Upturned Boats and the Hyper Banal

Increasingly Britain looks like Absurdistan, a bizarre dysfunctional place where the centrist political parties converge on doing nothing about the ongoing genocide in Gaza and share a dismal economic outlook as Britain heads again into recession. Take a glance at the chaos of the Rochdale byelection or the manic debate about naming the London Overground trains (Lioness, Mildmay, Windrush, Weaver, Suffragette and Liberty) which threw right-wing pundits into a spasm of outrage.

Yet Scotland too has become a strangely stuck and stagnant place, having moved from the liminal to limbo where so much dwells in everyday banality. As the writer Neil Mackay wrote this week: “Scotland has become Lilliput, a place of small ideas dominated by small people. Across nationalism and unionism, Scotland’s political discourse – from the street to social media and all the way to Parliament – has become petty and absurd. We fail ourselves.”

It was brutal but he’s partly right.

We are caught in-between a devolution settlement that satisfies nobody and any opportunity for constitutional change being quashed and delayed. Under devolution managerial classes and landed power are quite content and empowered. Any attempts at more radical changes (or even very ordinary and basic policy changes) from Holyrood are deemed a threat by the Unionist parties and by the British government.

Twenty five years ago we voted in the first elections for the new Scottish Parliament and witnessed the opening of Holyrood with a fair amount of hope and expectation. Much of that seems lost now. The Catalan architect Enrico Miralles, one of Europe’s leading contemporary architects, was chosen unanimously from a worldwide list of 70 applicants to create the building. His outline designs for the £50M complex were intended to resemble a cluster of upturned Scottish fishing boats. Kathleen Jamie described it in a two-line aphorism: “an upturned boat / a watershed”. But it doesn’t seem much of a watershed today. We are now trapped in a political settlement that many see as inadequate and severely limited, and others view as deeply threatening.

Devolution has been a useful stepping stone, a measurement of power and an exercise in partial democracy. We have two legislatures now, one we elect and one we do not, one that issues in destructive or dysfunctional legislation that the other one tries to mitigate. Its an extraordinary and unsustainable dynamic to be in.

A quarter of a century on from devolution, surveying the wreckage of post-Dewarite Scottish Labour we see a party hollowed-out, even as it stands on the verge of peripheral power. Anas Sarwar tells us from the Daily Record he will ‘stand up to Starmer for Scotland’. It’s a strange message that, somehow the main threat we should be worrying about is the leader of his own party.

Labour, the party which claims to have delivered devolution, is now largely hostile to it and the mission-creep of shooting the Nationalist Fox (again) has disintegrated into an altogether different tone. So deeply wedded to the idea of Union are Labour that they view the devolved parliament as something that should be managed, limited and contained. With the democratic blueprint that Gordon Brown was assiduously nurturing (in private) over years for extended devolution, the F Bomb, infamous reform of the House of Lords, or whatever, quietly shelved, the party has little to say.

It looked for a while like the SNP government was a mirror to the Conservative one in London. Both were incumbent parties running out of energy and ideas mired in controversy. But polls this week show the possibility of the next election being an extinction event for the Tories in Scotland and the possibility of the SNP winning 40 MPs – making gains from the Conservatives – with Scottish Labour on 13, and the Lib Dems four (Tories face wipeout in Scotland at next general election, bombshell poll predicts).

This would be a remarkable victory for the SNP after such troubled times, that would have been unthinkable only weeks ago. Yet would such a result actually change anything? It used to be that electing forty SNP members would be seen as a seismic event, sending shockwaves down to Westminster and heralding momentous change. Now it will shrugged at.

The consequences of this moribund politics is the hyper-banal. Unionist politicians in Scotland are forever in opposition where they operate the Bain Principle, (the idea never to support an SNP motion even if you agree with it). Instead of big ideas we get the endless discussion about Michael Matheson’s iPad, Nicola’s Whassap’s, ferries with painted windows, cold trains, and the latest Kate Forbes-intrigue. Scottish politics seems dominated by petty and dull minutiae, internecine squabbles and relentless negativity. Without a vision beyond devolution, or without the levers of a functioning democratic state we are destined to be served up cauld kale; ideas that are banal, stale and of low aspiration.

Can you imagine, for example, someone (anyone) coming up with ideas as bold as the hydro dam scheme for the highlands? Or, a genuinely radical intervention to the housing crisis, or a really ambitious move to face the climate crisis? It’s difficult to imagine any such thing happening.

Part of this is to do with the limitations of the political class and the powers of the parliament, but it is part of a wider and deeper malaise.

Running Out of Time, Running Out of Ideas

Politicians are facing levels of problems and levels of complexity as systems breakdown kicks in that few have witnessed before. If many western countries failed badly in their response to the pandemic (our own included) who can really blame them? In the face of gigantic bewildering problems we have old-school politicians states and systems using old technology, old ideology and old ways of thinking. The scale and nature of the problems we face is of a different order, if you consider global pandemics, AI and the impact of climate catastrophe.

Reflecting on the environmental cataclysm we face the American writer Bill McKibben has written that we have lived through the death of nature itself. Not just in the sense of the mass degradation of ecosystems but in the sense of the death of the idea of nature itself. McKibben states that humanity has stamped its presence over every geophysical aspect of life on Earth, so that “we have changed the atmosphere, and thus we are changing the weather.  By changing the weather, we make every spot on earth man-made and artificial.  We have deprived nature of its independence, and that is fatal to its meaning.  Nature’s independence is its meaning; without it there is nothing but us.”

A child born now,” states McKibben, “will never know a natural summer, a natural autumn, winter, or spring … he might swim in a stream free of toxic waste, but he won’t ever see a natural stream.  If the waves crash up on the beach, eroding dunes and destroying homes, it is not the awesome power of Mother Nature.  It is the awesome power of man, who has overpowered in a century the processes that have been slowly evolving and changing of their own accord since the earth was born.”

Others have suggested that the idea of the future itself has been lost in the metacrisis. Writing about Jonathan White’s book In the Long Run, the Future as a Political Idea, Simon Ings says:

“If democracies are to survive and flourish, they need to believe in the future. The prospect of brighter times ahead — that the problems of today can be solved in the elections of tomorrow — have been one of the key underpinnings of modern democratic systems. But what if that claim no longer holds? What if, say, you believe that an immediate crisis or issue is so pressing — climate change, for example — that the promise that things will work out in the long run no longer rings true?”

We can add to the death of nature and the death of the future the often used phrase from Frederic Jameson that “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”? This puts the sort of dire relentless managerialism into a world and historical context. It’s parochial to think that we are uniquely unambitious or especially useless. If this sense of impotence in the face of breakdown is all pervasive maybe we need to step back and reflect on the goals and functions of Scottish politics?

It seems that the central goal and analysis of the independence movement is to break with the British state. That being tied to an ancient and decrepit regime that is rotten to its core is a major handicap to the creation of a contemporary functioning democratic state. We can see this play out almost every day. But the problem is not that this is true it is that we need to create a really compelling alternative that people will be drawn to in overwhelming numbers. Even in the condition where the present constitutional relations deliver abject poverty on a wide scale, a large minority of people are still wedded to it.

If we look at how our thinking about independence and self-determination has evolved – and could evolve further, the following statements seem to hold true:

  1. We thought we needed a parliament when actually it was actually a democracy that we needed.
  2. We thought we could elect a new government but we need to overthrow one.
  3. Independence was understood as a seamless transition, it can’t be. If it is it’s not going to be worth anything. Independence is rupture.
  4. This was always about Raploch not Bannockburn.
  5. The problem of creating a new state is hampered by social breakdown.

