2007 - 2022

On Surviving and Winning Indyref2

More observing than absorbing the deluge of negativity that the announcement of the process towards a new referendum is an interesting experience. ‘Everyone’ it seems is furious and spitting blood. The people who wanted legal clarity are furious; the people who wanted a election plebiscite are full of self-righteous anger; the people who wanted a date named are mad as hell; the people who want to (forever) suppress democracy are incandescent.

This is great.

It’s not really true that everyone is furious, though this is how the media is portraying it and its immediately convenient to put across that this is all about division and rancour.

But to pause for a moment on the ‘analysis-paralysis’ here’s a few things to suggest about the way our campaign should feel and what we might do and who might do it, and what we might do different from before, because, well, we lost, and also this is a very new world with very new conditions. Here are some ideas for creating (and surviving) indyref2:

  1. Make a positive case for a Scottish democracy which is honest about problems and potential in a human and grounded way. Being grounded doesn’t mean being unimaginative, it means being grounded in a place.
  2. Make space for the voices of lived-experience and avoid as much abstraction as possible.
  3. Use but don’t be used by social media.
  4. Escape silos wherever possible. Reproduce spaces that are the opposite of silos (ie open and porous).
  5. Face the future. Recreating historical memes about Scotland or indulging in mass nostalgia about Scotland or Scottishness creates a mirror to Britain and Britishness. Smash the mirror.
  6. Create live participatory events (but don’t be captured by the belief that the people in the room are representative of the wider public/electorate/roll). Distort the patterns of these live events avoiding long speeches, same old faces, and stagnant dead spaces. Play with these forms.
  7. Be about and from ALL of Scotland (and beyond).
  8. Beware charisma and rhetoric.
  9. Less men (I know).
  10. Frighten the horses. Everything’s broken and everybody knows it. We don’t have to be scared of this anymore.
  11. Reject the ‘business ontology’ of capitalist realism, the idea in which it is simply obvious that “everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business”. New economic models exist and are better than the broken useless ones.
  12. Focus relentlessly on social and economic issues and alternative futures. This is – as ever – about Raploch not Bannockburn.
  13. Act collectively and in solidarity across divides. Not to say that these divisions don’t exist just that we can speak across them. Also ‘structural complicity’ is a thing.
  14. Refuse to join manels.
  15. Have courage. This is shit. Those defending the status quo have to defend it and that’s going to be hilarious.
  16. Remember that cynicism is comforting and people projecting relentless negativity can be energy vampires.
  17. Sometimes shut up and walk away and go and do something else. ‘Self-care is a radical act’, and all that.
  18. Bring everything. This isn’t like another campaign or election, we’re creating a democracy. Some people don’t want us to live in a democracy and it’s their job to stop it coming into being.
  19. Avoid exceptionalism. While it’s tempting to stare into the abyss of Westminster dysfunctionalism and corruption it’s not healthy or credible to pretend that everything in Scotland is – or will be – perfect.
  20. Seek understanding without false-unity. Unity-in-diversity is stronger than papering-over-the-cracks.
  21. More visuals less text (I know, sorry).
  22. Remember what the pandemic taught us and told us.
  23. Nurture your anger.
  24. If something didn’t work last time don’t do it again.
  25. Arguing for a positive campaign isn’t arguing for some insipid ‘nice’ or bland campaign. Toxic cultures don’t need to be maintained – they need to be confronted – and it’s only the status quo that will benefit from them.
  26. Nothing is inevitable. I mean neither ‘success’ or failure is inevitable.
  27. Try softer.
  28. Listening isn’t a waste of time.
  29. Occupying public space is valuable and symbolic.
  30. More play less parties.

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Comments (87)

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  1. Colin Kirkwood says:

    Mike, you are a good writer and a good man. This is a fine, succinct piece. Later today, I will try to write an alternative to the proposal Nicola has made. I think it is the wrong proposal, with the wrong wording. This is divisive, this is disappointing: it is Salmond mark 2.

    1. Colin Kirkwood says:

      The wording I will be proposing later today (together with a rationale) is as follows:

      the people of Scotland should become completely self-governing

      (Please note that a member of my family is very seriously ill, and will not recover. I am prioritising my responsibilities towards her before writing the short accompanying rationale.)

  2. Norm says:

    Great Mike.

    One critique. Would have more impact if it was shorter.

    1. Thanks, yeah you’re right, sorry about that, too much coffee.

      Maybe I’ll do a stripped down ten point version as a graphic.

      1. Stewart Bremner says:


        1. Jason MacGilp says:
  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Veceremos! Ma trusty fiere!

  4. David McCann says:

    And don’t be scared!

  5. Mothership Empathy says:

    From that (PK) Pat Kane “@thoughtland”,
    I follow on with my own thoughts, that flow freely with that “Natural” creative “Nectar” guidance and land on (MS) Mike Small.

    Mike, I loved this read “A lot”!
    That in turn leads (ME) to say,
    “(MS) This is NOT just food- this is food for thought”.

    May I also leave love to both (PI) Pat and Indra and all sweeter natured souls,
    Seeking Scotland’s “Sunnier” flowers.

    (ME) Carol, Mothership Empathy. x

  6. Stewart Bremner says:

    Thank you

  7. John Wood says:

    Thanks for this. Good advice!

  8. john maxwell norman macleod says:


  9. 220629 says:

    (With apologies to Maurice Sendak.)

    “And now,” cried Nicola, “let the wild rumpus start!. There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”

    And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.

    “We’ll take care of each other,” she cried, “and we’ll all sleep together in a real pile.”

    For Nicola, the queen of the wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved her best of all.

    The others cried, “Oh, please don’t go! We’ll eat you up, we love you so!”

    (Though to themselves they said, “She’s just a girl, pretending to be a wolf, pretending to be a queen.”)

    But from afar, across the world, she smelled good things to eat. And she stepped into her half-built ferry and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a night and into the dawn of her very own country, where she found her supper waiting for her… and it was still hot.

    1. Derek Thomson says:


  10. JP Tonner says:

    Captures exactly how I feel. Thanks Mike

  11. Derek Thomson says:

    What’s a mansel?

