The future with independence or stuck in the past with the UK

Saturday marked the seventh anniversary of the first Scottish independence referendum, or if you’re a British nationalist, the day that put the final unbreakable seal on Scottish democracy. Apparently that was the day when Scotland was allowed a say on its own future and would never be allowed a say on its future ever again, no matter how duplicitous or mendacious the promises and commitments that British nationalists made to Scotland turned out to be. Better Together never told us that when they were gushing on about how much Scotland was loved and wanted and how it was an equal and respected partner in a family of nations.

Times have changed radically since 2014. It’s not just that the UK has left the EU, taking remain voting Scotland with it. It’s also that the UK which Scotland was promised it could be a part of in 2014 has turned out to be a fantasy, a deliberate confection that its fervent advocates never had any intention of making a reality. The anti-independence prospectus that was sold to Scotland by the Better Together campaign has turned out to be a lie.

Far from devolution being strengthened and entrenched, the Conservatives are using Brexit as an excuse to put it into reverse. Instead of the pooling and sharing which Gordon Brown lauded as the only way to protect the poor and the vulnerable in Scotland we have a British Government which has just embarked upon the biggest single cut to social security payments in modern history with its withdrawal of the £20 per week uplift in universal credit, throwing thousands of families into penury. Meanwhile the Conservatives are hiking National Insurance, forcing low paid workers, including workers in Scotland, to pay for England’s soaring social care bill in order to protect the wealth of home owners in the affluent south east of England.

In no small measure it’s the fear of being held to account for their lies which explains the vehemence with which British nationalists in Scotland assert that the question Scotland asked itself in 2014 must never be revisited. They know, and are terrified of the truth that British nationalism has blown its credibility and none of the promises or commitments that they make in a future referendum campaign are going to be believed, and that’s without even taking into account that the British government is headed by the serial liar Boris Johnson and its leading Scot is the glibly mendacious Michael Gove.

It’s scarcely surprising that many prominent people who opposed independence in 2014 now say that they would vote for it, from Sharleen Spiteri of the rock group Texas, to the comedians Billy Connelly, and Rory Bremner, the writer Armando Ianucci, the actor Ewan McGregor and many more. Now the broadcaster Jeremy Paxman has become the latest to declare that he’d vote yes in a future independence referendum. The positive appeal and potential benefits of independence have increased as the attractions and supposed advantages of remaining a part of the UK have diminished.

Saturday also marked the launch of a new and invigorated grassroots campaign for independence aimed at reaching out to soft noes, undecided voters and the persuadable in order to present them with a new prospectus for independence in the post-Brexit and covid age in which the true urgency of the climate crisis is starting to be appreciated. The prospectus of 2014, which was based upon both Scotland and the rest of the UK remaining full participants in the EU and the European Single Market and customs union and which put considerable emphasis on Scotland’s huge potential as a producer of carbon emitting fossil fuels has already been consigned to the history books.

The fresh case for independence will only be fleshed out and firmed up in the months ahead, as the Scottish Government gets to work to produce the new financial prospectus for independence which has been promised.

The arguments put forward by the independence campaign will be very different the next time around. Now it’s independence which represents better integration with Europe, the chance to develop Scotland’s export markets and the only realistic and plausible route back to membership of the EU. Meanwhile many of the arguments which were presented by Better Together in 2014 have been blown up by the anti-independence parties themselves and particularly by the Conservatives. Now it’s opposition to Scottish independence and British nationalism which represent the narrow backward looking parochial nationalism which was so derided by Better Together in 2014. We have a British government which fetishises flags and the royal family, military parades, and which even seeks to reintroduce imperial weights and measures. The British state is increasingly obsessed with Britain’s imperial past because it has no plan for the future.

There is now no one who can plausibly and convincingly front an anti independence campaign. Gordon Brown has no credibility left, and Ruth Davidson with her peerage has come to epitomise all that is wrong with the anti-democratic and unaccountable British establishment.

Whoever does finally get roped into heading the anti-independence campaign is going to be leading a campaign with nothing positive to offer, only a doubling down on the scare stories and fear mongering that characterised Better Together’s Project Fear. Absolutely nothing has been done to develop a revived case for this so-called Union in the post Brexit age. Having won the independence referendum in 2014, the Better Together parties complacently thought that they could return to business as usual, that Scotland had been successfully shut back in its shortbread tin and could safely be ignored and taken for granted. The historic failure of the UK will be seen to be that Scotland changed irrevocably following the referendum campaign of 2014 but the parties of the British establishment did not. Scotland gave them a chance to prove themselves in 2014, but they blew it badly with their arrogance, their ignorance, and their immutable British nationalist exceptionalism.

Fundamentally the campaign for Scottish independence is about the future, British nationalism has proven itself to be trapped in the past. The question facing Scotland is whether to look to the future with independence or remain stuck in the past with the failing British state

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Tories appeal to the past because they have nothing to offer the future

Over the past few days the news has been dominated by Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle in which one Conservative careerist fractionwit has been replaced by another careerist fractionwit, all of which has provided a very convenient distraction from the decision of this government of none of the talents to press ahead with clawing back the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit from the poorest families in the UK. This is a move which has been universally condemned by anti-poverty groups and which has been described as the biggest benefits cut in modern history. The loss of a significant chunk of their income risks pushing hundreds of thousands of struggling families over the edge. Contrary to the stereotypes so beloved of the right wing media and the poverty porn of Channel 5, these are not all feckless wastrels who refuse to work and squander all their benefits on fags, hash, and cheap booze. Almost 40% of households which claim universal credit are headed by working people struggling in low paid jobs.

Naturally that hasn’t prevented Scotland’s six Conservative MPs from refusing to speak out against the move. Not one of them saw fit to speak up in defence of the poorest and most vulnerable families in their constituencies. Scotland’s sole Labour MP spoke out against the cut. The cut was also opposed by Scotland’s Lib Dem MPs as well as all the SNP contingent and the two Alba MPs. Only the Conservatives have no problem with punishing the poor in order to avoid raising taxes on the rich. It would be nice to say this was surprising, but we all know it isn’t.