The first point is really that devolution has outlived itself and its usefulness. Some of this was anticipated at the time of its invention. New political institutions without deeper political and social upheaval and change would be, by definition, managerial, it was argued.

The second point is really about the failure and limitations of electoral change. The failure and (in) competence of politics is often ascribed to personal failings in the soap opera of Scottish politics and social media. What’s become apparent is the limitation of effecting real social change through the ballot box or electoral politics within the current systems.

Third, as social and economic breakdown continues and accelerates, the idea of change being a gradual process that will leave power bases intact and the current authority undisturbed is fanciful. Independence will only come about through resistance, protest and a radical shift of power.

Fourthly, this is to say that the banality of politics we discussed earlier has its mirror with the independence movement itself. ‘Banal nationalism’ exists and needs to be self-critiqued from within. Exerting new forms and cultures within a new Yes movement could occlude reactionary elements.

Fifth, finally the problem of building a political movement with the energy and momentum to do any of these things is severely hampered by the lived experience of everyday life. The need to build infrastructures that allow people to overcome basic economic needs seems essential. They would include alternative institutions, ways of providing practical solidarity and mutual aid and also forms of articulation – song, poetry, theatre, film, writing, art – a general culture that endowed the wider movement and society with an enriched worldview.

The challenge for us is not just to stare at the state of Britain in gleeful delight at its disarray but to imagine something better, and to build it with values and cultures that are appropriate to the actual challenges we face. That could take us beyond banality and begin a real watershed.


Comments (62)

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  1. Graeme McCormick says:

    the problem is that there is no self belief amongst our political leaders to push the imaginary boundaries which actually don’t exist except in their heads.

    They take comfort in the restrictions they perceive to be imposed on them.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      That sums it up.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    What is British Unionism, in essence? Sometimes it appears like a cognitive disease, in which case a medical test for early-onset Unionism might be in order. At other times, it manifests like malevolent depravity, rejoicing in the worst atrocities of British Imperialism but dressed in gaudy colours. Sometimes a shadow on the mind, or an oleaginous chirp of glad-wretched minionhood. An antagonism to Nature, or a primitive form of ancestor worship, stealing mana from the ancients to vampirically fill undead, rotting vessels. Amateur military historianism of quality slanted towards the risible. Putrid royalism.

    Sure, some channels of Scottish Nationalism are infected by these variants too, but the worst remains a petit mal compared to Unionism’s grand mal.

    As a trained political philosopher (apprentice level), I am continually frustrated about the lack of heavyweight arguments in defence of British Unionism and Empire. You could be trawling through the faulty, simpering dross of lightweights like Niall Ferguson for a lifetime (although his witless contributions did at least provoke Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent). Are these Great Arguments for Unionism strategically kept, wrapt in cloth-of-gold and buried in lead-lined vaults to be ceremoniously unsealed by the key-keeping disciplines of Unionism come Doomsday/Incipient-Independence? Of course, other more rational measures of doom-imminency are available:

    Or perhaps British Unionism is simple a personality disorder, hopefully not incurable. However, the foul washes of neoliberalised culture backing up through the social media apps of young children’s smartphones are unlikely to reconnect them to the best of past care about Nature, which as this article notes, they may never experience first hand in anything but a degraded condition. Is the Future a fox to be shot? Or…

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Labour’s adherence to unionism was once based on the principle of ‘unity is strength’. Which has a degree of validity, as far as it goes …..

      It is a communitarian, perhaps even socialist, ideal, but Labour got shot of these ideas last century and Starmer is presenting himself as the person who RUTHLESSLY (sic) shifted Labour away from them when a fair number of people (including Starmer??) found such ideas sufficiently attractive in 2017 to vote for them when Jeremy Corbyn put them forward. Apparently public opinion research indicates that a large proportion of the population are sympathetic to them. However, the quasi Iron Chancellor is quick to reassure the financial money launderers that she will have no truck with such ideas (and thanks for the £1200 handbag chaps, it will look nice at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet) when I am reassuring you there will be ‘light touch regulation’).

      So, Labour’s only allegiance to ‘unionism’ is that, to paraphrase the hapless Sunak, that it means ‘English’. Labour is an English nationalist party, led by a ‘knight of the realm’, who makes vacuous pronouncements flanked by two union flags. “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury (assuming he can actually emote) signifying nothing”.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        Why Strength? Why not another virtue, such as Justice or Wisdom? British Labour has always been an imperialist party in government, and Strength is the imperial priority. I think the answer is straightforward.

        The quaking heart of British Unionism quails with karmaphobia. Those that celebrate invading other countries fear the wheel will turn and other countries will invade them.

        The British Empire needs the UK union, not least to quell those fears that foreign Armies of Retribution landing in Scotland and Wales will be welcomed and egged on by the locals, who will gladly point the way to London.

        How realistic this is, isn’t really the point. British Unionism is hardly a rational ideology.

        1. 240219 says:

          Because strength is required if labour is to overcome the power of capital. The workers united will never be defeated, etc. Nationalism threatens that unity by fracturing the labour movement into rival identities, which can be set against one another by the ruling class, thereby maintaining its hegemony in society.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, on the contrary, the international labour movement, which participated in Internationals and one of whose anthems was The Internationale, stresses the need for international cooperation for global goals. The question is then why the British Labour Party pursued narrow British-imperialist-nationalist goals, often at the expense of foreign labour (and lives).

            There is an extensive treatment of this in chapters of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent, where Priyamvada Gopal describes how nationalism, the localised form of anti-colonialism, was compatible with internationalism. The author covers the Parliamentary career of Shapurji Saklatvala, ‘The Impatient Communist’ who was a Labour MP for a time, who argued against ‘inseparable’ capitalism and imperialism, and sought international working class solidarity, while in the background, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) failed to devote itself to colonial issues as much as Comintern wanted. And neither taken up by the imperialist Labour leadership.
            If someone wants to read the book, I recommend following the author’s advice to skip the dense, academic-oriented section of the Introduction. The chapter contents are weighty but not as jargon-filled.

            Historically, British trade unions have often been somewhat protectionist, even racist. Even if (ha, ha, ha, really?!) the British Labour Party of government wanted to “overcome the power of capital”, they would have to contend with many systemic and institutional problems, such as the infiltration of trade unions by state and corporate undercover agents, and the right-wing, reactionary nature of many trade unionists and leaderships. The release of Scotland might, if anything, revitalise its trade union movement and provide useful patterns for comparison.

          2. 240219 says:

            But we weren’t talking about the international labour movement; we were taking about the British Labour Party and why it supports unionism.

            As I said below: Labour currently supports the union because it believes a) its social democratic goals can be more effectively pursued by a left of centre party holding power at UK level and b) that the separation of the countries that make up the British Isles into independent states would hinder the achievement of those social democratic goals. The thinking is that separation would hinder that achievement by fracturing the British labour movement into rival identities, which can be set against one another by the ruling class, thereby maintaining its hegemony in society.

            And, yes; the British working class was generally protectionist and racist (and sexist and homophobic) when it was a thing. And, yes; the Labour Party, even in government, has consistently failed to overcome the establishment in pursuit of its social democratic goals. But, again; what’s that got to do with the price of onions?

