2007 - 2021

Democracy Now

Watching the ink spilt by the London commentariat as the looming prospect of a second referendum on independence rises is an exercise in observing complete incomprehension at play. Blinking into the future lead writers, columnists and broadcasters have been fulminating about the prospects of constitutional change which they seem to treat with a cold dread.

John Rentoul (Chief Political Commentator at the Independent) returns to the issue which obviously causes him some anguish: “Can the Scottish independence juggernaut be stopped?” he asks. Answer: yes, just by the UK refusing it forever.

The framing is almost always negative, independence is a trauma, a catastrophe and something that must be stopped by whatever means necessary.

He writes: “Nationalists are jubilant and people such as me, who think of Scotland as an essential part of our country, are cast down. It is widely believed that the UK government must allow another referendum soon. Except that it will not. Even if the SNP and the Scottish Green Party, which also supports independence, win a majority of seats in the Scottish parliament next year, again, and even if the Scottish parliament votes to demand another referendum, again, the House of Commons, which has the power to decide, will refuse to allow it.”

That’s that sorted then, just repress democracy, endlessly.

The reasons are oblique. Scotland must be retained just because it is thought of as “as an essential part of our country”. This is personal, but Rentoul can’t really articulate it beyond some vague sense of ownership. In this case his individual mood trumps the democratic expression of millions of people. That’s some sense of entitlement.

John Lloyd writing in CapX treads similar terrain. Having established the straw-man that “Nationalists seem to believe Scots are more moral, virtuous people than the English” he goes on to explain with a little melancholy about the future. His resentment often boils down to frustration at Scotland thinking of itself in any way distinct:

“It’s tacitly an argument that Scotland is a different civilisation.”

“Scots culture sees itself, and is seen by others, as distinct from English.”

He argues that Scotland sees itself like China, Russia and the US as a “civilizational state” which ascribes virtues like social solidarity and has a common culture:  “Scotland has, like the US, Russia and China, absorbed separate cultures into a national whole – in Scotland’s case, the once antagonistic Highlands and Lowlands, now woven into a common culture. The country has remained attached to its dance, song, poetry and national dress in a way the English have not – as have the Chinese and Russians: the popular cult of Burns is matched by the popular cult of Pushkin.”

I think he’s a little confused.

That Scottish culture exists is undoubtedly true, in all its rich, complex and messy contradictions and glory. But this seems to be something that is a source of resentment rather than just a universal experience. It is spectacularly missing the point to suggest that Scottish cultural cohesion is the driver for political change. First such cohesion is extremely precarious. The only thing that is certain about Scottish culture is it being almost constantly contested from within. The driver of political change isn’t tartan and gaelic, it’s Mercy Baguma and the flourishing of foodbanks. The constitutional crisis these pundits are terrified of is driven by poverty and lived social experience, not some ethereal cultural imaginary. It is driven by the frustration and anger at not having the democratic means to address our social and ecological problems. As I’ve said before, this is about Raploch not Bannockburn.

This is not then a movement built on imagining ourselves to be better than – or even spectacularly different from anyone else – it is driven by the urgent need to dissociate ourselves from a polity collapsing in on itself with corruption, misrule and incompetence governed-over by an elite that we can’t elect or un-elect.

Lloyd is on firmer ground quoting Tom Nairn from The Break-Up of Britain (1981). Nairn, Lloyd tells us saw in post-war England “an indefensible and inadaptable relic, neither properly archaic nor properly modern”, trapped within “the hopelessly decaying institutions of a lost imperial state.”

The CoronaBrexit Experience has done nothing but amplify and crystallize Nairn’s view.

Writing about returning to Scotland following his fathers death, Andrew Marr notes the changing landscape of Covid Britain (‘Scotland is slipping away from the Union‘): “We were up in Scotland following the loss of my father. There, the difference in atmosphere over Covid is almost tangible compared with London. People are much more likely to be masked and much more cautious. They listen attentively to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and pride themselves on Scotland’s lower death rates. The opinion polls confirm what general conversation suggests: that Scotland is likely to leave the United Kingdom before the end of this parliament. The SNP may be having feuds but they are self-confident, vigorous and optimistic. Unionism seems muffled and tired by comparison. But if independence happens, the end of GB is going to be a more traumatic moment for England than today’s ministers seem able to grasp. It’s going to feel much more significant than Brexit. The future of basic aspects of identity, like the Union Flag, the name of the country, its defence system, and the scope of its territory will be in question. Perhaps the PM grasps this. But his premiership may be defined by this and Unionists will need a far cleverer and more passionate politics than anything we have seen so far from Boris Johnson — or indeed, Keir Starmer. Nothing in politics, as in life, is inevitable. But at the moment, the Scotland my father knew is slipping away.”

