2007 - 2022

How to Build (and Demolish) a Country

As the UK slides further into economic and diplomatic farce a new aspect to the cause for independence has emerged this week. Among the hotly contested debate about the ‘when’ of a second independence referendum, the ‘how’ is being ignored.

To the backdrop of unfolding chaos – and possibly tragedy in Catalonia – and amidst a series of dirge-like obituaries for the SNP, a new dynamic is emerging.

In an embarrassing series of articles a number of commentators have signalled the death-knell of the SNP.

Martin Kettle writes painfully (‘Invincible no more, Nicola Sturgeon will have to go back to basics’): “Sturgeon mishandled the Brexit process. Under pressure from Salmond and those who prioritise a second independence vote, Sturgeon constantly upped her demands on Brexit, demanding a seat at the negotiating table, pitching for differential deals for Scotland, claiming a right to veto the final Brexit deal. The result has been a succession of failures, as May has dug in against SNP demands.”

Before signing-off admitting sheepishly: “Don’t write the SNP or Sturgeon off. It is still the main political party in Scotland.”

Kettle’s comments belie a complete misunderstanding of political exchange, but is touching to see him back May ‘digging in’ against ‘SNP demands’. There is no sense or understanding of an elected Scottish government perhaps representing the interest of the 62% who voted to Remain.

David Torrance wrote that (‘The SNP’s political stardust is starting to fade‘):  “the conference was deliberately low key and the first minister’s keynote speech purposefully dull”. Before adding “The SNP still suffers (like Labour) from promising the world but inevitably failing to make good on the free unicorns.”

Whilst this is all fairly routine it is disappointing to see paid political columnists failing to engage with actual policy detail.

The idea presented by Torrance that the announcement of a new publicly owned renewable energy company is “to keep those six Scottish Green MSPs sweet” is extraordinary.

In both accounts the ides of the Scottish government being elected representatives is downplayed next to a relentless assault on a single party.

End Times 

Watching the antics at PMQs today as both sides of the House bay for Theresa May’s blood, the sense of end times is palpable. But at the other end of the country a very different process is emerging.

In the early 1990s Murray Pittock wrote a series of books including ‘The Invention of Scotland’ (reissued 2016), in which he laid out how modern Scotland (re) emerged in the period since 1918. See also The Road to Independence? Scotland Since the Sixties (2008), A New History of Scotland (2003 and Inventing and Resisting Britain (1997).

He argued that in this period key institutions had been devolved or had developed that were part of an inexorable process towards independence.

Scottish Television, Scottish Arts Council, Scottish Opera, BBC Scotland, and dozens more emerged through the sixties and seventies and eighties. We might consider some of them now useless or in need of drastic reform now but that process took place.

He argued that independence was happening behind the scenes – alongside (and sometimes ahead of) –  the formal constitutional process. It was a process not an event.

But if Pittock’s detailed account of cultural social and business organisations emerging is worth re-considering to get a long-view of the trajectory at play, announcements of a Scottish National Investment Bank and now of a state-owned energy company in Scotland to offer cheaper power to homeowners with consumers paying “as close to cost price as possible” is of a higher order.

Whilst some of the commentariat offer derision there’s a deeper play at work.

‘Blueprint for a Scottish National Investment Bank’, published jointly by think-tank’s the New Economics Foundation and Common Weal, can be read in full here.

But these moves stand alongside the potential disintegration of Britain as a functioning polity.

In Pittock’s account he outlines the different stages of nationalist insurgency. He asks of the period in the 1970s: “Was the SNP just a tart lever on a British fruit machine? Unquestionably the first SNP surge was in significant part driven by a ‘remember Scotland’ rather than a ‘free Scotland’ agenda”.

If 1970s nationalism was still caught in low aspiration “remember Scotlandism” – and devolved settlement era politics was limited often to declaring “we exist” and glorying in low-key victories – we are now way beyond those parameters.

But if we want to move beyond the sort of deluded politics of ‘March! Just March god damn you!’  – we’ll need to act with purpose and strategy.

The upcoming Build 2  conference at the Usher Hall will be one such opportunity. This is all about practical organising, collaboration and movement building.

It sits comfortably with the process of building institutions, structures and ways of working that lead to independence.

As Sturgeon announces key new institutions – banks, child care and publicly owned utilities we can visibly see confidence eroding in the public institutions of Britain. This is not a see-saw that will inexorably lead to independence. The Brexit settlement is dangerously out of control and can damage the Scottish economy and polarise British society in a way that would make the transition to Scottish independence less likely not more likely.

The coming crisis at Westminster may create opportunity for Scottish democracy, or it may just create economic chaos and breakdown.