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, *you* wrote ‘labour’ and the ‘labour movement’ not ‘Labour’ and the ‘Labour Party’. Take some responsibility for your comments, for the sake of good argument. You wrote: ‘overcome the power of capital’ but failed to recognise that New Labour rewrote Clause IV under Tony Blair.

            You ignored my reasoned and evidence points, yet again.

            Maybe the essence of British Unionism is an unnatural stupidity, assiduously cultivated over a lifetime. You’re not worth my time here.

          4. 240219 says:

            Context. Labour’s adherence to unionism.

    2. 240218 says:

      British Unionism is ‘in essence’ the idea that some form of political union should continue between the countries that make up the British Isles rather than their separation into independent states.

      Labour currently supports this idea because it believes a) its social democratic goals can be more effectively pursued by a left of centre party holding power at UK level and b) that the separation of the countries that make up the British Isles into independent states would hinder the achievement of those social democratic goals.

      Both beliefs are moot of course. However, to characterise them as ‘a cognitive disease’ or ‘a personality disorder’ is only to infantilise that dispute (and stigmatise people who experience cognitive disease and personality disorder into the bargain). Has our political discourse really descended to this level of impoverishment in Scotland?

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, if you think my objections concern your cognitive diseases or personality disorder, that’s an empathy failure on the level of ‘they hate our freedoms!’. Your comment-tributary into the river of prunion enshitterance is a convincing demonstration of what will immediately go wrong with your village talking-shops political preference. Zombie arguments and postures that go past each other to nowhere. For deliberation, as for the Socratic Method (aka elenchus), participants have to admit when they are wrong. You constantly avoid this. Due to narcissism? Who knows? Laziness? Well sure, it would double your workload.

        There is little ‘left of centre’ about this New Labour policy set, which on the contrary mirrors the far-right-leaning Conservatives. Indeed, if you had read the article, you may have noticed the point:
        “Anas Sarwar tells us from the Daily Record he will ‘stand up to Starmer for Scotland’. It’s a strange message that, somehow the main threat we should be worrying about is the leader of his own party.”
        So the Labour leadership seems to be threatening the more social democratic branch office north of the border.

        I could also suggest that ‘Labour’ doesn’t believe anything. And individual party members will have their own beliefs, which we can guess will be quite variable given their behaviours and interactions. Maybe some of them believe they want to gain and hold power above all else. I mean, not that you would admit a category mistake, a vice of mere mortals.

        1. 240219 says:

          No; you clearly demonised British unionism as a ‘cognitive disease’ and a ‘personality disorder’, which stigmatises cognitive disease and personality disorder with negative connotation. People who experience cognitive disease and personality disorder can do without such stigmatising.

          It’s also a bit disturbing to find dissident views being likened to illnesses, of which those who hold them can and should be cured. The interpretation of political opposition or dissent as a psychiatric problem is reminiscent of the Brezhnev era.

      2. Niemand says:

        I agree.

        I don’t get this pejorative trashing of the union as a ‘disease’. It isn’t. And not all people who would prefer the status quo are unonISTS either. Though obviously a bit of joke round here, ‘better together’ is hardly a sign of a diseased mind or believing in an ‘ism’. I find it a bit sad that all the current nationalist agenda has to offer is negativity and hyperbolic negativity verging on hysteria at that. It is project fear. Far better would be to focus in the same relentless manner on what an independent Scotland could be and why that would be worth going for. Trouble is that is much harder as put simply, it is easy to complain.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Niemand, but xenophobia is a fear, and a potential symptom of a diseased mind. I am not arguing that we need fear the rump UK or any other country on Scottish Independence (I recently watched a Jackie Chan movie where his Silk Road Protection Squad’s motto was “Turn foes into friends” which seems like good advice, assuming the required method isn’t ‘join them in racialised chattel slavery and an imperial crime wave’). So nothing like Project Fear. Not sure where you’re getting that from. Do you understand what I mean by karmaphobia here?

          1. Niemand says:

            Maybe project fear is the wrong phrase – I was thinking more of the idea that the nationalist cause seems more predicated on what it wants to get away from than what it wants to build. And in doing so it must produce an endless stream of hyperbolic material about how bad the union is. In that sense it is building fear of the union. I also find such material incredibly selective.

            As for unionism I am not entirely clear what it actually means but my point is more that I think most people who are not keen on Scotland leaving the union do not think of themselves as unionist, rather they are in favour of the UK as an entity. There is a significant difference just as there is a difference between wanting independence but not identifying as a nationalist (me) . . . ism, schism and all that.

            I don’t understand the karmaphobia reference so need more!

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, sure, I don’t mean to include people who haven’t really thought about unionism, or just don’t see the need to change things. My question is where are all the strong arguments for British Unionism, my frustration stems from these being (seemingly) oddly absent from debate, and hence my provocation.

            Incidentally, I would also make the point about Scotland leaving the British Empire (which is a name for the realm) rather than just the UK, which is only part of the realm. Conceivably Scotland could take a chunk of imperial territories with it; and if that sounds ridiculous, think of how ridiculous it is to still have empires so many decades after the United Nations was effectively set up to end them.

            By ‘karmaphobia’ I mean a fear of consequences for bad actions (or celebration of bad actions), in the sense perhaps of ‘what goes around, comes around’, or divine retribution. I use ‘karma’ in a loose but commonly-understood way. If British Unionists take pride in the British Empire’s invading of other countries, it is understandable that they could fear the same kind of invasion happening to them. The Wheel of Fortune turns.
            And indeed this kind of fear is present in a lot of Unionist/Imperialist language, such as The Coming War With X or any influx of foreigners being misdescribed as an invasion, plus being the basis of a few conspiracy theories.

            So, better hashtag it then:

          3. Niemand says:

            Is a pride in the British Empire a default position for all British Unionists? Is the former not more a trait of British nationalists? Not all unionists are nationalists. A typical definition of unionism is ‘a political stance favouring the continued unity of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as one sovereign state, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’.

            Yes karmaphobia, I get it now. And I would agree – some are quite clearly scared of facing the consequences of past actions of the British Empire.

            I have quoted this part of a long poem before, written in 1737 by English poet John Savage (friend of Samuel Johnson) and it is telling in its prediction for the future with regards British slave-tradng and colonialism (so poetry has some uses):

            Why must I Afric’s sable children see
            Vended for slaves, tho’ form’d by nature free,
            The nameless tortures cruel minds invent,
            Those to subject, whom nature equal meant?
            If these you dare (albeit unjust success
            Empow’rs you now unpunish’d to oppress)
            Revolving empire you and yours may doom,
            (Rome all subdu’d, yet Vandals vanquish’d Rome,)
            Yes, empire may revolve, give them the day,
            And yoke may yoke, and blood may blood repay

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, yes, that gets to the pith of it. Here’s an article by Priyamvada Gopal which makes similar points and summarises some of the book.

            On my possible conflation of British imperialism, British unionism and British nationalism, you have a valid point… these can as you say be separated, but how often in practice are they, even if British imperial history is somehow conveniently ‘forgotten’ when union flags are waved? I’ll give you some idea of where I’m coming from…

          5. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, as far as I can see, anti-imperialism is not a large part of the mainstream in at least the English regions of the UK, nor is there mainstream understanding and condemnation of how British imperial foreign-military policy is run largely by royal prerogative outside of democratic influence. This article makes a similar point:
            The UK (really the British Empire) couldn’t be the useful bottom to the USAmerican top of the Special Relationship without its naval bases in Gibraltar and air bases on Cyprus (Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia), used in supporting Israel and the USA in the current colonial-settler-led genocide on Palestinians. You’ll find similar issues with Diego Garcia.

