Bella Themes for 2024

We are laying out some plans for the year ahead that signify some changes in direction and focus. Here are six of the themes we’ll be exploring and commissioning on in 2024:

Self-Determination and the End of Britain

As the routes to independence seem blocked, locked and botched, we will continue to explore alternative ways for the creative disintegration of the British state. This will mean more focus with the Irish and Welsh movements as well as our own and a move way from the idea of a parliamentary electoral solutions to the British problem.

Global Fascism

Monitoring the far-right and the new forces emerging across the world, asking: who finances them, how they’re connected and how they can be combatted? There is insurgent far-right populism in the USA, Brazil, Europe and of course in the UK. Reporting on anti-fascist action in Britain and beyond.

International Geopolitics

We will be getting input and analysis from people closer to the ground in critical spaces, war zones and flashpoints as key elections mark the calendar in the year ahead.

This year will see crucial elections in Russia, the United States and Taiwan, and general elections in South Korea and of course in the UK. As the Asian/Japanese newspaper Asahi Simbaum wrote:

“The Russian presidential election in March will likely be a farce, a mere political ritual to legitimize Putin’s dictatorship and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Opposition forces have been eliminated and control over the media has intensified. There is no hope for a free and fair election there.”

Equally the result of the US election have potentially huge consequences across the globe.

We will be exploring how people in Scotland can be active in showing solidarity for Palestine and other occupied territories across the world and support other movements resisting repression, authoritarianism and colonisation including Rojava, North and East Syria and Southeastern Turkey. We will be connecting with and reporting on the boycott movement, direct actions and other acts of solidarity.




Fight for the Future

After the failure of the COP process and the disintegration of the official global systems of restraining global warming to 1.5 degrees we are in uncharted territory.

“This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree (Celsius, or 2.7-degrees Fahreinheit) limit” that was agreed in Paris in 2015. – António Guterres (2022)

This requires new types of media, new types of thinking and new types of action beyond a) the relentless loop of ‘debating’ climate change b) the endless engagement with tired broken processes (“COP56 has promised a breakthrough”) c) looking to new forms of direct action and building methods of resilience here in Scotland.

Building a Better Media

We continue to be committed to building a better media, which includes diversifying the voices on the page of Bella. This will involve active commissioning and engagement, encouraging new writers and creating training opportunities and open days to create new networks. We are pleased to have collaborated with Rashné Limki , Naila Wood, Chinweuju Nzewi, Anisha Yaseen, Khutso Dunbar, Chereen Rain, Ayesha Mehar Shagufta, and many many others in the last year – but are doubling our efforts to make our output more varied in voice and tone and experience. We are under no illusions that this in itself is enough. More details of our programme to come.

Alternative Scotland

Hidden from the public eye by a tired and closed media, there are pockets of resistance, changemakers and communities building radical alternatives. Some are small and experimental, others are larger and more ambitious. Over the next year – and beyond – we’ll be giving profile to the projects, movements and people showing different paths to the calamities of late-capitalism.

These six themes aren’t exclusive – but it does give some structure to our publishing work over the coming year and a framework for collaborations and working on common ground. If you’d like to work with us you can contact us here.

Comments (59)

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  1. Welsh_Siôn says:

    Glad to see further international co-operation, in particular between my home country and Scotland.

    Please let it be repeated on a regular basis that there is nothing to prevent people from joining both YES Cymru and YES Scotland at the same time. Similarly, you can be a Member of both the SNP and Plaid Cymru. In the case of the Welsh groupings, we also need to nail the myth that you have to speak Cymraeg/Welsh in order to join.

    I have been active in all four groups for a good many years and welcome others to join. And if you have no political party but are still for the independence of our two countries, then please do join like-minded individuals in Cymru, Scotland and beyond.

    Ymlaen i 2024 lwyddiannus a llewyrchus / Onward to a successful and flourishing 2024.

    1. Thanks, good shout, noted

    2. Thanks, good shout, noted

  2. SteveH says:

    Reading this makes me smile. The Indy movement is determined for Scotland to rejoin the EU, yet many EU members are moving politically in the opposite direction from this movement.

    Also, you assume that all Scots, Welsh and Irish are as critical social justice leaning as you are. They most definitely are not. For example, Wales voted to leave the EU.

    You could even say that nationalism is a rightwing trait, so you will attract people who’s views on politics you may not share.

    Be careful what you wish for

    1. Cathie Lloyd says:

      curiously dated approach here. There are different currents among the countries of the EU. not all moving rightwards although this is a development that Mike rightly plans to keep under scrutiny. While Wales voted for Brexit back in 2016 attitudes have changed since then. Our political positioning depends on us identifying trends rather than adopting an approach fixed in time. And there are different forms which self determinism can take. It’s not necessarily rooted in ethnonationalism. Politics involves agility of mind and the ability to keep up to date

      1. Andrew Wilson says:

        I would also be interested to know whether those who were pro Welsh independence tended to be pro Brexit or not. Who in Wales was most likely to back Brexit?

