the “foolishness” of voting yes, and believed that the independence movement was motivated by “chippy Scots” and the “wilyness” of Alex Salmond. In other words, the indyref coverage of some BBC reporters was motivated by their racist and negative stereotypes of Scottish people. Their working assumption was that independence was wrong.

In saying as much, Allan was merely confirming what the former Channel 4 presenter Paul Mason had said in the aftermath of the indyref that the BBC was a “Unionist institution”, and said of the Corporation’s news coverage during the indyref, “Not since Iraq have I seen BBC News working at propaganda strength like this. So glad I’m out of there.”

This is just the latest in a long series of issues that the BBC has with reporting fairly on the Scottish constitutional debate. Allan’s revelations come just as the BBC is coming under justified criticism for its repeated and consistent failure to give political coverage to the SNP, the third largest party in the House of Commons. Like the Westminster Parliament and the British government, the BBC is another British institution which is systematically failing Scotland. Those failures are not going to be remedied or addressed by an underfunded ghetto channel. They go to the very top of the BBC, and flow from the DNA of an organisation which regards itself as a British institution.

The question is, how can an institution which sees itself as the cultural glue of the UK report fairly on a democratic movement which seeks to remove one of the constituent parts of the UK from British rule. It’s obvious from the BBC’s repeated failures that it can’t. It is philosophically and institutionally incapable of doing so. It’s long past time that the Scottish Government started to press for the devolution of broadcasting. The BBC has got itself in a pickle, and it’s not just because of Nick.


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Wee Ginger Dugcast – Friday 15 March 2019

Welcome to the 15 March edition of the Wee Ginger Dugcast, in which The National’s Callum Baird and I discuss Mini reverse lights and their insistence that you’re going to advertise the union fleg, the BBC’s consistent omission of Ian Blackford in particular and the SNP in general, and of course the latest meaningful vote on Brexit that turns out not to have been so meaningful after all.

 


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A matter of self-respect

lackofrespect
Another day, another dying of democracy in the House of Commons. What’s the point of parliamentary votes when the government, a minority government at that, feels free to ignore them? But that’s where we are now. Remember, all this mess was created by people who claimed that they wanted to restore the sovereignty of the British Parliament, yet we have a government and Prime Minister which ignore parliament and press on with what passes for their plan. That would be a plan to make us all poorer, a plan to restrict our civil rights, a plan to strip us of our European citizenship. There’s no agreement on anything in the House of Commons, except that this is absolute chaos, that what remains of the UK’s international reputation as a stable democracy has been resoundingly trashed by the UK itself, and that David Mundell has not resigned.

The first amendment to be voted on today instructed the government to ask for an extension to Article 50 in order for there to be another referendum on the EU. Labour decided that it was not going to support this amendment, following on from Corbyn forgetting to mention his party’s support for another referendum after the government was defeated the other day. So if you were looking to the Labour party to rescue us all from this Brexit mess, think again. All Labour is fit for is abstention. As the amendment was voted upon in the Commons, the vast majority of Labour’s MPs sat firmly on their benches – because that’s the only way that they can cover their arses.

As expected due to the failure of Labour to back it, the amendment was defeated. This doesn’t mean that there can’t be another EU referendum, but the magnitude of the defeat gives a boost to the Brexists. Jacob Rees Mogg took to social media to self-congratulate himself on the death of a second referendum, but Jacob’s gloating is premature. You’d think he would recognise when something is undead, but apparently not. The chances of another EU referendum are less than they were, but they’re not entirely gone yet.

Then the House voted on whether to take over control of business from the government. That amendment was defeated by the narrowest of margins, allowing Theresa May the slimmest of lifelines. That just left Labour’s amendment, and the government’s own amendment. Labour wanted the House to agree to ask for an extension of Article 50 beyond the 29th of March in order for Parliament to try and find something it could agree on. Labour’s amendment didn’t specify a time limit. It was defeated by 16 votes.

That only left the government’s own amendment, which sought to ask the EU for an extension of Article 50 until 30 June for the purposes of passing the necessary legislation – assuming that Theresa May’s deal has passed. This amendment passed by a large majority.

