2007 - 2021

Abla Cadabra

Much of the magic of Scottish politics is wearing thin. Either Alex Salmond and his new cohorts will make a miraculous breakthrough or there will be a disappearing act. Apparently. But there are other options.

Trying to make sense of this dire election campaign is really difficult: with it’s shuffling memes, weird messaging, panicking unionist propaganda, plethora of new micro-parties and covid-culture precluding face to face interaction all being faced by an exhausted and dispirited electorate. We have people festooned with flags castigating other people festooned with flags. The fast-improving New Statesman regularly publishes analysis beyond the mundane, and so we have Scott Hames recent ‘Who speaks for Scotland?’ sliding his eye over the current chaos.

Writing in the journal Hames points out one of the contradictions of Salmond’s career, as he moves seamlessly from 70s radical to 20c slick mainstream gradualist and then back to the tub-thumping fundamentalist of today:

“Retribution for Alex Salmond, in league with the sort of people he expunged from the mainstream of Scottish nationalism in the 1990s: zoomers, magical thinkers and conspiracy theorists. Having outfoxed the SNP’s romantic “fundamentalists” as a young party leader, Salmond’s comeback has turbo-charged their digital rebirth, from neo-Celtic symbols to Bannockburn cosplay. He made his name as a slick “gradualist” tactician and media operator, but today Salmond depends on the reach of troubled bloggers to spread the Alba message. A rocky LBC interview last week was dominated by questions about his behaviour towards women, his ties to Russian state media, and claims by another Alba candidate that Scottish LGBTQ organisations are in thrall to a secretive global movement to legalise sex with ten-year-olds.”

Enema of the People

This, for Hames is a complex matter with no obvious beneficiaries:

“With its huge polling lead, the SNP leadership seem relaxed about losing these peevish factions – the commentator David Leask likens the process to a “political enema” – and their exit improves the SNP’s standing with younger progressive voters and Middle Scotland liberals.”

But such analysis posits a liberalism against a radicalism that is a bit simplistic.

Some of the younger ‘progressive’ voters are engaged in a performative act about identity politics and much of the ‘radical’ voices are just a visceral reaction against them. Neither have either strategy theory or praxis to take them beyond shouting into their own micro-bubbles as the British state and late capitalism lay waste to our society (and our environment).

For Hames the ‘crisis’ of the Yes movement is the conundrum of leading both a party and a movement.

How do you keep pragmatic “gradualists” and traditional “fundamentalists” onside a unifying project?

He asks: “There will be no Team Scotland triangulation to mask the enmity on both sides, and this very fact casts doubt on all the other kinds of Team Scotland triangulation that keep nationalism moving forward.”

But I think this is lightly confused because it speaks to the movement as the subject at play here – the same problem the movement suffers from – rather than the society or the electorate or the class of people being exploited – being the subject of focus.

I don’t agree with Hame’s idea of this producing a binary outcome:

“…. ideologically, the very existence of one is kryptonite to the other. Acknowledging the reality of two different and bitterly opposed nationalisms, with distinct social visions and priorities, does more than spoil the SNP’s reputation for internal unity (not to say conformity). The Alba split means that for the first time since devolution, we have open conflict between competing visions of what Scottish nationalism is about, who it’s for, and which elements of the modern world it understands itself to be struggling against.”

Another view of this is that distinct visions are healthy and false unity is unhealthy. The problem, confounded by inter-generational incomprehension is that the people within Alba think they are progressive and the people outwith them think they are reactionary. It’s difficult to have dialogue in such crossed wires and amid a fusion of trans and gender ‘debates’ and constitutional fracas in which ‘good faith’ is rarer than alchemy.

Team Scotland

Hames argues that the divide and the consequences are deeper writing:

“Sturgeon and her circle have gained space to reassert the party’s liberal and progressive vision of independence, but lost the opportunity to present this vision as simply and universally “Scottish”. It’s not just that one flavour of nationalism must now be measured against another, but that the underlying premise of “standing up for Scotland” loses its supra-political character.”

I think this is a good thing.

‘Team Scotland’ – the idea of reducing or ignoring conflicts of interest within a nation, wishing them away or pretending they could be delayed forever, was always a magical act.  If “Team Scotland triangulation kept nationalism moving forward”, maybe we need to do something different now?

Indeed what is wrong with having “competing visions of what Scottish nationalism is about, who it’s for, and which elements of the modern world it understands itself to be struggling against.”

Sounds great to me.

The latest polling shows support for indy down, and perhaps this reflects the various magical thinking that have been going on: that you could abandon attempting to convince a majority of people that ‘Yes’ was the answer and instead produce independence like a rabbit out a hat; that, from the Unionist view you can just eternally repress democracy; or that movement and party could be – or should be – one joyous triangulated unity. They couldn’t, nor should they be.

A much messier rougher, less polished movement will be far healthier; one that admits all of its faults and future struggles will be much more potent than one that attempts to sugar-coat the truth. Our debates about currency, European future, borders (!) and geopolitics needed to have started about five years ago, but they didn’t, so lets start them now. There’s a space between cosplay and tepid centralism and it’s a dynamic and chaotic discourse of radical uncertainty that is much more vital for all that than the current pantomime of parliamentary posturing and faux radicalism.

Embracing that and accepting independence as the rupture and transformation and self-determination we need and it will emerge; just like that.




Comments (89)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    Team Britain isn’t exactly united. Westminster rule, status quo, further devolution, all the way down to nuke the lot of us. Better together my @rse.

