Scotland’s Place in Europe: Time for britnats to put up or shut up?

A response to Ian Duncan MEPs analysis of the Scottish Government’s brexit plan. ( to be found here:

My responses to his text are in bold italics; nice try Ian, but definitely no cigar!


“The best deal for Scotland is the best deal for the United Kingdom as a whole. The Scottish Government sets out the challenges facing Scotland in pursuing a separate deal with the EU without offering workable solutions.”

No, the best deal for Scotland may be one which is distinctly different from that desired by the UK government, or more to the point from the eventual outcome the UK is prepared to accept following negotiations with the EU27. British nationalist commentators make much of the fact that it is the UK government who will be negotiating with the EU, and not the Scottish government. However, if Westminster is prepared to simply ignore or dismiss out of hand the legitimate concerns of the Scottish government, and the 62% of Scots who voted Remain, the damage to the union is likely to be terminal.

It is simply not good enough for those unionists who were formerly strongly pro-EU, to perform the ideological equivalent of turning on a sixpence and blithely assert that what is best for the UK is best for Scotland. Doing so exhibits not just an advanced state of intellectual laziness, it betrays a breath-taking lack of awareness of what has been happening in Scotland over recent years. There may have been a time where a “one size fits all” approach was sufficient; this is NOT that time.

“Trade Deals (Para 25)

With Scotland in the Customs Union/European Economic Area and the rest of the UK outwith, there would inevitably be a growth in non-tariff barriers as the regulatory regimes north and south of the border evolve and diverge. South of the border, the rest of the UK would be free to determine the rules that best serve its needs whilst north of the border Scotland would be bound in to existing rules without any means to influence their development.

The UK would be free to secure free trade agreements (FTAs) with nations outside the EU. Scotland would be bound by its membership of the EU/EEA, with any trade deals necessarily negotiated by the European Commission (as the only body competent to negotiate such deals), again without the involvement of Scotland in any of the fashion.

Eventually as the regulatory regimes diverge north and south of the border, checks would be necessary where the rest of the UK and the EU meet, i.e. the Scottish border.”

We do not yet know what the outcome of the UK/EU27 brexit negotiations will be. Largely this is because Westminster (unlike Holyrood) refuses to give us any information. In addition however, the Tory government is hopelessly divided within itself about what the vacuous “brexit means brexit” sound bite actually means, still less the “red white and blue brexit” they assure us will be achieved. We are perforce to take it on trust that “Dans ce meilleur des mondes possibles, tout est au mieux.” As an exercise in cake-having-and-eating this is truly breathtaking.

Even if the eventual outcome of the negotiations is that the UK decides to be outside the Custom’s Union/EEA, the UK government is on notice that it cannot assume passive compliance from the Scottish government, or those in Scotland who are determined to secure their place preferably within the EU, but as a minimum within the EEA.

The difficulties you propose are by no means insurmountable. It would make little sense for the UK to negatively impact its huge trade with the EU by having radically different regulatory regimes; it’s a straw man aimed at de-railing any compromise solution which accommodates a sensible (and eminently achievable) goal.


“Border issues (Para 119)

Under the Scottish Government’s plans, the EU would have no way of checking that the rest of the UK was not trading with the single market via the back door’ – e.g. via Scotland as a Single Market member. This is particularly challenging where component parts of a product have been sourced across the UK. Asking the EU to accept an open unchecked land border with a nation which has just exited the EU is a remarkable ask.”

Again, you construct a straw-man based on an outcome you don’t know will happen yet. Even if as you propose (or perhaps hope…?) rUK is outside the single market, and the parties negotiate a solution allowing Scotland to remain within it, are you honestly trying to argue that it is outwith the ken of man to work out a solution to this?

The most glaring flaw in your argument of course is the situation with regard to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If an open border is achievable there, then it must be possible between Scotland and rUK; if not the impact on UK-Irish relations and the Good Friday Agreement may be serious. As Lesley Riddoch argued recently in her article “Let’s Pick from a Smorgasbord of Nordic Delights”,


the shift in attitudes to Scottish independence in many European capitals owes much to their concerns about brexit and their exasperation at the way the UK government has handled the situation.


“Faroe Islands (Para 136)

Only a state may seek membership of the EEA. Whilst the issue of the Faroe seeking membership is interesting, it is important to note that the Faroe Islands are part of the Danish Realm, and Denmark is a full member of the European Union and the Single Market. There is no precedent for a state outwith the EEA, in the case the United Kingdom, to ‘sponsor’ associate membership on behalf of a part of its territory.

It is also worth noting that with a population of less than 50,000, no land border with any other state, and a relatively simple economy, The Faroe Islands are quite different from Scotland.”

The EU is nothing if not pragmatic. Prior to brexit, Greenland is the only “state”, to have left the EU. The fact that there is no precedent for something happening does not render it impossible, it simply means the parties involved need to negotiate in good faith to produce “new” outcomes. Few ever envisaged that one of the 28 would actually leave the EU, which may explain why the exit criteria are so badly drafted and lacking in detail.

The fact that Scotland is relatively much bigger than say the Faroe Islands, or other areas which have different status from their “parent” entity (there are after all many such Overseas Countries and Territories around the world) is really neither here nor there; the fact is there is a precedent for differential statuses being accommodated, and perhaps more importantly for our case, the EU has no interest in trying to make life difficult either for an independent or federal Scotland to forge a positive relationship with the EU, whether as a full member or not. There is no upside for them making such an outcome difficult, and given the UK’s lack of friends and influence in the EU, they are hardly likely to pander to any UK desire to spike a reasonable deal.

“Migration (Para 163)

The operation of differentiated migration systems for sovereign states – the examples of Canada and Australia are cited – are means by which individual provinces can attract migrants. They do so under a cap established at state (or federal) level. It is unclear how an open border system in Scotland (to allow for the EU’s freedom of movement of workers) could be accommodated under such a system, since by its nature it must operate without any such cap. It would also by necessity mean that EU migrants entering Scotland would not enjoy freedom of movement within the UK. How this could be enforced is not explored.”

