Friday, February 3, 2023

Then What?

I can't recall which Holyrood election it was - I think by a process of elimination it must have been either 2003 or 2007 - but there was once a Labour Party Election Broadcast that tried to terrify voters about the consequences of the SNP getting into power, and featured doom-laden music and a narrator who a newspaper journalist described as being "on day-release from a crypt".  At the end, a map of the UK appeared, and Scotland was depicted physically breaking away and drifting off into the North Atlantic.  A caption posed the question: "Then What?", before Crypt Guy wrapped things up with the exhortation: "DON'T LET THE NATIONALISTS PUT SCOTLAND'S FUTURE AT RISK!"  For good measure, there were also "Then What?" billboard ads, and across the bottom of one of them a wag scrawled the reply: "Self-Respect?"

As risible as the Labour campaign was, sometimes "Then What?" is a perfectly reasonable question when a person or group is taking action in the heat of anger with a short-term objective in mind and no thought at all about what comes afterwards.  A commenter on this blog has been keeping us updated in recent days with the running tally of the number of consecutive posts Stuart Campbell has written on Wings Over Scotland about the trans issue.  There have been even more posts since the last update, and by my reckoning the number now stands - astoundingly - at eighteen.  There's no secret about the objective of this monomaniacal Rant-Fest, which seems destined for a place in the Guinness Book of Records - the Wings page on Facebook defines the website's current aim in crystal-clear fashion as: "Nicola Sturgeon must go".  (Younger readers may struggle to believe me if I say the former aim of Wings, a very, very long time ago, was to bring about an independent Scotland.)  Thus Campbell is quite intentionally joining forces with the unionist media and unionist parties to relentlessly pummel and demonise Ms Sturgeon with jibes about the trans issue in the hope of 'finishing her off'.  This is far from being the first time that he has vastly overestimated both the First Minister's vulnerability and his own capacity to play a role in "the kill", and my guess is she'll still be around at the Westminster election in 2024, which may or may not be the plebiscite election.

But let's suppose I'm wrong about that, and Ms Sturgeon is more vulnerable than I believe.  There are of course two ways in which she could "go".  She could simply depart as SNP leader, in which event Campbell had better hope Kate Forbes replaces her, because I can't think of any other plausible leadership candidate who might even conceivably change the party's direction on the trans issue.  In fairness, Ms Forbes could very well be the successor, but if Campbell is banking on that he's rather recklessly putting all his eggs in one basket.  She's only 32 at present, and it wouldn't totally surprise me if she does what Jo Swinson did in 2017 and sits out the leadership contest because she doesn't feel quite ready yet.  Campbell is going to have put in a lot of effort for absolutely no reward if he somehow helps brings down Ms Sturgeon and wakes up the next day to First Minister Angus Robertson.

The other way Ms Sturgeon could go is if she remains as SNP leader, but the demonisation from the Express, Wings, the Mail et al pays off in the court of public opinion and the SNP end up being removed from government, taking her with them.  That would inevitably mean the replacement of the SNP with a unionist government, because with the best will in the world, Alba is a very, very long way away from being popular enough to offer any prospect of a pro-indy alternative government.  A unionist government at Holyrood would kill independence stone dead for a large number of years.  If you think that would bother Campbell in any way, you haven't been paying attention, because he recently said he is now "the least Yes he has ever been" and that his "conscience" would prevent him from campaigning for independence - and presumably from voting for it too.  So the death of the independence cause would be no loss to him whatsoever - but it certainly would be a loss to many of his followers who still believe in independence and who he has practically hypnotised into thinking that to-the-death warfare against a pro-independence government is somehow a way (and even the only way!) of bringing about independence.

A couple of days ago, I was informed on Twitter by an ostensible independence supporter that the Tories are using the trans issue to "successfully destroy the SNP".  That of course is a ludicrous notion - although there hasn't been a full-scale Scottish poll since the latest trans controversy broke, my guess is the next poll (I gather there's a Survation one in the field) may show the SNP taking a small hit but remaining firmly in the lead, with the Tories still in a distant third.  Straws in the wind from the most recent GB-wide polls suggest the SNP's vote is holding up extremely well in the 4-5% range.  But what struck me about the person who made the claim was not so much that she was hopelessly wrong about it, but that she was so excited about the thought that she was right - that a Tory surge, sweeping the SNP out of office, would somehow be a positive development.

