Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why the Tories want the SNP to let their mandate for a referendum expire

Not for the first time, David Halliday has hit the nail on the head with this tweet -

"If not having an independence referendum before 2021 is sensible then why has Ruth Davidson been fighting so hard to make sure that that's what happens?"

If you find yourself doing (or considering doing) exactly what your opponents want you to do, it's always worth stepping into their shoes and considering why they want you to do it so badly.  From a Tory perspective, there are a number of very good reasons why an early independence referendum is something to dread -

1) The imminence of Brexit means that Project Fear would work in both directions this time.  It will be easy enough for the Yes campaign to produce a steady stream of "There were warnings tonight about the impact of Brexit on..." stories.  (How easy it will be to get the broadcasters to give those stories equal prominence is another matter, but an official campaign can help set the news agenda to some extent.)  If voters are convinced that there are credible reasons to fear the uncertainty of Brexit, the effect of fear in the campaign may be neutralised in a way that was never possible in 2014.

2) Theresa May is absolutely the worst person to be a figurehead for the No campaign.  She is tone-deaf in respect of Scotland.  She could single-handedly lose the referendum for No.

3) Jeremy Corbyn clearly has some appeal in Scotland, but an independence referendum would not be his natural terrain.  As was the case during the EU referendum, he probably wouldn't look terribly interested.  He would also say random things about "SNP austerity" that just wouldn't have much resonance for people in that particular context.

4) Given that the Tories are now Scotland's second party at almost every level of representation, it would be hard to justify sitting back and allowing Labour to be the cuddly public face of the No campaign once again.  And yet the alternative - an identifiably Tory-led No campaign - carries enormous risks.  Notwithstanding Ruth Davidson's much-vaunted "popularity", the Tories remain the most disliked of the major political parties in Scotland.  In a binary-choice referendum, there's not much use having 25% of the population solidly behind you if another 65% hate your guts.

5) The Vow may be a trick that was only ever going to work once.  On the pro-independence side, we tend to think of what could go right or wrong in a referendum purely in terms of victory or defeat, but for the Tories, giving too much ground on devolution is a fate almost as bad as defeat.  If a Yes vote looked like a realistic possibility with a few days to go, they would have to decide whether to make very painful concessions of new powers, or whether (and this is more probable) to offer absolutely nothing and just hope for the best.  Neither option looks too appetising for them in advance.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Why I'm backing Chris McEleny for SNP depute leader

Because the candidates are perhaps a little less well-known than would usually be the case, I had planned to take my time before making a final decision about who to vote for in the SNP depute leadership race.  However, the three remaining candidates have now all expressed clear views on the timing of a second independence referendum.  Unless those views change, I think the decision to vote for Chris McEleny has effectively been taken for me. 

These are the positions of the candidates as I understand them -

Chris McEleny: There should be an independence referendum within the next eighteen months.

Julie Hepburn: We have a mandate for a referendum.  But the timing of the referendum is not what members should be thinking about right now.  We should trust Nicola Sturgeon to make the right decision.

Keith Brown: The SNP is not yet ready to fight an independence referendum, and we need to get ready before a referendum can be called.

Now, I know some people will argue that this contest should not even be about the timing of a referendum.  Julie Hepburn's exhortation to "just trust Nicola" is superficially seductive.  But here's the thing: although Nicola Sturgeon will ultimately be the person who makes the decision, she will do it after factoring in the views of other key players within the SNP.  It would be perverse if the voice of the membership is the only voice that is not heard in that decision-making process.  What "trust Nicola" really amounts to is saying that you'll be equally happy regardless of what is decided, and there can't be many of us who truly feel that way.  Even if a decision goes against you, it's a lot easier to accept the outcome if you've had a chance to express your view and to be heard.  This election is taking place at a time when the SNP is facing one of the biggest forks in the road in its history, and the idea that we should all just be ignoring that and choosing who to vote for based solely on other factors seems to me naive and unrealistic.

Some people will argue that Chris McEleny does not have a high enough profile to be depute leader.  The reality is, though, that because the SNP's big beasts are all sitting this contest out, the role of depute is going to be very different from before, regardless of who wins.  Keith Brown is the only parliamentarian standing, but even if he wins, he's plainly not going to suddenly become the second most important person within the SNP, and probably not the third or fourth most important either.  The new role of the depute could be as a bridge between the leadership and the grass-roots, and Chris McEleny is arguably best-placed to fill that role.

"Preparation and persuasion, not obsessing over timing" is another seductive argument, but my huge concern is that all the best preparation and persuasion in the world will count for absolutely nothing if the referendum never actually takes place.  That would be the risk we'd take if we flirt with allowing the mandate for a pre-2021 referendum to expire.  In fairness, Keith Brown isn't adopting the Pete Wishart/Jim Sillars stance - nothing he has said would specifically preclude a pre-2021 referendum.  However, it does seem to me that he is effectively ruling out a referendum in the spring of next year - if he's saying that the SNP is not ready now, it's hard to see how he'd be able to argue that everything had been turned around by the autumn, when the starting-gun for a vote in early 2019 would have to be fired.  I don't think that taking any option off the table is helpful at this stage.  At least Julie Hepburn appears to be genuinely neutral on timing (and her emphasis that "we have the mandate" perhaps points to the likelihood of a pre-2021 vote), so on that basis I'm currently minded to give her my second preference vote, behind Chris McEleny.  I'll continue to keep an eye on what is said, though.

Remember that even if Keith Brown wins due to name-recognition, a strong showing for Chris McEleny would still send a powerful message to the leadership about members' views on the urgency of a referendum.  So from that point of view I feel that a vote for McEleny is an each-way bet that is well worth taking.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Renew the Section 30 request, put a deadline on it - and then if needs be go ahead and legislate for a referendum anyway

Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland has helpfully moved forward the debate over indyref timing by arguing that the Scottish Government should go ahead and legislate for a second referendum without specifying a date.  I would maybe quibble over whether this proposal stands outside the dispute over timing in quite the way that Stuart thinks, because what many of the people arguing for a long delay really want is for the whole issue of a referendum to fade from public debate, whereas legislating and perhaps triggering a challenge in the Supreme Court would have the opposite effect.  Nevertheless, on paper at least, preparing the ground for a referendum without naming the day ought to be able to unite all shades of opinion on timing.

Two key points need to be added to the proposal in my view.  Firstly, the Scottish Parliament should only go ahead and pass a Referendum Bill after the request for a Section 30 order has been revived and clearly rejected.  To avoid further "now is not the time" delaying tactics, the UK government should be given a specific deadline for a definitive response to the Section 30 request, with a failure to give a clear "yes" or "no" by that date being interpreted as rejection.  It must be plainly seen by the public that the Scottish government wanted an agreed process, and only legislated unilaterally after their overtures were spurned.