        1. John says:

          Andrew – I was living in Wales in 2016 and my recollections are that Tory voters were most likely to vote for Brexit. There was also a high vote for Brexit in some poorer areas – Merthyr for example- which paradoxically received a lot of EU funding. This Brexit vote was partly inspired by a wish to give Cameron& Osborne a bloody nose and the inflated promises of Leave side.
          My overriding memory from discussing with colleagues is that many people knew little about what EU did, it had not been a big priority at 2015 election and that they believed much of what was printed in popular press.
          As for how Welsh nationalists voted I can only say that anyone who I knew who supported an independent Wales voted to Remain in EU.

    2. 240102 says:

      Ethnic nationalism has run its course in our increasingly cosmopolitan world and is nowadays largely found as an atavistic reaction to that cosmopolitanism.

      Scottish nationalism does still retain some vestiges of that white supremacist/’Scotland for the Scots’ sh*t*, but is has for the most part ditched it in favour of a more inclusive civic nationalism. Regardless of how you self-identify racially or culturally or linguistically or whatever, and regardless of where you were born or where you come from or what heritage you own, so long as you participate in the civic life of the imagined community that is ‘Scotland’ (e.g. by paying taxes towards its governance or voting in its elections), you’re Scottish and no one is ‘more Scottish’ than you are.

      1. Niemand says:

        This misses a very significant point though, regardless of how you define being Scottish which cannot be swept under the carpet without consequences: in any place (socio-geographic) some people have a greater connection and understanding of it due to longevity in terms of their own lives and their ancestors and they have, over generations of handing down language, art, music, religion, politics, cultural mores and all the rest of it, played a greater part in determining the culture we call Scottish. The fact that culture is always changing, in part due to new people entering that culture, does not change this fact.

        Nothing replaces being born and growing up somewhere in terms of that understanding and connection. Therefore if we allow that to be a part-determinate of Scottishness (and it would be a logical abdication and ideologically driven reason to exclude it), then not all are equal in the claim to Scottishness. This need have nothing to do with the political idea of ‘a Scot’ and the right to be thought of as such through paying taxes and participation but to give it no recognition strikes me as the bastard inverse son of ethnic nationalism: highly reductive, at best. This is true anywhere in the world and very many societies seek to protect cultural heritage and living traditions and need not be exclusionary in doing so. It is, however, exclusionary to suggest it does not matter and has no import.

        At the end of the day people care about the place they live and its culture, which in many ways, is what a place is, and no ideology will stop that. If you do ignore it or even belittle it, the result is people turn to ethnic nationalism and ultimately, fascism. This is, in part, what is happening across Europe.

        1. John says:

          For political purposes to be a Scot only requires three things:
          To live in Scotland
          To obey the laws of Scotland
          To pay your taxes in Scotland
          What nationality someone identifies as is a separate matter – eg if someone supports England at rugby or football etc while living in Scotland that is up to then.
          Culturally Scotland has its own heritage. The culture of a country will change over time and it is up to the resident whether they buy into culture.
          I lived outside Scotland for many years but always considered myself Scottish nationally and culturally. I still expected to be treated as any other resident/ citizen of that country should be.

      2. Satan says:

        ‘Civic’ nationality can be just as intolerant as ‘ethnic’ nationality. The two terms are pretty interchangable with one being more bureaucratic than the other, and civic structures can be even more comprehensively oppressive than a slavering mob. If someone is a nationalist with with inclusive ideals, they should say so, but bear in mid that nationalism is by definition exclusive, hence Mr Small resorting to the term ‘creative disintegration’, which could be more honestly phrased as ‘creating disintigration’.

    3. Wul says:

      “The Indy movement is determined for Scotland to rejoin the EU,…”

      Wrong (again). The indy movement is determined for Scotland – to have the power to decide if it wants- to rejoin the EU.
      Big, important difference.

      Being shackled to the rotting, onanistic corpse of UKania means eternal stasis.

  3. Alan Crocket says:

    I’m afraid I see no justification for characterizing the route to Scottish independence as either blocked, locked or botched. No one has blocked it, no one has locked it, and no one has botched it. The sole route to independence is the same as it always has been – a plebiscitary general election – and it lies open to the SNP, as the only entity which can run a such a thing on a sufficiently nation-wide scale, to publish the brief manifesto which would be required, in essence “Vote for the SNP and Scotland WILL go independent”. Unfortunately, for some reason which is not explained, they are determined not to use that route, but to seek only a majority of seats and then to defer to London. Why they have adopted that suicidal policy when SNP support is much lower than the roughly 50% consistent support for independence is a mystery. At their recent national conference in Aberdeen, a straw poll of attendees showed that about 75% believed that Scotland could go independent without London’s agreement, yet they voted virtually unanimously for Yousaf’s manifestly useless independence policy, presumably having swallowed his nonsensical gnomic utterances on the matter.
    Unless the party changes its line, this is going to be a disaster for the SNP and, more importantly, for the cause of independence. That is not blocking, locking or botching. It is simply cutting our own throat.