Yesterday I was on the receiving end of yet another pile-on from Campbell fans, who as per usual were trying to intimidate me into silence about their Great Leader and wanted to dictate to me what subjects I am and am not allowed to cover on this blog.  (Don't worry, it wasn't a spontaneous incident - they were whipped up into a frenzy by a video Campbell posted about me the previous night.  No-one need ever accuse his fans of independent thought or action.)  Again, what struck me most about this is the sheer weirdness of how they're defining the problem.  They're looking, square in the face, at a prominent figure who is making a crazed effort on a daily basis to bring the whole Yes house crashing down.  They regard that as both normal and desirable.  What they regard as abnormal, and what they believe must be stamped out by any means available, is any critique or warning about a campaign of destruction that offers no prospectus for an independence movement that will be left scrabbling around in the rubble.

Let me put this thought to you for the second time in a few days.  Although the Tories' use of the Section 35 veto was outrageous and should be unreservedly condemned, it nevertheless carries the side-benefit of giving us a golden opportunity to move on from the toxic trans debate in Scotland.  Nicola Sturgeon's government is now utterly powerless to introduce self-ID.  Progress has also been made on women's safety due to the recent U-turns on housing men who tactically self-ID as female in women's prisons.  The gender critical side of the argument has essentially won for the time being, and for that reason there is simply no need to continue the battle to such an extent that the pro-independence government is brought down or substantially weakened.  Without a pro-independence government, there will be no independence.  Without a strong pro-independence government in good public standing, a plebiscite election will be unwinnable.  These ought to be statements of the bleedin' obvious but apparently we've reached the stage where they now need pointing out.  In a small way, I was part of the campaign against self-ID, but as far as the effect on the Scottish Government was concerned, my aim was always to save them from themselves (and to save the Yes movement from itself) by preventing them from doing something that I knew was completely out of line with public opinion.  The idea of achieving the main objective but then still trying to whip up public anger to destroy the government and the architecture of the Yes campaign as we know it is just totally alien to me - probably because it makes absolutely zero sense from a pro-independence point of view.

So good luck trying to intimidate, mock or pathologise me into silence while all of this is going on.  We have arrived at a moment of considerable danger, and some people simply need to be forced to confront what they are doing and/or supporting, and the immense damage it is causing.  My question is simple: if you destroy this pro-independence government, where are you going to find another one?

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Dennis Noel Kavanagh : "stay angry"

Behold the full wackiness of the details of the plan to delay the de facto independence referendum until 2026

I was very surprised to learn, judging from the feedback to my post yesterday, that some people seem to have completely misconstrued the point I was making.  Even more bizarrely, one person who clearly did understand the point I was making still felt the need to 'explain' it to me!  I actually don't think there was anything remotely opaque in what I said, but I suspect the confusion is being caused because many people haven't actually read the NEC resolution for next month's SNP emergency conference and thus aren't aware of the full wackiness of the details of the proposed alternative option for a de facto referendum, ie. waiting until the scheduled Holyrood election in 2026.

So, for absolute clarity, here are the two options for obtaining a mandate for independence as set out by the NEC resolution:

Option 1: ONE MANDATE REQUIRED, which will be sought at the next Westminster election (probably in 2024). A majority of the popular vote at the election will be needed for this mandate.

Option 2: TWO MANDATES REQUIRED, the first of which will be sought at the next Westminster election, and the second of which will be sought at the next Scottish Parliament election in 2026.  For the first mandate, a majority of the popular vote will NOT be required (only a majority of seats), but for the second mandate a majority of the popular vote WILL be required.  The rationale for this difference appears to be that the first mandate is merely a 'trigger' mandate that effectively 'grants permission' for the second mandate - for independence itself - to be sought, and is therefore less important and a lower threshold is fine.

The point I made yesterday is that it's the complexity and randomness of Option 2 that is going to look like student politics or playground politics, or like a movement that is trying to make up the rules as it goes on, just to suit itself.  It's obviously there because of a fear that the SNP will win a majority of seats at Westminster 2024 but not a majority of votes, and yet it's still trying to paint that potential outcome as a successful part of the mandate process, while maintaining that a majority of votes will be required for independence.  It simply isn't going to wash with the public, or with neutrals, or with the media, or with soft unionists, because the contradictions within it are painfully obvious.  If the SNP win a majority of Westminster seats on, say, 40% of the vote and claim that as the first part of the mandate, people will perfectly logically ask how that can be the case when 40% would have been well short of the self-defined threshold for a mandate in Option 1, and would also be well short of the self-defined threshold for a mandate in the second half of Option 2.  They'll say the SNP have no authority to arbitrarily set different rules for different elections, and that it looks a bit silly to expect everyone else to conveniently play along with that little game on demand.

