30 June 2010

Carrying a knife-edge vote...

Attentive Holyrood watchers are used to razor-slim majorities. While technical amendments can romp home with thunderous general acclaim, on politically more sensitive matters, particularly those from which sections of the opposition hope to squeeze electoral and rhetorical advantage, single-digit margins of victory are familiar arrangements of the Scottish Parliament's proportional political abacus. Today was no different. I'm delighted to say that this morning Holyrood finally rejected Labour and Tory plots to install a presumption in law that Scottish courts send knife-carriers to jail for a period of at least six months. The vote to reject Labour's Swine Pursuivant's amendment (aka Richard Baker for the uninitiated) divided our tribunes 63 - 61 against.

As regular readers will know, during the Criminal Justice & Licensing (Scotland) Bill's stately progress through Holyrood's hesitant legislative halls, I've  consistently argued the case against Labour and Tory knife crime policy as wrong-headed, unproductive, illiberal, costly, unjust and unnecessary. Their political positioning and rhetoric, I suggested, also invoked a particularly macabre and gruesome form of identity politics, vividly encapsulated by the Committee testimony of John Muir.

The initial Conservative position - advanced by the not-long-to-be-lamented Baillie Bill Aitken - proposed a totally absurd level of penalisation - a two year presumptive prison sentence for those detected, armed with a bladed object.  If ever a policy position showed up its proponent as agitating in jest, indulging in an entirely spurious and  unserious use of politics to release certain degenerate, subconscious spanking desires, this was it. I  also have my suspicions about the earnestness of Labour's position, although prima facie it is less obviously Quixotic than the broken-lanced sally affected by the mule-mounted Baillie Bill. I try to cleave to the sense that reasonable folk can reasonably differ on policies, that we should talk about our disagreements without immediately crying Garde Loo! and tossing whatever foetid and incontinent allegations happen to slop into the more gutterminded stalwarts of our politics. Somehow, however, I can't help but doubt that all of the tribunes on the red benches are convinced by this policy and suspect that its primary use is a tactical, party political one. In short, a consciously dishonest attempt to cozen sections of the tabloid press and those parts of the population with particularly developed sympathies for retributive philosophies of punishment. Either way, it matters not now, with the scheme shelved for the time being. Judicial discretion will continue to be the order of the day when knife-carriers are hauled before the Bar. The Green Party's Patrick Harvie put it rather nicely in the debate attending the by-section votes this morning, saying:

"There are some things legislation is not good for.  Distinguishing between a frightened wee boy who made a mistake and knows he has and a genuine thug who poses a threat is something legislation can't do - the courts have to do that."

A welcome dose of epistemological modesty from the legislative benches. All in all, this result is testament to the happy fact that the wildly punitive Scottish Labour and Tory parties cannot command a majority in our parliament. Yet today will also be a missed opportunity. Per yesterday's post, this afternoon parliament has  voted on another presumption - this time to end prison sentences of less than three months. I'm befuddled, however, positively fogged over to understand the rationale behind the Liberal position, supporting three months, but opposed to the six month presumption advanced by the SNP. A bemusing missed opportunity - but definitely progress. On both accounts, one should also give Kenny MacAskill and the Scottish Government their due. It would have been easy, all too easy, to fold in the face of the emotionally charged knife crime campaign and the hostile coverage of the SNP's "soft-touch Scotland" which is sure to follow. Voters interested in a progressive politics on criminal justice, rather than anti-intellectual and reactionary pandering, take note.

29 June 2010

Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus!

Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus! Cry the Tories. Fiat justitia ruat caelum! Call the Labour benches. More prison! More cells! More money for jails! Uplifting melodies, are they not? Sweet songs for these days where the public purse is plundered and pinched. Tomorrow, Holyrood will embarking on its Stage 3 debate on the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill.  Last week, we heard tell that Kenny MacAskill has decided to round-down his proposal for a presumption against minimum jail terms, from the more radical 6 month SNP plan to the 3 months that should be more agreeable to the Liberal Democrats. Showing their progressive credentials, this has induced in the Scottish Labour and Tories bouts of "righteous" apoplexy. 

I lament the loss. Although it prompted minimal press coverage in these terms, the six-month proposal really was one of the more radically progressive policies advanced by this SNP administration in criminal justice. Given how easily it is to generate lines of rhetorical attack on the position - "soft touch Scotland" et al. - it really was a brave position to prosecute the case, into the hail of easy and decidedly cheap shots the Swine Pursuivant and associated rump-scratchers, Tory and Labour, could find to fling at the SNP for it.  These slings and arrows, I fancy, have not been without their negative consequences. In particular, as I've suggested before, in other areas I think the assaults have prompted SNP politicians to try to find other ways to don the Inquisitor's hood and boast about what sterling punishers, bruisers and thumpers they can be. That said, three months is more satisfactory than no presumption at all - and a strategy of soft degrees may well work out in the end. If such a provision is already on the statute book, revising the presumption upwards is undoubtedly an easier prospect in the middle term than forming up the troops for a fresh new sally, from scratch. 

We should be candid about one point, however. Presumptions are odd legal beasties. Quite how it will work and change sentencing practice remains to be seen. This observation extends, in all fairness, to Labour and Tory arguments that there should be a presumption in favour of six month to two year sentences for knife carrying in Scotland. Both presumptions leave shrieval bolt-hole - the facts and circumstances of a particular case - justifying imposing a prison sentence of two months, or not imposing a six month sentence on some wight, caught with a shank in his underpants. Strictly speaking, the Swine Pursuivant's Labour motto shouldn't be carry a knife, go to jail - but carry a knife, probably go to jail (unless the Sheriff decides otherwise). Equally, there is plenty of scope for the Scottish judiciary to distort the goals associated with a presumption against three month sentences. Either way, its a brave soul who tries their hand at absolute prophecy. We have to do our best with the material available to us, and cross our fingers that everything works out as we hope - or not too significantly and appallingly differently.
On the opposition, I can’t make up my mind which alternative is the more scabrous. First, consider our rigidly righteous little Kantling. Call him Baillie Bill Aitken – a hypothetical figure of course. In this character’s case, I can imagine that he doesn’t give a flying flip about consequences. Although the earth’s crust break, the blue sky slump above him, stars put out their fires, whether jail serves no deterring function, whether sending people to jail actually serves to create more victims, whatever the state of the public finances – in his world of little judgement, we should probably bang ‘em up anyway. Damn the consequences, though the sky fall and the world perish.   For him, it seems to matter not a jot that short term sentences do not prevent recidivism. If he was frank, he probably doesn't believe that is what prison is for. This is a dangerous inclination and I believe fundamentally an incorrect one. However, it does at least have the benefit of a sort of piggish sincerity. A bastard's programme, but a bad programme pursued in good faith. Then there is the second category, best I can discern. It seems unlikely that this character - call him Iain Gray - shares wholeheartedly in the punitive inclinations of Baillie Bill. Rather, a whiff of stratagem clings to his shrill opposition. One wonders whether he believes the whole thing or not - or merely has his pigling blands churn out quotes suggesting that “the SNP is still playing Russian roulette with public safety” because he is trying to squirrel away some party advantage from the friction. In his heart of hearts, heaven knows what he or his ruddy cronies think about prison, about the evidence that it does not serve a function, that increasingly we cannot afford it, that the numbers incarcerated are high and are mounting even higher.  Do they care about these issues? Are they interested? Are they willing to align themselves with the bottomless retributivism of Baillie Bill, pious punishers who have little interest in what is happening in the here and now - and how our politics and our decisions beget these issues?

