Ex-Soldiers, Bad Journalism and Twitter

There has been a massive amount of comment by people on the story that broke this morning in the Daily record. http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/this-ultimate-slap-face-former-10885724

Firstly I have every sympathy with the young man concerned. He is in a situation which is horrific and deserves all the support he can get. It is important not to lose sight of that, yet he is ill-served by the report and by the reaction it has got on social media.

Comments run along the lines of moaning about No voters, anti-”WasteMonger” moans and so forth. “The soldier like the rest of them from Scotland mean nothing to the British imperialists ” was fairly typical.

I expect it ill not be long before someone suggest crowd funding.

There are a few points to make. The first is the headline as simply misleading, it is bad journalism.

Another point I want to make is a plea for not just responding on an emotive issue with a simple un-thought-through answer. Look at the facts and read the report you are responding to carefully. As it is social media becomes a mere exercise in ill-thought out ranting and helps no-one.

A bit of consideration and fact checking is useful.

The idea that the young man is not to be treated because he is Scottish is anonsense. He is not going to fail to get treatment but treatment by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is normally for Birmingham area residents. I have a friend in Birmingham who is treated there and that is because it is her local hospital. The Military specialist unit at the Queen Elizabeth is run as a partnership between the forces and the local NHS trust. By all accounts it is excellent, and it may well be the young man would be better treated there. It is accepted that he would benefit from contact with others in the same situation.

I know the QE hospital’s unit receives and does the initial care for the armed forces. http://www.army.mod.uk/welfare-support/23866.aspx

This is not an open-ended commitment and after a period the care becomes a normal NHS responsibility.

The NHS does routinely refer people out of area for specialist treatment. The treatment is a matter for approval by the NHS authority for your area of residence. My late wife was in a national centre of excellence for intestinal failure cases which was at Salford Royal, our then home authority was Morecambe Bay who picked up the bill.

The crunch bit is at the bottom of the article “ The trust who run the hospital said: ‘University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust have arranged two more follow-up appointments to determine the effectiveness of Mr Brown’s latest cycle of treatment.

If he needs further treatment within the trust, we would need to seek pre-approved funding from NHS Scotland.‘ ”

So any denial of treatment is simply not there, nor is there any discrimination against Scots!

“Treatment plan for injured soldier to be reviewed” would be an accurate headline, but not massively good for selling papers.

Now there is a story and a question to be asked about how long a service man or woman should be treated at MOD expense. The issue here seems to be the young man concerned is a FORMER soldier; as such his care comes a matter for civilian health services. Ho far this is a good thing is debatable, but it makes sense for things like general support and occupational therapy to take place reasonably locally and in the community in which someone lives.

I have believed for a long time that anyone undertaking a job deserves support and recompense for personal loss and damage caused as a result of that job. I have a personal interest here; I left teaching as a result of work-related stress causing big health issues.

The case of the treatment of former services people is very serious; they are institutionalised, looked after, fed, housed and so on whilst in the services, but often find themselves without any support on leaving, many of them with serious issues to deal with. It is a scandal there is a high rate of mental health problems amongst ex-services personnel and a high rate of homelessness. These things need addressing. The odd bout of sentiment and buying a wrist band or a poppy is not really adequate.

The way we treat service personnel needs some careful thinking about and improvement. That is the real issue behind the young man the Daily Record has sensationalised. It is important we get it right, but for now the matter of this particular individual is one for NHS Scotland. I hope they make the best decision. I suspect given the particular situation and expertise in Birmingham he will continue to be treated there. But that is a matter of clinical decision in the light of what is best for the patient.

Advertisements

Arrogance and Power

The situation in the UK is dire. The general election has produced a hung Parliament and I think a situation where the UK is moving leftwards. This is possibly very good news and I hope we may see some good results in the longer term. For now we are wallowing in a series of crises.

The calling of the general election looks very like arrogance on the part of Theresa May. She seemed to assume that she would get elected regardless of anything. Hence the awful manifesto, which , we gather, was only presented to the cabinet after it as at the printers. She was ill-advised and over-confident. Now everything is up in the air. I will set aside for now the peculiarities of Scotland’s results , except to remark that the Unionist vote seems to be hardening.

The Conservatives as the largest party had the chance to form a Government but needed a few extra seats to be a majority and it is telling that they homed in on the Northern Irish DUP. There was no attempt to get some sort of unity government coalition with other main stream parties. A degree of listening would have possibly made a workable minority Government possible. Certainly it would be case of negotiating each vote in turn and that of course would not give May the chance to get the sort of deal over Europe that she wants (amongst other things). That Brexit is looking shakier as we continue and the Government’s stance is a disaster is is beside the point. It looks like power for power’s sake.

I suspect that the Conservative Party is clinging onto May as leader for now as the least bad option.

It is a fair comment that the UK Government ought to be seen to be neutral in Northern Ireland. That they are prepared to compromise their neutrality, is very very worrying. This is all the more an issue with serious allegations of corruption hanging over the DUP leader and potential government involvement in public enquiries.

Of course there was much made by Tories of Jeremy Corbyn having dealings with Sinn Féin, and thus with terrorist sympathisers. It is necessary to deal with both sides. The irony of the Conservative position is their willingness to deride an English politician for being prepared to do just that, and then being prepared to actually involve one side in a position of great power in Westminster. I do not have any brief for either side in the Northern Irish situation. There has been great hurt on both sides and the roots of the problems that still exist go back a very long way into history.

How the Good Friday agreement will emerge from all this is anyone’s guess. As with Scotland, the politics and history of Northern Ireland are vastly different to the UK as a whole. It is an easy shorthand to call it tribal. One of my Ulster friends was wise, I think, when he said it needs at least the passing of a generation before any long term stability is possible. A lot of people grew up with killings and domestic terrorism.

I do not think many on the British mainland really appreciate the impact of growing up with the knowledge that you might be a target because you belong to a certain group; that people in the next village are potentially harbouring people who might kill your relatives; or that parts of your major towns are effectively no go areas to law enforcement.

