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Time For The SNP To Take It’s Place in Team Yes

The results of last weeks election should be a stark reminder to Independence campaigners that the campaign for Scottish independence is not the sole preserve of the SNP and that while for many years they were the driving force behind it, it was the cross party/all-party/no party Yes Scotland campaign which united almost half the country to support independence, and while the SNP were the main beneficiaries of that movement post September 2014, they have grown lazy and complacent since then. Many people have been looking to the likes of the Scottish Independence Convention to take up where Yes Scotland left off. But it hasn’t quite sparked a fire in the way Yes did; it really needs to become louder, bolder and more visible: it needs to become the new face of Yes.

The closure of Yes Scotland was the first in a series of mistakes made by the Yes movement (and I suspect the SNP were the prime movers in that regard) in which everything closed down almost overnight. With the central core gone many Yes groups followed suit and two years of hard work, contacts, networks and all the infrastructure they had created went with them. A period of reflection may have been in order rather than outright shut-down, and in the absence of Yes the movement gravitated towards the next best thing: the SNP. The SNP was not a substitute for Yes and while in the short term wins at Westminster and Holyrood were a boost to pro-independence supporters, the SNP failed to move the case forward for independence. As a political party full of people who now rely on being elected as their employment, the SNP’s prime focus is to be re-elected. The focus is always on the short term campaign, not the long term one. Since 2014 we have seen a Westminster election, a Holyrood election, the council elections and another Westminster election in close succession and independence campaigners should ask themselves this question; other than campaigning for their own personal election, what has my Councillor, my MP, my MSP done to promote independence? The honest answer is probably very little. That’s not to say it’s not something they don’t care about, but it’s not their priority anymore. The party is. So while they are tied up in the backstabbing world of internal party politics, the day to day business of attending committees, poring over minutes of meetings, the meeting and greeting, they simply aren’t making the case for independence in the way it needs to be made. The idea that by providing competent government, the SNP would make the case for independence by default is erroneous. No government has ever got everything right, all governments have failures, crises, scandals. The threat for years was that the country would collapse under an SNP government. That argument failed to hold water after one term of SNP government, but the longer the SNP remain in charge the longer they will be associated with and blamed for, all the failings which exist in the main subjects of concern: health, welfare, education, transport.

As a realist I know that no government can deliver the funding required for the NHS, for education, for a welfare state, and that there are things outside their control which will never be fixed, regardless of funding. But those failings are now being used to make the case against independence. The argument goes that if the SNP cannot run X, Y or Z, then Scotland cannot function as an independent country. That’s a ludicrous argument, but it’s gaining traction. Repeated ad nauseum by the leaders of the unionist parties, it’s repeated by their members and by the media until it gains traction in the public mind: If Davidson, Dugdale, Rennie and the BBC are all saying that education is in crisis then it must be.

So while the SNP are now involved in fire-fighting, defending and spinning in a game of self-preservation, trying to appeal to as wide a base as possible in one election campaign after another, they have lost sight of their core directive, their raison d’etre: Independence For Scotland. The three Unionist parties have been for some time saying that Nicola Sturgeon has been so obsessed with independence that she is failing to do the day job. I say the reverse: she has been so busy doing the day job she has failed to promote independence. In fact she’s not only failed to promote independence, but when asked seems to pointedly deny it’s even on the radar. Is it any wonder that the SNP lost so many votes? By denying independence, by playing it down to appeal to floating unionist voters, she demoralised and disincentivised the huge number of people who flooded to the SNP from Yes. By saying that we may vote on independence in 2019 or 2020 many people will say, ‘you know what, the SNP don’t need my vote at the moment, they have huge majorities and I’ll come back out and vote when it matters’. And hundreds of thousands of votes go down the pan. Way to go Nicola.

That’s why Yes Scotland (or another suitable high profile group)needs to be back, making the case for independence. Because independence isn’t about SNP policy, it’s about what Scotland can do if it has the chance to make it’s own decisions. It’s about pointing to Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in Scotland and saying to them “Look! Even with their best ever result in years, Labour cannot win in England, and if they cannot convince England, their policies are pipe dreams! But they are good policies that could make Scotland better. They could actually be implemented here, if you had the belief in an making a successful independent Scotland”. It’s about pointing out the benefits to all Scots of all parties why their policies needn’t be just ideas: they could be enacted. So why not work to enact them?

In the coming months people across the Yes movement will start to realise that the SNP is not the be all and end all of the independence movement. It’s time to get the team up and running again, to be active and noisy again, to start to think again about the big picture, not the party picture. Of course we need to recognise that there are times when the opposition are giving the SNP a kicking to put the boot into independence, but there are times when they will justifiably be putting the boot into poor performance and bad policy. What we can’t allow is for the latter to be used as the former. So the SNP can be part of the team, but not to the extent it calls the shots.

