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Coriolis

Image shamelessly borrowed from this interesting article: https://oikofuge.com/coriolis/

When I was a bairn there used to be a wee round-a-bout like this one out the back of my house.

It was a bit of a team sport and it wasn’t often that you really got much chance to play on it and get the full experience. By today’s standards it was horribly dangerous and many of the other examples dotted about the town were of the more modern health and safety conscious type and were simply no fun to play on.

We used to play all sorts of games designed to rip arms off or result in a variety of life threatening head injuries. One that was less deadly but more interesting was when you got your mates to spin it as fast as they possibly could and you would hing on for dear life in the middle, facing in the way, and try to kick the central pillar. I mean, how hard could it be?

Well it was near impossible in reality and the faster they span you the harder it got. There’s something about the visceral experience of intellectual knowledge that really hammers home the realities of the way the world actually functions, even when that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

I couldn’t have told you about the Coriolis effect or frames of reference when I was 8 but I knew intellectually what was going on. The experience of not being able to put your own leg where you told it to go no matter how hard you tried was something completely different to that knowledge.

The more I study modern democracies the more I am reminded of that round-a-bout. The closer you get to the centre of power the harder it is to actually do what you came there to do. Make no mistake, even in a total authoritarian dictatorship, the will of the people is paramount. When the Leviathan awakes it’s Guillotines all round for anyone that stands in its way. So political elites the world over have learned to try and maintain the slumber of that popular Leviathan.

One of the most powerful groups in any society are the press, those that distribute and share information with the masses. Most of the time they keep that Leviathan safely snoring, placated with a steady diet of football and celebrity gossip. Occasionally, however, they break out the pots and pans and start screaming ‘Fire, fire!’ loud enough to wake the dead.

So political elites are very much beholden to those that control the spigots of information in the ‘free press’ lest they lose their minds and wake the beast.

The same is true of all the little factions it is necessary to placate to gain and hold power outside of populist politics, which is a different sort of straight jacket. Compromises are inevitably made in building the fragile coalitions necessary to attain power.

The irony is that those that have power are often paralysed by the fear of using it for fear that they will lose it again.

The War on Drugs is a classic example of this. A moral panic was stirred up, mostly by the press in America, in the 20’s and 30’s. At its source it was a veneer of moral rectitude over unreconstructed racism but it spread around the world like a plague. Drugs were evil and needed to have a war waged against them. That narrative has persisted for decades with most of the mainstream press ready on a hair trigger to vilify any politician who dares suggest that this Emperor has no clothes.

It’s properly stupid, everybody and their dog knows that most ‘drugs’ are much less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and that the vast majority of the harms that do exist are directly related to the criminalisation of drugs rather than the drugs themselves. And yet the dance continues decade after decade. Nobody that would do anything to fix it is ever allowed anywhere near power because it is an easy stick for the press to beat an aspiring political leader with and it is easier for their political opponents to cynically let the press do so because winning is more important than being right.

Almost every political leader with two brain cells to rub together knows that the War on Drugs is moronic but they either lack the power to do anything about it or will never say they will because that will prevent them ever getting the power to do something about it.

It is a classic catch-22 situation and it is structural to the way our democracies and ‘free’ press currently function.

What we really need is a War on Stupid rather than a War on Drugs. A war on the stupid structural failures of our democracies and in particular our ‘free’ press because there is nothing free about a system of distributing a tsunami of lies and misinformation that is owned by a handful of billionaires who use it to maintain and entrench their own wealth and power.

Away back in 1999 Amartya Sen wrote

“elections can be deeply defective if they occur without the different sides getting an adequate opportunity to present their respective cases, or without the electorate enjoying the freedom to obtain news and to consider the views of the competing protagonists”

by which he meant that if you don’t have a free press, that actually provides a balanced presentation of all the facts and opinions in a manner that maximises the opportunity of the electorate to come to well informed and rational conclusions, you not only don’t have a ‘free’ press you don’t actually have a democracy either.

The War on Drugs and any number of entirely irrational policy dogmas that blight our world are the result of our structural democratic failure to create a truly Free Press.

The press is not the only structural failure in our democracies but it is an existential one. We won’t truly have something that technically qualifies for the description democracy until we genuinely have a Free Press.

A Free Press is necessary but not sufficient. Money, lobbying, pressure groups, and structural corruption within political parties all have similar effects and need fixing if we are to have any hope of benefiting from Scotland becoming independent.

