I have often been accused of being a pedant, a logical thinker which applies a sterile engineer like methodology to the things I write, however, in recent years I have found myself thinking more about the true root of my belief in independence. While I cannot deny my belief is firmly rooted in the empirical data that Scotland would be better off as a fully autonomous nation, I cannot deny that my belief is re-enforced by the experiences of my life and the emotions which go with it.
As the day comes to an end and turns to night, I look back at what today was. To my mind, it wasn’t merely a day of campaigning for independence, it was the starting pistol being fired on the renewed campaign for Independence. Which is why, for a change, I am seeking to get a little bit philosophical.
In 2014, we shied away from the more anthropomorphic aspects of campaigning. We tended, at the direction of the campaign leaders, to restrain ourselves emotionally under the fear that sudden outbursts of emotion would be detrimental to the information we sought to impart to the general electorate. At the time, I have to admit that I was guilty of the same sin. The idea that leading with the heart rather than the head could be seized upon as a weapon to undermine our campaign by the forces of inherent bias and vested interests of the media elite. The idea that we could be perceived as being a campaign which was too emotional to give coherent responses to the fundamental structural, legislative and framework questions that were being asked of us.
Having had time to think since 2014, I have re-evaluated that position and have come to the conclusion that it was not the correct approach.
When you boil down our movement to its core fundamental components, there are clear and consistent threads which weave themselves across political partisanship, across the interpersonal dynamics of the movement and across the differing positions on what a future Scotland could look like. To my mind these are:
- We all seek to provide a better future for every man, woman and child within Scotland’s borders.
- We seek to protect Scotlands place in the world.
- We seek to promote and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people who live in Scotland; and
- We seek put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.
However, at the core of these four fundamental threads, is one common thread. I speak of course of people. Everything we say and everything we do is about the future of the people in Scotland.
Anyone who has ever met me knows about my vehement defence of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, that defence is not based on the convention itself, it is the moral imperative that the convention stands for. The idea that each of us, regardless of where we were born, of our colour, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other social demographics, we are all born with fundamental and inalienable rights. These rights are inalienable because it is not the place of one person or group of people to bestow them on others, they are automatic from birth, they are our rights to exercise without fear of persecution, without derogation and without limitation.
In recent years I have sought to try my best to defend the rights of others in any way I could by trying to self-educate myself on those rights to assist others in interpreting and asserting those rights. The one thing that I have consistently experienced throughout all of this has been resistance in the opposite direction. I have witnessed politicians, directors, lawyers and members of the judiciary seek to confine the free spirit of inalienable rights within legislation, poor precedents and policy. Now, this is not done out of malice on their part, it is done as a result of their interpretation within the system which we are all subjected to. But the problem lies when the legislation is twisted and contorted at first reading to serve the vested interests of the few, the precedents in courts throughout the nation constrained by such legislation only ends up in the derogation and restraint of our most precious principles.
I believe that this is not down to those in positions of representation and those in positions of power. It is down to the fact that we as a society have failed to grasp that while rights are fundamental and inalienable, they are fragile. We must as a society continue to promote, enhance and evolve them. Our parents and our grandparents sought to enshrine those rights and freedoms in convention, a gift to the future of security and of safety so that we in the present would not know the horrors which they were subjected to while our country was under their ward.
Since then, however, the torched has passed to my generation and the one before and after mine. Unfortunately, we are guilty of the one insidious sin which cannot be excused. Safe in the knowledge that we, as a 21st-century generation, we were guaranteed our rights derived from the struggles of those who came before, we have been led to a world of complacency. We forgot that it was our duty as caretakers of those rights and freedoms to ensure them for the generations that would follow. We exercised those rights on a daily basis when it suited our own needs but forgot the principle that in asserting and protecting others, we protect ourselves.
I have found myself, over recent years, thinking more and more about the words of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller
First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This iconic artistic work by Niemoller has always been portrayed as a commentary on the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group in the run-up to, and during World War II.
But I find myself asking whether or not perhaps Niemoller’s poem was intended to be more than a simple commentary. What if his intent was, in fact, a warning to future generations on becoming complacent should we reach a place of lasting peace. What if it wasn’t just a commentary on the rise of right-wing groups but more to do with the conscience of society as a whole.
If we look to London, we see a House of Commons working towards a Hard Brexit. We cannot forget the fact that Theresa May, a person who is now Prime Minister of the UK, has consistently stated since she was Home Secretary that she would love nothing more than to scrap the Human Rights Act. She justifies that position on the basis of “security”. However like dictators of old and dictators in the present, the usurping of fundamental freedoms and civil liberties are always wrapped in the socially acceptable blanket of the state providing “security”. The idea that in order to ensure the safety and security of the whole, they must be willing to “temporarily” give up certain rights and freedoms. But such derogations are never temporary, they lead to laws and precedence which make them constitutional and legislatively permanent.