The Tories were far more occupied with their boss’s reshuffle. On Friday it was announced that Scottish Tory MP David Duguid had been sacked from his position as a junior minister in the Scotland office. This won’t make any meaningful difference as it’s not like anyone had ever noticed that David Duguid had been a junior minister in the first place.

Yesterday there was much scoffing at the news that the post of Culture Secretary had been given to Nadine Dorries, an MP whose claim to be in touch with the cultural Zeitgeist rests mainly upon the fact that she once ate an ostrich anus on I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here, in an episode which was most notable for proving that the definition of “celebrity” could be stretched considerably further than an ostrich’s anus. Naturally she didn’t bother to inform the House of Commons authorities or the Tory whip that she was buggering off from the job she was elected to do in order to appear on a reality show for a lucrative fee.

Nadine Dorries bears approximately the same relation to culture as a yeast infection. She once claimed that “lefties” had ruined comedy, because apparently the racist, sexist and homophobic jokes of Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning represent one of the high points of British culture. She once wrote a novel which the Telegraph reviewer described as the worst he’d read in ten years. She has approvingly retweeted the right wing extremist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, AKA “Tommy Robinson”. An opponent of gay marriage, in 2012 she claimed that she’d never met a gay couple who wanted to get married. It is thought by many that the only reason Nadine Dorries was promoted was because Priti Patel thought that it was only fair that someone else got a shot at being the most loathsome cabinet minister.

Less than twenty four hours in office and the Tory press was crowing that Dorries was planning a war on “crackpot” BBC programming. So we can expect a revival of the Black and White Minstrel Show and wall to wall Great British reality competitions in which contestants vie to prove who is the most patriotic based on how many ostrich anuses they can eat from a Royal wedding commemorative plate.

As if this government hasn’t already done enough to demonstrate that satire isn’t only dead but has been split into its constituent particles and shot into a black hole where it has effectively disappeared from this universe forever, on Thursday evening the Johnson administration published a list of those hitherto elusive Brexit benefits. Starring on the list is a return to imperial measurements. British state schools have exclusively taught the metric system since 1974 and in some cases even earlier so very few people under the age of 60 prefer imperial over metric. You have to be well over fifty to remember the time that the UK used imperial measures. And that is exactly the point. Still, don’t worry too much about the conversion between metric and imperial. An empty supermarket fruit and veg shelf is exactly the same whether you weigh it in metric or imperial.

The system of imperial measurements is hopelessly illogical. You might as well bring back Roman numerals. Still, now you can measure your car’s fuel consumption in firkins per furlong.

Many wouldn’t put it past Nadine Dorries to want to bring back the Roman Games too. Maybe throwing gay people to ravenous lions is one of the ideas she’s got for Great British programming on the BBC. It’s certainly what she’d want to do with any news or current affairs reporter who dares to criticise the Conservative government. The BBC will be well aware of that and the fact that the licence fee the BBC depends on now relies on the goodwill of Nadine Dorries, expect even more self-censorship and Great British propaganda from the BBC than we have seen already.

The only reason this is being done is to pander to the racist elderly English nationalist gammons who voted for Brexit and who are now the core demographic being courted by the Tory party. It’s not even necessary. There are no EU regulations preventing goods being labelled in imperial measurements, just as long as the equivalent in metric is also listed on the packaging. It’s the substitution of meaningless symbolism for the very real advantages of EU membership that Brexit has stripped from us all. Now that the Tories have taken us back to the 1970s perhaps Lord Lucan will be offered a government position in the next reshuffle.

Those who make policy in the present by appealing to the past only do so because they have nothing to offer the future. Blue passports, imperial measurements, empty supermarket shelves, Carry On movies on your Great British telly, and no freedom of movement, the Tories have taken us back to the 60s. So-called Global Britain is a sad, pathetic and insecure place harking nostalgically for a lost golden age that never was. There is no future in the UK, the Tories have demonstrated that themselves.

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Johnson’s bridge to nowhere

It’s hardly surprising that there are reports that the UK Treasury has cancelled Boris Johnson’s grandiose scheme to construct a fixed link, either a bridge or a tunnel, between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Just about any engineering project is possible if money and resources are unlimited. A fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland could potentially overcome the massive challenges of the great depths of the Beaufort Dyke, the rapid and dangerous currents and the frequent stormy weather which strikes the Sheuch in the winter. It could even potentially deal with the massive amounts of dangerous and unstable munitions which were dumped in the North Channel by the British Government in the decades following the First World War. However these issues could only be solved by throwing immense amounts of public money at the problem.

The Channel Tunnel between England and France cost £4.65 billion to build, approximately £12 billion in today’s money. The project took 13,000 workers six years to complete. Although the distance across the English Channel is greater than the distance between Scotland and Northern Ireland across the North Channel, the English Channel is far shallower than the North Channel. At its lowest point, the Channel Tunnel is 75 m (250 ft) deep below the sea bed and 115 m (380 ft) below sea level. The Beaufort Dyke in the North Channel, which any fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland would have to cross, is 50 km (30 miles) long, 3.5 km (2 miles) wide and 200 – 300 m (700 – 1,000 ft) deep. It is also a dumping site for munitions which could easily be disturbed by construction work.

A fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland would be far more expensive, most initial estimates range between £15 and £20 billion, with figures of up to £33 billion also being cited. It should also be noted that the final bill of £4.65 billion for the Channel Tunnel was 80% greater than the initial cost estimates.

Massive budget overruns are commonplace for huge civil engineering projects in the UK. London’s Crossrail project was originally budgeted at £14.8 billion but is now expected to cost over £18.6 billion and is still not open for regular rail services. The High Speed Rail project HS2 connecting London with Birmingham was originally forecast to cost £32.7 billion when the project was given the go ahead in 2012. Recent estimates put the likely cost at an eye watering £107.7 billion. Given the geological and logistical challenges of building a fixed link across a deep and stormy stretch of water between Scotland and Northern Ireland, any initial cost estimate is likely to balloon.