All that is required is for Scots immigration policy to be fully devolved. Those EU migrants settling in Scotland would, as the SG stated, not be entitled to live and work in the rest of the UK. Developing a system to enact such a policy isn’t rocket science. Scotland would be free to continue with the free movement of labour, whilst the rest of the UK controls immigration according to its own priorities. Requiring proof of residence, passports, NI numbers, job offers etc. are hardly difficult measures to institute.

It’s difficult to see what your real issue with this is, other than an inbuilt desire to impose a solution on Scots they have decisively rejected. You make much of your desire to come up with a joint position, but in effect your “joint” position really just means the “UK government” position. You aren’t actually prepared to do the hard work and negotiate a mutually agreed position whereby the Scottish Government and people are given the kind of extensive devolved responsibility which could make a differential status work. Rather, you prefer to throw your hands in the air and declare from the outset that it is all too difficult, and actually Westminster knows best.




Should Effie Deans pledge allegiance to an independent Scotland?


“How can we expect new arrivals to be loyal to our country if those who have been here for centuries have no loyalty, no patriotism and in the end no honour.” Effie Deans 26/08/16

According to Effie Deans, all of those campaigning for Scottish independence are disloyal, unpatriotic and dishonourable. As a way of reaching out to the other half (possibly by now more than half) of Scottish people, I’d say her line of argument is flawed. Below is my comment on her blog:

What sanctions do you envisage against those of your fellow citizens (or should that be subjects…?) who refuse to take this pledge of allegiance Effie? In the unlikely event of such a deeply foreign requirement being introduced, I like many others would not under any circumstances make such a pledge. My passport is British through an accident of birth as it were; I enjoy the rights and protections of any other citizen.

The fact that I’d prefer a Scottish passport, and to live in an independent Scottish republic doesn’t make me disloyal, unpatriotic or dishonourable Effie, it simply means I feel no affinity for, or desire to be part of, the United Kingdom of great Britain and Northern Ireland. I imagine millions of other people throughout history have been in similar situations: the inhabitants of multi-national empires like Austria-Hungary, Russia and Turkey pre world War 1, Balts & others in the Soviet Union, Irish people pre 1921.

Part of living in a democracy means allowing people choices. As someone on record saying that immigrants to Scotland who voted Yes in indyref1 were acting treacherously, you obviously have an axe to grind. I’m sure you are quite unapologetic about your views, but it will and should turn most reasonable people’s stomachs. I’m sure there ARE many immigrants in Scotland who feel British first and Scottish second or not at all. I know there are also many who feel passionately Scottish, and (treacherously in your view) campaigned for a Yes vote.

If there were an alternative to having a British passport (an EU passport perhaps…oh, wait…that isn’t going to work now either is it…?) I’m sure many in Scotland would avail themselves of the opportunity. From the little I know about the Ahmadiyya community, I’m sure they would have no problem advocating Scottish citizenship, and loyalty to an independent Scotland if and when it happens; why should they?

No doubt those in charge of previous multi-national states which fell apart considered those advocating secession traitors or perfidious, but that didn’t stop Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, Balts, Arabs, Irish etc., etc. campaigning for their independence.

In short, whilst we may indeed have much to learn from the Ahmadiyya community, the requirement for citizens to pledge their allegiance to a state they don’t believe in most definitely isn’t one of the lessons. In addition few of us would accept guidance on this issue from someone who is quick to label others traitors, call for future indyrefs to be banned, and who has expressed a preference for living in Putin’s Russia rather than an independent Scotland.

You may be viscerally opposed to independence for Scotland Effie, and refuse to accept that it is a “real” country, but please at least try to show a modicum of self-awareness and realise that many (and probably by now a majority) of your fellow Scots don’t share your views. In the event that independence does happen you’ll be free to retain your UK passport; I somehow doubt we’ll be requiring you to make an oath of allegiance to the new Scottish state. Perhaps that just shows our nationalism is more progressive and civic than yours?

(Effie’s latest missive “Should British citizens pledge loyalty to Britain?” can be found here: )


Learn to see great things great and small things small

“Child, you have to learn to see things in the right proportions. Learn to see great things great and small things small.” Corrie ten Boom

In his latest jeremiad Gerry Hassan avers that “Scotland needs a more substantive politics, challenging power and elites including the SNP”. His cri de coeur is just the latest in a litany of critical contributions from erstwhile supporters of Scottish independence of various political hues and of various levels of commitment. Of course the nature of the criticism directed at the Yes movement as a whole, and the SNP and its record in government in particular, varies in its content and level of opprobrium dependent on the individual contributor. A general trend can however be distinguished, and Gerry’s piece can be taken as a fair exemplar of the genre. What is signally lacking in much of this critique is the ability to see things in the right proportion; learning as Corrie ten Boom said to “see great things great and small things small”.

Let’s examine the main themes of our concerned friends and see how accurately aimed this friendly fire is.

  1. Wheesht for Indy

According to Gerry Hassan amongst others (yes, we are looking at you Loki, Pat Kane and Bella Caledonia!), “part” of nationalism isn’t reacting well to criticism of even the mildest kind, and what is worse this perspective is hypocritical because it isn’t interested in putting any criticism toward the Nationalists. Little if any real evidence is produced to support this contention, but it is one that is regularly trotted out not only by the perennially and almost uniformly hostile main stream media, but increasingly by disaffected supporters of independence who bridle at the SNP’s levels of support and electoral dominance.

The “wheesht for indy” meme came to prominence during the last Holyrood election, largely it seemed as a reaction to the “both votes SNP” campaign. As a concept it generated a lot more heat than light, and served to alienate a fair number of former Yes campaign allies from one another as the relative merits of promoting votes for the Scottish Greens, RISE and other left wing pro-indy candidates were debated. In the end however the warnings from those who were skeptical of the electoral sense of splitting the pro-indy vote in an AWS election were proven correct. The SNP, despite increasing its number of votes, lost its absolute majority. Unionist tactical voting, and ill-considered Green candidacies both played a part.

