Franchise for Indyref2

From my response to the consultation on the proposed Referendum Bill

There is a strong case for international supervision of the referendum. Regardless of any other matters it would guarantee proper conduct. The referendum will be of international significance as well as impacting, massively upon the people of Scotland and what is left of the UK. It is important that the result is beyond question.

It is important that the issue of prior opening of postal votes is tackled explicitly. Postal votes should not be opened ahead of the count and it was a surprise to many that they had been, and that some politicians were claiming to have advance knowledge of how the voting was going.

There need to have elicit provision against ministers and others using influence in any purdah period ahead of the vote. One thinks specifically of the “Vow”, which was an attempt to introduce new ideas mere days before polling, but there are other possibilities .

I have serious concern bout the franchise. I accept as sound the idea that ll those who chose to live in Scotland or have domicile here, despite temporary absense should vote. However there are groups who qualify to vote who are not domiciled in Scotland in any meaningful way.

Two groups spring to mind,especially, although there may be others. One group is students who are resident for the duration of their course (and who may have registration in two places as well). Students from Scotland could vote on the basis of settled residence and home addresses. The other group is workers on short-term contracts, who are based in reality other than the area they work in.

Such group are not necessarily committed to Scotland as their home and it seems iniquitous that they should decide a nations future merely by reason of an extended visit.

Nation and State

State and nation are distinct and separate concepts. A state is a legal entity based on a certain territory; it has its laws, and it enters treaties, international organisations etc. France, South Africa and the United Kingdom are all states.

A nation, by contrast, is based on a group of people. They share certain characteristics, such as  history, culture, language, descent and more. The nation is its people. It follows that to talk of the Sioux as a nation or of Old Testament Israel is perfectly correct. There is no assumption of land, nor of exclusive occupation territory. Nations are usually states, but not always. Scotland is so called because it is the land of the Scoti. As England is, or was the land of the Angles, Angleland. The nation came before the state.

 In the context of the UK there is one state, the United Kingdom. It is the UK which is a member of NATO, the Commonwealth and so on. My nationality for now is “British” as a consequence, at least for legal purposes. Leaving aside Wales and Ireland, with their own complex histories, England and Scotland have claims to be nations.

 I asked on Twitter what it meant to be Scottish. And got some very illuminating responses. One thing that came across very loud and clear was a love of the place, its people and a feeling of being at home. That was true of Scots-born and my fellow immigrants from England and elsewhere. I am Scottish by choice after all as are so are many others.

 There was a lot of mention of history and traditions. There was a mention of distinct ways of thinking and acting. The history is important. England has different stories, the Armada, the Conquest. Scotland has the wars of Independence, the Declaration of Arbroath, and the Bruce. Together their national poets are Shakespeare and Burns. 

Scotland’s identity is not just about scenery and tartan, there is a rugged and virile sense of “Scottishness”. Whatever else, it is it is distinct from anything remotely English. Not for nothing did my son remark that he was living in a different country when he came to Scotland as a student. It is as distinct as France and Germany.

There are parts of the culture of Scotland which I recognise as being of a certain significance beyond the obvious. It follows that no way am I going to wear a kilt until I am happy that I am truly a Scot, and that I have proved it. I cannot forget it was proscribed in the 18th century as a part of the attempt to stamp out Scottish national identity. It is not something to be worn as a type of fancy dress. That would be the mere cultural appropriation.

 If nationhood is a matter of historical culture and identity then it follows that Scotland is a distinct nation as is England.

In a UK context nationhood is made  murkier than it needs be by two factors. One is that England is struggling to define itself as English. The attempt is being made, in sporting events, in a display of the English flag and so on, but it is still at the stage of defining itself by saying what it is not, which makes it easy to lapse into xenophobia. It is emerging from the taint of right -wing extremism, just as Scottish national identity is no longer defined by being anti-English. Yet English identity is still perhaps thirty years behind Scotland in that respect. It is emerging.