  2. Colin Kirkwood says:

    I like the tone of your contribution, Mike. The whole idea that “we are Scotland” worries me deeply. Scotland is a piece of geography, a bit of territory. We are the people who live in Scotland. We are persons in relationships, persons in various communities, persons with our own experiences and our own ways of making sense of them. We are inherently plural, complicated, difficult – and we long to flourish! We need smooth supra-personal capitalist-style promotion of our brand and our products like we need a spattering of holes in our heads. I have always regarded myself as a Scottish nationalist, but to me that means a Scottish internationalist, a John Maclean-type of communist, a believer in real democracy. There is not a bit of anti-English or anti-Europe feeling in me. Fundamental democratisation, and the flowering that could inaugurate, is a vision that is available to everyone in the UK, everyone Europe, east as well as west, everyone in the world. We are in the grip, now, of a ruthless supra-national elitism that has deep contempt for ordinary people everywhere. The old ideas of love, flourishing, community and common decency have been kicked aside and replaced by success, greed and narcissism. This is really and truly the case. This is why I vote SNP and why I admire Nicola Sturgeon. We are lucky to have her as a leader. She is seriously bright, resilient and basically good enough. Let’s make the SNP a popular movement, as Joyce Macmillan recently proposed. And let’s go with Nicola! Colin Kirkwood.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Hear, hear, Colin! Let’s hope that ALBA is the last gasp in an ethos of democracy of a pre-democratic dirigisme that’s unwilling to let people go their own way into a social, political, cultural, and existential diversification that affiliates each not to all but to such kindred spirits as circumstances may offer. (Though I’m not holding my breath.)

      1. Iain MacLean says:

        Alba’s leading supporter(s) have been at it for some time, they are more than well aware of divide and rule, yet they have sought to divide themselves off from the main stream independence movement in the most bizarre and divisive of ways!

        First they criticised the SNP on gender issues whilst supporting the SNP. An issue the majority of older people have little concern for other than to respect people’s rights to live and let live, however an issue many young people are very conscious of. Once an easily led tiny minority had been secured they focused on the court case and wild discredited conspiracy theories. It then became personal against the FM, whipped up by agent provocateurs.

        Running through all this was a stated need to have a second independence party to hoover up list seats, a view that most discounted as delusional. Then, we are where we are today, Alba, they look like a bunch of crazies led by someone who is only out for revenge and himself!

        It is a long way for some in Alba to come to visit Scotland, but if they do and go on a AUOB march, they will see the strength and vibrancy within the independence movement lies within its diversity, inclusiveness, multiple nationalities, colour, race, religion, gender and youth!

  3. Ian Patterson says:

    I would be interested in voting for Scottish Independence, if it was *not* tied to re-joining the EU! I cannot, therefore, vote for Independence – as, it seems, re-joining the EU would be an inevitable outcome. Why not go for a Norway option? Or, something like the Canadian Free Trade one (with EU)? But re-joining the EU is like, ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’! No way, Jose!

    1. Jacquie Tosh says:

      Before any decisions on the future of Scotland and its place in the world, we need to have independence. The vote on independence is up to the Scottish people; independence or be forever on your knees to Westminster, subordinate to a dominant partner in the U.K. Once we have independence and only then, will we make decisions on how we go forward. Whether we become part of the EU or not will be up to the people of Scotland. It is not a part of independence

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Sorry, Jacquie, but the future of Scotland will be its independence. We need to know what that independence will look like before we vote for it. We need to know at least how the decisions that will shape our future ‘after’ independence will be made.

        1. Iain MacLean says:

          Independence is doing what you want to do, within the constraints of resources and time, recognising the relationships you have plus people’s wants and needs.

          Normally governments can change or prioritise resources and relationships as people’s stated needs change over time, that’s the role of the electorate then the government tries to fulfil those needs in line with the expectations of the people.

          Currently in Scotland we are firmly stuck, our relationships are dictated by the uk government and we can’t satisfy the needs of the people as our resources are controlled by uk government.

          What would you have said if someone asked you in April 2016 what will the uk look like in five years time?

          The are no guarantees in life, only options and choices, we need to choose wisely and look after our own affairs! It seems only sensible that a post independence Scotland would look to rejoin the EU. This time round we would have a seat at the top table and a veto. In the uk we can guarantee Scotland will not have a seat at the top table nor a veto!

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            I’d have said “I don’t know. It’ll depend on the decisions we make.”

            What I want to know isn’t what an independent Scotland would look like in however many years’ time. I want to know how and by whom the decisions that’ll shape that future would be made.

          2. Iain MacLean says:

            I’d like to see a republic with an elected non party president who has a deep understanding of Scotland.

            I’d keep PR, maybe not the current form, I’d stick with a fixed four year term.

            Do we need a revising chamber, unclear, but if we do, it must be elected.

            Don’t think a change in local government is required other than to fund it via a local income tax.

            What international organisations do we need to be in, UN automatically, rejoining the EU to be in a manifesto and be a non nuclear neutral country!

            But these are all decisions the people of Scotland should debate and influence then sign off on!

            The future would be in our hands, not the hands of others who we have no influence over and are taking us in a direction we don’t want to go in!

        2. SleepingDog says:

          @Colin Robinson, so, do you also need to know how the Union will look like on the same timescale? Or are your tendencies so baked into supporting the status quo that its My-Country-Right-Or-Wrong for you all the way?

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            No, I don’t. And I already know how the decisions that shape our futures are made within the present regime. I just don’t want to see that praxis simply replicated in and by an independent Scottish government; I’m holding out for something better.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, as someone who persistently attacks even the most widely held and mildest assumptions of other commenters, you display an extraordinary capacity for claiming supernatural knowledge of the inner workings of the UK state and its future course in the world. Surely one of the main criticisms that people express about the UK state system is its opacity, secrecy, impenetrable ancient conventions, and the lies told about decisions shaping policy? Even if you possessed such oracular powers, the general electorate of Scotland do not (I assume). I guess there is a reason for Transparency UK?

            In the preface to his recent book The State of Secrecy: Spies and the Media in Britain, veteran journalist Richard Norton-Taylor sets out his task:
            “In short, what I have set out here to do is expose the mindset which encourages the fetishization of official secrecy.”
            and follows this up in the Introduction (p1) with:
            “The culture of secrecy is the root cause of many, perhaps most, of Britain’s deep-seated ills.”
            The author touches on various topics, like History is an Official Secret, and ends on a warning note about a rapidly worsening problem of transparency, accountability, misuse of new technology, while The legacy of colonial conflicts and conquests is still with us.” (p307)
            We still today do not know what decisions shaped events decades let alone hundreds of years ago (which is why we have ongoing public enquiries like Spycops and IICSA), yet your comments appear calm, unruffled, one might say blissful about this state of affairs. I understand the ‘better the devil you know’ argument and the ‘chip off the old block’ dangers, but applying a double-standard to remain-in-UK or opt-out-of-UK is behaviour suggestive of a false friend to the Independence cause. After all, if it is more democracy and transparency you want, how can anyone foresee exactly what a future Scottish electorate will choose? Isn’t that the very essence of self-determination, not being bound by any fixed external political constraint on choice?