Secondly, it's important to get the message across that any hypothetical rejection of a Referendum Bill by the Supreme Court will not lead to us all packing up and going home.  Of course we would obey the law, and of course we would not hold a "wildcat referendum".  Instead, we should make clear that if all other options are exhausted, the next Holyrood election will be used to seek an outright mandate for independence.  A negative outcome in the Supreme Court would actually be helpful in the pursuit of that mandate, because it would provide clarity - Yes supporters would be under no doubt that the only way to achieve independence will be by turning out in huge numbers in a Holyrood vote.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Twitter poll confirms overwhelming demand within the Yes movement for a pre-2021 referendum

The Western Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil has been holding a Twitter poll over the last 24 hours on the timing of an independence referendum.  The results are dramatic, with a combined total of 88% of the thousands of people who took part saying that the current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum should be used.  Just 12% think the mandate should be allowed to expire.

Now of course I'm not going to pretend that a self-selecting Twitter poll is a scientifically rigorous exercise.  Nevertheless I do think it's of some interest.  Public opinion polls tell us about the views of the public, whereas a poll like this captures the views of the demographic that follows SNP parliamentarians on social media - ie. people who are the foot-soldiers of both the Yes movement and of the SNP.  Their opinions do count for something.  And at just over 5000, the sample size is impressive.  Remember that Twitter only allows one vote per account, so it's unlikely that the result was distorted by widespread multiple voting.  People's votes are also anonymous, so if they had wanted to quietly express a preference for letting the mandate expire, they could have done so without any fears.  There just doesn't seem to be much appetite for that option within the movement.

Jim Sillars is now, to all intents and purposes, opposed to an independent Scotland

I think that's fair comment.  It's rather like Gordon Brown's famous "five economic tests" for joining the euro - they were intentionally designed never to be met, because for whatever reason Brown had decided in advance that Britain should retain the pound, but he knew he had to go through the motions of looking open-minded about it.  Jim Sillars is not a fool, and he knows that the threshold he has just suggested for holding a second independence referendum (a 60% Yes vote in the polls for a sustained period of six months) is not likely to be anywhere close to being met at any time in the next twenty years, let alone in the next five.  He also knows that independence is essentially impossible if a referendum is not held, so it's reasonable to conclude that kicking independence into the long grass is now his conscious objective.  It's significant that even Pete Wishart felt it necessary to distance himself from Sillars' impossible threshold.  (Although of course that does beg the question of what Wishart's own threshold would be.  Don't hold your breath for an answer.)

So why would Sillars of all people want Scotland to remain subject to London rule?  Quite simply he got a pleasant surprise when Britain voted to leave the European Union, and he's now emotionally tethered to the idea of Scotland leaving European institutions when the rest of Britain does.  What's about to happen is a dream come true for a Eurosceptic, and he can't bear the thought of independence getting in the way of it.  That has led him to take what is a perverse position for any Scottish nationalist by denying the legitimacy of Scotland's own democratic decision to remain in the European Union. Essentially he agrees with the grotesque Richard Leonard doctrine that by voting No in 2014, Scotland empowered a neighbouring country to take a decision on European membership on our behalf, and that we are now honour-bound to abide by the decision made for us even though we disagree with it.

For anyone who actually prioritises independence over Brexit, it would be an extremely good idea not to follow Sillars down this latest rabbit hole.

*  *  *

As you know, I was extremely hurt the other day to discover that Pete Wishart had blocked me for refusing to agree with him that the hard-won mandate for an independence referendum should be allowed to expire.  I hadn't said anything that could be construed as abusive or insulting towards him, so it seemed clear enough that the blocking was simply because he couldn't tolerate any dissent.  However, I've now had an explanation of sorts for his decision, and it is nothing short of extraordinary.

What that means in plain language is that he blocked me because of just one tweet.  This is the one....

As you can see, there is no insult in that tweet.  I just accurately described what we can all see with our own eyes - that Scotland in Union had used him as a poster-boy.  If he's so thin-skinned that he can't bear someone to state a fact when it's a wee bit embarrassing for him, then I suppose I just have to say "fair enough" - it seems a bit bloody silly, but people can make decisions about who to banish from their own social media space for the silliest of reasons, and that's up to him.  The problem is, though, that the blocking wasn't the end of it - not even close.  You've probably seen the gleeful articles in unionist newspapers such as the Daily Record that pick up on his complaints about abusive comments from his own side (ie. the pro-independence side).  You've probably also noticed that one of the two main examples he offered of this "abuse" was the fact that he had been referred to as a unionist "poster boy".  Incredibly, then, it appears to be the case that my totally innocuous tweet above is being cited by him as an example of vile Cybernat abuse.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a stunt.  His pride has been hurt by the reaction to the poster, and he's getting revenge by deliberately conflating genuine abuse with a comment that he knows perfectly well is completely non-abusive.  This is the second cynical stunt I've been on the receiving end from him over the last week or so (ie. after his so-called "right of reply" to me that was not a reply at all, and that just used me as a pretext to essentially regurgitate his original "let the mandate expire" article and get a second round of free publicity for it).  As someone who has received a large amount of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic online abuse over the years, I find it an absolutely sick joke to see an innocent comment of mine being ridiculously cited as an example of the worst abuse.  It trivialises genuine bullying and intimidation.  I must say that once I wised up to the game Pete was playing, I stopped feeling hurt that he had blocked me, and realised that it would be entirely appropriate for me to block him.

I'd also just like to note in passing the slightly sinister 'thought-police' aspect of Pete's suggestion that it is somehow 'unacceptable' to retweet certain ideological undesirables or to state certain facts.  Thank heavens he wasn't a TV censor during the original run of Catchphrase.  Roy Walker's famous exhortation of "say what you see!" would have had to be replaced with "say what you see unless it's a poster featuring Pete Wishart, in which case give us a pretty lie instead".

One thing I do agree with Pete about is that we should be taking Scotland in Union on.  But what I don't understand is how voluntarily adopting huge swathes of their programme and rhetoric is supposed to help us do that.  Yes, they were being mischievous by using Pete's image on their poster, but there was a sort of inescapable logic to it as well.  For example I'm struggling to see a huge difference between Ruth Davidson's stated reasons for opposing a referendum, and Pete's own views about Scotland supposedly being "weary of big constitutional decisions".

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Landmark Panelbase poll finds 42% of Scottish public want a very early independence referendum

Today brings word of a full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase, and not for the first time it illustrates beautifully the yawning chasm between the actual state of public opinion, and the fictional version of public opinion that the unionist media would rather we heard about.  Ludicrously, the Times (who commissioned the poll) claim there is "little support" for a pre-2021 independence referendum, even though the poll actually shows that a whopping 42% of the electorate - the sort of percentage that governments are elected on - want a referendum within around twelve months, let alone within three years.  17% want it to be held while Brexit is still being negotiated, meaning within less than one year, and an additional 25% want it at the end of Brexit negotiations, meaning in about a year's time.