“Cleverer and more passionate” seems unlikely. In this the now annual GERS week of debate about economics, the responses to these figures being challenged gets more and more hysterical, more and more desperate. Responding to the idea that an iScotland would and could vary tax rates, and that this would effect whether we had a deficit or a surplus, abuse rained down. Unionists, not least of which Andrew Neil poured scorn on the idea, arguing that “capital flight” would ensue and companies and people would simply up-sticks and leave for England. It’s an extraordinary faith in a low-tax low-investment economy, but it’s self-delusion on a grand scale to think that this is the only future for any country anywhere forever. It’s a stunning social and economic myopia.

The confidence on the economic question has shifted perceptibly from the unionist to the democrats side. This is not just a question of political confidence, this is a question of understanding economics.

This reminds me of something that the journalist Michael Gray said in an interview this week. Independence, he noticed, has gone from being the outsider position, the radical fringe, to being the mainstream consensus position. George Galloway is the new Sean Clerkin. This has its dangers. The energy and vitalism that propelled us to this position has been sustained on the ground for years. Now the prospects of independence just seems an inevitability, something we are sliding towards with growing momentum. While this new dynamic lends itself to a “tipping point” moment –  the vision of independence needs to be re-captured as something that is about rupture and transformation. If it’s not difficult its not worth it.



Comments (40)

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  1. Robbie says:

    Scotland is only seen as an essential part of the uk ,as “Britain“ ie England would be seen for what it is ,just like us a Tiny dot on the map and that Really Bothers them ,they will never change .look for example both labour and liberal leaders are now called Sir, As for Galloway and Neil ,pair of baheids

    1. Squigglypen says:

      Shouldn’t that be bawheid?
      Otherwise in complete agreement.

      1. BSA says:


        1. Squigglypen says:

          As soon as I posted I thought ..aw naw ..it could be ba’heid..si I sit corrected..like me ..get a life jimmy…

  2. Robert says:

    Spot-on on every point Mike – excellent post

  3. Axel P Kulit says:

    I worry that support for independence will keep rising and the YES movement will get complacent, as the NO side were in 2013 and early 2014 and the Remain camp were in 2015.

    This is NOT time to drop the ball or act like the Hare in Aesops’s fable.

    For the rest I agree with you.

    I would like to think the Unionists are on the verge of accepting INDy then pushing for it, even in South Britain.

  4. Blair Breton says:

    Two large legal problems coming.

    1. Attempts to block Acts passed in Scotland on the bogus idea of a single UK market, which it is already in place for centuries.

    2. Removing all or part of the law on Judicial Review in the Scots Law (as well as England Wales and NI). Legal commentaters think this is breach of the Act of Union which protected Scots Law from the start.

    And of course the action running on referendum power from the People.

    All or some of these are likely to end up in the UK supreme court, probable with all 13 judges as these are major constitutional cases. If any are lost by Westminster the Unionists will be badly weakened even more.

  5. Blair Breton says:

    Outside of the legal actions we can see a lot of reasons why Scottish Independence is feared in Westeminster

    1. The Nuclear Deterrent is based in Scotland. Not easy to relocate and mega expensive to do so.
    2. Scotland will join either EFTA of EU and Scotland in these organisations will suck business out of the RUK
    3. Trade deals for RUK will, be much more difficult if NI and Scotland leave the Union
    4. Many English as they are already doing moving to Scotland
    5. The majority in England is EU rejoin according to polls and seeing what Scotland and NI might do will encourage this group to oppose the Westmisnter Government more vigorously.
    6. Back bench MPs will be likely to oppose Johnson if Scotland leaving becomes very real. And the de-facto un-elected PM Cummings

    1. Liz Summerfield says:

      Great! Bring it on!