Those that are rich ought to have proportionally less influence than those that are poor, otherwise financial inequity becomes self-reinforcing and necessarily harmful to society. Only registered voters should be allowed to donate to politicians or political campaigns, including registered lobby groups, and there must be strict caps and preferably tax incentives for those least able to do so. There exists anti-corruption best practice recommendations for political parties that should be implemented, one way or the other.

Representative democracy has pretty much reached the limit of what it can do for us by way of improving how we are governed. The next step is integrating more direct democratic processes into our representative democracies to overcome the structural limitations they have demonstrated.

Citizens’ Assemblies have shown great promise. Twenty years ago nobody would have even dreamed that politicians in Ireland would be able to change the law on abortion in Ireland. Like the War on Drugs the issue was too toxic and no party proposing change was ever going to have the power to do so. But by handing the issue back to the public to examine it and decide on how best to proceed the Dail was able to sidestep that structural limitation and make progress. Scotland’s first Citizens’ Assembly recommended that we implement a permanent Citizens’ Chamber in Holyrood tasked with oversight and possibly some form of revision. Personally I think that is a manifestly good idea. Checks and balances are what are needed to overcome the structural failings of representative democracy and those checks and balances are going to have the same structural failings if they are not based on a fundamentally different system of democracy. The direct democratic foundations of a well designed Citizens’ Chamber are the best solution I have yet to see presented.

We need to make a change or our politicians are going to continue making the same mistakes and intentionally smashing everyone’s faces against the same brick wall forever, even after independence.

This moment, where we find ourselves in the eye of the democratic storm, poised between being subjects and citizens, is the ideal one to take stock and to plot a different, better, path forward.

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Show me the door

At the demo outside Holyrood in the wake of the Supreme Court decision Catalan-Scot Valentina Servera Clavell made this demand of Westminster on the subject of a voluntary union, “If this union is voluntary, show me the door, so I can walk through it.”

That, for me, pretty much summed up the new democratic stage we find ourselves performing upon. It has very much been on my mind ever since.

I’m thinking out loud again and this will probably get me in a bunch of trouble, like it did the last time, but there you go, ideas need to be shared and stress tested if we are to come to sound conclusions.

I haven’t read any of Gordon Brown’s proposals but I’ve seen enough to know he’s taking the piss.

After the last time I shot my mouth off, about devo-minmax on that occasion, I heard from a lot of folks that I was an eejit and from a surprising number of folks outside the Yes movement who thought they saw an opportunity or a weakness in the Yes camp.

That included folks close to Gordon’s ‘think-tank’ that was supposedly beavering away on these proposals. So I know they know what the problems are and what the solutions might be for them.

So the rubbish they published on Monday feels like an insult. Not to me, or the Yes movement, but to uncertain No voters that are becoming increasingly disillusioned with a UK that is demonstrably no longer the voluntary union they believed it was.

What I don’t think Labour truly understand is that the union’s voluntary nature is part of the glue that holds the UK together. Folk that were worried about the risks of leaving the UK back in 2014 felt safe to vote No because they were in a voluntary arrangement and they could always change their minds at a later date. The fear of the possible downsides of choosing independence outweighed any fears they might have about the status quo because if the worst came to the worst they could always change their minds.

The Supreme Court changed all that two weeks ago and Gordon’s milquetoast recommendations have only highlighted the enormous danger that a marriage they might be having second thoughts about is beginning to turn into something involving basements and padlocks.

That Constitutional Democratic Deficit really is potentially existential for Scotland and very large numbers of Scots are becoming persuaded that enough is enough.

Last week I wrote that I thought that having an Emergency Conference was the right thing for the SNP to do. It absolutely must be up to the rank and file to make the decisions about how the party proceeds from here. However, I am very concerned by the number of senior figures in the party I’ve seen attempting to frame the narrative and trying to steer the discussion towards particular outcomes.

To my mind, based on what the First Minister said when she announced the reference to the Supreme Court and on the outcome of that reference, it is pretty straightforward.

The majority of the electorate in a nation where the People are Sovereign authorised the holding of a referendum on independence in May of 2021. The Supreme Court has ruled that a mandate won in a Holyrood election isn’t good enough to meet the necessary constitutional standard. In my opinion they are wrong and are no longer upholding the rule of law. From a practical standpoint however it is necessary to tick all the legal boxes on our path to independence if there is a risk that we might have to rely on international recognition alone.

The Supreme Court implied, and a number of ‘neutral’ observers have agreed, including the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, that the Sovereign People of Scotland exercise their Sovereign Will at the ballot box in General Elections for Westminster Members of Parliament.