As I've noted in the past, the format of Panelbase's question on referendum timing isn't ideal.  There is no obvious option provided for people who want a referendum in two or three years' time - anyone in that position is effectively forced to be more negative about a referendum than they really feel (by choosing the third option of "no referendum in the next few years") or to be more bullish about timing than they really feel.  Which way such people are jumping in the poll can only be a matter of speculation.  What I would point out, though, is that the relatively even split of 58% against a very early referendum, 42% in favour, has occurred in spite of a prolonged spell in which the SNP have not been openly making the case for a vote.  If they had been, it seems at least conceivable that the numbers would be even more favourable.

Just as was the case in the Ipsos-Mori poll a few weeks ago, there is no sign whatever of Pete Wishart's so-called "indy-gap" - a claimed phenomenon of support for an early referendum running significantly below support for independence itself.  In reality, support for an early referendum (42%) is once again essentially identical to support for independence (43%). 

The Yes vote continues the trend of recent months by remaining static.  Some pollsters have shown Yes essentially static in the mid-40s, some (like Panelbase) in the low 40s, and some in the high 40s.  These are simply 'house differences' between the various firms, and it's impossible to know who is closest to the truth.  It's a remarkable turnaround from the long indyref campaign that Panelbase online polling is now on the No-friendly end of the spectrum, and that Ipsos-Mori telephone polling is on the Yes-friendly end.

There are also Westminster voting intention numbers -

SNP 36% (-5)
Conservatives 28% (+1)
Labour 27% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 2% (n/c)

The drop in the SNP vote may look alarming, but the 41% recorded in the previous Panelbase poll was the highest in any poll from any firm since the general election, so it may have been an inflated number caused by the margin of error.  This is only the second post-election poll (out of nine) to put the SNP below the 37% recorded on election day, but there has been no reduction in the eight-point election gap between SNP and Tory, and only a statistically insignificant one-point reduction in the gap between SNP and Labour.  So even if this poll was accurate, it's not clear that the SNP would be losing seats in an early election.

More details and analysis to follow...

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The weak enslave themselves

Yesterday was a genuinely dispiriting day for me, because for the first time I discovered I'd been blocked by an SNP parliamentarian - in spite of the fact that I hadn't said anything remotely abusive or insulting towards him.  I suppose in a way it was a useful moment of clarity, because it gave the lie to the notion that Pete Wishart has been merely trying to promote a constructive debate on the timing of an independence referendum.  Clearly the function of the rest of us was just to dutifully agree with his verdict that the SNP's mandate for a referendum should (probably) be allowed to expire.

Having been blocked by Pete, it's hard not to feel doubly cynical about Andrew Tickell's piece in The National yesterday, which lauds Pete's contribution as some kind of breakthrough in thoughtfulness and nuance.  What particularly raises a hollow laugh is when Andrew quotes one of Pete's straw men in its entirety and then says without a trace of irony: "Wishart doesn’t accept this view. Neither do I."  Let me just reiterate as the person who Pete was nominally "replying" to in his letter that the view I actually expressed is the opposite of the one he ascribed to me.  I do not believe, and have never claimed, that calling a referendum will automatically create a majority in favour of independence.  What I do believe, on a solid evidential basis, is that any significant changes in public opinion (which could be in the direction of either Yes or No) are far more likely to occur when a referendum campaign is actually underway.  That's one of the reasons why it's such a mistake to base decisions on referendum timing on minor changes (or lack of changes) in opinion poll results.

In truth, it's no surprise whatever to see Andrew backing the best available voice of caution in the SNP (or, to be blunt, the voice of indefinite inaction).  Practically the first thing Andrew did after the 2014 defeat was lecture Yes supporters on how they shouldn't even be openly referring to the possibility of a second referendum.  "Stop it" he said bluntly.  He had previously given the impression that he felt that even the 2014 referendum had been called very prematurely - which raises an intriguing question.  Are we closer to victory, or further away from it, as a result of the first indyref being held?  It may seem obvious that we're closer, because opinion polls show that most people who were won over to Yes during the 2014 campaign have remained rock-solid in their support.  But if we choose to take the view that suffering a first defeat means that the threshold for calling a second vote must be much higher, and that some kind of near-certainty of victory is now required before pulling the trigger, then it follows that we're much further away from independence simply as a result of having held a referendum in 2014.  A Yes vote of 48% in 2018 makes independence far more distant than a 33% Yes vote did in 2013.  That's perverse, upside-down logic, but it's absolutely the position unless we banish the doctrine of "a first defeat was thinkable, a second defeat is not" - which if left unchallenged will ensure that in all probability a second referendum is never held, because guarantees of victory will never be available.

I think we should come back to the light.  Calling a referendum in 2014 was not a mistake.  The converts we won over back then were not worthless.  We're closer to independence than we were five years ago, not further away.  All of those statements can be true as long as we're not hellbent on making them untrue.  There's a line from an early 1980s Doctor Who story that keeps popping into my head: "The weak enslave themselves."  We're in danger of enslaving ourselves to the fear of defeat.  The one thing that will genuinely guarantee that Scotland remains part of the UK indefinitely is an indefinite failure to hold a second independence referendum.

Of course Andrew Tickell would regard what I've just said as macho posturing.  This is the sneer with which he ends his article: "Demand as many referendums as you like. Extol courage. Blast faint-hearts. Shout and thunder at folk like Wishart raising their experiences of the communities they serve and know well."  

Well, it cuts both ways, doesn't it?  Say that the time is never right.  Suck the life out of others at every available opportunity.  Tell them to pack up and go home.  Lecture them on how they should leave the grown-up stuff to their betters.  But at least take ownership of the fact that to all intents and purposes you are arguing that Scotland should not become an independent country at any time in the foreseeable future, along with all of the consequences of that in respect of a Hard Brexit and the undermining of devolution.  Andrew and Pete Wishart both describe Scotland as "weary of big constitutional choices" - but it is a simple fact that the rejection of making a choice is a conscious rejection of independence, and an embrace of a Hard Brexit.  That is not what I joined the SNP for.

I see that Jason Michael of Random Public Journal is saying that if the SNP allow their mandate for a referendum to expire, he will look away from the SNP and find another vehicle for independence.  I don't take that view, because I don't think there will be another credible vehicle.  But being blocked by Wishart simply because I refuse to abandon my support for an independence referendum is perhaps my lowest point since joining the SNP, and I'm beginning to understand how people's enthusiasm is going to just wither and die almost overnight if the party leadership allow fear to win the day and let the hard-won mandate expire.  I'm still hoping and praying that doesn't happen.  Over to you, Nicola.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Gathering

A guest post by Jason Baird of the National Yes Registry

Many thanks to James for the generous opportunity of a guest post on Scot Goes Pop. For all those who have not yet heard of the National Yes Registry or what we do, here is a short film giving a little of our history, explaining who we are and what IndyApp does. It was made as an easy introduction to us for the audience at the SIC Build conference last year.  It includes a reference to the successful crowdfunder that has allowed us to continue finishing the IndyApp and organise our next big grass-roots The Gathering #1 Event: the real subject of this blog post.

