2007 - 2021

National Unity Through Silence

As 11 million people in the US State of Georgia take part in a (historic) election today, which, with any luck will hasten Donald trump’s ejection from the White House, Unionists in Britain have begun to try and undermine the idea of an election in May at Holyrood.

The Times editorialises with the interesting headline of “Vaccine over Vote”:

Postpone this year’s Holyrood elections. Now is not a time for the distraction of political campaigning” it thunders – having first established (without any evidence) that:

There is no realistic possibility of there being another referendum this year or next” The Times goes on to argue that: “just as the circumstances are not right for the staging of a second independence referendum, they might not be right for an election. Scots are due to go to the polls in May to select members of the Scottish parliament. Ms Sturgeon and all opposition leaders must now consider whether such a schedule is practical. How can campaigning and voting go ahead safely when we simply do not know when transmission of the virus will be under control?”

The below the line comments give a flavour of the Times audience (a more sophisticated Daily Mail reader):

“I make two points: If the election cannot be held in May then an executive of national unity should be formed. A new FM be elected and Sturgeon can then carry on her PR work as the data presenter for the national executive but without political overtones. If it is not possible to hold a census this year then there is no prospect, even if it were permitted, of holding a secession vote in the next five years.”

As democracy recedes into the distance, the Unionists plans for suppressing the vote (any vote) emerges in different forms and fronts.

Neil Findlay MSP: “As someone standing down at the election it depresses me to think the Scottish election could be delayed but I cannot see it can possibly go ahead under the current circumstances.”

The P&J informed us back in October that:

“Senior Tories have been advised to start working on a plan to block an independent Scotland from joining the EU, in a bid to kill off support for separation from the UK. Ministers have been urged to start pressuring Brussels to make it clear that “there is no viable pathway” for Scotland to rejoin the trading block, according to a leaked memo. The memo, circulated at the highest levels of government, says a change in tack is needed as the “once in a generation vote” line usually deployed to defend against calls for another referendum is “no longer effective”. The 21-page document, seen by Bloomberg news, also warns there is “a vacuum of leadership within the Unionist movement which is leaving the campaign rudderless”.

None of this is new but it is getting increasingly desperate as the Unionist options shrivel and die, as I described here ‘Just Say No. Welcome to PTSD Britain’.

The tactic has morphed from ‘deny the referendum for thirty years’ to ‘change the franchise’ to ‘stop all referendums, referendums are bad’ to ‘stop elections in general’.

As it’s been pointed out many times, elections have been carried out across the world through the pandemic, and if we are able to shop for our Weetabix, suitably smeared in sanitiser and masked-up the max we can run an election.

No vote on Europe, no elections, no referendum. Got it?

It’s not exactly sophisticated.

The lines are repeated by Henry Hill at Unherd, a sort of repository for right-wing columns that couldn’t get published in the, er, right wing press.

Hill writes “The SNP is trespassing on Westminster’s turf” with a post-Brexit comic timing that deserves some credit: “… the SNP are undermining Britain’s global position at just the moment the Government is trying to re-establish it …”.

After the UK govt axed DfiD and cut overseas aid, Scotland responded, which is one of the things that has infuriated the likes of Hill who wails: “At the same time, they are duplicating DfID’s old role with a £10 million International Development Fund and a Humanitarian Emergency Fund”. You can almost George Foulkes adding “and they’re doing it deliberately”.

As John Macdonald has pointed out this is para-diplomacy or soft-power, and : “It wasn’t an SNP government that pioneered Scotland’s post-devolution para-diplomacy. First Minister Jack McConnell signed a co-operation agreement between Scotland & Malawi in 2005. This was the first major step in contemporary Scotland’s para-diplomatic journey.

This is the Italian political philopher Giorgio Agamben’s state of exception, whereby the state (Britain) uses the guise of a crisis to extend its reach and powers. Agamben writes:

“The state of exception is the expansion of the executive power to the point where presidential decrees have the force of law, often invoked during “states of siege” or a “state of war.”

“The state of emergency is used to return to normality as quickly as possible, while the state of exception is used to break the rules and impose a new order. The state of emergency ” requires the stability of a system”, “the state of exception, on the contrary, requires its disintegration, which opens the way to another system”.

I used to be extremely skeptical of the idea put around that Britain would somehow ban or dissolve Holyrood. They won’t. But it looks like the are attempting to use the virus as an excuse to lockdown democracy.

This will fail and backfire like each of their attempts. This is a sign of their weakness and their desperation. It is exposed every day.