Of course many Greens and sundry lefties will be pleased the SNP failed to win an absolute majority. They believe the Greens may serve to keep the SNP honest (even if the risk was actually that there would be no pro-indy majority at Holyrood at all, which would have made calling #indyref2 an impossibility), and are unconvinced of the SNP’s appetite for for actually doing something (anything?) to actually use the powers it has to improve the lives of ordinary people. Uncomfortably for them, this line of argument echoes the “get on with the day job” criticism levelled by the britnat parties. The motivation and the desired outcomes may be different, but they are singing from the same hymn sheet; Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale want the SNP to use their powers in the hope that the difficult choices and spending cuts involved would have an adverse impact on the SNPs support, opening the door for a unionist resurgence.

Many non-SNP pro-indy folk want the SNP to act, whatever the constraints of the current funding situation, because they prioritise improvement now (however minor or curtailed) over the needs of independence; some are so suspicious of the SNP’s appetite for implementing progressive, radical policies that they honestly think it would be better to delay or even abandon the goal of independence if it meant making progress now. They hope that such policies might aid their electoral chances too, and either think it would not adversely impact the chances of achieving independence, or frankly see that as a price worth paying.

The elephant in the room for this argument however, is that the short term gains which might be achievable by (say) increasing taxes in Scotland, would likely cost the SNP support, make independence much less likely, and therefore deny us the chance to use ALL the political and economic levers available post independence to construct a fairer, more equitable and progressive Scotland. The questionable short term gain would certainly not offset the likely long term pain.

Gerry assiduously builds an ever more elaborate straw man that the SNP are somehow not being held to account and are given a free pass. This will I’m sure be news to SNP MPs, MSPs, activists and supporters. It speaks to the vapid and deeply disingenuous britnat “othering” of all independence supporters as unthinking, cultish cybernats utterly incapable of criticizing the SNP or holding opinions of their own. We’ve come to expect such bile fuelled agitprop from the britnat MSM; it’s tragic that someone like Gerry stoops to give such havering a gloss of intellectual respectability. Perhaps we should just be thankful J.K Rowling hasn’t contributed £5000 towards his efforts?


  1. The Animal Farm Conundrum

Not content with the attempt to animate the “wheesht for indy” straw man, Gerry proceeds to the construction of another, no less elaborate and no more convincing. In its growth from wee to big, the SNP it seems has now become the Scottish Labour party de nos jours. The logic (such as it is) of this position appears to be that the SNP have already begun to succumb to the “cronyism, corruption and incestuousness” that did for the Labour party in Scotland. Although Gerry accepts that the SNP has a long way to fall to plumb Labour’s current depths, he already sees the writing on the wall and assures us that the happy-clappy, inclusive SNP of yore is donning the frayed mantle of Labour. The king is dead, long live the king!

The creeping corruption of the SNP will no doubt come as news to the tens of thousands of new members. Again, Gerry dips his pen into the poison inkwell of britnattery to reinforce the false prospectus that the SNPs electoral success, its sky high approval ratings, its popular leadership are the hallmarks of a one party state. Where Labour led, the SNP are bound to follow; he refrains from using the toxic Dear Leader label, settling instead for “there is already a similar Sandinista feel about the class of SNP politicians…”.

Really? Are we supposed to accept uncritically the notion that one of the most successful political movements of our time is doomed to go down in history as just as morally bankrupt and politically self-destructive as the odious New Labour project? On what evidence? Gerry’s perception seems askew; anyone who can look from Labour to SNP, and SNP to Labour, (even at a distance, with squinty eyes, and admitting it may be a fair way off) and find it impossible to say which was which à la Animal Farm needs to take a good hard look at themselves. Challenging power, orthodoxies and blind faith isn’t achieved by lending credence to the concept that Scotland is a one party state Gerry; the britnats already tried to sell us that pup. A one party state is one where only one party is allowed and all others are banned, it’s not a country where one party dominates because it enjoys wide public support and trust and faces a fractured, shambolic set of opposition parties.


  1. Voices from the Bunker

The final theme relates to what Gerry describes as creating political propaganda to challenge propaganda and making a political bunker. After discussing in some detail a number of fairly trivial examples (the usual suspects; Torrance and Neil Oliver flouncing off twitter, Daisleygate, Salmond and the RBS HQ discussion) the lesson which it appears we are supposed to draw is that pluralism is in danger. The monolithic SNP one party state is perforce guilty by association (on no particular evidence) of putting political pressure on the STV over the Daisley affair; the shibboleths of political censorship, manipulation and pressure are presented for us to fear. We are invited to share Gerry’s fear that the worries of “lots of people in the media” are well founded and that the SNP are a clear and present danger not just to press freedom but political pluralism itself.

This laughably “through the looking glass” view of the state of the relationship between the Scots main stream media and the Yes movement generally, and the SNP in particular, will cause some hilarity amongst most pro-independence folk. While aiming an ill-judged and evidence free side swipe at those he regards as closed minded Nationalists (unsurprisingly including Wings Over Scotland, Derek Bateman and G.A. Ponsonby), Gerry ignores the six lane motorway of MSM bias, abuse, misinformation and deceit and invites us to concentrate solely on the jungle path heading off in the other direction. It’s not just breathtakingly short sighted, it’s wilfully misleading.

Many of us have long suspected that after years of fence sitting Gerry has never been more than a semi-detached supporter of independence. The statements in his blog prove it beyond any reasonable doubt. Asserting that the SNP or Scottish Government isn’t truly open to scrutiny, or that it shows signs of endangering pluralism and has the desire, still less ability, to bend the Scots MSM to its will just makes him look rather desperate.

Gerry needs to take Corrie ten Boom’s message to heart and learn to see great things great and small things small.

(Gerry Hassan’s piece can be found here: )

Brexit, intolerance and Effie Deans; lessons in strawman building.