            Now, there may be a current section of British Unionism which represents a historical trend of turning away from imperialism, but I cannot readily find this. The idea that Cypriot peace protesters are hanging about outside RAF bases is not something that I’d expect corporate British news outlets to engage with.

            But if you can find examples of anti-imperial British Union activism, I’d be delighted to take a look.

          6. 240220 says:

            It’s simply not true that the government’s prerogative powers are outside of democratic influence.

            As I’ve twice before said elsewhere, the existence and extent of prerogative powers is a matter of common law, making the courts the final arbiter of whether a particular type of prerogative power exists or not. Moreover, parliament – our elected representatives – may legislate to modify, abolish, or simply put on a statutory footing any particular prerogative power. Prerogative powers are abolished by clear words in statute or where the abolition is necessarily implied. The prerogative powers of government are, under the Westminster system, thus severely limited.

            Those powers are further limited by three fundamental principles, which are:

            1. The supremacy of statute law (Where there’s a conflict between the prerogative and statute, statute prevails).

            2. Use of the prerogative remains subject to the common law duties of fairness and reason and is therefore subject to judicial review.

            3. While the prerogative can be abolished or abrogated by statute, it can never be broadened.

            The continued existence of prerogative powers (that is, the albeit it limited ability of ministers of the Crown to make some decisions that pertain to our public affairs independent of our parliaments) is deeply undemocratic. All prerogative powers should be put on a statutory footing. But those powers are not outside of democratic influence.

          7. John Wood says:

            The Claim of Right Act 1689 is legislation that was reaffirmed by the House of Commons in (I think) 2018. It declares that the people of Scotland are sovereign. It also asserts that the monarch cannot “exercise the regal power until he or she swear the Coronation Oath.”. Charles swore the following oath last year at the first meeting of his Privy Council:

            “I, Charles the Third, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of My other Realms and Territories, King, Defender of the Faith, do faithfully promise and swear that I shall inviolably maintain and preserve the Settlement of the true Protestant Religion as established by the Laws made in Scotland in prosecution of the Claim of Right …”

            I realise that in reality no-one pays any attention to such matters and that in reality we are simply ruled by violence, but since you mention the royal prerogative … as far as I can see that’s the legal position, whatever the ‘Supreme Court’ may say.

          8. 240220 says:

            ‘The idea that Cypriot peace protesters are hanging about outside RAF bases is not something that I’d expect corporate British news outlets to engage with.’

            The protest has been covered by the BBC, the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, and the Guardian.

          9. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, I stand corrected, that was sloppy of me (I did search the BBC website and found nothing, and missed or forgot the Guardian story):
            What I should have said instead is that I didn’t expect most British news outlets to frame the story in terms of the injustice of the British state holding on to these imperial territorial acquisitions, but maybe some British journalists did take that angle.
            “The two installations, retained by the British after the country won independence in 1960 to end decades of colonial rule, operate as sovereign overseas territories beyond the reach of the republic. Both extend across 3% of Cyprus’s land mass, or 98 sq miles.”
            It is unclear if the last paragraph expresses a rejection of the British hold of the territory, or just the bases. But of course, the point to the British Empire is to utilise the territory for military bases. So perhaps the injustice is implied.

          10. 240220 says:

            Wherein does the injustice lie in the UK having military bases in other countries? Most (if not all) have been established by treaty.

            For example, the UK retains sovereignty over two military bases in Cyprus (Akrotiri and Dhekelia) in virtue of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee between Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, by which the signatories guarantee the independence, territorial integrity, and security of Cyprus in recognition of the island’s strategic importance in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece and Turkey also maintain military bases in Cyprus as part of this agreement.

            I can see how maintaining a military base in a territory without the consent of its sovereign government would be unjust. But this isn’t the case in respect of most (if not all) UK military bases abroad.

          11. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, it is apparently a legal principle of the United Nations that territory should not be acquired by force or coercion, which the British Empire clearly did do even when decolonising, having the whip hand (and a Security Council veto in reserve). The British bases are not in ‘another country’, they are on British sovereign territory which was effectively annexed as part of an imperial sphere of influence, which the British authorities see stretching to the Suez Canal, the oil-rich regions of the Middle East, and beyond.

            Since it is a treason felony to imagine depriving the British monarch of territory, editorial statements about British decolonisation are effectively suppressed, and I imagine reporting on foreign decolonisation campaigns to some degree too:
            “If any person whatsoever shall, within the United Kingdom or without, compass, imagine, invent, devise, or intend to deprive or depose our Most Gracious Lady the Queen, from the style, honour, or royal name of the imperial crown of the United Kingdom, or of any other of her Majesty’s dominions and countries, or to levy war against her Majesty, within any part of the United Kingdom, in order by force or constraint to compel her to change her measures or counsels, or in order to put any force or constraint upon or in order to intimidate or overawe both Houses or either House of Parliament, or to move or stir any foreigner or stranger with force to invade the United Kingdom or any other of her Majesty’s dominions or countries under the obeisance of her Majesty, and such compassings, imaginations, inventions, devices, or intentions, or any of them, shall express, utter, or declare, by publishing any printing or writing . . . . . . F1 or by any overt act or deed, every person so offending shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . . . . . F2 to be transported beyond the seas for the term or his or her natural life”
            Why have some sections of the Treason Felony Act 1848 been repealed but not this one?

            Although interestingly the United Nations decolonisation map shows Gibraltar but not the British military bases on Cyprus.

          12. 240220 says:

            Yes; but none of the British, Greek, or Turkish military bases were acquired by force or coercion; they were all acquired by treaty after Cyprus gained its independence in 1960.

            The House of Lords ruled in 2013 that, should it ever be tested, Section 3 of the Treason Felony Act could not survive scrutiny under the Human Rights Act, which in effect means that no one could ever be prosecuted under the former. While it’s true that section of the TFA has never been repealed, it has thus been adjudicated as redundant in law.

            By ‘decolonisation map’, I presume you mean the UN’s List of Non-Self-Governing Territories. The UN defines non-self-governing territories as ‘territories whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government’. Gibraltar is by this definition the only non-self-governing territory in Europe, though it is so by choice (in the 2002 referendum, 85% of Gibraltar’s entire electorate voted to retain the status quo).

          13. 240220 says:

            @John Wood

            The Claim of Right Act 1689 doesn’t declare that the people of Scotland are sovereign, any more than the Declaration of Arbroath did. The Claim of Right limited the sovereignty of the Crown by bolstering the position of parliament within the Scottish constitution at the expense of the royal prerogative. The Scottish parliament was never a popular assembly of ‘the people’; it was only ever an assembly of the three estates of the realm (the clergy, the nobility, and the burghers or ‘bourgeoisie’). Likewise, the Declaration of Arbroath only ever limited the sovereignty of the Crown by bolstering the position of the barons within the constitution at the expense of the royal prerogative.

            The Claim of Right Act was retained by the UK parliament after the Union in 1707 and became one of the key documents of UK constitutional law and the so-called ‘Westminster system’ of government.