 The other factor is that English identity has been submerged in British identity. For many purposed they are inter-changeable.  This is almost inevitable, but the assumption that Britishness as an identity means that  Scotland was simply merged into England as Britain.  Britishness meant  the Imperial project, which was British, but the assumption of British identity  is a hard one to shake off. There is a claim to be a British nation, but looked at closely the history is of England. To be English is to struggle as the glories of British power fade, and even pass out of living memory. Colonial power slipped away when I was a child. It leaves a void and a lack of a role. Westminster seems to try to keep the pretence up with foreign wars and a seat on the UN Security Council but even the Commonwealth quietly dropped the British tag a while back.

 There are those in Scotland who claim to identify as British.  I can concede there is an element of common history in Britain.  Many Scots serve still on British Forces and the British civil service. Those who take this position are inevitably emotionally Unionist by default.  I think they are persuadable but it needs thought. The problem is that British culture as opposed to English or Scottish is actually a rather weak common denominator.

 I grew up with the notion of British values -of good administration, of public service of mutual respect and so on. The truth now is such values persist in Scotland far more than in England. England seems narrow and corrupt by comparison.  It is part of the reason I feel at home here. Most of what was ever good of Britishness is now Scottish.

 More over the identity of Britishness is affected by many who claim a national identity or status without actual commitment to the country. If the case of those born here it seems a rejection of nationalism. It is a fudge. It also allows immigrants to clings to being of the home country first. If you came from Ruritania (to take a fictional and neutral example) you may be legally British but culturally Ruritanian.

Ultimately I have to conclude that Britain is not a nation in the way Scotland is; or England.  In the height of British power that was forgotten. Now it matters once more.

 Nationality is a personal choice. Mazzini, one of the movement for Italian unification and independence, came to that conclusion. It is also a matter for each nation to decide what qualifies a person as belonging. Scotland has grown up and moved beyond mere blood and land as criteria.  There is no longer a racial demand based on mere inherited right. It persists in some right wing zealots but looks increasingly untenable. Civic nationalism is to be welcomed and cherished. An ancient nation is on the way to being a young state.

 The usual pattern for a nation is to be a state, determining its own future. Scotland faces a battle to win over the doubters and show her capabilities to be a state. There is work needed on that. But there be no doubt Scotland is and always has been a nation.

 Meanwhile I will do what I can to further that cause of nationhood and statehood. Freedom is my cry too now.

For anyone interested on the way Scotland’s residents see themeselves

Comments welcome as ever

The Corbyn Rally Dundee

A Sad Night Out

This really is written in sorrow.

Well I thought it would be a fun evening, after all politics is my thing. In the event I came out seriously disturbed. What I am talking about is the Jeremy Corbyn rally in Dundee last night 26th August.

Perhaps I ought to set out my prejudices. I come from a line of political activists, I was at one stage of my carreer a Union branch vice-chair. When I am in Scotland I am active with a voluntary group providing welfare rights support, I support Scottish Independence. I believe passionately in social justice. I am not affiliated to any particular party however. I went out of interest and criousity.

My great-grandmother was ridden down by a mounted policeman at a rally; my Grandfather, her son-in-law, burned letters from Keir Hardy rather than be charged as a political extremist at one point; my parents were keen Labourites when they met. You will understand that I wanted Jeremy Corbyn to be impressive and was willing him to succeed. In the event I was sadly let down.

The meeting was in the smaller Hall within the Caird Hall complex, which seats about 300 and using it meant that the place would be full, rather than sparse. This was in sharp distinction to some of the massed rallies one has seen.

As soon as I sat down were given the words to the Red Flag, which I must frame I guess.

The evening was fractally wrong. I were treated to a music group which was of the folk variety, and meant, amongst other things a really awful rendition of that great anthem the Internationale It was a version which did not have much of a tune and in a style more akin to a light ballad. I was already feeling that it was like some populist Evangelical rally where well-meaning folk gather to talk about Jesus without being able to get more than a passing glimpse of holiness. So you get guitars and choruses instead of prayer and hymns.

The music was thus a matter of playing at approachablity  and no depth to it. I was sitting behind a group of young people who were ecstatic at certain buzz words, and whooped accordingly, but preaching to the converted was all very well. They were, I think,  working hard at being good enthuiasts, making a memoryof a rally, when they could say after they had been there later.   Back to the music, though, which included a nice song about the clearances, sung in Gaelic by a nice middle class lady, who quite possibly never struggled in her life. I felt it was patronising, and was rendered nauseous by an attempt to draw a parallel with Syrian refugees. Cultural appropriation squared I thought. The real tragedies of the clearances and the situation of the Middle East were reduced to a feel-good gesture. Very hip, very missing the point thrice, given that singing about the clearnaces does not sit easy with Labour being Unionist.