So that’s where we are now. The government has pledged to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50 even though it’s been swearing blind for the past two years that it wasn’t going to do so. It’s entirely within the gift of the EU to decide whether to grant an extension, and they may very well decide that there’s no point in extending the Article 50 process until 30 June when it’s obvious that there is more squabbling within the UK than there is at a serial adulterer’s will reading. Some figures within the EU have noted that it’s pointless to grant another extension unless there is some credible justification from the UK for what the extension can achieve. The EU doesn’t see much point in granting extra time to the UK just so that the UK can continue to disgree with itself. On the other hand there is talk in some EU circles of granting an extension, but only a much longer one. Despite the text of the government’s amendment that a longer extension would require the UK to participate in May’s EU elections, this is not necessarily the case.

Thank god we’ve got a strong and stable British government eh. Just imagine the chaos and confusion if we didn’t.

Oh.

We’re now just two weeks away from Brexit day, and the UK has been reduced to begging the EU for extra time so that it can try to sort itself out, but still without any clear idea of how it’s going to achieve that. All we hear is the “will of the people” from politicians who are determined to ensure that the people never get to express what their will is, because apparently the referendum of June 2016 was the final word in democratic expression which trumps everything else for all time. It’s a democratic expression from voters in the rest of the UK which grants the British government carte blanche to overrule the will of the Scottish people, because it seems that only some voices count in this Mother of a Parliament.

At every turn, we have seen the will of the people of Scotland marginalised, sidelined, and ignored by a British government which eagerly leapt upon the Brexit vote of June 2016 as a mandate to destroy our employment and civil rights, and to undermine and hollow out the devolution settlement. Even if by some miracle Brexit can be avoided, this sorry episode has only illustrated the utter contempt in which Westminster holds the people of Scotland and their elected representatives. This is not the UK that we were promised in 2014, and that all by itself counts as a material change in circumstances which justifies another Scottish independence referendum. It is fundamental to democracy itself that a people have a government which treats the people with respect. Scotland doesn’t have that as a part of the UK.

All we have are sneers, the snide insults of Michael Gove, a spineless Scotland Secretary who puts his own career first, and a Prime Minister who speaks about a precious union without having the slightest concept of what a union actually entails. The UK and its institutions are unfit for purpose. Democracy is based on respect, and there is none for Scotland within the UK. That means that independence is a matter of self-respect.


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Watering the dead plant

fairshares
Theresa May didn’t speak in the Commons on Wednesday as the House debated whether to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Her voice had given up on her, which is what happens when you say nothing repeatedly for over two years. The quality of a what a person says is proportional to the amount of time that person listens to the opinions of others, and Theresa May has never knowingly listened to another opinion in her entire life. So instead Michael Gove made the government’s case for her, because he’s possibly the only person in the entire Conservative party less capable of consensus building than Theresa.

Michael habitually adopts the lofty tone of a man who firmly believes he occupies the moral high ground even though he’s stuck in the glaur at the bottom of a cesspit of his own creation. There is not a second which goes by without Michael managing to project the impression that he is so very very pleased with himself and all his works. There’s only one opinion which is important to Michael Gove, and that’s Michael Gove’s very fine conceit of himself. As the Victorian intellectual John Ruskin once remarked, a man who is so wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel.

The gist of the speech was that fault of the failure of Theresa May’s deal lay with everyone except the Brexiteers and the Conservative party. It was the Labour party’s fault, it was the SNP’s fault. It was the fault of remainers and the EU. The only people whose fault it wasn’t were the people who had created the disaster in the first place and that Conservative government which had consistently ignored all other opinions except Conservative and DUP opinions and which had set out from the outset to pursue a hard Brexit based on Theresa May’s inflexible red lines and her fixation on immigration.

After spending much of his speech oozing the slimy snideness which is his main selling point and insulting everyone on the opposite benches, the man who along with his Conservative colleagues bears much of the responsibility for the mess that the UK is currently in called on the other parties to work together with the government to clear it up. It speaks volumes about the character and quality of this sorry excuse for a government that at a time when cross-party engagement is vital, they chose a man to speak who only knows how to insult, belittle, and sneer. At one point he refused to give way to the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, who was doubtless about to correct him on a point of fact. It’s because Michael said people had had enough of experts that we’re in this mess.

Unsurprisingly, he failed to make any on the opposition benches warm to the government’s position, but then that was never his purpose. Michael Gove’s purpose is now and always was the furtherance of Michael Gove’s career prospects within the Conservative party. He was playing to his own back benches with an eye on the Tory leadership election to come.

