Letting the thistle thrive

Watching discussions of Scottish politics on the telly is a bizarre experience these days. It’s not bizarre because of the contorted inanities which we’ve come to expect from a representative of the Labour party in Scotland attempting to explain the branch office’s Brexit policy, even though that’s an exercise which makes explaining the geometry of 10 dimensional space time in superstring theory using only Lego bricks seem like a dawdle. It’s not bizarre because even though we live in a land where opinion polls consistently show almost a half of the population support independence, yet it’s usually presented on TV as one SNP person against three or four opponents. All those things are bizarre enough, but they pass for normal in the distorted mirror of the British media in Scotland.

No, what makes it truly bizarre is because Scottish viewers are now watching Scottish politics shows which are consumed and defined by the politics of a neighbouring and increasingly alien country. This is a foreign politics which will have a profound effect on Scotland, yet it’s one which Scotland is powerless to affect. As a part of the UK, Scotland is reduced to being the wean with its nose pressed up against the windae, trapped indoors because it will never be allowed out to play. If politics is defined as the participation in the development and implementation of strategies to move the economic and social life of the nation along a particular course, as a part of the UK Scotland no longer has politics. Scotland has only a helpless speculation about what might be done to us by politicians beyond our control or influence.

I’ve given up trying to understand what Labour’s position is on Brexit. Life’s too short to try and wrap your head around a condundrum wrapped up in a riddle wrapped up in an enigma wrapped up in stupidity. However, for what it’s worth, which isn’t much, the new policy seems to be that Labour in Scotland will back a referendum on a Brexit deal with remain as an option on the ballot paper. However Labour in Westminster is still sticking to the line that there ought to be a General Election and the result of the 2016 referendum needs to be respected because Jeremy Corbyn is going to magic a much better deal out of nowhere between now and 31 October.

Meanwhile the Scottish branch office manager Richard Wossisname has also promised that Labour in Scotland would campaign for remain if the referendum that his party leader doesn’t want actually takes place. This means that Labour in Scotland is now officially in favour of remain, but Labour in Westminster is officially in favour of leaving. And along with the Lib Dems, Labour in Scotland is now in favour of another referendum just as long as it’s not an independence referendum. Although Hugh Gaffney, the gaffe by name and gaffe by nature MP for Coatbridge, has gone off script again and said while on a visit to Canada that he could see Scotland voting for independence. More and more people in Scotland are coming to the same conclusion.

Labour’s mess and confusion over Brexit is symptomatic of British politics as a whole. The powerlessness of Labour in Scotland is symptomatic of Scotland’s powerlessness within the UK. It’s beyond a mess. We’re now firmly into the apocalyptic wastelands. It’s only going to get worse.

Let’s be honest here, Brexit is an English issue which has contaminated the politics of Scotland. Brexit came about because England has never come to terms with its position in the world and in Europe. It was once the greatest empire in the world but it is now a medium sized European state, yet it still sees itself as a global power. Perhaps because the UK was not occupied or defeated in WW1 or WW2, the British – read English – political establishment which rules the UK never had to face up to its diminished status in the same way that Germany or France did. Instead England’s postwar dreaming led it into a reverie of nostalgia, of an obsession with WW2, and a total refusal to trade in the realities of the 21st century.

The Brexit debate was conducted in the most shamefully dishonest manner possible. Nowhere, but nowhere, was there any consideration of the fact that the UK is not just England. There was no mention of the treaty obligations that the UK has to ensure that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland. No one wanted to recognise that just a few years ago the British political establishment had narrowly averted Scottish independence by promising a strongly pro-European Scotland that it was only by rejecting independence that it could remain a part of the EU.

There was no serious examination of what leaving the EU really meant. Cake could be eaten and still had. Unicorns were going to be running free. Simply because England was England and in its imagination of itself had won two world wars and a world cup all by itself, standing alone, unique in its exceptionalism, it was a special nation, blessed with superpowers which meant that the normal laws of geopolitics and economics did not apply to it. So the EU would rush to offer the UK the most favourable trade deal possible. The UK would be able to enjoy the full advantages of EU membership, with none of the responsibilities.