We are faced with the prospect of Scotland being dragged out of Europe, tied to right-wing Brexit Tory Britain, with a hint or DUP and Orange Order on the side. If you can’t make the case for independence from that, you might as well pack it in. Who’s up for independence then?

The Walk Of Shame

Today Unionists in Scotland go to the polls to endorse Tory policies such as the Rape Clause, the Dementia Tax, stripping the triple lock on pensions, slave labour wages, zero-hour contracts, putting the boot into the country in general and the poor in particular.

They’ll be endorsing the replacement of council housing with private slum landlords; homelessness, foodbanks and stripping away breakfast from school-children.

They’ll be the ones endorsing taking benefits from the disabled and passing the terminally ill as fit to work. They’ll be saying yes to fracking, yes to weapons of mass destruction and yes to bombing other countries and telling the refugees they create to bugger off- Britain’s full thank you very much.

They’ll be supporting sectarianism because, well, Ruth Davidson is waving the flag and they aren’t going to look beyond it to see who she’s gathered on the other side.  Because it might just be a mirror.

They’ll be doing all this because they are proud to be British and want to send a message to Nicola Sturgeon that they don’t want a second referendum, and they’ve become so robotic in their repetition of what she’s saying that they no longer actually understand the difference between one election and another as every election is a de-facto referendum anyway.

So what if their parents lose their free bus passes or their kids have to without food and when they become ill they have to make the choice between buying food, heating their homes or choosing which of the medicines they can afford out of the ones they have been told they need.

And they’ll put a cross in the Tory box and they’ll walk out of the polling station with their heads down, avoiding the eyes of the neighbours they are condemning and if asked they’ll tell you they voted Labour like they always have and scurry away on the walk of shame. Safely behind their door, they’ll cheer every Tory gain and raise a glass to Ruth Davidson, the little tank girl. And they’ll sleep soundly, knowing that they are all right jack.

Has Anyone Seen Nicola Sturgeon?

A wee thought just occurred to me. Since 2014 we’ve had a referendum campaign, a Westmister election, a Holyrood election, the council elections, an EU referendum and another Westminster election. Not once, to my knowledge has Nicola Sturgeon set foot in Airdrie in that time. Despite whizzing about by helicopter in two campaigns, with multiple visits to constituencies across the country, Airdrie is left wondering when we’ll ever receive a visit from the high-heidyins.

Does anyone know WHY Nicola Sturgeon won’t visit Airdrie? Answers on a postcard of Coatbridge please…

The Question Time Leaders Debate: A View From The Audience

I’ve applied to be in the audience of a few editions of Question Time and had failed to even get a sniff of a reply. It has long been said that the audiences are hand picked, and a previous edition in Edinburgh a few weeks ago appeared to go some way towards reinforcing those suspicions. Former Airdrie Conservative candidate Eric Holford (now Conservative councillor for Clydesdale East) was front and centre with the first question of the night- and he wasn’t the only Tory councillor in what is supposedly a carefully vetted audience. Fast forward a few weeks and it was the foodbank nurse who had amazingly been invited back by the BBC after failing to make her highly damaging (to herself) allegations about nurses in Scotland and their reliance on foodbanks.

I haven’t voted SNP for a number of years now and have voted for independent or Green candidates since then, and applied as an “undecided ex-SNP voter”. The website said that successful applicants would be contact on the Monday or Tuesday prior to filming and having received no such call assumed that I wasn’t needed. Saturday nights terror attack in London meant however that political campaigning was suspended for the day, and on Sunday I received a call asking if I could attend on Monday for a rescheduled debate. I could and completed the phone interview, where they seemed particularly interested in the fact I was an ex-SNP voter…

The filming took place on Monday evening at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh and on arrival I checked in and had a look round at the invited cross section of the electorate, which looked to me nothing like a cross section of the electorate and more like a gathering of business professionals and suits. My initial impressions were that this would be an overall hostile audience towards the SNP and on that regard I think I was correct. Sometimes you can look at an audience member, try to categorise them and then be pleasantly surprised when that happens, or smug when you get it bang on. Last nights audience had both of those qualities.