Of the speakers , We had some sincere stuff from the usual type of suspects , Labour activists of different sorts. All very earnest and OK, as far as it went, even if the organisation was a bit cringe making. All of the speakers managed to slide in digs at the SNP. We heard a bit about how wonderful JC is, and some self-congratulatory bits about how wonderful that they had won council bye-elections. The idea that Tories had voted Labour tactically as Unionists was not mentioned oddly enough nor the fac that a winning concillor had expressed herself open to Independence… There was a degree of complaining about the coup, and several urges for those unattached to join a union and to join the party. This last ought to have been music to my ears, given my family history and that the struggle is one I relate to. Yet I was left with a serious doubt at buzz words and claims of socialism from people who barely touched on real help for the poor, as opposed to policy and campaigns.

Just like the music, there was no real feeling of engagement. Just words and gestures. This may seem harsh, but again I was reminded of the sort of weak Christian rally where intentions are expressed, by well fed people who never stop to speak to homeless people and whose idea of love is a donation to Tear Fund.

It is no reflection on anyone to say it was all very predictable. Neil Findlay was about the best speaker, although blaming the SNP for cuts is a bit rich; they do operate within the limits set by a Tory Government in Westminster, and one would have hoped for a better understanding. More cheers from the faithful .

Then the big act came on, “Please be upstanding for JEREMY CORBYN!!!” So most of us stood for the big man. All very staged. The same is true of the picture taking at the end when we were asked to raise the placards provided (the result can be seen at

which also shows the comparatively sparse attendance.)

And so we sat and listened. And it was then that it REALLY  went down hill. We had some nice points made about austerity and its roots in the economic theories of Milton Friedman. Yet there was the strange feeling that he was missing the point. The tone was very reasonable and informed, in a way. This was not political oratory; one felt like one was hearing a lecture from a retired teacher to an evening class. In the back room of the local library it would have been good. From a man with aspirations to be prime minister it was dreadful.

Some talk about the importance of the arts was all very nice, but again it was missing the mark. Basically we got a rehashed bit of left overs from what was probably a popular speech amongst the lovies at the Edinburgh Festival. In the city that has some of the worst social deprivation in Scotland he talked about the arts. I am not denigrating arts funding, but whilst I am all for cultural participation I would rather have a functional social security sytem, sure that was touched on, but again no fire, no effort.

Talk of a nice investment fund for Scotland was almost greated with indifference.

There were two elephants in the room. One was the whole issue of independence. This was never directly mentioned. This was happening in Yes city, Dundee ,of all places and the issue was ducked.

The other elephant was actually physically presnt. There were several SNP supporters and a few activists present. Yet what was said about the SNP was purely part of a denigration of all other parties. No suggestion of any rapproachment, no common cause. Just blame them for cuts. This was not adult politics, this was not the new approach he has talked of in the past. He clearly does not get Scotland, and he will not without an effort. The political landscape north of the border is not what it was.

If we hoped for a rousing send off we did not get it. “That is the the society we are building, thank you” and then raptuous applause from party faithful. I saw a few sit on their hands. (We may as well have had a sign up saying “Applause”.) It did not feel natural, rather just what was expected, not a show of warmth.

Then we were asked to hold up the placards provided for THAT picture-link above -. again very much staged, and I took mine home as a relic of a bad meeting. Then the meeting broke up quickly as we were treated to a truly awful number with guitar accompanyment , “We support Corroorbeen”. The best I can say is it was well meant.

There was a concession just as I was walking out where “some comrades” wanted to sing the Red Flag, I might have enjoyed that but it was an animated corpse. I wanted to weep.

This was not the Labour party I wanted to see. I wanted to see the old movement revived, I wanted to see and hear a real left wing, aware and fighting party, I saw and heard platitudes. There really was no blood, no vitality, no fight to it. It was a mediocre political meeting, more akin to a Student Union talking about a minor boycott than any thing revolutionary.