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            ‘…how can anyone foresee exactly what a future Scottish electorate will choose?’

            No one can. The future is indeterminate.

            ‘Isn’t that the very essence of self-determination, not being bound by any fixed external political constraint on choice?’

            Specifically, the essence of self-determination (as established in international law by the UN Charter) is the right of people to freely choose their sovereignty and political status without interference.

            What’s your point?

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, my point is that you are setting a threshold of knowledge about an independent Scotland impossibly high “We need to know what that independence will look like before we vote for it”, while the threshold for accepting the Union so low as to be impossible to fail. Why not apply a similar standard to each choice? And you are making entirely bogus claims of knowledge about the decisions made by UK authorities/policy influencers, and decisions UK authorities/policy influencers will make in the same future timescale as an independent Scotland. In your terms, the future of the UK is indeterminate. What we can say, is that there is little anything people in Scotland can do, constitutionally, about influencing that UK future.

            Your fantastical relation to ‘knowledge’ appears again and again in comments: you claim even your interlocutors commonly uncontested claims are mere ‘ideology’, yet your dogmatic assertions are based on far more spurious grounds. You continue to set double standards on unionist and independence questions. One amazing example is that you claim that the biological inheritance described by the term ‘Tree of Life’ is a metaphor (the term is a metaphor, biological inheritance is an objective real-world pattern of causation that can be investigated scientifically), yet you are an apologist for hereditary monarchy whose very existence depends on a small fragment of such a tree.

            But since we have Sir Oracle here, anyone else like to know exactly what Colin “I already know how the decisions that shape our futures are made within the present regime” Robinson can tell us about these current decisions? No need to wait for a public enquiry, electoral commission report, historical research, police investigations or whatever, just ask the sage and I’ll quit my barking.

          5. Colin Robinson says:

            Why is having some prospectus on how the decisions that will shape an independent Scotland would be made ‘setting the threshold… impossibly high’? Surely, all that’s required is that the Scottish government sets out such a prospectus to the effect that, in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, such-and-such a process would be set in train to draft our constitution. How else would you have independence proceed?

            As to how the decisions that shape our futures are made within the present regime: we elect representatives to various assemblies and whoever can command a majority in those assemblies gets their policies enacted.

            That’s how it currently works. Didn’t you know this?

    2. Axel P Kulit says:

      so you think the EU is worse than the Tories?

    3. Jim Sansbury says:

      We will probably have to start with the EFTA option anyway rather than direct re-entry int the EU.
      Accession to the EU can happen all in good time. Meanwhile membership of EFTA will attract business from England wishing to regain access to the Single market/Customs union.
      You say out of the frying pan into the fire.
      I say better the brussels fire than the Westminster fire.
      At least we get a vote and a veto in Brussels.

  4. Colin Robinson says:

    You swine, Mike! I’d just taken a swig of coffee when I read the title of this piece. It sprayed all over my computer screen and keyboard. LOL brilliance! Made my day!

  5. Derek Thomson says:

    Mike, it’s a decent article, but can you please ditch the “ties to the Russian state” crap, and it is that, crap. He wouldn’t be likely to get a programme on the BBC, would he? Have you ever watched his programme? I don’t often, but whenever I have, it’s always been about Scotland, either history or politics.

    1. Hi Derek – it was a quote from Scott’s article describing the interview in which he was asked about RT.

      I don’t think Salmond has “ties to the Russian state” but I do think those that work for Russian state media have to justify themselves. The argument is not that Salmond puts out Russian propaganda but that working for the media arm of a regime which is repressive is completely wrong.

  6. Tom Hubbard says:

    Part of the problem, I suspect – just part, but still a big part – is the lack of connection between the cultural and the political. There are many exceptions, of course, as articles in Bella eloquently attest, but more attention by the movement as a whole to this is crucial. There’s a need to talk (and act) on the QUALITY of independence, why it would be more fulfilling for folk. To say, ‘Oh that can all be decided after we win’ is a cop-out.
    I’m not sure how far the Yes movement is even aware of this dimension. During the 80s we were in the political doldrums but there was cultural defiance and development, as witness, say, the magazines of the time (eg Cencrastus, Chapman, Radical Scotland). Today it’s at least arguable that the reverse is the case but both the cultural and the political could slump if the complacency continues.
    The philistinism and lack of sophistication of Scottish politicians of all parties is concerning. Instead of vision and imagination we have pettiness and cliché. There’s a need to go beyond the reactive stuff of anti-Brexit to a more informed internationalism and awareness of European models such as Lesley Riddoch and others have offered to us. Such greater awareness of European cultures and histories, their positives and negatives, both, would greatly enrich the movement. I’ve got big gaps in my knowledge, and I wouldn’t for one moment want to downplay the extent to which the foregoing is actually happening: correction and enlightenment welcome, folks.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Aye, but as I remember them those magazines were terribly ethnocentric and spoke to another ‘Scotland’. Culturally, our civil society is a lot more open and diverse than it was in those days. The kind of cultural nationalism they expressed is in the past now, and in the past it must remain.

      1. Tom Hubbard says:

        There was actually a lot of stuff on non-Scottish matters – Latin American writing, European poetry, translation; between them they had special issues on Rilke; Polish theatre (and on the early years of Solidarity); the German artist Joseph Beuys; Hungarian arts. There were articles on Scottish classical music, which even our movement neglects these days. As far as the Scottish material is concerned, it’s worth remembering that in Scotland the verb ‘to learn’ (lairn in Scots) means both to learn and to teach, and I think that’s what we were trying to do as writers and readers. Neglected Scottish figures from the past were being highlighted for our generation which was undergoing an awakening in these years. Of course there were at times when our concerns were too narrow and naive, but we had to go through all that in order to get beyond it. It’s worth going back to the documents of the time in order to have amicable debate on what steps we’ve taken, both forward and backward, since then.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          Yes, I suppose you’re right, Tom. But all that’s freely available on the internet now, as is the opportunity to discuss it from beyond a purely Scottish perspective with a wide range of interlocutors. Most of the conversations I have about ‘neglected’ Scottish figures tend to be with PhD candidates at US universities. I can’t see how Scottish-based arts magazines would make them any more known. Anyone in Scotland who is remotely interested in those figures would already have sought them out in the resources available from the virtual ‘transnational’ communities of folk who share an interest in their work.

