2007 - 2022

Finkelstein’s Franchise and Chamber of Secrets

For those still nursing their wrath with the strangely disempowering idea that “we’ll never get a Section 30 Order”, I hate to put it to you but, we’ve already got one. The Holyrood election and the next independence referendum have already started.

Strange Outriders for Project Fear 2, a strangely inept and miscast sequel to the original 2014 disaster movie, have already been seen skirmishing on the battlefield of social media and television studios. While last week George Galloway’s wife was obsessing about Nutella this week Lord Finkelstein (“Danny the Fink) took to the tv studios to pronounce: “If they do have that referendum that’s something that everybody who was born in Scotland and has eligibility to be in the Scottish state, should have a right to have a say”. It was a follow-up to the same line being trotted out by Galloway and Gove before him and its very likely a co-ordinated attempt to normalise the narrative about changing the franchise to disrupt dilute and undermine the next referendum.

Lord Finkelstein added:

“There are lots of people who engaged with the question of whether the United Kingdom continues, and obviously the people of Scotland are one of the largest groups in that decision” – how touching  – “but they’re not the only group. It’s right that actually the UK Parliament has some sort of – has the power over the decision about whether we have a referendum.”

You may think it distasteful that an unelected Lord from the Motherfucker of All Parliaments ™ preach about what is democratic, but the attack-line was accompanied by a piece in The Spectator by James Forsyth (‘To save the Union, negotiate Scotland’s independence) who argued that:

“What to do? Well, one cabinet minister with a particular interest in the Union argues that the best way to fight the SNP is to clarify what independence would really mean. This would change the debate from being about the lofty idea of sovereignty to the cold realities of the situation. It could be done in the campaign itself, but any Unionist attempt to focus minds would be dismissed by the Nationalists as ‘Project Fear 2’.

“Highlighting the economic weakness of the case for independence is essential to any Unionist victory. One recent poll suggested voters thought by a 10 per cent margin that independence would be good for Scotland economically. Which is quite something now North Sea oil revenues have collapsed (the price of a barrel is half what it was when the last referendum was held in 2014) and recent figures showed that Scotland has the worst deficit in the western world (8.6 per cent of GDP). A new EU member state needs their deficit down to 3 per cent. Doable, but only after austerity on an enormous scale. That’s the crushing cost of independence. But how to make the case convincingly?”

“One way — albeit a very high-risk one — is to tell the SNP that they can have their referendum but only if the terms are agreed first. The UK government would negotiate the basis on which Scotland would leave the UK, with the resulting deal put to the electorate. This would transform the debate from being one about whether Scotland should theoretically be independent into one about the hard truths of separation. It would force the Nationalists to answer the questions they would rather avoid: what currency an independent Scotland would use, what share of the UK national debt it would take on, and more. We’d see what the border arrangements between this new state and rUK (the shorthand for the rest of the UK) would be, and how trade would be managed with the two countries in different customs unions.”

There’s some striking elements to this desperate line of argument but the most obvious is how much it is a voice of capitulation. Obviously there is complete ignorance of almost all aspects of the constitutional debate: the franchise has already been agreed; oil revenue is not considered in the calculations and forecasts for future economics; and the deficit figures are extraordinary. But this is essentially a cry for help and an argument that the only position left is to surrender terms. What Forsyth and Finkelstein are saying is that this shitshow’s at an and and we want to some kind of dignified exit, which may not be unreasonable. It’s something we should probably just play along with: “Oh, yes, it really will be terrible, oh yes, we’re terrified, uh-hu … ” – whilst quietly exercising diplomatic soft-power around the world and re-imagining how to create a functioning democracy.

It might seem strange but I have some sympathy for these people. The moment at which it might have been still possible to imagine a credible envisioning of a Future Union has gone, and this is what they are left with: rejected and unelected politicians arguing that what is required is the suppression and gerrymandering of the electorate to keep the Scots in check. The very idea that Britain is reformable or able to respond and adapt is spent. Finkelstein is living proof of this talking as he does from the House of Lords which has 793 peers. The only other countries in the world with second chambers larger than the first are the People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan and Burkina Faso.

But it’s not just Britain’s political institutions which are decrepit.

Last week a leaked government dossier revealed that the military may be called in to airdrop food and patrol parts of the UK if it is hit by a no-deal Brexit and a second coronavirus wave at the same time. It said that the military may be drafted in to airdrop food to the Channel Islands under emergency plans drawn up by the government to protect the UK if a second coronavirus wave coincides with a no-deal Brexit. It warned that parts of the UK may face power and petrol shortages if thousands of lorries were stranded in Dover while shortages of medicines caused by port blockages could lead to animal diseases spreading through the countryside.