Brexit may not have made Britain a more intolerant country, but it has certainly made expressing intolerance easier, as the shameful spike in reported in hate crimes in England and Wales has amply demonstrated. Closing the door to further immigration as a way of promoting further integration and helping us “get on better than before”, even if it could be achieved without harming future economic prospects, looks a lot like special pleading to me. If you dislike multi-cultural societies then reducing or severely limiting immigration is obviously an appealing policy. Whether people who have this view would be quite as keen where such a policy had a negative impact on their economic well-being and provision of services is another matter.

EU immigrants make up 10% of the NHS’s doctors and 4% of registered nurses. They constitute 5% of overall NHS staff, the last figure being the same percentage as they make up of the English population as a whole (figures from the independent charity Full Fact). 24% of doctors in the UK are foreign nationals; 36% of all doctors and 23% of GP’s qualified abroad. There is general agreement that immigrants contribute more to our economy than they take in benefits, so if ones concern is not financial or economic, presumably it relates either to issues of social cohesion or  a belief that the country is “full”? Some people genuinely don’t want immigration and fear multiculturalism. Such fears can of course be attributed to bigotry, lack of education or concerns (whether realistic or not) that mass immigration places intolerable strains on our public services and/or risks “swamping” the host culture.

I agree that one shouldn’t sneer at people who see uncontrolled immigration as something that changed their world and removed their “control”. It is of course easy for people with no direct experience of the pressures caused by a sudden influx of immigrants (whether on housing, schools, health services or jobs) to sneer at those complaining about such pressures, pace Gordon Brown’s “bigoted woman” debacle, BUT (…and yes, it is a big but!) it is also incumbent on those of us who support immigration and a multi-cultural society, especially one which welcomes refugees from war-torn areas of the world, to point out the positive aspects of immigration, and educate the public about many of the misperceptions surrounding the issue.

It has long been acknowledged that people in the UK routinely over-estimate the % of the population who are immigrants, often grotesquely so. The Guardian published an IPSOS-Mori poll in 2014 showing people thought 21% of the UK population were muslim, whereas the true number is 5%. Similarly people thought 24% of the population were immigrants when the true figure in 2011 census was 13%.

Such overestimation of the scale of the problem is if anything compounded by the fact that it is generally areas which are least diverse and least subject to immigration which are most strongly anti-immigration. People do perhaps fear what they don’t know, but given the widespread misapprehension about the scale of the problem, the financial impact and the role of immigrants (both EU and non-EU) in important public services, it is important to point out that Brexit isn’t the magic bullet that many of those who supported it primarily as a route to reducing immigration suppose. Brett will of course do nothing to reduce non-EU immigration, and of course we do not even know if May’s government will be able to negotiate a deal which squares the circle of reducing EU immigration by limiting the free movement of labour whilst retaining access to the single market. Noises from the EU don’t look encouraging so far, and it will be a brave government which accepts “hard” Brexit with no access to the free market if (when?) the EU tell them free movement of labour is non-negotiable.

The way to tackle the actual and perceived problems of large-scale immigration is by promoting equality, multiculturalism, the integration of the basic values underpinning a 21st century secular liberal democracy, education and toleration. Seeking to place stringent limits on immigration in general, and the specific Brexit “cure” prescribed to achieve this, look about as useful as King Cnut’s attempts to stop the tide from coming in.

Effie Deans in her recent blog (“Brexit Has Not Made Britain a More Intolerant Country” from 29th July 2016) as so often in the past assiduously builds straw men in an attempt to bolster her case. On closer inspection however, her examples don’t support the argument; her superficial understanding of the historical background exposes them for the tendentious misrepresentations they are. Many Latvians (and other Balts) have pretty good reason to be wary of the attempted Russification (and later “Sovietization”) of their countries. Their experience of being dominated by Russia in the 19th century, cycles of violence throughout the early 20th century, being subject to huge deportations of their own populations and introduction of huge numbers of mainly ethnic Russians post 1945, are hardly analogous to experience in Western Europe.

Similarly the unwillingness of countries like Poland and Hungary to countenance large-scale immigration (although in truth relatively few of the recent influx of immigrants show any desire to settle there) has much to do with their own recent histories of ethnic conflict, their relative poverty in comparison with the “old” EU, and their perception that they don’t want to see the kind of problems happening in their own countries that they see in places with large immigrant communities like France, Germany, the UK and others. It’s one thing to assert that Latvians who speak Russian aren’t considered to be Latvians, but quite another to draw from that assertion the conclusion that Pakistanis or Syrians or Poles in the UK won’t be considered British or Scottish. Large Russian minorities implanted in the Baltic states represented (and were positively conceived as) an existential threat to the nationalities they were implanted amongst. It is surely to the credit of such countries that they have offered such minorities full citizenship.

In the end Effie’s conception of preserving “the unique character” of her country, whether Scotland, the UK or anywhere else, looks a lot less like King Cnut trying to turn back the tide and rather more like the “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish” signs of yore. You don’t have to put the sign in your window to be recognised for sharing the same values.

Effie Does Cognitive Dissonance; indy bad, brexit double plus good?