    1. So what is the threshold for gaining independence via an SNP vote?

      1. Alan Crocket says:

        The threshold is a majority of votes. Scotland is today a member of the Union by virtue of a democratic majority of No votes in the 2014 referendum. That is what must be overturned. In the modern world there is a democratic imperative that major decisions must be made by the people. The power to take Scotland out of the Union lies with its supreme representatives, its MPs, but they would require a true democratic mandate to do so. If Scotland is given the vote (which will only happen if the SNP issue the appropriate manifesto, of which there is no sign whatsoever right now) and votes Yes, and the SNP (which by that fact would sweep up virtually every Scottish seat at Westminster) is resolved to fulfil its manifesto by taking the step of independence, London will then, but only then, relent, and independence will come about by agreement between Edinburgh and London. The Union authorities have always accepted that the constitutional position is that Scotland can leave if it wishes. I cannot find any authoritative Union statement to the contrary. Indeed the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012 would not have been consistent with any other view. They will try for a No vote, but will accept that on a Yes vote, Scotland leaves. So the way is open for Scotland. If we don’t use it, that is down to ourselves (in the form of the SNP) entirely.

        1. Okay, but as polling currently stands this is a guaranteed was to lose isn’t it? It’s possible the SNP are going to lose the majority of seats never mind the majority of votes at the next election, so why would this be a good strategy?

          1. Alan Crocket says:

            If the election is run as an ordinary election, it is virtually certain that the SNP will do worse than before, perhaps disastrously so (in the sense that if they do not win a majority of the Scottish seats that will probably deprive Scotland of any possibility of independence as long as that situation persists, even if Yes was to win a subsequent Holyrood plebiscitary election by a wide margin, because we would lack sufficient MPs to take the the actual step and so would be unable to hold that threat over London, which would therefore see no need to cooperate). If the election is turned into a plebiscite on independence by the appropriate manifesto from the SNP, it will function more like a referendum, with an extremely high turnout and with voters’ minds focused on that issue, somewhat as they were in 2014. That referendum campaign took place when polling support was much lower than the current 50%. Neither victory nor failure is guaranteed, but current polled support and festering disillusion with the Union should mean a better chance of success for Yes than ten years ago. An ordinary election and a ‘quasi referendum’ are two entirely different animals.

          2. John says:

            While I agree in principle with Alan’s proposal I am afraid I think he is being naive if he thinks Westminster will roll over and agree to independence. At best they may agree to another independence referendum. My only caveat is if SNP polled either above 60% of all votes cast or more than 2 million votes (beating No vote at last referendum).
            Westminster will make life very difficult for any proposed Scottish administration and I doubt other countries (or EU) would support Scotland going it alone in these circumstances which would probably be economically very difficult for Scotland.
            My evidence for these assertions are the behaviour of Westminster over last 10 years. An independent Scotland will have not only economic impact on Uk but will be of enormous damage to its prestige and international standing. That is reason Westminster will not give Scotland independence without a fight.

          3. Alan Crocket says:

            (This is a reply to John, 3rd January 2024 at 1:01 pm)
            I think you underestimate the depth to which the Union would sink by seeking to prevent Scottish independence after a plebiscitary Yes vote. It would have no script – whatsoever. The Union has no constitutional or legal barrier to Scotland’s exit, and that fact has been acknowledged by the rare, but repeated, statements from London that it is consensual, and the absence of any to the contrary. The utter emptiness of any purported prohibition of independence after a Yes vote is also clear from the following. The vote would have taken place under the most solemn and democratic procedure available, the sole route available after London had refused a referendum. The propriety of Scottish independence on a majority Scotland-only vote has already been given practical effect by London’s agreement to the 2014 referendum. The UK has in law a standing provision for the exit of Northern Ireland. The UK would be unable to pray any substantive justification at all, and to hold Scotland to the Union in the face of a Yes vote would be no less than the most flagrant oppression. It is for those who claim London would take that course to make its case, but I cannot imagine what that case could possibly be. (“We are stopping Scotland from going independent, purely and simply because we don’t want it to”?). And if this is a Union, what of England? Must England obtain Scotland’s agreement before it could go independent itself? If the answer to that is no, then in what sense are we in a Union, rather than a prison, at all?

          4. John says:

            Reply to Alan C
            Alan I think we already know that Westminster will not respect wishes of electorate in Scotland without a passing thought for democracy evidenced by the refusal to hold a second referendum despite this being front and centre in 2021 Holyrood election. Look how they have treated Scotland in post Brexit arrangements.
            The reality is that Westminster will only accept independence following another referendum and they will not agree to another referendum if they think Yes may win. Westminster only agreed to 2014 referendum as they thought No would win comfortably thus damaging SNP and Labour (one outcome which they did get correct).
            Westminster will need to be forced by international community to accept Scottish independence if voted for by any other route. To get this international support will require a clear and overwhelming victory for Yes side via a general election process which with best will in the world is highly unlikely at the present point in time.
            Without international support and agreement from Westminster an independent Scotland will be at the mercy of Westminster vengeance. This will be to the detriment to the welfare of most people in Scotland.
            I am a supporter of independence but I am also a realist and this in my opinion is the realpolitik of where we stand at moment.
            My only solution is another referendum (which is now established route) and this can only be forced from Westminster when we have an obvious large majority for Yes. In such circumstances if Westminster still refuses a referendum we could use international support to pressure Westminster to agree to one.

