Thursday, March 29, 2018

It's time to get up off our knees

Yesterday a junior minister in the UK government shocked people who believed "The Vow", by haughtily dismissing the Scottish Government as a body that is roughly equivalent to Lincolnshire County Council, and thus subordinate to herself.

And of course today Theresa May has done a "one year to Brexit" whistlestop tour of the four nations of the UK, boasting she will keep her "precious" country united - with the implication being that she will achieve that objective by coercion, having already broken last year with four decades of British government policy by decreeing that Scotland did not have an automatic right to democratic self-determination at a time of its own choosing.

Let's not forget also the Scottish Tories planting a fake story in the press a couple of days ago about supposed "proof" that the SNP are plotting a second independence referendum, allowing Ruth Davidson to let off a pre-prepared "sigh" on Twitter as she pretended to be spontaneously reacting to the "news" - as if this country making its own choice about its own future at a crucial moment in its history is somehow a tiresome prospect.

Make no mistake - we on the pro-independence side of the argument are playing our part in allowing this contemptuous treatment of Scotland to carry on, because until we get back to talking with much more confidence and clarity about our plans for a second independence referendum, the Tories will remain in the enviable position where just saying "no" and constantly "sighing" and "tutting" and muttering "gie us peace" will bring them a reward of sorts.   That sort of rubbish plays well with around 25% or 30% of the Scottish electorate, which is all the Tories need for now because they and their media allies have conveniently redefined "success" as meaning around 25% of the vote.  But as soon as a referendum is actually underway, the threshold for triumph reverts to being 50% of the vote - which is what nature intended, after all.  The Tories will suddenly remember to their intense discomfort that openly boasting about denying Scotland its democratic rights, and treating our country as nothing more than an English county council, carries a severe electoral penalty rather than a perverse reward.

I don't know about you, but I think it's high time we really gave Ruth Davidson something to "sigh" about.

This is actually incredibly simple.  The No campaign won a narrow victory in the 2014 referendum on the specific basis that Scotland would remain in the EU if it stayed in the UK.  There are countless on-the-record examples of them saying precisely that, and without qualification.  It doesn't really matter whether they were deliberately lying or whether they said it in good faith - all that matters is that many people voted No on a false premise.  Circumstances have changed beyond all recognition in the last three-and-a-half years, and Scotland now has a self-evident moral right to revisit its decision.  The arguments against that logic are incredibly contrived and unconvincing - for example Duncan Hothersall's claim that the No side only ever meant that a vote against independence would keep Scotland in the EU for the time being, and that there were never any guarantees offered about what would happen a couple of years down the line.  The only reason that sort of daft revisionist statement isn't universally ridiculed is that the SNP leadership have taken a break from forcefully pressing the case for a new referendum - mainly because of the psychological shock of losing a handful of former heartland seats as they completed their landslide victory in the general election last June.  But a year is more than enough time to get over that shock and to put the handsome mandate they received in its proper perspective.  It's getting close to the point where we really ought to be firmly back on the front foot about Indyref 2.

To her credit, Nicola Sturgeon has not rowed back from her timetable for making an announcement about a referendum (one way or the other) in the autumn of this year.  Some people even think she will preempt that at the SNP's conference in June.  Either way, we're getting very close to a fork in the road, which means that if we as individuals want to influence the decision, the time to speak out is right now, and over the next few weeks to come.  Some well-meaning people always say in situations like this that we should just "trust Nicola", but this is not really a matter of SNP internal loyalty - this is about our country's destiny, and it's something that all five million people who live here have a stake in.  There are influential voices in the SNP, such as Pete Wishart, openly arguing that the party should allow its hard-won mandate for a referendum to expire, which makes it all the more important that those of us who think such a course of action would be a catastrophic error are also heard, and equally loudly.

As you know, I disagree with Peter A Bell about there being any realistic chance of a referendum actually being held in this calendar year, which is why I don't feel able to use his #Referendum2018 hashtag.  But a referendum before the SNP's mandate expires in May 2021 is perfectly doable, and is an absolute moral imperative.  Indeed, the SNP entered into a solemn contract with the Scottish people last June by saying that if they won a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster, a referendum would follow.  Many people voted SNP on that basis, and they have a right to expect that contract will be honoured.  Those voters have won the right to the choice they voted for.  And that's what holding a referendum is ultimately all about - a free choice over Scotland's post-Brexit futureIt's not about tactical considerations of whether winning is already assured, as Pete Wishart would have us believe.  (Although, as it happens, the 48% Yes vote in the most recent opinion poll is probably just about the best platform any pro-independence campaign can realistically hope for going into a new referendum campaign.)