A majority of votes at a WM GE is a clear, legally accepted, expression of the Sovereign Will of the People of Scotland. Such a de facto referendum would not just be advisory, it would be immediately self executing. What legal superior do the Sovereign People of Scotland have?

They are all careful not to say so too directly but that is essentially the answer you get from them when you press them to tell you what legal route Scotland has out of the UK.

To me talk of having a de facto referendum to seek permission to have an independence referendum that the People of Scotland have already mandated repeatedly is a tactical error that will simply result in us failing to reach the necessary threshold. We need a direct mandate for independence, if Westminster refuses to recognise the outcome, as table stakes in the game of international recognition. Anything less risks having to wait another entire UK election cycle.

But I do recognise that a stance of ‘That’s it, we’ve had enough, if we get a majority we will immediately issue a UDI and form an independent government’ might be a bit strong and risks putting off voters that are annoyed by the refusal of the UK to recognise the democratic mandate of the Scottish Government to hold an independence referendum but don’t necessarily want to vote Yes or would vote Yes but not to a UDI and possibly ending up like Catalonia.

That too might well end up with us falling agonisingly short and failing to achieve our goal.

So it occurred to me, whilst I was fuming about the rubbish Gordon Brown was proposing and ranting to myself that I had told them what they needed to do and they just didn’t listen or deliberately chose to keep repeating the same old stupid strategy of offering a drowning person vouchers for swimming lessons, that there might be a third way based on the proposals I got such a hard time for at New Year.

See the thing is, a de facto referendum at a General Election is either good enough to legally achieve independence or it isn’t.

What I mean by that is that the UK will either accept Scotland’s independence after a majority vote at a GE or it will continue to put its hands over its ears and scream ‘la la la la la’ until the end of time.

If it does the latter then we are in the messy territory of declaring independence unilaterally and seeking international recognition despite the rUK’s objections.

If it does the former then it will be showing us the door, that they are pretending doesn’t exist presently, unlocking it, and letting us walk out because the People of Scotland are Sovereign and it is constitutionally impossible to ignore their wishes if they express them clearly in a majority vote at a UK General Election.

It’s a binary proposition. The rUK will either behave one way or another but the only way we will find out if they will behave in the latter manner is if we win a majority of votes at a General Election on a single issue manifesto.

So if we go into that de facto referendum with a platform that risks failing to get that majority we are cutting off our nose to spite our face.

So here is where I resurrect an idea that nearly got me laughed off the face of the Earth 11 months ago.

We stand on a platform of asking the Sovereign People of Scotland to make unilateral changes to the Scotland Act and the Act of Union that protect the existing powers of Holyrood and expand them in such a way as to ensure that Holyrood can call referendums on reserved matters and that those referendums will be binding and self-executing.

If we are living in one of the worlds where winning such a de facto referendum would have resulted in independence we will have the power to hold a referendum on independence whenever we like, we could even afford to lose that referendum because we could always hold another, there would be nothing Westminster could do to stop us, and Westminster would no longer have the power to change our laws without our permission or reduce the powers of Holyrood.

We could even start gradually expanding Holyrood’s powers in a similar manner to the Faroe Islands. Perhaps we could start by taking back power over energy, or pensions, or foreign policy.

We would have maximised our chances of winning a de facto referendum by not alienating those that are still on the fence about independence, we would still have the best possible chance of achieving independence with a legal, recognised referendum with the full franchise and less pressure on voters to make irrevocable decisions, and we would have given Holyrood a whole suite of new powers that would make independence inevitable in the medium term.

But what if they still say no I hear you cry?

Well, we can make it clear in that case that the rUK will be finally and irrevocably turning its back on democracy and the idea of a voluntary union. At that point Scotland will have been illegally annexed without the consent of its population. They will be bricking over the door that they have claimed leads out of the union.

Then, and only then, we’ll have no other choice than to seek recognition from the international community. I don’t think that backup plan will depress a Yes vote because it relies on Westminster acting in a way they have always claimed they will not. The union would be dead and buried as a concept if they did that.

We’ll be saying ‘Show us the door, unlock it, open it, and let us decide whether we walk through it or not”. It needn’t be the end of the UK if we win but it will be the end of the UK as it is presently constituted and it will settle forever our right to leave whenever we alone choose to do so.

That seems like a win, win, win to me.

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Patience

I read an interesting quote earlier by Tony Robbins, it went “People often overestimate how much they can get done in a year and underestimate what they can get done in ten” or words to that effect.

It struck a chord with me because I often feel frustrated, like I’m not getting anywhere, over my short term goals but when I look back over the longer term I’m often astonished as to how far I’ve come.