          5. Alan Crocket says:

            Reply to John, 3rd January 2024 at 5:44 pm
            I’m afraid we’re far apart on how we see the realities. I don’t regard London’s treatment of Scotland under the Union as indicative of how it will react to a democratically-mandated exit, rather pretty much an automatic result of the dysfunction which is built-in to the Union, whereby Scotland can be ignored with no consequence, since it constitutes a mere fraction of less than 10%. I don’t know what you mean by forced by the international community. If Scotland chooses, and takes the step of, independence, countries will make their own choice whether to recognise it, and that will largely come down to whether Scotland has the required governmental paraphernalia (much of which it already has) and can govern within its own jurisdiction. Most importantly, on the question of London allowing a referendum, I do not see that there is any level of support for independence in Scotland that will bring it about. In fact it may well be that the greater the support, the less likely. Nor could that be put down to Union contempt for Scottish democracy, so long has Scotland holds the power, which it certainly does, to conduct a plebiscite (by means of any general election) but declines to do so.
            Given the gulf between us, I don’t think this exchange is getting us anywhere, but I will leave the last word to you, if you wish. Let me just finally say that I do think the SNP leadership, as far as it has any rationale for its so-called route to independence, takes your position rather than mine.

          6. Satan says:

            Any party is free to put forward a single-issue manifesto for an election, but please don’t call an election a plebiscite because it’s not. People often enter local elections on single-issue campaigns but I don’t think that any of them have ever been concieted enought to claim that the election is an actual referendum on bin-collection.

          7. SleepingDog says:

            @Satan, well, indeed. There can be a multiplicity of civil campaigns going on during a general election, like Greenpeace’s Project Climate Vote:
            and possibly the only thing our electoral system is fit for is to remove an unpopular government and replace it with an as-yet-not-so-unpopular one. Many voters will be thinking about the lesser of the evils presented rather than committing to a positive endorsement. And as I keep saying, large swathes of policy are typically not within the influence of the popular vote (particularly foreign policy and the Empire), which I guess contributed greatly to the frustrations that may have let off steam in the Brexit referendum, a rare chance.

          8. Alan Crocket says:

            Reply to Satan, 5th January 2024 at 12:44 pm
            Well, it’s the manifestos that determine what an election is about. Use whatever terminology you wish, but what if the bin-collection candidates win more than 50% of the votes and take almost every seat?

  4. SleepingDog says:

    All good, but remember the decolonisation goal of ending the British Empire rather than simply the British state (1), and therefore openness to voices within the formal and informal Empire, as well as the Commonwealth (royalist or republican) would be appropriate, not just Welsh and Irish.

    Even in states that are now at least nominally independent of the British Empire, its legacy endures in institutions, culture and legal codes, and increasing tension and rejection/replacement of these will produce stories worth telling and patterns worth analysing.

    Certainly there are also themes like militarism and (un)realistic planetary ideologies which cut across these six.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      Some of the themes of a political turn towards nature are summarised in this Guardian piece:
      which I think manages to convey that legal rights are not enough, and political representation will be required.

  5. florian albert says:

    Imagine that, instead of running an online magazine, Mike Small was running a political party and planning a campaign for the coming year.
    How interested would Scottish voters be in the prospectus on offer ? My guess is, not very interested at all.
    This lack of interest can be interpreted in at least two ways; one, that voters are not interested in issues that should concern them greatly and two, that there is a gap between what Scotland’s progressive left and Scottish voters view as important. If the latter is the case, then Mike Small’s
    focus for 2024 is likely to fall on deaf ears.

    1. I mean, its an interesting counterfactual, but I’m not running a political party. As Steve Biko said: “I write what I like”.

      You seem to suggest that an editor and a publisher should look for what is popular and then follow it for clicks and sales. I’m not interested in that and if you want to read mainstream media it will serve up the content you are seeking: bland business-as-usual crap. Do enjoy it if that’s what you after.

      1. florian albert says:

        If there were a general election in the near future, it is likely that the themes concerning voters would be; Inflation/cost of living and its impact on ordinary people and Health care; specifically the difficulty in accessing NHS treatment. Recently MSM in Scotland have been devoting a good deal of space to falling attainment and disruption in our schools.
        There is plenty of rubbish in Scotland’s main stream media but they also focus on things which matter most to voters. When they don’t, they lose readers. The circulation figures for The Herald and Scotsman, in comparison with the P and J and The Courier, show this.
        If you and Bella Caledonia want to bring about change, being in touch with voters’ concerns matters hugely.

        1. I mean even a cursory glance at our output would make you realise that social inequality and the cost of living crisis is a recurring ever-present issue to which we return again and again. This is just a given. Anyway these are our editorial priorities and you are very welcome to read us – as you seem to – or not.

    2. John says:

      FA – the reason I and many others read BC is because the views expressed are not widely available in mainstream media.
      Your comment is an early contender for dumbest comment of 2024!

  6. 240102 says:

    I get that, culturally, some people feel a spiritual connection with the place of their birth. I live less than 12 miles from where I was born; my parents and grandparents were all born within this same 12 mile radius; I used to write poetry that ‘sang’ this country. I’m culturally constructed to feel this connection keenly and to express it in particular ways.

    But I don’t see how even this spiritual connection can extend even by analogy to something as distant and abstract as a nation and a putative national culture as exclusively defined by some curator. I’m united to others only by what we share in common, and the only thing I share in common with another who was born and bred and continues to live in Caithness is the fact that we both participate in the civic life of the same imagined community called ‘Scotland’; our common citizenship, in other words.