          1. Tom Hubbard says:

            True, Colin, as far as your points go – but there may be folk who don’t know about these guys in the first place and might benefit from being introduced to them. In the Scottish Poetry Library when I worked there we had many visitors who would discover writers by browsing, or being told, ‘if you like this, you might like that …’ Others have guided me in the same way and I’ve been grateful to have been culturally enriched so unexpectedly. The serendipitous complements the systematic. While it’s good to know that you’ve encountered PhD students who can discuss neglected figures, surely we’d want actively to encourage a wider and lay audience. As for print magazines such as there were in the 80s and sometime beyond, I honestly couldn’t say if suchlike media would be effective now. I don’t have an answer to that. However I do feel that all Scots – and not just Scots – have a right to access our buried cultural riches, but they may not have the maps / satnav to take them there. Pro-active cartography, if you like, is required.

          2. Tom Hubbard says:

            Plus not all that stuff is available on the internet, though bibliographies and library catalogues act as part of the ‘cartography’. Interest groups, as you say, will help people towards neglected cultural figures. But none of that is guaranteed. I know from my working life that in libraries across Europe, north America and beyond, great strides were made in digitisation of text and of visual and aural materials. However, for copyright reasons as much as logistics, online access is limited for much that folk might want to follow up, and actual physical access, which has been so restricted during the pandemic, will still be necessary.

          3. Niemand says:

            The comment about Scottish classical music is interesting. I gave a talk and film showing a couple of years ago at the NLS film archive at Kelvin Grove about a neglected Scottish filmmaker and movement (Eddie McConnell). There is a mass of material and work, the best of it from the 1960s, fascinating, unique and aesthetically excellent and one of the key aspects is the use of originally composed classical music sometimes quite modernist in tenor from prolific composers like Iain Hamilton and Frank Spedding, who though brilliant in their own right, are almost unheard of. The audience was very small (25 people?). I’ve done a lot of personal research into the subject over several years and beyond a few, my impression is non-one in Scotland is very interested sadly and even the audience there were not that keen on the music – not nice enough. They wanted music that was more ‘Scottish’ by which they meant cliched folk-influenced stuff and comforting. There is more interest outside Scotland.

          4. Colin Robinson says:

            I share the sentiment that our cultural assets should be more freely available. That’s why I’m an advocate of museums without walls, and using digital technology to dissolve the walls behind which those assets have in the past been curated.

            Take the Scottish Poetry Library, for example. It’s a fine institution, no doubt, but it has a physical location, which itself raises an obstacle to access for people who don’t live in proximity to it. There is also its cultural location, the perception of whom its space is for, whose place it is, to whom it ‘belongs’. Formally, it belongs to anyone and everyone, but culturally for many people out on the sump estates and other geographical and social peripheries ‘it’s no for the likes o us’.

            Digital, where it’s available, is a much more accessible and unexclusive medium for the publication of content; likewise the curation (systematic design) of digital collections and the user support that helps people find their way around those collections.

            I’m not saying that physical libraries should be abolished or anything like that; they offer a boutique experience for which there is still a significant demand that keeps them viable. I’m just saying that digital is more democratic.

          5. The Scottish Poetry Library is within walking distance of Dumbiedykes

          6. There is a digital divide though Chris so its not quite as black and white as that imho – and I’d hope that people want to be together in social gatherings for live events – which require physical space?

          7. Colin Robinson says:

            Is the Scottish Poetry Library used by many people from owre the hill in Dumbiedykes, Tom? Or do they perceive it as ‘no for the likes o them’?

          8. Colin Robinson says:

            There is indeed a digital divide. According to the International Telecommunication Union ( ITU ) World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database, only 93% of the UK population has access to the internet (in Iceland, it’s 99%) as of 2019. But that’s just a technical issue, which could easily be sorted.

            And of course, kindred spirits who so desire should be able to meet up physically in safe/non-threatening dedicated spaces like the Scottish Poetry Library, where the generality of folk from Dumbiedykes would feel quite at home.

          9. Colin Robinson says:

            @Niemand. But isn’t it great that those artists, whose work is unfashionable and ‘neglected’ by the cognoscenti in Scotland, are still able to be accessed and appreciated transnationally and without risk by folk who dwell either physically or socially ‘outside the bubble’? That’s the beauty of museums without walls.

  7. Cathie Lloyd says:

    We certainly need more strategy and less tub thumping. Quiet, measured discussion of political strategy would be a real plus. Also some sort of education about political processes might help to move people away from the instant gratification they’re still dreaming about. This realignment is an opportunity which we need to meet with clarity.

  8. Tom Ultuous says:

    I’ve heard people say “What’s the point of gaining independence then handing sovereignty over to the EU” but is that really what we’d be doing? Had we been an independent nation in the EU when oil was discovered would the EU have had the power to flog most of it off to the USA and blag the rest? Would the EU have had the power to sell off our nationalised industries to their pals in the city for a song? I think not. The EU as it stands is little more than a common set of rules by which countries can trade freely. I can see why those who want to nationalise everything would have a problem with EU rules but beyond them I’m flummoxed. I’ve yet to find anyone (and that includes staunch Brexiteers) who can tell me 3 EU laws they disagree with. In any case, as Jacquie says that’s an argument for after we sign ourselves out of the asylum.

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      Sorry, that was meant as a reply to Ian Patterson.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Tom Ultuous, not to mention the massive sovereignty handed over to NATO (attack one, attack all; X% of GDP on ‘defence’ spending) and the USA (untouchable bases, unilateral launches of their nukes from UK territory). Among all the other stuff. Indeed, the amount of sovereignty ceded to royal prerogative alone is eye-watering.

  9. John O'Dowd says:

    Well Mike, we know you like neither Alex Salmond nor ALBA – but if you are writing a ‘think’ piece you really need to try to get past that.