As part of the interesting recent discussions between James, Pete Wishart MP (and others) over the optimum timing for IndyRef 2, I thought folk might be interested in some context from a grass-roots group perspective. James’ call for the Yes movement to become much more pro-active seems the perfect time to let interested folk know just how pro-active the grass-roots are at the moment and exactly what the local Indy groups have planned.

The Gathering #1 is being held just a matter of weeks before the SNP 'spring' Conference and so hopefully will not go unnoticed by those present at Aberdeen. Think how a 'sold-out' and vibrant national Gathering of the groups in Stirling will strengthen IndyRef2 options at that conference. It should also help inspire the rest of the wider Yes movement into more and wider action. A final thought before you read the main blog: the unionist Labour Party in Scotland had their conference recently with a reported attendance of 400 delegates. Our venue for the Gathering has a capacity of 450. Need we say more?

The Gathering #1: All Groups Welcome

As promised, we are now organising the first national gathering of the Yes movement’s local groups - a place where the groups can define for themselves how best to organise and work together in preparation for winning IndyRef2.

Stirling: The Albert Halls, Albert Place, Dumbarton Rd, Stirling FK8 2QL

9am - 5:45pm, Sunday the 27th of May (Bank Holiday weekend). In the evening there will be a separately-ticketed, fully licensed Ceilidh Dinner. 7:30pm -12:00pm

How much?
The Gathering: (400@) £14each. Ceilidh Dinner: (220@) £20each. Purchase codes will be supplied direct to the groups. Prices include full days catering and Paypal booking fees. No profit will be made and all event accounts will be published.

Why a Gathering?
The task is to provide a new form of participatory grass-roots leadership, one that gives direction at a national level but fully understands, protects and strengthens group autonomy at a local level. This can only be achieved through active participation and consent by all groups. Who, but the groups themselves, are capable of providing this new form of leadership?

The Gathering’s Concept
This will not be another 'top table' Yes Conference, finished when the speakers have said their piece and everyone has gone home.

Instead, Gathering #1 will be the start of a collective process of group mobilisation. One where individual participation, group consent, popular support and new technology come together to bind Yes into an effective, non-party political, campaigning force.

A process that has local groups, their members and all of Scotland’s different community needs at its centre.

This is about collective grass-roots legitimacy in action.

The Gathering is where the groups will begin to set out a practical campaign agenda for themselves and the movement, one that naturally comes with the authority of its activists.

Autonomous groups lead themselves, so the real task of the Gathering is to identify: shared experiences, campaign ideas, resources and proposals that the groups collectively feel are of strategic importance to the movement. These will then be posted on the new IndyApp for the newly networked groups all across the country to assess and decide upon for themselves.

This is the grass-root movement’s greatest strength.

The final say in local campaigning should always be in the hands of activists who know and understand their communities best. Local group autonomy enables Yes campaigners to select from the movement’s full range of valid independence messages and tailor them to suit their own community’s needs. The wider the variety of community groups participating, the more powerful our campaigning advantage becomes.

Building momentum
If Gathering #1 is the success we believe it will be, its format can be refined by the groups to become a regular event on the campaign calendar. Gatherings organised at local, regional and national levels, with all the new ideas generated at them, could then be accessed across the grassroots using the IndyApp National Forum.

Event Goal 1: On the day
Initial ideas will be generated by all delegates within workshops, followed by presentations of each workshop’s findings to the entire Gathering, for us all to debate and assess.

By the end of the day each workshop’s findings, presentation and identified campaign topic will be posted onto the new IndyApp National Forum, to allow every local group member across the country access and opportunity to participate.

Event Goal 2: Extending participation
All groups and all group members across the country can then participate using their group’s Local Forum on the new IndyApp. This is where autonomous group memberships can share, discuss and develop any Gathering proposals that interest them. Groups can also post their own proposals and ideas onto the National Forum for the consideration of the movement and to canvas support from fellow groups.

Organisation: It’s in the detail
Group ideas and proposals posted onto the National Forum that find support among fellow groups will need to be taken forward in a coordinated way. Turning good ideas into practical campaigns and action plans can be achieved through IndyApp facilitated National Committees.

These committees are created by (and made up of) interested group members and committed activists from all around the country. An effective way to harness the Yes movement’s wide base of specialist knowledge, experience and campaigning enthusiasm.

All National Committees will set themselves up to operate within tight time frames and remits.

Event Goal 3: Gathering Committees
The five most popular and well developed proposals will each have National Committees created at the Gathering on the new IndyApp. Made up of volunteer activists who want to help put the Gathering’s proposals into practical action, these committees are also where any interested local group member can make direct contact to join, or offer their specialist knowledge to help advance its purpose.

Event Goal 4: Accessing all talents
No good idea should ever lack support, and no activist should ever be short of a good idea to support!

The Gathering’s format together with the new IndyApp platform helps provide a simple way for all group members to easily follow, make contact and practically participate in developing ideas and proposals presented at Gathering #1. Whether they were able to attend the event on the day or not.

Equally, local groups who post ideas on the National Forum can also open National Committees of their own and encourage participation in their projects from right across the entire knowledge base of the IndyApp group network.

Calling All IndyApp Groups!
Success of the Gathering as a grassroots leadership strategy rests on each participating group’s individual ability to communicate effectively. First, within their own memberships, and then directly with one another as autonomous groups. The IndyApp has been created on behalf of the groups to provide exactly those capabilities.

Please ensure you get your entire membership logged in as soon as possible, in anticipation of Gathering #1 and the all-new communication forums that are coming to support it. If you are a member of a group on the IndyApp but your ‘front door’ is still inactive, please contact us and we will help you get your group ready for the big event.

If your group is not yet on the IndyApp but would like to participate, please complete the sign-up form and we will respond as quickly as we can.

Magical Mallaig moment as SNP vote increases in Highland by-election

So the STV by-election gods giveth, and the STV by-election gods taketh away.  A couple of weeks ago we were enjoying a technical SNP 'gain' from Labour in Penicuik, even though the SNP's vote had gone down slightly and they had remained in first place in the ward.  Today we're getting the flip-side of the equation: the SNP have technically 'lost' a seat in Caol and Mallaig, even though they have remained in second place in the ward and their vote has gone up appreciably.  On the plus side, because the Liberal Democrats have gained the seat, it's always quite a fun pastime trying to work out which triumphalist Lib Dem supporters are just pretending not to understand how the voting system works, and which ones are genuinely clueless enough to think that this is some sort of terrible setback for the SNP.  For a party that is supposed to regard STV as the holy grail of voting systems, the Lib Dems don't always give the impression of being terribly well versed in it.

Caol and Maillaig by-election result (first preferences):

Liberal Democrats 31.1% (+21.7)
SNP 27.2% (+3.2)
Independent - Wood 21.5% (n/a)
Conservatives 8.7% (+0.5)
Independent - MacKinnon 6.9% (n/a)
Independent - Campbell 4.6% (n/a)

There's probably not a lot of point in trying to make sense of the big increase in the Lib Dem vote - this is a part of the world where the candidate often counts for more than the party label, which is why a lot of people were betting on victory for one of the three independent candidates.  A Lib Dem win is a surprise, but isn't a sign that Rennie-mania is sweeping the nation.  For the same reason we shouldn't get too excited about the fact that there has been a small net swing from Tory to SNP.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Some recommended reading...