The classified document, dated July 2020, warned that if trade restrictions triggered by a no-deal Brexit are combined with floods, flu and another coronavirus wave, then hospitals may be overwhelmed and that the Navy may be needed to stop British fishermen clashing with European fishing boat incursions.

No Deal Brexit looms over the Union like a guillotine.

But if Britain’s archaic semi-feudal institutions like the Lords act as a repository for failed politicians and a bulwark against any change, perhaps worse is the clandestine influence of a rash of ‘think-tanks’ like Legatum, Competere, the  Institute of Economic Affairs and the parliamentary faction called the Free Enterprise Group. The extent to which the far-right’s radical think tanks have shaped and captured the Conservative party is detailed here, and also in minute detail by Peter Geoghegan in Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics. 

Whilst the presentation of Britain’s formal UnDemocracy like the House of Lords an the Monarchy acts as constitutional dressage, the dark money flowing through think-tanks and front groups is where the real action happens, and as Geoghegan outlines the important factor is the ‘Atlantic Bridge’ between Britain’s underbelly and their US counterparts the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the the Charles Koch Foundation.

The point being made is not the sometimes spurious one that all of the emerging hellscape can be ascribed to malign secret forces and that no real social or economic crisis is at play. Geoghegan wisely reject this sort of analysis:

“Pro-Leave campaigns broke the law,” he writes, “but we cannot say with any certainty that the result would have been different if they had not. Instead, the referendum and its aftermath have revealed something far more fundamental and systemic. Namely, a broken political system that is ripe for exploitation again. And again. And again.”

None of this is new, though the intensity of the lobbying group and the fragility of the political class is more acute, and the connectivity between Britain and the US is far more intense. What’s also different is that both Britain and America are facing existential crises at precisely the same moment, with Trump’s election coming in November and Johnson’s No Deal exit coming in December.

The archaic and the clandestine elements of Britain’s UnDemocracy are two sides of the same coin, but both point to it being riddled with forces which are innately dysfunctional and this dramatically undermines the prospects for the Union to be a credible future-focused entity. As Britain disintegrates some are taking crumbs of comfort in song and symbol. The Daily Mail and the Express were jubilant at their victory to re-instate Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory to the Last Night of the Proms. The delicious irony of this being “sung” by an audience that isn’t there is the most brutal metaphor for a broken Britain you can imagine.



Comments (21)

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  1. Michael says:

    I never thought Bella would become a source for the dissemination of “conspiracy theories”. It is a slippery slope Mike. You’ll be casting doubt on the official story of the WTC7 collapse before you know it!… “It was a follow-up to the same line being trotted out by Galloway and Gove before him and its very likely a co-ordinated attempt to normalise the narrative about changing the franchise to disrupt dilute and undermine the next referendum.” … “The extent to which the far-right’s radical think tanks have shaped and captured the Conservative party is detailed here, and also in minute detail by Peter Geoghegan in Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics. “

    1. Wul says:

      Here’s another “conspiracy theorist” for you Michael.


      This “conspiracy theorist” also seems to believe ( and provide evidence) that “think tanks” set up by billionaires to change government policy are, erm , changing government policy. Who’d have thunk it?

      Maybe you could use your superior powers of perception to demonstrate why it is fallacy to believe that the super-rich try to influence events in order to continue their wealth?

    2. John O'Dowd says:

      The term ‘Conspiracy Theory’ is an invention of the CIA. Its purpose is to discredit those who may be getting too close to the truth, and to close down discussions by suggestion that such discussion is by cranks and nutters, whereas, in fact, its unthinking application, is more likely to denote lack of thought, and unthinking acceptance of the myths spun by those who seek to mislead us and to benefit from the accumulation of unaccountable power.

      This is revealed by a 1967 CIA memo that set out to discredit many of the well-sourced rebuttals to the Warren Commission Report. The CIA owned over 250 media outlets in the 1960s, spent close to a billion dollars (in today’s dollars) spreading information, and had people doing its bidding in every major city in the world, so it is not surprising that they were able to disseminate this idea.

      CIA Document 1035-960: Set out to weaponise the term.

      These negative connotations can be traced to historian Richard Hofstadter’s well-known fusillades against the “New Right.” To undermine well-founded public scepticism concerning Warren Commission’s findings on the assassination of President Kennedy, the CIA issued a directive to all of its bureaus: “Countering Criticism of the Warren Commission Report,” This document played the definitive role in making the “conspiracy theory” term a weapon to be used against any individual or group questioning the interests and activities of the powerful and wealthy who own the most of the West’s governments.

      You can read CIA Document 1035-960 here:


      I’ve left my name here. But who is ‘Michael’, who employs him, and what is his purpose?