    2. Alastair McIntosh says:

      Excellent list of points BB. I would add *identity*. Without Scotland to massage into Britishness, English identity will have to stand alone for what it is and all it is.

      I believe that could be a very good and positive thing, but any such cultural psychotherapy (which is what it would require) would be uncomfortable until (as we have been undertaking in Scotland) cultural renewal begins from a post-imperial, environmentally regenerating and socially just basis.

  6. AWoLsco says:

    “This is not then a movement built on imagining ourselves to be better than – or even spectacularly different from anyone else ”

    I, as a nationalist of many decades, beg to differ. I think we are a very special, possibly ‘chosen’ people put on this earth to serve as a good example to the rest of the white race. The other races I dismiss as valueless, for they inhabit territories and climates outwith my ken. I suppose i could study and learn of their mores ( often quite disgusting) and beliefs (many bordering on the frankly bizarre) but quite honestly, I haven’t the time or inclination.
    For that reason I turn my back on the foreign incomers to those Isles and instead concentrate my limited time and energy on understanding my own people, the Scots, the folks (volk) born and brought up in Scotland.
    You can dance up and down all you civic, foreign scots want waving about your pieces of paper until they are in tatters…..but in the eyes of the majority of Scots, you will NEVER, EVER be SCOTS….because you do NOT BELONG to this land…..and NEVER will.
    Visit by all means, and if you want to make friends in Scotland…..supply a date of departure for your homeland.
    This post is to remind all interested in independence that the SNP and its supporters are indeed a broad church.
    Not all supporters of the SNP are keen on homos, trannies ….or immigrants….and certainly are opposed to their being called SCOTS….ever.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      Your not a Rangers supporter by any chance,,?
      Chill out and come and watch Hibs…..we’re used to disappointment xx

    2. Arboreal Agenda says:

      Have you supplied a date of departure from England then seeing as how you have lived there for decades?

      1. John Learmonth says:

        Is this question applied to me?
        Born and bred Scot. Lived in west yorkshire 1988 till 1996. Forgive me, nobodies perfect.

        1. Arboreal Agenda says:

          No, Mr AWLoSco (see Media Confusion thread).

          Yorkshire is God’s own as you know 😉

          1. John Learmonth says:

            Your forgiven
            …could murder a pint of Timothy Taylors landlord and some decent fish and chips not to mention a Bradford curry…..

          2. Arboreal Agenda says:

            Hard to argue with that John.

      2. AWoLsco says:

        “Have you supplied a date of departure from England then seeing as how you have lived there for decades?”

        ……At my first interview in deepest, darkest southern England (mid seventies, all expenses paid)……”And do you intend to return to Scotland within the foreseeable future?”…..
        “No. Unless, perchance, Scotland should become independent,” was my reply and added……”Whereupon only but the most lowly wretch would eschew his duty and the offer of his services to his native land in its hour of need.”
        This produced an awkward moment where rather quizzical smiles were exchanged between the interviewers.
        I rose to take my leave and instead of being told not to slam the door on the way out, was informed that i’d got the job.

    3. Axel P Kulit says:

      Assuming you are not a troll or something

      By your logic an 18 year old born in Glasgow of parents who came here from (say) India would be Scottish but someone born in England who had lived here 50 years would not be Scottish. Is that right?

      This sounds like the Blood and Earth nationalism of which Alistair Darling accused the YES movement in 2014. It also makes you sound like the more extreme elements of Britain First.

      1. I disagree with you
      2. I am in favour of independence but wish to disassociate myself from people with views like yours.
      3. I Have assumed you are not a troll and not extracting the Urine

    4. Scots Ee says:

      A shame that such an excellent, well-argued and informative piece should attract the comments of a fascist. Sensible, reasonable folk don’t judge people on their place of birth; we need people like you in the movement like we need a hole in the head or like the Unionist side will be glad to welcome George Galloway’s ragbag of racists and bampots.

      It’s gash like this that makes me want to throw my computer in the bin. Dreadful, hateful stuff.