    1. A manel is an all-male panel.

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        Not wanting to be pedantic, and not wanting to sound “divisive” but ….. should we also be avoiding all women panels too?

        1. 220629 says:


        2. RICHARD ANDERSON says:

          I would love to see some all women panels. I can understand why some folk might think that too much but I’d still love to see it. Men dominated local events that I saw for much of the time in 2014 and much of the written stuff, from pamphlets to books to blogs, is still the domain of men.

  12. Alvin Vertigo says:

    There is no point in an independent Scotland where the most vulnerable are expendable, so you lost me at point number six. NO-ONE should be in crowded rooms at the height of a pandemic, when it will lead to the deaths of the vulnerable. Listen to Sally Witcher. The pandemic didn’t “teach” us; the pandemic is ongoing. At its height for those who are clinically vulnerable. This should be the first concern of those wanting to create a caring and civilised nation. If we are listening to lived experience, listen to Sally Witcher.

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      To be fair, point six does not mention how crowded, or not, the “rooms” should be. And “rooms” don’t need to be a wholly physical space. They can be hybrid physical/virtual spaces. Modern technology is not all its cracked up to be, but it does allow for such things, even if it is a bit finicky and unreliable at times.

      It also has to be noted that whether or not vulnerable people are at risk (and they are), the mass of the population has moved on with mask wearing, social distancing and even self isolation largely things of the past. It’s not a great situation but I doubt the Indy cause would be helped by legally re-imposing it all again.

      I can only suggest those who know themselves to be vulnerable take care. Those who aren’t should be cognisant of those that are.

      1. I think there’s a middle ground where anyone organising public events organises them responsibly and also allows for access via other media to allow maximum participation

    2. Thanks Alvin – link please? Happy to be educated.

  13. Alice says:

    What bliss it would be if no9 was moved up to no.2 on your extensive list.

    Scunnered with the usual shouty male voices talking over everyone….

    It would indeed be radical if it was agreed that most discussions / articles / debates had female input reflecting the demographics of Scotland.

  14. Lindsay Reid says:

    Agree with all below! Also if ‘ if it didn’t work last time don’t do it again’ is a hard act to follow. Beware repeat performances. ( Should be moved up the list)

    1. 220629 says:

      Yeah, the question didn’t work the last time; yet here it is being serve up again, the same old pig in the same old poke.

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        The question “worked” fine in 2014. It was simple and to the point. People knew what it meant and that Yes meant independence and No meant union. More importantly, it has become the “Question” the people of Scotland recognise as THE “Question”. To change it now would add an unnecessary level of confusion and only be of benefit to unionists. That is why they are so desperate to change it. Not because of any nonsensicle notion of subliminal messaging favouring one side or the other.

        1. 220629 says:

          The question was vacuous. Me Bungo. It didn’t tell us what ‘independence’ meant; nor did it tell us how it would be realised in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote. The last vote was a referendum which lacked any substantive referenda to vote on, which it is why some critics dubbed it a ‘pseudorendum’.

          I don’t see why presenting the electorate with something more than a pig in a poke and telling it just what it is they’d be voting for would benefit unionists.

          1. Me Bungo Pony says:

            By your logic, every box in a GE ballot paper should contain the full manifesto of the candidate looking for your vote. All you mention will be dealt with in the many months of debate before the vote. You don’t go into the voting booth to read a book. You only have to vote Yes or No having come to a conclusion beforehand. The original question asks you to do that. It has no other purpose.

          2. ST says:

            Independence means different things to different people. The referendum establishes the desire for autonomy and sets in motion the mechanisms through which that is achieved. It does not AND SHOULD NOT establish specifics in detail. You can’t tell me what your pension will be in 10 years if we’re still in the UK, or your retirement age, or interest rates etc etc. Establish the means to control all these aspects of your life first, then develop the detail. October 20th 2023 will not be Independence day irrespective of how we vote

          3. 220630 says:

            ‘By your logic, every box in a GE ballot paper should contain the full manifesto of the candidate looking for your vote.’

            No, it follows only that there should be a manifesto to which you can refer in deciding beforehand for whom to vote. Likewise, in deciding whether or not Scotland should be an independent country, there should be some prospectus to which you can refer, since the matter if whether or not Scotland should be an independent country depends on what independence will mean and whether or not that ‘independence’ will be something worth having.

            But I look forward to the prospectus being clarified in the many months of debate before the vote, while noting that it wasn’t so clarified in the many more months of debate before the last vote.

            ‘Independence’ does indeed mean different things to different people, which is precisely why we need to be clear as to what prospectus we’re voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

            I have a very strong desire for autonomy, but it’s not clear that I would be any more autonomous in an ‘independent’ Scotland. Again, this will depend on the prospective regime of ‘independence’.

            Likewise, the mechanisms through which that ‘independence’ would be realised: what and how democratic would those those mechanisms be?

            The referendum certainly should not be about specifics in detail – pensions, retirement age, interest rates, etc., etc. – but it should be about the prospectus for independence, about whether we’ll be any more autonomous under its regime.

            I’d certainly vote for a prospectus of ‘independence’ that would more greatly empower me (and the public generally) in public decision-making. But it’s far from clear that the ‘independent’ state that the Scottish government is asking me to vote for will leave me any more empowered in the decision-making that will develop the aforementioned detail than I am at present.

            We should be basing our independence on hard government commitments to greater democracy rather than on vague hopes and wishful thinking.

  15. SleepingDog says:

    We might consider what comes from ‘laboratories of democracy’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laboratories_of_democracy
    (probably not such a great-sounding term in the wake of the USAmerican Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade, which gives individual states the right to their own takes on abortion, but hey).

    There are many upsides to smaller states striking out on their own and creating good examples, even if they might make mistakes too. You can think of Finland’s education system, Estonia’s technological state, the Rights of Nature in Ecuador, the land-guardianships of Aotearoa New Zealand, the health system of Cuba, and so on, and so on.