Not for the first time I find myself marvelling at Effie’s level of sustained cognitive dissonance as she discusses her cunning plan to make the SNP’s life more difficult in her latest blog post (“How to make the SNP’s Task Still Harder” 22/07/16). After admitting she has no real counter to those Scots “fundamentalists” who want independence come what may, she opines that unlike in Catalonia or the Baltic States, Scotland lacks the mass movements present in those countries (which partly explains the defeat in the 2014 indyref) and further, that if the SNP had been honest about the probability of hard times ahead in the event of a Yes vote, the No majority would have been even greater. Of course this is not a new argument from convinced unionists; they insist the Yes campaign promised only a land of milk and honey, free of risk or hazard, whereas in their eyes at least independence was (and remains) a huge leap in the dark. Naturally the risks attendant on staying in the union are seen as minimal or denied altogether.
Interestingly however Effie, and many convinced unionists who share her outlook, were convinced campaigners for a Leave vote in the Brexit referendum on 23rd June 2016. They continue to be puzzled by, or downright hostile to, the overwhelming support for EU membership in Scotland. Now the truly breath-taking levels of cognitive dissonance is laid bare. Whilst Scotland leaving the UK is presented as a risk not worth taking, destabilising and potentially economically ruinous, the UK leaving the EU is viewed through the rose-tinted spectacles of regaining sovereignty, freebooting entrepreneurial free trade with the rest of the world, and a bracing alternative to over regulated undemocratic “Brussels rule”. Thus Brexit is presented in a uniformly positive light; the risks are minimised and the opportunities hyped. Scottish independence on the other hand (particularly as part of the EU) is painted as the politics and economics of the mad house.
Of course unionist wishful thinking aside, the Brexit result makes the case for the union much harder to make, not much easier. The success of a campaign as negative and odious as Project Fear during indyref1 in 2014, and again for the Brexit vote in 2016 will be much harder to repeat for indyref2 when it happens. Cassandra-like predictions of economic chaos will ring even less true than they did 2 years ago. Promises of voting No to remain in the EU, of economic competence and stability, are surely holed below the water line by the omnishambles that is Brexit.
Effie adjures her co-religionists to abandon the siren song of Project Fear; they should desist from being negative about Scotland, and point out the advantages of staying and disadvantages of leaving the UK; stability, continuity, promotion of multi-national co-operation and being part of a larger whole where the broad shoulders of the union and pooling and sharing will see us through are emphasised. Simultaneously whilst being relentlessly positive about the prospects for the UK outside the EU, the instability, discontinuity, rejection of multi-national co-operation and being part of a larger European whole attendant on Brexit are dismissed as prices worth paying, indeed they are lauded as the patriotic choice. For Effie, British nationalists can tell a better story than Scottish nationalists, because in the end “her” nationalism is an unalloyed self-evidently good thing, whilst “their” nationalism is a debased, unpatriotic oddity intent on swapping the benign sibling-like oversight of Westminster for the insufferable undemocratic jackboot of Brussels.
Perhaps it isn’t a case of rose-tinted spectacles for Effie, more of fervid “Alice Through the Looking Glass” simulacrum of the actual Scottish political environment from which she seems increasingly detached, and to which she and her followers appear increasingly irrelevant.

Goldilocks, the SNP and the limits of radicalism

Recent discussion and particularly blogs by Loki and Wee Radicals, and the attendant online furore, prompted me to reflect on the basic proposition of those who are at least skeptical, and at worst hostile, to the #BothVotesSNP concept. Are those of us campaigning for independence sacrificing the prospect of incremental change now on the altar of possibly ephemeral radical change post independence?

Wee Radical asked the question: Can something be done now? Yes, of course it can. The problem for those pushing this line is identifying what it is that should be done. Only an extremist would say that nothing will change if independence never happens. Given the current direction of travel in Scotland the SNP will doubtless continue in broad terms with their current pragmatic approach. Naturally that won’t be radical enough for many of us; we wish they were more radical not just on helping the poor and vulnerable in general terms but on areas as diverse as the environment, land ownership, education, health, pensions, taxation. Everyone has their own priorities and would doubtless order areas of policy differently.

The current approach will, in true Goldilocks fashion, seem far too radical for some Scots and just right to many others. Such people aren’t monsters. It doesn’t mean they are uncaring or unaware of the downsides of failing to tackle poverty or of stinting on help for the vulnerable at a societal level. Constructing a consensus about what we can do now is a big ask. Formulating a common approach, let alone detailed polices, aimed at alleviating deep, underlying, decades long social problems would be hard enough at the best of times. In the deeply tribalised, politically bruised post indyref political landscape of Scotland such a meeting of minds may be altogether too much to expect.

I have my differences with Loki, but I do agree with him on one thing: fundamental change is only really possible with independence. Naturally I don’t expect unionists to agree with that sentiment. I can no more prove it is a true statement, than they can disprove it. There is an argument to be made that we should prioritize using the powers the Scottish Government already has to improve the situation of the disadvantaged over the drive for independence, even if that means the improvements will not be as fast or as large as many pro-independence campaigners and progressives would like. Scottish Labour party supporters and other unionists frequently make this argument, or indeed insist that independence would make progress impossible or even result in such economic chaos that the situation would get worse.

The reason they make this argument is of course partly from political conviction; they do truly believe we are “Better Together”, and that the best way to tackle such deep-seated social problems is within the union and that progress is reliant on the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom. Another motivation for the argument however is that by appealing to Scots not to abandon the union (“the poor in Dover matter as much as the poor in Dundee” etc.) they will entrench the status quo. Forcing the Scottish Government to use the powers available to it offers a much better prospect of killing independence stone dead than the establishment of the Scottish parliament in the heady days of New Labour’s pomp. The constraints of the current flawed devolutionary system don’t allow for radical change; only an administration responsible for both raising and spending the maximum possible percentage of Scottish revenues is ever going to risk anything other than pragmatic change.

If you think radical change is going to happen within the current political landscape, then fill your boots. I think you’re dead wrong, but I’m prepared to be convinced, so show me how that works.

If you think you can convince the unionists who unleashed Project Fear and ensured the devolution of the bare minimum of new powers to sit down with you, break bread and come up with workable “outside the box” solutions to our problems, then by all means, “go do”!

If you think tinkering around the edges with the thin gruel of Smith Commission powers is the best we can do to make our country a radically better place to raise kids, best forget about independence as a realistic prospect. Settle. Be satisfied. Believe the siren voices whispering in your ear. We really are too wee, too poor, too stupid after all.

If you think it’s too risky, that slow steady change is better than a leap in the dark, that it’s better to do the little we can now even if it means abandoning the future prize, then go for the quick fix.

Just pray that a few decades from now you don’t wake up in a cold sweat in your privatised hospital, looking into the eyes of your downtrodden family burdened with the costs of your care, their student debts, their zero hours contract jobs and their British passports, wishing that you hadn’t listened to defeatists telling you that tinkering with the powers we have would result in a better outcome than straining every sinew to achieve independence sooner rather than later.


(The blogs referred to above can be found here:

The dead Yes Campaign and the limits of self-criticism: a response to Loki.