      1. Axel P Kulit says:

        If I believed views like his(?) were the majority view I would have to reconsider my commitment to Independence. However I Am sure only a small number of people in Scotland hold such views.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    “This is not then a movement built on imagining ourselves to be better than – or even spectacularly different from anyone else – it is driven by the urgent need to dissociate ourselves from a polity collapsing in on itself with corruption, misrule and incompetence governed-over by an elite that we can’t elect or un-elect.”
    Yes, I think this will resonate with a lot of people. The idea consistently pumped out by the UK establishment is a requirement for subjects to have a pride in their British state(empire?) amounting to a belief in its unimprovability (by ordinary people) and core imperviousness to criticism (by ordinary people). Who would want to live in a country like that? Surely better to live in a country that was ever able to recognize and address its flaws, and continually improve?

  8. John Learmonth says:

    Homos, trannies, immigrants even english people (although we have a seperate stand for the english) are welcome at Easter Road. Anything to get our crowds up…….the best way to counter fascism is to laugh at you sad bastards assuming that your comment is not some attempt at satire.

  9. AWoLsco says:

    “By your logic an 18 year old born in Glasgow of parents who came here from (say) India would be Scottish but someone born in England who had lived here 50 years would not be Scottish. Is that right?”

    No. Both would never become full Scottish citizens. If they qualify for a resident’s permit….fine….but if not, then they should be invited to leave, thereby increasing to housing stock available to indigenous Scots and returnees ,like myself able to bring some capital into the country.

    “This sounds like the Blood and Earth nationalism”

    100% Correct, Axel . Blut und boden. Rebuilding a nation, sapped of its brightest and most able for three to four hundred years, through emigration and military adventures, is no mean task. The last thing we need, is to import a load of substandard, coloured runts from around the globe. We’ve got plenty of white runts at home, already, that need weeding out. It’ll take time build up the Scottish herd to anything its former power and strength….about 100-150, maybe 200 hundred years is my guess, Scottish population in 1900…….5,000,000. Scottish population in 2020……5,300,000. That is absolutely shocking It should be 8-12 million, like Switzerland.

    ” It also makes you sound like the more extreme elements of Britain First.”

    That may or not be so. Some have mentioned that my views are slightly to the right of those of Genghis Khan. I think they imagined that I might feel diminished and ashamed by stating this…..but in actual fact, I took it as a great compliment.

    “1. I disagree with you”……OK got that. What else would a commie pinko do?
    “2. I am in favour of independence but wish to disassociate myself from people with views like yours”
    …..and vice versa…..but let’s get independence first then we can argue about the coloured gentlemen afterwards. I am very confident that I will win this argument in the end…..because……if Scotland does get independence, then the country will be in such dire straits, financially , socially and militarily, that it will have no time or inclination to indulge the whims and fancies of a handful of peripatetic carpetbaggers.
    “3. I Have assumed you are not a troll and not extracting the Urine”……
    100% correct.
    Yours for independence….. in the mean time. When and if that comes, then the battle commences to eliminate pinkos like you from all Scotland.

    1. We have a zero tolerance of racists here. Please take your abhorrent views elsewhere.

    2. aayawa says:

      You started by saying only people born and bread in Scotland could be Scots then you said the child, of Indian parents, who spent all their life, from birth, in Scotland would not be Scottish.

  10. Douglas Wilson says:

    I’ve been reading Bella for at least ten years, and the poster on this thread up the page is the first Scottish fascist I’ve ever seen here.
    Not that I was ever dumb enough to suppose fascists didn’t exist in Scotland, you only have to look at a certain element of the Glasgow Rangers support to see that.
    But it is no coincidence that fascists turn up even here at the same time as Trump and Brexit are the order of the day.
    That is how Fascism works I’m afraid. Fascists get into power, legitimise hatred, and the fascists in the woodwork feel emboldened and come out to make their voices heard.
    For Fascists to get to power, previous sections of the old order have to strike deals with them and enable their passage into office.
    In the case of Donald Trump, the Republican Party has allowed a fascist into the Whitehouse, a US President who is openly supporting / justifying violence and disorder in the streets of America against racial minorities.
    In the case of Brexit, an element of the posh Etonian set, the English ruling class, has struck a deal with the fascist mentality of Nigel Farage and co and served us up the Brexit calamity.
    No one should lose sight of the fact that neither Trump nor Brexit represent the views of the majority of the people of the USA or the UK.
    Both Trump and Brexit were supported by less than half the popular vote.
    Neither Mussolini nor Hitler ever had received electoral backing by the majority of Italians or Germans either.
    They were enabled by certain sections of the Italian and German establishments of their day.
    This is why the Scottish government must stand directly opposed to Boris Johnson and Brexit by going on the offensive.
    To sit back and wait for Boris Johnson and this Tory govt to agree to another referendum is to cede ground to the new Anglo-American fascism, and Scotland, true to its anti-fascist legacy, should be right in the vanguard against these enemies of democracy, universal human rights and tolerant, decent society.
    I may be in the minority, but I am afraid I think we will pay for the current Scottish govt’s passivity in time…