    I understand that there are others who are so culturally constituted as to feel that their nativity and/or indigeneity make them ‘more Scottish’ than citizens who were born elsewhere or who don’t not share the same cultural inheritance as them. But they’re part of the problem. If we’re going to create a fairer and more equal Scotland, we can’t continue to insist that some citizens are ‘more Scottish’ than others because they happen to have been born here or have been inducted through their upbringing into some putative national culture or feel some quasi-mystical spiritual connection with places within its political jurisdiction.

    1. Niemand says:

      It is you who have introduced the word ‘exclusively’ as in ‘national culture as exclusively defined by some curator’. This means you are answering a point never made. The point was clear – some things matter more than others when we consider what a culture is, even as that culture changes, but not exclusively so. Not to think that would mean all cultures are flat and uniform and in effect, barely exist because only by differentiation and emphases does such a thing as a distinct culture have any real meaning. Things change all the time but not evenly in either time or substance.

      You say:
      ‘I understand that there are others who are so culturally constituted as to feel that their nativity and/or indigeneity make them ‘more Scottish’ than citizens who were born elsewhere or who don’t not share the same cultural inheritance as them. But they’re part of the problem.’

      Imagine a scenario – you got to Nepal and meet some Nepalese people who are clearly ethnically Nepalese, speak the language effortlessly, inform you about very subtle aspects of Nepalese culture and show you the intricacies of the neighbourhood. You later meet a man, a Caucasian with an American accent, speaks no Nepalese, has only superficial knowledge of Nepalese culture and only knows a very small part of the city you are in. He does not appear to be that interested in Nepalese culture or language and lives in a compound with others of US origin. But he has lived in Nepal for several years and now has citizenship. Only a fool would say the first people you met were not more Nepalese than the second. Can’t you see how warped such thinking is? It makes no sense, is not based on evidence and is illogical.

      You continue:
      ‘If we’re going to create a fairer and more equal Scotland, we can’t continue to insist that some citizens are ‘more Scottish than others’.

      It matters not if you think people are insisting on whatever, they will continue to reject the absurd and the more it is insisted that they do embrace the absurd, the more they react against that and turn to darker forces.

      1. Derek Williams says:

        But what criteria and who decides where everyone sits on your caste system based on a ‘hierarchy of Scottishness’? Will we have ‘Separate but Equal’ bathrooms and water fountains?

      2. 240103 says:

        I did introduce ‘exclusively’ in my original point, which was that ethnic nationalism excludes from the collective identity of a nation residents who don’t belong to the dominant ethnic group (whether defined by a common nativity, bloodline, cultural heritage, language, history, or whatever). Civic nationalism does not; civic nationalism includes in the collective identity of a nation everyone who participates in the civic life of that imagined community irrespective of their birthplace, pedigree, cultural heritage, language, history, etc.

        Of course this is counter-intuitive; our intuitions have been formed by centuries of tradition, by which our collective identities have been defined by othering ‘outsiders’ rather than by civic participation. That’s the prejudice or intuition that I’m calling into question here. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t self-identify as belonging to some native or indigenous community, or to some particular linguistic or cultural community, or to some historical inheritance; I’m saying that none of these things should be used to define our collective identity as a nation or to create inequalities within that community.

        And, counter-intuitively, I would consider a body ‘Scottish’ even if s/he was non-Caucasian, spoke no English (let alone Gaelic), had only a superficial knowledge of and little interest in my cultural heritage, lived in a gated community or ghetto, and knows only Glasgow… providing s/he participated as a citizen in the civic life of that imagined community. I certainly wouldn’t exclude them as ‘Scottish’ or consider them any ‘less Scottish’ than I am.

        We shouldn’t pander to those who reject this ‘absurdity’ and take refuge in the atavistic notions of ‘Scotland’ and ‘Scottishness’. Let them go over to the dark side.

        1. Niemand says:

          You do not understand or are not wishing to understand what I am saying, ditto Derek Williams but clearly wilfully on his part. You want to talk about something different which is fine but is much less interesting and important since most can agree about an all embracing idea of citizenship in which all citizens (who technically qualify as such) make up and participate in the society equally, they all contribute to what the culture of that place is and are therefore Scots (in this instance). Only hardcore ethnic nationalists would disagree and I am in the same boat as you, and I assume Derek, on that one.

          However, the culture of a place is made up of its people (interacting with its geography / environment) and in most places a small number of groups, or even just one, predominate by number. This is totally normal though most societies are much less homogenous than they used to be. How do you think this affects what the predominate culture of a place is at any one time; what those outside and within think that those cultural markers are? People living in culture to do not identify ‘with’ a culture, they are the culture (or perhaps, multi-cultures), they embody it as the sum of their being present, and given the heterogenous mix, the culture will be proportionately heterogenous. Those proportions determine what a notion like Scottishness means and even though that is never static, it is still has qualities more, or less, associated with that meaning.

          1. 240104 says:

            My original comment was in response to Steve H and was indeed to question his suggestion that nationalism might be said to be a right-wing trait. I was countering this suggestion by distinguishing his ethnic nationalism (which identifies nationality with belonging to a particular ethnic group) and civic nationalism (which doesn’t). Civic nationalism is a liberal phenomenon, which Steve would probably deride as a product of ‘critical race theory’ or some such ‘graduate’ anti-white nonsense.