But there are signs of divisions within the Unionist camp. Last October Bloomberg uncovered a report created by Hanbury for Michael Gove which urged that continuing to dismiss Scottish calls for another independence vote outright could be “counterproductive,” and suggested a ‘Velvet No” strategy instead.

As Bloomsbury had it: “The memo was written by Hanbury, which was set up by Ameet Gill, former Prime Minister David Cameron’s one-time director of strategy, and Paul Stephenson, who was director of communications for pro-Brexit group Vote Leave. One of the firm’s partners is James Kanagasooriam, who worked with the Scottish Conservatives on elections in 2016 and 2017.

The report covers the state of play, voter and polling trends, a strategy for next year’s Scottish elections and what do to in the event of an SNP majority.

“If the SNP builds on this momentum then the endpoint could be a full-blown constitutional crisis or a second independence referendum,” the report said. “Either of these outcomes would consume significant political capital for the government.”

I don’t believe either of these tactics – a Velvet No – or the complete suppression of any form of democracy is viable, and that becomes clearer every day.







Comments (29)

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  1. Michael Marten says:

    This is happening on multiple fronts. There are apparently Tories who want to abolish the Senedd on the basis that not enough Welsh people will ever vote for them: https://nation.cymru/news/abolish-the-senedd-because-we-cant-win-welsh-elections-says-tory-website/.

  2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    Why would the incumbent Scottish government propose to extend the term of the current parliament yet further? Why would the Scottish parliament pass that proposal? Why would the Scottish head of state assent to that act of parliament?

    Surely the Scottish government is gaupin for elections in May.

    1. J Galt says:

      You ask some interesting questions.

      It will be even more interesting to see Ms Sturgeon’s reaction, and more particularly how genuine it is.

  3. Allan Armstrong says:

    And presumably Neil Findlay et al are backing Trump in calling for the non-recognition of the November US presidential results. They were held under Covid conditions!

  4. Robbie says:

    Yes Mike ,your article just say No with but withCHEERIO added to it is definitely the correct approach to these B******ds.

  5. Paddy Farrington says:

    The debate on independence is gradually morphing into a debate about democracy, in its most salient dimension: the right of people to determine their political future through the ballot box. The willingness of some Unionists to vacate the democratic terrain is telling, and presents new opportunities for the pro-independence movement to extend its support and build new alliances. It also underlines why we should not give up on pressing for a new independence referendum: doing so would in effect be abandoning democratic processes, which is exactly what the Unionists are pressing us to do.

  6. Keith MacDonald says:

    An interesting article, but we really should be careful what we wish for.

    1) “a (historic) election today, which, with any luck will hasten Donald trump’s ejection from the White House”
    Fair enough, but by assuming that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, we may fall into one of the worst kind of logical fallacies. Like assuming the US “Democratic” Party will not continue the restrictions on people’s liberty (or add even more restrictions), all under the guise of “saving” them.

    2) If we self-identify as a “left-wing” group, there’s a very real danger of assuming everyone else that isn’t immediately similar is somehow automatically right-wing. Sadly, this is naive one-dimensional thinking. Unherd shows many signs of working on a different political dimension. That is: Libertarian -v- Authoritarian
    e.g. https://unherd.com/2021/01/thank-god-for-liberalism/

    As such, while we might rightly (sic) complain about “English Authoritarians”, we should have some empathy for English Libertarians that would quite happily cut the Union knot that ties the two countries.

    Apart from that, keep up the good work. 🙂

    1. Hi Keith
      thanks for your comment.
      On 1) I dont have any great faith in the Demoratic party or Joe Biden at all, but removing Trump is a good in itself. I’m not quite sure what you mean by “assuming the US “Democratic” Party will not continue the restrictions on people’s liberty (or add even more restrictions), all under the guise of “saving” them” – is this a coronavirus reference?
      On 2) I understand that Unherd has positioned itself as a ‘libertarian’ thing but it also works on a left right axis.

  7. Kait Ell says:

    The Scottish Government should follow the lead of those U. S. states that pro-actively sent a postal vote form out to every registered voter, thus increasing voting amongst low-income voters at a stroke. Even on occasions of high general turnout, the lowest voting figures – and therefore the biggest democratic deficit – are always amongst low-income groups, and we need to find ways to address this. This would be a good start, and there will never be a better time.