The Tories say that the polls show that people in Scotland don't want an early referendum.  That's categorically not true - polls actually show a contradictory picture depending on how the question is asked, and indeed depending on which firm asks the question.  But here's the thing - it wouldn't even matter if the Tories were right about the polls.  In this country (which can mean either Scotland or the United Kingdom) we don't decide electoral mandates by YouGov findings - we do it at the ballot box.  And the results of both the Holyrood and Westminster elections were absolutely clear.  The SNP have an impeccable 'triple lock' mandate for a referendum, and we should stop apologising for that and start implementing it.  There should be a referendum before 2021.  Ideally, it should be held with a Section 30 order.  If Westminster refuse, we should go ahead with a consultative referendum without a Section 30 order.  If the Supreme Court block such a vote, we should then use the next Holyrood election as a de facto referendum - a virtually foolproof backstop option that cannot realistically be vetoed, blocked or boycotted.

I would suggest #ScotRef #UseTheMandate as a more inclusive and constructive alternative to the #Referendum2018 hashtag.  I know some people might not be entirely comfortable with "Use The Mandate" simply because the Marmite figure of Tommy Sheridan has been using those words quite a bit recently, but he wasn't the first person to utter them, and he doesn't own them.

Independence is not the eccentric pursuit of a tiny minority.  It's the settled will of almost half of the population - a state of affairs that warrants rather more self-confidence on the Yes side than we're currently exhibiting.  Let's get up off our knees, and get on with the job.

Monday, March 26, 2018

It's fine, don't worry about it, just go back to sleep

I stand corrected.  I had formed the firm impression on Friday that the only TV camera crew in attendance at the Hands Off Our Parliament rally was from a Chinese channel, but as you can see from a video posted on the Indyref 2 website, approximately fifteen seconds of footage was broadcast on Reporting Scotland, so non-Chinese cameras must have been there for at least a while. 

The Indyref 2 article notes that the mini-item on Reporting Scotland about the rally lasted for just twenty-seven seconds in total, and was only eighth in the show's running order.  Certainly no-one would question the sterling efforts of our broadcasters in keeping the power grab quiet, just in case anyone hears about it.  But what's most striking in that particular video is not so much the lack of prominence given to the story, but rather the remarkably blatant partisan spin in the script given to Sally Magnusson to read out -

"Around 1500 people have gathered at Holyrood to protest against what organisers describe as a Westminster power grab after Brexit.  The Hands Off Our Parliament group believes Westminster is attempting to undermine devolution.  UK ministers have proposed changes which would see the vast majority of EU powers returning to the devolved administrations, but Westminster wants to retain some powers temporarily, including fishing and agriculture."

Where do you start with that little lot?  Obviously it's entirely right to attribute the phrase "power grab" to the organisers of the rally - it's a perfectly accurate description of what's happening, but nevertheless it's pejorative language and there are more neutral ways of describing the proposed reduction in the Scottish Parliament's powers.  But what's mystifying about Magnusson's script is that, having correctly distanced itself from the spin of one side of the argument, it then totally embraces the spin of the other side and presents it as established fact.  You'd have expected care to be taken to make clear that the UK government are merely claiming that the vast majority of devolved EU powers are coming to Holyrood, and that the diversion of other powers to Westminster will be "temporary".  But, nope, apparently the BBC and the UK government are as one on this - the truth of these assertions is totally beyond dispute.  Which is odd, because the Scottish government have asked for a sunset clause to be added to the EU Withdrawal Bill to ensure that the power grab is indeed temporary, and have so far been rebuffed.  A politically neutral broadcaster ought at least to be open-minded about whether politicians who refuse to grant legal guarantees of their promises can simply be taken at their word.  As for the "vast majority" point, that may be technically accurate, but it's scarcely giving viewers the whole picture - they also need to know that the 'small minority' of powers being grabbed by Westminster just happen to be the most important ones.  It's rather akin to saying that "the vast majority of Scotland was unaffected by the missile attack" - and neglecting to mention that the small part of Scotland that was destroyed was the central belt, where most people live.

And "Westminster wants to retain some powers"?  How can it "retain" powers it does not currently possess?  It can take them, it can grab them, but it cannot possibly "retain" them.  This choice of word appears to be a subtle attempt to bolster the UK government's narrative that the power grab is really about which new powers should be generously "given" to Scotland, and which should not be.

Oh, and why is no source given for the 1500 attendance figure?  It may or may not be accurate, but presumably the BBC didn't count people by hand, so aren't we entitled to know who made the estimate, and perhaps draw our own conclusions on that basis?

The overall impression any reasonable viewer would have gained from the script read out by Magnusson was that the organisers of the rally had made certain outlandish claims, but that those claims are not borne out by the reality of Westminster's plans - which are minor, technical and above all temporary.  It was as much as to say: "These eccentric people think you should care about this, but we're telling you that you shouldn't."  It is incredibly hard not to see that as an intentional partisan intervention by the BBC.

*  *  *

On the question of how we can push any future rally up the BBC running order, I have a couple of suggestions -

1) Make the rally a joint protest against both the Westminster power grab and ball-tampering in international cricket. 

2) Actually put on a game of cricket in the middle of the rally, and tamper with the ball.