Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The increasingly daft arguments for closing off the possibility of an early second referendum

As those of you brave/foolhardy enough to read the comments section of this blog will be aware, I'm becoming ever-more exasperated with the cheap debating tricks being used against those of us who are open - merely open - to the idea of an early second independence referendum. Let's just run through a few of them...

1) "We only get one more shot at independence." This is utter rubbish, and nobody that I have challenged to justify it has been able to. In fact, so far nobody has even bothered attempting to justify it (other than falling back on a couple of logical fallacies that I'll come to later), which is a sure sign of how weak the case is. But it's nevertheless a clever line, because it plays on a primal fear that many SNP supporters (and people in the wider independence movement) have about throwing away the chance of independence forever. It 'feels' all too plausible to someone with that fear, and therefore critical analysis isn't applied to the claim.

So what would actually happen if there was a second referendum defeat? It would undoubtedly be a severe setback, but one thing we can be sure of is that the SNP would not shut up shop, or reinvent themselves as a pro-union party. Independence would remain the ultimate goal, and the only question mark would be over the timescale for pursuing that goal. The likelihood is that two defeats (especially if they came within a few years of each other) would make it extremely difficult to justify a third attempt within the fabled "generation" unless there had been a material change of Brexit-type proportions. In a nutshell, a relatively early repeat referendum would remain a possibility, but the threshold for it would become significantly higher.

After fifteen or twenty years have passed, though, the fact that the previous referendum was the second and not the first becomes much, much less significant. A more powerful argument by that point is that it's been a very long time since the public were consulted, that the world has moved on beyond all recognition since then, and that nobody under the age of 31 or 36 has ever been asked the question. The claim that "sorry, you've already had two goes, and that's all you get" won't cut a lot of ice.

Much would also depend on whether the Yes vote went up or down in the second referendum. Quebec voted No for a second time in 1995, and what happened afterwards is rather problematical for the "two is the limit" brigade. The widespread initial reaction was not "it's over forever", bur rather "the next referendum is only a matter of time, and a Yes vote is likely". That was because the Yes vote had increased nine points since the 1980 referendum to stand at just fractionally below 50%, and the momentum looked unstoppable. It hasn't proved to be anything like as simple as that, of course, because every time the Parti Québécois have tried to move towards a third referendum, they've failed to win a parliamentary majority. But they remain one of the two leading parties, with a leader who is more committed to early independence than any of his recent predecessors, and for as long as that remains the case a third referendum is more likely than not.

The lesson of Quebec 1995 is that if you lose a second referendum, it's extremely tough to get a third crack - but no more than "extremely tough". So rather than being paralysed into inaction by irrational fear, we'd be much better off calmly weighing up the timing that would maximise the chances of a Yes vote. If the optimal timing is early rather than late, it's perfectly possible that it will be over-caution that kills off the chances of independence for a prolonged spell, not rashness. With the benefit of hindsight, the best moment for the Parti Québécois to push for a third vote would actually have been as early as 1998, when they still had a popular leader and won their most recent overall majority. Instead, they passed up that chance because it was "too soon". Five years later the political seasons had changed, as they will for even the most popular party. As a result, the sovereignty issue has been on the backburner for two long decades.

2) "It doesn't matter that I can't explain why there is some supernatural limit of two referendums, because I once overheard a senior SNP person (who I won't name) make the same claim, so it must be true. Stop thinking for yourself, James, and bow to the superior knowledge of those with expertise!" Yes, I tried very, very hard not to giggle at this one. Substituting reasoned argument with an appeal to authority is of course one of the classic logical fallacies, so it falls at that hurdle. (Which is probably just as well if the supposed views of this nameless person are merely hearsay.) In any case, if anyone is really gagging to just submit to authority on this subject, they'll be spoilt for choice, because there is a whole range of diverging views on the timing of a second referendum within the SNP leadership. I'm also not entirely convinced there's any such thing as an "expert" on the chances of a third referendum taking place, because it's largely uncharted territory.

