Not feeling well

Hi everyone,

I’m really sorry but I’m not going to be able to get the blog done today and maybe tomorrow. Just after sitting down to start a piece this morning I developed a high temperature and a severely upset stomach. I had to get to bed whereupon I just passed out.

My other half Peter was diagnosed with viral gastro enteritis yesterday and now I seem to have picked it up too. I’m feeling very rough just now. Because Peter had a temperature the doctor wanted him to go for a covid test but thankfully it came back negative. He’s feeling a bit better today so hopefully I will get over this by the weekend, then I can get back to the blog.

Once again, sorry everyone.

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The Tory assault on devolution intensifies

While sections of the independence movement get on with the serious business of self-righteously and noisily condemning other sections of the independence movement for the terrible crime of having a different opinion about certain issues which are not directly related to independence. The Tories are quietly getting on with their far more serious business of hollowing out the devolution settlement from within and undermining the powers of the Scottish Parliament. And while we are on the topic of divisions within the independence movement, make no mistake at all, the Conservatives will leap at the opportunity to use the Salmond-Sturgeon dispute as an excuse to undermine the powers of the Scottish Parliament even further. We stoke the fires of division at our peril.

Today the Conservative government at Westminster has announced plans to spend millions of pounds across Scotland in direct partnership with local authorities, completely by-passing Holyrood. The funding will be allocated by Westminster and will not require the approval of Holyrood. The money is part of the £4 billion set aside by Chancellor Rishi Sunak for “levelling up the country.” This mone had until now been spent only in England, but today’s announcement from the British government confirms that the scheme is to be extended to Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland.

Westminster intends to grant the cash for use on capital projects such as transport and infrastructure, culture and heritage schemes despite the fact that these are competencies which come within the remit of the devolved Parliament. This has been enabled by a provision in the Conservatives’ controversial UK Internal Market Bill and represents confirmation that Gove, Johnson and the Tories intend to use Brexit as an excuse to undermine the devolution settlement and further centralise the already over-centralised British state.

You can be sure that SNP controlled local authorities will be put to the back of the queue and that the Conservatives will target the funding in a nakedly party political way in an attempt to undermine their opponents, which in Scotland means that they will spend it in ways which will by-pass SNP controlled local authorities. This is precisely how the Conservatives have already used the money in England. In Scotland it’s going to be used to weaken the independence movement and to bolster the anti- independence cause. This is a clear example of the Conservatives using public money for nakedly political purposes. Colour us all surprised eh?

In September 2019 the BBC reported that UK govt spending supposedly aimed at “levelling up so called left behind towns in England was disproportionately being spent in Conservative held constituencies and in Labour-Conservative marginals.

The English expenditure which was supposed to deliver an increase in school funding in “left-behind” towns was in fact used to boost the electoral prospects of local Conservatives. However an analysis of the expenditure carried out by the Education Policy Institute found that nine out of the top ten beneficiaries in terms of an increase per pupil in cash were in Tory held constituencies. Of the 36 constituencies which received no benefit at all from the scheme all but four were held by Labour despite the fact that they generally had a higher level of base funding due to greater pupil need and greater social deprivation. Quoted by the BBC, Natalie Perera of the Education Policy Institute said that “In this context, [the extra funding] means bringing generally more affluent schools up to the same level of funding as more disadvantaged schools.” She added that “it was “reasonable to say that the latest announcement targets more funding to more affluent and generally more Conservative areas”.

In Scotland there is the additional dimension of devolution and Conservative attempts to weaken and undermine the Scottish parliament and the devolution settlement. As is clear from their behaviour in England, the Conservatives treat this public money, not as a mechanism for improving public services, but rather as a tool for promoting a nakedly party political agenda.

This move comes after the UK governmen cut Scotland’s capital budget at the Spending Review by 5% . In other words the British government has slashed the funding which was under the control of the Scottish government and replaced it with a smaller block of funding which is directly under the control of Johnson and the Tories. This will then be presented to the Scottish public by our anti independence media as Scotland being done a favour by a munificent British state when in fact it represents both a power grab and a cash grab which has an immediate negative impact on Scotland’s ability to determine its own spending priorities. No doubt we can now look forward to a tranche of this British government money being spent on a feasibility study for Boris Johnson’s fantasy proposal for a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Whatever capital projects it ends up being spent on, you can be quite certain that they will have British flags plastered all over them. This is all really just another exercise in Conservative flag fetishism. Because the real reason that more and more people in Scotland want independence is because we’re not subjected to enough union jackery. Or rather, union jack-offery.

It is the UK Government, and not the Scottish Government, which will decide where this money is to be spent and what it is to be spent on. So despite the fact that Scotland has repeatedly rejected the Conservatives at the ballot box, the Conservatives are still taking it upon themselves to dictate to Scotland how public money is to be spent on devolved competencies. The cash will then be loaded onto the expenditure column in the GERS statistics and will be used as yet more “evidence” that Scotland would be unable to fund itself.