    I left the SNP and joined ALBA for the same reason that I joined the SNP in the first place nearly forty years ago: there is no point in trying to fight for a Left-radical future within the British State. The first task is national liberation. To that end, I sank my considerable differences with ‘blood and soil’ nationalists, neoliberal zealots (think those behind the growth commission) and others of various political stripes, who like me want to see an independent Scotland.

    I remain a left-wing socialist – always have been, always will be. I left the SNP and joined ALBA because I no longer believe that its primary aim is Scottish independence.

    Increasingly, those of us who support independence, have little or no belief that that is any longer the intention of the leadership of the SNP – including large numbers of its erstwhile members who, like me, have left the party (in my case after nearly four decades of membership) and joined ALBA. There is nothing ‘Zoomer’ about that.

    The independence movement is moving on. We recognise that its official leadership has been compromised, turned, or are just too wealthy and comfortable running the colonial administration. The independence movement was always, in any case, much wider and deeper than the SNP, which has now been captured and entered by careerists and even stranger people – with agendas other than Scottish independence.

    Are you really trying to say that the likes of George Kerevan, formerly of this parish, are reactionaries?

    ALBA continues the old SNP in that it has one, and only one, purpose: Independence. Running the British colonial administration in Edinburgh for too long has utterly expunged that clear intent from the SNP.

    The problem with those who see identity politics as somehow ‘radical’ or even left-wing, is that they are ‘performing’ to someone else’s script – and that script is written by their neoliberal, ruling class puppet masters.

    As Chris Hedges has written:

    (identity politics is)..” the boutique activism of a liberal class that lacks the courage and the organizational skills to challenge the actual centers of power — the military-industrial complex, lethal militarized police, the prison system, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the intelligence agencies that make us the most spied upon, watched, photographed and monitored population in human history, the fossil fuel industry, and a political and economic system captured by oligarchic power.”

    The sine qua non of a truly radical Scotland able to address the depravities of poverty, concentrated land-ownership, ill-health, lack of genuine opportunities, environmental degradation, the burgeoning climate crisis, poor housing and social inequalities of all kinds, is the ending of the British state, and Scotland’s exit from it.

    In Ukania all of that is a pipe dream: A pipe dream shared by the current very comfortable and increasingly wealthy leadership of the SNP.

    Only ALBA now stands for independence.

    1. Thanks John, in a rush but briefly:

      “Are you really trying to say that the likes of George Kerevan, formerly of this parish, are reactionaries?” No, not at all, but I do think he’s misguided.

      “The sine qua non of a truly radical Scotland able to address the depravities of poverty, concentrated land-ownership, ill-health, lack of genuine opportunities, environmental degradation, the burgeoning climate crisis, poor housing and social inequalities of all kinds, is the ending of the British state, and Scotland’s exit from it.” I couldn’t agree more, I just disagree that Alba brings us anywhere nearer that reality.

      1. John O'Dowd says:

        Thanks Mike for taking the trouble to respond.

        “No, not at all, but I do think he’s misguided.”

        “I just disagree that Alba brings us anywhere nearer that reality.”

        Not misguided Mike, with respect, we’re just getting on a bit and really want to see this before we’re deid! And before we are all fried!

        If we wait for Nicola and her cronies in the glacial tendency, we might (or at least our descendants) might see it before the next Ice Age.

        We don’t have time, and we need to shake the buggers out of their comfortable ennui!

    2. Darby O'Gill says:

      John, if you are are truly a left-wing socialist and support independence, then there is only one party for you to join – the SSP

      1. John O'Dowd says:

        I used to vote for them on the list – before they exploded into the eternal factions of dogmatic purity.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          Yep, I used to vote SSP too, but I haven’t had the opportunity for a few elections now.

  10. WT says:

    Good article Mike. I was worried when I began reading that it was going to be just another Salmond bashing exercise, but thankfully it offered a lot more. I particularly liked “A much messier rougher, less polished movement will be far healthier; one that admits all of its faults and future struggles will be much more potent than one that attempts to sugar-coat the truth.” Exactly.

    Too much of our debating seems to concern issues ‘discussed’ on twitter and deal with subjects far away from the main issue of self-determination. Too much of our focus is on personality rather than politics. I want independence but I don’t really give a stuff about Salmond or Sturgeon – and much of our factionalism centres around these two people. Both Salmond and Sturgeon are to blame for this – this is not a presidency. It would be nice to get back to real discussion on independence and not just those about the EU or EFTA. Better to discuss a possible vision for our post independence democratic institutions. What are we offering? Is it a republic? Is it unicameral? Currency? Defence? These are more important than up-to-date popularity ratings of (to quote the late Robin Day) “…here today and dare I say gone tomorrow…” politicians.

    1. “Better to discuss a possible vision for our post independence democratic institutions. What are we offering? Is it a republic? Is it unicameral? Currency? Defence?” Agree completely.

  11. Dougie Harrison says:

    You reference to the New Statesman and Scott Hames’ article is important Mike. Not least because the NS is one of the voices of leftish England, and it does us no harm to have at least some folk south of the border who have some understanding of, and empathy with, what is happening in Scotland. For example, the trades unions movement in the UK is almost entirely London-centred… and plays a significant role in the development of Labour Party policy. Not least in Scotland.

    Which is why, several months ago, I took some care in drafting a letter to the NS editor, demolishing the central plank of an article they published from Gordon Brown; his demonstrably silly claim that federalism is the way forward. And was pleasantly surprised that it was published. Similarly, I have for a year and more been conducting what sometimes feels like a one-person campaign of letter-writing to the Morning Star. Because anyone who understands how the trades union movement’s policy is determined, understands that this title, with a tiny UK readership, is heavily influential in the evolution of TU – and thus Labour Party policy. In Scotland as elsewhere in the rUK. I hope my wee contributions may have helped in some small way, edge the recent STUC Congress to unanimously agreeing that we have the democratic right to a second indy referendum.

    For me, a new yes vote of 50.5% is simply not enough. It is only once polling reaches over 60% that we can begin to believe that we will win independence. That requires a significant increase in trades unionists and Labour voters supporting independence. So the shift in the editorial position of the New Statesman, and articles like that of Hames, are an essential part of winning a convincing yes majority.

    1. Interesting Dougie – yes I totally agree – building bridges and making alliances across the UK and Europe with the left and civil society progressives and radicals is important

  12. Niemand says:

    Good article, thoughtful and perceptive.