Before arriving you are asked to submit two questions by email and you get a chance to submit more topical ones on arrival. The production staff then sift through these and select a number of them to be used through the filming. These are the topics which are probably most relevant at the time of filming, and the reason for their introduction is twofold; they allow the programme to be structured so that a variety of topics are discussed, and they allow cameras to be prepared beforehand so that they know where the individual questioners will be sat and aren’t panning around looking for them. So when they say that the debate is set by the audience that is partially true; they select the questions they want the debate to be about. When the question “Your education policy is failing, will you resign?” was chosen that wasn’t done by accident.

If the audience was hostile then the presenter could be said to be even more so: Nick Robinson. Who could forget him being caught out manipulating a news report with his famous “He didn’t answer” line. Such was the furore over his behaviour, that there were calls for him to resign during a BBC Bias protest and an online petition gathered almost 20,000 signatures calling for him to be sacked. With David Dimbleby unavailable clearly a replacement had to be found, but Nick Robinson? Was Sarah Smith ill?

So, an at first glance hostile audience and a less than impartial presenter. What could possibly go right…

Tim Farron of the Lib-Dems was first up and gave a competent performance, managing to deflect previous criticism of his views on homosexuality and he was also able to point to his defiance of his party’s coalition deal which saw them u-turn on tuition fees. I did manage to criticise his stance on wanting a second Brexit referendum but not a Scottish referendum. To me it seems abundantly clear that as a minority party the Lib-Dems will not be in a position to deliver such a second EU referendum, and with both Labour and the Tories committed to Brexit, Scotland within the UK is on its way out of Europe. Given that Scotland indirectly endorsed the EU in 2014 when it was told a No vote would secure its place in Europe, and then directly endorsed it in 2016, surely the only for Scotland to be able to get into the EU was through independence? He didn’t answer directly but did state in response to the topic that his reason for rejecting a second Scottish referendum was that there was a full prospectus produced called Scotlands Future which the Scottish people rejected. He doesn’t seem bothered that the winning side produced no such prospectus and got their win on the back of a Daily Record front page vow. Had it been pasted on the side of a bus perhaps he’d think differently.

The second half of the debate got underway with the introduction of Nicola Sturgeon, and began with a question about security before moving on to the “more familiar ground” of independence, and then moving on to education. Nick Robinson helpfully explained that education was devolved, which means he must be fully aware that in Scotland this isn’t particularly relevant at this election, but they went ahead anyway, with the First Minister being asked if she was going to resign over her record. Robinson’s responses in this section were…odd. Imagine if someone phoned the BBC Scotland football phone in on a Saturday and began to talk at length about motor-sport; if it wasn’t relevant the host would no doubt cut it short, but not only did the BBC chose this as one of the prepared questions, Nick Robinson wouldn’t allow it to be moved on, at one point repeating three times in a row “we’ll stick with education”. At one point Nicola Sturgeon tried to correct an assertion that statistics in Scotland were worse than in England by stating that the two sets of figures were not directly comparable, only to be cut off by Nick Robinson saying “Yes, they are”. Assertion as fact.

It’s unfortunate you can’t argue the point with everyone. One well dressed gent attacked free education, stating that it’s not “free” we all pay for it through tax. I’m glad he realised that. For a minute I thought it was paid for by the legendary magic money tree I’ve heard so much about. What this cretin was attacking was the very foundation of free education in Scotland, and I wonder how long it will be before the Tory ideal of a maximum of a two child family for the poor is extended into other areas: we’ll educate your first two kids free, but you can pay for the rest…

Some of the questions were not only hostile (and by that I mean the wording, difficult questions are only fair), but were delivered with palpable venom; I could sense real hatred in them, none more so than the Welsh teacher who was the caricature elderly British nationalist brought to life. “Rubbish” was about the politest thing I could think of for her hate filled attack on Scotland, that there is no such nation and we were extinguished in 1707, before claiming she’s not allowed to vote on Scotland’s future. Perhaps she was shipped in from Brymawr.

Having earlier clarified that Scotland would not be offered a referendum until the end of the Brexit process, whenever that would be, a statement from a woman who said SNP voters were turning away from the SNP due to, ahem, independence set Nick Robinson off again pressing Sturgeon for a date. Having said it was due to Brexit he then began reeling off the years; 2019? 2021?

The question on tax, like the one on education, actually did more to illuminate the questioners lack of knowledge than anything else, and Nick Robinson was again called to assist, with the ‘You have more powers, but don’t want to use them’ line. Nicola Sturgeon was able to explain that this was the argument for ALL tax-powers to be devolved, not just some, but when you are playing to an audience of what appeared in the main to be a rather well off audience who think an extra penny on their tax is a penny too much, it’s a tough crowd.