The motion put forward by Michael Gove on behalf of Theresa May says that says the Commons will not approve Brexit on 29 March if there is no deal, but it notes that no deal remains the default legal position unless both the UK and EU ratify an agreement. It’s a sign of the weakness, indeed chaos, of the government and its abject loss of authority that Theresa May has signalled that she will allow the Conservative party a free vote. If she succeeds in getting her motion passed by the Commons, there are, unbelievably, even at this late stage, suggestions that Theresa’s deal could be brought back to Parliament a third time, like repeatedly watering a dead plant in the hope that it will blossom. That’s why she is still refusing to take no-deal off the table. She’s still playing the same game as before, trying to run down the clock in a game of Brexit chlorinated chicken.

The Speaker accepted two amendments to the government’s motion. Both are as mired in confusion as the Government. One amendment is the so-called Malthouse Compromise, which calls for a short delay to Brexit in order to give the government time to prepare to leave without a deal. It would then offer the EU a “standstill” agreement until 2021 while a magical solution is worked out and some unicorns can be recruited to staff the cake shops along the Irish border. The EU has already ruled this out. The fact that this amendment is even being considered tells us just how divorced from reality Brexit has become. The Tories like it because it’s the only amendment that both wings of their divided party could pull behind. Speaking in favour of the amendment, Damien Green said that the House should just ignore the fact that the EU has already ruled it out. Because unicorns and cake.

The other amendment is the Spelman amendment, put forward by the Conservative remainer MP Caroline Spelman. This amendment would rule out a no deal Brexit under any circumstances and at any time. However late on Wednesday afternoon and under pressure from Conservative whips, the Conservative MP announced that she was going to withdraw her own amendment. An irritated Speaker then replied that it had already been tabled and other MPs could move it instead, but Labour didn’t seem that keen. The Conservatives don’t want this amendment to be voted upon as it will split the party and could lead to the resignations of cabinet ministers. The fact that it’s the only amendment which has any basis in reality is a secondary consideration to the party political interests of both Labour and the Tories. This nasty little episode all by itself illustrates how unfit the two main political parties are as parties and as a government.

Meanwhile there are reports that certain Brexiteers in Leave.EU and Ukip are lobbying right wing governments in Italy, Poland, and Hungary in an effort to get them to use their veto against any extension of Article 50. According to reports a group of Conservatives went to Poland last week in order to lobby the far right Polish government against any extension. So much for “We want the British parliament to be sovereign.” Now we have Nigel Farage and the Brexists begging the EU for help to leave the EU. There’s a word for conspiring with foreign governments in order to damage the interests of your own country. It’s not a pretty word.

The Brexit debates overshadowed the Chancellor’s Spring Statement. The SNP’s Kirsty Blackman intervened to emphasise the damage that a no deal Brexit would do to the economy. She asked the Chancellor for full Barnett consequentials for Holyrood in order to help Scotland cope with the Conservatives’ ruinous policies, and she raised concerns about financial sector assets being moved abroad. Finally she asked for an easing of visa constraints in order to help Scotland attract the immigration it needs. The Chancellor sniffily retorted, “Scotland gets its fair share, and precious little thanks we get for it.” Westminster takes Scotland’s money, gives us some of it back, borrows for things we don’t want or need and lands us with the bill, then demands that we’re grateful for their kindness.

In the end the Commons voted narrowly in favour of the Spelman amendment that Spelman rejected. Even though the Conservatives were furiously whipping against it, by 312 votes to 308 the House voted to take no deal off the table under all and any circumstances. By a majority of four votes the Commons voted to take something off the table that will remain on the table. By itself this amendment won’t change the law, but it’s yet another blow to what little remains of the authority of a Theresa May who is doggedly persisting in watering her dead plant.

We then saw the ludicrous spectacle of the Prime Minister voting against her own motion because she refused to accept the amendment.  Despite all the attempts from the Conservatives to strongarm their remainers into voting with the Prime Minister, she lost by an even bigger margin than before.  Then she stood before the Commons and said that nothing much had changed.

The next step is for an extension of Article 50.  We have a government which has lost all control, but which is continuing as though nothing has happened.  How much longer can this farce go on for?

There’s precious little thanks for Scotland remaining in the UK. There’s precious little thanks for Scotland sacrificing its future and its opportunities on the altar of British nationalism. All we get is contempt, disdain, and a complete ignoral of our needs, our desires as expressed through the ballot box, and our future. We can either keep watering Theresa’s dead plant of British nationalism, or grow some fresh green shoots in a new Scottish state.


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How much longer can we put up with this mess?

Westminster is in chaos after May’s deal suffered another catastrophic defeat. Scotland’s voice is being ignored again. The BBC cut away just as Ian Blackford was starting to speak TWICE in the same day. A UK representative explained to Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Russell that they were “not bright enough” to understand the Brexit deal.