It’s a signal warning that the independence movement must not take its eye off the ball. While we bicker amongst ourselves, the Conservatives are not letting up in their assault on the devolution settlement and on Scottish democracy itself. It is manifestly not the case that, as some supposedly pro-independence campaigners who focus all their attention and energy on attacking Nicola Sturgeon sniffily assert, that “We all know already that the Tories are vile”. We live in a country where the majority of the media continues to excuse and enable the Conservatives, and as the Holyrood elections approach, they are going to double down on their efforts to excuse and enable the Tories. That makes it all the more important that we do not cease in our efforts to talk about and explain the real threat to Scotland. The duplicitous and devious attempts of the Conservatives to grab power for themselves and to remove themselves from the ability of the people of Scotland to hold them to account.

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What would Alex do?

The documentation about the botched investigation into him that Alex Salmond wanted to be put in the public domain has now been released, Alex believes that it proves there was a conspiracy against him orchestrated by senior figures in the SNP who are close to Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister is due to put her side of the story to the Holyrood Committee examining the affair next week. She strongly denies that there was any conspiracy aiming to, in the words of some of Alex’s online supporters, “put an innocent man in jail.”

Already some of Alex Salmond’s supporters are taking to social media to declare that because of the treatment of the former first Minister they will not be voting SNP in the May elections. I believe that this is premature, and an attempt to prejudge what Alex would himself advise his supporters to do. Alex Salmond has not yet made any public statement about how he would prefer his supporters to vote in May, and until such time as he does I believe that his supporters should err on the side of caution and not do anything which may prove prejudicial to the cause and the party to which Alex Salmond has devoted his political career.

This means, that until such time as Alex Salmond himself says something to the contrary, we must operate on the assumption that he would want his supporters to vote SNP in May. Alex Salmond loves the SNP, his beef is with the party’s current leader and those close to her, not with the party as a whole. Alex Salmond knows that the SNP is a whole lot bigger than him, and a whole lot bigger than Nicola Sturgeon. He does not want to bring the entire SNP down just before a crucial election which could prove to hold the key to independence because he has a dispute with its current leader, all the more so because this would be severely prejudicial to any hopes he might harbour of returning to a senior role within the party should the present leadership stand down. You don’t burn down a house that you think you might move into.

Just as Alex Salmond understands that the SNP is bigger than him and bigger than Nicola Sturgeon, he also understands that the cause of independence is bigger than all three. He would not want his supporters to do anything which might damage Scotland’s prospects of independence and play into the hands of the British nationalists. Unlike some of his more strident supporters on social media, Alex Salmond is an expert political strategist and tactician. He instinctively understands the power of a political narrative and knows that if the SNP fail to do well in May the dominant political narrative will be that Scotland doesn’t want independence, and the current momentum will be lost. If his supporters turn their backs on the SNP in the mistaken belief that they are supporting him, there is a very real risk that he will go down in history not as the godfather of Scottish independence, but as the man who thwarted it. That is most certainly not what he wants.

So if you do consider yourself a supporter of Alex Salmond, at least do the man the courtesy of speaking for himself before you take to social media and announce in an outrage that you are not going to vote SNP. Because if the time comes when Alex Salmond advises his supporters not to vote SNP 1 and 2 in May, it will only be because he has an alternative plan which will further the cause of independence and which won’t play into the hands of the Tories or the other British nationalist parties. Allow him to speak for himself, and don’t let your anger and outrage speak for him. I have no doubt that he will make his views clear soon enough. Until he does don’t pre-empt him and in your anger risk damaging Alex Salmond’s interests and those of Scottish independence.

Please note that there will not be a blog post tomorrow as I have to travel to Glasgow for a hospital appointment.

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The disunion unit

All is not well with the British government’s campaign to fend off Scottish independence. After just two weeks, Oliver Lewis, formerly of the Vote Leave Campaign, has resigned from his post as the chief of Boris Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson’s much heralded “Union Unit”. They called it that because the more accurate title, “The Suppressing Scottish democracy Unit ” would have proven too hard a sell for the May elections, even for the BBC, no matter how many photies of Ruth Davidson grinning with a gutted fish they tried to tart their election leaflets up with. This is Not least because after banging on about fisheries for months, the Scottish Tories are now very keen not to remind anyone at all about fishing.

The Union Unit is the government office which was supposed to stick it to those pesky nats and formulate a convincing and plausible case for this so-called union and make the people of Scotland realise that after all, we’d be much better off if we consented to Brexit and to being governed by the afore-mentioned de Pfeffel Johnson and his miserable band of corporate cronyists.

This was always going to be a tough gig. All the way through the 2014 we waited in vain for the constantly promised positive case for the union, and that was at a time when the UK wasn’t actually the pariah of Europe and led by a man who rivals Donald Trump in his propensity for lying , and who is, moeover, so out of touch with Scottish public opinion and culture that he makes Andrew Bowie MP seem like an expert on fish suppers. Unfortunately however the union unit has been anything but united. It has been spending more time and energy fighting with itself than the habitues of Scottish Twitter.

Lewis took over the position from the former Scottish Conservative MP Luke Graham, who was reportedly sacked following a “brutal row” within Downing Street about his role, amidst rumours that his working relationships with other advisors and officials had broken down. One One Scottish Tory, speaking anonymously to the press was reported as saying: “Luke was the only one who gets Scotland in there, it’s a big shame he’s gone and speaks to their total lack of a strategy on how to deal with the SNP.”