It's the blogpost that's caught the imagination of a nation.  If you haven't seen it yet, take a few moments to read the legendary Ruth Wishart's reply to her namesake Pete Wishart, explaining her reasons for concluding that the independence referendum must be held by March 2019.  You can read it HERE.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A right of reply to Pete Wishart: why "losing is not an option" is an immature belief that would lead to the quiet death of the independence cause

As you may have seen doing the rounds on Twitter, the letters page of this month's iScot magazine contains a contribution from Pete Wishart MP, billed as a "right of reply response to James Kelly's article Why the SNP must use its mandate to call an Indyref".  I have to say I'm rather bemused by it, because with one possible minor exception it doesn't actually engage with the points I made in the article at all.  Quite the contrary, in fact - it implies that I said things I didn't say, or that I said the opposite of, which suggests to me that if Pete is replying to anyone, it's to an imaginary person who is not me.   My article was in itself a reply to Pete's 'Braveheart' piece in The National, and to a large extent all that Pete's "reply" does is reiterate the points he already made in his original article about why the SNP's hard-won mandate for a second independence referendum should be allowed to expire (albeit he fleshes some of them out a bit).  Well, this is my own right of reply to his "reply", and I'm actually going to try to take things forward by tackling some of his arguments and claims directly.

First things first: Pete says that the only thing that dictates his attitude to the timing of an independence referendum is winning it.  He obviously thinks that point is a no-brainer, but is it?  Isn't there also the small matter of honour in politics, and carrying through a solemn commitment made to people who voted for you in good faith?  We must never forget that before the June 2017 general election, the Scottish Parliament voted to hold an independence referendum in this current Holyrood term, meaning before May 2021.  People were then urged to vote SNP on the basis that if the party won a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster, that would constitute a "triple lock" mandate for the referendum.  A comfortable majority of seats was duly secured.  If Pete thinks that no SNP supporters took the 'triple lock' commitment seriously or cared about it, I would suggest he urgently catches up with the writings of Thomas Widmann, a pro-indy blogger with Danish citizenship, who listened to the SNP leadership's promise about an independence referendum before Brexit, and made hugely important personal decisions about whether to remain in Scotland on that specific basis.  He now doesn't know what to do, because it's so difficult to read whether that promise is actually going to be honoured, at least in part (ie. we already know the originally planned timing is likely to slip at least a bit).

Pete writes at length about the canvass results the SNP received in his own constituency.  It's a statement of the obvious that the Tories were gaining traction with their ultra-simplistic 'No to Indyref2' message among people who didn't want Indyref2, but Pete also claims that he never met a single person who was refusing to vote SNP because the party wasn't being strong enough in its support for a new referendum.  I'd suggest we'd all be well advised to take the implication of that claim with a heavy dose of salt, because there is ample polling evidence that large numbers of SNP voters from 2015 abstained in 2017 rather than switching to another party.  By far the most plausible explanation for that phenomenon is the failure of the SNP leadership to find a suitably inspiring pitch on independence.  But even if we accept Pete's contention that pro-referendum voters were broadly happy with what the SNP were saying during the election, isn't it rather problematical (or fatal) for Pete's argument that what the SNP were saying during the election is the opposite of what Pete is saying now?  There was no talk during the campaign of "we want a mandate from you, but we probably won't use it unless everything seems perfect".  The call was for a mandate which was actually going to be used.  It's a bit meaningless to pray in aid your belief that pro-referendum folk were satisfied with what you were offering at the election if you're also arguing that what you offered should not be delivered now that the votes are safely in the bag.

It seems to me there is a very obvious subtext in Pete's letter that the holding of an independence referendum should be subordinate to considerations of what is going to win or lose the SNP votes and seats in a Westminster election.  That sort of thinking really ought to be alien to a party that is serious about achieving independence, but it actually doesn't even make sense on its own terms, because in all probability a pre-2021 referendum would precede the next Westminster election, and indeed every other election apart from by-elections.  Yes, a snap general election is still possible, but the strengthening of Theresa May's personal position means it's considerably less likely than it was.

To turn now to the central thrust of Pete's letter, he repeatedly uses language like "Losing again is simply unthinkable" and "losing again should simply not be an option".  That's an argument that has great emotional resonance for some people, who think back to how they felt on September 19th, 2014, and want to avoid feeling that way ever again.  It's also, I'm afraid, an extremely immature argument, because the nature of holding any democratic vote at any time is that defeat is always an option.  Absolutely always.  I can give you chapter and verse on referendums from around the world in which one side or the other has lost a commanding lead in the blink of an eye.  It is simply a statement of fact that if we hold a referendum, we might win it and we might lose it.  But here's the the thing - if we want independence, we can only get it by holding a referendum, which means we have to risk losing again sooner or later.  Pete is arguing that we must wait until we have "optimum conditions" that will "ensure" and "guarantee" victory, but those conditions will simply never exist in the real world.  His prospectus is a recipe for what you might call the 'heat death' of the independence cause - the SNP would continue nominally arguing for independence into infinity, but the rallying cry would be the hollow shell of "let's keep preparing for those optimum conditions!", which will always be supposedly around the corner, but will never actually arrive.

In my article that Pete is nominally "replying" to, I turned his call for "pragmatism" on its head by pointing out that pragmatism actually demands that we hold a referendum when we can, and not when we can't.  In other words, even if his "optimum conditions" were theoretically achievable, they wouldn't be much use to us if they happened to coincide with a time when there was no pro-independence majority at Holyrood, and therefore a referendum couldn't be held.  To the limited extent that Pete indirectly addresses that point, his answer is totally unsatisfactory.  He claims that if the pro-indy camp can't win a majority at Holyrood, there would be very little chance of winning a referendum anyway.  Frankly, that's an absolute nonsense, and I can't believe he really thinks that.  There are any number of reasons why pro-independence voters might vote for an anti-independence party (especially Labour) at a parliamentary election but then still vote for independence in a referendum.  We saw plenty of evidence in opinion polls last year that a minority of people were moving from SNP back to Labour but were still backing independence.  The idea that if pro-indy parties "only" win 48% of the seats at a Holyrood election, it would then be virtually impossible to achieve a pro-independence majority vote at any point over the subsequent five years, which is essentially what Pete is arguing, is risible and not worthy of serious discussion.  The only thing that would make a Yes vote impossible in those circumstances is that we wouldn't be able to hold a referendum in the first place without a pro-indy parliamentary majority - and that's the trap Pete is leading us into.  He tells us what a tragedy it would be if we were to hold a referendum prematurely and lose it when it could have been won later - but how would that be any more of a tragedy than spurning the chance of holding a referendum when we actually have the mandate, and as a result being utterly powerless to hold a referendum for potentially decades thereafter, including at times when we might easily have won?  That scenario could very easily unfold if a minority of pro-indy voters revert indefinitely to voting for the Labour party for cultural reasons.