It all started for me nearly ten years ago now when my Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. NHS England were really beginning to struggle at that point and they just could not seem to organise the proverbial in a brewery. We went down to visit for what became clear was going to be the last time we saw him properly.

It made me reassess my own life and what I saw wasn’t pretty. Compared to the dreams I had had when I left home at sixteen I had fulfilled very little of the potential I thought I had. My Dad’s situation hammered it home that life is short and you only get one chance to truly live.

I set myself concrete goals with a definite timescale and began at least striving for more again.

Ten years on and things haven’t really gone in the direction I wanted them to but I’ve sure achieved more in those ten years than I ever did in the twenty before that.

Impatience is a pretty natural human emotion, I struggle against it constantly. I think one of the real secrets to success in life is patience, the ability to accept your failures, focus on the incremental gains you have made, and to persist in striving to attain your goal.

Like Bruce’s famous spider fortune favours the tenacious..

It is one of the many bugs in the programming our brains have evolved over the eons. We just cannot view life on the timescales necessary to appreciate the progress we are making or how long it really takes to achieve anything worthwhile. Not naturally at any rate, we need to train our minds to overcome that blind spot and see beyond our immediate horizons.

Too often we do not know how close we are to victory and give up in disgust right on the cusp of achieving our desires.

That has all been on my mind this week as I have tried to absorb what happened in the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

I’ve looked through the judgement a bit now and I don’t think the details really tell us much, there’s a few areas of interest, but in general it is what isn’t said that seems more important to me. The Court goes out of its way not to address the issue of Popular Sovereignty, which is to some degree odd, because it is that very Popular Sovereignty that makes a potential Yes vote sufficiently problematic to qualify a Referendum as a reserved matter. If Westminster is Sovereign and doesn’t have to listen to Scottish voters, like it is doing now, then it doesn’t matter two figs how we vote in a Referendum. It matters how we vote because Scottish voters are Sovereign. The Court glosses over that because it is trying not to look at the de jure constitutional facts in an effort to preserve the status quo instead of doing their job.

If I’m honest I’m a bit disappointed in the Justices in that regard. I thought they took their role more seriously but I suppose, to paraphrase Noam Chomsky telling off Andrew Marr, if they were the sort of people that thought like that they wouldn’t be the sort of people to be handed that sort of job. Sad though.

Their reasoning does expose two things.

First they think that the Sovereignty of the Scottish People really is a problem if it is ever clearly expressed at the ballot box.

Second, they don’t view Scottish Parliamentary elections in the same light.

If they did they would not have been able to rule as they did, they would have considered the expressed will of the people of Scotland at the ballot box last year as too significant to ignore.

I think that is a warning we should heed.

The subtext there is that the Court considers Scottish Parliamentary elections to be a limited expression of political will and Sovereignty, limited by the Scotland Act and the powers granted to the Scottish Parliament by that act. A vote in a Holyrood election is a vote that they consider to pertain solely to devolved powers.

A legal, single issue, referendum is different. As is a General Election.

When we elect MPs to serve in Westminster we are casting a ballot for a representative that has the full spectrum of our Sovereign power devolved to them.

Any MP we elect to Westminster standing on a platform of seeking permission from the Sovereign People of Scotland to negotiate Scotland’s withdrawal from the Treaty of Union is directly empowered by the Sovereign Body in Scotland to do just that.

That leads me to a number of tentative conclusions.

Firstly it really ought to be our MPs that negotiate Independence after we win the next General Election. It must be a General Election, the ‘one simple trick’ of calling an early Holyrood poll is a trap that will cost us several years and a substantial amount of international support. To be credible that MP group must be properly representative of the wider Yes movement and needs to command the support of a majority of voters not simply a majority of seats. There is no route to a lasting independence that does not command majority support.

The Special Conference the SNP has called is the right thing to do. The SNP needs to be led by the will of its members, they must feel like they have made the important decisions for the party rather than having had them made for them. The party must be united to succeed.

As must the Yes movement, so I think that Special Conference would be well advised to call a Constitutional Convention and a subsequent Citizens’ Assembly to decide precisely how we should fight that de facto Referendum and who we choose to represent us as the most important negotiating team our nation will ever have. The SNP should have opinions as to how best to do that, decided by the Special Conference, but the final decisions must be reached by consensus. A consensus that the Yes movement and the wider electorate feel a sense of ownership over.

There needs to be an overall vision of the sort of Scotland we are seeking to build but it must not be prescriptive. Options only, with the decisions to be taken by the people after independence. There also needs to be a clear transition plan including an interim constitution.

And lastly I don’t think we can fight that campaign without the leader of the Scottish National Party being a candidate in that election.