As is so often the case with the Labour Party, one cannot even seem have a discussion about these matters.  Like grinning gin-traps, Labour in  opposition snaps shut, ever-eager to draw blood and once closed, their jaws are not readily pried apart again. On an individual level,  I know many Labour members who have open minds on such matters, but who keep their peace in the public sphere and keep supporting their gormless tribunes with a touching but destructive loyalty. This tendency is mightily depressing, since it impoverishes our public life, makes conversations meaningless, reduces Holyrood to a howling-room, manipulative, eyes ever on the polls, lies and fictions and distortions its tools. It is lazy and cynical in the least charming fashion imaginable. For shame.

26 June 2010

"Sae come aa ye at hame wi' freedom..."

I'm pleased to be able to report that I'm not dead. Well, not yet anyway. I'm in the last throes of slaying a particularly lumpen and monstrous piece of work, which has been vampirically leeching all of my time away from me these last seven days. At the moment, I feel like Herman Melville's dark Captain Ahab, wild and afloat, pursuing the fat thing across the deeps and wrecks and shoals, monomaniac to find the heart of the business and stick an ending sodding lance into it all. Thankfully, this murderous task should be despatched on Monday and ordinary polemical service should resume next week. Until then, acquaint thyself with this ever-apt ditty, sprung from the pen of Hamish Henderson and sung by that pitted, mop-topped ginger Erseman, Luke Kelly. Freedom Come Aa Ye ~ A hymn for a new Scotland.

22 June 2010

Budget: Grasping the Cardoon

Its like having a head full of melting treacle. As the odorous plants and flowers open petal and leaf to the burnishing English sun, they've also taken it upon themselves to let fly with all of their malicious pollen, reducing an unfortunate few of us to wheezing, mucus-leaking, red-eyed wrecks. Kindly old ladies hobble up to you bearing condolences, taking you for a sobbing soul, overcome with some private grief, despite the sunny atmosphere. Perhaps I should take up meditation or pump myself full of kindly stupefying substances to regain some composure.

As you'll all no doubt know, today is the sobering day of the Con-Dem coalition's "emergency" budget. My leftie friends have all gone bonkers. The liberals I've encountered have adopted the air of gold-panners, sifting through a mire of dank and rotted and matted muck, desperately trying to winkle out justifying glistering specks and motes, however diminutive. The crouched position and close-sighted peering seems to be giving them a crick in their collective neck. I don't propose to add much to the discussion at present, of the potential effects of Osborne's measures. I'm not well-positioned or well-informed enough to contribute much independent reflection worth reading. That said, however, I do want to connect the tenor of the budget, its rhetoric, to a book I've had in hand the past few days. 

The book in question is Dennis MacLeod & Michael Russell's (2006) Grasping the Thistle, which heretofore I've never set my eyes a-roving over. I was aware that Gerry Hassan once described as "filled with the most fundamental free-market proposals", however, the exact extent and ferocity of their argument had hardly disclosed itself. Whether enthusing or appalling, it is worth reading, since it highlights how little we are willing to discuss these questions in Scotland. Indeed, it is amazing, and rather heartening, that anyone who wrote such a book can find a place in our panicked politics, where the press love nothing more than disciplining party disagreement. I'm fiercely in favour of a politics of ideas, of discourse and discussion. Treat people like idiots, they have every reason to become idiots. Leave brains totally disengaged, and how could they but atrophy and shift their attenuated idling attention onto flashing lights, pretty colours and more vivifying distractions. However, given politics' short memory, and since you won't all dash out and buy copies, I wanted to mention one or two of the more striking sections in the book which it may be of wider interest for us to reflect on. Particularly with Osborne's budget, echoing in our ears.

Joint-authorship is a curious phenomenon, one that rather cuts against our inherited conception of the eccentrically individualistic qualities of creative reflection. Certainly, in parts of life and in presenting some forms of knowledge, writing in common is not only familiar, but the done thing. Multiple authorship performs a tidy task of presentation, purporting to excise subjectivity. That may work when what is being reported is the collective labour of a laboratory. In this book, given the political status of Russell, few people could be wholesale taken in by the death of the authors - or the creation of the Author - which the single argument running through Grasping the Thistle suggests. The only nods to the two-headed author are the numerous asides generally noting that Russell did not, in his capacity as an SNP candidate in the 2007 Holyrood election, share completely in some argument adduced.

Even with these concessions to the political atmosphere of its publication, MacLeod & Russell's case is rollockingly critical in a number of particulars. Although the first section - advocating radical political reform - is potentially scandalous - that is nothing compared to the second, on the Challenge of Economics. One germane suggestion - which should appeal to all intellectual snobs out there - is that it is a nonsense to select the government from our elected tribunes. They suggest that it is pure daftness to limit the selection of the chap or chappess who is to be high heid yin of complex national organisations to the tiny clutch of souls, with sufficient low animal cunning or talent for party toadying to get elected. This is chalked up to the unconscious, long shadow of Westminster-style "gentlemen amateurs". In contrast, the authors suggest Scotland should elect its Chief Puddin' and Deputy Chief Puddin' who should then select, in the manner of many American Federal positions, their Cabinet from among the smart, civic and savvy souls in the country who may be up to the task. 