          14. John Wood says:

            Well yes and no. The principle of popular sovereignty is an extremely ancient one and the existence of parliaments and their predecessors (moots, things, wapentakes etc) depends on it. The clan chiefs and kings held their positions by popular approval and even now the monarch has to be (in theory) ‘acclaimed’ by the people.

            In kindred based societies, particular families would acquire certain roles – military, spiritual, healing, artisanship and so on.

            The feudal system translated this into the sharing of land, and the rise of more individual responsibility. The king held the land in trust for the people in return for protection – from human
            enemies, hunger, and also Acts of God. He would grant it out to his followers in return for public services.. These were summed up as: ‘ a man to fight, a man to pray, a man to plough’. The king’s chief concern was a man to fight, and that man needed to bring as many more people as possible with him. He in turn would grant lands to others on the same basis. But all three services were required by the whole hierarchy. Kings, barons, priests, monks, (and merchants and others) all needed to eat.

            There was a recognition of mutual dependence, and the peasant farmer had common rights which were defended.

            The Declaration of Arbroath and the Magna Carta of course reflect the immediate interests of the barons rather than the peasants, but the barons were supposedly representing their tenants just as they expected the king to be accountable to them.

            The principle of popular sovereignty has never disappeared, although from the 16th c kings increasingly tried to avoid it by claiming a divine right to rule. Modern ideas of democracy are based on it.

          15. Niemand says:

            @SD thanks the Guardian article link – a good one though odd she doesn’t mention the 18th century when Empire was really getting going and equally had many detractors, and slavery condemned as abhorrent. A book I read sais it was the common position of many ‘intellectuals’ at the time. Boswell defends slavery in the The Life and uses a common rationale – the slaves were better off than when free. I think was a widely held view amongst ‘the people’, though how much they really believed it I don’t know. People like Johnson and Savage though that absurd.

            I came across a book which detailed the link between anti-slavery and anti-colonial thought with the old Tories / Jacobites (both Savage and Johnson were arch Tories and also one-time Jacobites). It is very interesting and also mentions the ‘never shall be slaves’ line from Rule Britannia in a context I had not read about for in relation to the Jacobites. There is a fictional searing ‘letter’ from an African slave in The Gentleman’s magazine that is extraordinary in its condemnation but which is designed to appeal to the British sensibility by linking slavery to injustice at home. I am only really getting my head around it all tbh. The Tory party then should not be confused with today’s version which is really a descendent of the old Whig party. The old Tories were certainly very traditional (monarchy, landed gentry, etc) but with a belief in a benign ‘natural’ hierarchy that was good for all focussed on moral justice.

            I was stunned to read that the Whig party when in power rejected any call for helping the poor in a terrible famine (lateish 18th century) because that was not government’s job and went against Smith’s recently published Wealth of Nations, a book that seems to have been used for ill purpose right from the start. They simply let people die in their thousands. Always worth reflecting on that in the era of the welfare state. The idea the UK government would not help its citizens during a famine today is untenable.

          16. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, early relations (and internal divisions and movements) between Tories, Whigs and British racialised chattel slavery are dealt with at length in Abigail L Swingen’s book Competing Visions of Empire: Labor, Slavery, and the Origins of the British Atlantic Empire, focusing on 1650–1720 and then-most-important Barbados, Leeward Islands and Jamaica. Perhaps surprisingly to a modern reader, a lot of talk of ‘liberties’ was about property (free market, free trade) rather than about the individual freedoms we think of as ‘human rights’.

            The author writes about the Tory Ascendancy, the newer Court Whigs versus Country Whigs, the blurring of ideological lines (to suit convenience), the Asiento, a group of colonial merchants in their London power base with a shared ideology of imperial expansion through legal or illegal means, and a lot more.

            A sample (p121) about the relation of expansionist empire to Charles II’s ideal form of government:
            “Improvements in the collection of customs revenue, including from colonial trade, enabled Charles to maintain financial independence and rule without Parliament for the remainder of his reign.”
            which I guess is a warning about what happens to public representation in a low-tax political-economy.

            Combined with your sources, I guess this level of detail and focus really just suggests how broad-brush common Tory vs Whigs tropes tend to be, how complicated and shifting such imperial politics is especially during this aggressive expansion period, and how little political speech is indicative of any supposed firmly-held beliefs (flip-flopping on free trade versus protectionism is normal, for example). I’m not sure how ‘benign’ Tories ever were, though. Even if some thought themselves paternalistic, they probably still enthusiastically beat their children, royal heirs excepted (or paid someone else to do it), and many other groups were subjugated by their ‘natural’ order. Not a good inspiration, Craig Levein.

          17. 240221 says:

            @ Niemand

            A long time ago, in another life, I spent sometime studying the history of early ‘utopian’ socialism through its texts, and I was struck how much it borrowed from the old manorial tradition that was deconstructing under capitalism. The Tories were at the time the conservative champions of that dying tradition, while the Whigs were the progressive advocates of the new laissez faire attitudes.

            Manorialism emphasised the lord’s ownership of the common good in the land he directly controlled and the moral obligation he was under to use of that demesne to ensure the material and moral wellbeing of his household and dependants. The idea was that his dependants contributed the common good or the manor according to their ability and, in return, received from the manor according to their need. This paternalistic ‘Tory’ concept of justice was the one that both the early ‘utopian’ socialists conserved in their thinking against the ‘devil take the hindmost’, laissez faire ‘Whig’ concept of justice that underlay the emerging capitalist economy.

            This also helps to explain the differing attitudes and responses of Whigs and Tories to phenomena such as famine. Under the paternalistic Tory/utopian socialist view, the sovereign power had a moral obligation to intervene to relieve the suffering of the starving, while the Whigs took a non-interventionist view that the moral imperative was to not interfere with the natural course of events, to let Nature take its course.

            The traditional ‘Tory’ interventionist concept of justice also informed the missionary zeal of social reformers, who argued (and still do) that the civilised state has an obligation to ensure the material and moral wellbeing of the poor, the ignorant, and the depraved of the world, who should not be left to fend for themselves and, in some cases, should actively be saved from themselves and their ‘savagery’.

            And this missionary zeal was, in turn, the major moral motive that drove European colonialism and imperialism. The major material motive, of course, which the moral motive served, was to develop global markets through which we could grow the wealth of our nation or ‘manor’.

          18. 240221 says:

            @ SD

            Yes; Swingen’s good. She’s one of several historians who have recently begun to question the traditional narrative of a 17th century mercantilist government, in which the main goal in building an Atlantic empire was to create wealth for the homeland.

            Swingen critiques that historiography by suggesting that colonial officials, planters, and merchants often resisted the imperial policies of the Crown and continuously advocated for ‘Whiggish’ policies of free trade, especially in regard to labour. She argues that colonial discontent that lay the fear and mistrust of monopoly granted to charter companies, like the Royal African Company, which, from 1660 until 1708, was guaranteed sole legal rights to sell slaves to English colonies. Swingen shows how colonial subjects were inherently distrustful of such ‘Tory’ mercantilist policies, which favoured certain companies over free access to the open market and to an unregulated labour market in particular.

            The only criticism I have of Swingen’s work is her almost exclusive focus on domestic and demographic reasons for the failure of indentured servitude, which diminishes other factors in the rise of the African slave trade. In her view, changing demographic patterns in England, and the increasing domestic demand for labour to feed the nascent industrial revolution, made indentured and convict labour less economically viable. Though this is certainly part of the story, we can’t discount the power of basic capitalistic motivations. The trade in African slaves was on the whole just more profitable than the trade in other forms of labour, even before it became more scarce.