    A new Constitution for an Independent Scotland should be arrived at by a democratic process within Scotland; but it does not have to take the form of any pre-existing pattern, just like the innovations brought by states around the world. Let us face it: there are no real democracies at state level around the world (that I am aware of, anyway). One of the greatest things a democratic decision can do is self-limitation. In restricting our powers, we can enhance the living world for others: those generations who come after us, those too young to vote, those living outside our polity, anywhere on the planet, human and non-human life. A sovereign parliament is a tyrannous parliament, hereditary monarchy the capture of the state by the winning organized crime family, empire an extensive crime spree. The UK has little to offer as a political template, including the corrupt system of political parties.

    In terms of what is suggested here, I prefer ‘collective decision-making’ to ‘democracy’, one is active, the other includes apathy and implies a ranges of humanist biases. How can we make our collective decision-making rise to the challenges of tomorrow? How might successful experiments from the political laboratory of a New Scotland be taken up as templates for the world, just as we find good examples to take from elsewhere, practical or ideological?

  16. Squigglypen says:

    Just back from the gun club where ALL the men do not want independence. I am female and the only one who wants independence. There appears to be a hatred of Nicola…is mysogeny raising its ugly head?…eg..they call her wee nick……she can’t do anything right..state of Education…hospitals….the Scots plead poverty yet look at all the cars parked outside their houses…The age group is 50-80.
    I have two things I say. to them sweetly.1. I am looking down the road 100years from now and hope a new baby is born into a free Scotland.2. I support my country and would hate to be seen as a traitor by accepting that the English run my country.( that gets them)
    Your long excellent list would mean squat to these guys.
    I know where our excellent First Minister is coming from..democracy first and foremost.but when you face gits who will use any dirty trick to win..better together shit..we love you shit…you can’t have the pound shit…etc and add to that the Scots who go to England and turn on Scotland…Oliver.. Bruce…Gove..Darling..Brown..ad infinitum….your democracy needs to be backed up with something else a bit meaner…as Dad use to say..if anybody tries to kill you hen…kill them right back….metaphorically speaking of course…
    We have a briliant country…pity the Scots don’t care.

    The Bruce had it right…frighten the excrement oot o’ them.

    1. Derek Thomson says:

      “wee nick” is one of the nicer epithets. The bile and hatred towards her as a person is quite something.

  17. gavinochiltree says:

    Let’s just be ourselves. It’s nice to be nice—-so be nice to friends and foe alike.
    Tell them—-“we just want Scotland to be normal. Running its own affairs: sorting out its own problems. Just normal stuff. Hopefully in conjunction with our friendly neighbours. A normal, self-governing happy wee country.
    In a small country, more things become visible. Justice ( or the lack of it), bad schools, good schools, poverty, success—which can be emulated.
    Yup, independence. Not a solution, more a road where you can see your destination in the distance. A days walk; maybe two, but you get there if you keep going”.
    This is perhaps the only chance we are ever going to get. Make the best of it.

    1. 220630 says:

      “To be yersel’s — and to mak’ that worth bein’,
      Nae harder job to mortals has been gi’en.”
      – Hugh MacDiarmid

      It’s not a matter of who or what we are, but of who or what we might become through the process of independence. And there’s no indication in or around the proposed referendum question of what and how democratic that process of becoming will be.

    2. Derek Thomson says:

      Given the bile, naked hatred, misogyny and downright anti-Scottishness that we’ve seen since the announcement, I would very much doubt that anything will be done in conjunction with our friendly neighbours unfortunately. Or our own, if George Square last time was anything to go by. And they had won (that time.)

      1. 220630 says:

        Yes, it will be just as bitter and divisive as the last time.

        But that’s the point, isn’t it: to undermine the status quo by sowing division and then to exploit that division to promote one’s own and/or one’s party’s private interests in the establishment of a new status quo?

        1. Colin Kirkwood says:

          I believe in seeking to overcome evil with good. Punch ups are not my idea of what is good.

          1. 220701 says:

            Well, duck! Cos Nicola has rung the bell for round 1.

  18. Gordon+G+Benton says:

    After the coffee has worn off, Mike, I am sure you will get these points down to ten or so – as has been suggested.
    A couple of your respondents mention the need for the creation of a Constitution. Drafting this is now in preparation, we believe (secrecy everywhere), but perhaps this should be fully discussed by us the people after we get our Independence, and then as a subject, along with other contentious matters, decided in referendums.
    I declare my interest as a co author of ‘A Prospectus for an Independent Scotland’, setting out what the Scottish voter is asking for now leading up for IndyRef2. We need to know now what exactly it is we are being asked to vote for – spelling out what WILL happen in Scotland on Independence, and what CAN happen if we want it. Does anyone know? We all have some idea(s); they may be very different; visions will be both short- and long-term (thinking of ourselves and our grandchildren).
    These thoughts really should now be brought together in a document to both inform and arm the voter over the next 15 months?

  19. Alex McCulloch says:

    Great input for creating an inclusive national conversation that engages our fellow citizens to consider if we need to create an even better Scotkand and if Independence is the means to that new beginning.
    We need to campaign to engage people to consider if they want to participate in taking responsibility to improve their daily reality in their own lives and own areas and / or that of their fellow citizens currently living in poverty.
    We need creativity, organisation and leadership to create structure, methods and organisation to evolve our campaigning to include and listen to all our fellow citizens.
    The initial energy around 19/10/23 will likely see lots of activity and commentary along familiar lines risking that if we do what we have always done we will have the same result!
    We need to plan and prepare a step change for campaigning in 2023 that engages all communities ,
    Our first objective is not to campaign for Independence but to inspire our fellow citizens to participate in the conversation and in tandem create a new, significantly enlarged, group of Independence activists containing new voices, new energy, and lived experience who can co-create solutions for better communities with their neighbours.
    I hope Mike, you can input to this campaign direction.
    The existing Believe in Scotland campaign seems a sensible starting point to support and develop this new direction .

    1. 220630 says:

      ‘…if Independence is the means to that new beginning…’

      Again, whether it is or isn’t will depend on what this ‘independence’ entails, what it’s process will be. The Scottish government is suspiciously silent on that matter. I suspect it just wants us to agree to its having more power for itself.

  20. Jason MacGilp says:

    These are welcome and wise words, and should guide all national and local campaign groups over the next 18-24 months.