3) "If you deny the obvious truth that there can never be more than two referendums, you must be saying we can have as many as six, seventeen or fifty-seven referendums if needs be. There won't be fifty-seven referendums, James. Trust me on this. It's true." Well, yes, if the appeal to authority doesn't work, you can always try knocking down your own risible straw man. Back in the real world, any individual referendum will be hard-won. There was never any guarantee that even one independence referendum would take place. There is no guarantee now that a second will occur (and arguably those trying to close off the possibility of an early timing are making it less likely that it will ever take place, because the current momentum won't be sustained indefinitely). That's the reason why fifty-seven referendums will not happen. It doesn't even come close to explaining the curious belief that a second referendum is likely, but that a third referendum (even decades down the road) is literally impossible.

4) "We haven't even begun to understand why we lost last year. We need time to learn the lessons." Yes, of course we need time, but that's a point of very limited relevance, because nobody is actually proposing an immediate referendum. What the people pushing this argument are really saying is that there shouldn't be a referendum in the next parliamentary term - which means that it shouldn't happen by 2021, seven years after the first referendum. If they're genuinely saying that enough time won't have elapsed by then, they must believe that it will take longer for us to learn the lessons of our defeat than it did to complete the Manhattan Project. Is that really a credible position?

5) "We need people of quality as SNP candidates, not people proposing an early referendum." To which the obvious retort is that we just need people of quality, which is not necessarily synonymous with people who want to rule out an early referendum. This argument started yesterday because I mentioned I had voted to give a high ranking to an SNP list candidate in Central Scotland (James McGuigan) whose personal statement made clear that electoral success for the party next year should constitute an unambiguous mandate for a second referendum. I went on to say that this goes beyond my own position, but that I felt it was important to have balance within the parliamentary party, because there will be plenty enough MSPs (including others I gave a high ranking to) urging caution.

Apparently, though, it's mature for me to vote for quality candidates who diverge from my own position in one direction, but not in the other. Does that make sense? In a word, no.

67 comments:

  1. Not many people arguing against keeping our options open.

    Its the trigger criteria we can't agree on.

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  2. James, we will only have two chances at an independence referendum, whether you like it or not. You seem determined to push on with this idea that we can have more than two. It is completely wrong. Westminster would refuse to support a third referendum, on the grounds that we would had two before and these resulted in two No votes. They would be fully backed up by the most powerful nation state in the world, the USA, who don't want to lose their main military ally. The rest of the international community would follow in line with the USA. The fact that you have decided to write another article on this says it all. Any attempt to hold a third independence referendum in the face of opposition from Westminster and the international community would be suicidal, as would a UDI.

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    1. "James, we will only have two chances at an independence referendum, whether you like it or not."

      Oh for the love of God, it's like talking to a brick wall. But I'll at least give you credit for moving on from the "I overheard someone talking in a corridor" stuff.

      "You seem determined to push on with this idea that we can have more than two."

      I'd say the blogpost speaks for itself, Muttley, it's quite a long one.

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    2. James I agree with you but for others it seems "There are none so blind as those who refuse to see"

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    3. Absolute codswallop. FFS! We haven't even had a SECOND Referendum and you are farting in the wind with fantasy scenarios about a THIRD.

      No authority in the UK, or the world, can prevent any referendum if it is desired by the people. So stop pushing your tired old ideas.

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  3. James, you really cannot talk about speaking to a brick wall. I advised you as a member of SNP to seek advice within the party on whether we can continue to hold independence referendums after two No votes. But you will not. I am not clear why you will not do so. You are the one who is the brick wall. I know what I heard from a SNP elected rep in regards to only holding two independence referendums. I am really not sure why you are so convinced that you are right on this issue. As far as I am aware you have never been elected by the SNP or any other pro-independence party.

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    1. "I advised you as a member of SNP to seek advice"

      Can I give you a bit of advice? I have ANSWERED THAT UMPTEEN TIMES to the point of TEDIUM. Appealing to authority is a LOGICAL FALLACY. Are you clear on what I am saying to you yet, or are you still unclear? If the latter, WHY? If you don't know what a logical fallacy is, dictionaries are available.