            Nevertheless, Swingen reveals the constant struggle that existed between colony and metropolis within the English and, later, British imperial scheme of things, how that struggle helped to create an empire that was dependent on unfree labour, and how the ‘Whiggish’ abolitionist movement grew out of an ideological desire to free the labour market from ‘Tory’ protectionist intervention and constraint.

          19. Niemand says:

            Thanks both for your detailed and different perspectives. I am really a beginner with this stuff. The only obvious comment regarding the old Tories and colonialism and slavery is that if we take Johnson as an example of an avid Tory and Whig hater he was vehemently anti-colonialism and slavery so that does not chime with the idea they drove European ‘colonialism and imperialism’. It is obviously quite complex!

            Of course I am not a fan of the old Tories as such for the reasons you both talk about but obviously this is where some historical perspective has to kick in. I do not know if you have read Boswell’s Life but it is a remarkable book and by the end of of it enormous length you not only get to know Johnson very well but numerous other players as well, including many nuances of political and social though and debate. Benign? Well by the end of the Life and reading his own work I really do think Johnson was a benign figure, all things considered. Boswell’s Tour of the Hebrides is the famous one and highly readable, but Johnson’s own account, though much drier and lacking Boswell’s personal approach, is in part a scathing and very detailed attack on the terrible poverty he witnessed in the highlands. Boswell was more inclined to be snobbish and blame the poor themselves.

            The article I have been looking at, briefly, is “Britons Never Will Be Slaves”: National Myth, Conservatism, and the Beginnings of British Antislavery by Nicholas Hudson (in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Summer, 2001), pp. 559-576). It is open source.

          20. 240221 says:

            @ Niemand

            Yes; more generally, ‘Whig’ and ‘Tory’ were first used as terms of abuse the debate over the motion to exclude James, duke of York (who later became James II of England and VII of Scotland) from the succession. The Scottish party at court, which claimed the power of excluding the heir from the throne for reason of his Catholicism, were dubbed ‘whigs’ (‘horse thieves’) by their opponents, while the whigs dubbed their opponents, who supported James’s hereditary right of succession, ‘tories’ (‘papist outlaws’).

            During the Whig hegemony following the revolution of 1689, some 100 Jacobite landowners remained members of the House of Commons. Following the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745, the ‘Tory’ party gave up their adherence to the divine-right absolutism of the ancien regime and accepted the Whig doctrine of limited constitutional monarchy. Toryism then became identified with Anglicanism and the squirearchy and Whiggism with the aristocratic landowning families and the financial interests of the new capitalist class.

            The Tories enjoyed a revival in the wake of the French revolution of 1784, when a large section of the more moderate Whigs, alienated by the Whigs’ increasing radicalism, defected to the more conservative Tory faction. After 1815 and a period of factional confusion, the ‘conservatism’ of Sir Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli emerged from the Tory faction and the ‘liberalism’ of Lord John Russell and William Ewart Gladstone from the Whig faction, with each faction assuming thenceforth the party labels of ‘Conservative’ and ‘Liberal’ respectively.

            And the rest, as they say, is history.

            (There’s an awfie good book by Robert Leach called Political Ideology in Britain. As well as introducing the ‘mainstream’ ideologies and histories of Liberalism, Conservatism, and Socialism, it also examines challenges to the mainstream from nationalist, feminist, and Green thinkers, among others. The third edition, published in 2015, includes a new chapter on anarchism and assesses the continuing disillusionment of Britain with the ‘Westminster elite’. It’s very comprehensive and accessible.)

          21. 240221 says:

            @ John Wood

            Sorry, but popular sovereignty in its modern sense (namely, that the legitimacy of a government’s authority and its laws rests on the consent of the governed) dates back only as far as the social contract school, represented by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. There’s nothing comparable to be found in the earlier literature; the only thing that comes close is the form of the ancient and medieval republicanism that holds that doctrine legitimacy of a ruler’s authority and his laws rests on the consent of some ‘elect’ (the nobility, property-owners, the clergy, etc.). Until the 17th century at the very earliest, the idea of popular sovereignty was entirely alien to our political thinking.

      3. John Wood says:

        “Labour currently supports this idea because it believes a) its social democratic goals can be more effectively pursued by a left of centre party holding power at UK level and b) that the separation of the countries that make up the British Isles into independent states would hinder the achievement of those social democratic goals.”

        Thanks for that explanation. I disagree completely with this view. In fact I think the opposite is true. On the basis of the party’s recent actions and statements I see little evidence of any remaining ‘social democratic goals’, or that they are any longer a ‘ left of centre party’. If they hold power at UK level it is highly unlikely that they will represent the people of Scotland. The UK is profoundly and structurally undemocratic and no party within that system can really change anything much even if it wanted to. I think that, as with Ireland, or our Scandinavian neighbours, the only way to achieve social democracy is indeed to separate the countries that make up the British Isles into independent states.

        1. 240220 says:

          Bloody board isn’t letting me post a reply to this post, John. It does that now and again.

  3. jim ferguson says:

    All MPs elected at the next poll who support Scottish independence should abstain from taking their seats in the Westminster Parliament; swear an oath of allegience to the sovereignity of the people of Scotland who elected them and form a new Parliamentary Chamber in Glasgow or Dundee as a parrallel body to Holyrood. That would be a risk worth trying and would be a proper show of leadership.

    1. 240218 says:

      In what way would that be representative of the will of the majority of the Scottish electorate, which is currently either against or ambivalent towards, leaving the UK?

    2. John Wood says:

      Well said! If they form a majority of Scots elected MPs, that’s democratic mandate enough.

      1. 240219 says:

        Is it? Aren’t they mandated only to represent their constituents – all of them, whether they voted for them or not – in the UK parliament?

        1. John Wood says:

          Of course it is! If it’s in their manifesto and enough people vote for it, that’s how UK elections work. It’s first past the post.

          If that’s good enough for Sunak and Starmer the same rules apply here.

          1. 240219 says:

            Well; if they were going to be up front about leaving their constituents unrepresented in the UK parliament if elected, then fine. Do you think that would be a vote-winner?

          2. John Wood says:

            No idea, but it doesn’t seem to have done Sinn Fhein much harm…

          3. 240220 says:

            Yes; it certainly served Sinn Féin’s interest. But what of the more general interest of the constituents in those seats that were left without representation in the UK parliament, whether they voted for the Sinn Féin candidate or not? Maybe, if the candidate who gets the most votes in a constituency refuses to take up the seat, it should be offered to the candidate who received the next largest share of the vote.

            Or maybe we should have multi-member constituencies to ensure that their constituents are not left without representation in such circumstances. We already have multi-member constituencies in our local assemblies and are not without precedent; multi-member constituencies existed in the UK parliament from the earliest era of elected representation, until they were abolished by the Representation of the People Act in 1948.

  4. Paddy Farrington says:

    I very much agree with the thrust of this excellent piece, and in particular the diagnosis that the present impasse reflects a deep-seated malaise that goes well beyond the limitations of the political class. Nor is this malaise restricted to Scotland or the UK: other European countries are experiencing a similarly sclerotic absence of creative thinking, or worse. Gramsci had the right idea: the old is dying, the new cannot yet be born, and in the interval a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. My sense is that, while it’s possible to outline (as Mike helpfully does) the characteristics of the transformational thinking that’s needed to get us out of the impasse, this will not in itself light the necessary spark. This is likely to come – as come it surely will – from unexpected directions, and we (including the Yes movement) must be ready to recognize it and nurture it.