    Couple of points: zoomer – what is that exactly? It can mean either an especially active (baby) boomer or Gen Z person (born late 90s / early 2000), so really quite different. Either way I really dislike these generational terms which are very often used pejoratively (here lumped together with ‘magical thinkers and conspiracy theorists’ so I assume it means the former of the two definitions). Zoomer is a bigoted term basically as is boomer and snowflake etc.

    The fall in support for independence – surely the elephant in the room is that NS’s and the SNP’s recent trials and tribulations has had an effect? The idea that it was all done and dusted and she and the SNP came out basically fine is a fantasy.

    The AS and Russia thing is interesting. I heard an interview with him recently where he was questioned on his view on the Skripals’ poisoning and was a bit shocked to hear him saying basically it was some kind of Western, if not GB conspiracy. I don’t have a strong view on Salmond either way but he went way down in my estimation with that kind of crap. And given his employment by RT it smacked a little of a rather convenient view. His interviews have been poor in my view generally – really defensive and obsessed by the media and how it is all against him, never a good look.

    1. Hi “Zoomer” in this context just means loon, nutter, often online. Its not a generational term. It’s certainly derogatory but its not bigoted.

      On the Russia thing I completely agree, he should have expected those Qs and could easily have dealt with them.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Ah… so like ‘loon’ and ‘nutter’, it has derogatory connotations relating to mental health… but it’s not bigoted?

        1. It’s what the word means. I didn’t use it (or invent it) but it’s what the word means.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            The word ‘nutter’ too means what it means.

            Anyway, I wasn’t aware of the derogatory sense. I thought ‘zoomers’ referred to the members of a large and diverse demographic class, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which is associated with use of digital technology and social media, has progressive and inclusive viewpoints, and eschews historic grudge-and-grievance to be more future-oriented in its concerns, focusing mainly on climate change.

  13. Robbie says:

    Boxing gloves seems to be a very popular choice at the moment, just as Boris,es Brexit ones were,suppose it gives you an insight to an individuals mind,

  14. Alice says:

    ‘On the ground comment’ to the somewhat intellectual, theoretical discussion. Quite male too I may add…it always dwells in a land of PC correctness and what the guys in the trade unions think.

    Folk are as you said exhausted. I would say very exhausted with the events and outcomes of the last year. They are very, very scunnered with the lack of real democratic jousting. We are trapped in our homes watching the folk supposedly, who have a clue about policy and political developments talking to us as if we were just starting primary one.

    We need to carve out real ideas and policies in the various non party settings linked and involved with political folk who are interested and can along with folk in communities, make things happen. No disappearing once elected with the political access door kicked shut .

    There is everything to play for and loads of folk in the communities to involve. This takes respect and action from all involved. I think it will be in the very real struggle towards independence that a community based , grass roots reality will be shaped. It could be politically transformative if the will to transform is brought to the people who need it most. It is their experiences and realities we need to work with. They know the score.

    1. Dougie Harrison says:

      I suppose I should be flattered that you think that the discussion so far has been dominated inter alia by trades unions Alice. I haven’t checked, but I think I’m the only one who has mentioned these democratic organs of working folk, thus far in this discussion. And I did NOT mention gender; trades unions have huge numbers of women members and activists; in fact the leader of the Scottish Trades Union Congress is a woman.

      The objective of most who read and contribute to Bella is independence for Scotland. If you think that can be achieved without the involvement of organised working folk, you will learn otherwise. My wee contribution to this discussion was prompted by a concern that we seek to maximise support for independence. And I’m very sorry, but that involves using our brains. If that makes me an intellectual, sobeit.

    2. Thanks Alice, really good comment

    3. SleepingDog says:

      @Alice “There is everything to play for… They know the score.” The future should be gamed for? That is, online participatory gaming (anonymously to other users, perhaps, while citizen-proof required for entry under certain modes) could shape future policy? If people can agree broadly on, say, resources and rules, then strategies can be tested practically. There is a whole literature on games and fairness, I gather, and ways of handling cheaters. Very young children can negotiate fair rules in games they invent.

  15. gahetacicl says:

    Well I think this is the first nuanced (albeit superficially even-handed in my view) take on the Alba phenomenon we’ve had from Bella. Five of six weeks in, it’s a very late start for some balanced coverage. For the Alba fraction, what it comes down to I think is a different view of “the conundrum of leading both a party and a movement” and “keeping pragmatic “gradualists” and traditional “fundamentalists” onside a unifying project.”

    The key point: the ideas that went on to inform Alba _were previously ascendant in the SNP’s internal democracy_. Two good examples being the election of gender critical feminists to the NEC, and the rank and file’s being much to the left of Growth Commission style crisis-austerity. (Salmond unequivocally quips that it is: “the no growth commission.”) But what has increasingly happened in the SNP is a reversion to top-down New Labour-ism by other means, with the same justification as Blairism: the leader is so polished, so well respected, so relatable “on the doorstep” blah-de-blah, that you deplorable party activists should haud yer wheesht. A wheesht for indy bridge too far. And Salmond capitalized on that.

    And yes, perhaps he has tapped into, a separate radical nationalist subculture. But it’s highly overblown to talk of this subculture as though it were some sort of insular reality. It merely looks “insular” because mainstream discourse is afraid of neutrally evaluating what this subculture is, in its ever-evolving state. And perhaps the reason for this fear is that when tropes like “ethnonationalist” – which seems more than anything, to reflect an unrealistic and presumptuous middle class liberal expectation of a “nationalism without nationalists” – melt away; or ad-hominem attacks on the person of Salmond are relinquished, it will be very challenging to maintain belief in the integrity and strength of mainstream nationalism.

    What’s truly worrying is why such a challenge is apparently so destabilizing. It seems that the SNP have been in power for so long that there’s tremendous psychological and institutional investment in the SNP as a party of permanent government, and I think this bodes really ill for Scottish political culture. Especially given that with our being blessed with a PR electoral system, we have no excuse not to evolve a more pluralistic political culture than England. (I was also RISE voter in 2016 on the basic reasoning that in a country with socialists we should have socialists in parliament. Alba may not be RISE, but it IS more RISE-like than the SNP.) If we instead cluster around a quasi-New Labour political project, even when it is manifestly not living up to its rationale for hegemony, namely of delivering independence, that’s deeply depressing.