    1. Daniel Raphael says:

      When the time comes to announce the intention to hold the independence referendum, it would indeed be a wise move to simultaneously inform one and all that there will be postal voting. If the postal service is judged by Scottish authorities to be up to the task, there is no reason in principle to not take this route–and it has indeed served well here in the United States, if you need to cite a precedent. My own state has for many years conducted voting by mail (with an option of in-person voting, where voters prefer that course). It works fine.

  8. MBC says:

    I’ve noticed this talk increase too. Who calls the shots on this? I would have thought the UK government did not have the power, that may be why they are trying to lean on Sturgeon.

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      The 2016 Scotland Act recognised the Scottish Parliament and a Scottish Government as permanent among UK’s constitutional arrangements, with a referendum required before either can be abolished.

      1. MBC says:

        But can the UK halt a Scottish election? On public health grounds?

        1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          No idea! Isn’t public health a devolved matter?

  9. Richard Easson says:

    Postal voting? Surely in this day and age someone has heard of email.
    A vote is a vote no matter how it is officially received should have been part of the system for ages. Why are things so antideluvian in Scotland and Britain?

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      This is true. Though there’s a lot to be said for the secrecy of the ballot box. My mother gets a lift to the polling station from the Conservatives at every election and always votes Labour.

      1. Richard Easson says:

        It used to be quaint when I lived in Tain. In the seventies the Tories parked a wee caravan outside the polling station where you could get a sherry before going in to vote.

        1. J Galt says:

          Sherry! In Tain!

          No wonder they’re toast.

        2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          Yes, participation in the civic life of one’s community used to be marked as a special occasion. My grandfather, an itinerant outdoor servant, used to unpack his suit o claes and guid bunnet frae his kist to go and vote. The only times I ever saw him out of his dungarees and in a suit was in his chair afore the fire on Remembrance Day mornings, as he myndit his feres in solemn silence, and for as long as it took him to tramp from wherever he was lodged at the time to the polling station on election days and mark his cross. Never saw him take a sherry, though.

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            And the only folk who had caravans were the Tinks and Showmen.

          2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Happy days!

          3. Derek Thomson says:

            Nice racism there with “tinks.” Classy.

          4. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Indeed! Few of them actually made a living from tinkering, though ane auld body ais’t to shairpen knives. He’d arrive at my grannie’s door with his stane every year, regular as May, when they camped down at the Craw Wuid, and she’d gie him a mug o tea and a soda scone wi roastit cheese for his trouble. They’d also help Isaiah Stewart, who worked a smallholding on his own, get his hay in, in return for a couple o bags o tatties. They weren’t that different from my own grandparents, hiring themselves out for outdoor work to eke a living; only, they didn’t work terms and weren’t as settled. Sometimes, my grandparents would stay on at the same farm for quite a few terms, until something better came along. The Tinks, though, were ay on the move.

          5. J Galt says:


            Short for Tinker ie. a person, usually itinerant, who makes a living mending pots and pans.

            You assume the term is only used in a derogatory fashion.


    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Richard Easson, how would voting by email work? I can think of many reasons why it would not.

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        The possibilities for the use of information and communication technology in our governance processes go far beyond e-mail voting. The emergent technology has the potential to revolutionalise our political culture; it creates material conditions of production that enable the free and equal practise of collective self-governance, a form of government in which all citizens are presumed eligible to participate equally in the proposal, development, and creation of their laws. ICT makes digital democracy possible.

        ICT expands our knowledge as a social institution. Its anarchic nature – its social design; the sharing culture that permeates, through ‘the link’, every aspect of its use; the unmediated mass communication through newsgroups, chat rooms, and multi-user domains; the lack of centralised control – makes censorship difficult and sublates the boundaries established by broadcast media, such as newspapers or radio, and by one-to-one media, such as letters or landline telephony. Because the Internet is an infinite and unmanageable digital network, it finally makes universal inexpensive access to open communication media attainable.

        Some practical issues around digital democracy remain to be solved, such as inclusive participation (not everyone has equal access to the skills and hardware required to use the technology effectively), cyber-security, and systems oversight. But these are issues that are already being addressed in the application of ICT in other systems areas, such as the courts, retail and financial services, and health care; so they need not be obstacles to the application of ICT in the expansion of democracy.

        Modern democracies are generally representative, where citizens elect others to manage the creation and implementation of decisions on their behalf. These are in contrast to direct democracies, in which citizens retain that decision-making responsibility. A shift to digital democracy would in effect devolve governance from elected representatives to the citizenry itself.