None of this factors in the costs of improving transport links to the site of the proposed fixed link , the A77 between Glasgow and Stranraer and the A75 from Dumfries can barely cope with the amount of traffic using them just now, never mind any increased traffic generated by the new crossing. Both these roads would require extensive upgrades to make them fit for purpose as connecting routes to a new fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If the new crossing was to be a railway tunnel, there would have to be major upgrades on the Glasgow to Stranraer line which is single track and not electrified south of Ayr. The line would have to be dualled and electrified. The old Stranraer to Dumfries line, closed in the 1960s, would have to be rebuilt. The Scottish Government has recently pledged to reopen the Stranraer to Dumfries rail line although the project is ranked lower in priority than reopening the railway line to Leven in Fife and extending the Borders Railway from its current terminus at Tweedbank all the way through to Carlisle.

Additionally there is the not insignificant problem that railway lines in Ireland are built to a different gauge from those in Great Britain and most of Europe. The rails on Irish railway tracks are 1600mm (5ft 3 inches) apart. The gauge on British and most European railway lines is 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in). This gauge difference would make it impossible for trains to run directly through from Ireland to Scotland and beyond unless extensive work was carried out to alter the gauge of Irish railways or to make the sections of Irish track connecting to the link dual gauge. Alternatively trains running straight through could be equipped with special variable gauge bogies. The gauge is altered by slowly driving the train through a gauge changer or gauge changing facility which would have to be built at either end of the fixed link.

Given all these issues, the costs of a fixed link between Scotland and Ireland would be exorbitant and unjustifiable given the volume of traffic which crosses between the two countries. The Channel Tunnel links the South East and Midlands of England,with a population approaching 30 million with the densely populated areas of Belgium, Northern France and the Dutch Randstad region, which also has a total population approaching 30 million. Additionally it provides direct high speed rail links between London, Paris, and Brussels, three major capital cities with a total population in excess of 20 million people. Approximately 26% of trade in goods between the UK and continental Europe goes through the Channel Tunnel each year, which represents a total value of £120 billion annually.

The total population of Scotland and Ireland combined is only around 11 million. Traffic between the two countries via a fixed link would never come close to that of the Channel Tunnel, yet it would be significantly more expensive and challenging to build. It is unlikely that it would ever come close to justifying its cost.

So it was only to be expected that the Treasury has cancelled the project. It is equally unsurprising that the Scottish Government reports that at no point in the process did the Conservative Government speak to the Scottish Government about the project or about what priorities the Scottish Government has identified for improving transport links in South West Scotland or between Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Tories were far too busy pontificating about the moral standards of the cast members of pantos in Aberdeen.

The plan for a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland was never realistic. Johnson’s bridge to nowhere was never about the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland, it was always a vanity project about the desperate need of Boris Johnson for publicity and the chance for him to attach his name to something that will outlast his time in office and provide him with a legacy. He needn’t worry about that. Johnson’s legacy will be the end of the UK and an independent Scotland.

I have a physiotherapy appointment tomorrow so won’t be doing a piece for the blog as I am always wiped out afterwards.

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Time to cancel Gove’s panto gig

Recordings have come to light of Michael Gove making offensive comments during speeches he made to the Cambridge Union while he was a student there in his 20s. The comments are not just racist, sexist, and homophobic, they also cover several other offensiveness bases for good measure, including slurs directed at the royal family, which to be honest is fair enough. He also made jokes about child abuse, making light of the alleged paedophilia of a now deceased Conservative cabinet minister, whose widow was later paid substantial compensation by the Metropolitan police for police searches of her and her husband’s home because of allegations which the police have since accepted were baseless.

Gove also made fun of the economic devastation and job losses being visited upon the north of England and Scotland, referring to “the happy south” stamping over “the cruel, dirty, toothless face of the northerner.” The recordings of the offensive comments were published by the Independent newspaper. They’re probably the only time you’ll ever hear Michael Gove speaking truthfully and with conviction. Gove added that it’s pragmatic not to care what half of the population say because the richer half will keep you in power. That was when he was an honest sociopath instead of a lying sociopath.

These comments are separate from the offensive remarks about Scottish people which Gove made for the short lived car crash of a topical current affairs alleged comedy show for Channel 4 in the 1990s. Gove hasn’t apologised for those comments and he’s refusing to respond to requests for a statement about the offensive so called jokes he made to the Cambridge Union.

Just last week Scottish Conservative MPs and MSPs were up in arms about some offensive tweets made many years ago by the comedian Janey Godley. Those same Scottish Conservatives are now strangely quiet about racist and misogynistic comments from their hero Michael Gove. You’d think that at the very least they’d be trying to get his pantomime gig with BawJaws the Clown cancelled.

There’s no defence for the offensive tweets made many years ago by Janey Godley, however after those tweets surfaced she made a fulsome and sincere apology for any offence that she’d caused.

There’s a clear pattern in what’s called “cancel culture”, which is basically people being called out for sexist, racist, or homophobic remarks they’d made in the past. The toxic fandom of RuPaul’s Drag Race is particularly adept at trawling through the social media accounts of contestants searching for offensive comments made many years previously. In the upcoming series of Drag Race UK one of the contestants has been called out for comments which they made when they were 16. These revelations are invariably followed by a teary apology video on social media in which the person apologises and assures us that they have learned and have grown and are no longer the same person that they were when they made the offensive or problematic remarks. Indeed if you haven’t learned and grown up from the person you were when you were 16 or a callow youth there’s something seriously wrong with you.

That’s essentially what Janey Godley did, and like those contestants on Drag Race, she’s an entertainer,whose public life begins and ends with providing amusing and entertaining content. Not only has Michael Gove never apologised, he is still very much the same person as he was when he made those vile comments. In fact if anything he’s got worse. Gove has merely learned to lie more fluently and glibly.  Far more seriously, Gove isn’t just an entertainer looking to perform in a pantomime in Aberdeen, as a cabinet minister in the British Government he has the power to influence legislation and government policies which affect all our lives. He is a senior figure in a corrupt government which weaponises xenophobia and demonises migrants and asylum seekers.

If, as seems likely given the large Conservative majority, the Conservatives’ Elections Bill is passed by the Commons, Gove will be given oversight of the Electoral Commission and will have the power to rule that campaigning activities he disapproves of are illegal. That’s a damn sight more serious than the pantomime “Oh no he isn’t!” “Oh yes he is!” and He’s behind you!” of a comedian that was getting the collective knickers of the Scottish Conservatives in a twist when it came to Janey Godley.