We’re being insulted, sidelined, ignored, and taken for granted.  This so-called union and its failing institutions are failing Scotland, even on their own terms.  Remember all the grand promises made to Scotland by Better Together in 2014, remember all the fine words and honeyed voices, and compare them with what has actually been delivered.  Remember them the next time that opponents of independence promise a fine future for Scotland within the UK.

Here Scotland is, teetering on the brink of a British made catastrophe, and parts of the Scottish press prefer to print warnings against a Scottish currency made by opponents of independence who warned in 2014 against keeping the pound.  This is a shameful shambles, and Scotland needs a pro-independence newspaper more than ever.

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The undead Brexit stumbles on

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When Theresa May finally shuffles off this mortal coil, the autopsy will find “nothing has changed, nothing has changed” engraved upon her heart. Although it will have to be in tiny, tiny, writing. Today in Parliament however, the Prime Minister was trying to persuade MPs that everything had changed, when in fact all that had happened was a cosmetic exercise in trying to bring the Brextremists of the European Research Group and the DUP on board. It was a bit like trying to placate a ravenous zombie by offering to allow it to look at a photo of some gammon.

The writing was on the wall as soon as Geoffrey Cox’s legal opinion was published. Geoffrey’s codpiece was as empty as the intellectual and moral vacuum at the heart of his party. The legal risk of being stuck in the backstop remains unchanged, he said. And with those words any chance of the deal passing died. As he continued to elaborate his reasons to the House of Commons, the Attorney General did his 1950s Shakespearean actor schtick and said, or more exactly orated, “Let’s be clear a sovereign state has a right to withdraw if a treaty is no longer compatible with its fundamental interests.” He wasn’t happy with the new guarantees that Theresa May had managed to negotiate because this condition still hasn’t been met, and that in his view was intolerable. The UK operates within a universe in which there can be no constraints upon the UK, that’s precisely what makes it such an unreliable and untrustworthy negotiating partner, that’s what is destroying what is left of the UK’s international standing. That’s what is turning the UK into a joke.

A sovereign state that has no right to withdraw if a treaty is no longer compatible with its needs is exactly the position that Scotland is in within this so-called union, trapped by the veto of Theresa May and seemingly unable to withdraw even though the Treaty of Union is no longer compatible with Scotland’s fundamental interests. It’s because of that treaty that Scotland is getting dragged out of the EU even though that is not the will of the people of Scotland and it will risk immense damage to Scotland’s economy and economic prospects. Geoffrey doesn’t seem to have a problem with that, even though the House of Commons has backed the Scottish Claim of Right that states that the people of Scotland have the sovereign right to choose the form of government best suited to their needs. Brexit has done precisely the square root of hee-haw to boost the international standing of the UK, but it has if nothing else provided Scottish independence campaigners with a rich fund of quotes to throw back in the faces of the British government during the next Scottish independence referendum. Geoffrey’s just given us another.

The rejection of this Brexit deal was always entirely predictable. When the Prime Minister’s deal was rejected by 230 votes a few short weeks ago that seem like an eternity, the EU was clear that it wasn’t in the mood to renegotiate anything even though it was willing to dress up the existing deal in a prettier bow. And so it has come to pass. The only thing that the UK has negotiated is its own irrelevance and has used up the precious last few reserves of patience left in the rest of the EU.

All day on the telly, the news cameras were focussed on the chamber of the House of Commons. We got to hear from a very hoarse sounding Theresa May, her breaking voice a metaphor for her deal, cracked and lacking support. She told MPs that if her deal was voted down again then Brexit could be lost. She said that like it was a bad thing. She delivered her speech before half empty Conservative benches. Not even her own party is listening to her any more.

Theresa also warned the House that a no deal Brexit meant that support for Irish unification and Scottish independence would increase. And it’s true, a no deal Brexit would indeed, according to opinion polls, increase support for Scottish independence, but those same opinion polls also show that Theresa May’s Brexit deal would also have the effect of increasing support for independence. Theresa forgot to mention that bit to the House of Commons. She’s very good at ignoring things. But what she can’t ignore forever is that the British state can have Theresa’s precious union, or it can have Brexit, but it can’t have both.