      "As far as I am aware you have never been elected by the SNP or any other pro-independence party."

      Jesus. I am trying very hard not to be rude, but that is an unbelievably fatuous comment.

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    2. So James, why and how do you know as much or more than people who are spending most of their time trying to achieve independence? Please tell me your qualifications in politics and international relations?

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    3. So, your argument is that SNP policy (as dictated by this mysterious "rep") can never, and will never change... Even unto the next three decades?

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    4. Well, if that's the cretinous game you want to play, Muttley, perhaps you should start by telling me your real name, and then we can compare qualifications on a fair and equal basis. Of course, you would still have to explain what my qualifications HAVE ACTUALLY GOT TO DO WITH ANYTHING, and I suspect that will prove rather tricky for you.

      But hey, one step at a time. Over to you.

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    5. James, you have displayed an almost laughable defensiveness over your desire that we should have another referendum so soon after getting beat last September. You are now reduced to name calling and being very uncivil. I am not going to start calling you names. You display very little knowledge of how the British and American states operate. Your desire to have another referendum so soon after last year is completely irresponsible. In my opinion you offer nothing that suggests you know how to win over No voters to independence. Another No vote would completely shatter the SNP, we would be entering into a Quebec style era of being no threat and having absolutely no hold whatsoever over Westminster.

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    6. Muttley, my patience with the nonsense I've taken from you over the last 24 hours is now wearing extremely thin. Justify your allegation of name-calling or withdraw it.

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    7. You said I was being cretinous.

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    8. Can you seriously not understand the difference being pointing out that you are playing a "cretinous game" and actually calling you cretinous? By being careful with that distinction I may have paid you a courtesy you don't deserve after your antics on this thread, but nevertheless that's what I did.

      Please withdraw your silly allegation of name-calling. Enough is enough.

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    9. No, I do not see the difference. You also said I was trolling or words to that effect. All I am doing is robustly arguing and disagreeing with you. I have no intention of withdrawing anything.

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    10. Muttley, see the warning I've posted to you below. You have wasted hours of my time both today and yesterday with vexatious posts, and now you are making personal allegations against me that you cannot substantiate.

      This is not going to continue. START debating the issues if you wish to do so, but if you CONTINUE making personal comments about me, they will in future be deleted as soon as I see them. I have been incredibly patient with you, and you have abused that patience. No more.

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    11. "Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience."

      I've no idea why this quote springs to mind ....

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  4. 14 Sep 2014 - Scotland's First Minister has said the independence vote is a "once in a generation"

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    1. Before adding, as he always did, that he was merely expressing a "personal view".

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    2. Yep - the personal view of the then SNP Leader and First Minister!

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    3. He stepped down five days later. That's the significance of a personal view - it isn't binding on his successors. He can also change his mind if the facts change.

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    4. Ah... a good old whatabout from the unknowing.

      Here's laughing at you kid....

      Shagpile.

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    5. And the Anglo Irish Agreement defines a generation as 7 years. The UK is all about tradition and precedent dear boy, any of you Unionist trolls should know that.

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    6. Does it really state that 7 years is a generation?

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  5. You remain wrong Muttley79.

    Simply. USA, EU and the world at large does not hold a veto over whether or not the Scots can have a referendum on how we choose to govern ourselves... and let's not exclude Westminster in those who think we may be too wee, too poor or too stupid.

    Polls seem to favour a repeat of the process somewhere between 5 and 10 yrs. Please correct me if I'm wrong here?

    I have raised the point that no one could object to that being after 7 years as the UK has already legislated that that is an appropriate period of time to lapse between constitutional referenda.

    Now that year of 2021 conveniently falls very well for us YES lot. Not too late to reverse withdrawal from the EU and right on the button as another austerity Tory majority is let loose on the People of the UK with minority electoral support.