            I agree that a culture is something one lives rather than owns, something by which one’s life is socially constructed rather something one chooses, which is why I usually characterise it as a ‘form of life’ rather than a ‘commodity’ or ‘lifestyle choice’.

            I also agree that every society’s culture is a multiculture, made up of ever-shifting ‘constellations’ or ‘forcefields’ of economies, social systems, knowledge systems, values, norms, behaviours, mythologies, tastes, and expressions.

            I also agree that, within this multiculture, the behaviour, institutions, and norms found in the most powerful community, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these communities, will tend to predominate.

            But, while this predominance may be dismissed as ‘natural’, it’s still wrong: like any power imbalance, it distorts the communicative action of a society (the cooperative action undertaken by the diverse individuals and communities that make up that society, based on mutual deliberation and argumentation, to their mutual benefit), inhibits the emergence of a genuine consensus or ‘general will’ in the public space we all occupy, and is for that reason profoundly undemocratic.

            To produce a genuine consensus, a society’s communicative action must approximate to that of an ‘ideal speech situation’. An ideal speech situation is a dialogue that’s completely free and uncoerced, in which each voice carries equal weight, and in which no force prevails but that of the better argument. In his ‘Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Programme of Philosophical Justification’, Jürgen Habermas summarises the ideal speech situation as one in which:

            1 Every speaker’s allowed to take part in the conversation.

            2.1 Every speaker’s allowed to question any assertion whatever.

            2.2 Every speaker’s allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the conversation.

            2c. Every speaker’s allowed to express their attitudes, desires, and needs without any reservation or censorship.

            3. No speaker is prevented, by internal or external coercion, from exercising his rights as laid down in 1 and 2.

            Now, of course, such an ideal speech situation can never be realised. But we can develop frameworks of collective decision-making that approximate to that ideal and can continually be incrementally improved upon, political frameworks that no one will deem perfect from the point of view of their own personal and/or communal interests, but in which everyone within the dissonant whole can acquiesce through a shared recognition that the alternatives to such democratic integration – assimilation, hegemony, or culture war the sort that Steve’s alt-right buddies threaten us with – would be even worse for those interests. That’s the sort of Scotland and Scottishness that I’d like to see.

          2. I’d forgotten the detail of Habermas’s Ideal Speech, thanks. Are there any parameters to this 240104?

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @Editor, you mean like filibusters
            and speech inequality ranging from non-verbal autism to Edmund Burke? The use of bad speech (cacophony) to derail progress? The private schooling in rhetoric, sophistry, theology, debating culture and spin to override public discourse? The relative uselessness in and maladaptations of everyday language in deliberations on technical and specialist matters? The infinite amount of time required to debate finite and pressing matters in a world dynamically populated by billions of humans (and other lifeforms)? The malevolent or even recreational use of language to intimidate, obstruct and abuse processes? The practical requirements for collective statements? Things that are vital but few are interested or qualified in debating (like sewer systems and preserving ecosystems)? The lobbyists paid (not coerced) to push a particular viewpoint? The most expensive lawyers and Ciceros on retainer? The speakers so off-putting that large parts of the assembly will turn off from debate (or fall asleep during it)? The people tongue-tied and reluctant to speak in public? The competing interest groups that will insist on talking past each other?

            Where is the evidence that this model of talk is better talk? Plus, y’know, “brevity is the soul of wit” and all that. Give everyone their 15 minutes of trolling, why not. We can be discussing whether the Earth is flat or which if any god is punishing whom by floods and pestilence till time runs out. I mean, if the words of a thousand climate scientists are outweighed by the words of a thousand-and-one random people on climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience, where is this judgment coming from?

            Sounds like a talking shop for blowhard reactionaries posing as champions of democracy while the world burns and floods around them.

          4. Not quite, what I mean is that complete free speech – endless and un mediated – has its downfalls. After moderating this website for over a decade (how long is it?) the idea of ‘the ideal speech’ scenario is an abstraction

          5. SleepingDog says:

            @Editor, well, to be functional, democracies have to be constrained (usually by a Constitution). Ancient Athenian democracy was constrained by only allowing qualifying male citizens to participate. And the mode of decision-making has to fit the season and circumstance. There is an interesting example in The Dawn of Everything where Graeber and Wendrow cite Lévi-Strauss’ 1944 essay about Brazilian Nambikwara people describing a largely equal society electing chiefs to make hard autocratic decisions in dry, nomadic season; but merely gently persuade in the wet, settled, horticultural season. In wartime and other emergencies, decision-making tends to be necessarily more constrained. So should it be in our current polycrisis. Smart societies will do their deliberations as much in advance of emergencies as possible (say, in pandemic preparation).

            There are many other concerns about the quality and resource-allocation for speech (and who is forced to listen). Noam Chomsky made the point well that novel ideas (which Bella assures us it will be covering) take longer to explain than familiar ones, so for best contemplation of potential choices, more time should be allotted for novel ideas, especially if they are complex.

            You have to factor in missing voices: future generations, children too young to participate, non-human voices (whose incorporation is the subject of more mature forms of political philosophy), voices of people too burdened by toil, care, illness and lack of time and resources (so really some egalitarian society would be required before anything approaching this ‘ideal’, but how will you get there without that ‘ideal’?), people who do not have the political language as a first language or do not speak it fluently.