We got to hear Jeremy Corbyn’s response. We got to hear from assorted leavers and remainers and the inevitable Jacob Rees Mogg doing his very best impression of a funeral director at a birthday party. During Joanna Cherry’s intervention you might even have heard the Scottish Tory MP Luke Graham yell out that Scotland isn’t a country. According to the SNP’s Gavin Newlands, several of his colleagues heard Luke shout out that Scotland is “only a principality”. It’s a shockingly ignorant statement from a shockingly ignorant party. Luke’s ignorance is matched only by his shamelessness. You might think that a Scottish Tory MP would have grasped the difference between Scotland and Wales, but apparently not.

What you wouldn’t have heard on our so-called national broadcaster was the response of the third largest party in the Commons representing the largest single bloc of opinion in Scotland. Yet again on a vital day in the British parliament, the BBC didn’t broadcast the response by SNP leader Ian Blackford to Theresa May’s latest attempt to ram her already rejected deal through the Commons. There’s more than one institution of the British state which is letting Scotland down, it’s systemic across the board. And that in a nutshell, is precisely the nature of the problem.

As everyone was expecting, the deal was defeated by a large margin. By 391 votes to 242, MPs down the deal. The deal was defeated by 149 votes, another massive vote of no confidence in the government’s core policy.

In the aftermath of the defeat, Jeremy Corbyn called on the House to get behind Labour’s version of Brexit. No mention of another referendum. Jeremy’s wasting everyone’s time every bit as much as Theresa May is.

All the time wasting, all the running down the clock, all the brinksmanship, it was all for nothing. The deal is as dead as Theresa May’s political reputation. Tomorrow the House votes on whether to leave with no deal. The Prime Minister has confirmed that she will allow a free vote. However the motion that the government wants to put forward suggests that even if the House votes to reject no deal, no deal is still going to happen. The undead Brexit stumbles on, but Theresa May’s authority is dead and her government is hanging by a thread.

 


 

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Except for viewers in Scotland

exceptforviewersinscotland
Yet again we’ve got a leading Brexist appearing on a politics show on the telly in order to inform us how dreadfully unfair it is of the EU to put conditions on the unicorns and cake that the UK expects from Brexit. This time it’s David Davis, who fancies himself as the Action Man of Brexit, small, plastic, hollow, lacking balls, and a figure of 1960s schoolboy fantasies.

Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, David opined that, “There is no other treaty in the world I’m aware of where a sovereign nation undertakes to join up and can only leave when the other side says so.” To which Scotland went, ahem. I’ve got a Treaty of Union to show you. Andrew Marr was quite happy to wade into the Scottish independence debate in 2014, but surprisingly he failed to point out the obvious to David. Well, I say surprisingly.

It is a safe assumption that although David has his political disagreements with the current government, none of them are because he feels that the British government which is refusing a referendum for Scotland is guilty of a degree of hypocrisy a mile wide. He is presumably quite content that Theresa May insists that it’s her right and her right alone to decide whether the people of Scotland can excerise their democratic voice on the future of this country. The UK didn’t have to ask the EU for permission to leave the EU, but Scotland is expected to ask the UK government for permission to even ask itself about its own future.

You don’t have to search very hard to find other examples. There’s Michael Gove, who complained during the EU referendum campaign, “Our membership of the EU stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives.” But the UK has a seat at the top table of the EU, it returns MEPs to the European Parliament. In certain aspects of EU policy it has a veto, and its list of opt-outs from those EU policies which it dislikes is legendary. As an EU member the UK has considerably more power to affect the course of EU policy decisions than Scotland has to affect the policy decisions of the British government.

Then there’s Michael Forsyth, the political failure who lost all his party’s seats in Scotland in the 1997 election and who was then bumped up to the House of Lords by his pals so he can still influence our laws and have a role in public life. Michael appeared in a TV debate during the EU referendum and in all seriousness complained about the unfairness of our laws being made by people we didn’t elect whom we can’t vote out of office. Really Michael. You don’t say.

Or how about Boris Johnson, who complained that Theresa May’s Brexit deal was unacceptable because it turned the UK into a vassal state of the EU. By which he meant that the UK would be forced to accept what the EU chose to impose on it without being able to influence the EU’s decision making process. So just like Scotland within the UK then, in an analogy he didn’t make.

It’s not just Tories. A former UK Prime Minister stood before an invited audience of hacks in London in November 2018 and said, “the situation will have been seen to have changed since 2016, and the people should in the end have the final say.” Or there’s a certain children’s author who wrote, “The whole point of democracy is the freedom to change your opinion when the circumstances change.” Except for viewers in Scotland.