    Given the emotional amd poltical roller coaster of the last 10 years, many – me included – are rightly nervous and excited in equal measure, about what lies ahead. Remembering how it felt on 19/9/14, brings a range of emotions. A bit of self care and
    working in a diferent way of achieving our goal this time is spot on.

    Another chance to create a new Scotland. We get to be the ones.

    On the other side of fear, is hope.

  21. Norm says:

    Gonna throw in another suggestion too.

    31. Stick to the facts.

    Whether the reality of what has happened in the UK (either pre or post 2014), or the reality of the hundreds of other normal independent countries (including many who have become independent from the British state itself), there are plenty of facts to draw upon and make our arguments.

    1. Thanks Norm. Other suggestions welcome.

    2. 220630 says:

      Stick to whose facts?

  22. Colin Kirkwood says:

    So-called collective decision-making is Stalinism/Leninism/Trotskyism/Maoism. I am for real democracy, which includes direct democracy, dialogue and non-violence.

    1. 220701 says:

      No, collective decision-making is when all the stakeholders in the matter being decided come together in conditions of an ideal speech situation (i.e. a speech situation that’s free of all external and internal coercion) and hammer out a consensus or inclusive ‘general will’ (as opposed to merely an exclusive majority will) through open dialogue. Direct democracy is a set of processes by which communities of stakeholder with diverse interests might approach or approximate to that ideal speech situation.

      More Habermas than Stalin, but Marxian all the same.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Colin Kirkwood, ancient Athens combined direct democracy, dialogue, slavery and violence (it was a militarised, bellicose city-state). Sure, the policies it pursued would likely have been somewhat different with a universal franchise. Collective decision-making does not exclude democracy (power of the people), it constrains and guides it, just like an encoded constitution or a professional civil service or a set of ratified international treaties or the international idea communism of global science constrains it; each of these should be open, transparent and the human elements accountable to the public for wrongdoings. It has nothing to do with totalitarianism.

      I’ll spell this out elsewhere, but what you need is a rough consensus on a good-life philosophy (perhaps along the lines of Lesley Riddoch’s thriving in Blossom), then apply that to form a new kind of bioethical social contract that takes into account the impact of our actions on non-human life, and humans beyond our borders. This should not, as I have repeatedly said, be controlled by any political party (which I feel need to be abolished in New Scotland). Parts of this contract can be, through collective decision-making with a democratic final say, be encoded in a new constitution.

      1. 220630 says:

        ‘…what you need is a rough consensus on a good-life philosophy…’

        I’m not sure we need any such thing, which is perhaps just as well, as we’ve been trying to achieve that consensus for almost two-and-a-half thousand years, and none has been forthcoming. In fact, the dissensus around what constitutes Aristotle’s notion of eudaemonia or ‘thriving’ seems intractable, even within the assimilation of the most authoritarian totalitarian regimes.

        What we need is rather to learn how to live together with dissensus. The varying experiential situation of different people makes it inevitable that they will proceed differently in cognitive, evaluative, and practical matters, in knowledge, custom, and habit. We need ‘decolonised’ political institutions through which a general harmony of constructive interaction can prevail *despite* the inevitable and intractable diversity, dissensus, and dissonance that obtains among people in a plural world, institutions that can accommodate the differences between our various communities of knowledge and communities of practice short of violence. Direct democracy can supply such inclusive and integrative institutions.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, a rough consensus on a good-life philosophy will tend to spell out the accepted range of dissent by establishing core values. My challenge to everyone interested in an Independent Scotland as well as preserving the Union is to come up with at least a key phrase of a preamble to the Constitution of their preferred nation/union. Maybe even have a shot at the whole preamble. Here are some examples:
          I’d prefer to keep it fairly snappy, myself. My off-the-cuff contribution would be a statement to the effect of each generation leaving the planet in at least as good a health as which it found it in, preferably better. Should be better phrased. Maybe at last a job for a poet?

          1. 220701 says:

            ‘…a rough consensus on a good-life philosophy will tend to spell out the accepted range of dissent by establishing core values.’

            Will it? Where’s the evidence for that? Why has no such set of core values ever been established? Even the globalisation of European values through colonisation has failed to establish a consensus on what eudaemonia (a.k.a. ‘the good life’/’thriving’/’happiness’/etc.) consists in.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, since you kindly pointed out the constitutional polity of Rojava (the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria) on another page, that it was written apparently under a rough consensus acceptance of the good-life philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan (I believe along the lines of ‘social ecology’ and ‘moral regeneration’) then that is exactly the example that supports my argument.

          3. 220703 says:

            I read Öcalan’s Democratic Confederalism shortly after its publication in 2014. It’s hardly based on a ‘good-life philosophy’. It addresses not ‘the good life’ but proposes an organisational solution to the political problems faced by the Kurdish people and (by extension) by other people who are divided by class, ethnic, and gender differences. Öcalan does propose that these differences (and, more specifically, their exploitation by political elites to keep people divided and themselves in power) obstruct people in their search for ‘a’ good life, but he proposes no ‘good-life philosophy’ of his own.

            In his book, Öcalan sets out a system of democratic self-organisation with the features of a confederation based on the principles of autonomy, direct democracy, political ecology, feminism, multiculturalism, self-defense, self-governance, and elements of a sharing or ‘gift’ (as opposed to an exchange) economy. The system also draws on the work of other workers in the fields of social ecology, libertarian municipalism, Middle Eastern history, and general state theory. He makes no reference whatever to work in the field of good-life philosophy, which is hardly relevant to the solution of the problem he addresses. He’s not in the business of telling people how they should life their lives (what ‘the good life’ is), but in liberating people in order that they might pursue each their own vision of ‘happiness’.

          4. Colin Kirkwood says:

            I like the sound of that.

          5. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, your sophistry is tiresome. If Öcalan’s (derivative or innovative) philosophy is designed to remove people’s obstructions to achieving the good life, it is logically a good-life philosophy. Good, as in ethically good, as in should. Good-life philosophy does not have to prescriptively lay out people’s lives; some forms are merely concerned with unlocking people’s full potentials.