Whilst there are good reasons why the DUP deal is bad; the rush to condemn the parties in Northern Ireland for having terrorist connections is ill-judged. I have the same frustrations about the commentariat and the on-line media regarding Northern Ireland as as I have over their approach to the Middle East. Being all nicely Western Liberal is not a lot of good when dealing with people who have faced civil war. Frankly it is a form of arrogance to tell any other society they must be like us, and adopt our values wholesale, just as offensive, in fact , as the idea of the “White man’s burden” in the height of the Empire.

I have written before about groupthink. It is an issue with Mainland attitudes to the DUP. We can all indulge in a bit of hate towards people we can label as reactionaries. No deal with the DUP because they are anti-abortion, or because they are anti-gay marriage is a common theme. Great, well done, but virtue signalling of that sort achieves little except division and creates a feeling of victimhood. It certainly never changes minds. Essentially the DUP represent one line of political thinking in Northern Ireland.

Thus I find the virtue signalling offensive, as I do the superficiality of many responses. The assumption of moral superiority has another name, arrogance. We really need to recognise it for what it is and deal with it.

There is a case against the deal with the DUP but for other reason than social conservatism. One is the delicate nature of the Northern Irish balance of power. The Unionist/Republican split is still there, and indeed built into the power-sharing arrangements for devolution. The devolved assembly remains suspended at present. Even if it were functioning normally the UK Government needs to be neutral. The DUP are going to be party to any power sharing deal that can be brokered at Stormont. The Government should be treating them cautiously and at arm’s length. In fact they have rushed in and promised large sums of public money.

Further the DUP have compromised themselves badly. The cash for ash scandal was a staggering example of bad politics. Those qualifying are paid to burn wood, and will get it for decades. It is beyond mere subsidy, it means it pays to build and heat an empty shed, so long as it falls within the rules of the scheme. As an example of public waste it is almost beyond belief. There are serious allegations of fraud. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_Heat_Incentive_scandal

In fact it is a massive scandal and the cost to the public finances is going to run into hundreds of millions. Arlene Foster was the minister responsible! Exactly who knew what is still hotly debated.

Part of the reason for the DUP electoral success, despite the allegations, was their strong unionist stance. As in Scotland with voting Conservative it was a case of voting for Unionism. I do not think the voters of Northern Ireland expected to be wielding real power over Westminster.

Now the DUP are aligned heavily with Westminster Government and vice versa. It remains to be seen how much real influence they will have over actual policy. Much of what they represent would be anathema to the more socially liberal Conservative MPs. It is a matter for them how far they will go to accommodate DUP ideas.

Again it is arrogance, on Mrs May’s part, to assume the DUP can be used as a prop for the government without wider consequences. We are in a situation where statesmanship is needed on many fronts, one of which is Northern Ireland. What we see is short-term politicking. So it is the Tories have spent something like £100 Million each for the DUP votes in the Commons.

It has all the markings of corruption on a big scale. If the DUP felt the Tory position on any issue was worth supporting they should have done so. If they need paying for the privilege then they are prostituting themselves for cash. The Lib Dems did not go so far, although they were heavily criticised for going into a coalition with the Conservatives in return for ministerial limousines.

How far there will be economic benefit to Northern Ireland, as opposed to the money benefiting a select few, is a moot point. We have the beginnings of a backlash from Scotland and Wales at not getting similar support, and it remains to be seen how English voters will feel at public money being used for party political aims, for that is what it is.

Two further points. The deal was signed by the Whips and not the leaders of the parties. That means perhaps the MPs concerned wanted to signal it is a PARTY deal in both cases. That suggests that both the leaders are seen as dispensable. May is visibly a liability anyway and Foster is very vulnerable over the cash for ash scandal. It is also likely that both parties are hoping to so a degree of success in Government, with the hope of doing better next General election. If it succeeds my guess would be an election at about the time Brexit is to take effect. It may be a forlorn hope that either party can look good by then.

Neither party to the arrangement of formal DUP support for the Conservatives emerges with real credit. I worry about the likely outcomes over the next few months.

As I said, the UK is showing signs of moving leftwards politically . It is waking up to the realities of both Brexit and “Austerity”. What we have is a right wing Government in office. I suspect it may not last long. I hope the damage done to the UK s a whole and Northern Ireland in particular is not too massive.

Manchester May 2017

I woke to read further of the events at the Manchester Arena. There is the usual posturing on-line from the usual sources.  The General Election campaigns are suspended, as if this helped anyone.

Many families are badly affected by the events of last night and there is no condoning deliberate murder. My thoughts are with the victims. Having said that, some of the comments I have seen online about #Manchester are disgusting.  This includes US commentators seeming to claim that the UK has been weak in letting in immigrants, and calls are out there to deport all Muslims and to close mosques. Leaving aside the disgusting and racist nature of such thinking, it solves nothing and is based on prejudice, not evidence. The event of last night is NOT the result of immigration, nor of “appeasing” anyone. More likely it was motivated (at least in part) by the inflaming of the world with illegal and useless wars. Wars of vengeance recruit more radical terrorists. We ought to be learning not rushing to condemn. Meanwhile, the actions of many Muslims and others of minority ethnic groups have been inspiring, as has the response of the city generally. Free taxi services, people opening their homes to those stranded, hotels coming into help and so on are more balanced than screeches of outrage. The suggestion that Europe is not safe is a nonsense. We live in a World where terrorism is a fact. Last night is was Manchester, next time it might be Moscow or Washington. What we need to do is understand and solve the causes that motivate such crimes. Describing the perpetrator as a “loser” seems singularly unhelpful. It may well be the person concerned saw himself as a hero. This was a criminal act, like mass shootings or other

The event of last night is NOT the result of immigration, nor of “appeasing” anyone. More likely it was motivated (at least in part) by the inflaming of the world with illegal and useless wars. Wars of vengeance recruit more radical terrorists. We ought to be learning not rushing to condemn. Meanwhile, the actions of many Muslims and others of minority ethnic groups have been inspiring, as has the response of the city generally. Free taxi services, people opening their homes to those stranded, hotels coming into help and so on are more balanced than screeches of outrage. The suggestion that Europe is not safe is a nonsense. We live in a World where terrorism is a fact. Last night is was Manchester, next time it might be Moscow or Washington. What we need to do is understand and solve the causes that motivate such crimes. Describing the perpetrator as a “loser” seems singularly unhelpful. It may well be the person concerned saw himself as a hero. This was a criminal act, like mass shootings or other

Meanwhile, the actions of many Muslims and others of minority ethnic groups have been inspiring, as has the response of the city generally. Free taxi services, people opening their homes to those stranded, hotels coming into help and so on are more balanced than screeches of outrage. The suggestion that Europe is not safe is a nonsense. We live in a World where terrorism is a fact. Last night is was Manchester, next time it might be Moscow or Washington. What we need to do is understand and solve the causes that motivate such crimes. Describing the perpetrator as a “loser” seems singularly unhelpful. It may well be the person concerned saw himself as a hero. This was a criminal act, like mass shootings or other events. At the time of writing we do not know much more, but it may well be a lone individual.