Likewise the Scottish Conservatives don’t seem overly bothered by the racist and homophobic comments of the serial liar in Downing Street, but when it comes to an independence supporting female comedian all of a sudden they transform into the net curtain twitching defenders of public morality and propriety. Johnson’s offensive comments would fill a script long enough to keep an entire theatre repertory company in business for years, never mind a single panto.

The really shocking thing here is that none of this is surprising. We’ve been shocked and appalled before by the crass contempt of the Conservatives, by their casual racism, naked class prejudice,their overweening entitlement, their corruption, and their hypocritical double standards. The student speeches of Michael Gove, the Spectator journalism of Boris Johnson, the deleted Tweets of Toby Young. It’s almost as if there’s a pattern emerging. It’s a pattern that if the Tories got it made into wallpaper it would cost £850 a roll and they’d expect the taxpayer to pay for it.

On this occasion the Scottish Conservatives will do exactly what they have done on all those previous occasions when the bigotry and prejudices of senior Conservatives has come to light. They’ll keep their heads down until they can find or manufacture an opportunity to castigate their opponents for some sin, real or imagined, and they will be aided and abetted in that by Scotland’s overwhelmingly anti-independence media, which is far more concerned about fending off independence than it is in holding the Conservatives to account.

This is what you get when a political party cannot be held to account by the electorate. Scotland hasn’t voted for a Conservative Government since the 1950s, but the Tories still enjoy power and privilege. Now they’re pauchling the electoral system to make it even harder to remove them from Westminster. The only way to cancel this panto is with Scottish independence.

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A Conference for independence

The SNP and Alba party conferences were held over the weekend and it’s now possible to assert with confidence to the doubters that a second independence referendum is most definitely on its way and will be delivered by the only people capable of delivering it. That would be the SNP and Scottish Green MSPs who together give the Scottish Government an unassailable majority in Holyrood. The SNP conference ends on Monday with a keynote speech from the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. On Sunday it was the turn of deputy First Minister John Swinney who said that the SNP-Green co-operation deal proved that the SNP is willing to collaborate and work constructively with other parties in order to deliver independence.

The deputy First Minister stressed that “by reaching agreement with the Greens, we are not closing the door to working with other parties.” However in what many will see as a veiled warning to the Alba party, several of whose main speakers used their conference speeches to attack the SNP and the First Minister, generating headlines which the anti-independence media gleefully seized on, he said that if other parties want to work with the Scottish Government they can, but if they want to “continue being negative naysayers” – they will be left behind.

Meanwhile the Sunday Times reported, and this is the exact text of their tweet so that you too can marvel at the mendacity of the British nationalist press in Scotland: “A new poll suggests just 17 per cent of voters who voice a preference want a referendum in the next year, while 36 per cent back it in the next two to five years and 47 per cent don’t want one at all in the next few years.” Which is very much a grudging attempt not to mention that a majority of voters in Scotland want an independence referendum within the term of this Parliament and a perfect example of how the British nationalist media frames any positive development for independence as a negative.

The figures in the poll break down as follows: 27% want the vote held in the next two years, 26% think it should be staged in 2023-24 and a further 9% say it should take place in 2025-26. That adds up to 62% who want another referendum before the next Holyrood elections, due in 2026. You can feel the Sunday Times’ pain,” 62% of voters in Scotland agree that there should be an independence referendum within the timescale proposed by the Scottish Government” is the kind of headline that’s going to get the Tory boys and girls of the Sunday Times spitting red white and blue feathers. 89% of SNP voters want the referendum to be held before 2026, as do 54% of Labour voters. Only Tory voters are (predictably) opposed, with just 19% wanting a referendum within the term of this Parliament. Was it not Alister Jack who suggested that the British Government would have to concede to another referendum if support for it was at 60%? The Sunday Times would rather we forgot about that.

Delegates to the SNP conference overwhelmingly approved a motion welcoming the draft referendum bill published before the Scottish Parliamentary election in May and the commitment to hold a referendum once the covid crisis has passed. In May’s Holyrood election voters had clearly and unambiguously issued instructions to elected representatives to hold a referendum by the end of this parliamentary term.

Chris Hanlon, SNP Policy Development Convener, who proposed the motion, said that the resolution wasn’t about *whether* to hold a referendum, but about setting a date, noting that it should be at a time when the average voter in Scotland would feel comfortable having one, as not everyone is ready to return to “normal”. He added: “That’s not kicking the can down the road, that’s sticking the ball in the penalty spot and waiting for the whistle to blow, and blow it will, all too soon.” According to the poll in the Sunday Times, carried out by a Conservative think tank, a clear and substantial majority of voters in Scotland agree with the Scottish Government’s timetable.

Both Alba and the SNP agree about the necessity of a second independence referendum, merely disagreeing on the timing of one. Likewise both parties agree that an independent Scotland must rid itself of the UK nuclear missiles and submarines on the Clyde, but disagree on the timescale for their removal. Alba delegates approved a motion calling for the removal of Trident on day one of independence. For their part the SNP delegates approved a motion calling for the removal of Trident within three years of independence.

SNP delegates also overwhelmingly backed a resolution offering Scottish citizenship in an independent Scotland to new Scots in a smooth and easy manner without any degrading “citizenship tests” or expensive preferential acccess. Citizenship will also be automatic for anyone born in Scotland, or who has at least one Scottish born parent. An independent Scotland categorically rejects the “hostile environment” for migrants so beloved of British Home Sectretaries.

In her closing speech to the SNP conference Nicola Sturgeon reminded the British Government: “By any standard of democracy” the SNP’s victory in the May Holyrood election “represents an unarguable mandate to implement the manifesto we put before the country. And that is what we intend to do. It is called democracy.” She told delegates that as long as the covid crisis is under control, there will be a second independence referendum before the end of 2023, a timetable which even an opinion poll carried out by a Conservative think tank showed is supported by a substantial majority of voters. She also announced that the Scottish Government will fund the COP Conference of Youth, after the UK Government failed to do so. In another major policy announcement, she used her speech to inform delegates that the Scottish Government will create a National Care Service.

Scotland is not only en route to another independence referendum, but the kinder, gentler, environmentally sustainable, more socially just and tolerant Scotland, which can only be fully realised with independence is hoving into view. It’s up to all of us to make it a reality.