This advocacy of "modernisation", competitive and meritocratic expedients and whatnot is carried on into the economic section. They call for a substantial reduction in the size of the state and the extent of taxation, including the abolition of inheritance tax, the elimination of corporation tax , the reduction of personal taxation by 25% across the board and the end of fuel duties. Scotland joining the euro is sharply opposed, an independent Scottish currency is suggested. They criticise the 2.7% of GDP Scotland spends on defence (compared to Ireland's quoted 0.7%), describe the Barnett formula spending as resulting in a bloated Scots state - 

"... far from starving Scotland to death as is often asserted, [Barnett] is actually fattening us to the point of dangerous obesity. Bizarre as the thought may be, could the UK actually be killing us by kindness?" (MacLeod & Russell 2006, 116)

They advocate a "seven pronged approach to reducing government size and boosting growth rate" (2006, 131) which, both in its tenor and its substance, some may find rather surprising...
  • freezing and cutting government expenditures including the freezing of recruitment by government and quangos
  • boosting business growth by reducing corporate and personal taxes
  • countering the negative Union factor 
  • improving government efficiency by exposure to the free market economy
  • building the number of economically active citizens by facilitating the transfer of civil servants (and potential civil servants) to the private sector as well as boosting immigration
  • increasing investment in research and development and education
  • development of our neglected natural resources
Which reminds me, Iain MacWhirter has a gloriously long article, entitled The Left's Mistake, inviting us to be thinking creatures rather than the more fatuous of fatuous knee-jerk statists (for which read the Scottish Labour Party) on public employment in Scotland. Somewhere near by, I'm sure I can hear the sound of a yum-yum-clogged Labour party artery burbling fitfully...

20 June 2010

"Its alive!"

Firstly, I'm pleased to report that the fairies have finally let me go, and I've resumed my blogging station and am standing to attention, musket primed. Secondly, I note in my absence that the Scottish press and political classes have finally awoken to the implications of the litigation inspired by the European Court of Human Rights case in Salduz v. Turkey.  Last week I blogged on the case of Cadder v. H.M. Advocate, the wriggling speck of grit in our criminal justice oyster, but the issues at stake today were apparent enough in late October 2009. 

Dame Matron of Doily MSP Annabel Goldie, mentioned it at FMQs. Needless to say, she did not leave the panic button unpressed:

"If the pending judgment is adverse, and retrospective in effect, the doors to Scotland's jails could be flung open and there could be far-reaching implications for our criminal justice system, the safety of communities and victims' peace of mind. What are those contingency plans to which the First Minister referred? He needs to plan now and not start rushing around the day after the court judgment is issued.

We await the October judgement of the UK Supreme Court in Cadder, but things look iffy for the forces of Crown, prosecution and state - and if the Court's decision is adverse, it is no understatement to say that political stormclouds will bubble up, furious bolts of lightning will sizzle and fray. The metaphors will all be borrowed from the Old Testament. The legal political equivalent of sitting in the middle of the Book of Job. It has already started. "Chaos", quoth one. "Panic", says another.  "Justice in the dock". According to the transcript of the Supreme Court hearing, obtained by the Sunday Herald, the Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini adopted a similar prophetic  attitude of despair, describing the implications of defeat for the Crown's case by turns as "Catastrophic ... Seismic ... It could cause enormous disruption ... It’s hard to overstate its significance".

It is worth bearing in mind that these remarks were made in the context of an adversarial legal argument. By no means should we simply assume that Angiolini was unburdening her innermost thoughts to the Supreme Court, anguished and contrite. Nor am I suggesting she was fibbing either. Rather, policy doom and disaster is a fairly regular instrument of legal argument, opposing some expedient dreamt up by an inventive litigant and their lawyers. Slippery slopes, dangerous precedents, that way disaster lies - all are lines to focus the judicial mind and prompt the temptations of constraint and caution in reaching a decision. Up to a point, this anticipatory hue and cry in the press - and falling from Bella's lips in Holyrood - cannot but do likewise. It opens up terrifying vistas of uncertainty, conjures procedural collapse, institutional disrepute, malfunction and dysfunction.  Judges can be a timid lot, all said. Gloomily briefed about the reefs and wrecking shoals which surround the case, they may try their best to reach the "right" decision, without holing the ship of state below the waterline.  On that basis, if the Crown must lose - and that is by no means certain yet that it must - but if defeat proves unavoidable - then the legal mind turns to losing narrowly. Which frequently is to say, losing in a confusing maze of legal technicality, so loathed by newspapers seeking the simple nub of the matter - and so difficult to understand for litigants that they might well decide to stay home and watch the telly instead of spending any time, trying to expunge their wrongous or procedurally iffy convictions. 

14 June 2010

Away with the fairies...

I knew I should have planted more Rowan trees in my garden. At any rate, on account on my lax warding of my dwelling-house, it has become infested with brownies, spriggans, pookas, sprites - vexatious spry fey creatures of all colours - who have determined to drag me off to their great circular dance on dew-speckled lawns, under the moon and sky. Being law-abiding creatures, I'm sure they'll honour their agreement to set me loose in seven days time. Until then, however, I'll be flailing about to the eldritch strain of their lily fiddles and the flatulent hoots of pipe reeds. No time, alas, to be spared rattling out a blog or two. The crux of the matter is this. Don't expect to hear another peep out of me here for the next week.

P.S. Before yielding entirely to Puckish frivolities, I feel I should mention Reform Scotland's freshly published Power to Learn report  which, amongst other things, "argues that university graduates should contribute towards the cost of their higher education as a deferred fee to be paid once they earn more than the average Scottish salary." No time for a critique of this, but the whole document can be consulted here.

12 June 2010

Stark talk for Angiolini (& our justice system)

Its actually an interesting story, so I can - almost, almost, almost - forgive and forget the tagline "Turkey feels the long arm of EU law".  The judicial fondling being discussed, however, is predictably enough administered by the European Court of Human Rights, a the Council of Europe body with much wider membership than wur ain dainty wee EU (47 signatory states, to be exact, as opposed to the European Union's 27). I agree - the distinction is needlessly difficult, a quirk of history and a failure of the imagination. In a document claiming to be the "leading quality newspaper", this is damned poor stuff. I can only assume that somebody has an idiot for a copy editor who thought they'd freshen the subtitle up, and in a blithe spirit of ignorant confidence, thought a false two letters better than a more elaborated but accurate phrase. End of chastening remonstration.