The suggestion that Europe is not safe is a nonsense. We live in a World where terrorism is a fact. Last night is was Manchester, next time it might be Moscow or Washington. What we need to do is understand and solve the causes that motivate such crimes. Describing the perpetrator as a “loser” (as Trump has done)  seems singularly unhelpful. It may well be the person concerned saw himself as a hero. This was a criminal act, like mass shootings or other

We ought to be learning not rushing to condemn.   Meanwhile, the actions of many Muslims and others of minority ethnic groups have been inspiring, as has the response of the city generally. Free taxi services, people opening their homes to those stranded, hotels coming into help and so on are more balanced than screeches of outrage.As ever tragedy brings out the best as well as the worst in people.

The suggestion that Europe is not safe is a nonsense. We live in a World where terrorism is a fact. Last night is was Manchester, next time it might be Moscow or Washington. What we need to do is understand and solve the causes that motivate such crimes. It is a fairly safe wager that terrorists want to polarise societies and divide. Describing the perpetrator as a “loser” seems singularly unhelpful. It may well be the person concerned saw himself as a hero. This was a criminal act, like mass shootings or other multiple  murders. It needs seeing as that. It is important we all keep a sense of perspective and deal with things rationally. The values we hold- of liberty and freedom of expresssion, of an open society, need upholding. Rushing to premature judgement solves nothing.

Elections and Independence

If a week is a long time in politics, then between now and June is an eternity.

I am very worried that the agenda on Scotland is set by the Tories and the media and is not being set by the Independence movement nor by the SNP. Yes I know the SNP is well ahead of the other parties in the polls and that Nicola Sturgeon has approval ratings most politicians would kill for. Yet there is still real danger.

The fact is that if you look at the Unionist pages on Facebook and elsewhere you will find she is also gravely disliked by some, and accusations are made of hubris. In the situation as of a week ago this was almost background noise but now there is a real threat. One of the biggest dangers now is complacency. The assumption that somehow wishful thinking will result in the Scottish electorate coming to their sense, embracing the real need for Independence and returning 100% SNP MP’s to Westminster. I have written before about Group-Think and its dangers.

Anything other than an increased support for the SNP is going to be seized on as justification for denial of any Independence referendum in future.

Firstly the very issue of Independence itself. The polls are not shifting dramatically. The latest ones put it about 46 percent in favour. There have been a couple of polls which give a small majority in favour and signs that support in the younger age groups is (much) higher. That is a big shift on the last few years, although not a major change from the Independence Referendum. Brexit has not had a major impact as yet. There is not the overwhelming consensus that would give a popular mandate for Independence. (see http://whatscotlandthinks.org/questions/how-would-you-vote-in-the-in-a-scottish-independence-referendum-if-held-now-ask#table )

The success of the SNP in the last general election and in the Holyrood elections was not predicated on being a vote for Independence but on electing a political party. On that basis they had major success. Ever since there has been a background noise, in fact near constant from both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives about Independence. Why? It is surely because that is the SNP’s weakness. If the SNP is all about breaking the UK up then their real record is irrelevant. There has been much made of accusations that the SNP obsesses about Independence and fails to get on with the day job. This is unfair but the constant repetition leads to a suspicion being raised in the minds of voters.

The General Election is being touted in Scotland as a sort of proxy Independence Referendum. This is true of both sides. I have thought a mass resignation of MPs and a series of by-elections on the single issue of Independence would be one way to get round May’s refusal to grant a referendum, but now is not the the time. Let us be clear that I would dearly love to see Scotland free of the shackles of Westminster. I am as familiar with the pro- and anti-Independence arguments as most, and probably more than most. However that is not the task before us now. The task now is to reduce the Tory’s majority. The Tory Party would love to see the Scottish electorate arguing about Independence rather than the situation with the Health service, the Social Security System, social care, privatisations, the Brexit mess and all their other failings. I have to differ with Craig Murray on this when he says “we can seize this God-given moment and state boldly that a vote for the SNP is a vote for Independence, and campaign on that basis. A simple majority of Scottish MPs should be enough for a mandate – after all a simple majority of UK MPs is enough to give Theresa May vast powers to continue her arrogant style of rule.” ( “This Westminster Election IS Indyref2 )

It is true that May has a very arrogant approach to Government, yet the fight is against a right wing dictatorial UK government. Because the case for Independence needs making with more care (and more thoroughly) than has been the case hitherto we would, I predict, lose the argument with the electorate if there is an attempt to fight the general election on Independence. The last Yes meeting I attended was working on the basis of a two year lead for any decision on Independence. We are simply not prepared for that fight over the next few weeks.

I could go through a long list of areas where the case is generally weak, at least as far as popular perceptions go, but a few examples will suffice.

There is a matter of the Scottish deficit which is a chestnut hauled out every time I have talked about Independence other than with existing supporters. The idea of Scotland running at a deficit is deeply ingrained. I have heard it said that an independent Scotland would desperately need IMF bailouts to survive. Leaving aside the vexed question of the accuracy of GERS on which the case for Scottish deficit is based, this is a weakness for the Tories, who have generated massive increases in the UK’s national debt, and used it to fund tax breaks for the rich. They are susceptible to attack on that front, but not so far as to give a compelling case for Independence as yet.

There are related issues. The whole question of a currency is still open to debate. It is a subject on which a working party is working for the SNP as I understand it, but that is not yet reporting. Any options need to be well thought out and costed. They have to be realistic.