            Some people suggest that our modern languages (English, Scots, Gaelic) lack the kind of precision and functionality required for truly effective political discussion, so a new language should ideally be invented for the purpose (Iain M Banks’ Marain, for example). This may become essential if artificial intelligence is employed in major governance roles, so the language of politics is machine-readable and unambiguous.

            Multiplicity of languages certainly seems a challenge for large multiethnic nations like Malaysia and Indonesia, but maybe not an insuperable one. We should also look at how multi-lingual, multi-ethnic international organisations function if we want to learn how political debate can scale up (and indeed the United Nations appears to be actively looking into the political and legal representation and rights of non-humans).

            Well, no doubt this will a step too far for some. “There will always be a Cato” is what I would say if I favoured rhetoric over philosophy. The human voice is often overrated as a political input.

          6. 240104 says:

            First and foremost, it only covers public discourse in its scope; it applies only to deliberations that pertain to public decision-making

            Secondly, it’s primarily a tool of criticism, a benchmark of free and open public discussion against which we can evaluate the practices and institutions through which issues of public policy are decided in actual democracies. As I said to Niemand, the ideal can never be realised, but it’s something we can aspire to in and demand of our public discourse.

            For example, I used Habermas in evaluating the quality of democratic decision-making in my community development work, particularly in support of local health action and resilience groups and community councils. Local people would identify an issue of concern to them in their neighbourhood (e.g. social isolation among older people, the incidence of suicide and self-harm among young people, lack of after-school care for children with additional needs and their siblings, lack of support for people with caring responsibilities, vandalism, a sh*tty bus service, lack of parenting support, etc.) and come together to draw-up and implement an action plan to address that issue. Periodically, the group would review not only how well it was performing in making the difference it had set out to make, but also how open, participatory, and democratic was the process of its decision-making as measured against the success criteria set out in Habermas’s ideal speech situation.

            The question is whether this standard of public discourse could equally be applied to more general levels of government; e.g through the use of ad hoc citizens’ juries to decide issues of district/regional/national/supranational concern.

          7. John Learmonth says:

            Outside of western Liberal societies every country on the planet espouses ‘ethnic nationlism’.
            Nobody’s emigrating to India/Muslim countries/China/South America/Africa.
            Everybody wants to live in the west and ‘to use a left wing term’ the indigenous populations of the west are getting pissed off about it but if they dare to complain are just dismissed as a bunch of fascists, hence the rise of the so called ‘dark forces’.

          8. Niemand says:

            ‘But, while this predominance may be dismissed as ‘natural’, it’s still wrong: like any power imbalance, it distorts the communicative action of a society (the cooperative action undertaken by the diverse individuals and communities that make up that society, based on mutual deliberation and argumentation, to their mutual benefit), inhibits the emergence of a genuine consensus or ‘general will’ in the public space we all occupy, and is for that reason profoundly undemocratic.’

            This is where the unreality sets in for me, and also a false merging of culture and politics. Cultural power imbalances are literally inevitable in any society. There is nothing ‘wrong’ about them, they are simply a consequence of one group having greater numbers and being present for longer so the culture they embody has more weight, volume, call it what you will. If a culture reflects the mixed make up of its people then that mixture will not be even but it need not be exclusionary or oppressively dominant. So it is how you deal with that uneven mixture that matters. It also begs the question of what cultural power actually is (which will vary within communities and in a more meta-sense) and that though there is blurring, is distinct political power, and I feel the list of questions is more about that than culture and in that respect they seem perfectly sound.

          9. 240105 says:

            @John Learmonth

            That simply isn’t true. According to the World Population Review, in 2020:

            China was home to 1m migrants
            India 5m migrants
            Jordan 3.5m
            Kazakhstan 3.75m
            Lebanon 1.7m
            Oman 2.4m
            Russia 1m
            Saudi Arabia 13.5m

            Migration is a global phenomenon; it’s not just aimed at undermining Western civilisation, as Steve and his alt-right buddies would have us believe.


            Yes, it’s an abstraction, a set of criteria against which the relative openness, accessibility, and freedom of our public decision-making processes may be evaluated. The clue’s in the term ‘ideal speech’ situation.

            I’m not sure that the Comments sections in Bella count as public discourse; it falls outside the parameters of Habermas’s theory of communicative action, which (as I said) pertains only to cooperative action undertaken by the diverse individuals and communities that make up a society in the governance of their collective affairs, aiming at the emergence of a general will. There’s no decision-making involved or consensus sought in your reader’s comments; it’s rather the sort of discourse that Heidegger characterised as ‘Gerede’ – endless chatter, by which we seek to reassure ourselves that what we’re doing and thinking has importance while the world burns.

            So, Habermas’s ‘ideal speech’ device is hardly pertinent to whether, in moderating this chatter, you choose to restrict who’s allowed to participate in the conversations, what assertions they’re allowed to make or to question, or what attitudes, desires, and needs they’re allowed to express. As the owner of the blog, that’s your prerogative.


            Yes, such power imbalances in civil society are ‘simply a consequence of one group having greater numbers and being present for longer so the culture they embody has more weight, volume, call it what you will’.

            But my point is that they aren’t a necessary consequence; the power imbalances in our society aren’t inevitable. It’s entirely possible and desirable to constitute our public decision-making in ways that minimise the distortion those imbalances bring to our deliberations in making those decisions.