But if we see these significant developments alongside the growth of demands for self-determination in Europe we can see the building blocks of autonomy emerging.

A significant shift has happened in that people are no longer content with just existing or being given partial acknowledgement in a dysfunctional union of inequality.

This might have been viable when the UK represented a form of stability, even if it was stability with inherent inequality and hierarchy. It might have been viable when people’s sense of selfhood was low-key or deeply imbued with doubt or shame. It might even have been viable had their not been current examples of movements for democracy, for socialism for self-determination. Now Britain stands exposed as a bankrupt entity driven by the powerful protecting their interests and engaged in reckless self-harm.

So as we are co-creating the building blocks of economic independence we are also being faced with the reality of our existence, the responsibility of taking this on.

As the writer Jim Kelman put it:

“Independence is not an economic decision, it concerns self-respect. How many countries do we know in the world where the people need a debate about whether or not they should determine their own existence. Ultimately it concerns survival. For whatever value our culture has it is ours, and like Sorley MacLean once said about the Gaelic language, even if it was a poor thing, it would still be loved, and those who used it would still have the desire to see it flourish.”


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Comments (27)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    You could also have added the sneeringly condescending article in the New Statesman by the bombastic Julia Rampen and the now customary encomium to Ms Davidson by Stephen Bush in the same edition.

    The Tory conference was a complete disaster. Despite the puff and seeming hegemony of Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell, Labour’s policy towards Brexit is like a colander with bits broken off it.

    People are beginning to see the metrocentric media clique for the self serving twats that they are. If power ‘leaks’, as they would view it cataclysmically, from Westminster to Scotland, Wales, Ireland, ‘the PROVINCES’, then their solipsistic world will collapse. So, the old journalistic ploy of diverting attention comes into play. Attack the only party in the U.K. which is actually functioning, united and has a reasonably coherent set of policies. We are in changing and uncertain times and, the FM has to be pragmatic and adaptable. Nevertheless there is an underlying set of guiding ideas.

    Let us create an independent Scotland and let us continue, as far as we can to pursue this peacefully and democratically

    1. So many to choose from Alasdair … I will check them out thanks.

    2. Doghouse Rielly says:

      And just so we alI understand, you think there is an option to create an independent Scotland violently and undemocraticly?

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        Doghouse (if I may be so familiar!),

        I was not implying that as an alternative course of action at all. However, sadly, history from a wide range of places indicates that independence sometimes arises from a reaction to repressive actions by the dominant party.

        We saw what happened to our neighbours across the Irish Sea over several centuries before they gained control of 80% of their country.

        We know of the punitive actions following the Jacobite rising in 1745.

        We saw the reactions to Gandhi’s campaign of non-violence in the Indian subcontinent.

        Although with notable failures and small success in some cases, international organisations like the UN have, since 1945 managed, to assist the process of change relatively peacefully. I hope we can separate bloodlessly as the Czechs and Slovaks did.

        1. Doghouse Reilly says:

          You’re most welcome to call me doghouse and i’m Pleased to make your acquaintance Alasdair.

          Politics is a tricky old game. Keeping it civilised is a common duty and unlikely as it may sound now bring the possibility of violence and compulsion into our debates makes them sound possible, to some they may even sound romantic. They are not and there is nothing, in my view, in the current political situation that would justify them. It’s a battle of ideas, assuming that it will stay that way will help it remain so.

  2. Blair Paterson says:

    The London spivs will be outraged at the SNP plans to set up a state owned energy company with no profit ., once again the SNP are trying to help the ordinary people as they always have done they are the only party who have and of course they are vilified for it by the media energy along with water and food are the nessesities of life no one should make a profit from them but some take a delight in doing so as Ghandi said the greatest violence is poverty

  3. William Ross says:


    The Scottish Government does not represent the 62% who voted “Remain” because many or most were unionists ( Dugdale, Davidson, Rennie and so on) and in any event, these people voted for the UK to remain, not Scotland. On the other hand, many or most of the 38% who voted “Leave” were nationalists. You would think that you would get that by now.

    Where is the 62% support for independence?

    Might it be worthwhile recognising that this year the SNP lost 21 seats and half a million votes? It was beaten nearly two to one in votes ( which win referenda) by vehemently anti-Indyref 2 unionists. The great majority of these voters ( Labour and Conservative) voted for parties supporting Lancaster House Brexit ( out of Single Market and Customs Union)

    You lack any sense of balance.


    1. John S Warren says:

      “Many or most” Remainers are Unionists. “Many or most” Brexiters are [Scottish] Nationalists. Raally? Which is it; and what precisely do you mean by “many”? If you are going to use a precise quantum (62% for example), you had better be prepared equally to offer a precise quantum to support your own assertions; that is how rigorous argument works. Sweeping generalisations do not cut it.