          6. 220703 says:

            There are almost as many views among people as to what the good life is as there are people. Which particular good-life philosophy does Öcalan’s praxis require that we all accept?

            None. The very point of Öcalan’s pluralism is that, as a system of governance, it can accommodate all communities, whatever their opinions about ‘the good life’ might be; it doesn’t privilege any (including any to which Öcalan himself might subscribe) over any other, and it doesn’t require consensus. Indeed, the whole point of Rojava – its beauty – is that it doesn’t require this kind of moral or religious consensus to operate.

            Indeed, one of the stock criticisms of the Rojavan regime by those control-freaks who fear its anarchism is that it’s ‘nihilistic’ in that it denies in its postmodernism the possibility of ‘a good life’ in the traditional sense of ‘a life that could rationally be wished for by every human being’. It denies this in its postmodernism because it’s premised on the putative fact that the varying experiential situation of different people means that they will quite naturally proceed differently in cognitive, evaluative, and practical matters (that is, in accordance with their different rationalities), and that therefore, since there is no common rationality that ALL human beings share, there can be no single good life that could rationally be wished for by EVERY human being, but only the plurality of lives that particular people actually and variously pursue, no ideality of how life ‘ought’ to be but only the facticity of how it is.

          7. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, you are an idiot then, with a solely private view of politics and ethics? You are certainly no philosopher, having blundered into the claim of “almost as many views among people as to what the good life is as there are people” (ever heard of the Problem of Other Minds? How could you possibly know that?) How on Earth is anyone going to agree with each other, persuade each other, in your direct democracy? Well, I knew you for a cacophonist.

            And a contrarian. You claim you want to decolonise politics but you keep foisting Western Postmodernism on everything. You also claim that ecological sensibilities in politics are a new thing while completely ignoring the nature-grounded socio-political systems that are kept alive today around the world in traditions with ancient roots. You remark on Rojava’s constitutional beauty without apparently realising that is an ethical judgement itself.

            Of course constitutions like that of Rojava include consensual articles and values, on equalities, freedoms, rights and prohibitions. You will find that many constitutional preambles share similarities (often biocratic ones) like the preservation of life, liberty, expressions of social bonds, and the greater good (health) of the public. These come from a core of biologically-derived ethics, which you deny (you also seem to deny biology itself and the existence of an objective reality when it suits you). Many constitutions make reference to external norms, such as the Rights of the Child, a near consensus in terms of ratifying nations (guess who hasn’t?).

            I’ll leave you to your solipsism and your Dark Triad personality traits.

          8. 220704 says:

            Yep, that’ the problem with psychologistic conceptions of ‘mind’: they lead to solipsism. Behavioural conceptions (‘mind’ as a set of behavioural dispositions) are better in that respect, though they have (of course) problems of their own.

            Diverse people agree all the time, despite their lack of consensus around what constitutes ‘the good life’. Regardless of whether we’re Platonic or Aristotelian, materialistic or idealistic, selfish or altruistic, we can agree in our communities on which side of the road we should drive on. In fact, we sensibly manage our dissensus on matters of the good life in our neighbourhoods and workplaces all the time in the interests of maintaining a peaceful and productive communal order, and we do so through conversation and dialogue. It’s perfectly possible for us to govern our public affairs sensibly without having to have the same moral or religious beliefs. That’s pluralism in action!

            Postmodernism – very generally, the view that there is and can be no ‘master’ narrative among all the various local narratives that populate the world – is the justification for decolonisation. The call to ‘liberate ourselves from mental slavery’, from the domination of the ‘master’ narrative of the European Enlightenment, which we’ve exported though the globalisation of capitalism, is the call of postmodernism. Anticolonialism and the worldwide movement among ‘indigenous’ peoples for cognitive justice are a postmodern phenomena. Decolonisation is literally inconceivable without postmodernism.

            Of course, polities like Rojava are constituted by agreement. But that’s only because the people of Rojava, who have many diverse and (in some cases) incompatible opinions on what constitutes ‘the good life’ have come together in their communities and negotiated an agreement on how they might govern their public affairs despite their often quite fundamental philosophical differences pertaining to ‘the good life’. And that ‘how’ is the arrangements of direct, participative democracy by which they makes their collective decisions and govern their collective life on a day-to-day basis.

          9. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, what utter rubbish you come out with. “Decolonisation is literally inconceivable without postmodernism.” Really? The Haitian’s managed it during a process of uprising, revolution, and a transition to a republic around 1800. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decolonization#Western_history
            So you really think that all the opponents of Empire throughout history never thought of decolonisation until some French poseurs enlightened us all? That is a shamefully bigoted Eurocentric view. Also, given ancient Greek philosophers’ interest in reversible processes, any process such as colonisation could be conceived by them to have a reverse process, obviously decolonisation. But you certainly don’t have to be a philosopher to consider how to undo something others have done.

            Interestingly, Rojava’s constitution apparently contains the biocratic statement Article 23b “Everyone has the right to live in a healthy environment, based on ecology balance.” Biocratic in the sense that it is predicated on the ability to objectively measure the health of ecosystems, as the life sciences can do through proxies. That puts it beyond democratic dispute, and environmental health and ecological balance cannot then (legally) be traded off against other interests. I would hope we have more such measures in a new Scottish Constitution after Independence.

          10. Colin Kirkwood says:

            Dear Sleeping Dog, and Dear 220705,

            Could you guys please try being nice to each other? You are both brilliantly talented and each of you has a massive amount to offer, and you do offer it. That’s great. Pluralism. I read your contributions with huge interest. Pluralism. Very busy today!

            Many thanks for including me,


          11. 220705 says:

            The Haitian revolution was a slave revolt, not the assertion of an indigenous culture against the hegemony of a more powerful adscititious one. While class struggles have gone on for centuries, the movement to contest and liberate oneself (and the underclass with which one identifies) from the dominant ‘master’ narratives of the oppressor and reframe the world in accordance with the marginalised ‘counter’ narratives of the oppressed really only began with the national liberation movements in Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the 1960s. This movement fed into the development of postmodern theory, which subsequently became its ideological expression.