    1. Douglas Wilson says:

      It has to be said again, that there is nothing stopping Nicola Sturgeon from resigning and calling Scottish elections for this autumn, thereby accelerating the process whereby the SNP super majority is delivered by the people of Scotland (in the event) and London – according to most of the Scottish commentariat -will agree to a second independence referendum (I am far from convinced, but why wait?, why not go now and find out?)

      The idea that we wait for, at the least, a year is bonkers. Is no one reading the newspapers? Can no one smell what is in the air? If Trump is re-elected in November and the UK leaves the EU with No Deal, as is and has been the intent and purpose of the Brexiters since day one, what kind of environment are we going to be having
      Scottish elections in , let alone a second referendum? I mean, it’s frightening…

      To sit back and wait and put your faith in the old UK Constitutional framework and its accompanying ethos which is being torn down by Cummings and Johnson is passive to the point of recklessness..You have to take a proactive stance against the rising Anglo-American fascist tide…

      As for liberal England and their journalists and commentators, most of them still haven’t worked out what has happened… they still think we who want an independent Scotland in Europe are the enemy, instead of seeing the SNP and the indie movement for what it is – their last chance to derail the Brexit project…

      1. Arboreal Agenda says:

        Derail Brexit? How would the SNP / independence movement achieve that for England?

        Regarding ‘liberal England’ viewing the SNP as the ‘enemy’ is a misunderstanding. Liberal England (arguably the majority in fact) identifies with Scotland much more than they do right-wing England and in the past, Scotland as a great ally, comrades even, to help keep the worst ravages of the Tories at bay. Initially, the rise of the SNP threatened that as it is a party who at best pays little heed to the unity and at worst, is happy severe it. But then Labour collapsed in Scotland and the whole thing became moot. It is true older Labour diehards resent the SNP for that ‘take-over’ and in general, most left leaning people in England still hanker after the solidarity the union, in theory, offered. However, the theory is now virtually dead, and in practice the majority of liberal England now support or the least accept what appears to be the will of the Scottish people for independence, not least because they understand perfectly well the logic and justice of such a position. Some are even moving towards the idea the break up of the Union may offer opportunities in England for the liberal left to build something new, since as you point out, Johnson and his crew were not elected by the majority of voters in England and that was without the old Scottish Labour vote.

        1. Douglas Wilson says:

          Did you read the article?
          As Mike Small reports, the chief political correspondent of The Independent – the epitome of liberal England – is calling for London to refuse a second referendum indefinitely. Keir Stammer hasn’t backed one, nor did Corbyn, nor do people like Nick Cohen or Ralph Behr of The Guardian. None of these people know anything about Scotland, its history, languages and culture, or even the Union of 1707 needless to say, but when you say liberal England is more or less fine with Scottish independence, well there you are very wrong I think.
          There is no guarantee that an independent Scotland would derail Brexit, but especially in tandemo with a newly united Ireland, it would amount to a serious identity crisis at the least for England. There might well be a reaction against Boris and the English far right now in power by the majority of English society. It’s not hard to imagine Boris and co being run out of town if the Union of 1707 falls apart.
          Certainly, I believe if Scotland had voted for independence in 2014, then the Brexit project would have stalled…

          1. Arboreal Agenda says:

            One journo (and a few politicians saying a few things) is not ‘liberal England’ (though for the record, Corbyn said a second referendum was legitimate, and not actively backing one, yet, is not the same as being against it) – it is really silly to assume one comment by one journalist represents countrywide liberal thinking, though it makes good copy for an article. The mood music in recent days has been very clear – a big victory for the SNP, coupled with recent polls, and Johnson will find it very hard to resist another referendum and this has been said by liberals and conservatives alike across the media (the latter even making it clear that though they oppose independence themselves, democracy must be honoured – I just heard such a discussion on BBC radio). There is too much paranoia in the nationalist movement sometimes and this clouds insight and judgement.