    Having said that, there is one – predictably unexpected – cause for some positivity: namely the critical mass currently accruing in Scotland around the call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The SNP – largely under Humza Yousaf’s leadership, capably supported by Stephen Flynn – having made the running, Scottish Labour have had little option but to follow suit, in response to mass – and noticeably youthful – mobilisation on the street. This represents a significant break from the banalisation of violence which typically characterises the British state under both Tories and Labour.

  5. Edward Chang says:

    The very idea of “Nature”,in all its variations,is a Human idea.”Nature” has no sense or meaning apart from that we give,or dont give,it. As for that “environmental cataclysm” hasn’t it arrived yet?It’s been predicted in one form or another for over 70 years.Why are we waiting?

    1. Edward – are you suggesting that ecosystems and biodiversity are actually in very good condition?

      1. John Wood says:

        I can’t speak for Edward, but he is surely right that ‘nature’ is a concept, and for that matter, so is ‘good condition’.

        Of course we have caused massive damage to the planet and its biodiversity, and we are now starting to observe this.

        I suggest this is nature giving us due warning that we are destroying ourselves. It’s up to us to look at why we are doing this, listen to nature (including our own humanity) and just stop. There’s nothing inevitable about all this destruction.

        The current policies of all parties are worse than useless because they assume thar the answer is to ramp up the destruction and exploitation to a higher level. It’s because they all really care more about power over planet and people than anything else.

        Of course, they no doubt think that such power is necessary to change the situation but it is in fact counterproductive. Nature is an interconnected living system which includes us. The first step is any solution is to recognise that and try to work with nature not against it. It cannot be ‘fixed’ by force, however well meaning.

    2. 240219 says:

      Yep; ‘nature’ is an idea.

      If you’re interested in pursuing this idea, you could begin by taking a look at R.G. Collingwood’s The Idea of Nature, in which he traces the development of the European concept from the Presocratics to the present. Collingwood holds that the idea of nature has no one correct meaning (a knowable objective reality to which the idea corresponds), but that its true meaning consists in the entire history of the concept itself.

      Of course, to say that nature is ‘just’ an idea and can’t be known except through that idea and its evolution isn’t to trivialise it. Commonsense realism (the idea that there is a knowable objective reality to which our concepts corresponds) has considerable pragmatic or ‘use’ value inasmuch as it enables us to make sense of our immediate experience. For one thing, commonsense realism in relation to nature makes science or knowledge possible in the first place, and knowledge is eminently useful in that it gives us mastery over our lives. This is why, in Western culture, the scientific revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries was romanticised as ‘Promethean’ by Shelley, Blake, and others.

      Millenarianism (the belief in a coming fundamental transformation of society, which will be preceded or ushered in by a major cataclysm or transformative event) is another cultural phenomenon that, like the idea of nature, might or might not have any basis ‘in reality’ but might or might not serve a practical purpose. Traditionally, the belief has been used prophetically, to induce people to change their ways in order to bring about the transformation that its prophets prescribe; basically, ‘The end is nigh; do what I say if you don’t want to burn in hell (i.e. suffer some environmental cataclysm).’

      Again, to unmask the millenarian nature of the climate-change emergency isn’t to trivialise it. As a cultural phenomenon, it needs to be taken seriously in all its aspects, as science as well as prophecy. If it is useful in the way of belief – that is, if it can induce us to change our ways for the better – than all well and good; but it should be taken sceptically rather than as ‘gospel’.

    3. John says:

      Upon reflection I think I will side with the environmental scientists who actually study and attempt to understand and predict what is happening to the environment, animal and plant species than individuals who have no working knowledge in the field but want to impose their own thoughts on us.
      I don’t know what your background is Edward but if I need a heart bypass I will ask someone who has experience and knowledge in this area rather than yourself- apologies if you are an environmental scientist of many years standing or a fully qualified cardiologist. If not – you are just obfuscating for self gratification or being paid to write this anti science pseudo intellectual guff.

      1. 240219 says:

        Yep; scepticism would lead us to conclude prudentially that the science is less untrustworthy than its denial and that we should therefore go at least provisionally with the science.

        1. John says:

          Climate change denial has now virtually been abandoned due to the sheer weight of evidence that has been produced and has being replaced by climate change scepticism which is now being replaced by so called climate change pragmatism.
          Scepticism is in normal circumstances a healthy attribute but in science it has to come second to evidence. The evidence is becoming more overwhelming each year as temperature records tumble, ice sheets melt and oceans warm all at a faster rate than modelling previously predicted. The scepticism amongst climate scientists is now that their previous predictions were wrong and that global warming is happening faster than originally thought with potential tipping point events possibly being imminent with all the implications this will have for human beings, the animal and plant kingdom.
          I wish this wasn’t so but to deny the reality of the scientific evidence of climate change and defer meaningful action is rapidly becoming a definition of insanity.

          1. 240219 says:

            Been here before, many times. Scepticism is the policy of maintaining one’s disbelief until sufficient evidence has been furnished to justify one’s belief. It’s a constitutive principle of modern science.

          2. John says:

            What is probably more important in this type of situation is risk assessment which involves balancing chance of event happening with potential harm if it does occur.
            In this case the potential harm is enormous which normally means that action should be taken even if chance of the outcome is low.
            Unfortunately due to climate change deniers and sceptics (now mainly deniers) we have reached the point where overwhelming evidence shows the chance of a potentially catastrophic event is becoming higher Year on year and we have not taken enough action to mitigate let alone avoid.

          3. 240220 says:

            I’m also reminded of the prudence of Pascal’s Wager; we risk less by assuming that the science is right than by assuming it’s wrong.

  6. John Wood says:

    Actually there are plenty of people around with a positive, radical vision for Scotland. They just don’t get heard because the wealthy and powerful do all they can to silence, suppress, and ignore them.

    We have what Putin has called a ‘managed democracy’ – in other words, no real democracy at all. Henry Ford famously said of his cars, you can have any colour so long as it’s black. Now it seems whoever you vote for you’ll get more or less the same basic policies. Every party in Scotland is now bought and sold for the same American gold – including the SNP and the Greens. We are endlessly distracted from their failure to offer us a vision by a smokescreen of petty quarrels and an obsession with consumer politics. Whatever might win a few seats is good enough for them. . It’s all about gaining and holding power -for its own sake. There are no real values at all – only ‘virtue signalling’. They don’t even bother to promise us anything anymore. It is entirely negative – to keep another party out. Or even in Labour’s case, go against itself!

    The effect is utterly depressing and disempowering for all of us, including politicians themselves who
    might well have started with good intentions but have descended into despair and mere survival. Resistance is futile: there is apparently no future apart from Orwellian totalitarianism, so we might as well just put up with it, or crawl away and die. No wonder so many are standing down.

    This entire system and its frame of reference is based on 19th c nihilistic ideology. The ‘survival of the fittest’ is supposedly the survival of the nastiest. There is a failure to see that we and ‘nature’ are not separate, but part of a single ecosystem. The idea that people can ‘rule’ nature is nonsense. We are ourselves nature: when we cause massive destruction to the planet we destroy ourselves. Outside nature, humans simply do not exist. All this techno-fascism is simply hubris. Let Musk and his friends go to Mars, they won’t be missed. But they will soon miss us!