Earlier I said that I tried to judge the audience. Sitting waiting to go in I heard two men chatting and one happened to mention SNP policy on Education, and as a touchy subject for them was sure he’d be vocal in attacking the SNP, I was surprised to hear him speak about how the UK immigration policy was actually damaging his chances. By and large though, it was from my vantage point, pretty Unionist heavy.

Overall if you thought there was bias from the BBC before the programme you wouldn’t go away with a different point of view. It’s clear that on the face of it the programme is portrayed as being fair, with a fair cross section of the electorate and a fair range of topics and a fair host. On closer scrutiny that doesn’t really hold up, and from a Scottish nationalist perspective, this is perhaps as good as it gets from the BBC.

Neil Gray Pays a Flying Visit to Airdrie Town centre

While the real independence supporters were in Glasgow, Neil Gray took the opportunity to actually hold a street stall in Airdrie. For a branch with a membership last reported at over 1100, that’s not a great turnout.

I’m reliably informed that a street stall was planned for the previous week but was cancelled at the last minute. No reason was given for the late cancellation.

If you look closely you’ll notice one of those campaigning for Neil Gray is Agnes Coyle who was recently de-selected by the SNP, and then went on to stand against the SNP in the May council elections.

It should be noted that Section 4(d) of the SNP constitution states that;

A member may not contest or be a member of any organisation contesting elections in
opposition to the Party, or be a member of any organisation deemed to be a Political Party
under the Membership Rules.

To have left the party, stood against it, rejoined and be out campaigning for it again within the space of a few weeks must be some kind of a record surely? Wonders never cease within Airdrie SNP!

Airdrie Hustings 01/06/17: No-Show Neil Gray

Tonights Panel. Empty chair just out of shot…

Tonights General Election hustings in Airdrie was the first to be held in the town for many years and was long overdue. The right of the electorate to cross examine candidates is a key feature of our democratic system and it was hugely disappointing that SNP candidate Neil Gray refused to take part. I was not alone in holding the view that Neil Gray was extremely disrespectful in boycotting the hustings; Independent Councillor Alan Beveridge who organised the evening read out Mr Grays whiny refusal which cited his concerns that the evening would be quite partisan, and with that the hustings was underway.

You Sir. The gentleman with the blue tie…

Last minute chair Peter Winnie introduced himself and then the candidates were given five minutes to give their pitch. Ewan McRobert of the Lib Dems led off with his reasons, Brexit being the primary one, while not seeing the irony in the fact that his opposition to a second independence referendum would deliver Scotland a future outside the EU. Labour’s Helen McFarlane cited her experience in the NHS as one of the reasons to support her; claiming that the “wool wouldn’t be pulled over her eyes”. She was very positive about Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto, but I was concerned that her party nationally and locally have been working to remove Jeremy Corbyn; the Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale is anti Corbyn, as are numerous Airdrie members and councillors. Oh, and she was strongly against a second referendum. Finally we had Jennifer Donnellan, the Conservative and Unionist candidate who opposed another referendum, backed Theresa May as the strong and stable leader needed for Brexit negotiations, attacked the SNP’s obsession with independence, their inability to get on with the day job, their record on education and health, and oh, yes, she did she mention she was opposed to another referendum?
I was allowed to ask the second question of the evening and used the opportunity to make a point: given that health, education and the like were devolved, could we actually stick to reserved issues during the discussion, and by and large the audience and the candidates obliged, with questions ranging from Brexit to ethical foreign policy and the international arms trade to workers rights and the anti-trade union laws.
Candidates were also questioned about how they would make Airdrie a better place to live and work, and a crucial question which none could adequately answer was surprisingly simple: ‘If there was a policy which your party implemented which was directly detrimental to the town and people of Airdrie, would you oppose it?’ No one could give a satisfactory answer. Over the course of the two hours it became apparent to me that while likeable, the Lib Dem candidate was a complete lightweight, with some knowledge of party policy and no knowledge at all of other areas (he was unable to say whether the Lib Dems opposed or supported renationalisation of the railways, while his personal opinion seemed to be to oppose it).