            Of course I can only gauge things as I seem them and have no particularly special insight but I don’t live in any particular bubble (or at least try not to which is one of the reasons why I am posting here at all) and can assure you liberal England is neither generally anti-referendum or even anti-Scottish independence.

          2. Douglas Wilson says:

            Oh well now, A.A, and leaving to one side your condescending and mildly disparaging tone, could you please enlighten us all by pointing us to even one unequivocal statement by any member of the UK govt, or any member of the Shadow Cabinet, or indeed any member of that rapidly vanishing anointed sect of London Luvvies (Andrew Rawnsley, Nick Cohen, Raphael Behr, Poly Tonybee et al) to the effect that Scotland will be allowed a second referendum next year, and in lieu of that, that Scotland should most certainly under any reasonable application of democratic principle, be allowed a second referendum next year? And no, “I heard it on the BBC” doesn’t count, that’s the kind of thing you might expect from a Daily Express reader..

            If the mood music is as you say it is, that is probably because the SNP have been briefing journalists that indie ref ii is a cert, and quite possibly the Tories have too so as to push the matter back another year… For that is how it works – political parties spin and brief journalists to create the mood music which the press pack then faithfully regurgitate.

            That there will eventually be another referendum agreed with London, I am sure. That it will be next year, I very much doubt…

          3. Arboreal Agenda says:

            You are talking about journalists and politicians but what you actually said was ‘liberal England’. They are not at all the same thing. I don’t think you understand ‘liberal England’ – that is not condescending, it is just true, as far as I see it anyway. Even if I am overstating the case (perfectly possible), it is not true that liberal England hates the SNP and is totally opposed to a referendum / independence; at the very least it is a very mixed picture. NS is actually quite popular in England and certainly respected because she clearly knocks Johnson out of the park as a politician. As for it happening next year, God knows, I wasn’t commenting on that.

          4. Douglas Wilson says:

            Oh come on now AA, you’re just ducking the question I asked you…

            …you claim people like myself are “paranoid” for being sceptical that there will be a referendum next year, but all I am asking you is for you to cite one credible source of establishment England – liberal or otherwise, that is a mere detail – which would suggest that there has really been a shift in policy since last January when Boris Johnson told Nicola Sturgeon that he would not consent to another referendum…

            The last official statement from the British Gov is that the matter is settled for a generation. Why is it “paranoid” to take them at their word?

            As for the liberal press, The Guardian, The Independent, well not one single English journalist has called for a second Scottish referendum as far as I am aware. Nick Cohen is prepared to see Iraq bombed and invaded at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives for Iraqi democracy, but you’d never get Nick to stand up for Scottish democracy and a second referendum… forget it…

  11. Squigglypen says:

    Oh I have enjoyed reading this…been a dull morning..well done Bella….love it when folks get to say what they want ..though a tad disappointed in you Bella criticising the points of view that you think are abhorrent…it’s just all the little colours interwoven into the tartan…
    …I was doubled at the chosen people………..and interested in sections of football terracing for certain folk….never been on the terracing…..
    laughter is a great leveller…I look forward to more exchanges in the upper echelons of oblivion…

  12. ShillWatch says:

    Not a single word on the covid fraud, you guys are beyond contempt. Bleating on relentlessly about nasty England while ignoring sturgeon wrecking the country over the phantom flu.

  13. Jings McGee says:

    “This is not then a movement built on imagining ourselves to be better than – or even spectacularly different from anyone else – it is driven by the urgent need to dissociate ourselves from a polity collapsing in on itself with corruption, misrule and incompetence governed-over by an elite that we can’t elect or un-elect.”

    This, for me, captures the entire point of independence. Nicely put.

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