Pete seems incredulous at the notion that you should use a mandate for a referendum just because you have one.  I suppose that depends on whether you believe that pro-indy majorities at Holyrood are as plentiful as grains of sand on a beach, or whether you recognise that under the Additional Member voting system they're actually murderously hard to come by, and they should be treated as precious when they come along, and not casually squandered.  We're not talking about a referendum next week - by all means let's choose the "optimum moment" between now and May 2021 when our mandate expires.  But going beyond that date on a wing and a prayer is a different matter entirely.

Now to deal with a few miscellaneous red herrings that Pete throws in -

* I'm not quite sure what the relevance of this is, but he claims that failure in the 1979 devolution referendum (thanks to the 40% rule) led to the near-wipeout of the SNP at Westminster.  Not so.  The SNP had gone into reverse well before the referendum - by 1978, Labour had shown itself to be serious enough about devolution that it started winning back 'soft nationalist' votes.  It's highly likely the SNP would have lost seats regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

* He suggests that the lesson of the 1995 Quebec vote is that a second defeat can set back an independence movement for a generation.  In actual fact, the pro-independence Parti Québécois continued to hold an absolute parliamentary majority for eight years after the 1995 defeat.  Because of excessive caution it didn't take advantage of that enviable situation, and as a result hasn't had the arithmetic to call a referendum at any time since 2003.  (And one of the main reasons why it keeps failing to win elections is because it continually ties itself up in knots with a muddled prospectus of "we want a referendum, but not yet", which reassures nobody and inspires nobody.)

* He ascribes to me (or to the imaginary person he's responding to) the belief that simply calling a referendum would make a decisive shift towards Yes likely.  I have never said that, and indeed I have repeatedly pointed out that the opposite may happen, including in the very article Pete is "replying" to.  I believe this is projection on his part - he's so preoccupied with "guarantees" and "certainties" that he believes anyone who argues against him must automatically be saying that a Yes victory is already guaranteed.  Completely untrue.  I simply take the grown-up view that we might win if we fight a good campaign, that we might lose if we fight a bad campaign (or if we fight a good campaign and are unlucky), and that the future is fundamentally unknowable.  We can help shape the future but we can't possess it in advance.

* He talks of something called the "indy-gap", meaning that support for an early referendum runs below support for independence itself.  But is that actually true?  The most recent Ipsos-Mori poll showed that just under half of people who expressed a view wanted independence...and just under half of people who expressed a view wanted an independence referendum within the next three years.  So simple question, then - where's the indy-gap?  To claim that it exists, at best you'd be cherry-picking only the polling numbers that suit your argument.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Winning With Willie: The Naked Truth

It's amazing how often a full-scale Scottish poll has been published on Easter Sunday, and this year is no exception, courtesy of YouGov.  Unfortunately, however, the poll doesn't have any voting intention numbers (unless those are to come later) - it just asks about the strange recent trend of Scottish opposition politicians taking part in reality TV.

In recent months, a number of Scottish political party leaders have participated in reality TV programmes or game shows.  Before today, which of the following were you aware of?  (Select all that apply.)

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale's appearance on I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!:  61%
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson's appearance on the Great British Bake Off: 34%
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie's forthcoming appearance on Celebrity Naked Attraction: 7%

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has agreed to appear in a celebrity edition of Naked Attraction, a Channel 4 show in which contestants vie for a date by taking their clothes off.  Do you think Mr Rennie has made the right decision?

Yes 4%
No 56%

Willie Rennie has made clear that his appearance on Celebrity Naked Attraction will be tasteful, and that his modesty will be protected at all times.  Knowing this, do you feel more or less sympathetic towards his decision to take part?

More 9%
Less 2%
No Difference 61%

Willie Rennie says that he is appearing on Celebrity Naked Attraction as a light-hearted way of raising money for charity, and to help increase young people's interest in politics.  Do you think young people will become more or less interested in politics as a result of Mr Rennie's participation in the show?

More 3%
Less 21%
No Difference 57%

Does Willie Rennie's appearance on Celebrity Naked Attraction make you feel proud to be Scottish?

Yes 5%
No 48%

Do you think Willie Rennie's appearance on Celebrity Naked Attraction will make it easier or harder for you to take him seriously as a politician in future?

Easier 7%
Harder 65%

And there's the rub.  I have to say I think the man has taken leave of his senses.  We may be used to seeing him indulge in publicity stunts such as sheep-wrestling, but this is in an entirely different category.  As George Galloway proved by "being the cat", there are some mental images the public can't easily dispel.

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.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hands Off Our Parliament

So as I mentioned in the previous post, I spent a few hours at the 'Hands Off Our Parliament' event at Holyrood yesterday.  I was even invited to make a short speech - as you can see for yourself, because Independence Live (whose operations seem to become more and more sophisticated every time I encounter them) were filming throughout the day.  My slot starts at around 7:20 on this link

One of the joys of an event like that is 'celebrity-watching'.  I found myself standing right next to the legendary Scottish Resistance just before my speech, but possibly the most surreal spectacle was Michael Gray taking part in the Yes Bikers ride-past on a distinctly analogue bike, and grinning with sheer delight as if he'd just found out Santa exists after all.  One or two people on social media criticised pro-indy MSPs for not turning up, but that's a bit unfair - I'm 99% sure I spotted Ash Denham, and there may have been others as well.

The schedule of the day was ingeniously crafted to provide lots of highly visual showstopping moments.  It must have looked fabulous on television.  In China, I mean - from what I can gather, the only TV cameras on the spot were from a Chinese channel.  Ah well, maybe there are some soft No voters on holiday in Shanghai at the moment.

Like almost everyone, I took a few photos while I was there.  Here's a selection...

Friday, March 23, 2018

SNP p-p-p-pick up a Penicuik in crucial by-election GAIN

I'm not sure if I've been the only person at the 'Hands Off Our Parliament' event today who spent half the time frantically searching his phone for the word 'Penicuik', but the news was good in the end.  The SNP have gained the seat previously held by Labour, and this is the first actual SNP gain in a local by-election since the Westminster general election last June.  Before you get too excited, it's one of those anomalies thrown up by the voting system, where Labour were defending the seat in spite of the fact that the SNP won the popular vote in the ward last time around.  As you can see below, there was no big change in either the SNP or Labour vote.  But it's still a significant blow for Labour, who have been overtaken by the SNP as the largest single party on Midlothian council.  (Labour will presumably cling onto power with the help of their ever-faithful Tory allies.)