            But I said in my last post why I think decolonisation is a postmodern phenomenon. If there’s a problem with that argument, let me know what it is and we can address it.

            The Royavans’ provisional constitution (and it will only ever be ‘provisional’ and never ‘beyond democratic dispute’) – the so-called Charter of the Social Contract – does indeed affirm a number of civil rights (as well as a commitment to direct, participative democracy as a means of making collective decisions in the governance of their public affairs). But it does so because the various peoples of Royava have agreed those rights and mechanisms of collective decision-making despite their philosophical differences and not because, as you project, they share some common Öcalanian ‘good-life philosophy’.

          12. SleepingDog says:

            Boudicca’s attempt to decolonise Britannia was only partially successful, but the Iceni seemed to understand the concept.

            Your denials sound a bit like social cryptomnesia to me (albeit a term I just discovered), which Wikipedia describes as:
            “Social cryptomnesia is a failure to remember the origin of a change, in which people know that a change has occurred in society, but forget how this change occurred; that is, the steps that were taken to bring this change about, and who took these steps. This may lead to reduced social credit towards the minorities who made major sacrifices that led to the change in societal values.”
            with some more coverage here:

          13. 220705 says:

            I see no evidence that the Iceni resistance to the Roman invasion was resistance to ‘colonisation’.

            On the contrary, the Romans seemed little interested in colonising those whom they conquered. They seem to have been more interested in increasing its land holdings than in ‘romanising’ or civilising others and liberating them thus from their supposedly ‘benighted’ or savage condition. The hegemony of Rome was only ever a military one; it was never a cultural one.

          14. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, what an extraordinary claim. All the historians whose views I have encountered on the topic say that Romans spread their culture throughout provinces like Britannia (including widespread use of Latin, spoken and written, before they left), while these Roman cultural sites (temples, statues, shops) and artefacts were specifically targeted for destruction by uprisings like Boudicca’s Iceni-led revolt:
            I have just watched the relevant episode from historian Bettany Hughes’s 8 Days That Made Rome documentary series. The British Museum has educational material on the Romanization of Britain.

            Whereas, to me, nothing smacks so much of colonialism as a self-appointed intellectual elite in an imperial metropole mansplaining to us poor benighted child-like savages the error of our ways (which is what I take your Postmodernism to be). Still, whatever makes you feel like a hero, right?

          15. 220706 says:

            Indeed, the Romans bore their culture with them throughout the territories they conquered, but they made little (if any) attempt to assimilate or convert the indigenous populations of those territories to that culture (which assimilation or conversion is what ‘colonisation’ is). When the last Roman garrisons left in 407, after almost 400 years of occupation, Roman culture very largely went with them.

          16. Colin Kirkwood says:

            Dear sleeping dog and 220706, the research you guys have done and the accounts you give of it are fascinating. I appreciate it all, very much. For what it is worth I am not a great fan of postmodernism, or of modernism, or of 18th C neoclassicism. But in the longer term I am greatly interested in the gradual convergence of Jewish and Greek cultures. In this connection, I admire the work of John Macmurray the great Scottish personalist, who I believe invented the term persons in relation. See my long paper on bellacaledonia The Persons in Relation Perspective (The Sutherland Trust Lecture, I forget the date).

            Have you read The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro? An utterly brilliant novel set in Britain around 500 AD: romans gone, a few ruined villas left, ancient Britons huddled in communal turfed buildings, saxons arriving. Best novel have read for years. It was Liz McGrath who interested me in his work

            On the question of colonisation etc, I think there can be no doubt that the romans left a ton of cultural influences, above all their language(s) (Latin, Italian, Spanish, Port uguese, French, Romanian, architecture etc etc, but all of that mingled with preexisting ancient British, Pictish, Celtic etc etc . And then of course you’ve got the Vikings, Northmen, Normans, etcetc. Human history is all about domination and power and land-grabbing, almost all by men. As you know another person I admire in the 20th C is Paulo Freire who not only (with others) created dialogical education but also liberation theology. Certain Marxists claimed Freire for their own, excising his Christian dimensions. That was really not very nice of them! Confronted with all of this , we need to hang onto truth-telling, moderation, humility (very difficult) dialogue, pluralism, and the value of many cultures, and watch out for othering! And resist the temptations of violence. And value far more the contributions of women, above all..

            Kindest regards and good wishes.

          17. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Kirkwood, the other side of the Roman occupation was its apparent very great interest in destroying offending parts of the indigenous culture of the Britons, with the assault of Suetonius Paulinus on the Druids at Angelsey ongoing at the time of Boudica’s Iceni-led uprising against Roman colonial rule.
            Later on, the Romans and successors forced an imperial version of Christianity onto subject peoples. I believe that most free inhabitants of the Roman Empire were granted citizenship around 212 AD, something classicist Mary Beard considers a significant phase shift in Roman history. So it is nonsense to talk of Roman imperialism in terms of purely military occupation. Many emperors came from the provinces outside Italy, I gather.

          18. 220706 says:

            You referenced the educational materials that the British Museum has produced on the romanisation of Britain. Here’s an excerpt from its assessment of the evidence for the theory that the indigenous Britons were colonised by the Romans in the ‘Consideration of the Process of Romanization in Britain’ in has produced for A-level students:

            ‘It is also important to remember that most of the population appears to have become Romanized only to a limited degree; continuity from the pre Roman past was also very important. The majority remained in poor rural communities, using a perfectly effective pre-Roman farming technology, and living in Iron Age style houses. They almost certainly still spoke Celtic dialects. These people were just as much Roman Britons as were the few percent who lived in villas or towns; and from early in the third century they were all legally Roman citizens. In many parts of the province, especially in those areas which would one day become Wales and Northern England, Romanized life was not even very well established among the aristocracy.

            ‘Here, in the areas permanently under the eye of the army, the older pre Roman tribal lifestyle continued with relatively little change. Roman Britain, then, was a varied patchwork of societies, some still largely “Celtic”, others to varying degrees hybrids of Roman and indigenous traditions. Among the latter, a largely native aristocratic class developed a local form of Roman culture (just as was happening in most other provinces); the bulk of the population continued to live much as their ancestors had done. At the top, much of Romano-British society looked fairly Roman, but seen from the bottom up, even in the most Romanized areas it still looked fairly “Celtic”, as language and much of the old tribal structure survived, the latter to form the framework of Roman administration.’