Labour need to get some revolutionary zeal back, they  need that spirit which fought and won, that built the great victories, they do not need a polite retired lecturer figure. Jeremy Corbyn is awfully nice and honest and even likeable, but he is no great inspirational leader.

Just before the Holyrood elections I went, in the same spirit of enquiry, to a parallel event, also in a stuffy room, with about the same numbers, for Nicola Sturgeon. I was surprised by her. She electrified the audience, she encouraged, she enthused us. Change was shown to be possible. Corbyn by comparison was a soothing chat.

Along with many nationalists in Scotland (although I am not an SNP member) I have defended Corbyn. I have argued about his poor coverage in the press, I have wanted to see him win. The Labour party is doomed if it does not get a left wing , anti-asterity programme together. It needs a left-wing leader. What they have in Corbyn is a left wing, decent bloke, but not the leader they need. What he has done is allow the possibility of a left wing activism within Labour. But there optimism stops.

Sadly I came out feeling that with JC as leader they are going nowhere. He is, at best, badly advised on many issues. I fear that he is unelectable, and the Labour Party is not going to win a general election.The best hope is he win and then Labour get another new left-wing leader soon, meanwhile I fear Labour is terminally in decline.

So I went home in mourning.

Basis of the state Scotland v England

A few things have been bugging me since I came to Scotland. I knew that I was moving to a different country. I think that difference is as great as between France and Germany. I knew that I had to deal with differences in culture and of education. I will never forget a friend referencing Stirling Bridge, and being shocked when I said most English would not know what the battle was about, nor why it might be important. As for Wallace….

Then we get to law. The English system I know, Scottish law is different and has been subject to other influences. The details need not detain us here, but there are substantial and significant divergentcies.

One of the things that I struggle with is that Scots do not “get” the English and their politics, and vice versa. Yet on consideration they are making different assumptions, and talk at cross-purposes.

Constitutionally there is a different understanding. The big one is ultimate authority in the state. Once one understands that there is a better chance of engaging in meaningful dialogue. It is a matter of sovereinty. Sovereingty means, for a nation, self determination. Within a state it means the ultimate authority. Let us consider the English view first:

The claim in England is quite clear, Parliament is sovereign, it is legally all powerful. It can do anything. Strictly speaking sovereignty lies with the Queen in Parliament; since the consent and agreement of Commons, Lords and Monarch are needed to pass an Act. Any powers given by Parliament to ministers, officials, councils or devolved pwers is subject to recall or amendment by Parliament itself. The argument has been raised that the European Union was and is in the same position as regards Parliament as a county council, and Parliament could always recall powers given. Brexit has made that issue very important. Legitimacy lies with the monarchy and the settlement over Parliamentary powers. Of course if you accept Scotland is merely a region of the UK then the English expectation is that Westminster can remove any powers and resort to direct rule.

This leads onto the main point I want to make, whence comes the authority of government? Where is sovereignty? Given that anciently government centred on kingship we need to consider the nature of kingship. Most of us assume that a concept is represented by a word, so if you use a word it means the same thing in every context. Translators know that is not quite true. A society has its own nuances, e.g. to talk of a priest in Ireland is not to have the same assumptions as in Greece. So it is of monarchy. Louis XIV of France declared “L’Etat c’est moi”. His personal decisions were those of the state. Modern UK monarchy is very restricted by convention and practice. Anciently the kings of England and Scotland had real power, but  their legitimacy came from different sources.

In principle in England a monarch was such because of rules of succession, (now as amended by Act of Parliament,). King is not subject to any control, beyond his own conscience. It follows that Charles I was right that Parliament had no authority to try him, and that regicide ws treason. The idea is that a monarch is not subject to any control, beyond his own conscience and the basis of this was a lawful king was something you had. This was augmented by the consecration and investing of a king with authority from God in the coronation service. He was crowned and anointed and a fixture:

““Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off an anointed king”

as Shakespeare wrote in Richard II.