Penicuik by-election result (first preferences):

SNP 35.0% (-0.2)
Conservatives 30.2% (+4.0)
Labour 27.6% (+2.0)
Greens 7.2% (+1.6)

The SNP had to wait until the Green and Labour votes were redistributed before being formally declared the winners, but from the moment it became clear the Tories were in second place on first preferences, it was pretty obvious what the final result would be.  Ironically, I saw a chap on Twitter claim that this result proves that only the Tories can beat the SNP, but if anything the opposite is true - if Labour had been second on first preferences, they probably would have taken a truck-load of transfers from the Tories, and might just have pipped the SNP on the final count.  But the Tories are never likely to get enough Labour transfers to come from behind in a straight SNP v Tory run-off.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

If you want to get a Section 30 order, you first have to be serious about holding a referendum without one

My interest was caught by Peter A Bell's blogpost the other day about Green MSP Ross Greer's comments on Indyref 2, and not for the first time I find myself half-agreeing with Peter and half-disagreeing.  I certainly agree that Greer, in arguing that a Section 30 order is essential before a referendum can go ahead, is a siren voice who could potentially lead us onto the rocks - not ideologically or philosophically, but simply in strategic terms.  Greer suggests that we should forget all about holding a referendum without Westminster's consent and instead concentrate on "creating the political leverage to get the Section 30 order we need" - but the obvious point he's overlooked is that embarking on a process that could lead to a non-Westminster-approved referendum is in itself the sort of leverage that could actually produce a Section 30 order.  It's arguably very unlikely that anything else would even be capable of creating sufficient leverage (with the possible exception of an early general election in which the SNP make net gains - but of course the triggering of an early election is not in the gift of anyone on the pro-indy side).  There's no point in calling for the creation of leverage if in the same breath you're arguing that we should throw the best chance of leverage we have into the bin.

Greer says: "The idea of us being in a situation where we had to attempt independence with the absolute resistance of the UK government, I don’t think, would make independence actually possible."  Does he not understand that this stance, if maintained, would give the UK government a very simple method by which they can make independence "impossible"?  All they'd have to do is just keep saying "no" to a referendum.  Job done.  Scotland would have no leverage at all.

Think back to the first indyref.  Why did the UK government grant a Section 30 order for that one?  They didn't do it out of  the goodness of their hearts, that's for sure.  They did it because the SNP initially took the view that a Section 30 order wasn't needed and were talking seriously about going ahead without one.  That was dangerous for the UK government, who risked losing any say over the format of the vote (for example whether there would be a Devo Max option), and also risked being faced with a dilemma over whether to take legal action to stop the referendum - which might or might not have succeeded, but would have been politically damaging either way.  A credible threat of an "unapproved" referendum would generate a similar set of risks for London now.

In many ways, the strategic logic is similar to that of the Continuity Bill.  The Scottish Government would much prefer a deal with London to protect devolution, but paradoxically by preparing the ground for exploiting a no-deal scenario, you make a deal far more likely to happen.  But of course there's always just a chance that London will still prove intransigent, in which case you have to fall back on the Continuity Bill - in that sense it's an each-way bet.  Perhaps that's what scares people about using the same tactic to extract a Section 30 order - if it didn't work, we'd actually have to press ahead with an "unapproved" referendum.  But would that really be so awful?  If a referendum bill was passed without a Section 30 order and the Supreme Court subsequently upheld it, it would become the law of the land and the "fears" of a unionist boycott would probably recede.  If the Supreme Court didn't uphold it, the vote wouldn't happen anyway, but at least we'd then have political and legal clarity which would lead us inexorably towards using a Holyrood election to seek an outright mandate for independence.

Greer raises a specific concern about unionist-controlled local authorities refusing to cooperate with a referendum held without a Section 30 order.  I'm obviously not a legal expert, so I'm willing to be corrected on this, but it seems intuitively likely that there are ways to deal with that problem.  It's surely of some significance that powers over local government are devolved to Scotland.

Incidentally, I'd also suggest it's rather important that Labour and the Liberal Democrats (with the eccentric exception of Mike Rumbles) have created a precedent by voting in favour of the Continuity Bill, in spite of the Presiding Officer's opinion that it exceeds the parliament's powers.  That will make it harder for either party to credibly argue that the SNP are doing something terribly wrong by passing a referendum bill over which there is some legal doubt.  I don't say that in any sort of triumphalist "gotcha" way - I think Labour and the Lib Dems have done absolutely the right thing over the Continuity Bill, and they may even have done it for the right reasons.  But it's created new facts on the ground, just the same.

Where I part company with Peter A Bell is his belief that Greer's flawed thinking on strategy is symptomatic of a major difference in approach between the Greens and the SNP.  In reality, Greer's views are shared by some senior people in the SNP, while some take the opposite view, and others are somewhere in between.  I've no idea which camp Nicola Sturgeon is in, and unless Peter has some sort of inside knowledge, I think he's in danger of projecting his own beliefs onto her.  This isn't first and foremost an SNP v Green problem - there's an internal SNP debate on strategy that needs to be won.

*  *  *

If you're an SNP supporter in the Penicuik ward, don't forget to vote in the local by-election today.  The SNP won the popular vote in the ward last year, but this is exactly the sort of place where Labour have prospered in recent months, so it could be a tight contest and every vote is important.  (The Tories are in with a serious chance as well.)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Senior BBC journalists are completely losing the plot in their posture towards Alex Salmond

If you haven't seen/heard Alex Salmond's exchange with the BBC's John Sweeney yesterday, it's worth following this link and having a listen, because it's one of the most extraordinary things I've ever heard.  What Sweeney's almost comically hostile attitude reminded me of was the guidelines for BBC presenters in the 1980s and early 90s when dealing with Sinn Féin spokespeople.  Although interviews with Sinn Féin were permitted, they weren't to be regarded as anything remotely like normal interviews with normal politicians, where at least part of the purpose is to allow the interviewee to get his or her point across.  Instead, presenters were expected to do anything and everything necessary to destroy the credibility of the interviewee, and to constantly remind viewers that Sinn Féin were not a legitimate political party with a legitimate viewpoint, but rather a public relations front for filthy terrorists and murderers.

Incredible though it may seem, that was almost exactly the posture Sweeney adopted towards Salmond yesterday.  He literally treated Salmond, a former First Minister of Scotland and a current Privy Counsellor, as the equivalent of a terrorist spokesperson.  Sweeney was theoretically in the position of interviewee, but from the moment he opened his mouth, his single-minded objective was to deny the legitimacy of Salmond as an interviewer on the basis that Salmond is a paid Putin stooge, to deny the legitimacy of any questions Salmond asked on the basis that they were coming out of the mouth of a paid Putin stooge, and even to deny the legitimacy of the subject that he had been invited on the programme to speak about because it had been selected by a paid Putin stooge.  It was clear that he had decided in advance that he would regard his participation in the interview as a failure unless he effectively pulled off a full-blown coup against the interviewer and managed to spend the whole ten minutes putting Salmond on the ropes about a completely different subject, ie. Salmond supposedly being a paid Putin stooge.