Criticism is good, right? It helps us see other points of view, to empathise with alternative viewpoints, even perhaps to bring about a change of heart in the most entrenched true-believers. So if that’s true surely criticism from ones own team can be particularly telling? After all if criticism is good, self criticism might deliver even more insight?

In his article for Bella Caledonia, Loki recently presented his critique of his fellow independence supporters, and it isn’t comfortable reading. The picture it paints of where “we” are now as a political movement, is at once deeply depressing and in my view fundamentally misjudged. It is in fact a grotesque caricature that I simply don’t recognise either from the independence referendum campaign or the period since.

Loki’s tour de horizon doesn’t see a vibrant, engaged, diverse and determined electorate, nor does it take any comfort from the SNPs electoral success and commanding position in the polls; rather he opines that an obtrusive minority (scarily described as “the morally certain, reactionary branch of the dead Yes campaign”!) are neither entitled to claim the moral high ground, nor to claim that our proposal for independence is in fact radical. We are forsooth fighting not for the “Utopia That Never Was” but are in full pursuit of “The Slightly Less British Franchise”.

It will no doubt come as something of a shock to many of us that one of our own thinks that what we want is “really quite shallow, short-sighted and self-serving”. There is (whisper it!) even a passing “you think Braveheart is a documentary” dig in there. I do think there is a place for trenchant self criticism in any political party or movement; but with friends like Loki what need do we have of the serried ranks of britnat commentariat like Alex Massie, Chris Deerin et al?

I don’t actually care whether Loki has been voting SNP for longer than “Nicola” (for that is of course what ALL morally certain reactionary acolytes of the Dead Yes campaign are obliged to call the First Minister in Loki’s dystopian nightmare) has been fighting elections, or that he has impeccable socialist credentials from the People’s Republic of Pollok. What I do care about is somebody purporting to be a friend wrapping up their rather pained call for considered introversion in the discredited and regressive language we’d expect from Project Fear at full pelt.

Loki assiduously constructs a straw-man of epic proportions which, whether intentionally or not, waves a white flag over the parapet. Not only shouldn’t we be trying to reanimate the corpse of the failed Yes campaign, but it isn’t worth trying because we’re not radical enough, we’re functionally indistinguishable from the rest of the British Franchise and we’re intolerant of anything but blind slavish obedience to “the Cause”.

The question for Loki and those who share his views is where do we go from here? Few of us have any appetite for pursuing a pale imitation of the British Franchise; we don’t recognise or accept your description of the multifarious independence movement as “the dead Yes campaign”, or your faintly insulting de haut en bas  “I’m a better socialist than you” game of Top Trumps.

You end your piece saying:

“Now surely someone like me, who can make a point people on both sides may actually agree on, is of some use in this harsh and hostile environment”.

We all have our uses Loki: we just have no use for erstwhile supporters handing our opponents the stick to beat us with in an environment that is already harsh and hostile enough.

Dwelling in a land East of Eden

A response to Effie Deans latest missive in her long and increasingly desperate sounding series equating Scottish nationalism with unreasoning cultism:

Why are British nationalists so taken with the caricature of Scottish nationalism as an unreasoning cult? As approaches to political debate go it is as intellectually dishonest as it is insulting. It has about as much resonance with Scots as the Tory response to their Scottish electoral decline in the 1980’s and 90’s. The correct interim response is not to accuse electors of false consciousness and insist that if you only shout your message more loudly, they will start to accept the innate “rightness” of your views.

I doubt the majority of Scots, still less SNP supporters or members, actually want or advocate the socialist paradise you insist (on what evidence I wonder?) we are all obsessed with. Calling for a society that is fairer, more equal, which does not get involved in ill-advised and arguably illegal foreign wars isn’t indicative of being a cultist with impossible dreams Effie; it’s the aspiration of many ordinary folk who simply don’t accept that things have to be as they are.

Your claim that nationalist dreams will founder on what you see as the hard realities they avoid may of course be true. Obviously I disagree with both your caricature of the motivation of pro-independence voters and your continual carping that nationalists as a whole are incapable of rational analysis, being hooked on the morphia of idealistic socialism. Such generalisations are neither accurate nor helpful.

Your deeply flawed analysis does however explain a whole lot about why British nationalism in Scotland is facing an existential crisis in the face of the SNP surge. Your failure to understand why the majority of Scots people are disillusioned with all three British nationalist parties, even after rejecting independence barely a year ago, is symptomatic of the mind set which ensured the Scottish Tories haven’t recovered after Thatcherism, and that Scottish Labour won’t recover from Blairite New Labour and the negativity of Better Together.

We may never be able to make Scotland a new Jerusalem, but an increasing number of us are convinced that the only way to make it more like the kind of progressive, liberal, broadly social-democratic society we see in places like Scandinavia is via independence, not by remaining part of the UK. Reducing inequality and poverty whilst increasing general living standards is possible if we have the will to do it. Trying to paint Scottish nationalism as uniquely incapable of delivering better results, whilst simultaneously maintaining that British nationalism is the only way to do so simply demonstrates cognitive dissonance, not debate.

We’re not deluded or hoodwinked cultists or high on the soporific morphine of socialist utopianism Effie. We are pretty convinced however that there is no longer any positive case for unionism, or it would already have been made. Despite the claims of the Vow, that the status-quo wasn’t an option, here we are a year on from the referendum and vanishingly little progress has been made. THAT’s what explains your current situation; the fault doesn’t lie with the Scottish voters being hapless cattle led by the SNP, but with British nationalism for failing to deliver on the panicked promises of the Vow short term, and failing to deliver the kind of society we want long term.

A response to “Godwiniser-in-chief” Ian Smart’s recipe for the renewal of Scottish Labour

I posted the following comment as “ndls61” in response to Ian Smart’s most recent blog “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and thought I would repeat it here in case (given his thin skin when it comes to being called out for his closet racism and constant “Godwinising” of SNP supporters and members as fascists and Nazis) he deletes it! 😉

The almost complete lack of self awareness exhibited by this blog, and it has to be said some of the comments in support by Labour “bittereinders”, would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. Ian Smart is of course a prime example of the kind of person who contributed to Labour’s electoral seppuku, so it is hardly surprising that the response from the shell shocked Mr Smart is to call for a fresh faced messiah untainted by past associations and failure to lead the shattered remnants of the Labour kamikaze brigade back to the sunny uplands of electoral success.