          19. 220706 says:

            Indeed, I have; I read The Buried Giant when it first came out (I’m a huge Ishiguro fan; have been since A Pale View of the Hills). It’s set in murkiest depths of the dark ages, when the Britons and the Saxons were fighting over the abandoned Roman province of Britannia.It belongs, however, to the genre of fantasy, where it overlaps with historical fiction.

            The narrator of the novel is, in true Ishiguro style, a postmodernist deception. Despite the narrator’s show of objectivity, garnished as it is with seemingly authoritative allusions to the iron age and Roman roads, it speak from the present day, where we too live ‘underground, connected one to another by underground passages and covered corridors’, which is our postmodern condition.

            This promiscuous mixing of influences and periods is hardly original to Ishiguro. George Martin, for instance, also performs it with particular aplomb in A Song of Ice and Fire. Unlike Martin’s meticulously detailed fusion, The Buried Giant plays Derrida-like in the gaps and the seams, which play is designed to show ‘between the lines’ of Ishiguro’s prose the shimmering of literary influences like that of memories within a fading mind, fragments shored against ruin. Again, this is a classic postmodernist device. As is the lurking possibility, which haunts the whole of the novel, that the memories themselves may be false. The Buried Giant itself (King Arthur), for which the quixotic old couple, Axl and Beatrice, quest, can’t help but exist in the shadow of the near-total oblivion that has claimed the period in which Ishiguro sets his novel. A central question of The Buried Giant is: Can what has been forgotten be redeemed?

            Nor is this forgetting to be entirely regretted. In The Buried Giant, the Britons and Saxons live at peace in the same villages through which the old couple pass, forgetful of the terrible acts of slaughter that had enabled Arthur to establish his realm. Would this peace survive should it prove possible to exhume buried memories, exhume the Buried Giant? A grievance forgotten, Ishiguro implies, is an atrocity forestalled. The relevance of that implication isn’t confined to dark-age Britain.

            Ishiguro is too subtle and complex in his postmodernism to rest content with such a homily, however. The memory loss that may serve a troubled people as a blessing cannot help but threaten the individual with the dissolution of his or her self. At the heart of The Buried Giant, luminous amid all the dragons and warring knights, is a deeply affecting portrait of marital love, and of how even the most precious memories can end up vulnerable.

            [SPOILER ALERT}

            Axl and Beatrice are an aged couple who, in the grip of the mysterious amnesia that’s afflicted the whole of Britain, abruptly decide to visit a son they had forgotten existed. In the course of their journey, they meet a boatman in the ruins of a Roman villa, whose duty it is to ferry people to an island of the dead. Only if a couple can convince him of their devotion to one another will he allow them to travel together. From that moment on, Axl and Beatrice are haunted by a dread that they would fail such a test and be separated for ever.

            Old age and memory loss, suffering, peace and war are what Ishiguro explores in the context of a period of history that’s barely less mysterious in its remembrance. For all its deconstruction of its own manifold sources and inspirations, the ultimate measure of Ishiguro’s achievement lies in one of its most memorable lines: ‘But God will know the slow tread of an old couple’s love for each other, and understand how bleak shadows make part of its whole.’

            I’m also a big fan of Freire. As we’ve discussed before, Freire is a seminal figure in the decolonisation movement whose Pedagogy of the Oppressed in an extension of, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, both of which which emphasise the need to provide people with an education that’s simultaneously innovative (rather than traditional) and anti-colonial (that is, not simply an extension of the colonising culture). His status and self-identification as a Christian socialist is not in dispute, but as a student of phenomenology he drew inspiration for his critical pedagogy from an eclectic range of sources, which included many contemporary Marxist and post-Marxist writers.

      1. Colin Kirkwood says:

        I really welcome all the freely made points and the dialogue or multilogue that has been unleashed by Mike’s original paper. Bellaledonia is becoming a good instance of encouraging everyone to say what they think and feel and listen to other people’s contributions. My main point about democracy in Ancient Athens is that for a period of several hundred years there were some very brave and visionary leaders who were not simply lining their own pockets. They had the courage to speak out. They established a culture of direct democracy at every level. The right of direct popular participation in meetings at every level was practised, and attempts were made to resource it. That all helped to create a culture of listening, speaking out, dialogue and some very brilliant plays and writings which we still know and value (Sophocles, Sappho, and many others). Eventually the aristocrats and despots snuffed it out. Sleeping dog is quite right to emphasise that there was slavery and that the voices of women and foreigners were not heard. And the democratic assemblies made some very stupid decisions. We should not idealise Ancient Athens, but I think we should pick up the baton of direct democracy and dialogue, and we should run with it in Scotland and beyond. In conclusion, so-called representative democracy, unless it it underpinned by direct democracy at every level, is not democracy at all. It is elective dictatorship. With regard to Nicola Sturgeon, I admire her deeply. We should treasure her. But we should challenge her when we disagree with her. As George Orwell put it: freedom is the right to say to people what they do not want to hear. I am for direct democracy. We need to stop the galloping trend towards technocracy! And I do not like the sound of collective decision-making: what exactly does it mean?

        1. 220702 says:

          As I said above, collective decision-making is when all the stakeholders in the matter being decided come together in conditions of an ideal speech situation (i.e. a speech situation that’s free of all external and internal coercion) and hammer out a consensus or inclusive ‘general will’ (as opposed to merely an exclusive majority will) through open dialogue. Direct democracy is a set of processes by which communities of stakeholders with diverse interests might approach or approximate to that ideal speech situation.

          (The analogy between the governance of Ancient Athens and direct democracy is flawed insofar as whole classes of people were excluded from the demos. In contrast to the democracy of Ancient Athens, direct democracy is premised on equality and universal participation in the decision-making process.)

          1. Colin Kirkwood says:

            I realise that Mike has run my piece as a substantive new paper. I have now had time to read the responses to it, and will now make a reply to those responses immediately after them . My points made above still stand.