  2. Graham Boyd says:

    An amusing aside on the Rule Britannia – Land of Hope and Glory stooshie comes from the Second World War when the 52nd Highland Division entered Tripoli after the success of the North Africa campaign, they paraded before Winston Churchill singing verses from “The Ball of Kirriemuir”

    They were fuckin’ in the barn;
    They were fuckin’ in the ricks;
    An’ye couldna hear the music
    For the swishin’ o’ the pricks.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Divergence has its own exponential character. Scotland could peel itself off like a sticking plaster from a gangrenous wound, if the people of Scotland collectively pull in the direction of making sensible decisions about their future, while the people of England collectively resist curing their ills. We might see Thailand become a democracy before the UK.

  4. Cathie Lloyd says:

    The argument for negotiating an indy deal in detail before a referendum is fundamentally undemocratic. It ignores how the terms of the debate could change after a Yes vote. New groups could be drawn into the debate in a radically changed context. It fits with Mikes characterisation of the schlerotic political system in U.K.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      See, I’d have said the opposite; for a referendum on independence to be fundamentally democratic, the terms and conditions of that independence would be at least part of the referenda.

      That was precisely the flaw in the last one; we couldn’t vote on any substantial prospectus, but could only divide ourselves into rival ‘tribes’ around the totemic responses that were permitted (‘Yes’/’No’) to a vacant question (‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’). It was what some critics of populism call a ‘pseudorendum’.

      If we’re going to have another vote, let’s not balls it up too. If its process is democratically meaningless and unempowering this time too, we should again ‘spoil’ our ballot papers in protest.

      1. Wul says:

        “…the terms and conditions of that independence…”

        You run your own country. End of.

        You negotiate with other countries to obtain the best possible outcome for your citizens. This will often coincide, like any worthwhile bargain, in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

        It is a risk. A big one. But not as harmful as the risk from staying.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Aye, but to run your own country in what manner and to what ends?

          I know that the received wisdom is that this will all be decided after independence, but how and by whom? There should at the very least be in the referenda some legally binding prospectus for such decision-making that sets out what its democratic processes will be. Without this, by voting ‘Yes’ you’re just giving the Scottish government carte blanche to stitch up power as it sees fit.

          If, in any future referendum, I’m once more asked to buy a pig in a poke, I’m just going to have to again use my ballot to register a protest vote.

          1. Wul says:

            I get where you are coming from Anndrais. Indeed, I felt the same way about the Brexit vote; “Do we really know what we are voting about?” It seems many of us didn’t because even the pro-leave lobby hadn’t though it through or produced any kind of realistic prospectus.

            Isn’t that the nature of the beast though? Do you feel in a general election that you know with any accuracy what the winning party are going to do over the next 4 years? Can the SNP, a political party, guarantee the shape of a new Scotland? Is it in their gift?

            I share some of your unease but I just feel that the risks of staying in the UK are greater and more certain than staying; we will become more and more like America and less and less like the rest of Europe. An iScotland govt. could wish to go the same route but I think they would meet with greater and more immediate protest; Edinburgh is only 3 hours from nearly all of our population and we all have relatives or pals in the central belt we can doss with after the protest. I actually like taking risks and have a lot of faith in other people, so a big change in Scotland feels exciting to me.

            I’d feel more reassured though with a strong civic plan for independence which contained a prospectus which enshrined fairness and public service. The draft constitution could be written right now and included in an independence manifesto.

            I’ve always ben deeply suspicious of Salmond’s “Best place in Europe to do business”…code for “come here and help yourself” He courted Trump and no doubt other of his ilk. There is a real risk that Scotland could be hi-jacked for a financial services tax haven and opened up for plunder.

        2. SleepingDog says:

          @Wul, on this (rare) occasion, I would have to agree with @Anndrais. Uncertainty about what a vote ‘means’ is a delegitimising factor. Again, I would recommend a high bar (say, 2:1 majority) for a clear, clean break with the UK and every other empire. We don’t have citizens… yet. Negotiation is preferable to a simplistic question which most people will have major uncertainties about, in my view. I also think that treating most (certainly not all) unionists as potential Yes-voters is rational, fair and respectful. The Terms and Conditions of an Independence vote will close or open the petals of budding Scottish Independence (to make guid use of Lesley Riddoch’s Bloom metaphor).

      2. RICHARD ANDERSON says:

        I wonder who the British State would ‘negotiate’ the new arrangement with? The idea is a power play based on ‘we hold all the cards’. And the British state would in such outlandish circumstances. Maybe the EU would second Michel Barnier to someone who would ‘negotiate’ on behalf of Scotland?