I really do beg delegates at the special conference not to go down the rabbit hole of Option 2.  The most sensible outcome is to amend the resolution to call for an early Holyrood election and use that as the de facto referendum - it's been clearly explained umpteen times how that is a perfectly practicable proposition.  The second best option would be to use the 2024 Westminster election as the de facto referendum.  But the nutty idea of a two part mandate requiring victory in both 2024 and 2026, and with completely different targets for victory in each election?  Forget it.  It's not a credible option and will turn the Yes movement into a laughing-stock.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The best reason of all for holding a plebiscite election by the end of 2024 at the latest

Long term readers (and my handful of ever-beloved stalkers) may recall that I got involved in some pretty unpleasant exchanges last July with a number of people on social media who were being willfully obtuse about how a de facto referendum would work.  Whenever I made the point that smaller pro-independence parties had to be very careful not to split the vote in a plebiscite election conducted by first past the post, these people would instantly pop up and say "but Nicola Sturgeon has already said it's a majority of votes that counts, not a majority of seats, so she can't have it both ways, can she?"  The reality is that it's got nothing to do with Nicola Sturgeon having it both ways, because Nicola Sturgeon is not the Electoral Commission, or the UK Government, or God, or the international community, or any of the other authorities that a de facto referendum is trying to impress.  She can't just set whatever "rules" she likes and expect everyone else to defer to her decree.  A vote in favour of independence will only give us leverage if it looks watertight to neutrals, and to the media, and to reasonable unionists.  That's why setting a majority of the popular vote as the target for victory was not so much a choice as a statement of the inevitable - if we demanded independence negotiations on the basis of a majority of seats won on 35% of the vote, we'd just be laughed at.  It's also why seats matter as well as votes, because in the real world losing seats would be regarded as complicating any mandate won on the popular vote.

However, I'm beginning to feel like it's the SNP rather than the smaller parties that need to be reminded that Nicola Sturgeon can't just make up "rules" as she goes on.  If you look at the details of the second option put forward in the NEC proposal from earlier this month, the one about delaying the de facto referendum until Holyrood 2026, they're just absolutely laughable.  A majority of the popular vote will still be required at the plebiscite in 2026, but paving the way for that will be an earlier mandate at Westminster 2024 - for which, randomly, only a majority of seats will be required, not a majority of votes.  Why should anyone in London take that remotely seriously?  They'll just say "you can't unilaterally pick and choose which elections you need a majority of votes and which you don't".  It'll look like student politics or playground politics.  If the SNP get 40% of the vote in 2024, people will wryly say "but that's OK, because they've self-identified a lower victory threshold for this particular election".

There are many excellent reasons why a plebiscite election must be held by 2024 at the latest, and should ideally be an early Holyrood election brought about by the entirely practical means that have been clearly identified.  Avoiding turning the Yes movement into a laughing-stock may be the very best reason of the lot.

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Monday, January 30, 2023

The GRR War is Over - if you want it

I'm going to return briefly to a point I made in my previous post, namely that however outrageous and indefensible Alister Jack's use of the Section 35 veto was, it nevertheless carries with it a potential side-benefit for the pro-independence movement.  Because the UK government has used its imperial powers to effectively repatriate (or should that be 'depatriate'?) the GRR issue to Westminster, and because Keir Starmer is giving clear indications that he will not reverse that process, it's now possible for both the SNP and Alba leaderships to draw a line under what has been an appallingly toxic debate, without compromising on principle in any way.  The SNP leadership has fulfilled its obligations to the Greens and to its other zealot lobbyist allies - it was foolish to ever enter into such obligations, but nevertheless nobody can dispute that Nicola Sturgeon has done her absolute utmost to introduce a full-fat version of self-ID and was only thwarted by forces totally outwith her control.  There's therefore no longer any conceivable harm in reunifying the SNP by holding out an olive branch to the gender critical wing of the party.  It's highly unlikely that there'll be any further Scotland-specific decisions on self-ID for the likes of Ash Regan to rebel on, at least not this side of independence, so why even regard her as a rebel?  (At most, there might eventually be a vote on a Legislative Consent Motion to 'allow' a Starmer government to pass UK-wide self-ID legislation, but that would just be a symbolic exercise, because the Sewel Convention is completely dead and the UK Government will just ignore any withholding of consent.)  Meanwhile Alba rightly campaigned against the GRR Bill up until the moment it was taken out of Holyrood's hands - but now that moment has passed, there's no need to keep the campaign going, or at least not at anything like the same level of intensity.  There's also no value in doing so even from the point of view of partisan self-interest, because in the long run Alba will find that the GRR can no longer be used as a wedge issue against the SNP when it's Starmer that will be making the decisions and facing any political consequences.