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A new financial prospectus for an independent Scotland

The Deputy First Minister John Swinney has confirmed that the Scottish Government is to publish a “comprehensive financial plan” for independence. The plan aims to provide the public with “relevant and realistic” information about the financial prospects of an independent Scotland. This kind of information is sorely needed as until now the debate about Scotland’s finances have been dominated by discussions based on the annual GERS figures (Government Expenditure and Revenues Scotland) which even the most dedicated graph creating opponent of independence has been forced to admit tell us nothing useful about the finances of an independent Scotland. Informed critics of the figures insist that they tell us little that’s useful about the finances of Scotland, full stop.

The GERS figures were devised by the Conservative Scottish Secretary of State Ian Lang in the 1990s as he wanted a political tool to use against those arguing for the creation of a Scottish Parliament. Three decades later the GERS figures are still being deployed as a political weapon against those arguing for greater Scottish self government. As a source of realistic financial information about the Scottish economy the GERS figures are worse than useless, but as a campaigning tool for opponents of greater Scottish self government they have been highly effective. It’s hardly surprising that they are fetishised as being tantamount to holy writ in British nationalist circles and anyone who dares to criticise them is condemned as a heretic to be burned at the stake.

However a corrective to the inadequacies and manifest inaccuracies of the GERS figures is sorely needed. The fictitious narrative, so beloved of British nationalists, that Scotland is an economic basket case which is hopelessly dependent upon the largesse of UK Treasury and the English taxpayer is derived from the GERS figures. That is after all the picture that the designers of the GERS statistics set out to paint. Yet, as this blog has pointed out on numerous occasions, even if this tale of woe and penury was accurate, it’s scarcely something for opponents of independence to be proud of, far less to make the basis of their case against independence. It would merely illustrate that the Scottish economy has been shockingly mismanaged by successive British governments to the point that Scotland, uniquely amongst the nations of North Western Europe, has been rendered incapable by the economic policies of the British state of providing its citizens with the basic level of public services that all other countries in this part of the world take for granted.

That’s not an argument against independence, it’s an appalling indictment of British rule and a sign that escaping this criminal British mismanagement as quickly as possible is a moral, economic, and political imperative.

The entire point of independence is to do things differently from Westminster and to manage the Scottish economy and Scottish resources in a way which is beneficial for the people of Scotland and not the political and strategic interests of the British state. A set of figures which are based upon guesstimates derived from Westminster’s spending priorities are fundamentally unsuitable for providing a basis from which to discuss the financial prospects of an independent Scotland. You cannot make the financial case for independence by basing it on a set of statistics which were designed to demonstrate Scotland’s supposed financial dependency on Westminster.

We need to move away from the myths and misinformation of the GERS figures, which is the main reason why John Swinney’s announcement is so welcome. It’s not the only reason however, the announcement is also welcome because it is a much needed sign that the Scottish Government is serious about pursuing independence and is putting in the preparatory work which will be vital for winning the second independence referendum campaign.

The new prospectus is required because previous work has been rendered out of date by Brexit, the economic challenges of the covid pandemic, and the increased urgency of the climate crisis. Previous plans for the economy of an independent Scotland which placed a significant reliance on Scotland’s potential as a producer of oil and gas have now become historical documents. The motor for the future economy of an independent Scotland must be this country’s immense potential as a producer of renewable energy, resources which Scotland is blessed with an abundance of. Above all else the economy of an independent Scotland must be sustainable in the longer term in order to guarantee the public services and standard of living that we have come to expect.

For my own part I would like to see the prospectus contain proposals for the rapid establishment of a Scottish Central Bank to be up and running as soon as possible after a Yes vote in the referendum, and a plan to move as soon as feasibly possible to the establishment of a new Scottish currency. While Scotland is fully entitled to continue to use Sterling for as long as it chooses to, and any British nationalist suggestions to the contrary must be robustly rebuffed, in the longer term the Scottish Government must not have its hands tied by the fiscal policies of the government of another country and must be able to create new money for investment in the economy, as any normal country with a fiat currency does.

Any new financial prospectus will have to strike a fine balance between providing the public with realistic and convincing answers to the questions they have about the currency of an independent Scotland, pensions, and the long term and sustainable funding of public services. On the other hand it needs to avoid merely providing opponents of independence with fresh targets to attack. It’s a tall order, but I have no doubt that John Swinney and his team are up to the job. If they succeed they can progress the case for independence beyond the sterile and pointless GERS-based arguments and put the independence campaign on a secure and robust footing for a campaign during which the British state is going to throw all its capacity for scaremongering, threats, and fomenting division against us.

There won’t be a new blog article tomorrow as I have a physiotherapy appointment in the morning and am likely to be wiped out and drained afterwards. This weekend it’s my birthday, so I’m taking a couple of days off.

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A programme for independence

The Scottish Government has set out its programme for government for the coming year. This is the Holyrood version of the Queen’s speech in Westminster only without the fancy costumes and the Mediaevalesque traditions that were really only made up in Victorian times in order to give the proceedings an aura of historical legitimacy so no one would complain about how ludicrous they were.

In Westminster today we had the spectacle of Boris Johnson describing as a “union benefit” a hike in National Insurance which Scottish workers will also have to pay in order to cover a shortfall in England’s social care budget. Johnson claimed that a portion of the money raised will be spent on health services in Scotland, either forgetting – or more likely not caring – that health services in Scotland are devolved. So this “union benefit” is really yet another assault on the devolution settlement. For those British nationalists who say that Scotland shouldn’t look a Westminster gift horse in the mouth, this is no gift horse. Any funds disbursed to Scotland will come from taxes paid by Scotland. We pay our taxation, we pay into a pot which our own government needs to ask permission for funds & then the British Government fiscal controls to allow us to look after the best interest of our nation. If Holyrood had full powers over taxation it certainly would not choose to fund health and social care with a regressive tax the burden of which falls disproportionately on the lower paid and the poor. What Scotland is being burdened with by this Conservative Government is, as SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said, effectively a new Tory poll tax.