        Politics have already become reliant on the Internet because the Internet is the primary source of information for most citizens, especially among younger voters. The reason for this is that, as a source, it’s easy, comprehensive, and (when used wisely) reliable. The innate usability of search engines results in increased citizen engagement with research and opinion. Social networks allow people to express and debate opinions anonymously or pseudonymously, thus remaining immune from the influence of personal judgement or intimidation.

        Collective (as opposed to representative) decision-making and problem-solving gives more power to citizens. This creates a more open and productive society. Digital democracy has the potential to remedy to the insular nature, concentrated power, and lack of post-election accountability in a traditional democratic process that’s organised mostly around political parties and other corporate interests rather than the citizen.

        Digital inclusion is essential for equal participation in public policy formulation irrespective of income, education, gender, religion, colour, race, language, physical and mental health, etc. Any public policy formulated without including any specific section of society will always remain non-inclusive by nature, which goes against the ethos of democracy.

        At the level of interpersonal/intersubjective association, many communities (both of place and of interest) have already created forms of inclusive self-governance through digital forms of communication media.

        There’s no reason in principle why we couldn’t scale these forms up to make of ourselves a global village.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Foghorn Leghorn, for all the potential of global information networks, users experience them in a highly mediated way, from device level to remote digital resource. Each layer in the stack of technologies and protocols, each element of intermediation, each administrator and organization and software condition along the way can intervene and restrict or divert access. Users are often reliant on (corporate-owned, advertiser-funded) search engines or directories, and the web browsers may intervene (even if a user has a choice, it is limited). Usability and accessibility are also pervasive issues. All modern states practice some form of Internet censorship, as far as I am aware, much automated or administrative or reactive. As do Internet Service Providers and social media platforms. In fact, censorship has been much in the news recently, on the question of fake virus and fake election stories, for example.

          Far from anonymity removing intimidation, it can encourage it.

          One of the main unsolved problems is digital provenance: how to establish a trusted chain between physical-world source and online digital resource. To modern generations, belief and disbelief of things on the web may increasingly seem like a matter of choice (although the usual tools of analysis like logical consistency can always be applied).

          You might want to read up on the issues around net neutrality. I haven’t read the Wikipedia page through, but I guess it is a place to start:
          Without knowing how the Internet works, users are ill-prepared to make judgements on how their access is mediated and in some cases controlled. Really not like being in a village where the system is more open to scrutiny, and somebody’s house is not a million times bigger than someone else’s.

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Yes, net neutrality certainly relates to the issues to which I alluded in my previous post. That’s why Pirates and other activists are seeking, by hook and by crook, to maintain and extend the Internet as part of the commons in order to keep it free.

            I’d recommend Tim Wu’s article, ‘Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination’, as a starting point in tracing the genealogy of the concept. Tim coined the term as an extension of the longstanding legal concept of a ‘common carrier’.

            A common carrier in common law countries is a person or company that transports goods or people for any person or company and is responsible for any possible loss of the goods during transport. A common carrier is distinguished from a contract carrier, which is a carrier that transports goods for only a certain number of clients and that can refuse to transport goods for anyone else, and from a private carrier. A common carrier holds itself out to provide service to the general public without discrimination (i.e. with neutrality) for the public convenience and necessity.

            A common carrier offers its services to the general public under license or authority provided by a regulatory body, which has usually been granted ministerial authority by the legislation that created it. The regulatory body may create, interpret, and enforce its regulations upon the common carrier as long as it acts within the bounds of the enabling legislation.

            In both the USA and EU, activists like Tim Wu and Julia Reda have been using the legislative route as one of the strategies for maintaining and extending net neutrality. But it’s an ongoing struggle. For example, in 2015 the US Federal Communications Commission classified Internet service providers as ‘common carriers’. In 2017, however, under a new presidential administration, the FCC reversed its own rules on net neutrality, essentially revoking common carrier status as a requirement for ISPs. Then in 2018, the Senate narrowly passed a non-binding resolution aiming to reverse the FCC’s decision and restore the commonality of the Internet.

            The fight continues. And, of course, as well as the legislative route, hackers, pirates, and other activists ‘on the dark side’ continue to wage a guerilla war against the privatisers. These have supplanted old-time religion’s ‘industrial proletariat’ and ‘national liberationists’ as today’s real agents of revolution. This auld Marxist’s seen the future, and the future’s ‘geek’.

  10. SleepingDog says:

    Presumably the Scottish government move to the gov.scot domain was not purely for cosmetic reasons.

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