Of course this blind refusal to engage with the world as it really is, this retreat into national nostalgia, could not survive contact with reality. When the EU refused to play ball, refused to give in to the UK’s every demand, insisted that leaving the EU meant economic consequences which by necessity had to be worse than remaining a member, the English nationalists who drive Brexit cried betrayal. Their dreams were being destroyed because the government and Theresa May didn’t believe strongly enough in the holy Brexit writ, not because their dreams bore the same relationship to reality as the drug fuelled reverie of a Conservative leadership candidate coked out his nut. They cried betrayal even though the government and Prime Minister concerned themselves solely with responding to those who sought Brexit, and ignored and marginalised the almost half who wanted to remain. Naturally Scotland didn’t get a look in.

The EU was built up into an imaginary demon, seeking to do down a plucky England that once stood alone and could stand alone again. The EU became the occupier of English dreams, the despoiler of English exceptionalism. It was never seen as a partnership of nations of which the UK was a part. The British experience is one of empire, and domestic politics is defined by the winner takes all tradition enshrined in the first past the post system. There was nothing in the nature of the British state that enabled it to cooperate. There’s nothing in British political experience that taught it how to collaborate, to give and take. There is no long experience of coalition government. There was only the sense that if you were not the absolute ruler, then you were the ruled. British politics recognises only the bosses and the bossed.

Brexit has taught Scotland that as long as it remains a part of the UK, it will forever remain amongst the bossed about. The strange lack of positivity from so-called Scottish unionists shows that. It is being proven by a Scottish Conservative party which is now telling Scotland that it must suck up whatever form of Brexit is imposed upon the country. It was proven by the behaviour of the anti-independence parties in the aftermath of the independence referendum as they competed to backtrack on the hints and promises that they’d made during the campaign. It was proven by the gleeful way in which the Scotland Secretary announced that the new tax powers for Holyrood were a trap for the SNP, a trap which has now produced a supposed budget shortfall of £1billion.

There is nothing from opponents of independence about how Scotland can reach its full potential within the UK. There is no vision, no dream, no aspiration. There’s only fear. There’s only scoffing. There’s only the unremitting battering of too poor, too wee, too stupid. There’s only the asinine equation of independence with the SNP. Britishness depends on teaching Scotland that it’s inadequate. The British state can only flourish in Scotland by crushing the thistle’s growth.

It’s time to leave the British duality of bosses and bossed. It’s time to engage with the real world on realistic terms. It’s time to recognise that we can collaborate and cooperate with other nations as an equal. It’s time to have politics in Scotland. It’s time to stop having our nose pressed against the windae, and to break through the glass into the wider world where the thistle can grow and thrive.

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36 comments on “Letting the thistle thrive

  1. Andy says:

    I don’t know how you manage it. To articulate the jumbled thoughts running around my head into a brilliant summary of everything that is wrong with this country today, and put it into such an orderly form. We can’t go on like this, something has to give. It’s increasingly becoming obvious that we have a choice between chaos and civil unrest on the one hand, and being allowed to make our own decisions good or bad on the other. We have to let England get on with the life they have chosen. We can do it our way.

  2. Janet says:

    One of your best essays!

  3. At your stormin’ best, Paul.
    I note that Supermom is attempting to reinvent her self as a ultra Right Hardliner.
    She is backing Sajid Javid , the thinking man’s Attila The Hun.
    He would scrap Devolution, Leave on a No Deal whim, and wants a US style Homeland Security ban on immigration.
    He has touted the ridiculous notion that he can separate Ireland from the EU herd, tear up The Good Friday International Treaty, and has offered wee Ireland a bribe, in the form of England paying hundreds of millions to set up a hard border between the Republic and the North.
    The man’s a nasty wee idiot, to be sure, to be sure.

    Of course he doesn’t give a feck about the fall out and violence that a hard border in Ireland would ensure.
    He doesn’t give a feck, and neither does Ruth Davidson.

    Davidson knows that Javid as much chance of winning the Big Prize as Michael Gove has of winning the Westminster Hunk of the Month award.
    She can hardly back Johnson openly, after the nasty things she said about him.
    But if she is to survive the Night of the Long Knives when Emperor Boris ascends the throne, she must demonstrate that she is ready, and eager, to destroy Scotland and its Parliament at his Imperial Oneness’ command.