The substance of the story concerns an issue I've touched on before and starts with a case in the European Court in Salduz v. Turkey.  This case took on a particular relevance in Scotland, being broadly concerned with the scope of the Convention right to have a solicitor present during a police interview while in police detention. The issue was presented to the High Court of the Justiciary earlier on this year in the case of Duncan McLean v. H. M. Advocate, the Court finding that the existing statutory rules on access to a lawyer in custody remained compatible with Article 6 of the Convention - the right to fair trial - Salduz despite. Under the provisions of the Scotland Act, the case has now headed south as Cadder v. H. M. Advocate to be adjudicated upon by the fresh-minted Supreme Court. Their judgement is anticipated in October. Until then, Lucy Adams' story furnishes much of the relevant context, so I won't reiterate or attempt my own version here. The crux is this - this is a case which has the potential for significant ramifications. Expect to hear more about it in the future.

Secondly, I don't know if any of you make a habit of listening to Edie Stark on BBC Radio Scotland. I very much enjoy her questioning style - a natural interviewer - and she usually wrings something interesting from whoever she corners and peppers with impertinent inquisitions. This week, the Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini was on Stark Talk. An unusual move in the fustian legal world, to say the least, to consent to such a personal exploration of your private life. Particularly since Angiolini is so publicly exposed - and has been exposed to sharp public criticism by grouchy old  judicial coelacanths and reprobate Faculty of Advocate fossils - that I'm astounded she consented to be interviewed and adopted such a disclosing manner. I thought I heard the distinct sticky tack of distant tongues being tutted as I listened to it. Rather refreshing to my mind. Rather refreshing indeed. The programme is available now on the BBC iplayer and remains so until the 16th of June. If you have half an hour and any curiosity about the woman who is Scotland's chief public prosecutor and legal advisor to the Scottish Government, lend it your lugs

10 June 2010

The Campaign for Fiscal Responsibility ...

It must have been difficult picking the name. The Solemn League and Covenant (2) - This time its  for Mammon, I understand, was never really in the running. A pity. In the spirit of presentist modernity, they decided on the more workmanlike title of The Campaign for Fiscal Responsibility. Coordinated by Reform Scotland, the campaign insists that it is time for a new fiscal covenant for Scotland and the devolution of most taxation. Any "Independence" implied here should be read "with a small i". Eck's pulpy eminence can only be detected in dappled outline, lurking in the foliage. The responsibility and autonomy the Campaign have in mind is more in the spirit of the rugged liberty of a yeoman farmer and the self-reliance, self-subsistence of Lockean fantasy rather than denoting secessionist political tendencies per se. We'll return to this theme. First a bit of the detail. Opening with a declaration, sympathetic souls can subscribe their names. At the moment of writing, 146 signatures have been collected. Before turning to the queer coalition of opinion which is suggested by those who have already signed, its worth tarrying over the text itself ~


A Scottish Parliament with far greater responsibility for raising the money it spends would lead to better government in Scotland. It would make politicians more accountable for the financial decisions they take while giving them both the incentive and the fiscal tools necessary to achieve improved public services and faster economic growth - vital in the current economic circumstances. Further, it would help to foster a healthy relationship between Westminster and Holyrood.

All of the main Scottish and UK parties agree that the Scottish Parliament should have greater financial powers. The debate is now about which powers should be devolved and when.

Much has changed in the last year and the opportunity now exists to go further than the limited financial proposals outlined in the Calman Commission report.

Therefore, we are calling for the control of most current taxes to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as soon as possible.

Implicit themes of the sickliness of dependency and doubts about what these rich fellows mean by better government might well evoke a certain justified discomfort in some of you. You may wonder if you've accidentally strayed into David Cameron's office in Downing Street, while George Osborne whets his razor and whispers sour fiscal nothings into the PM's shell-like. The list of signatories include some familiar faces from the Scots blogosphere - Gerry Hassan, Joan McAlpine - Tartan Tory historian and journalist Michael Fry, professors, economists, directors of various companies - and so on.  The Campaign has received plenty of press coverage, including a series of grim prophecies and Unionist declamations from that black-bearded, brass-throated Old Testament prophet Alan Cochrane ~ 

“The truth is that this is a huge issue on which there is no overall national agreement but Mr Salmond is using the CFR for his own separatist, political ends to claim that there is now a consensus of Scottish opinion in favour of full fiscal freedom. Those who say they support Mr Thomson’s organisation should be aware of this. Unless they are already.”

Like Nationalist opinion of a certain stripe, Cochrane is an inevitablist on independence. Concessions are largely conceded as a mistake, Tory collusion in whipping up such sops invariably the object of critical scorn. It is interesting, however, to see the Campaign in the context of Scottish Tory self-doubt and self-analysis.  At times, the "absence" - or more properly, muted voice - of the centre-right in Scotland is imagined as a sort of pathology among Scotland's many neurotic constitutional tendencies. Incompleteness in the political field can become conceived of as a sort of sickly repression, a fundamental denial of some natural tendency to balanced polity. I'm not sure that I find this sort of reasoning terrifically convincing - but there is no question that it is the way many folk conceive of and talk about our enfeebled and hobbling forces of Conservatism. Among his various cherished theorems, Pater Peat Worrier firmly believes that Scottish Tories or some offshoot of that species will shed their Unionism before the Labour Party. While this Campaign may not be toddling up that merry high road just yet, that it is mapping such terrain and forming a like-minded coalition along those lines seems to me undeniable. Its economic vocabulary and the Campaign's quiet inferences are expanded on in an acute piece by Iain MacWhirter, cautioning us that with full fiscal freedom, we may be given reason to fear most the very thing we desired. Here's the nub of his contention:

“But here’s the twist: the CFR supporters want fiscal federalism, not to get a better financial deal for Scotland, or get their hands on oil revenues, but to “end Scotland’s benefits culture”. Thinking Conservatives now realise fiscal autonomy is not an inherently socialist proposition but is actually quite Thatcherite, in that it implies a reduction in the size and scope of the state in Scotland. Reducing public spending to something nearer what is raised in tax would almost certainly slim down the public sector and would certainly enforce rigid fiscal discipline on the Scottish Parliament. No more giveaways on bridge tolls or prescription charges.”

MacWhirter must be right - up to a point - but it seems to me that the essential point of contestation at stake here is this. Many will, I suspect, be content enough to enter into this odd coalition, sustained by the sense that agreement on setting up new structures is and can be kept distinct from what we do, having secured those powers. Thus, while there may be those in the campaign who wish to devolve taxation powers to dismantle the public sector's gear and tackle and trim - there is no inevitability about this economic agenda pursuing full(ish) fiscal responsibilities for Scottish institutions. It is a skirmish for another today. We cooperate now, content to cross cudgels tomorrow. MacWhirter's point, as I understand him, concedes that Scotland's tax revenues will be lower than the amount presently spent through Westminster administered block grants. Full fiscal responsibility would, therefore, very necessarily result in a pairing back of public spending to some degree. 