Whatever his shortcomings, Luke Graham was at least a Scottish MP and had some first hand experience of Scottish politics. The same could not be said of his replacement Oliver Lewis, whose sole expertise in matters Caledonian appeared to be that he’d once seen Scotland on the BBC weather map. But then, as the former chief of the Vote Leave campaign, Lewis does have abundant experience of selling the public a self-harming proposition based upon nothing more than British nationalistic bull-shittery and flag waving, so in that crucial sense he’s a perfect fit for a lead role in persuading the people of Scotland that it’s in their interests to remain a subordinate part of Johnson’s Brexit dystopia.

Of course, not everyone shares the view that Johnson is hopelessly ignorant of Scottish concerns. According to the UK Government’s Governor General, Alister Jack, Johnson is an “absolute asset ” to the cause of the Union and to the Conservative party in Scotland. There are however many people in Scotland, even outwith the Conservative party, who could have agreed with Jack’s assessment that Johnson was an “absolute asset” provided he had left off the last two letters.

As it turned out, Oliver Lewis lasted just two weeks in his new post before he too walked out amidst reports of arguments and recriminations within Downing Street’s disunion unit. According to the Times, Lewis was accused of briefing against Michael Gove and reportedly received a “bollocking” from an angry Prime Minister. For a department which is supposed to be devoted to persuading Scotland that we’re better together they can’t even manage to persuade one another that they’re better together with each other. Still, at least Oliver now has a better insight into how the great majority in Scotland is feeling. We all think that Michael Gove is insufferable too.

Speaking on Channel 4 News over the weekend, Johnson’s biographer Andrew Gimson said that the departure of Oliver Lewis showed that Johnson hasn’t made up his mind about how to deal with the growing support in Scotland for independence and for another independence referendum. It proves that there is no strategy and there is no plan. Opponents of independence are flailing around blindly. It shows that far from having resolved to keep saying no to another independence referendum in perpetuity, Johnson simply has no idea how he’s going to respond to a victory for the pro-independence parties in the Holyrood election in May. He’s hoping that the independence movement and demand for independence will just go away, and to be fair he’s getting some support for that hope from the self-destructive in-fighting which is consuming certain sections of the independence movement and the SNP on social media. Right now the biggest threat to independence doesn’t come from the Tories, it comes from some loud voices within the independence movement.

But here’s the thing. Irrespective of your views on the various issues which are currently dividing the movement and the SNP, there is no looming deadline for resolving them. There is however a looming deadline for winning this crucial Holyrood election. It’s only a matter of weeks away now. If the SNP does not do well in this election, no one is going to say that it’s because the indy movement wasn’t happy with the lack of a plan B, no one is going to say that it’s because Nicola Sturgeon isn’t assertive enough in pursuing independence. No one is going to point to the Salmond-Sturgeon affair.

The only narrative in the media will be that Scotland doesn’t want another independence referendum, and that will become the new political reality in Scotland. It’s fine if, like some on social media, you say that you’re not going to vote SNP in May but you will vote for independence when there is a referendum, but the simple fact of the matter is that if you don’t vote SNP in May then you’re making it less likely that there is going to be another referendum. That’s the political reality. No one is telling you to wheesht for indy, you can still pursue your issues with the SNP after May’s election. Then we can argue about a Plan B from a position of strength. This is not a question of wheesht for indy. It’s a question of getting real. Let’s win this election first. That’s the overriding priority.

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Normal blogging service is (about to be) resumed

Well it took longer than we had originally  thought, but we are now in our new house in South Ayrshire. There was a problem with the title deeds for our new place which our solicitor had to sort out before the sale could be finalised, and as a result we had to spend an extra week in a temporary flat where we had no internet connection. We finally got into the new place on Friday and spent the weekend moving packing cases about and wondering where we’d put the kettle and the bedding and everything else that we are going to need in the short term.

Internet has now been reconnected but until we can get some more hubs to extend it reliably throughout the house it’s patchy and slow. All going well that will be sorted out over the coming weekend. So, fingers crossed normal blogging service will be resumed next week. This week we are concentrating on getting our new home comfortable and habitable until the renovation work we want can be done and then we can get the place decorated. However it’s already a huge relief to be able to get in the front door without having to shift my reluctant limbs up two flights of concrete stairs in a freezing close. It’s also great to be able to have a shower which I can get in and out of easily. Once we get the planned renovation work done I will have a bathroom that’s fully suited to my reduced mobility.

It’s also wonderful to have a garden, so when the weather improves we will have a nice wee bit of outdoor space to sit in. I’ve identified a nice wee south facing spot in the new garden where we plan to bury Ginger’s ashes – so he’ll spend eternity in a nice sunny place where he will always be with his daddy. He’d have wanted that.

Thank you to all regular, and occasional, readers for your patience during my enforced absence. Normal ranting service will be resumed on Monday. This will be a crucial year for Scottish independence, and you can be certain that I am not going to miss it. It’s great to be here in South Ayrshire, and both Peter and I know that we are going to be very happy here.

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