Boris Johnson’s new poll tax will see a regressive tax hike unfairly penalising young people, low paid workers and families. The Tories want to tax Scottish workers twice, forcing them to pay the bill for social care in England, as well as Scotland. The Conservative proposals will protect the wealth of home owners in London and the South East of England where average property values are high at the expense of the low paid, and those living in areas where property is far less valuable. It’s a classic example of robbing the poor to pay the rich. The Tories are robbing Liverpool to pay Surrey.

Meanwhile back in the land of the grown ups, well, away from the Scottish Tory benches that is, and Tess White was being very quiet today. The Holyrood event is a much more business-like affair than the Queen’s speech or the yah-boo-sucks and gaslighting which passes for debate in the chamber of the House of Commons.

Independence was given top billing in the First Minister’s speech. Poor wee Douglas Ross was full of his entirely predictable manufactured outrage because independence was mentioned in the opening paragraphs of the twenty-seven page programme for government. You’d think that the man whose own party’s campaign centred entirely on preventing a pro-independence majority in Holyrood, and which signally failed to do so, should not be all of a sudden surprised that the parties which promised another independence referendum should be committing to bringing about that independence majority which the electorate of Scotland gave them a majority in Holyrood to deliver. It’s almost as though he does not realise that the reason we voted for both SNP and Greens is so that Scotland can become independent and get away from that shit show called Westminster.

Douglas more than anyone ought to know that when the voters of Scotland looked at his party’s opposition to another referendum and decided that they were still going to elect a Scottish Parliament with the strongest pro-independence majority ever, voting instead for parties which are committed to another referendum, that there was going to be another referendum. This is a programme for independence, not a programme for government, fulminated Douglas like that was a bad thing. Douglas so badly wants people not to talk about another independence referendum that he spent almost the entirety of his ten minute rant spitting feathers about nothing else.

But then Douglas represents a party which feels no need to be bound by its manifesto commitments, or indeed by basic honesty. His boss in London was today announcing a rise in National Insurance in order to pay for the rising costs of social care in England despite the Conservative manifesto in the December 2019 General Election explicitly promising that a Conservative government would not raise taxes, including National Insurance, in order to pay for social care in England. The SNP is actually committing itself to keeping a manifesto commitment, unlike the Tories who regard manifesto commitments as becoming expired the second that they get into power.

I have to confess that I switched off the telly when the self-important void that is Alex Cole-Hamilton got up to speak, figuring that I wasn’t going to miss anything relevant or interesting, or indeed coherent.

Much to the disgust of Douglas Ross, and probably the Alex-Cole -Hamilton shaped void if I had been listening the First Minister affirmed that there will be another independence referendum in the first half of this Parliament, which means it will take place before the end of 2023, She stressed that the “democratic mandate to decide the country’s future is beyond question”. It is a shocking indictment of the lack of respect for the electorate displayed by the Conservatives and their fellow travellers that the First Minister even needs to spell out what the entire country knows this Scottish Parliament was given its pro-independence majority to do.

She also said that the Scottish Government have restarted preparations for the detailed prospectus to be put forward in that second independence referendum campaign. This will not be a Brexit style referendum where the people are effectively being asked to sign a blank cheque. Brexit,the pandemic, and the urgency of the climate crisis have changed everything, that’s why the prospectus for independence must be built anew. The prospectus detailed in the White Paper in 2014 is now a historical document.

We can now look forward to detailed proposals which will undercut the favourite attack points of the British nationalists. When the next independence referendum takes place we will be campaigning from a position of strength and confidence. No wonder Douglas Ross is raging.

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The Elections Bill: A Conservative attack on democracy

In the USA the natural demographic shifts in the population are tending over time to favour traditionally Democrat voting groups such as Hispanics and African-Americans and the increasingly secular urban population while the white Conservative Evangelical Christian population in the rural Midwest and South which for decades have provided the bedrock of Republican support is slowly losing its demographic dominance and is predicted to shrink even further over the coming decades.

This poses a serious challenge to the longer term electoral prospects of the Republicans. The right is responding to this challenge, not by softening its policies and trying to increase its appeal to those groups which have traditionally rejected it, but by adopting measures to suppress the vote and making it harder for members of those groups which do not tend to vote Republican to register to vote and to get out to vote. They justify these measures by citing the need to prevent voter fraud, although studies have shown that electoral fraud is marginal in its effects and has no impact on the outcome of elections despite all the baseless screaming from Trump and his supporters that the presidential election was stolen from them.

The Conservatives in the UK face similar, although perhaps less acute, demographic challenges, and they are reacting to them in the same anti-democratic way as their American counterparts. The Conservative government’s controversial Elections Bill, which is due to be debated in the House of Commons this week, has been described by charities and campaigning groups including Save the Children, Greenpeace and the trades union movement as “an attack on the UK’s proud democratic tradition and some of our most fundamental rights”. The Electoral Reform Society has warned that the measures in the bill could lead to “disenfranchisement on an industrial scale” and make it far harder for young people, working class people, and older Black, Asian and minority ethnic people to vote.

Labour’s shadow democracy Minister Cat Smith said that the British Government’s own research showed that members of these groups were more likely to lack the photo-ID which the Bill proposes to make a compulsory requirement in order to vote. It is no coincidence that these groups are also statistically less likely to support the Conservatives. Cabinet Office-commissioned study released in May this year that found more than 2 million voters in the UK could lack the necessary ID to take part in future elections. Those who lack the correct documentation belong to demographics which tend to be less likely to vote Conservative.  That’s precisely the point for this bill.

The new Conservative voter suppression measures will affect all elections in England and UK General Elections in Scotland and Wales. Like the Republican vote suppression measures in the USA, this elections Bill purports to tackle a problem of voter fraud which does not in fact exist. The Electoral Commission has said that the UK has low levels of electoral fraud. In 2019, there was only one conviction and just one police caution for impersonating another voter.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that suppressing the non-Conservative vote and not tackling non-existent voter fraud is the real intention behind this bill. The bill represents a brazen attempt by the Conservatives to rig elections in their favour. While the bill makes it significantly more difficult for members of sections of the public which don’t tend to favour the Conservatives to vote, it naturally does nothing at all to tackle the dark money donations which benefit the Tories, in fact it makes it worse. The bill proposes to allow tax exiles to fund the Conservative party for life.