That the animating reasoning behind this campaign differs substantially from the "social union" thematic of Calman is worth reflecting on. Although rubber-faced media jobgobbers like Jammy Paxman or Andrew Neil don't always realise what they're doing by appealing to brute equality arguments about spending across the United Kingdom - here meaning all  parts of the country should get the roughly the same amount - they are advancing a very particular theory about what fair spending looks like. Such arguments from equality (denoting "sameness") tend to ignore features like geographic dispersal and indeed the care which might inform other political movers and shakers - assessments of the relative needs of different parts of the country. MacWhirter's point is that such UK-wide "fairness by need" spending goes out the window, once taxation and the application of those revenues is undertaken separately. Just like idea that Unionist equality is the same level of spending displaces more nuanced assessments of what is an equitable distribution. Fiscal responsibility takes this one stage further. Instead of baking a single cake with the diffuse fiscal ingredients yielded up by taxation and distributing it slice by equal slice - suspicious eyes turn to the ingredients and even equal spending becomes problematic, if contributions of eggs and flour don't mirror the equality in distribution. On this logic, each to your own, earn what you spend takes on a deductive inevitability. It is the only taxation version which is not easily assailable on the critical reasoning employed at the very beginning.

None of this need be necessary however. Alternative notions of equality and fairness in spending can certainly be justified, on incompatible premises. However, an idea of justifying spending along the lines of differential need presses against the grain of contemporary metropolitan commentary. We're all used to hearing about we bloated Scotch slurpers, milk dribbling down our flabby chins and pooling in our folds, slimy slug-lips pressed to the wasted teat of English spending. If it is true, such a position could still cogently be defended, but crucially, not from the position of spend what you earn, if we also assume Scotland's tax intake is less than its spending. Interestingly, it may be that the Calmanesque notion of the social union may well furnish a hostile Scottish Labour Party with a cogent basis to criticise and oppose the  innovations of full fiscal responsibility while arguing for the continuing relevance and virtues of the Union. I am not saying I would agree with the argument - indeed as a supporter of independence and enhanced powers for Scottish institutions I'd reject it - but it is undeniably an articulated and reasonable position to adopt.

If any of that appeals to you, you can add your name and make your own solemn fiscal declaration here.

9 June 2010

Gallimaufry: sirens, tasers & student fees

I have blogged significantly and at length before, both on ongoing debates about Labour and Tory plots to impose minimum prison sentences on knife carriers and on the legality of the Taser pilot presently being conducted by officers of Strathclyde police. On the 3rd of June, both of these issues reappeared at Holyrood, during the Justice & Law Officers themed Question Time. Ted Brocklebank - not usually a Tory contender for would-be Inquisitor-in-Chief - pressed Kenny MacAskill by asking "... what percentage of those prosecuted for carrying a knife in the last year have received a sentence of six months or less (S3O-10781)? The answer for 2008-09 is 18%. Prompted, a certain Labour tribune took to his trotters. When Ian Gray doesn't feel like it, Richard Baker - Labour's Swine Pursuivant - is given this egregious, uncosted policy to play with. Usually his tenor is of pigling bland outrage, his rind seasoned just a little with the flippant spice of the student debater. Today, our punitive red roaster attempts stinging wry befuddlement

Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): Why has the cabinet secretary lodged an amendment to delete the provisions for minimum mandatory sentences for knife crime that were passed by the Justice Committee at stage 2 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill? That is particularly puzzling, given that the president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, Chief Superintendent David O'Connor, has said: "we find it increasingly difficult to oppose calls for the introduction of a minimum mandatory period of imprisonment of six months for any person carrying a knife ... in a public place."

Kenny MacAskill: I have done so because I take the advice of Chief Constable David Strang, Chief Constable Stephen House and Chief Superintendent John Carnochan of the violence reduction unit, all of whom have argued that the proposal by Mr Baker and others would not work. We do not need an unseemly bidding war, with six months from Mr Baker, two years from Mr Brocklebank and four years from Mr Bain, the member of Parliament for Glasgow North East—yes, four years he said, simply for carrying a knife. Why not add a zero to that or two zeros and let us get on with it? We have to support the measures that are working—tough enforcement, more stop and searches, visible enforcement in the courts and ploughing money back into diversionary activities to ensure that kids are given the opportunity to be all that they can be. Members can say what they like, but the record speaks for itself. In Strathclyde and elsewhere, progress is being made.

Rather well put, I thought. Matters subsequently turned to the legality of tasers. Canny Robert Brown asked the Scottish Executive about its responsibilities for policing - clearly echoing the human rights law analysis conducted by Aidan O'Neill QC on behalf of Amnesty International. MacAskill reiterated his entrenched position, namely, that ~

Kenny MacAskill: The Scottish ministers do not have legislative powers to direct the police on operational matters. We have no competence to issue guidance on the use of firearms, including Tasers, since the matter is reserved to Westminster. For the same reason, the Scottish Parliament has no power to legislate on that. In 2004, the Scottish ministers in a Labour-Lib Dem coalition supported trials of Tasers in Scotland, which led to the operational use of Tasers starting in 2005. Mr Brown might have been dealing with matters expeditiously then, but what we are seeing now is a bit of cant and gross hypocrisy. Members can rest assured that, when officers are in situations in which they and members of the public face danger, they will have the Government's full support in doing what is necessary. The matter is an operational one, but Tasers are used proportionately and legitimately by hard-working and brave Scottish police officers to defend themselves and other citizens in our communities. We will make no apology for that and we will never interfere in it.

Not to be outdone, and so we don't forget how pig-headed and vilely idiotic the man can be, Baillie Bill Aitken took to his feet and opined:

Bill Aitken (Glasgow) (Con): Does the cabinet secretary agree that the problems that are associated with Tasers have been exaggerated, and that if anyone wishes to avoid coming into conflict with police officers armed with Tasers, they simply have to refrain from acting violently?

I can almost imagine his pickled onion face, peeling in self satisfaction as he declaimed this profound self-evidence. Oh how we shall miss ye, Old Judgement, the People's Baillie.