        2. SleepingDog says:

          @Colin Kirkwood, here is how I see it (the short version). Governance by rule of law has three layers to its remit: like a vegetarian diet where you have to eat your greens (mandamus, the actions and roles a government must complete and undertake); have to avoid meat (ultra vires, those actions banned or roles prohibited as beyond its powers); and thirdly, in the middle are those items left to your discretion, like cheese sandwiches and fruit pastries (actions and roles that in democratic government come under the democratic sphere).

          You don’t have to agree with Plato’s alternatives (philosopher kings, noble lie, caste system) to the democracy that executed his mentor Socrates (for speaking out) to give some weight to Plato’s criticisms. If anything, Plato seems to have been a fan of the provider of the Athenian Constitution, Solon the Lawgiver. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solon

          For the third of eligible Athenian citizens chosen by lot to serve in their direct democracy, it seems to have been like a full-time job. This is not sustainable under universal franchise today, where there is apathy about political engagement and a complex, fragile, globally-interconnected world is under various threats.

          The point of a great effort to collectively decide, and democratically ratify/endorse an encoded Constitution for a New Scotland is this: you capture people’s involvement for an intense and sustained high endeavour and lay down the constraints (on people, its political system, its government) that form the mandamus and ultra vires bookending of what should be required and prohibited in the future state. It contains all the stuff people really don’t want to be going to meetings about for years to come. The settled will, if you like. The Constitution can be amended in future, but only by an appropriate supermajority, so the onus is on getting it right (as much as possible).

          I see the opportunity to extend the greens (mandamus) to environmental protection and similarly prohibit the meat (the harmful practices contributing to environmental degradation and ecocide), and have written elsewhere about this. Others will have like concerns that they wish to encode in the Constitution.

          Encoded constitutions generally begin with a preamble, setting down the public values (not private vices) of the founders in the form of realisable ideals. A constitution should be rational, that is, function in an orderly fashion without clashing of components or pathways that end in government deadlock. It will set out the organs of state, likely some bill of rights, say something about how the nation sits within the global family of nations, and so forth. In a republican constitution, it will describe a citizen, and the checks and balances on power which should be open and accessible to the public.

          There are areas of policy which I feel direct democracy is suited to and appropriate. But there are also areas which are not, such as global public health and environmental protection. Devolving democracy down too far has its dangers, as we see in recent Supreme Court rulings in the USA. The USA constitutional system recognizes international treaties as paramount law, which perhaps explains why it has ratified so few of them. Nimbyism has its opposite, where perhaps a (corrupted) local polity could vote to host a polluting industry, weapons of mass destruction, a black site torture-rendition prison, or make church compulsory or persecute minorities… unless a strong, clear Constitution forbids them.

          People should feel safe and secure that the next direct democratic decision won’t rip the ground from under them. Let them put a burst of effort into writing these protections into a new, encoded constitution, and then rest easy, and don’t have to take part in all those meetings and debates if they don’t want to.

          1. Colin Kirkwood says:

            The case against real democracy over the centuries – indeed, over the millenia – has always relied on the notions that the people are too stupid, or too apathetic, or too incompetent, or too dangerous to be trusted. All that has changed now is that the people are perceived to be insufficiently au fait with information technology. There are two brilliant, ironical replies to arguments of this sort: Swift’s solution was simply to abolish the population, by eating them. Brecht’s was that the government should dissolve the population, and elect another. Technocracy is on the march. Perhaps there is a third or even a fourth solution: ignore the population, or feed them plenty of alcohol, drugs and televised sex.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Kirkwood, that is not what I said or meant. Perhaps you misunderstood me. But what you seem to arguing is that the only value, indeed the absolute value, in your constitutional preamble would be the endorsement of direct democracy. In other words, you are arguing that the means justifies the ends. Anyway, I will go and read your article.

          3. 220702 says:

            Yep, Colin; that’s the authoritarian mindset: the demos lacks the skills and/or knowledge to make the ‘right’ decisions, so public decision-making is better left to the experts.

            As we both know, however, the role of experts in any form of democratic governance is to inform the decision-makers and, thereby, the decisions they make, and not to serve as dictators.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, as far as I know, I’m the only one on Bella advocating distributing authority beyond the electorate of a New Scotland, for example to give rights to petitioners abroad for making claims against harms originating here, and to global life, climate and medical sciences. As I’ve mentioned before, even the anarchist Bakunin recognised the authority of the natural world, which is why I only have time for planetary-realistic ideologies for Independence. But you are a supporter of theology, that despicable hackwork for bolstering the authority of an imagined divinity. Why don’t you come clean on your views on a higher authority to which every living thing must be subject and subordinate to? Yes, I know, nameless is shameless, don’t feel you have to, after all. But you are stubbornly defending a theocracy, so I have to wonder why.

          5. 220703 says:

            Good for you! And that’s a proposal you could feed into the process through which we might collectively decide how our collective decision-making is to be organised going forward as an ‘independent country’.

            But the Scottish government isn’t offering any prospect of there being such a process; all it’s offering is an opportunity to give our opinion in referendum on the question of principle ‘Should Scotland be an independent country [whatever that means]?’ So, you and your proposal are f*ck*d from the outset; it doesn’t even make the starting line.

  23. Alan C says:

    Hi all, I’ve been looking for a forum like this for a while, found you via the link in the Guardian. My wife and myself are England born but have lived in Shetland for over 22yrs, we voted yes in 2014 and will be voting yes again, unfortunately the folk here have returned a liberal/democrat for over 60yrs so are pretty stuck in their ways, I will however try to convert as many as I can in the coming year.

    1. 220703 says:

      Well, good luck with that. There’s been some movement towards Shetland becoming independent (or at least a self-governing constituent) of Scotland, on the Faroe-Denmark model, in recent decades, but the collective will remains staunchly unionist. Still, there’s a lot of resentment towards the Scottish government among Shetlanders over its seeking to drag them out of Britain against their will, which the local independence movement could and should tap into. You’ll find the same resentment down here among the March folk.

  24. Colin Kirkwood says:

    Steady on chaps!

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