Likewise the whole issue of the economy of an independent Scotland needs sorting. No one can predict with accuracy what is going to happen and the world changes rapidly. Much has been said about oil revenues, tax on oil companies and the criminal lack of any sort of oil fund on the Norwegian model. All of this gives much ammunition for a highly successful Independence referendum but not in the time scale we now have before the General Election.

Europe is another area of doubt. SNP policy is EU membership. A bit of research showed no correlation by voting areas for a yes vote in the 2014 Independence Referendum and a remain vote in the EU one last year. It suggests a lot of Independence supporters are not EU supporters. The figure of around 400,000 SNP supporters being anti-EU membership has been floated. With the EU a massive topic in the coming election then it needs saying that it will be a matter for a choice by the people of Scotland post-Independence.

Brexit has some possibility of relief for fisheries, although I suspect that may be illusory, and I suspect that May would not hesitate to use fisheries as a bargaining chip. It might, however, lead to some Conservative gains in areas affected.

There is still some doubt about pensions and social security. Who would pick up the tab for Old Age and public sector pensions in an independent Scotland? Surely there would have to be some negotiation on this and blanket assurances are not going to cut through the mistrust and worries.

In short there is a lot of work to do on independence and the case to be made for it.

So where does that leave us with the next few weeks?

The General Election campaign gives a platform for arguing that can form a very real distinctive nature of Scotland. It allows, indeed demands, the putting forward of the very real achievements of the SNP in both Scotland and at Westminster, where they have been much more of an effective opposition than they generally get credit for.

That can form a good grounding for future Independence campaigning.

The Tories are wide open to attack. Brexit came about because of the internal fighting within the Conservative Party. It is ironic that a party supposedly “conservative” has played fast and loose with the constitution itself. There is no real plan for relations with Europe or the World. So far we have seen the Prime Minister fawning over Trump, and some of the most hard-line figures in the Middle East, supporting bombing in Syria and other horrors. They seem to be trapped in some sort of imperialist nostalgia for navy blue passports and being a world power.

There has to be a strong suspicion that May called this election to avoid the loss of her majority which would be very likely following election fraud investigations. We are not privy to the names subject to potential charges, although there is speculation. If suspicion is enough it could include some prominent senior figures. Better for her to fight potential by-elections if some MPs are barred following convictions with a big overall majority than risk losing a majority completely.

The Conservatives have not been good on the economy of the UK, never mind on benefiting Scotland.

They went ahead with Trident, which is not even an independent nuclear deterrent.

They have presided over a failing NHS, to an extent that is staggering. The worst excesses of that failure are mitigated in Scotland, thanks to devolution. That needs saying.

There is a massive problem across the public services. Libraries, education and so are all struggling with cuts. Those cuts which are the result of government policies. Even the armed forces are facing real cuts and more and more is demanded of fewer personnel, whilst basic services support is out-sourced to the private sector.

The Social Security system is in meltdown. The UN produced a very critical report on the abuse of human rights by the Department of Work and Pensions. That has hardly been noted in public discourse but it needs shouting from the roof tops. Scotland still has welfare rights support workers in local authorities, England does not.

There is treatment beyond appalling of the sick, the disabled and the unemployed. See https://scottishunemployedworkers.net/ for some examples. The “Rape Clause” is but the latest in a long line of attacks on the poor, and more and more are pulled into the oppressive regime of DWP directed “job searching” as Universal Credit extends its reach to those in employment on low wages. Increasingly we are a low wage, zero hours economy, if you have work at all that is. Pensions are threatened and the retirement age is rising. The callous way of dealings with the unfortunate is endemic, sometimes particular examples and campaigns get attention, such as the sudden and unannounced raising of retirement age for a whole group of women, sometimes they are simply lost to public view.

Conclusions

The fight against Conservatism in Scotland demands action from all of us over the next few weeks, we have both Council elections and the General Election. The choice is between more right wing centralism and a democratic left of centre approach. I am not optimistic of a Labour success in the General Election, nor of a hung Parliament. What we can achieve is a victory for the SNP across Scotland. The price of doing that is putting aside the question of Independence as the central issue, and concentrating on social justice and the sort of society we want. That will give a good basis for Independence in due time, a time when the case can be made clearer and in detail. Given the lack of a large majority for Independence fighting the General election on that topic is likely to be a vote loser. The challenge now is defeating the Conservatives in both the Council and General elections.

Winning or Not? Group Think

groupthink4

Group Think and Cybernats

“Groups affected by group think ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.”

The cause of Independence for Scotland is very much threatened, and it is threatened (amongst other things) by the very people who are the most vehement supporters. Many Independence activists function in a bubble where by they talk almost exclusively, at least about Independence, to other supporters. The bubble is also an echo chamber which means the same views are reflected back by others. This makes for a distorted view of how popular the Independence and Unionist positions are and also how strong the case against Independence might be. Further the echo chamber and bubble stifle debate and understanding in any depth. The very things we need, real hard information and understanding, are denied to us by the operation of the group. Group think is an oxymoron; people think, groups do not.

Before we consider group think we need to consider where we are now.

The polls have been stuck around the 45 percent mark in favour of indy ever since IndyRef1, and even the much heralded recent rise in one poll to 49% is probably illusory since the 49/51 yes/no excluded don’t knows, so it is probably not really a jump at all in actual numbers of pro-indy supporters, all that has happened is a possible rise in don’t knows. Yet rumours abound of an IndyRef2 being announced soon and there are cries of “bring it on” and “we’re ready”. I think the optimism may be over-ambitious.

The situation is compounded by ignorance of basic facts about where we start from, and it is staggering. It was reported in the National of 16th January 2016 that “The speaker of the day was Dr Craig Dalzell…he was the guy who drew gasps from the hall as he went through his graphs revealing the details of voting patterns and turnout among the different demographics on September 18 2014”. It seemed to surprise many what the voting patterns were. However much of what he said was already known, at least in outline, if anyone wanted to look. Why is it not more widely known?

Over the last few months I have seen a lot of assumptions made about who voted which way and why. One of the big assumptions is that “English” voters cost the referendum. The actual figures are subtler than that. There is a link to an excellent breakdown by Craig Dalzell  of the  figures at https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/10141/new-report-demographics-independence

“Ben Wray, head of policy at Common Weal, said of the report:

In the current context, there’s understandably a lot of feverish discussion about a second independence referendum and how to move support towards Yes. That discussion will be much better informed if it is based on a rigorous, data-based analysis of demographic support for independence. This report should be required reading for Yes activists plotting campaign strategies.”