Holyrood Student Fees Debate

The 3rd proved a rich debating day at Holyrood, in the afternoon turning to a motion on student fees sponsored by the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell. Quite frankly, it astounds and astonishes me that Scottish Labour figures find a way to speak to Scottish students at all, never mind trying to dress themselves up as improbably champions of that constituency's causes. Their tribunes seem unabashed about their attempts to block the abolition of the graduate endowment - a move which ever student affected will be able to compute very tangibly to their benefit, to the tune of around £2,000. A clear dividend of Scottish Nationalist government, one grossly threatened by any upward march of the tattie tribunes in scarlet. I should be less innocent by now. From my own university days, one of the first things I learned about student politics was how Labour specialised in creating slavish toadies in the student class, attempting to promote these compliant souls to representative positions and generally quiet the student beast with their own placemen, all too keen to caper at the base of the greasy pole. The collapsed political (and no doubt to some extent personal) life of Labour's young erstwhile Westminster candidate in Moray, Stuart MacLellan is an essay in the type. Yet modesty and shame are not Labour virtues, I'm afraid. In his usual rollicking, imperious fashion, Mike Russell stuck it to the boisterous Helium Harpy, Karen Whitefield et al. A couple of Russell's particularly pungent leapt out at me as worth general mention. As vivid parliamentary prose goes, this is the good stuff.

Michael Russell: Every Labour speaker has mentioned the need for consensus, which echoes my own desire. However, consensus must be based on facts, and I want to give the facts about a number of things that front-bench Labour members raised, because they need to be corrected. The first is the delusion about resources and funding. The Scottish Government's budget has been cut by £500 million, and further cuts are coming. We must all face that problem. I was trying to think of a comparison to illustrate the Labour approach—this morning at First Minister's questions, this afternoon and no doubt in the health debate earlier—to the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves. The only comparison I could think of was that, astonishingly, Labour now resembles a group of arsonists who, having laid waste to the Scottish budget and the finances of this entire island, now run about complaining about the heat, the smoke and the sound of fire engines. They are the people who are to blame, and nothing will allow us to avoid that."

And stressing a point which can be cheerfully expanded to much of Labour's positioning (albeit with mild qualms about imagining either Ken MacIntosh, wee Clair Baker or Karen Whitefield as a clutch of life's natural sensuous sirens) ~

"I am not listening to the siren voices of Labour members, who just want me to say something so that they can contradict it. During this afternoon's debate, I was very much reminded of the remark from my old friend Andrew Wilson, who said in the first parliamentary session that, if the SNP had invented the light bulb, Labour would have called it a dangerous anti-candle device. That is precisely what we have heard this afternoon. We cannot say anything but it is contradicted."

Sheriff Principal James Taylor: Breast Inspector

The other day, I mentioned Sheriff Principal James Taylor's judgement in the breast inspecting case which saw the restoration of the license of one of Glasgow's lap-dancing establishments. For enthusiasts and the particularly keen, his full opinion in Kell (Scotland) v. Glasgow Licensing Board is now available here.

7 June 2010

"When the people speak..."

Apologies for the prevailing quietude over the past few days. Its a busy time of year and my will-to-blog has of late been mildly sapped. Must be the bilious cloud cover, the swelter and the sweat of the southern summer - and the pollen-peopled air. Nevertheless, this morning I wanted to mention the Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill which the wily Eck put out to consultation, to avoid its demolition pre-election by the opposition parties. It received 222 responses. Interestingly, examining the 189 which were published on the 6th of June, it is striking that very few of the usual creatures of "Civic Scotland" appear. There are some old familiars. Canon Kenyon Wright, for instance, who argues that he cannot...

... see how anybody who recognises the sovereignty of the people in such matters, ( as so many politicians and others did in the “Claim of Right”) can with integrity oppose the holding of a referendum – especially at such an opportune time.

That said, it turns out that the Fire Brigade Union is for it, as are the Scottish Youth Parliament.  Living Streets a charitable "society which stands up for pedestrians" helpfully identifies themselves as "neutral on the constitutional arrangements governing Scotland. We want to see the clearest, best arrangement of powers to help achieve safe, attractive enjoyable streets in Scotland where people want to walk." Thanks for letting us know. I'm sure doubts about your position were weighing heavily on all our minds. Doctor James Gilmour argues against the use of alternative vote in any referendum, while the de Borda Institute pushes their own namesake's voting procedure instead. Professor Andrew Hughes-Hallett kindly forwarded the Scottish Government a copy of an article on Scotland: A New Fiscal Settlement, written with his regular collaborator in such matters, Drew Scott of Edinburgh's Law School.

More whimsical and memorably personal touches can be found in other individual responses. What follows makes no pretence at representativeness, merely particular remarks and asides which caught my eye on a quick roll through the papers. Interestingly, many of these submissions were written with a relatively poor command of written English and inaccurate spelling. Not your usual gamut of elite respondent organisations, taking the time to make their views known here. Rather heartening, I think. Also significant, since these are people who took the time to fill in the form and send it off, whether on paper or electronically. Reading this, you should understand my cue here is more in the line of sociological curiosity, rather than partisan agitation. These are, after all, the remarks and thoughts of ordinary people, participating in the political process. We may well disagree with them - there may be one or two odd-bods in the mix - but they undeniably represent a section of interested Scottish opinion. As a result, I'd suggest that it is worth paying attention to the sorts of arguments and concepts they appeal to.

Asked Do you have any other comments about the proposals in the draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill? - one Tom Urquhart crisply remarks -

I would just like to use a quote my American wife is fond of using :- "Get it Done"........

Someone preferring to submit their views anonymously relates how...

I have been a supporter of self governance/independance for Scotland since the early 60s; memorably argued for it with a ''captive'' FO official about 2 miles from the Mekong river in 1968 (with a man from the Black Isle). Go for it!

Another anonymous contributor is less impressed, arguing that -

It is good that the Scottish "Government" is proceeding with its set-out promise of a referendum. It is necessary to prove that no further devolution is required and that sovereignty rests with the United Kingdom.

Another suggests that -

The argument for the referendum seems to be based solely on a political ideal fuelled by a subtle xenophobia which really wants full independence.

Meanwhile, a charming xenophobe from Scotland suggests that ~ 
only scottish people should be aloud to vote. as english liveing in scotland will try and block our progress

One Anne McLaughlan suggests that "Westminster know nothing about Scotland." Many, many respondents also highlight the finicky complexities of the proposals as presently drafted - "Simple questions which will provide real choices for the Scottish people" - one argues. One commenter, generally hostile to the referendum proposal commented that ~

I would also like to highlight the inaccessibility of this consultation process. Both the paper version and the online response form use language and content that is complex, layout is confusing.