    And if we vote NO... a long shot (even at this early point of long range weather forecasting), who is the international arbitrator that will tell us that the system in the UK is wrong and we ought to go back into the box that Westminster failed to do first time round or we'll be bombed as anti austerity terrorists?

    Shagpile... ;-)

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  6. Very good article. Muttley is just way off the mark. There is nothing that will stop a third referendum if there is enough demand for one.

    Fact is, it suits YES side to say there will only be one more chance - just as it suited us to say the first referendum was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The 'will of the people' in sufficient strength cannot be denied by Westminster (or the SNP for that matter).

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    1. The will of the people can be denied very easily. Very easily indeed within the confines of the British State which has a great deal of difficulty with the whole concept of democracy. 800 plus unelected Lards and growing should be reason enough to back up what I have said about the will of the people. Oh and people that has next to no voice in the very controlled UKOK Press and Media.

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    2. I believe we are about to see the "UKOK Press and Media" work for the YES movement in ways the unionist cohort could never imagine.

      They will be the single factor to make Corbyn's Labour totally unelectable in England in 2020.

      I'll repeat again. It is the unionists which make the best advocates for independence, and I don't mind warning them as they never listen, learn and simply just can't help themselves... ;-)

      Sermon on the pound was a classic example; even though I favour our own currency. :-)

      Shagpile.

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    3. Not to mention the fact that Cameron is under attack from his own side. Seems like an attempt to get Cameron out, prevent Osborne following on, and installing the Clown Prince of London? If so he is on record as being uninterested in keeping Scotland.

      Very exciting times.

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  7. I asked my mum never to cook me liver again, as i hate the stuff.
    She is powerless in front of the cooker, even though my dad loves liver.
    Seemingly someone important told my mum that she can never cook liver ever, ever, ever, ever again.
    I recently found out that she had been secretly cooking my dad liver on the days that i don't visit. :-(

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  8. (shouldnt have put this comment on the last post - the argument seems to have moved here)

    James, the Yes/No question was deliberately designed to split the consensus "more powers" view in Scotland. That is what Westminster is REALLY scared of. And my God didn't it work well.

    Rightly or wrongly, 50%+1 is a pretty grim scenario in most people's eyes, however democratically righteous it undoubtedly is. People are much happier supporting something they know is a clear majority stand point. We instinctively seek safety in numbers when uncertain, and instinctively avoid conflict if we have a choice. Splitting the devo-more camp all but guaranteed a No victory.

    Indyref2 in the current climate would be nothing more than taking the same runny at the same brick wall we bounced off last year and will get a second bloody nose for Yes.

    As they say, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."

    So instead, as we have been doing over the years, keep increasing the heat to boil the No-voting frogs. We use the power and influence we have at moment to keep chipping away, keep voting SNP in 2016, and in 2017, and over again. Keep arguing for more powers, never settle for less, and specifically, aim towards something the majority of Scotland is likely to accept: full fiscal autonomy.

    Once established, indy is not a big step from there. If Scotland is still not interested, then at least we'll have formed that opinion with our eyes open.

    PS I'm not against a second referendum - but if there is no agreement with Westminster, Yes would need >50% of electorate (to counter claims of No boycott) to convince any third parties we have a case to have indy recognised. (Thats 2.1 million votes - equivalent to 59% in indyref)

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    1. Trouble with that is that we've already had our "jam tomorrow" and the empty jar will not get us admittance to the matinee...

      Regards, Shagpile ;-)

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    2. Basically I agree with this sentiment. Politically losing the next referendum won't mean the end of the road but will force us to follow the devomax road to destruction. Perhaps we should close off the possibility by having that referendum asap - the we are making our own change of circumstances, that is Westminster are not conceding devomax.

      How about this as a strategy: two referendums
      1/ to open negotiations with the UK on independence in principle
      2/ to ratify the agreement

      This destroys the uncertainty argument and establishes that the Scottish people want to be independent in principle. It makes voting yes in the first referendum completely safe.

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    3. "follow the devomax road to destruction"

      what does this mean?

      Delete
  9. My view is there can be as many referenda as the people are willing to have and to vote supporters of such an event into Government.