Perhaps most alarmingly of all the Electoral Commission will be made answerable to Michael Gove and the Cabinet office. The Elections Bill confers new powers on Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove over the hitherto independent Electoral Commission, which oversees elections and regulates political finance. It will now be Gove who makes the final decision about whether some aspect of campaigning or party financing is in breach of electoral law. If that does not make you fear for the future of democracy in the UK, you’ve probably already drunk deep from the red white and blue Kool-Aid purveyed by GBeebies and the Daily Mail. The new bill will not only allow Gove to set the Electoral Commission’s strategic priorities, but will also allow him to unilaterally define campaigning and to ban campaigners and donors. The General Secretary of the TUC, Frances Grady warned in an open letter: “The bill bestows unprecedented and unchecked power to government over elections. At a stroke, the minister could ban whole sections of civil society, including unions and charities, from engaging in elections either by campaigning or donating.”

The letter adds: “Giving control of the Electoral Commission to ministers opens it to abuse by the government, turning it into a tool which they could use disproportionately against opposition campaigners while ensuring their own side receives less scrutiny.”

The UK already has a blatantly unfair electoral system for Westminster elections which allows the Johnson administration to govern with a large and unassailable majority in the House of Commons despite only winning a minority of the popular vote. That insult to democracy is compounded by the existence of the bloated and entirely unelected patronage and privilege factory which is the House of Lords. The Conservatives’ electoral bill does nothing to address the democratic deficits which blight the UK, far from it, the bill entrenches them and makes them worse, and gives Conservative ministers direct control of the Electoral Commission. The intention was never about making British democracy more secure and robust, it was always about securing and strengthening the control of the Conservative party, hobbling the opposition and rigging elections in favour of the Tories.

TheElections bill is further proof that the lazy assumptions of apologists for British nationalism of the superiority of the British system are unfounded and dangerous. There is nothing to prevent unscrupulous charlatans like Gove and Johnson from trashing democracy itself, and that is precisely what they are hell bent on doing. Scottish independence has now become an imperative for the defence of democracy itself.

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The infantile politics of the Scottish Conservatives

Yesterday was the first session of First Minister’s Questions following the return of Holyrood after its summer break. Anyone who had hoped that the Scottish Conservative contingent would return from the break and behave in a more constructive aand grown up manner was quickly disabused of that notion. The session began with the First Minister attacking Douglas Ross for his infantile politics, which was fair enough since Douglas spends all his time in Holyrood looking for a dummy to spit out. He’d save himself, and the rest of us, a whole lot of bother if he looked at the Scottish Tory MSPs sitting behind him, there’s plenty of dummies to choose from there.

The exchange was prompted by a question about the proposal for vaccine passports. The First Minister pointed out that it was for Parliament to decide on the details. That wasn’t good enough for Douglas, whose lips were already pursed in readiness to launch the dummy. Nicola Sturgeon not unreasonably noted that if she had presented the vaccine passport scheme as a fait accompli, Douglas would be the first to complain that MSPs and the Scottish Parliament were being taken for granted. This is what prompted the retort about Douglas Ross’s infantile politics of petty point scoring from the First Minister. By this time Douglas’s dummy was in mid trajectory.

Sadly it was not long at all before more Scottish Tory infantilism was on disgusting display. Since the Scottish Conservatives treat the chamber of Holyrood in much the same way that certain Rangers fans treat the streets in the centre of Glasgow, as a venue in which to display their tribalism, entitlement, prejudice, and British nationalist contempt, it was perhaps appropriate that the next Scottish Tory dummy spitting was provoked by a question about the appalling display of naked anti-Irish racism from a group of Rangers fans in Glasgow last weekend, who paraded through the city centre chanting an offensive song making fun of the Irish famine and telling Scots of Irish Catholic descent to “go home”, saying that they had brought “trouble and shame” on Scotland. The only “trouble and shame on display here was that being created by racist and bigoted Rangers fans. Some arrests have already been made, more are expected.

I’m a Scot of Irish Catholic descent. My family have lived in Scotland since before WW1, yet for some racist British nationalists I can never be properly Scottish. British nationalism in Scotland still refuses to acknowledge or tackle its long history of anti-Irish racism. The Scottish Conservatives in particular have never acknowledged, far less come to terms with or made amends for, their long standing and intimate association with the Orange Order, an organisation which without the protection afforded to it by the Scottish Conservative Unionist and British nationalist establishment, would long since have been categorised as a hate group.

Prompted by the weekend’s scenes, the Labour MSP Pauline McNeill asked the First Minister about the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle racism. Her question was an example of how Holyrood is supposed to work, an opposition MSP can still oppose the government yet be willing to work together on matters of common concern, such as efforts to root out racism. It was an example that the Scottish Tories would do well to learn from.

The First Minister replied that she was determined to ensure that Scotland was a welcoming home for everyone, no matter what their background or origins. Then the Scottish Tory MSP Tess White interjected, “Except if you’re English.” If you’d asked the Scottish Tories to demonstrate the infantile politics that the First Minister had called out just a few minutes previously, you could not come up with a more perfect example. Tess White’s comment was not only infantile, it was tribalist, petty, and fundamentally wrong, founded in nothing more than the Scottish Conservative projection of their own prejudiced style of politics onto everyone else. It was the politics of British nationalist social media zooming, without substance, merit or truth.

Tess White was attempting to dismiss the very real anti-Irish racism of British nationalism in Scotland and claim that the real problem is the fictitious anti-English racism which Tories believe drives the demand for Scottish independence because they are incapable of understanding any issue except through the lens of their own prejudice. It’s a classic example of psychological projection. In one short statement Tess White demonstrated everything that’s wrong with the Scottish Conservatives.

Naturally Tess White was supported by the staunch mob on social media, with their British flag and God Save the Queen bedecked accounts in order to show how much they hate nationalism. None of them however are ever able to present any concrete example of this supposed anti-English racism from the SNP beyond idiotic claims like the assertion that when independence supporters complain about Westminster that’s “really” code for “the English”.

She was also supported by the media branch of British nationalist zoomer accounts on social media, the equally infantile GBeebies channel and its frothing viewer. Tom Harwood, who delivers British nationalist hot takes from his bedroom in his mother’s house, took to Twitter (where else) to support Tess White, saying: “It’s not inaccurate to say that significant sections of the pro-partition movement in Scotland are deeply xenophobic against the English.”