It would be nice if the Scottish media made it their business to put the contradictions to British politicians, and demand that they explain why it’s such a dreadful thing that the UK gets dictated to by the EU whereas Scotland getting dictated to by Theresa May is just fine. It would be nice to know why they’d be outraged when there was a UK government with a mandate to hold a referendum to leave the EU which had to ask the EU for permission to hold it, but when there’s a Scottish government with a mandate to hold an independence referendum it has to ask permission from Theresa May. Permission which she is refusing. Pointing out the hypocrisy and demanding our rulers in Westminster explain themselves is the job of a media whose role is to hold power to account, but the self-appointed role of the British media in Scotland is not to rock the UK’s boat while finding aspersions to cast at the SNP.

The hypocrisy and sense of British exceptionalism is off the charts. The American conservative writer William F Buckley Jr. once said of an opponent, “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.” The problem we have in Scotland is that the Tories really do believe what they just said. It’s hard to argue with self-serving stupidity when a person’s job and reputation rest upon them failing to grasp the point. Their hypocrisy insults our intelligence while they have no intelligence to insult.

British exceptionalism means there is one rule for Britain, and another rule for everyone else. That’s clearest of all in the UK’s treatment of Scotland. All those terrible impositions, all those insults to democracy, all those restrictions on sovereignty, which Brexit supporters complain about with respect to the EU, every one of them they are happy to impose upon Scotland. They talk about a union when it suits them, but they act as though Scotland is not a nation. For the British nationalist, Scotland is not a nation and has no more rights than an English county council. British exceptionalism means that the UK demands its rights, demands respect, but it doesn’t recognise that others have the same rights and require the same respect. Except for viewers in Scotland.

But we’ll leave the last word in British exceptionalist hypocrisy to Theresa May herself. The Prime Minister told the House of Commons in December 2018, “Ultimately any union that involves the pooling of sovereignty can only be sustained with the consent of the people.” Except for viewers in Scotland.


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A question of consent

unionisdead

The Labour party’s Scottish branch office has its conference this weekend in Dundee. You can be forgiven for not having noticed, what with so many other vitally important events that are far more newsworthy taking up your attention. Like the two for one offer on toilet unblocker in your local supermarket, or the house across the road getting new curtains in bright red plush velour no less. It’s the talk of the local branch of ScotMid, which is considerably more than can be said for the Labour conference.

Branch office manager Richard Leonard, for whom the adjective hapless appears to have been invented, has been doing the rounds of the interview circuit in an effort to inform Labour voters that he does in fact exist. According to a recent poll, only 37% of Labour voters in Scotland know that he’s the leader of the party in Scotland. The poll didn’t ask how many of them cared, but that number is likely to be lower.

Richard’s great plan to reinvigorate the Labour party in Scotland is to turn it into a Brexit party and to rule out a second EU referendum. With this masterstroke he has managed to piss off the almost two thirds of the Scottish electorate which voted to remain in the EU. But it’s a lot worse than that. Richard has also been stamping his foot at the very possibility of there ever being another independence referendum. Since, as we are frequently informed by a British press which is keen to highlight differences of opinion within the Yes camp, one third of independence supporters also want to leave the EU, that means that by ruling out another indyref under all and any circumstances, Richard has also cut his party off from the support of leave voters who also support Scottish independence. He’s now restricted his party’s appeal in Scotland to people to want to leave the EU and who are implaccably opposed to independence. Most of those people vote Tory, and Richard is trying to sell them Jeremy Corbyn’s version of socialism. That’s a form of politics which believes in self-determination for everyone except Scotland.

There’s a definite parallel between the Conservatives and Labour on the Scottish Question now. It’s a development which hasn’t been much remarked upon in the British nationalist press in Scotland, but one which has fundamentally altered the nature of this supposed union of which Scotland forms a part.

Over the past few months we have witnessed the Conservatives in Westminster insisting that they will refuse to accede to any request for a Section 30 order in order to hold an independence referendum. We have also seen Richard Leonard insist that opposition to another independence referendum will form a part of the next Labour manifesto and will be the policy of a future Labour government irrespective of how the Scottish electorate votes.

The cornerstone of Scottish political discourse up until now, amongst both those in favour of independence as well as those opposed to it, is that Scotland is freely and willingly a part of the UK. We are not a colony held subject against our will, and all that is required for Scotland to leave the UK is for the voters of Scotland to say so. Even Margaret Thatcher, that self-proclaimed English nationalist, conceded that point. She once famously stated back in those pre-devolution days that if Scotland wanted independence it only needed to return a majority of SNP MPs to Westminster.