At several points, Sweeney attempted to contrast the different practices of the BBC and Russian-owned RT, on which Salmond's weekly TV show runs.  But let me just ask the obvious question: can anyone imagine a BBC interviewer putting up with the behaviour that Sweeney exhibited yesterday?  Off the top of my head, I cannot recall a single example of a guest on the BBC being allowed to spend an entire interview ignoring the actual subject of the interview and instead making a prolonged personal attack on the interviewer.  The closest I can think of is Jo Swinson asking an awkward question about John Humphrys' views on his female colleagues, but that was much briefer and much more courteous, and she only got away with it because of truly exceptional circumstances.  Normally the outside interests of the interviewer are completely off limits.  Sweeney also suggested that RT does not allow criticism, whereas people are permitted to criticise the BBC on the BBC, but is it actually true that there's any real distinction there?  I've seen limited criticisms of RT expressed on RT, and yes, I've also seen limited criticisms of the BBC expressed on the BBC.  In both cases, the broadcaster itself is the gatekeeper of the extent and type of criticism that is aired, by virtue of being able to select which people are or are not invited to speak.  Former BBC Scotland presenter Derek Bateman has often noted that he hasn't been invited to take part in any BBC programmes as a pundit or commentator since he started making constructive criticisms of the corporation on his blog.  Paul Kavanagh, a fierce critic of the BBC, has similarly observed that he is never invited onto BBC programmes, in spite of the fact that as a regular columnist on The National he is on a list of people recommended to the BBC on an ongoing basis as possible pro-independence guests.  By contrast, a small number of 'safer' pro-independence guests such as Angela Haggerty (broadly a defender of the BBC) appear extremely frequently.

What Sweeney did yesterday was eerily reminiscent of Nick Robinson's outburst against Salmond on social media a few months ago, which leaves us with the distinct impression of a BBC that now views itself as being in a state of open warfare with the former leader of the UK's third largest political party, and doesn't see any problem with that.  I have to say I'm struggling to imagine the BBC losing the plot quite so comprehensively with the former leader of any of the main London-based parties, which raises some troubling questions about underlying attitudes within the BBC towards the Scottish independence movement.  Is the ludicrously contrived link between Salmond and the Russian menace being used as a conveniently deniable outlet for the contempt some senior BBC journalists and presenters have always felt towards the SNP in general?  If so, how can the BBC be trusted to cover Scottish politics and the independence issue impartially?

Incidentally, what yesterday's interview was actually supposed to be about was Newsnight's bizarre decision to use a backdrop featuring a doctored image of Jeremy Corbyn in front of the Kremlin as part of a Bolshevik-style poster.  Salmond did a heroic job of dragging Sweeney kicking and screaming back to that topic, which produced this remarkable moment about three minutes in -

Alex Salmond: The mainstream press are accusing Jeremy Corbyn of being a Kremlin stooge.  So why should you picture him against the Kremlin?

John Sweeney: Because somebody has poisoned two British citizens, or rather one British citizen and his daughter, and you cannot buy this nerve agent in a shop.

What?  I mean, what?!  How does that reply make any logical sense unless the BBC are insinuating that Corbyn was somehow involved in the poisoning himself?  I asked that question on Twitter last night, and Sweeney (who must have been searching for his own name, because I didn't tag him in the tweet) offered this retort -

"James! The exchange was more nuanced than that. I pointed out @AlexSalmond takes money from the Kremlin’s chums and that too many Putin critics get shot. After a bit he cut me off."

Words fail me.  If anyone can detect even an ounce of "nuance" in Sweeney's unhinged, paranoid rant about a veteran Scottish politician supposedly being a puppet of the Russian state, you're doing better than me.

Friday, March 16, 2018

No, the OBFA repeal was not a surprise, and nor was it a victory for the little guy

For some reason Angela Haggerty seemed to be going out of her way to wind up supporters of the SNP yesterday with a number of goading tweets.  Most obviously, there was her jubilation at the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.  Now, she's absolutely entitled to her view that the Act was harmful, although I suspect the majority of people feel that the decision to repeal it, especially just days after ugly scenes in Glasgow associated with an Old Firm game, sends out a truly appalling signal that football-related sectarianism isn't really such a big deal.  But what was so provocative was Angela's eagerness to stress that a big part of the reason for her excitement was specifically that the repeal constituted a defeat for the SNP government.

"Today is an absolutely stunning victory for @FACKilltheBill, it's huge. I can't really stress it enough. Nobody expected a group of football fans to take on the government and win. And not only that, but this is the Scottish Government's first massive defeat since devolution. Wow."

That's a bogus narrative in at least three ways.  Firstly, this is not a story of a bunch of ordinary football fans defying massive odds and defeating the government.  This is a story of four ideologically disparate opposition parties zeroing in on pretty much the only issue on which they all agree with each other and disagree with the SNP, and using it to score a morale-boosting victory.  Secondly, in no sense was the repeal a surprise.  All of the opposition parties voted against the OBFA when it was first passed, so it was obvious to anyone who could count that repeal was firmly on the cards as soon as those parties won a narrow majority between them at the 2016 election.  And thirdly, is this really the first "massive defeat" for any Scottish Government since devolution?  It's certainly not the first defeat, so how are we defining "massive"?  Is it more significant than the defeat the SNP government suffered on the Edinburgh trams soon after taking office, for example?

It's also worth noting that cases where the government backs down minutes or seconds before a vote it knows it's going to lose are functionally identical to defeats, so I would argue that by far the biggest reverse for any government since the start of devolution was when the Labour-led administration was forced to accept free personal care for the elderly in 2001.  (Tom McCabe dramatically announced the change in policy to buy off Liberal Democrat MSPs who were just about to vote with the SNP and the Tories on the issue.)

Later in the day, Angela made another extraordinary comment while watching the BBC's Question Time -

"Brian Cox has just demonstrated the inconsistency between nationalists wanting indy but also being pro-EU, and the SNP hasn't clarified this well enough. What does it mean to be in a union? What does it mean to be independent? Where are the lines? Do voters know?"

That's essentially a Farage-esque observation.  To the extent that UKIP have ever bothered to campaign in Scotland, their favourite line has always been that "you can't be serious about independence if you want to be ruled from Brussels".  (The obvious retort being that it therefore follows that you can't be serious about independence if you want to be ruled from London, as "UKIP Scotland" apparently do.)

Of course, anyone who has followed Scottish politics over the years knows that Angela is just plain wrong about this - the SNP have spent vast amounts of time explaining the difference between the straitjacketed union of the UK, and the much looser, participative union of the EU.  They've done that both in terms of specifics, and also by using rhetorical points that tap into people's intuitive understanding of how sovereignty works - eg. "would anyone seriously say that France isn't an independent country?"

But there's another important point here as well.  The pro-indy radical left have always been incredibly touchy about the SNP claiming ownership of the independence cause.  So why on earth is Angela singling out the SNP and "nationalists" in general as being culpable for the supposed lack of "clarification"?  If she sees herself as being part of the pro-independence movement, and I gather she does, shouldn't she regard this as being her own failing as much as anyone else's?