Really? That’s it? You honestly believe choosing some unknown Labour activist with no past record is supposed to slay the SNP dragon?

The SNP didn’t crush you because of independence, or even because of their formidable organisation and total domination of the cybersphere, still less was it attributable to the monstrous lie that they throw more mud around, or direct it more effectively.

If you want to try and reconstruct your party, you might start by tabling a detailed plan for delivering the maximum possible devolution compatible with your unionist beliefs, and a commitment to using that level of devolution to the benefit of the Scots people by promoting radical, progressive measures to reduce poverty, increase opportunity and equality and present a real alternative to austerity policies, not simply a pale imitation of the Tories policies.

You don’t have long to come up with a new, progressive vision for a fully devolved Scottish Labour party acting in the interests of the Scottish people within a unionist context. It’s a project which will take years; probably one or even two Westminster parliamentary terms. You do however have to at least make a good start on it by the Holyrood elections in 2016, and be able to lay that vision before the people and explain how you plan to bring it about and what your timescale is.

I wish you luck. You’re going to need it, particularly with unrepentant supporters of the failed New Labour project like Ian Smart sitting on the side-lines “Godwinising” for all they are worth about the Nazis and fascists in the SNP. It’s attitudes like that which have contributed to the demise of a once proud movement; unless you root them out, you won’t survive, and frankly you won’t deserve to.

Effie’s dream of Scotlandshire

In her recent blog “We must attack the SNP at its roots” the British nationalist blogger Effie Deans goes to some (sadly considerable) length to try and account for the extraordinary post referendum rise in SNP support, and suggest methods to defeat the forces of Scottish nationalism, the triumph of which would she asserts be a disaster for all of us. The passionate, not to say intemperate, tone of much of Effie’s anti-independence dialogue of course be nothing new to those who are familiar with her work. Read between the lines however, and what becomes clear is that the closer the General Election and the likely increase in SNP representation at Westminster comes, the more strident, desperate and indeed sinister, her proposed solutions appear.

Effie helpfully outlines a four-fold approach to rooting out the vigorous weed of Scottish nationalism:

  1. deny Scotland the status of a country;
  2. rule out further referendums for ever;
  3. refuse to work with the SNP under any circumstances; and
  4. promote a feeling of common UK identity (“as we devolve, so must we unite”).

It’s worth deconstructing these approaches in some detail to expose just how anti-democratic and politically regressive a significant section of the anti-independence movement within Scotland, and in the UK more broadly, has become.

  1. Scotland is not a country.

Effie’s line here is that since Scotland lacks what she identifies as the defining characteristics of “countryness”, sovereignty and independence, we cannot and should not allow that it is a “real” country at all. This argument is desperately ahistorical with respect to centuries of Scottish and wider British history. It is also profoundly at variance with available evidence of how the vast majority of modern Scots feel about the country they primarily identify with. This fundamentally flawed analysis also results in some rather startling conclusions, which may not sit particularly well with some Scottish unionists who could be expected to share Effie’s general outlook.

Since no other nation state allows its parts to have separate money or international football teams, Scotland would perforce have to surrender these attributes of “countryness”. The status of Scotland’s separate legal system, education system and reformed church don’t seem to figure in the list of attributes that Scotland should be stripped of, but the logic of the argument seems pretty clear; Scotland is no more entitled to the trappings of nationhood than is Lancashire. The UK, she airily insists, is one nation, indivisible. As a devotee of Walter Scott, it is hardly surprising that Effie Deans promotes a view of Scotland as simply “North Britain”. Scotlandshire is to be become coeval with Yorkshire or any other county; differentiated by no more than accent and the fact that unlike these other regions it had a history as an independent kingdom.

In Effie’s eyes we err in acting as though Scotland were entitled to even the limited attributes of “real” countries like its own money or international football team. Such pandering after all only encourages those pesky nationalists to want the whole shooting match; today the Tartan Army, tomorrow a Scottish Defence force. The gradual dissolution of a distinct Scottish identity inherent in Effie’s “dream of Scotlandshire” may not prove as big a draw as she hopes. She may speak for a small sub-section of Scottish unionism, but her assertion that Scotland isn’t even a country at all in any meaningful sense will strike the vast majority of Scots, and even many of her comrades in the anti-independence camp, as not just preposterous and deeply insulting, but quite simply historically, socially and politically autistic.

  1. Referendum no more…..

The Scots according to Effie are uniquely incapable of “doing” democracy. The indyref campaign, for all its faults, was widely regarded as an inspiration; a record turnout, huge levels of political engagement and energy, and even according to the Scottish Police remarkably little in the way of violence or trouble. Yet according to British nationalist opponents of independence, the correct interim response to this phenomenon is to concentrate on the negative, to accentuate political division and hint darkly: “Who knows where this would lead?”

In conjuring the ghost of potential chaos, Effie and her supporters in movements such as #SNPout on twitter, feel justified in openly advocating not only that future referendums be delayed but ruled out in perpetuity. This profoundly anti-democratic and authoritarian approach is justified with reference first to the rights of opponents of independence to live without a continual threat to the existence of their country, and secondly with reference to the legalistic argument that states are entitled to protect their territorial integrity and the absence of any right to secession under international law.

It is of course democratically illiterate to prioritise the protection of the rights of anti-independence Scots to remain part of the UK, over the rights of a future majority voting in favour of independence. Natural justice as well as international law demands that a people’s right to self determination be protected. Attempting to justify a perpetual ban on referendums with reference to the perceived instability they cause would be a very dangerous precedent to set. In the Scottish context we already have a precedent for the conditions under which a referendum will be held, and the process to be used. Any attempt to unilaterally change this approach by Westminster would cause outrage in Scotland, and place Holyrood and Westminster on a collision course.