That’s no longer true. We can no longer believe that Scotland is willingly and freely a part of the UK until the people of Scotland say otherwise when the British government and the major British parties refuse to allow the people of Scotland to have a say on their future. Scotland is being torn out of Europe against its will by people who insist they are respecting the will of people while doing their utmost to prevent the people of Scotland from having any say. If the democratic will of the people of Scotland must be subordinate to the democratic will of the people of England, then this cannot be a union at all.

The refusal of Theresa May to acknowledge the democratic mandate held by the Scottish government represents a seismic change in our understanding of this British state that Scotland remains a part of. Yet it is one which has passed unremarked by much of the Scottish media, which apparently sees its job as to defend the interests of the UK in Scotland and not to defend the interests of Scotland in the UK.

We can no longer pretend that this is a union founded upon consent when we have a British Prime Minister who lied to the Commons and baldly stated that the SNP has no mandate for another independence referendum. This is no longer a union founded upon consent when that Prime Minister says she will refuse to allow an independence referendum. This is no longer a union founded upon consent when the leader of the Labour party in Scotland states that his party’s manifesto can override the will of the people of Scotland.

Our entire understanding of British democracy has been trashed by the British government and the official opposition. It’s been trashed by a British media which baselessly asserts that any independence vote held without Theresa May’s permission would be illegal when the issue has never been legally tested.

In 2014 the anti-independence campaign sought to fight on a very narrow range of arguments. In particular they were concerned above all to avoid getting into the democratic argument for Scottish independence, the way in which the British state subordinates the interests of Scotland and how it contains no constitutional structures which are able to protect Scotland from the effects of English nationalism. Theresa May’s denial of the mandate which the Scottish government possesses thrusts the democratic deficit of a Scotland within the UK into the very centre of the debate.

Despite the intransigence of Theresa May, the question of Scottish independence will be revisited by the electorate of Scotland. And when it is the questions of democracy and consent will be front and foremost. A British state which insists that a Prime Minister without a mandate in Scotland has a veto over Scotland’s future has no answer to that question. If it’s for Theresa May to decide whether Scotland can speak then there is no consent. Consent which is presumed is no consent at all, and without consent there is no union. The union is already dead, it’s been killed by those who claim to love it. The only question left is how best to unchain ourselves from the corpse.


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The fait accompli

theresaveto
There’s been an outbreak of pearl clutching in the pages of the British nationalist press this week as the realisation dawned that Theresa May’s intransigence won’t save them from another independence referendum after all.

Let’s get something straight right away. There is a concerted attempt by the British press to characterise an independence referendum held under the auspices of a Section 30 order granted by Westminster as the only legal way to hold a referendum. Any other path to a referendum is therefore, they tell us, to be regarded as illegal. This is not true. It doesn’t become true no matter how many times the British press writes about so-called wildcat referendums or about Holyrood “holding a referendum without legal approval”. Whenever you read a newspaper article which refers to a referendum without a Section 30 order as “illegal”, or as being held without “legal approval”, you can instantly dismiss it as having been written by a person with a British nationalist agenda. It is opinion, not fact.

The fact is that a consultative referendum held without a Section 30 order may very well be perfectly legal. The point is that that question has never been tested in the courts and therefore anyone who asserts that it would be illegal is prejudging the issue. There is a very good argument to be made that a consultative referendum would be perfectly legal, since the vote would be advisory and therefore would not impinge upon Westminster’s reserved powers over the constitution. It would merely be a test of Scottish public opinion on the matter given the changed circumstances in which Scotland now finds itself. This is not the United Kingdom that Scotland was promised it could be a part of in 2014.

It would remain for Westminster to decide how to act upon that opinion once it has been ascertained. Holyrood is not therefore intruding upon reserved matters as determined by the Scotland Act. There is absolutely nothing to prevent the Scottish Government testing the legality of a potential consultative referendum in the courts, before it brings such a referendum about. If the court rules that such a referendum would indeed be legal, as many argue, then a consultative referendum can go ahead with legal approval, but without a Section 30 order.

In many ways that scenario would be preferable for the independence movement, because then we go into a referendum in which the British government is simultaneously trying to prevent the people of Scotland from having a say, while at the same time trying to persuade us that Scotland is a valued partner in a family of nations. So valued that they’re trying to gag us. That’s really not a good look if you’re trying to sell the fiction of a union. And make no mistake, the independence movement will make hay with it.