The Human Rights Act is more than an Act to give further effect to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights, it is primary legislation which brings the European Convention into UK law. More importantly, however, it is an act which states that all laws passed in any Parliament in the UK are subordinate, not to Europe, but to those fundamental human rights contained in the Convention. The European Courts are merely the watchkeepers.
Mays right-hand man in implementing Brexit holds no more favourable a view of the Human Rights Act than she does. He has consistently mocked the HRA in public, more so than Theresa May.
As a member of the EU, the Human Rights Act must stay because part of the rules of the EU is that all nations must submit to the European Convention, enforced by the European Court of Human Rights. However, outside of the EU, no such requirement exists.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 which was recently passed into law, contained within it section 10. This section states:
“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate to prevent, remedy or mitigate—
(a)any failure of retained EU law to operate effectively, or
(b) any other deficiency in retained EU law,
arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU.”
There are 3 key parts in that section which I have highlighted. “Minister of the Crown”, “as the Minister considers appropriate” and “any other deficiency in retained EU law”.
The reason I have highlighted these is that the term “Minister of the Crown” means a member of the Conservative Cabinet. It does not mean parliament as a whole. The term “as the Minister considers appropriate” is self-explanatory, namely “what the Tories think should be done” and “any other deficiency in retained EU law” is a codeword for “whatever the tories deem should be changed”.
In a nutshell this entire section can be summed up as “The Tories can change any law they see fit if it has been affected in any way by EU law, by claiming a deficiency on terms that they decided (which can be whatever they want) and they can make orders without the scrutiny of the parliament or oversight from anyone on how those laws should be modified with the electorate and their elected representatives having no say in the process”. I would point out that the term “deficient” has been used consistently by Tory advocates of abolishing the Human Rights Act.
In my time on this planet, when it comes to politics I have been happy, elated, sad, annoyed, angry and even at time apathetic. However, in my 32 years on this planet, I have always had the assurance, the certainty that my parents gifted to me the enshrinement of my most basic fundamental freedoms in a convention. That when the chips were down, I would always have protection and a fall back position, a mechanism, although imperfect at times, to assert that I, as a human being born with inalienable rights and freedoms which I can assert at any time in the protection of myself and others from abuse of the state, from vested interests and from those who would seek to do me harm for their own selfish reasons. I was confident in the knowledge that come what may, the law recognised and protected me.
However, sitting in front of this computer screen and typing these words, I can say for the first time in my life that I feel genuine fear for the future. Not just for myself but for the unfortunate souls who I have represented and who are already going through hardship as a result of Conservative policy. Because whether we as a society admit it or not, the imperfect situation we face with the Tories as the incumbent government, the uncertainty that they bring and the misery they bestow on some of the most vulnerable in society, they do so, only so much as they are restrained by that convention.
Brexit affords them the opportunity to disassemble the walls which have restrained them in detrimental policy and belief, restraints which have prevented the usurping of our rights in their entirety. They, of course, make the claim that they intend to seek to bring before parliament, a UK bill of rights but if history has taught us one thing about the Conservatives and their fundamental acumen, it is that they will deliver only that which does not inhibit them as a party. Their primary goal is based on the assertion that the party comes before the people and anyone who would disagree with that assertion is blind to the fundamental challenges and horrors we, as a society will face at the mercy of rampant Toryism. This is not an assertion pulled from thin air, it is based on the continuing and subsisting detrimental impact of a restrained Tory policy. Imagine what comes when the leash gets taken off of the party.
Now while it would be false to claim that all Conservatives are the same, because there are moderates in the party. The value that the internal cohesion of the party must be put before the welfare of the electorate is fundamental to who they are and let’s be clear. The Tories are not controlled by the moderates. At present, the Tories are at the mercy of the rich right-wing sections of their party and at the mercy of fundamentalist MP’s from the other party, the DUP. This small segment of the Westminster commons is in a position of immense power to manipulate the course of the party in the formation of policy. These people are the ones who would seek to deny your rights in order to make a quick buck. Just look at the devastation they are causing to the Brexit process with their unreasonable demands which seek to serve the few to the detriment of the whole.
And so, I am taken back to the words of Niemöller and the realisation that he was not, in fact, talking of a specific group of society, he was talking about two mindsets. The mindset of the state placing its interests above the persons which it should seek to protect, which it was elected to represent and which it has an incumbent and inherent responsibility to protect. The other being our mindset and the vacuum of complacency we seem to have allowed in the protection of our own human rights and the failure to assert them, re-enforcing the fact that they work for us, not the other way around and the realisation that if we fail to act now, we would be denying our children and all future generations the legacy handed down to us by our parents and grandparents and which we today enjoy. So the realisation becomes
First, they came for our membership of the European Community, and I did not speak out—
Because I was led to complacency.