    On the other hand, nature has been around far longer than humans and will still be there long after we’ve made ourselves extinct as a species. And nature, being alive, has the power to heal, adapt, change (and I hope not make the same evolutionary mistake again). Nature is a complex living system we barely understand. It is not like a computer – and nor are we! Transhumanism is folly. The planet only needs ‘saving’ from certain crazy humans. I have every confidence it can do this by itself, however long it takes; but we can help. We can start by listening.

    Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. Unfortunately our entire political, administrative and judicial system has been colonised by this madness. The world -us included – is valued only for the ‘services’ it provides to a small number of immensely wealthy humans. People and planet alike are just ‘ resources’ for the super rich to exploit and throw away at a whim. ‘Stakeholder value’, private short-term profit, is seen as the supreme goal – and how that is achieved matters not at all. This philosophy underpins all western economic and political thinking. And it’s a disaster. Profit, wealth, power over others are just concepts.

    Unfortunately the idea that no other perception than this is possible has struck doubt and fear into the hearts of the entire establishment. Everyone jumps to protect themselves at the expense of others.

    It seems to me that Nicola Sturgeon probably deleted those WhatsApp messages because she was told to by Westminster. She could hardly admit to that publicly! During the pandemic health policy, like so much else was quietly centralised. The Scottish government’s and parliament’s approval were – as with Brexit – just assumed regardless of their reaction. Public Health England became the UKHSA, and now NHS Highland is told to stop local GPs offering out of hours services. When I tried to raise a different concern with Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, I was just referred to the UK government. So much for devolution. And now, the Scottish and UK governments are supporting the so-called ‘Pandemic Treaty’ that hands sovereignty over our health to the WHO. Next time the pandemic response will be by international diktat, with no accountability at all.

    Why? Why do those who are supposed to represent and stand up for us fail to do so?

    Politicians, journalists, academics, and others don’t dare to question anything. To do so would threaten their careers and credibility. Where is the politician of any party who will commit to upholding the Claim of Right, or to put constituents’ needs before those of corporate lobbyists and influencers, or to speak out on anything. They are all silent. It’s as if they have all signed non-disclosure agreements. Let no-one mention any form of Investor State Dispute Resolution mechanism that gives international crooks the power to fine a sovereign government.

    Keeping silent extends to not articulating any vision whatsoever that might challenge the status quo. After all, saving the planet or caring about human rights are now roundly attacked as ‘woke’ …

    The trouble is that our politicians, right across the board, have internalised the myth that they are too wee, too poor, too stupid to make a difference so they had better just keep their heads down and do as they’re told. Sadly that includes the SNP.

    There is no political party I can bring myself to vote for anymore. ‘Least worst’ isn’t good enough. Unless a candidate commits to listening to and representing constituents before party, putting forward a positive, radical manifesto, and to acting only in the interests of people and planet as a whole, I’ll be spoiling my ballot.

    But still, behind all this there’s really no shortage of vision if you look. For example, a decentralised, empowered Scotland resembling our Scandinavian neighbours might be a good starting point. I’m looking forward to Lesley Riddoch’s Denmark film: apparently it’s getting good audiences.

    1. John says:

      John – man made global warming will adversely affect many life forms including the animal kingdom and plant kingdom.
      The planet will survive and adapt but many life forms will not.
      I also would not blame all mankind for what is happening as many societies have a very small carbon footprint and try to co-exist with nature.
      Global climate change is driven by greedy, selfish, rich individuals and corporations who are also pushing hardest against policies to reduce carbon footprint.

      1. John Wood says:

        Yes indeed John, I couldn’t agree more.

        Real science is a method, a process. It is not ‘owned’ by anyone – certainly not the super-rich. Every pronouncement should be put to the test. And anyone can practice the scientific method. If that method is genuinely flawed, it needs to be demonstrated..

        Policy making needs to be evidence-based, but over the last four years, when I look for that evidence I find very little to support current policies, and plenty to challenge them. Climate change, pollution and and loss of biodiversity are all real enough, but the policies adopted are worse than useless. The various authorities, when challenged, have no answers or justification to offer except ‘Because we say so’.

        That failure is covered up by dismissing those who oppose political policy agendas as ‘fools’ / under or over educated / climate change deniers / apologists for the oil industry / ‘right-wing’ / left-wing / Trump supporters / ‘woke’ / ‘anti-woke’ / ‘conspiracy theorists’ / ‘extremists’ … or any other label that might come in handy. It’s hard to take those who level such accusations seriously.

        The real problem for people and planet alike is that we have given too much wealth and power to a few narcissistic psychopaths.

        1. John says:

          John – I am glad you agree.
          I have far more faith in environmental scientists with years of experience in the subject than any politicians or pseudo scientists or to be frank the man in the street who has an uneducated opinion on the subject.
          Environmental scientists lay out what has to be done to reduce and mitigate effects. The problem comes with politicians trying to implement the required changes and their short term approach to the subject.

          1. John Wood says:

            I am sorry I do not think you quite understand me. As a former academic myself I have a rather sceptical, even cynical view of academia. I do not agree that ‘environmental scientists with years of experience in the subject’ are necessarily objective or independent. Those who pay the piper call the tune. And those who pay claim to ‘own’ the science. In practice this means that research projects are framed and funded with a view to particular outcomes. Apparently respectable academic journals are funded, rather like newspapers, with particular editorial requirements. Papers submitted for peer review are reviewed by people whose own research funding depends on them coming up with particular ‘results’ or dismissing others whose results are not those expected or required by the funder. We have seen this again and again over the years. ‘Scientists’ may broadly agree that there is a serious planetary crisis (although there are still those claiming otherwise). They do not agree on the solutions, which are all political in nature.

            I do not accept that the opinion of the ‘uneducated’ man in the street is necessarily any worse than the one who has been ‘educated’ to think or write or research in a particular way, or to select evidence that supports a particular view. What matters is (1) good quality evidence – not just about the problem, but about the proposed solutions too; and (2) that evidence is open, and can be challenged. Unfortunately when I challenge certain policies, no evidence can be found to support them. I am told again and again, this is just the way it is, because we say so. The UKHSA for example flatly refused even to look at certain well-founded evidence I asked them to evaluate. They denied its very existence. That’s not good enough.

            Environmental scientists cannot just ‘lay out’ what has to be done to reduce and mitigate effects and expect them to be accepted without question. All solutions are political, and specialists in one field may be blind to adverse effects their proposals may have in another. In fact as we are already seeing some proposed solutions are making things significantly worse. The problem comes with people, including politicians, taking the word of ‘scientists’ as infallible and failing to challenge anything they say. Politicians are likely to pick and choose their policies to suit themselves and their paymasters.

            Corporate bullying is now endemic across the whole of society. Academics, politicians, civil servants, professionals in every field, are expected to do as they are told or suffer consequences, the least of which is a withdrawal of research grants, a destroyed reputation or career, or dismissal. Sorry, but scientists are just people who can be blackmailed or bullied like anyone else. And professional or academic career is no guarantee of ethical standards.

            Conversely, there are people with little formal education who have the intelligence and honesty to think for themselves. The little boy who laughed at the Emperor with no clothes gets my vote – not all the time, but some of it, certainly.

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