Undoubtedly a fair point. The responses also contain a number of Nationalist jeremiads -  as well as a few by dissassisfied souls, who disapprove of Holyrood. Alexander McKay wants "an option to Cancel the talking shop that is the Scottish Parliament." Reference is made to localism one respondent argues that -

The attractiveness of "small" government needs to be emphasised. I have worked in New Zealand and have seen this first hand; closer to home, have appreciated the Conversation session at Melrose (although I didn't particularly like Mr Salmond's answer to my question !!

On voting eligibility, another chap argues that ~

"The proposals affect UK legislation and I believe all UK citizens should be eligible to vote. The proposals are in conflict with the Act of Union which affects both England and Scotland. As an English man I object to the unilateral ending of the Act of Union and I would like the eligibility to vote to be extended to UK residents living in England."

As I say, these are merely scattered selections from the full body of replies, which can be consulted here.

3 June 2010

Shrieval breast inspectors...

In my humble juridical experience, few things mix together quite so satisfyingly as Her Majesty's judges and cases which touch on some mild matter of smut, perhaps leavened by a few references to "contemporary culture" - speech marks in the judicial original. The sadomasochistic (and highly unjust) case of R. v. Brown [1994] was a high watermark in the genre. Happily, this week furnishes us with an example of such drollery. Although largely missed out in the highfalutin' press, the Sun and a few others covered a decision by Sheriff Principal James Taylor of Glasgow & Strathkelvin to overturn a decision of Glasgow City Licensing Board of June 2009. Tragically, I can't seem to find a copy of the full judgement itself at present, hence what follows is a bit scrappy and a bit sketchy. The Glasgow Board, best I can make out, had denied the lap-dancing club -  piously entitled Seventh Heaven - a license under the relevant legislation, citing the nature of  one of the club's promotional fliers. This would-be enticing scrap of advertising, claimed the  Glasgow Board, showed an "unsuitably clothed" young lady. No license for you, they concluded. The club's owners appealed against this decision. This week, the Sheriff Principal determined that the club owners had the right of it and that the Glasgow Board's decision was unreasonable in the following terms:

"To judge that the flyer in question is unsuitable for the purpose of promoting a lap dancing nightclub and thus in breach of the policy code, is, in my opinion, wholly unreasonable. In short the licensing board's judgement is absurd. No reasonable licensing board properly applying their mind to the flyer could come to the view that the female depicted was unsuitably clothed. Only a very small part of the side of her breast is depicted in the photograph. There is certainly more breast exposed in certain daily tabloid newspapers. Indeed if one looks at adverts for perfumes and the like in magazines normally read by women, one sees more breasts exposed than in the flyer. In short, I can see nothing wrong in the degree of breast exposed. My attention was not drawn to any particular aspect of the model."
Sheriff Taylor also apparently:

...pointed out that many "evening dresses" worn by women would expose "more breast" than could be seen on the flyer.

Michty me!

1 June 2010

Scottish independence "Tomorrow & tomorrow & tomorrow..."

Gradualist? Fundamentalist? Idealist? Pragmatist? Today? Tomorrow? Its a familiar saw of Scots political analysis that the SNP is lifted by the collective motion of two wings. While memories of the '79 Group have not been entirely displaced, it should be striking that no political correspondent refers to right-wing SNP MSPs. In my experience, all such analysis is undertaken on a case-by-case basis. I've heard Fergus Ewing, for example, being referred to as "basically a Tartan Tory", while a muted but detectable strain of commentary seems to think that Nicola Sturgeon tacks more to the left. The French Revolutionary categories of right and left aren't the wings I have in mind. Rather, I'm talking about the opposition drawn between so-called gradualists and fundamentalists in the nationalist cause. 


The first, ideologically dominant, pinion in the party posits that soft degrees and incremental development is the best way to make mild the prospect of final independence. Unionism is here taken not to be an incorrigible matter of principle and solidarity. Rather, it regards the present dispensation as only held up by its own dead weight, by inertia, fear, a sense of dependency. The clear and present purpose of nationalist politics, then, is demonstrating broad shoulders and the potential robustness of an independent nationalist alternative. Like besuited Stoic sages, a gradualist position does not invite the people to take Scottish independence as an article of faith, but seeks to erect props and foundations - a Scottish structure within the British structure - which seems mountingly robust on its own. Rather than ramshackle promises, gradualism wants to point to existing bricks and mortar, settled associations of laws, powers and competencies - making cutting the final threads of dependency an easier snip. It takes the electorate to be cautious - but potentially coaxed into more radical constitutional moves, if perceptions of risk are clearly minimised.


An alternative argument might be that such gradualist degrees of development are a primose path, leading nowhere. Frustrated with the persistent deferring of full independence till an unspecified tomorrow, a fundamentalist might well suggest that contra gradualist imaginings - lapping up small concessions and superficial empowerment of Scottish institutions make independence less not more likely. Distracting the people from arguments about their own nationalist self-interest, such distractions play into the hands of more Machiavellian Unionists, who in tight spots may well concede an alleviating sop or two, better to shore up the stability of the pernicious system and infinitely defer the "moment" of independence.  Gradualist promises of tomorrow are, in actuality, a thistle-jagged way to nowhere and their apparently canny increments are merely the lulling crotchets and quavers of a self-deluded Pied Piper, lulled by his own music. Make the argument, convince the people, seize the day! If the public are not convinced, it is because of the vacuity of your arguments, the want of articulate spokespersons, a failure of advocacy. The answer is not minimising the apparent risks associated with independence, rather it is explaining the position better.

Beyond "gradualism & fundamentalism"

Such old binaries are rather too precise for my liking, and in particular, conceal an important third group in the SNP who do not, per se, share the central premise of either group, but who will undoubtedly have more significant sympathy with their fellow-travellers resorting to gradualist expedients. Are you in favour of independence, most folk will ask you if they detect your SNP affiliations? A surprising number of people give you equivocal answers to this question or ask - what do you mean by independence? In particular, if there is a sensitivity to what independence might mean in the "interconnected world", the response may be radically different. 