        If we win independence I’d prefer to see an arrangement negotiated that best suited Scotland. To achieve that there would need to be cross party, business and civic society representation representing ALL of Scotland, not just the winning team. If we can’t manage that we would be making the same mistake as Cameron post 2014 and along with May in 2016. A failure to recognise a collective national interest would be hugely damaging to a renewed country.

        Independence first. Anything else is complacency.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          This is another ‘process’ matter that, to be democratically determined, would have to be included in the prospectus for independence that the Scottish government put to a national vote.

          1. RICHARD ANDERSON says:

            If the SNP win the vote to hold another referendum it won’t be the Scottish Government that puts forward its plans. The independence movement is far wider than the SNP and there is much to be considered from the wider movement. Dissent from ‘sterlingisation’ seems to be the most coherent at the moment. However, the big difference over 2014 will be the ability to examine the UK plan for the future. It’s no longer just about how scotland would go forward alone but it’s about comparing the diamond hard Brexit plans of the U.K., continued austerity, plans for making the nhs available to be run by American health corporations, lowered food standards, disappearing employment rights, democratic failure where parliament can be bypassed at whim, and much much more. Since we leave the transition in January heading for a £500bn deficit and with £2tn Debt, what are the UK plans? What are the U.K. plans for Scotland’s economy within the ‘love London and the City’ policy placing all the eggs in that basket to the exclusion of peoples lives elsewhere. Rees-Mogg suggested up to 30 years to return to past levels of performance.
            It’s right that any plans for Scotland as independent are put to scrutiny but it’s also right that they can be compared with the plans for Scotland within the Union. That allows folk to make a fully informed choice

          2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Well, you see, Richard, that’s a problem for me: the picture you paint of a future referendum is of just another stairheid rammie, with nothing substantial to vote on. As I said before, that was precisely the flaw in the last one; we couldn’t vote on any substantial prospectus, but could only divide ourselves into rival ‘tribes’ around the totemic responses that were permitted (‘Yes’/’No’) to a vacant question (‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’). No wonder some folk think we’re incapable of independence if this is the best we can come up with. It’s pathetic.

  5. Charles Gallagher says:

    It seems to me that these yoon minions miss the point that it will be up to the FIRST SCOTTISH Government elected by the people IN Scotland to negotiate with Wastemonster NOT NON RESIDENTS.

  6. Lesley Docksey says:

    “This would change the debate from being about the lofty idea of sovereignty to the cold realities of the situation.”
    Doesn’t this describe what should have happened during the Leave campaign?
    I’m still trying to figure out what ‘sovereignty’ means to those Brexit supporters who are MPs, seeing that the Johnson/Cummings government keeps bypassing the sovereignty of parliament.
    And, just maybe, an independent Scotland would make England reform its politics. I live in hope for both our countries.

  7. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Has anyone told the SNP about any of this, Mike? Yes, I’m one of your “wrath nursers”, who also happens to agree with much of your piece. To reiterate: is the SNP aware that the opening skirmishes of the war have already begun? And if so, what should I and others look for in the coming period as evidence of SNP mobilisation? The scene already appears to be set, I’m afraid, for a campaign-of-defence, when, in fact, “wrath nursers”, like me, believe that it’s a campaign-of-attack that’ll be required to win the coming war. The Yes camp is then, despite the opinions of our opponents, is divided on tactical issues, alone.

  8. Ros says:

    Thanks Mike. Peter Geoghegans book should be read by all secondary school pupils on both sides of the border. Then there may be hope that the coming generation of voters will be less gullible than the one that put Johnson et al in a position they are not fit to hold.

  9. Peter Barber says:

    I am just imagining what would have transpired had EU sources been overheard saying, “One way — albeit a very high-risk one — is to tell the [Conservative government] that they can have their referendum but only if the terms are agreed first. The [EU Commission] would negotiate the basis on which [UK] would leave the [EU], with the resulting deal put to the electorate.”

    Of course the EU has never even suggested treating the UK like this. Had they tried to do so, dictating the terms on which the UK could withdraw and preventing a referendum happening until the proposition on the ballot paper was to their satisfaction, English Brexiters would have exploded – and for once I would have sympathised with them.

    Yet it is fine to behave like this themselves when it comes to Scottish independence? They really are the best weapon in the Yes armoury! Never mind the detailed proposals for an independent Scotland, drawn up both by government and non-government groups that already exist (unlike Brexit in 2016) and ongoing public discourse on the actual merits of such proposals (unlike Brexit in 2016).

    If this is obvious to English people like me, then it is just a matter of when, not if.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Aye, the 2016 referendum was just as flawed as the 2014 one.

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