I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue…

The Tory candidate was strong on opposing a second referendum, but was utterly bereft in other areas and was even laughed at for her inability to answer questions on subjects such as Tory policy on selling arms to Saudi Arabia. If this is the quality of George Osborne’s former special advisors it’s no wonder he failed time and time again to meet his own targets. At one point she was asked by an audience member who was in receipt of Unicersal Credit if she would join him tomorrow at his next foodbank appointment. After looking to a colleague in the audience she declined. Not a surprise. Labour’s Helen McFarlane came across as the strongest of the candidates; knowledgeable, experienced and confident. Credit must be given to her in answering the penultimate question of the night. She could have joined in with Tory criticism of the SNP for their management of the SNHS; instead she rounded on UK Tory policy of creeping NHS privatisation in England, and over the piece if there were only three candidates then she would walk it.
There are however four candidates. Neil Gray refuses to put himself up for public scrutiny, and nion  is to Airdrie what Theresa May is to the UK: a poor public debater who won’t allow himself to be subjected to fair and open scrutiny by the general public. Can he read a pre-prepared statement in Parliament: yes. Can he explain policy, and debate it with ordinary voters? No-one knows. To my knowledge he has NEVER had to. In a way his absence was a probably a blessing as the other three candidates were put under more scrutiny than they otherwise might have been, but his refusal to debate won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
My apologies must go to the last minute substitute chair Peter Winnie. His inexperience as a chair did show through and I was rather rude to him for his refusal to allow people to come back in to make follow on points or to have something clarified. While he admitted this was a first for him, he certainly can’t be accused of being unfair or biased, and credit must go to him for presiding over an informative and enjoyable hustings.

Ruth Davidson: Playing The Sectarian Card

Jeremy Corbyn seems to be suffering an incredible amount of coordinated attacks regarding his stance on terrorism. Depending on the sources Jeremy Corbyn ranges from being soft on terrorism to a terrorist mouthpiece, all the way through to an appeaser of terrorists. It’s been revealed that he was the subject of MI5 interest  over his stance on Ireland and the IRA, and it’s this which has ramifications on the Scottish political scene.

I’m not a great fan of Mr Corbyn. He supports a united Ireland but not an independent Scotland. So no matter how attractive some of his policies are, for me they are trumped by Scottish independence. Jeremy Corbyn offers a sticking plaster on a constitutional question which requires major surgery, a temporary solution to a more permanent problem. Take fox hunting as an example. Banned by Labour, it looks set to be legalised by the Tories; legislation is not permanent and can be undone by future governments. The Scottish Parliament can similarly be removed by a future UK government, if that government is strong enough to ride roughshod over Scotland. That future is looking increasingly more likely, with a Tory majority in England highly likely and a vocal element rallying to the Scottish Tories as a purely unionist party. Combine that with a compliant press and media and you have a recipe for Scotland apparently “demanding” that Holyrood be closed down and Westminster complying with our “wishes”.

The Tories in Scotland have cast their net out into the sectarian pool for votes and have dragged in a large haul, and this has led to their fielding quite a few dubious characters, and I can only expect this to grow. Not only will this grow but as those numbers grow you can expect to see policy change, simply because they are targeting a group of people who have a specific set of views and will bring those with them to the party. It will be become more unionist orientated rather than Conservative and Unionist.

In the lead up to the 2014 referendum the Yes movement didn’t cast it’s nets into a narrow pool of opinion, but into a far wider one, and in the 2014 post referendum flood of new SNP members there were no doubt many supporters who had dubious backgrounds too. That’s to be expected. Some of these people supported a united Ireland, and to be honest I can see no reason why if the people of Ireland wanted such a thing that it should be denied to them. But that’s something to be achieved through the ballot box, not by guns and bombs. Yet there are people within the Yes movement who see no problem in praising and celebrating terrorists and terrorism in an Irish context, but who decry it elsewhere. That’s not an acceptable stance. It’s also one which is being seized upon by some extremist Tory supporters to try to brand the whole Yes movement as somehow an “Irish republican YeSNP” movement. Pictures of one Glasgow councillor in an Irish republican flute band are passed around as though they represent all of Yes or the SNP. Old photographs of Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon posing with Martin McGuinness are often shared as if if to say “See! Here’s the proof!” while conveniently ignoring pictures of the Queen and Mr McGuiness together. Or ignoring the fact that the Tories actually have a former IRA member serving as a councillor in London.

Terrorists are the lowest of the low. Celebrating their attacks on civilians is as low as it gets I suppose, and people who hold these kind of views should be exposed for their views wherever possible. If a candidate for a party I supported had such a background I certainly would not vote for them. The problem for the Tories is they are specifically targeting and recruiting from what would appear to any independent observer to be sectarian and extremist groups, albeit British Nationalist ones. So while the charge made by those extremists that the SNP or Yes are pro-IRA/ Irish Republican in nature fails to hold up, the reverse is certainly true of the growing Tory/British Nationalist movement.

In England they don’t have the same trouble with sectarianism as we do in Scotland. They do have a problem with xenophobia though. In the attempts to portray Jeremy Corbyn as a friend to terrorists in the English media, this will have an inevitable ripple effect here. For Ruth Davidson, using the union flag as a dog whistle to attract support is one thing; going full on bigot is another.