SNP not a "Nationalist"

As the Sunday Herald once put it "people join the SNP because of a belief in independence, rather than because of a shared set of values about how society should be governed. Most parties are a coalition of kindred spirits; the SNP is a loose grouping of diverse ideologies." I disagree and have seen plenty of evidence that many, many people in their party who have their doubts about "full independence" and who might well rest easily enough with a structure of significant federalised power within a transformed United Kingdom. Don't let's forget, after all, that the present Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell, advocated just such a "New Union" in 2006 in Grasping the Thistle. While the alea iacta est of an independence referendum forces one to take a position - yea or nay - for the sympathetic but fundamentally undecided, the accretion of new powers, new competencies, new possibilities - they are far more readily supportable. Some may well want to excoriate these souls for their want of commitment and thumb accusingly at their weak nationalist nerves and hie them to the Liberal Democrats. For myself, I find this position perfectly understandable. Notice that we could also rearticulate a more cynical version of the same position, which is not simply indecisive on independence - but is even hostile to it. On this account, the SNP could be seen as the best instrument for realising further devolution of power from the centralised institutions of UK politics. Those poised nationalists of this mould, having secured the desired concessions, might well flee the coop - or make a bid to fundamentally shift the Scottish National Party's central mission and central account of its purpose. I see no reason to insist that these folk are not 'real' nationalists or that they do not belong in the party.

Politics in the Heraclitan fire

The thing which strikes me about all three groupings whose arguments I've tried to present is that they are all of them making some calculation or assessment about causality. For example, the SNP non-Nats are making a strategic use of the party to secure a different Union. They guess that in doing so, there is nothing inevitable about independence. The gradualists, with whom the SNP non-Nats may well largely agree - up to a point  - alternatively tend to suggest one or two things about the strategy of degrees. The first, more confident group of gradualists are likely to claim that they can see a logic of necessity underpinning the devolution of power. The final step is the logical conclusion of the first. Devolution begets independence, simpliciter. Alternatively, other gradualists may be suspicious of such claims about iron laws of history. Instead of independence being necessitated in any simply way by more and more powers, their eye is on the strength of the case. Their argument is that it will be easier to convince people of independence, once fiscal autonomy is in place, once we know we can pay our own way and have the institutional props of a contemporary nation state. Its important to recognise that this remains a conditional result, no inevitability of outcome here. The only unavoidable claim this second category of gradualists make about independence is that it will be inevitably easier to convince the people of the virtues of independence, by demonstrating its plausibility in a concrete, stable, competent fashion.

Fundamentalists are likely to dispute this, arguing that the consolidation affected by gradualists does not have this unavoidable effect. These critics are likely to be sensitive to the "problem" of SNP-not-Nats and the attenuation of support that, they suggest, may well bedevil nationalists if devolution is done properly. In an exquisite historical irony, this perspective basically reiterates George Robertson's much-quoted dictum - proper and more substantive "devolution will kill nationalism stone dead". The moment when independence might have been possible was not seized - impetuses behind self-determination falling behind more anaemic schedules of proposals - with the result that all political will is spent and Scotland will remain bound-in with the United Kingdom for the foreseeable future. Fundamentalist Macbeths wring their hands and cry ~

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing."

~ Shakespeare's Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)

Good luck to all prophets and seekers after certainties and inevitabilities in this mutable world of ours, that's my motto. For myself, I think it is crucial that we pay attention to what is possible. Actually, I think there may well be something in the fundamentalist argument I've presented above. All talk of inevitabilities and iron laws are suspect and I see absolutely no reason to presume that gradualist gains unavoidably advance towards independence. Rather, I'm much more in sympathy with the second version of gradualism which I formulated - clear structures give confidence, make the case easier to make, make the leap smaller. That, and far more importantly, they give you the basis of doing a good deal of political good in the mean time. I'm no fan of rhetorical resorts to fatuous sunlit uplands of independence. We'll still be crowded around with the naked rock, sheer slopes, the remorseless sleet and the tripping heather underboot. Inertia doesn't keep us upright. Every day we choose to adhere to old ways, existing structures - we collectively revivify our structures. History doesn't keep ancient monuments standing. They keep their straight backs because of the polishings and mendings of the present. The best of Scottish nationalism, in its best moments, is to remind us always and imminently of our ongoing responsibility for the polity we choose to live in. It faces Scotland with the challenges of consciousness and the chastening of responsibilities.

How to understand the independence referendum?

So what does this mean for the referendum on independence? Yesterday, in anticipation of this more lengthy treatment, I linked to a Telegraph story suggesting that the Maximum Eck is deliberately letting it be known (or alternatively, Reform Scotland's Ben Thomson is astoundingly indiscreet) that he intends to focus on the promise, the possibilities, presented by the new Con-Dem government and their apparent willingness to concede Calman powers - and beyond - to the Scottish Parliament and Government. In the comments left below (for which I'm grateful - they assisted significantly in the formulation of the foregoing) Dubbieside suggests that we shouldn't be surprised by the anti-Eck anti-Nat tenor of the story - a great and shameful revelation serving to agitate the troops and depress the nationalist activist base. The rest of this post should be taken as a riposte to simplified accounts of nationalist politics - and SNP supporters - on the question of independence. 

We don't all share the same goals - the same stratagems - the same confidence in how best to pursue the end that (most of us) share. There may be some, for example, who argue for a referendum based on a sort of expressivist moment for Scottish nationalism, charging down the barrels of a hostile Unionist press, the people having their say, probably resulting in a plucky defeat but a sense of compensating emotional vindication. I'm certainly not of that understanding. It is worth admitting then that the referendum, from the very beginning, is a potentially divisive instrument. From a fundamentalist, instantist position, it seems an obvious course of action. For those with more inclination to persuade by soft degrees, support for a referendum is more poised, more concerned with the outcomes, the consequences - rather than a futile but compensating nationalist politics of protest. In particular, it is worth noting that Salmond and Shoal's declared approach of demonstrating competence to give confidence to the Scottish people, if the polls are anything to go on, has not worked. Political opponents, Unionist jobgobbers and mauling fundamentalists are content to give a lazy account of this phenomenon, denying the complexity underlining pollster's questions about support for independence, yea or nay. From a gradualist angle, this is perfectly understandable. Any enthusiastic nationalist will regularly be assailed by doubters, particularly on matters fiscal and financial. Can Scotland pay for itself? How would it work? Douce Dame Caution's dainty slippers continue to warm the voter's toes. All of this is absolutely not to say that the first SNP Government has had no consequences for the nationalist project. Fundamentally, I'd argue that it has realigned the sense of the possible, as it ought to. However, at present, the Parliament and Ministers' economic dependency is such that it represents a substantial stumbling block, not only to adopting economic policies in the interests of Scotland, but also for the gradualist nationalist case.

There is absolutely no prospect at present of a declaration of Scottish independence. For those of us who want to empower Scottish institutions now, emotivist fundamentalism is a wholly arid prospect. Let's be frank about that. And franker too about the different perspectives we can find within the party and among those Scots people who support us. Don't let's make the mistake of making the perfect the enemy of the good.