    As to the timing of a second, it should be reasonably soon while the Indy movement and the SNP has this great momentum going. If we don't take an earlyish opportunity while the runes are favourable a second referendum will drift into the future naturally anyway as enthusiasm and support for the SNP and Independence wanes...and it will, unless some unforeseen event of overwhelming importance to Scotland occurs to change the game.

    Brutus' speech to Cassius is so appropriate today in Scotland that SNP MPs, MSPs, et al should take great heed of it:

    "There is a tide in the affairs of men. which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.

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    1. A good metaphor. But who can tell if the tide is going out or coming in?

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    2. When the tide is flooding it is coming in. 'The' flood is high tide.

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  10. I doubt if Brutus said anything of the sort to Cassius. William Shakespeare put the immortal words in their dead unresisting mouths. Rather like Call me Dave did with the pig, only it wasn't words.

    Sorry Mr Coleman, I couldn't resist.

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    1. OK, OK I just didn't want to quote that old con man Shakespeare. But I have it on Muttley 79's authority that Julius actually did say those very words to Cassius. Someone high up in the SNP told him so.

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    2. James Coleman, that is very good joke. Well done. Go on believing that you and James know better than the people who have got us this far.

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    3. "the people who have got us this far"

      This being the electorate.

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    4. @Scottish Skier

      The electorate votes for the political party with the most talent, the most political intelligence, the best vision. The SNP have shown over the last decade that it currently them. The people who led us to this are primarily Alex Salmond, Sturgeon etc. The voters rejected the SNP for decades, the backed Labour in the 1980s, who had no intention of putting the Union at risk, and Thatcher pissed the revenues from North Sea oil over a wall. Sure the voters in general cottoned on, but it took them a long time for enough voters to realise that SLAB were essentially a bunch of Brit nat careerists, who were more intent on feathering their nests in London than achieving real political change.

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    5. Glasgow Working ClassSeptember 23, 2015 at 11:35 PM

      Maggie Bad Face continued to use the revenue on the welfare state and NHS.

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    6. I'm sorry Muttley79. Like D September I just couldn't resist it.

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  11. Glasgow Working ClassSeptember 23, 2015 at 8:42 PM

    James, it seems you want continuous referendums until you win. The NO voters last year are totally irrelevant to you. Democracy is only ok if you win. And what if you do win and the Nat sis screw the economy will we have another referendum. What about economic stability James? You want the EU and to turn your back on our neighbour. You really do hate the English.

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  12. So, James. Please explain why you tolerate trolls on your page but absolutely do your dinger when anyone else has the audacity to disagree with you??

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    1. I don't know the answer to that.

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    2. If you don't know the answer, Muttley, you should really ask one of your elders and betters in the SNP to explain it to you. In fact, I can't understand why you haven't done that already.

      The serious answer to your question, Anon, is that Muttley HAS been tolerated, every bit as much as the trolls have (although frankly I'm struggling to see much difference between some of his vexatious replies and trolling). What you really seem to object to is the fact that I answer back.

      You might want to ponder on the irony of that complaint, because it's a glorious one.

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    3. Glasgow Working ClassSeptember 23, 2015 at 11:15 PM

      Good to see James you have erred on free speach and democracy. A fine thing to do. However you really need to get away from narrow minded nationalism it is unhealthy.

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    4. No James, no objection to you answering back. They're your opinions and it's your blog, but what I do object to is that you don't do any serious answering back to the real trolls and frankly whether I agree with Muttley or not the point is that you can find the time to threaten him with deletion yet let the goddam destruction of a perfectly good blog continue because you are content to humour the Unionist Nasties (yeah see what I did there mr clever clogs GWC..duh so witty me! ). james maybe it doesn't concern you that people are deserting your blog because of the REAL trolls, but I think even a token gesture of occasional deletion would do the trick.

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    5. People aren't deserting the blog. Understandably there was a slip back from the monthly peak of 40,000 unique readers in the run-up to the general election, but since mid-May the number of visitors has been stable.