This is in essence the argument that Alex Salmond made to David Cameron in 2012, and Cameron’s advisors were sufficiently persuaded by that argument to see the wisdom in conceding a Section 30 order as a means to maintain the fiction that Westminster was in control of events. David Cameron realised that a Westminster which was seen to be blocking the will of the Scottish people to decide their own future was a Westminster which was putting itself on the back foot in an independence campaign. He realised that it would be impossible to tell the people of Scotland that they were valued and equal partners in a family of nations when the British government was doing its utmost to prevent the people of Scotland have a say on their own future. He was also sufficiently confident, overly confident, that the referendum would produce a substantial majority against independence. The narrowness of the result shocked the British establishment, but not enough to shake them out of their complacency once the desired result had been achieved.

The difference between then and now is that Theresa May doesn’t have the same confidence that another referendum would produce a substantial majority against independence. Theresa May doesn’t want to add being the British Prime Minister who presided over the break up of the UK to her long and inglorious list of political failures. But more than that, we have a Prime Minister who genuinely doesn’t care what Scotland wants, who doesn’t listen to what Scotland says, and who regards Scotland as little more than a glorified English county council. This is a Prime Minister who has such contempt for the democratic will of the people of Scotland that she was able to stand up in the House of Commons and declare that the SNP doesn’t have a mandate for another referendum.

On a visit to Scotland on Thursday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Rhyming Slang said that “of course” the British government would refuse to agree to a Section 30 order. That’s why, simultaneously with an announcement that it seeks a Section 30 order, the Scottish Government must also start a court case which tests the legality of a consultative referendum. And if that legal case fails, then plans should be developed for a plebiscite election.

Let’s face it. If the only way that you can keep Scotland within the UK is to rely upon a veto from a Conservative Prime Minister who has no electoral mandate in Scotland, and who denies the existence of the political mandate that the Scottish Parliament possesses, then you’ve already lost the democratic argument for Scotland remaining within the UK. You’ve already conceded the point that Scotland is not willingly and freely a part of the UK, because you’re refusing to allow the people of Scotland to have their say on the matter.

Theresa May and her ministers must be taught that there will be a Scottish vote whether they agree or not, and therefore it’s in the interests of the British Government to agree to a Section 30 order as the only means of maintaining the fiction that Scotland really is a part of a union. This Conservative Government of Scotland-deniers is not going to concede freely and willingly that Scotland should have a say on its future. It must be presented with a fait accompli.


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If you have trouble using the button, or you prefer not to use Paypal, you can donate or purchase a t-shirt or map by making a payment directly into my bank account, or by sending a cheque or postal order. If you’d like to donate by one of these methods, please email me at weegingerbook@yahoo.com and I will send the necessary information.

Please also use this email address if you would like the dug and me to come along to your local group for a talk.

GINGER2croppedGaelic maps of Scotland are available for £15 each, plus £7 P&P within the UK for up to three maps. T-shirts are £12 each, and are available in small, medium, large, XL and XXL sizes. P&P is £5 for up to three t-shirts. My books, the Collected Yaps Vols 1 to 4 are available for £11 each. P&P is £4 for up to two books. Payment can be made via Paypal.

Journey to Yes #23

Jenny says Yes. Jenny Constable is a freelance journalist from Glasgow and a very British family with members from Scotland, England and Ireland. As part of the ‘Scottish Devolution Generation’, Jenny grew up in a Scotland with devolved powers and that valued its place in Europe. Jenny supported Better Together in 2014 believing it would secure more powers and Scotland’s place in the EU. As the Tory UK Govt drags us out of Europe and centralises powers to Westminster, Scotland’s devolved settlement and its place in the EU face a very real and imminent threat. Jenny feels the past two years have revealed England and Scotland as very different countries with distinct cultures and ambitions. Any worries Jenny has about Scotland going its own way are very much outweighed by the dangers of staying in Britain. Independence offers a brighter future for all.


I’d like to apologise to anyone who goes along to the Yes Edinburgh South event organised this evening at the Eric Lidell Centre hoping to see me and the dug. I’m afraid I’ve had to cancel as I have a very bad case of the flu and am really not well enough to drive through to Edinburgh and then speak in public for a couple of hours.  My throat feels like it’s on fire, every joint in my body is aching, I have a temperature, and I have a dreadful cough and my voice is hoarse. The flu is also why there haven’t been any updates to the blog this week, as I’ve been staying in bed feeling sorry for myself.