Despite the pious hopes of British nationalists insisting that the ability to hold an independence referendum is contingent upon Westminster’s approval, there is no consensus, either academic or legal, that such approval is necessary. The Section 30 Order granted for the 2014 referendum was a sign of Westminster’s weakness, not an indication of its strength. David Cameron’s government knew quite well that a refusal to grant the order and take an analogous position that of the Spanish government in relation to a Catalan independence referendum would simply have fanned the flames of separatism. A unilateral declaration of independence was never on the cards, nor is it ever likely to be necessary in the UK context; thankfully this isn’t Spain!

Whilst it is true that international law recognises no absolute right to secession, it is equally true that it recognises no prohibition. The reason it is such an imperfect guide with respect to cases like Scotland, Quebec or Catalonia is that the long standing presumption favouring territorial integrity was debated almost exclusively with reference to former colonies of the imperial powers. British unionists (and their Spanish and Canadian counterparts) trust that territorial integrity and appeals to over-arching legalistic or constitutional prohibitions will always trump the right to self determination and the sovereignty of the people. It would however be a brave constitutional theorist or international lawyer who failed to take into account the implied duty of good faith recognised by the Canadian Supreme Court in its review of the Clarity Act. In the absence of good faith, such as the flagrantly anti-democratic steps advocated by Effie Deans, all bets are off. It is of course for that very reason that no sane UK government could ever countenance following Effie’s advice, and were there ever to be an administration unwise enough to do so, it will undoubtedly go down in history as the one which provoked Scots to vote for and take the independence which is theirs as of right, not bestowed by the gracious permission of Westminster.


Since the SNP represents an existential threat to the UK, they must according to the britnat discourse not only be resisted, but cast into the uttermost darkness. The SNP you see is not, in the faintly hysterical weltanschauung of Effie and her ilk, an ordinary fairly left of centre political party so beloved of its burgeoning membership. Rather it is a deeply regressive, repressive movement just like “all” other nationalist movements. There is no room for shades of grey here. Civic nationalism, even if it exists at all according to Effie, is simply a convenient façade for the more common or garden nationalism she experienced first hand in the Ukraine in the 1990’s. There is of course no coherent discussion; simply assertion that any form of nationalism, however benign must virtually inevitably lead to civil-war. The conjuring of the ghost of conflict a la Ireland, or the Ukraine, or the Balkan conflicts is of course nothing new in the Scottish independence debate. It is a convenient and intellectually lazy trope used by British nationalists to scare the undecided horses.

The SNP and other pro-independence supporters are for Effie and her supporters not just wrong, they are bad. As such, it is acceptable to “other” them at every available opportunity. They must perforce be held responsible for EVERY extremist on their side of the debate, and must provide detailed responses to every conceivable risk or economic question on independence, however implausible, whilst not being able to point out that there are risks with the status-quo, and that extremists exist on the anti-independence side too.

  1. Kraft durch freude

I imagine many “moderate” unionists and British nationalists will feel uncomfortable with Effie’s avowedly manichean prognosis. On the one hand she makes an appeal to overcome historical division and advocates a reinvention of a sense of British purpose in much the same way as she thinks Americans had to do post Civil War. On the other hand however, she baldly states that if you don’t feel particularly British, your only recourse is to join the SNP. Similarly, if you are one of those Scots who agree that Scotland is a “real” country, you really should be in the SNP. Note once again that there is no place for nuance or principled disagreement in Effie’s stark “you’re either with us or against us” Scotland; no place for well intentioned devolutionists, or those who want federalism or a continuation of the widely popular Holyrood system more or less as it is. You must either be a fully paid up SNP member, or a true believer in her Brigadoon fantasy-land of Scotlandshire as just another county of the UK with a funnier accent and quaint national dress.

Having marshalled her troops in serried rows of britnat certainty, Effie then opines that it is necessary for unionists to have a more attractive story to tell than the SNP, one which is positive and shows how much they love the UK and how it is a great country. Whether her profoundly undemocratic plans to ban future referendums, abolish Scottish international football teams and withdraw Scottish banknotes will encourage the majority of Scots to rally to he banner remains to be seen. Recent polls and the prospects of an SNP electoral tsunami overwhelming all three unionist parties in Scotland suggest not.

Effie is one of the leading lights of the #SNPout movement on twitter, whose chief purpose is to promote tactical voting by pro-union voters of all parties to stop SNP MPs being elected. Their particular focus is to keep Alex Salmond out of the Gordon seat, although current polling suggests that such is the scale of the SNP lead they will fail there and indeed everywhere else. Their “spinning wheel of tactical voting” certainly seems to represent a “hail Mary pass” attempt to stem an almost inevitable rout of Labour and LibDem MPs in Scotland. Scratch the veneer of reasonableness however, and some truly regressive and unpleasant views are on display amongst #SNPout supporters and activists. Advocating tactical voting is one thing, but calls to ban future referendums even if the Scots people overwhelmingly express a desire to have one are profoundly undemocratic and rather sinister. Effie ends her blog with the warning:

“They think they can use the Scottish Parliament to ferment division in the UK.  Some say they will use the Scottish Parliament to claim UDI. Show them that we are serious and will take all necessary steps to stop them.” 

It’s not clear how far Effie feels the steps necessary to stop Scottish nationalists should extend, but given her publicly expressed view that pro-independence Scottish immigrants were “treacherous”, I can’t be the only one who can see her brand of extreme British nationalism, her “othering” of any criticism however mildly expressed as vile abuse, and her unreasoning, visceral hatred of independence as lying firmly on a dystopian continuum which ends in mass arrests, prosecutions, internment camps and political re-education.

In conclusion, the answer to Effie’s question “Why are so many people voting for the SNP?” is clear enough; in large part it’s due to the hyperbolic anti-democratic hysteria espoused by individual British nationalist extremists and haters like her, ably assisted by the abject failure of the unionist political parties and elites to isolate such people and present a positive alternative vision of a coherent constitutional settlement short of independence acceptable to the majority of Scots.