    They really are a disgusting bunch of losers, aren’t they?

    • Jan Cowan says:

      Yes Jack.

    • He is also upset that he was the only Secretary of State of the British Government, not to receive an invitation to the big Royal bash for His Trumpness, Jack. His Office contacted No 10 and asked for an invitation after none had arrived through the post, they said, “No way, Sajid”. He then wrote to No 10 to ask why he was excluded and he is still waiting for a reply.
      Perhaps Sajid now knows how it feels to be discriminated against? A lot like Scotland in this world of disaster, corruption and chaos called the UK.

  4. Welsh Sion says:

    In keeping with the title of this excellent piece, here’s something I composed a few years ago. Feel free to enjoy and share.

    46. (of 60.)

    The flowers in Jon Bull’s garden

    Jon Bull had a garden and it was his pride and joy. In this garden, he did not grow any vegetables. He much preferred cultivating flowers that gave off sweet fragrances on the air. The main type of flower that Jon Bull was interested in were roses, and these were by far the most prolific flowers in his garden and he tended them with care. Jon Bull always ensured that they had sufficient water from his red, white and blue watering can. He gave them the best plant food. He nurtured his roses so well, that very soon they became the best-looking flowers in the whole garden.

    The roses’ roots were deeply secured and this enabled them also to seize the best nutrients from the ground – often at the expense of the other flowers in the garden. If they had feelings, they would surely have felt very happy, if not indeed a little smug about their position in Jon Bull’s garden. They were the centre of attention in that garden and that was that. Every other flower was to be looked down upon through the roses’ petals.


    Now next to the roses, a smaller group of daffodils grew in Jon Bull’s garden. These were a strange sort of flower. For although they grew in Jon Bull’s garden, they had not been fully domesticated by him – they still tended to grow wild, and slightly apart, although, believe me, Jon Bull had attempted to turn them into more ‘garden’ than ‘wild’ flowers.

    As a form of spite perhaps, Jon Bull had therefore not thought it appropriate (perhaps ‘worthwhile’ would be a better word) to spend too much time and attention in cultivating the daffodils. In any case, as previously mentioned, the roses took up most of his time and attention, and some semi-savage, undomesticated daffodils were not really important enough to be treated in the same way as they were. The daffodils only bloomed for a short time anyway and it was not worth the effort to cultivate them as prodigiously as the roses – at least, that’s how Jon Bull thought. It would also, he thought, lead to him neglecting his prized roses – something he could not and would not ever contemplate.

    So the daffodils would bloom at the appropriate time, with, if we are to continue the feeling metaphor, a certain amount of sadness. Not for them the care given to the roses, and they would soon wither away. True, Jon Bull occasionally gave them some water from his red, white and blue watering can, but the amount was not really that significant. Yet, somehow or other, year in year out, the daffodils would still be there. And in early March, their resplendent trumpets were almost a match for the all-powerful roses.


    Now adjoining the flowers in Jon Bull’s garden were the thistles. By rights, Jon Bull thought of these plants as weeds, and an annoyance and menace to him, and indeed to his whole garden. In that capacity, they proved even more of a distraction and a more dangerous one in fact, to his roses. Jon Bull had often tried to remove the thistles from his garden but had never succeeded. He first thought that removing the thistles by hand would be an easy enough task. But he soon found himself covered in painful prickles. As a result, he had to go home pretty quickly and to think on another idea of removing the thistles.

    On other occasions, eschewing the use of his hands, Jon Bull had taken up his best patent Wastemonister™ spade in order to dig up the thistles by the root. But it was hard, strenuous work – the thistles’ roots were deeply embedded – and it was often the case that Jon Bull had to give the task up, with sweat pouring from his red, fleshy face and his large stomach wobbling.

    The thistles then would have resisted for another day. Indeed, they were able to proliferate further, as when their flowers had disappeared, their light, feathery seeds could be taken up by the wind and be dispersed all over. When these seeds came to land, they would germinate, and new, sturdy thistle plants would start growing – causing further consternation and anxiety to Jon Bull.