    1. I love the idea that ethno-nationalism is just a middle class construct, rather than a real political phenomenon with real-world reactionary consequences, and you’ve got to love that statement in relation to the sentence: “…it’s highly overblown to talk of this subculture as though it were some sort of insular reality.”


  16. SleepingDog says:

    Reflecting on the coverage and commentary on (especially non-governing) manifestos, some patterns might be suggested.

    Have ever tried to feed a dog a medicine capsule embedded in a chunk of dogfood? The wily canine will as likely probe the offering, detect the passenger, spit it out and swallow the edible portion. Theoretically, a manifesto may lay down attractive content (sugarcoating) while appending an unattractive element which may or may not be the real payload. I once attended a peace march where the self-appointed stewards started the crowd off on uncontentious slogans to repeat, which were more or less enthusiastically joined in with, until some more splintery demands were offered as chants, which led to reduced volume and some muttering. This is represented in culture by the comedic double-take, or the mounties stopping singing and storming off. Of course, medicine might just be good for you. Or it could be a poison pill (oh doubtful dog).

    Then there is trying to convert a dog to veganism. Where’s the beef? the perceptively-puzzled canine might enquire. In manifesto terms, this is missing out a key but maybe problematic, contentious, unattractive or plain embarrassing policy or demand. More attractive wadding, like in the capsule method, might make the absence less noticeable; or not (a big bun makes a small hamburger look smaller, if you are veganising by increment anyway). Excuses might include “we’re trying not to be divisive” but this is usually just a denial of democratic pluralism and the suppression of clear choices. Offer a range of distinguishable dogfood.

    And then there are those who would prefer not to take responsibility for their dog crapping in the street, even if they haven’t managed to feed it its anti-diarrhoea medicine and recently changed its diet to tofu. In manifesto terms, this usually involves shifting, deflecting, minimising or denying blame, or otherwise trying to absolve yourself and make others (say, your political rivals, or a targeted victims) look worse. This may be used in pushing selfish or demonising policies, attempting to whitewash past behaviour, implementing secrecy, and promoting essentialism (you are essentially not the kind of person who would let your dog crap in the street without cleaning up after it, so you didn’t, or it didn’t, or anyway it’s someone else’s fault, what do we pay taxes for etc). In non-governing manifesto terms, you generally don’t have to excuse actual policies and behaviours of past governments, but you may want to excuse more general behaviours of state, empire, and various other organisations or ideologies or ethnic groups. But a responsible manifesto acknowledges past wrongs and offers some kind of redress. Bag it and bin it?

  17. Col says:

    There isn’t a hope of Scotland becoming independent unless the Pro indies pull together. It’s almost impossible to defeat Westminster as it is without splitting on the flavour of independence. It doesn’t matter what government you have, some policies will suit you and some won’t. The whole point about independence is that the policies you get will be home grown, hopefully giving a better proportion of more favoured policies and more local control over the big decisions, EU, EFTA, etc. Brexit is just one symptom of being in a Union, it may or may not suit you, the point is you had little control over it just as you will have little control over the next Westminster wheeze, who knows what that will be, but for sure there will be one.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      And how will the Scottish government becoming independent of the UK government give me any more control over my destiny than I currently have?

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        Is that a serious question Colin? One example. Would you be asking that question if your son’s head had been blown off in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ireland or the Malvinas Islands? Or would you be too busy waving your union jack, adorning your walls with photos of the queen and trying to delude yourself that it was all for a worthwhile cause?

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          Yes, it’s a serious question, Tom. Col quite rightly pointed out that I currently have little control over the ‘big decisions’ that are taken by government. How would this change were the Scottish government to become independent of the UK government?

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            I don’t think any voting system will give you the control you seek Colin but are you saying you prefer the “UK” whose turn is it to be dictator this time voting system (hint: that will be decided by Rupert Murdoch)?

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            A maximally decentralised political system would give me maximal control over the decisions that affect my life, Tom.

            Would an independent Scottish government be any less centralised than it is at present? Unless it would be, then I’m just not interested.

            If the Scottish government gave a guarantee that it would disempower itself in favour of real communities were it to become independent of the UK government, then it would get my vote. Otherwise, it can stick its independence up its *rs*.

          3. Tom Ultuous says:

            At least you’ve finally came out and said it Colin. Good luck making it happen in your beloved “UK”.

          4. Colin Robinson says:

            It’s what I’ve been saying all along, Tom. ‘Independence’ is a pie-in-the-sky con trick, perpetrated by a range of bourgeois idealists in the vain expectation that being in a smaller pond will give them a competitive advantage over their rivals; it won’t advance democracy one inch.

          5. Tom Ultuous says:

            “It’s what I’ve been saying all along, Tom. ‘Independence’ is a pie-in-the-sky con trick, perpetrated by a range of bourgeois idealists in the vain expectation that being in a smaller pond will give them a competitive advantage over their rivals; it won’t advance democracy one inch.”

            I can’t say I’ve ever noticed you saying that Colin but it’s good that you’ve finally come out. I doubt many independence supporters are “bourgeois idealists …”. Most of us just want out of the asylum. We may well end up better off as a result but that’s not the driving force. England’s ‘glorious leader’ got a mention in the roll of dishonour at the end of the final episode of HBO’s ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’. Disassociating ourselves from such scum is reward enough. Hope and humanity over hate.

          6. Colin Robinson says:

            That’s what a bourgeois idealist is, Tom; anyone who thinks there is a world outside the asylum.

          7. Tom Ultuous says:

            So anyone who isn’t a a fascist collaborator is a “bourgeois idealist”? I’m becoming suspicious you may be one of those statue guarders Colin.

          8. SleepingDog says:

            @Tom Ultuous, I think our illustrious destiny-child’s forked tongue has tied itself in knots. Some case study Publius Borealis will make.

          9. Colin Robinson says:

            No, I don’t think you can reasonably infer that, Tom.

            Fascists also have values they believe transcend history and in the image of which they believe the asylum can be remade. In that respect, they too are bourgeois idealists.