Amen to that, yet I STILL see people insisting no “true” Yesser would ever change their minds, and they are really unionists who suggest they might. It took a matter of seconds to find an example which was about “Yes voters who are now thinking on voting No, cos of the EU membership issue …”

One response was “ I actually don’t believe it actually many people are now moving from no to yes and also if you were a true yes voter then they will still vote yes” Thus we have a denial, which went unchallenged, and a consensus on that thread that the EU is good, end of.

This is a case of the “No true Scotsman” thinking which is the curse of on-line discussions of Independence. One party gets to define the terms by insisting on their definition. This is usually then passed off as being objectively true. The argument takes it name from an example used in understanding logic. The dialogue quoted is “No Scotsman puts anything but salt on porridge”-Reply- “My Uncle Angus puts sugar on his”,response – “but he is not a true Scotsman”.Uncle Angus may have spent his life in the Highlands, quote Burns and vote SNP twice every time, but he is not true Scot, because porridge eating defines True Scottishness. It denies evidence to support the contrary, it is a circular argument. Likewise raising an objection to EU membership, now SNP policy, makes you a traitor to Independence and perhaps to Scotland. No true Indy supporter argues with the SNP?

The true is  some have moved from Yes to No, and that includes SNP voters. The EU referendum vote was nowhere near unanimous in Scotland; remain got 41.6% of the voters. Yes that was much more than leave, but not an absolute majority of the electorate. Non-voters were 32%. The EU is a divisive issue, we need to think it through and reach out to people who are sceptics about the EU. Yes if it were a referendum in Scotland alone remain would probably have won, but that is another discussion. The big issue for now is that there needs more work, more listening on why people would vote against Indy, and not denounce them as traitors and shut them down if they dare point out inconvenient truths on the boards. Yet that is all too often what happens. The truth is we need to do a lot of reaching out and understanding if IndyRef 2 is to be won.

If some people on Twitter and Facebook speak truth then the logic is Common Weal is a clever Fifth Columnist operation spreading divisive comments to undermine the Yes movement by pointing out people switch allegiances. I have not heard that said explicitly,yet about Common Weal , but pointing out that Yes voters have switched to No has led to me being shouted down and abused for “divisive” thinking.

We all need to stop shooting the messenger and engage with real issues. We need factual data and real answers to real questions which will arise. So far the tendency is to assume that a re-run of what was done last time will somehow be OK. Wishful thinking will not get positive result.

A lot of people worked very hard last time, the yes vote went up, but there were mistakes. The mess over the currency was one such error and should have been answered earlier and better. I still have not seen any real answers how it might be done, although Common Weal have made a start.

It worries me that various self-appointed leaders and groups seem to be making up policy on the hoof. To do this is to make Independence about being republican, or socialist or whatever. It needs consensus not a clamour for various pet likes post-independence. I am a firm proponent of basic income but that is a separate issue from Independence. To link Indyref2 to Europe, or basic income , or abolishing the monarchy muddies the waters. To say so does not make me a Tory, nor a monarchist, much less a closet “Yoon”. It means I am challenging assumptions.

Something that needs thinking about is whether the 45% yes vote is as far as current thinking can take us. Many issues can be tackled post-Independence in a changed climate. There is no mandate even for EU membership. The EU ref was in the context of a UK vote. It does not mean it is a given, in the change circumstances that would apply post Indy, that Scotland must be a member of the EU. The EU is currently in a state of major flux.

Can I put in a plea for a degree of humility all round?

It is not good to demand we all fall into line with anyone’s views of what independence is about ; to win needs a coalition. It is not to be an SNP model, or a Green party model> It is about the people of Scotland deciding what they want. I have to say personally I would love to be rid of the Tories, but I also recognise Independence is not about that. It is about being free of Westminster and the dominance of the South East of England. Personally I think the same idea of Westminster working against local interests could be said of Cornwall, Yorkshire and Cumbria but Scotland has the additional claim of still being a nation, albeit not a nation-state.

There is a good right wing case to be made for Independence perhaps it is time to think about making it? It is not a general election, not one party or another, it is a matter of who is the electorate of Scotland, and we need all the support we can get.

Independence activists need to challenge the group think that is happening. I want to examine that.

WHAT IS GROUP THINK?

“Group think, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”.

Groups take on a certain set of values and this can get rigid. Decisions go unquestioned. Consider friendships as a model. We pick our friends through a sort of winnowing process. You meet someone, or these days maybe make contact online. Then there is a stage where you get to know each other; you get chatting and discover that there is a rapport (or that there is not). This is followed by the emergence of a friendship in some cases; other people are quietly dropped.

A series of mutual interests and enough of a common system of values make friendships work. Groups of friends are based on communal values, and a group member who does not share those values tends not to last long.

So far so good. BUT there is a problem. Any group falls prey to a situation where there is a group norm, where all the members think the same and dare not express a different opinion. Ideas get fossilised and regimented. Critical thinking is stopped The conviction grows within the group that they are right and everyone else is wrong. If this is a problem when it is a group of friends, it is far worse within companies and movements. Decision making in business and political life needs to be done on the basis of truth not assumptions. If decisions are not based on evidence but according to group norms the organisation is a victim of group think. There are implications for us cybernats. Actually cybernats and the Independence movement are likely to be very much affected since we are a self-selected group.

The academic work on group thinking is useful in considering ways of getting out of the trap of narrowed thinking. Irving Janis is credited with coming up with the concept of group think in the 1970s.
(There is a summary on-line at

http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm )


I do not propose to discuss or rehash that article. However let me apply that to online nationalism. The paragraphs refer to the aspects he identified of group-think. I will try to summarise the ideas and apply them.

1 Invulnerability

Victims of group-think tend believe that they will win and that their case is unanswerable. After all the group has worked out the case and it becomes self-evident that the belief is right. Therefore they must win, and it is only idiots who would think otherwise.

The group is not always right as is clearly shown in politics.