Well it is inaccurate Tom. The mainstream independence movement does not tolerate or excuse racism in the same way that apologists for British nationalism tolerate the naked racism displayed by those Rangers fans or the blatant anti-immigration scare mongering that drove the Brexit campaign.

It’s also inaccurate because there is no “pro-partition” movement seeking Scottish independence. Partition is what British nationalists advocate when they fear that they are losing control. The border between Scotland and England is one of the oldest in Europe. No one in the independence movement proposes changing its course.

The real pro-partition advocates in Scotland are those British nationalists like George Galloway who advocate that if Scotland votes for independence in a future referendum then any district with a No majority should be hived off and remain a part of the UK. Partition advocates are also those British nationalist who propose that in the event of Scottish independence the British military installations at Faslane and Coulport should be retained by the UK as sovereign base areas similar to those the UK retained in Cyprus.

Tess White has apologised for her outburst. Even the Scottish Tories now acknowledge that the SNP is not driven by anti-English racism. It’s about time that they cracked down on their supporters on social media who are determined to drive a wedge between Scots with an Irish or English heritage and everyone else.

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The BBC: a world leader in doing Scotland down

In an important respect the BBC in Scotland is the exact opposite of the BBC in the rest of the UK. It’s the exact opposite of state broadcasters, indeed even most privately owned broadcasters, anywhere else in the world. The BBC in its broadcasts to the rest of the UK not only fully buys into the myth of British exceptionalism, but it is one of the major propagators of that myth with its gushing coverage of the royal family, the wall to wall entitlement which characterises its coverage of UK, and especially English, participation international sporting contests, and its interminable production of reality contests with Great British in the title, as though there were something peculiarly and especially British about baking a cake or sewing a hem.

We see it also in news coverage which pays relatively little attention to anything going on in countries where English is not the main language, except where British interests are at stake. When EU countries are in the news its invariably because of something related to Brexit. There’s a curious lack of interest in other countries for their own sake. The BBC’s output consistently reinforces and supports the British nationalist conceit that the UK is a special place, removed from and decidedly superior to the rest of the globe.

On the other hand the BBC in Scotland never misses an opportunity to remind Scotland of its inadequacies and failures. The consistent message from BBC Scotland is that Scotland is a country which struggles to attain adequacy. Examples are legion. For example a recent report from The National newspaper found that the BBC had made over twice as many mentions of allegations that Nicola Sturgeon had breached the ministerial code than it had of allegations against all other politicians combined, despite the fact that the First Minister was cleared of the allegations by an independent enquiry whereas Conservative ministers in the Johnson government have not only been found to have breached the ministerial code but several of them have been found by a court to have acted unlawfully.

We also saw it in the recent prominent coverage given to the dreadful number of drug related deaths in Scotland. The BBC took unseemly glee in pointing out that Scotland has the highest rate of drug related deaths in Europe. Less prominence was given to the fact that drugs policy is reserved to Westminster and the UK Home Office has consistently blocked harm reduction strategies such as safe rooms for addicts on the spurious grounds that this would encourage and condone the use of illegal drugs. Equally, little attention was given to the shocking statistic that drug related deaths in England and Wales have risen by 52% in the past ten years according to figures published by the British medical Journal. https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m3988 In 2019 drug related deaths in England and Wales were the highest they had been since records began in 1993. However you would not have learned any of this from the BBC, which ignored the wider UK context and was eager to give the impression that it’s only Scotland which has a problem and that problem was all the fault of the Scottish Government.

Also absent from the BBC, or if mentioned was done in a blink and you’d miss it way, was the news that Scotland witnessed a10% reduction in alcohol related deaths in 2019, a reduction thought to be due to the success of the minimum price policy introduced by the Scottish Government. Sadly this decrease was short lived. Alcohol related deaths increased in 2020, amid warnings that the pandemic and lockdown has undermined progress made with the country’s world-leading minimum unit-pricing policy.

Scotland’s failures are trumpeted, Scotland’s successes are glossed over or ignored entirely. You’d almost think that there was an active political question in Scotland about independence and the BBC has set out to undermine public confidence in Scotland’s ability to be a normal country. The BBC presents Scotland as a shambolic basket case which would struggle to cross a road without a Great British boy scout to hold its hand.

The latest egregious example of the BBC straining every sinew in order to paint Scotland in a bad light came with the recent interview with climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has inspired a generation of young people to take direct action to combat climate change. Greta Thunberg has a low opinion of all industrialised countries in the global north which have historically been responsible for the vast majority of the carbon emissions which are causing global warming. Buried within her interview was an acknowledgement that some countries in the global north are now taking more action than others to tackle climate change, with the implication that Scotland could be one of those countries. However Greta Thunberg believes that no country is doing anything like enough and she’s certainly not about to praise any industrialised nation in the global north for taking belated action on the climate change which the global north is responsible for creating.

Despite the fact that the Swedish climate activist did not mention Scotland directly in her interview, the BBC headline was “Greta Thunberg: Scotland not a world leader on climate change”. The clear implication was that she had gone out of her way to criticise Scotland and to rubbish the steps that Scotland has taken to combat climate change when in fact she had not mentioned Scotland at all.

Naturally the BBC story was eagerly seized upon by the right wing British nationalist press with the Sun claiming that Greta Thunberg had “slapped down” Nicola Sturgeon, who had not been mentioned at all by her.

However Greta Thunberg did directly criticise the British Government, saying the Johnson administration was lying about being a “climate leader” and accusing it of “creative carbon accounting”. Yet BBC Scotland gave huge prominence to comments that Greta Thunberg didn’t make about Scotland and ignored the criticisms that she had actually made about the British Government. Yet again the casual viewer was given the impression that it’s Scotland and the Scottish Government which has the problem and which can’t be trusted whereas all is hunky dory with the UK’s claim to be a “world leader” in tackling climate change.

BBC Scotland never misses an opportunity to paint Scotland in a bad light, and when the opportunity does not arise, the BBC will manufacture it. Yet again the BBC has proven that it is an active participant in the campaign to oppose Scottish independence and as such it is unfit as a public service broadcaster for Scotland.

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