            It’s a basic tenet of civic nationalism that public decision-making should be an expression of the general will of society (i.e. consensual) rather than of the particular will of a dominant group within that society. Contrary to this, ethnic nationalists would privilege the will of their own particular ethnic group, as defined by race, history, or cultural inheritance, over that of ‘others’ in the management of our public affairs. By applying the standards by which Habermas and others like him define an ‘ideal speech situation’ to our public discourse, we might minimise the danger of such tyranny coming to pass.

            Incidentally, the prescriptions of Habermas’s theory of communicative action equally apply to power imbalances in society based on class, gender, income, education, etc., as well as ethnicity, which also distort out public discourse and inhibit the emergence of a general will in our public decision-making.

        2. John Learmonth says:

          Both China and India have populations over 1 billion, so the migrant population (whover they are) is statistically insignificant.
          The Arab countries you’ve selected:
          Jordan and Lebanon, refugees fleeing conflict from neighbouring countries and given the chance will leave, who can blame them?
          The gulf states (Saudi Arabia/Oman) the migrant population are overwhelmingly guest workers with no rights of citizenship and once their contracts are over they have to leave.
          I’m afraid your been somewhat disingenuous to compare these countries to Western societies and pretending otherwise just gives the likes of StevieH and his alt-right buddies more fuel to their ‘graduate elite’ conspiracy theories.

          1. 240105 says:

            I wasn’t making any comparison, John; I was just pointing our that your claim that ‘Nobody’s emigrating to India/Muslim countries/China/South America/Africa. Everybody wants to live in the west…’ isn’t true.

  7. Críostóir says:

    Very heartened to see this new focus. I think Bella can show real leadership for the wider indy movement through doing something like this.

    Bhithinn toilichte alt no dithist [sic] a sgrìobhadh ma bhios àite ann airson na Gàidhlig.

    1. Welsh_Siôn says:

      Ok, Scotland, I have a petition for you to sign:

      Abolish the name ‘Wales’ and make ‘CYMRU’ the only name for our country.
      Wales is a name imposed on Cymru and is essentially not a Welsh word at all. The world knows about Wales because of its English connection since 1282. Hardly anyone has heard of Cymru or realises that we have our own unique language and culture which is totally different from the other countries within the United Kingdom.

      Many thanks / Diolch yn fawr

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Welsh_Siôn, your request reminded me of an article describing the official names of India/Bhārat:
        Essentially their settlement appears to be supplying official names for each language group. Why would that not be satisfactory for Cymru/Wales? I assume Aotearoa/New Zealand is in a similar case. I suppose the national sports teams can express their preference in the way that Netherlands overrides Holland (although perhaps it should be overridden itself by Nederland, though the national teams within the Kingdom are multiple)?

        I mean, after Independence, you can call yourselves whatever the Republic of Cymru is in Welsh if you collectively decide to do so? I suppose these issues are sometimes fraught and occupy the deliberations of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names. If I understand their position, there are a list of short official names in each of the six official languages of the UN, one of which is English, and these are used to provide convenient labels (for delegates etc). I can understand that you would prefer the first Welsh representative at the United Nations General Assembly would sit behind a label reading ‘Cymru’, but is this really practical at the moment?

        1. 240106 says:

          In identity politics, it’s vital to differentiate oneself from the Other. Eschewing the name ‘Wales’, which derives from the Old English ‘wealh/walh’ (‘servile’), in favour of ‘Cymru’, which derives from the Brythonic ‘combrogi’ (‘compatriot’), is a way for Cymric nationalists to assert their own ethnic identity by differentiating themselves from the English in the eyes of the world.

          1. Niemand says:

            I cannot find any clear info that Wales means ‘servile’ or was used in that sense:

            ‘The words “Wales” and “Welsh” come from the Anglo-Saxon use of the term “wealas” to describe (among other things) the people of Britain who spoke Brittonic – a Celtic language used throughout Britain which later developed into Welsh, Cornish, Breton and other languages. English writers viewed the inhabitants of Wales as different to themselves, but at the same time “wealas” wasn’t exclusively used to refer to the people of Wales. The same terminology was sometimes applied to the Cornish, for example, with “wealas” reflected in the last part of Cornwall, as “wall”.’ (Wales Online)

  8. Satan says:

    Unfortunately it doesn’t sould like Bella intends to cover things in Scotland with the exception of the micro-niche and possibly the nebulous.

    1. Of course we’ll be covering ‘things in Scotland’. Can’t you read?

      1. Satan says:

        I look forward to your 2024 opus and I hope it is more relevant than that from 2023. But irrelevant stuff is a pleasure. More focus on general reality and less coverage of bo-bo bourgoius government-funded niche arts-inopratives is always a hope, along with less hated towards those that disagree with you. But hope is the last to die. Probably my greatest hope is that in 2024 climate change activism moves out of the upper middle class and their sprogs. The schoolkid boycot rallies were great, but they were years ago, and since it looks like people glueing themselves to motorways with little else than an expensive education and people shouting ‘fuck oil’ who sound like they went to Eton.

        1. I think you should maybe just not be here

    2. John says:

      Bella obviously has enough relevance to you Satan as you frequently ‘comment’
      on it.

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