Certainty of being right did not work in Vietnam for the US government. They were unable to win a guerrilla war. It did not work for Cameron over the EU referendum. Yet they convinced themselves they were right and each decision maker was surrounded by those who supported the decision, which actually made it all the worse. The workings of Social Security under the Tories may be another example. The narrative of all claimants being scroungers who need punishing leads to inhuman suffering being inflicted, no one is likely to be putting the case for claimants because that is not what the group in charge believes.

Even if all our assumptions are valid – the good of Independence is NOT self-evident. If it were IndyRef1 would have been won.

As it is there is a lot of work to do and many questions need answers. I am working to produce a list of some issues I have yet to see answers for. The point is that the case for Independence is NOT invulnerable. Denial of that basic notion means acting as if the result of any IndyRef is a foregone conclusion, and stops engaging with counter-arguments. Wishful thinking will not lead to victory.

2 Collective Rationalisation

Questions which are awkward or challenge the group’s view of itself are ignored or explained away. Excuses are made for any failings. Pensions were a failure point in IndyRef1 and serve as an example. I m told that the pensions issue was all sorted but the mainstream media were to blame. Stories abound of various people telling the elderly that they would lose all their pensions post-Indy. Lying to grannies is blamed. It was all because there was an answer but not reported properly. The defeat is rationalised. The next time we promise to talk to grannies. Pity they all believe the BBC but what can you do? I know evidence has emerged suggesting BBC bias is a fact, but it needs countering, a lot of Scots watch BBC news, and likewise read non-nationalist papers. It needs dealing with, it is a fact many trust mainstream media. Think about how it may be challenged and worked round rather than moaning about it.

Losing first time has been blamed various groups-on the older generation and on immigration. Damn English are blamed too. I have seen groups on-line insisting that MI5 were doing dirty ops. It is a conspiracy theory worthy of Dan Brown at his most fanciful, yet they would do anything but face the idea the referendum was lost in a free vote.

Let us get real. This is merely denial of facts. The case for Independence and its presentation was flawed, on the issue of pensions specifically, but in other areas too; it was flawed both in content and presentation. (As a personal aside ; please, next time, I hope they spend some effort on decent editing and layout in any publications.)

When the pensions issue became a big topic rigorous and robust answers were not forthcoming. The same inertia was demonstrated by the awful way the currency issue was handled. These re just examples, many other issues were mishandled.

Yet several times I have been in various meetings and discussions when people who were canvassing have told me repeatedly that the campaign was great, it is only necessary to do the same again from a higher starting point and we will win. That strikes me as risky at best.

Rationalisation makes it both easy and common for assumptions to go unchallenged, with selective bits of evidence to be trotted out in support of the group position.

A lot of this is as bad as the teenager claiming that “Everyone else’s parents let them..” or “a bloke in the pub said…” or “It’s just common sense”..

Any gaps in the argument are skated over. Critical thinking on issues is needed. We need Devil’s advocates, people who will point out the counter augments.

2 a Refusal to deal with Facts

This is a subset of rationalising a position. There is a tendency for groups to ignore awkward facts. I have seen this from seven- day creationists, from climate change deniers , the Labour Party and, sadly, Scottish Independence activists. E.g. Every time I have raised an issue of anti-English feeling, and how this plays out to voters I have been sidelined. I am told it is just a few nut-jobs. What almost no-one from the Indy side is prepared to do is address matters. The fact is that whilst any level of ant-English sentiment is allowed to go unchallenged it frightens people into the NO camp directly and it also gives a lie to the great idea of an inclusive civic nationalism. The great public outside the Independence activist bubble do not edit out the idea of anti-Englishness, and tell each other stories about it.

Likewise we need to address the issue of oil tax revenue falling, not just waft it aside as a mere diversion.

Again, the economy and public finances are going to be a battle ground in any IndyRef2, we need facts not mere belief that GERS is a UK propaganda tool. We must produce evidence and make it stick. Meanwhile there is an argument that since the Scottish Government has input to it, GERS is a Scottish Government publication and thus the Scottish Government’s own figures show Scotland is not able to support itself. I do not take that position, but it is not easy to defeat and there is very little evidence around to support. We need facts, not opinions.

3 Belief in Inherent Morality

It is worth recalling that homophobes would claim that being gay is a vile abomination and that zealous terrorists are probably convinced that ridding the world of infidels is a noble cause. Just because you believe something to be moral does not mean it is a universally accepted moral good.

Of course, if we did not believe Scotland ought to be independent we would not be involved. In fact many of my connections on Twitter talk of very little else. Because it is right opponents are painted as mere reactionaries or oppressors or stupid. Indeed they are wrong because they fail to see the rightness of independence and its inherent moral worth. This negates the idea they might have a point. There is a moral dimension to dividing a country. People are left with family across borders, there will be negative outcomes for some if Scotland becomes independent.

The problem is that counter arguments about any morality or rightness will be ignored, any personal cost is waved aside. It does not endear Yes campaigners to those affected and again it undermines any idea of a caring just Scotland. This needs addressing.

On a personal note (as an example) I get a teachers’ pension paid by the UK government. I do not have any clear current indication how that would fare in the event of Independence. Is it moral to demand I just ignore it? A simple undertaking is needed. Failure to do those things makes people with needs vulnerable to the No side. I would not lose personally if the status quo continues, so there could be a temptation for me to vote no. I will not but others would. Yes needs every vote it can get. We cannot assume everyone is convinced by our moral case.

4 Negative stereotyping

The people outside the group are caricatured. This dismissal of outsiders is endemic. “Yoons”seems more than shorthand;it carries a set of assumptions. They are misguided at best. They are traitors or self-seeking. Accordingly they are routinely blocked on Twitter. Arguments made are dismissed. I have been called a unionist troll before for linking to articles from a unionist position. (You need to understand where people are coming from, every successful campaign social or military needs all the intelligence information it can get, which is why I follow various Unionist pages etc.) Even to quote a unionist case is to risk being excluded from debates. It is not a good idea to dismiss every one on the other side (or people whoo try to understand the other side) as a zoomer. They are not just the enemy , they are the battlefield too. Yes needs votes across the spectrum. That includes socially and even economically conservative people.