The only way out of the arrangement was death or conquest, or else the king abdicated. The Bill lof Rghts 1689 “And whereas the said late King James the Second having Abdicated the Government and the Throne…”

The Scots had a different approach, which was the king acted by consent of the people. Even since the Act of Union Scotland still tend to follow her ancient ways. So it is that the Scottish answer to the arrival of William and Mary was not to declare an abdication, rather the Claim of Right, which went through the Scottish Parliament was a list of grieviances, followed by a declaration of William and Mary as Monarchs.

The people, acting through Parliament in Scotland appointed a new monarchy. The idea is deeply rooted in Scottish history that a king is king because of the will of the people. Sovereingty does not flow from the king down, it flows from the people. The same premise can be found expressed in the Declaration of Arbroath, which is not seen as that important in England, because the context is different. John Ballliol was rejected and the Bruce made king. The Declaration is a commentary on it.

“Him, (Robert the Bruce) too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King.

To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand.”

The nature of kingship differed from the English model. It is a distinction which befuddled the English. An argument was advanced (by John Hastings) in the dispute over the kingship of Scotland at that period that Scotland was not a proper kingdom , since Scottish Kings were not crowned and anointed in the way the English ones were. A crown seems to have been used for the first time in Scotland in the early 13th century and Papal approval for Scottish anointing only came in 1329. What did happen anciently was an enthronement, traditionally on the Stone of Destiny, and recognition.

The Scottish system has at its heart a notion of monarchy which requires approval by the people, te English one sets monarchy as by legal authority and potentially independent of the subjects.

One can traces this thinking in Scotland through various writers, and one of its recent manifestations comes in the draft Scottish Constitution. (


This has a certain pratical application. It is sadly true that Scotland has been the junior partner is the Union since its inception. It explains why the Stewarts as kings of England tended to absulutism, they had a different legal frame wrok and James I and VI in England was legally free to push the idea. Elizabeth I had been more circumspect about it of course.

The history of England has been an attempt to wrest concessions from kings, from Magna Carta onwards, but the expectation is top down and concessions. Scotland expects power to be exercised by consent.

It means that any attempt at a written constitution in England is riddled with problems, in Scotland it would be a continuity of ancient thinking and of historical resonance. It means that the Scots are likely to be wary of any elite telling them what to do, in England it is part of the natural order.

This means that English ways of doing things will be met with a degree of incomprehension. The fit will always be bad. Even during the nineteenth century prosperity there were issues and nationalism has re-emerged since the second world war. I suggest that there has never been a full enthusiasm for the union in Scotland anyway. It has become possible for the dissolution of the Union to take effect.


Independence is not a rarity for a nation. It is the norm. It is especially the case when the attempted union is with a profoundly different cultue. The basis of the state is different in Scotland to that in England and Scotland . Some shared history is not enough, any more than it would be between Germany and France to establish a single state. It is not a case that can be won on economic grounds, it is not even a case of voting for Europe or against the Tories. It is about a different and profound sense of what it means to be a country and the basis on which it is run.

There is an argument which says that the Union was based on a Treaty and the time has come to end that treaty. I am not arguing for UDI but I do feel strongly the time has come for an amicable separation. What does matter is that if Scotland withdraws consent to the unin, and the Westminster Government then under Scottish thinking there is no validity to any attempt to direct rule by Westminster. Scotland is revealed as indpendant or else Westminster is seen as a colonial power imposing its will by conquest and by occupation, through force of arms if needed.


Ideas are dangerous.


I am open to any comment.



By way of intro- I am doing this because Twitter is a bit limiting and Facebook a bit social. I am based in Dundee and have a canal boat. At the time of writing this is on the English system, hoping to move it north. I am intending to deal with issues that concern me. That means welfare rights, a bit of political activism, any experiences that seem worth sharing and anything else that takes my fancy. There may or may not be recipes…

I am generally left wing, pro-Independence for Scotland and supportive of the natural world. I was born in the English Midlands, lived much of my life in the North of England and find myself now a Scot by adoption and by choice. Irritatingly I am told I sound like Prince Charles, cannot see it myself. I am not, emphatically not, a member of any political party, and for good reasons. I am something of a sceptic on the EU.

Comments are welcome, but please keep it respectful and friendly. I reserve the right to disagree with friends, and I distrust the online echo-chamber and group think effects.

Given I am naturally untidy do not expect too much. Also I am rather busy much of the time and may not be that active sometimes.