    Another solution presented itself to Jon Bull in an effort to subdue the thistles – weed killer. He convinced himself that a good dose of Cullodenine™ would destroy the thistles once and for all. All his attention in dealing with them had been distracting him from attending to his beloved roses. Cullodenine™ would see an end to those troublesome thistles. However, although a lot of the thistles were killed as a result of the application of the Cullodenine™, in the long run, the weed killer actually proved quite ineffective. Enough of the thistle seeds had managed to escape the carnage, and had been seized by the wind to begin new journeys in the air oceans before falling to earth and germinating a new generation of thistles.

    In due course, these new thistles established sturdy roots and stems which became resilient against anything Jon Bull could throw at them; be they his Wastemonister™ spade or a new, seemingly stronger weed killer, such Beeteeyuk™ which its salesman Darling had mistakenly convinced Jon Bull would be the most effective weed killer yet against those troublesome thistles.

    As for the thistles themselves, they had started to cluster together, knowing that their own common unity of purpose would repel both Jon Bull and any efforts to get rid of them. They also grew stronger prickles in mutual self-defence. Although they were constantly menaced by Jon Bull and his cohorts, the thistles also knew that when they were not under attack from them, they were at one and the same time being neglected in favour of the roses.

    The thistles were then agreed as one: in order to survive as a group and to avoid both the neglect and the dangers posed by Jon Bull, they had to arrange for their seeds to be dispersed as far away as possible from him and his garden. It was common sense really, and the thistles knew it. All it needed was to persuade enough of their fellow thistles of the logicality of this position, and the thistle population would be safe and secure from the depredations of Jon Bull, his cohorts, his weed killers and his Wastemonister™ spade. Will a sufficient number of thistles take on board this simple and effective advice, and see for themselves the free and safe future that lies ahead of them, once their seeds start germinating in places beyond the power of Jon Bull and the control he currently holds over the flowers in his garden?

    Watch this space …

    Parables for the New Politics

  5. Hazel Smith says:

    Paul, one of your best. I don’t comment very often but I just had to tell you how much I appreciate your blogs. You manage to convey my thoughts entirely. There’s only one way out of this mess and it can’t come soon enough.

  6. Yes, the politics of a foreign country, indeed.

    Purely as a theatrical spectacle, I gave up watching the incestuous machinations of the English Tory party for entertainment when I thought to myself,why am I even watching, or reading about this, when it doesn’t matter to me, or in other words I don’t care, as what will be will be and Scotland as A COLONY can only look on from the sidelines.

    Right enough though, I can definitely sense an Archie Gemmill moment for Scotland in the not too distant future.

    • Welsh Sion says:

      Right enough though, I can definitely sense an Archie Gemmill moment for Scotland in the not too distant future.

      I trust it won’t be a Joe Jordan moment, Frank Gillougley! 😉 (1977 an ‘ aw’ tha’).

      • I have no idea why that was ever a penalty. What a player, though. The only man I knew who could speak through clenched teeth. I remember when Joe Jordan used to play as the lone target man for Scotland usually in away games and we used to scream at the telly, ‘FAW DOON, Joe! FAW DOON!’ anytime the baw got punted up the field towards him. That still makes me laugh.

        • Welsh Sion says:

          Seems we’re both in the same team, Frank! After all, the only person to think it was ‘a clear penalty’ was a certain Archie Macpherson.

          Said Macpherson (of that Ilk), spinster, late of this parish, and latterly, I believe Scotland in Union. Nuff sed.

          (PS Did you like my parable, above? 😉 )

      • The arm of God, Taff. tee hee.

  7. Andy in Germany says:

    An excellent post. This sums it up for me:

    “Brexit came about because England has never come to terms with its position in the world and in Europe.”

    This is one of the reasons I left England in 2000: I couldn’t stand the exceptionalism and harking back to empire which even then was pretty bad. What I coulodn’t understand was the way England still hadn’t come to terms with how morally repugnant the empire was, and yet was very happy to go on about Germany invading other countries.

    I’ve since concluded that in the eyes of English elites the problem with Germany wasn’t Nazism, but that they had the temerity to invade countries with white people: If they’d successfully taken over the entirety of, say, east Asia we’d have been happy enough to let them get on with it.