Then they came for our human rights, and I did not speak out—
Because I failed to learn from the experience of them coming for our membership of the European Community.
In 2014, the statement “once in a generation” was said by a few people as a throw-away generalisation intended to instil the provocation of thought that we might not have the opportunity to move towards self-autonomy for Scotland for another generation. It has often been used by British Nationalists as a pole to whack the Yes Movement with. A position which is based on the false assumption that the words of several people can somehow be used to enforce lies of the no campaign on an entire nation. It is an arrogant position which fails to take into account the fundamental tenants of what constitutes democracy, namely that the people of Scotland are sovereign in the determination of their own constitutional future and have the right to vote but also that more fundamentally, the electorate have the right to change their mind when their trust is abused. Their position would be the same as me saying that we should have a Labour Government at Westminster because the English Electorate didn’t have the right to change their mind from Labour to the Conservatives in 2010. I mean how dare we assert our right to vote on matters of importance? The absolute cheek of it!
But the “once in a generation” comment was a comment made based on the information of the day, made without fore-knowledge that the Conservatives would act in a manner which would seek to turn the UK inside out. It was based, perhaps, on a naive perception that if we did perhaps lose, the UK Government would, in fact, live up to the promises they made but more importantly it was on the basis of trying to emphasise the point that as a generation, we had the opportunity to define ourselves as a nation and shape our own future, free from the dictat of those who would seek to restrain our potential.
However, we now know categorically that Westminster is a place where democracy is dead. A building filled with those who cannot live up to the pledges they make, a place filled with economic and social vandals which would seek to supplement their own singular will, for the will of millions. A place which would seek to put our rights and freedoms on the table under the guise of security and deny us our inalienable rights and one which cannot and must not be allowed to assert unfettered power over Scotland. They cannot be acted to act in a manner commensurate with the position of power while they hold, nor can they be trusted to act in a manner which will be in the best interests of Scotland and its people. More fundamentally though, they cannot be trusted to protect and promote and enhance our rights, because they are seeking to usurp them in the interests of only one segment of society, namely their own party.
And so I despair for my future and for yours. I despair for the generations to come and the thought that my legacy on this planet will be the failure to protect their future. So, that comment of “once in a generation” resides in my mind, rattling around like a hamster on the wheel. That is because it is no longer a throwaway assertion or comment intended to impart an idea. Instead, it has become a moral imperative, a directive if you will. And so I will go further because what we face is not once in a generation with constitutional affairs, it has evolved to become “once” and it has become about more than the constitutional question. As in, we will never have another opportunity to protect our nation, its population or the people we hold most dear from the destructions of their rights and freedoms.
Any person who asserts differently is deluding themselves. The first referendum, Westminster believed to be the matter settled, that they had won, that they had gotten one over on us and put us in our place. If we get to a second referendum it will be us asserting our sovereign right to choose our constitutional future for the second time. Westminster will not allow a third chance. They will make a No vote to mean them having permission to change the fundamental relationship between Scotland and England in primary legislation, to lock us into the UK permanently and they will do that at a constitutional level like Spain has done to Catalonia. They will classify it as a mandate to do whatever they want to our individual rights. It will not be a case of failing to deliver on promises, it will be the rolling back of the devolution settlement and the destruction of Scotlands ability to defend and mitigate Westminster policy. We will no longer be a nation, we will be a region of a Greater England.
With so much at stake, we must take up the cause with every fibre of our being. If this is to be a fight for the fundamental rights and freedoms which define us as a civilisation of people we must fight for our rights by asserting them. If our goal is a future which puts humanity at the forefront above all else, we must be willing to make our shared movement human. We must seek to educate and impart information, to answer questions with clarity, but this time we must ensure that everything we do has a human face on it, not the perception of sterility and distance born out of fear of perception of a biased media.
This fight will happen on the streets by talking, one person to another. We must, therefore, seek to inject the differences which make us unique into the conscience of the movement, not to simply portray a symbol of unity, but to celebrate our diversity and connect to people on a human level. Our own personal reasons for seeking the self-autonomy of Scotland are as important as the economic, fiscal and legislative ones. We must move away from an approach of blanket coverage with a single message and instead make that single message an amalgamation of all the facets which define us as individuals. In showing our diversity, we show that despite differences, we are resolute and united in the opinion that we can together, deliver a future which enfranchises all of the people of Scotland, whether born here or those who have chosen to make their lives beside us, choosing Scotland as their home above all other nations. To deliver a nation of equality and of fairness we must be willing to live it and we must be willing to make it an integral part of our campaign.