However, the opportunity to draw a line under the toxicity of the GRR issue is only that - an opportunity.  The SNP and Alba can, if they wish, go in the opposite direction and pointlessly keep this destructive culture war going indefinitely. But if they do, the only loser will be the cause of independence.  I'm hearing whispers that Alba doorstep campaigners are finding there's been a sea-change in public attitudes towards the gender identity issue - whereas previously voters were looking at them as if they were aliens when they raised the subject, there's now genuine and widespread anger out there.  That's not at all surprising given the heavy media coverage of recent decisions relating to "trans prisoners" - nobody has to be a diehard feminist to care about a threat to vulnerable women from sexual predators (which has been a social concern since time immemorial).  So I can totally understand the excitement of my fellow Alba members now that they feel they're finally gaining traction on a campaigning issue they've been running with for two years - but I really would urge some caution, because this is actually the moment of danger.  If Alba pile in and assist anti-independence media outlets such as the Daily Express, Wings Over Scotland and the Daily Mail in building public anger against Nicola Sturgeon on the prisoner issue to a fever-pitch, it probably will damage the SNP, but it's far more likely to be unionist parties (especially the Tories) that reap the main benefit, rather than Alba itself.  To my mind, Alba is, or should be, a special sort of party, because its aim is not power for itself, but instead to bring about independence as swiftly as possible.  It makes no sense for any part of the strategy of such a party to be to replace a pro-independence government with a unionist government.  (I know the Wings ultras will argue there's "creativity in destruction" and that the architecture of Yes politics as we know it must be destroyed so that we can start again from scratch - in other words the destruction of the Yes campaign is somehow a pro-independence act.  That whole worldview is idiocy on stilts, its initiator is a dishonest chancer and a snake oil salesman, and frankly I have no intention of showing any further patience towards it.)

My advice to Alba, for what it's worth, would instead be to accentuate the positive by warmly welcoming the correct decisions of the SNP government to take steps, however belatedly, to ensure that self-identified trans prisoners are not placed in women's prisons - and by all means Alba should take part of the credit for coaxing and pressurising the SNP into a better place.  But the emphasis should be on a problem solved by pro-independence politicians, rather than on needlessly painting the SNP leadership on an ongoing basis as friends of sexual predators - something which would only benefit the Tories and unionism.  I don't particularly expect my advice to be heeded - but I do think people may look back in a few years and wish they'd heeded it.  I think we've heard quite enough about the "Scottish Nonce Party" and about a vote for the SNP being a vote for Jimmy Savile - although doubtless Alister Jack and Douglas Ross would be only too delighted to hear lots more about it.

Incidentally, I completely accept that the SNP leadership's language in the wake of their U-turns is insufferably hypocritical.  Over the last few days, they've explicitly done three things that they previously defined as 'bigoted' and 'transphobic' when done by other people - ie. they've acknowledged that you can't automatically always believe individuals when they tell you what gender they are, they've acknowledged that self-identified trans women may not in absolutely every case be women, and they've acknowledged that in some cases accepting an individual's self-identification as female may pose a danger to women.  And yet they've carried on throwing around the charges of bigotry and transphobia without interruption.  They've simply narrowed the goalposts of what constitutes transphobia to exclude themselves from it and are hoping no-one will notice that Orwellian manoeuvre.  It's breathtakingly cynical, but let's face it, this is what governments usually do when they back down on something.  They try to find a form of words that makes it sound as if nothing has really changed at all.  (Jeremy Hunt's reversal of decisions made by Truss and Kwarteng was a rare exception, probably because the U-turn was so total that it would have been impossible to cover up.)  What matters most in this case are the deeds, not the stupidity of the words.

I'd also like to make clear that although the ends of thwarting self-ID will never justify the means of a Westminster veto, I nevertheless haven't remotely changed my mind on how desirable the ends are.  Quite apart from the potential impact of self-ID on women's rights and safety, there's also the factor of the sinister McCarthyite atmosphere that critics of self-ID (including myself) have had to endure over the last couple of years.  It's almost frightening to think how much worse things would have got on that score if those trying to crack down on free speech had found the law on their side.

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