The leader of our negotiating team and the parliamentary group in Westminster must be our party leader and the First Minister of Scotland.

The next Prime Minister of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland must find themselves face to face every day in their own house with the leader of another Sovereign Nation. A leader with the full force of Scottish Sovereignty behind them, a leader that will make it impossible to do anything else other than settle up. Westminster Hall just isn’t big enough to have the leaders of two nations crammed into it.

Just my personal opinions, and they may well evolve over the days to come, but for now they will be what I will be pushing for moving forward.

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A watched pot never boils

I’m on strike again today which is giving me a little time to ponder the industrial relations and political situation, particularly within Scotland.

I drove into Stirling to attend my picket line and on the way there I had to drive past an entirely unrelated picket line at the school. Strike action is like the bus it would seem.

It’s not the first time that’s happened to me this year. It was the bin men the first time and then my colleagues at BT the next time.

They say a watched pot never boils and it sure feels like we’ve been watching a pot of frustration at our political impotence do absolutely nothing for a very, very, very long time since the indyref.

You ever notice though, how, when a pot is just about to come to the boil and the surface begins to roil and churn a little, that if you turn your back to do something else for a moment, because you’ve been waiting ages for it to boil after all, that before you know it it’s completely boiled over and there’s that starchy pasta water all over the top of the cooker again?

This feels like that sort of moment. Everything is starting to come to a head, people are fed up with the cost of living, energy bills, mortgages, and the general complete incompetence of the Tories and they are pretty much at breaking point.

Enough is enough.

Yesterday’s “you’ll have had your democracy” from the UK Supreme Court will very much be the last straw for a lot of us. It might take a while to sink in but I think this was precisely the wrong moment to tell the people of Scotland that their opinion is of no interest to those that run the United Kingdom.

I cannot speak with any real authority for the organised labour movement as my focus is on political agitation rather than union organising but I see enough from within my own union, the CWU, and from being a member of the SNP Trade Union Group to have some inkling of what is going on.

Scotland is an unusual situation for the Trade Unions and particularly for the public sector unions. I imagine it is much more difficult to negotiate with an employer that does not control their own purse strings. Even if they are minded to make concessions on pay they may not be in a position to do so because they have a fixed budget and just do not have any more money to invest in paying staff what they deserve.

From a political perspective things are a bit odd too. Traditionally Trade Unions have close ties to the Labour party because they help them get stuff done where they are in power. But Labour are a busted flush in Scotland and where they do have any power they are usually in hock to the local Tories who will keep them on a short leash.

The principal duty of any Union is to do their best to represent their members and to get the best deal on pay and conditions they can. In Scotland however they all know that there is only so much pressure there is any point putting on the Scottish Government or Local Authorities because their budgets are fixed. And with a toothless Labour party and the Tories in power at Westminster their only possibly ally on a legislative front is that same Scottish Government.

Privatised industries are weirdly in a slightly better position, which I’m sure is not what Thatcher had in mind. Scotrail for example, it might now be publicly operated again but it remains a stand-alone commercial enterprise that controls its own budget. Scotrail can simply borrow or raise prices if it needs to in coming to an understanding with its employees. What limits Trade Union success in this sphere is the harsh Tory restrictions on organising. Those that can get some leverage against the bosses usually manage to make progress but that is increasingly difficult and with the UK Labour party becoming ever more neo-liberal in their economic thinking there is no sign that is going to change any time soon.

So I think Scotland presents a quandary for the Unions. On the one hand the Scottish Government can’t really give public sector Unions what they want because they have one hand tied behind their back, and on the other hand they can’t really give private sector Unions what they want because they have that other hand tied behind their back too.

So the reality is that the Scottish Government is relatively friendly towards the Unions but can’t really do anything about it and the UK is increasingly hostile to them and even the direction of travel in the Labour party is going the wrong way.

Unions are now ahead of a recalcitrant Labour party on a number of policy issues, including PR, and have every incentive to decide that actually supporting Scottish Independence is in their best interest. It is manifestly in the best interest of Scottish Unions and Scottish members of UK Unions and actually the break up of the UK may now be their only hope of reforming UK political structures in a manner that shifts power back towards workers.

I think that as this pot starts to boil over this winter more and more Trade Unions will admit that publicly and, if not support independence outright, support the democratic right of the people of Scotland to make that decision for themselves.

It is our job as independence supporters and Trade Union members to throw a handful of salt into that pot at just the right moment and ensure that it does indeed boil over and that when it does that it snuffs out the flame of the United Kingdom for good.