      On the broader problem, I discussed it at length in a couple of blogposts a few weeks ago. From my own point of view as moderator and owner of this blog, the biggest issue caused by my laissez-faire moderation policy is that occasionally people abuse their posting rights to launch sustained, malicious, personalised attacks on me. I then have to choose whether to allow that to ruin my day (sometimes not an exaggeration) by wasting hours responding to it, or to delete the offending comments. Probably unwisely, I have almost always erred on the side of doing the former, and as you'll have noted I haven't actually deleted any comments from Muttley yet, in spite of the intense provocation. But I've come to realise that I have to draw the line somewhere. Muttley is welcome to continue posting if he reverts to doing so in a constructive way, but he seems in no mood for that at the moment.

      As for what you describe as the "real trolls", GWC is just irritating background noise in comparison to what Muttley has been doing over the last 48 hours. But I have spent plenty of time replying to Aldo (again, probably unwisely).

      Delete
  13. The people will have as many referendums on as many subjects as they want.All they have to do is to vote in a government that want to hold a referendum.And if they don't want a referendum,all they have to do is to vote in a government that doesn't want to hold a referendum.

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  14. James, you have lost the place completely. You have resorted to being abusive, all because I challenged you about your desire for another referendum so soon after last September. Your comment about the SNP's elders and betters is beneath contempt. You will not ask people in the party because you are clearly scared of the answer.

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    1. If you persist in calling me abusive without a shred of justification (you've now done it twice), you are going to leave me very little alternative but to start deleting your posts. It is you who have abused the tolerance I have shown you on this thread, and indeed the last one.

      Stop.

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    2. So if you can delete the posts of serious debaters why not GWC and Aldo eg? Pray tell? And to your soul mate there who says that all trlls remain anonymous; 1. Most of your contributors give made up names so what's the difference? 2. We don't all have the computer skills, committment or general anorakory to be making up names.
      3. Does a Troll constituer someone who disagrees with you?
      Deep breath James...
      Anon Charlie

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    3. Muttley is not debating seriously. Every serious point or question is responded to with "what are your qualifications, James?", or "speak to your elders and betters in the SNP and they'll explain it to you, son", or "stop calling me names, you bad man". That's not serious debating, it's vexatious posting, bordering on trolling. He's been doing it for 48 hours, and enough is enough.

      Delete
  15. GLASGOW WORKING CLASSSeptember 23, 2015 at 11:01 PM

    Ok Anon we spend millions on referendums and neglect the public services like the Nat sis are doing. We could have a referendum on whether we should have referendums.

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    1. And while you are on the subject James kick this stupid bastard GWC out. He IS a troll. Is amazing how the trolls always want to remain anonymous.

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    2. Glasgow Working ClassSeptember 24, 2015 at 12:45 AM

      WHAT can I say coal man except tae say I am aff tae ma bed wie ma wee dram after reflecting oan an other day in ma life off Nat si stupidity. Och Aye ra Noo��

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  16. Fact; We only need to win once.
    My opinion; If we need multiple referendums, bring them on. Advice; never argue with an idiot.
    END OF.

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    1. Glasgow Working ClassSeptember 24, 2015 at 12:38 AM

      Two idiots arguing may result in an idiot being a winner but not necessarily.

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  17. Fact; We only need to win once.
    My opinion; If we need multiple referendums, bring them on. Advice; never argue with an idiot.
    END OF.

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    1. The voice of democracy there.

      Aldo

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  18. To lose twice would lose you credibility. A single defeat can be construed as 'the people weren't ready yet' - but two defeats and the answer is most definitely a "NO", loud and clear. The British government would then simply refuse to cooperate with all further referenda until an appropriate time period has passed. In fact, that's pretty much the situation we are in now.

    Aldo

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  19. I'm with you on the matter of not ruling out an early referendum, but I think the key issue is we have to keep promoting the idea of having a future referendum *at some point*. We don't need to worry about specific dates or years, we just have to keep convincing people to support independence. The timing will sort itself out.

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