    • Ahem, I think that you’ll find that Empress Victoria’s nephew, The Kaiser did his fair share of colonising the Dark Continent, among other hapless we corners of the globe which were minding their own business until the Europeans arrived and thumped them over the head with a Bible.
      Check out the German East Africa Company.
      In Hitler’s time, the German Empire was still a nice little earner.
      All of Victoria’s spawn in Europe were gobbling up countries whose only defence against the White Man were a warm welcoming smile, and bed and board for the weary traveller.
      Germany, France, Holland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Portugal….
      The English even talked about the White Man’s burden, ‘civilising’ the savages and introducing them to the Christian deity.
      Christ this very day they are fighting over an uninhabited lump of rock far out in the North Atlantic, with the English claiming that it is ‘British’ because some commandos scaled it in the ’50’s and placed the butcher’s apron on the summit.
      I haven’t much time for Eddie Izzard and his politics, but check out his ‘Have you got a flag/ routine on Youtube.
      It just about sums up the Manifest Destiny ethos of the White Man.
      I note that the Scottish government is arm wrestling with Ireland over 12 mile fishing rights around this jaggy wee rock.
      God save us from the imperialists.

      • Andy in Germany says:

        I’m not arguing with any of your points: No.one minded Empire building, as long as it was outside of Europe.

        The difference is that to a much greater extent, Germany moved on and turned around after the war (Literally “Repented”) and became a better country for it.

        England didn’t, and the result is Brexit

  8. Terry Callachan says:

    Scotland is being treated in the same way that all England’s colonies were treated.
    There’s no difference.
    We are the closest country to be colonised so as England retreated into itself after WWll they decided that the whole island would be their bastion of Englishness or Britishness whichever you want to call it both mean the same thing so it doesn’t matter and of course England think this whole island is rightfully theirs , they’re not really bothered about Northern Ireland unless there was a chance of regaining that whole island too but now that Southern Ireland is well and truly a member of the EU they have realised that regaining control of the whole of Ireland is never going to happen.
    England will ditch Northern Ireland .
    As for Scotland we are not so lucky ,England will do all it can to keep control of Scotland and in time will try and convert it to be a part of England just like it has done with Wales just like it planned to do with all its colonies until world events stopped that plan.
    More and more influential jobs in Scotland are going to people from England of course we have more space here less overcrowding it’s a nice place to live so it’s not difficult to attract people here , all that was done in other colonies in the past as well and had it not been for WWll and the contraction of the British empire it would have still been going on to this day.
    The aim is to turn Scotland and Wales into a part of England by Englishing it more and more and encouraging Scots and welsh people to leave at the same time as increasing the number of English people living in Scotland and Wales the number increases by 1 – 2 % every ten years which doesn’t sound like a lot but over the years it really is a lot.
    It’s why Scotland’s population stagnates , such stagnation isn’t normal for a country with the riches that Scotland has but it’s part of a plan and its working.
    Scotland is blind to it but if the next Scottish independence referendum is won by NO there will be no hiding their plan it will come out into the open quite clearly.

    • benmadigan says:

      “More and more influential jobs in Scotland are going to people from England” – in key sectors like culture, administration, education, banking, finance, tourism, etc etc

      Never was a truer point made!
      Stand alert, Scotland!
      Be ready to challenge appointments to key positions.
      Hold what’s ours.
      Make sure well-qualified Scots (preferably Independent Scots) get top jobs in Scotland
      so as to look after ours and our own

      • diabloandco says:

        Aye but how do you do that?
        I can hear cries of ‘racists!’ already .
        ‘Best man for the job’ ‘Those Jocks should know their place’ etc.etc.

    • deelsdugs says:

      It’s all so true. Just look at the voting pattern in Orkney and Shetland…
      Then there’s a wee village in Perthshire where most of the population are from Essex. The multitudes have lived there for years and years and refer to themselves as British, not English…and get irate when it’s pointed out, well, actually, you’re English, from Englandshire and you’ve chosen to live in Scotland. Although there are people in other wee Perthshire villages who are English but prefer to be Scottish now.
      I lived in Cornwall for a few years and was never anything but Scottish. It was pointed out in no uncertain terms by ‘Brits’ in Cornwall, never the Cornish locals, that they couldn’t understand me…and yet we Scots very rarely suggest to an English accent, ‘cannae understand ye, slow doon…’

      And as for the high heid yin jobs…well…be like Michael Gove! Aye right.