Just as important, we must not shy away from fear, because fear as human beings is our most powerful motivator. But that is not the advocation of project fear, which the self-named opposition organisation in 2014 defined themselves as. The use of fear as a blunt instrument with innuendo, aspersion, false assumption, lies and perpetual myths. We must at all times make sure that when we discuss fears that they are backed by empirical evidence and that they are real and substantive enough to warrant making note of them. But we cannot rely solely on the message of hope we adopted in 2014, because a message of hope, being humans, we tend to question why such hope is necessary. We must, therefore, make it clear to the electorate that the policies we can deliver in an independent Scotland are realistic and they are positive, but we must inform that information with the reasons why they are necessary by laying bare what Westminster is doing. We cannot simply deliver the vision of one positive future, we must show them both possible futures, warts and all and allow them to come to their own conclusion that Scotlands future and the welfare of us all lies in an independent nation.
But looking forward, we must not be afraid to look back and question the areas of the first referendum in which we failed. No campaign is ever perfect and we must embrace the parts where we failed as a movement to rise to the challenge. We cannot simply underline everything with the abhorrent ways and means deployed by the No campaign, instead, we must be honest and say to ourselves, that did not work and we must change it. We must begin that evaluation now so we are prepared for the referendum campaign.
For my own part, I will be seeking to develop initiatives over the coming weeks and months to help educate. Because from education, all other possibilities are derived. It is my firm belief that in order for the electorate to truly understand the benefits of independence, they must understand how the massively complex system works at the moment. All of the hidden facets which the people, who go about their daily lives are unaware of. The hidden mechanisms which make everything tick at the minute. I intend to do this because looking back, the white paper was an abject failure. It was a comprehensive document to be sure, but it was too complex and it was far too bulky. It also became a substantial target. The unwillingness to fully study it, with the fact it was a single document under constant attack meant that it became a weak point in educating the people of Scotland about independence.
So my aim will be to split independence into small bitesize chunks with simple explanations on all of the serious issues, removing the mist from around the terminology and the frameworks which we are currently subjected to, doing the same with the information coming out of the parties. From this, it is my sincere hope that the movement will be able to absorb this information and will have a comprehensive reference where they can look something up quickly, expediting the process of being able to impart that information in bite-sized chunks to the electorate. This project will be known as Yesipedia and I will be seeking the assistance of the Yes Movement to pull it off.
In rounding up I would like to impart just a few words of wisdom to all yessers. In the coming months, never fear asking questions and never fear using the phrase with someone asking you questions: “I’m not entirely sure, but I will find out for you”. When discussing constitutional matters never premise a question with “I feel stupid asking this…but..”: Firstly, there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers and Secondly, the pursuit of knowledge of how your government works is laudable! The only thing that is important is that you understand that learning is a lifelong pursuit and also, that if you know something today that you didn’t yesterday, you are helping to evolve the social consciousness because you have new information you can impart to others.
I’ve always felt that knowledge is a gift we should give to others. It is as much a national resource as the people, economy and infrastructure of a nation. Because everything we have and everything we do as a nation begins with a question and the pursuit of answering it.
But in the coming campaign, make sure you inject your personal viewpoint and your personal opinions. Make your humanity a part of this movement and embrace the humanity of the people standing next to you. This entire movement is here on the basis of creating a better future for the people of Scotland. On that basis, it is right and proper to show the human side. Carers connect with carers, teachers with teachers, doctors with doctors, community campaigns with local communities. No person or group of people are better placed to explain the system at the minute versus the potential for an independent Scotland than people from that same segment of society. Do not shy away from laying bare the truth about Westminster fearful of the perception, just make sure that when you do, it is based on empirical evidence to support it.
If this is to be the last opportunity Scotland will have to advocate independence from the United Kingdom, it is also one with a primary incumbent responsibility to protect and promote the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, inalienable and fragile, we must make that the guiding principle around which we rally, because if we lose those freedoms, the damage to the social conscience and to future generations will be incalculable.
I am asking of you all, nothing more than a steadfast commitment to advance the rights of others and in so doing, advance your own rights. But this fight, unlike 2014 will be one where the UK Government will seek to deploy all of its substantial resources. You must ensure you ready yourselves for fear and negativity and propaganda, the likes of which none of us has ever experienced. It will be the single hardest fight of your entire lives so be under no illusion about what is coming. But our cause is right and it is just because it is not just a constitutional question, it is a question of morality and the legacy our generation leave for all future generations. And for the first time in history, we can claim that politics and morality are intertwined, inseparable and are cohesive entities. Politics and morality on the same side? That doesn’t come along every day.
And so with all of this now said, I wish all of you well in your individual contributions to the establishment of a free and fair nation because we WILL realise that free nation. A nation of equals among equal nations. A dream hard fought and hard one and one which shall secure the protection of each man, woman and child within Scotland’s borders. We have sought to marshal the talents and the resources of our people and we are already independent because we have resolved to be, now all that is left to do is to formalise that position.
Let’s realise that dream of an independent nation, our time is now and I shall see all of you on the other side when the dream is made manifest.