After controversial Labour activist Duncan Hothersall blocked me on Twitter a few weeks ago, I thought the days of being able to repost my exchanges with him were well and truly over. But I'm delighted to say that your deadbeat dooraway Daily Duncan is making an unexpected comeback - albeit possibly for one day only. Enjoy it while it lasts.
For what seemed like the seventeen billionth time, Duncan was trying to explain to a sceptical audience why he, as an avowed opponent of nuclear weapons, is voting against independence and thus passing up a golden chance to actually achieve nuclear disarmament. His excuse was that the moving of weapons is not disarmament. The following exchange starts with me pointing out to him that in practice, independence could bring about disarmament throughout the whole UK, and indeed might well be the only realistic method by which that goal can be achieved.
See if you can spot the bit where he gets so tied up in knots with his knee-jerk attack lines that he comes very close to implying that a Labour government in London might yet annex Faslane, and that this makes them superior to the Tories who have set their face against the idea.
Duncan Hothersall : Only on Twitter could the expression of my vocal opposition to my party's policy be criticised as me protecting a "gravy train". :-(
Me : But what are you actually going to do about that opposition, Duncan? Sit on a prayer-mat for the rest of your natural life?
Duncan Hothersall : No. I'll be arguing for my convictions. What else would you suggest?
Me : Well, for starters taking the one step that might actually result in British nuclear disarmament - independence.
Duncan Hothersall : I don't believe it would. As I have set out at some length.
(At this point he directs me to a blogpost claiming that independence would not mean the end of Trident, and that the most likely outcome would be the lease of Faslane to the UK "for as long as it was required".)
Me : What does "lease" mean? I presume you're not suggesting UK sovereign control, as that's already been rejected by Cameron?
Duncan Hothersall : Oddly, I meant "lease" as in the traditional meaning of the word "lease". Let me know if any of the other words confuse you.
Me : Duncan, this is a very simple question. Does "lease" in the context you used it mean UK sovereign control? Yes or no?
Duncan Hothersall : Lease means a contracted arrangement for use of a site for a period of time under an agreed set of conditions. You know, lease.
Me : Like the 99-year British lease of the Hong Kong New Territories? You know, UK sovereign control? Is that what you mean?
Duncan Hothersall : The terms of the lease would be a matter for the lessee and the lessor. I'm not an expert on leases.
Me : But surely you have an opinion? Should that lease give rUK sovereign control over Faslane, or not?
Duncan Hothersall : My opinion? In my opinion Faslane should be shut down! I'm talking there about what is most likely to happen, not what I want!
Me : Yes, so tell us what you think is most likely to happen in the event of independence - UK sovereign control of Faslane, or not?
Duncan Hothersall : I don't know, James. I think a lease is the most likely outcome, I have no view on its likely terms.
Me : But this is the hypothetical you're basing your whole argument on. Could a lease without sovereign control be credible?
Duncan Hothersall : No, it isn't, and the terms aren't critical.
Me : They are. Cameron has ruled out sovereign control. Harvey says lease without sovereign control couldn't work. Other options?
Duncan Hothersall : So one ex minister is enough to rule something out for you? Honestly.
Me : In your view, is it credible for the UK to base its entire nuclear weapons system on the sovereign territory of another state?
Duncan Hothersall : In my view it's not credible for the UK to have a nuclear weapons system.
Me : Your entire argument rests on you thinking it is credible for UK to base its nukes on Scottish-controlled territory. Do you?
Duncan Hothersall : No, my entire argument does not rest on that. Perhaps you should re-read.
Me : You're unwilling to defend the "lease" argument, then. So if Trident leaves Scotland, where would/could it go?
Duncan Hothersall : I'm not unwilling to defend it. I'm unable to agree with your attempt to undermine it.
Duncan Hothersall : Feel free to comment on the blog if you want to ask a series of questions.
Me : Duncan, this is very simple. Your campaign has put sovereign control off the table. A lease must mean Scottish control - yes?
Duncan Hothersall : Lazy attempt to equate Cameron with No campaign. Check.
Me : No, not just Cameron! Darling as well. You agree with Alistair Darling, surely?
Duncan Hothersall : When did Darling rule out a lease under specific terms?
Me : Darling ruled out UK sovereign control of Faslane. Correct?
Duncan Hothersall : Did he rule out a lease? How long do you want to do this? I'm getting pretty tired of it.
Me : About as long as it takes you to answer a simple question, Duncan. He ruled out UK sovereign control. Do you agree?
Duncan Hothersall : I've been entirely clear. No-one's ruled out a lease. The terms of a lease are undefined. Nothing's off the table.
Me : That is simply not true. Darling, just like Cameron, has taken rUK sovereign control of Faslane off the table. Correct?
Duncan Hothersall : The table hasn't even been built. Nobody is making commitments as to what might happen if there's a Yes vote.
Me : That is a straightforward denial of reality. The leaders of your campaign have excluded the possibility of UK sovereign control.
What I found difficult to understand was why Duncan even bothered trying to dodge the key question in such excruciatingly obvious fashion. There's no doubt - no doubt whatever - that every part of the No campaign has categorically ruled out the possibility of UK sovereign control of Faslane after independence. Duncan therefore has nowhere else to go with his "lease" wheeze other than an arrangement that respects Scottish sovereignty - so why on earth didn't he just say "yes, of course Scotland would retain sovereignty over Faslane, and here are the reasons why such an agreement would work"? Could it be that he just can't conceive of any plausible way of making that case, and thus has to fudge the issue by implying there is some kind of unspecified middle way available that transcends the issue of sovereignty - you know, in much the same way that women can be half-pregnant?
The reality is that UK sovereign control of Faslane isn't a runner because Cameron and Darling have ruled it out, and a lease that falls short of sovereign control isn't a runner because it isn't credible for a nuclear weapons system to be based on the sovereign territory of an anti-nuclear weapons state (which is what Scotland would be, unless of course pro-nuclear Labour were in power at Holyrood - Duncan must be so proud). In other words, Trident would have to leave Scotland after independence, and as there's no alternative base for it south of the border, that could very well lead to the UK relinquishing its nuclear capability altogether - precisely the outcome Duncan is supposed to want. He wills the end, but he also wills the means never to come about.
It's very, very hard to escape the conclusion that Duncan's starting-point is that independence is a Bad Thing, and he then works out how all of his other political beliefs can be reconciled with that starting-point, no matter what contortions of logic (or even of the laws of physics) are required to do so.