      • Welsh Sion says:


        The travails of fellow-Celts regarding our ‘troublesome’ accents.

      • Alisdair says:

        Hi Deels, Alfie here, I won’t go into the shite I endured in the service with the ‘…you speak too fast’ meme, or indeed the acronym Scots were given ‘FRISP’ lets just say I turned it round to ‘Friendly Round Intelligent Scottish Person’, but what really got them was when I used to say ‘…sorry Pal can you say that again?’ follwed up by ‘Eh?’ and ‘Are you speaking English?’ they used to go a nice shade of purple especially when I would point out that the best speakers of the language were acknowledged to be from InverSneckie!

    • Dave tewart says:

      Not just influential jobs.
      Listen to EBC Scotland programme on a Saturday morning from Aberdeen.
      The boys travel around Scotland doing a Reader Digest type of programme.
      The interviewees are in the majority Englandlander voices, very few locals involved.
      Then listen to R4, they always seem to get a European voice as an expert on what subject is being discussed, senior lecturer, director, doctor, consultant, very careful manipulation of the populations of the 4 regions of the British isles, I think.
      The englanders are moving away from the immigrant regions of the south.

      • Welsh Sion says:

        “The englanders are moving away from the immigrant regions of the south.”

        They’ve been moving West of Offa’s Dyke for decades as well … We often make sure they get a warm welcome 😉

      • Bob Lamont says:

        Pardon my departure from the subject of this excellent missive, but have a care with your conclusions from what programme producers select for transmission, they are either honest in their portrayal or have an agenda, but your concluding remark is deeply disturbing.
        I got to know many “Englander” before leaving Scotland, being half Scots and half German the term had a particular bite as a youth, and wrankles yet from a German speaker even though for a German it is correct, but not to a Scot.
        None of the English, French, Spanish, German, Polish, Pakistani, Indian or Italian folks I met having settled in Scotland hold to anything but Independence despite their personal uncertain times…

    • wm says:

      Terry, it took the British Tory party over 40 years to complete their plan to exit Europe. Wait and see what their next plan is. No with second thoughts lets get out now.

  9. Bob Lamont says:

    “Let’s be honest here, Brexit is an English issue which has contaminated the politics of Scotland. Brexit came about because England has never come to terms with its position in the world and in Europe.”
    Whilst I can agree that the latter holds true for the English majority, London led politics has always contaminated Scottish politics, Indy and Brexit referenda only increased the contrast.
    The Euro-Sceptic dream of Brexit certainly capitalised on that “exceptionalism”, but frustrations over austerity (blame it all on the EU as typified by the big red bus) played into it, and those perceptions had been systematically nudged in that direction by tabloid propaganda for decades, and Scots were no less influenced by it’s reach, but felt increasingly unhappy with London led policies.
    Politicians may have welcomed the blame diversion, but their problem now is a majority public perception so twisted that exposure to realities are an exercise in futility. I have good intelligent friends to whom the EU is the embodiment of all that is evil, exampling the disconnected reality does nothing to shift their “belief” one iota.
    Bluntly, Brexit has been shrewdly manipulated by press and political charlatans for the financial advantage of a few, but will continue to contaminate English politics and by extension Scottish politics for decades to come.
    What Scotland desperately needs is quarantine via Indy2, this is no longer an aspiration but a necessity.

  10. wm says:

    How do you do it Paul, every time I conclude that you could not better a post you prove me wrong. This one surely must your best their is nothing missed and I think you have hit all the nails on the head at once

  11. Robert Graham says:

    Sorry a bit O/T , for the last few days newsreaders have been pushing the line 160000 members of the Tory party will choose the next PM .

    Sorry to bust their Balloon , the membership was quoted as being around 70000 in January 2018 , all of a sudden it’s more than doubled Aye Right .

    Who’s taking the Pish then , the average age was quoted as in the seventies , work that one out , yet another fairy story from Ruthless and her bunch of liars.

  12. Linda Bates says:

    This is one of your best columns ever, WGD – and I’ve been following you since before the 2014 indyref! Absolutely spot on about England’s failure to reconcile its history with the current geopolitical reality of the 21st century world. Keep up the fantastic work!

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