Heaven help you if you venture any criticism at all of the SNP. It is dismissed as merely “SNP bad” presumably on the basis that zoomer Yoons attack the SNP so the SNP must be defended uncritically. You will be unfollowed or de-friended if you criticise. It has happened. I find the constant SNP is good line eerily reminiscent of “ Four legs good, two legs bad” in Animal Farm. It is simplistic and ill-thought through. The SNP do not speak for everyone who supports Indy. Some are signed up Greens; or Socialists etc and others are of no political party affiliation. The SNP has no mandate to be the sole voice for Independence and needs to be challenged on some issues. (It is a trivial example but who decided Network Rail would continue even in Scotland post-indy? Such was the plan in the White paper for IndyRef1)

I am not saying the Mail or the Express are good sources of unbiased news. However they have a readership. Their arguments are sometimes valid. In fact it was the musings of a unionist blogger (who has now blocked me paradoxically) that made me think about nationality. She is generally derided. However she has a point sometimes. If you see the UK as a your nation, your country, then Scottish nationalism is a breaking of the nation. It would be traitorous. The counter argument is that England is a nation as is Scotland. UK is political union, analogous to the EU not a country. If you merely vilify the opposition you can never argue back. If you never argue back rationally and calmly you will never persuade others. When both sides fail to engage you get no movement.

Stereotyping means that engaging with opponents is seen as a waste of time. Just sitting in a comfortable group of agreeable people is not also a waste it seems. There must be real engagement. It needs to start now.

“Project Fear” was stereotyping. There was a consistent use of fear of the unknown, but it is not enough to dismiss it s merely hectoring bullying. . The No camp played on weaknesses ; The counter arguments were put badly. Where were the advertisements in rebuttal on issues like pensions? Where was the robust response to the Vow?

Lack of engagement means not persuading others and it still continues.

5 Direct Pressure on Dissenters

This is a real threat. As I said I have been called a troll;when I called out a very elaborate conspiracy theory about MI5 substitution of ballot boxes in the referendum as tin hatted. I got unpleasant messages to the point of my deleting my post. That group was busy rationalising defeat as having been the result of fraud. I looked thoughtfully at that idea. It fails to convince. It makes Nationalists look stupid when it is promoted. The trouble is that was a public pro-Independence group.

The same sort of pressure is put if one argues EU membership is not the way forward.

Usually pressure is subtler but be wary of stifling debate. In this context it is interesting that some prefer to direct message me to express concerns rather than a public post. There was one example when I explained I was in contact with a yes turned no voter. The very idea of such people existing is shouted down by many. However they exist. Why does no one want to know why?

6 Self – Censorship

Given that all the aspects of group think reinforce each other in a sort of feedback loop, it is no wonder people are unlikely to challenge group norms. It is a real issue. They will therefore self-censor to avoid the consequences of being a deviant from the norm. I do it sometimes. I do not say things that will cause upset. I remain silent or deflect issues in discussion.

Assumptions are left unchallenged. I will refrain from comment to avoid conflict. It happens with many people. Again, I mention diatribes about how wonderful the last referendum campaign was and how it just needs more of the same. I have faced anger when I said simply that it was not a successful campaign. “It was lost” is not something anyone wants to hear. Even now I hesitate to say that the yes campaign failed. However it needs saying. Unless assumptions are challenged things will not change. There has been very little in the way of discussions on why it failed. It needs doing. More than two years down the line it is still not happening greatly.

I say that any campaign to bring Independence needs to address the concerns of most of society. It needs a broad coalition. It means dealing with tolerating the monarchy for instance.(usually not a subject we can talk about in Indy circles). I know there is a big republican tendency in nationalism. However the posts about the Royals being a benefit scrounging family and rants about the costs of repairs to Buckingham Palace i do not endear Independence to those who rather like the Royal family. Likewise there are Tory voters who are not anti-Independence as such.

It becomes vital IndyRef2 is not a vote for the SNP. Yet to challenge the idea of SNP leadership or ownership of the campaign is to risk alienation. I am well aware that the SNP is very popular with nationalists. It is much less so with swing voters or previously no voters. To say so is unpopular and therefore often not said.

7 The  factors all lead on to an illusory unanimity.

There evolves a feedback loop which means the same patterns of thought are repeated and reinforced, whilst going unchallenged. This is very bad for any movement. It is worse online if anything. There is the echo chamber effect. Everyone saying much the same thing. Block the Yoon.-Deride the Unionist -Don’t even read Unionist rags. So if you do have a critical thought you feel like a deviant.

8 The mind Guards

should be less important in a broad movement than a small team. However even on-line I see shutting down dissent. Heaven forbid that a troubling thought should disturb the faithful. On-line groups have leaders (self-appointed) who act very quickly to quell dissent by ridicule or other means. This is true of some other causes I have been involved in too, but in Independence action it is critical, since means that no potential unionist convert to the cause is going to be welcomed, and may feel intimidated. Further it stifles any debate or questioning, at the place and time it may be most needed.

The impact of all this is set out in general terms in the article I referenced. I could go on but one aspect is critical.

We need to be aware of confirmation bias. That is using evidence selectively and seeing the pattern you want. The angle or stories you like are passed on, other stories are ignored. The person handling Brexit for the EU parliament has come out strongly in support of Scotland having an easy time carrying on in the EU. This is cheering news to some. However what is being ignored is that the man is not speaking on behalf of all the EU. No one does. No one knows for certain how an EU application would be treated.

What is to be done?

My belief is that to win there needs to be some seriously critical thinking. There are a host of issues which need addressing, one of which is as basic as a convincing vision of why an independent Scotland is worthwhile.

We need to demonstrate a convincing economic case, again the one last time seemed flawed. We need to show a worthwhile model of public finances. There needs some serious work still on the currency. I could go on, and indeed I am working on just such a list of issues.

The cause of Independence is not a self-evident good to a majority in Scotland or it would have been a yes vote 2 years ago. We are deluded and risk losing again if we think it is a done deal. Yes let us encourage each other, but let us engage properly with issues. No fight was won by wishing of day dreaming. My own belief is that the majority is not “Unionist As A Good Things Come What May”. but the concerns of the “soft” Noes need addressing and need addressing sympathetically.

How Not to do it

I get frustrated by left-wing groups, campaigners, Indy activists  and a vast number of charity volunteers. I leave aside the clueless Church people as a different special case, but the same applies there.