            In fact, some critical theorists hold that fascism is the ‘crisis’ of bourgeois idealism; its ‘last hurrah’, as it disappears up its own *rs*hole.

          10. Colin Robinson says:

            I fancy myself rather as a Hyperborean, SD:

            “Let us face ourselves. We are Hyperboreans; we know very well how far off we live. ‘Neither by land nor by sea will you find the way to the Hyperboreans’—Pindar already knew this about us. Beyond the north, ice, and death—our life, our happiness. We have discovered happiness, we know the way, we have found the exit out of the labyrinth of thousands of years. Who else has found it? Modern man perhaps? ‘I have got lost; I am everything that has got lost,’ sighs modern man. This modernity was our sickness: lazy peace, cowardly compromise, the whole virtuous uncleanliness of the modern Yes and No. … Rather live in the ice than among modern virtues and other south winds! We were intrepid enough, we spared neither ourselves nor others; but for a long time we did not know where to turn with our intrepidity. We became gloomy, we were called fatalists. Our fatum—abundance, tension, the damming of strength. We thirsted for lightning and deeds and were most remote from the happiness of the weakling, ‘resignation.’ In our atmosphere was a thunderstorm; the nature we are became dark—for we saw no way. Formula for our happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal.”

            ― Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ

          11. Tom Ultuous says:

            Fascists have values? Engraved on an ant’s balls presumably?

          12. Colin Robinson says:

            No, they’re inscribed in Mussolini’s Fascist Manifesto of 1919, as penned by the Italian syndicalist, Alceste De Ambris, and the futurist poet, Filippo Marinetti. https://zelalemkibret.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/the-fascist-manifesto.pdf

          13. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, OK, I see you didn’t specifically mention the Futurist Manifesto, but you did mention the “futurist poet, Filippo Marinetti” who wrote it, and it is not completely accurate to call it an artists’ manifesto, since its political aims are clear. For an English translation, I followed a link at the end of the Wikipedia page.
            So, no comment on why you think fascist economic policies are/were ‘progressive’, given my critique?

          14. Tom Ultuous says:

            Fascism has moved on since then Colin. Those 1.2 pages have been abbreviated to KKK.

          15. Colin Robinson says:

            No, the political ideology remains the same; it’s the common usage of the word that’s changed. ‘Fascist’ has been emptied of all content and become an otherwise meaningless term of abuse. It now functions in our political discourse in much the same way that ‘Papist’ or ‘Tory’ does.

          16. Tom Ultuous says:

            God love those abused fascists Colin although you wonder how they even notice with so much Eton c0ck stuffed right up them.

          17. Colin Robinson says:

            Aye, you’re right there, Tom. The privileged have never liked the fascists one little bit. and their progressive economic policies in particular. They’ve shafted them at every turn.

            Personally, I’ve never really minded their socialism. It’s their populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism I can’t stand.

            If you’re at all interested in ‘fascism’ other than as a mere pejorative, can I suggest you look at Robert Paxton’s ‘The Anatomy of Fascism’ and Roger Eatwell’s ‘Fascism: a History’?

          18. SleepingDog says:

            @ Colin Robinson, that would include ‘progressing’ back to forced labour and slavery, with women excluded from any prestigious jobs, and the economy geared to perpetual war? Your kind of thing, hmm?

          19. Colin Robinson says:

            Would it, SD? Why do you say that?

          20. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, why did you categorise the economic policies of fascism as ‘progressive’, then? In support of my remarks, you mentioned the Futurist Manifesto which inspired early fascism, whose article 9 is translated as:
            “We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.”
            And indeed, as Fascist Italy geared up for war (for slightly less glory in practice than they’d hoped, I guess), they suppressed women in the workplace, as well as minorities:

            Normally, it would be unsafe to generalise about a political-economic ideology on the basis of its war years alone, but since Fascism appears to idolise perpetual war, all years are war-economy years, I guess. I don’t know much about forced labour in Fascist Italy except that it existed.

            Really, what ‘progressive’ economics can one expect from an ideology that takes the overseer’s rod of chastisement as its defining symbol?

          21. Colin Robinson says:

            I didn’t mention the Futurist Manifesto (which was a prewar artists’ manifesto), SD; I linked to the Fascist Manifesto of 1919, which was a revolutionary syndicalist response to the crisis of capitalism and the bourgeois social and political culture that had emanated from it, and with which Mussolini launched his leftist Fasci italiani di combattimento after he broke with the Partito Socialista Italiano.

            The symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity: a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is difficult to break. This symbolism is reflected in the name given to a form of political organisation known in Italy as fasci – self-organising groups of individuals, companies, corporations, etc. formed to transact some specific business or to pursue or promote a shared interest – similar to what the French (e.g. Georges Sorel) called ‘syndicats’ and the Russians (e.g. Mikhail Bakunin) ‘арте́ль’ (‘artels’). It was also, as you point out, the ancient Roman symbol of civic authority; that is, the authority wielded by the social body of the citizens united by law.

  18. John Monro says:

    I’ve done my bit and read Alba’s manifesto. Much of it reads really well. Radical really. I was quite impressed. Climate change:”That the proposed Scottish National Renewable Corporation be given the task of creating a comprehensive plan for decarbonising our energy, including our heating and transport…….And support the transition away from fossil fuels by introducing a Wellhead Production Tax on Scotland’s offshore oil industry as soon as it is possible. This will replace corporation tax as the basic means of offshore taxation, and the revenues generated will be used to finance the move to carbon capture projects, the hydrogen economy and the further transition to offshore and marine renewables”.

    So when I read today that Salmond has promised ““Aberdeen will be the energy powerhouse of Scotland and we mustn’t regard it as a problem, like the Green Party do, we should regard it as an opportunity – we cannot leave any oil and gas worker behind, and Alba never will…….I think the future for Scotland is in renewable energy, but I also think oil and gas has a valuable role to play for many, many years to come.” Then you know that Salmond is yet another cheap politico populist trading principles for votes, any votes. This doublespeak is the deepest enemy of rational action in achieving anything at all worthwhile – we are doomed as long as cognitive dissonance in politicians and in the public that vote them in power is not seriously challenged.. I had thought, reading the manifesto, maybe Salmond had turned over a new leaf, but what are politicians for except to disappoint in nearly everything they say and do?

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