It is not that they are particularly badly motivated, I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, BUT if they were going all out to hinder the work they could not do a better job.

One of the things that strikes me is the emergence of certain groups who seem to want ownership of any campaign.  I saw this at a conference recently where there were several who wanted to be the co-ordinating group. The result is a rag-bag of duplicated effort and no particular way forward. Then another meeting where a co-ordinator was self-appointed and nothing happened for three months, so initiative was lost. We seem to be due a follow-up meeting soon, but I wait to see if it happens.

The people concerned are doing politics as if it were a personal affectation, a little hobby.Whilst in an amateur drama group the personality clashes and petty plottings are merely rather sad, in an attempt to change society they are a source of demotivating those who really believe in the cause and need support. Usually you only get access to the information you need if you are a recognised “leader” of a “group” .  Knowledge is power and seemingly only to be trusted to a select few.

The emergence of a sort of Independence Establishment is scandalous. A certain number of people are given excessive attention, they will be speaking the same things in speeches at almost every rally and every convention. By the same token they will be promoting much the same views that led to defeat last time round, even though the circumstances have changed.

This blocks new people coming onboard and contributing, the level of frustration mounts and people who want to make things happen tend to give up. I am aware of my own feeling that it would be easier to walk away.As it is I feel sometimes like  I am  banging my head on a wall.

We also need to be aware of group think, echo chamber effects and wishful thinking.  I hope to  blog about those soon. My hope is that we can build up a good case for independence based on recognising the issues that bedevil us and answering the case for unionism and the weak points in that case, as well as making a positive case for independence.

Meanwhile I leave you will the following from a 1944 sabotage manual published by the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services. It set out how not to do things nd it looks horribly like some in the movement are following ideas that sabotage the activism !

UNQUOTE

 

Extract from http://uk.businessinsider.com/oss-manual-sabotage-productivity-2015-11?r=US&IR=T

The link to the full manual on disrupting production etc can be found at https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2012-featured-story-archive/simple-sabotage.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Sort of Nationalism? Anti-Englishness and Ideas for Tackling It

The history of Scottish -English relations is complex and simplistic explanations really do not work that well; glib ideas can only deal with one or two aspects, in a situation full of nuance, subjective experience and widely differing viewpoints.

Certainly there has been an imbalance in power between the two nations. It is not a simple matter of Scotland the oppressed and England as a whole the oppressor however. One can argue that in many ways the treatment of Scotland was not that much worse than what was inflicted on vast swathes of England itself. Even the clearances were paralleled by the enclosures in England and the bulk of the clearances were by Scottish landowners. Scotland participated in Empire just as much as other parts of the United kingdom, with many Scots directly involved in the project.

However many in Scotland do seem to assume that all oppression was English inflicted and that narrative has deep and historic roots. It is a story that has impact, fed with sources as diverse as the Wars of Independence, Cromwell, the religious problems of the 17th Century, the suppression of Gaelic and so on.

I suspect anti-Englishness is a variation on the “Scottish cringe”, that inferiority feeling in the face of dominance of English culture and ways of doing things. I suggest this gives rise to an on-going inverted snobbery, the sort that seeks to put down anything that looks like confidence as “arrogant”. It makes sense that anti-Englishness will be experienced more by anyone who has anything like an educated or “posh” voice; and that accords with what has been reported to me by various people. It seems that nearly every English person living in Scotland that I have known has experienced expressions of it, even if it is dismissed as chaffing or banter.

Anti-Englishness gives rise to the narrative of Scots having a chip on the shoulder, and being complainers. The idea has gained a lot of traction in England, and seriously impedes the cause of Scottish Independence gaining sympathy and support south of the border.

Further, a good few Anglo-Scots, their friends and families are deterred from supporting Independence by anti-Englishness. Yes, I know a lot of them support Independence anyway, but there are others who are seriously put off the idea. I can understand why. The conflict is one over what sort of nationalism exists in Scotland.

Is it ethnic nationalism which depends on descent, culture and national myth, i.e. the stories a nation tells about it self?

Is it civic nationalism based purely on residence and accepting certain political ideas?

Ethnic nationalism has, historically, a tendency to be exclusive. It cannot be otherwise. The Independence movement tends to promote civic nationalism, but also needs to face up to the existence of ethnic nationalism in Scotland.

The issue of anti-Englishness is one that is special case, it is not the same as even anti-Irish feelings, or any other form of discrimination in a Scottish context. For several hundred years Scotland has had problematic relations with with her Southern Neighbour, and has in recent times had to define herself as being British, but not English. So it is a special concern.

My suggestions in dealing with anti-Englishness, in the context of the Independence campaign especially, would be:-

1-Accept that it exists. Even if you call it banter, it is still about. Some may never experience it, some will get it in a mild form. Sometimes it is jokey, sometimes it can be vicious. People’s experiences of it vary by location, social would be class. It needs taking seriously. Failure to accept the reality means promoting a false prospectus and undermines credibility.

2- Stop blaming the victim. It is an old game, and does no one any good. The perpetrators of “jokes” based on sexism or racism do not get to decide of it is funny, the butt of the joke does.

3- Take steps to look ahead and not nurse old grievances. Stop trying to excuse prejudice. It is not good arguing that there are worse cases of discrimination, or that the English do similar things, the fact is that Scotland and her people can only solve the things they can control themselves. However they can take steps to stop feeding the whinging Jock story by treating their neighbours with respect, both personally and nationally.

4- If this means doing better than the English so be it, that would be good in itself.

5- Accept that the real enemy is a small number of elite people who have oppressed others for centuries. They can be found in the aristocracy, government and big businesses. These are not the ordinary people living in Scotland.

6- Take steps to avoid any discrimination, bullying or other action aimed against those who are English or of English descent. Where it exists condemn it unequivocally and firmly. Stop making excuses or turning a blind eye. Every time it happens it makes the situation worse.

7-The condemnation needs to be especially demonstrated by anyone fighting for independence.

In this it is important that any on positions of leadership take that line, clearly, and publicly. It is important, for instance that the SNP are demonstrably taking that line. So far there have been statements about everyone welcome, but that is also seen as “everyone but the English”.

It is important that English who are settled in Scotland are reassured they have a place in Scotland and that they can be assured they will continue to be welcome in an independent Scotland as well.

Menu