      Incidentally, listing politicians’ names (none of whom I consider authoritative sources on the psephology, or very much at all, in candour) does not count as convincing evidence for the actual behaviour of voters, and indeed I fail to see the relevance of the list to the substance of your case (if indeed you have one).

      You will require to provide much more comprehensive, well-researched, specific, and telling evidence for these statements than your somewhat unpolished accusation, “you would think that you would get that by now”, if you wish to persuade rather than simply to prove your obvious hostility; we “get” your hostility, it just isn’t very interesting.

      Please offer your sources (authoritative ones) and provide some substantive evidence for your sweeping generalisations, and an accurate quantum. I am happy to be persuaded; so persuade – lest you are accused of “lack of balance”.

    2. I dont seek balance I seek authenticity. Scotland voted 62% against the coming farce. Defend it all you like. It will destroy Britain and the clueless Charlies prove it every day.

  4. William Ross says:


    It is pretty hard to give a precise number of Remain supporting Unionists as the question was only whether the individual wanted the UK ( not Scotland ) to remain the EU. Party affiliation was not requested. Ditto with the Leave vote.
    However, numerous polls, including Lord Ashcroft’s have been taken on the subject and the consistent finding is that just short of half of the Leave vote were nationalist. If 62% of the Scottish people wanted an independent Scotland in the EU then why did the polls on independence not jump and where were these Bravehearts on 8 June?

    1. Kenny Smith says:

      I understand when you say the SNP does not represent a fair chunk of people that voted remain but they are still the government of Scotland and so have to respect the way the people of this country voted. You don’t get asked if your a card carrying SNP member before you go for an operation in hospital, they try to do things they have a say over that effects our populace. End of the day bud remain/leave however you voted when the count was done there was a clear line from Gretna up. All that vote done is highlight the fact we have no voice and never will. Can you imagine the rage if England voted narrowly to leave but the votes of Scotland, Wales, NI kept them in, the treaty of union would have been torn up. I wish I had more evidence that just my own experience but I know an absolute shit load of people cursing their no vote, I can’t say for sure why it’s not showing in the polls but I guess it depends on who commissions them, what questions are asked and how they are weighted. You can point to the seats they lost at the snap GE but they were still the biggest party by far and I believe there was yes leaning voters that just never bothered, you couldn’t say that about an indy ref after a full campaign. I personally believe the country would be better off independent but it’s about more than money. Vote no= no self respect, no spine

    2. John S Warren says:

      I do not doubt that there are Brexiter Scottish Nationalists and Remainer Unionists; and vice versa. I do not believe we have a sound idea of the quantum, however; and this is my essential point, so with all due respect I think your argument simply falls. I do however surmise (no more) that the demography of Unionism (older, conservative with both a small and capital ‘C’) is likely to be broadly pro-Brexit to a greater extent than other demographics (Ruth Davidson is an anomaly in the desperate, confused, bizarre and anachronistic oxymoron that is Scottish Conservatism). Brexit is not re-making history, it is trying to re-live history.

      Brexit is a manifesto for a gerontocracy.

      More important, from an immediate political perspective, I believe public opinion is subject to considerable fluidity and an increasing lack of stability; I do not write this as a demonstration of insight, for it seems blatantly obvious. In the dynamics of the current political environment public opinion will change, perhaps sharply – and often; the certainties of the past, the political tropes of the recent past that energised sections of the population and commanded their assent, have gone. Political parties, at least at a UK level no longer adequately represent significant, mass, uniform sections of the population as they have done for the whole of the 20th century; for that political certainty, that sense of uniform representation (reinforced by the deeply centralised culture created by two world wars, and still embedded in the political culture of the old); that too has now almost disappeared, save among the old.

      I do not know, but I doubt if Brexit could muster 52% again, if the vote was taken now. The current polls in any case do not provide guarantees of certainty; surely that lesson has been learned by now, from the bitter experience of baffled pollsters? It should also be acknowledged that people do not invariably tell the truth when polled, and the built-in correctives that pollsters use to allow for this are not necessarily fireproof. Human motivation in politics (whether by politicians, collective parties or the electorate) is not easily fathomed. Think of this: Richard Thaler (University of Chicago) won the Nobel economics prize this week for showing that people’s economic behavior doesn’t conform to models that portray them as perfectly rational. People are irrational when their vital interests are at stake; that should be no surprise.

      The certainties have gone, and we had better become used to it.

  5. William Ross says:


    I have a lot of respect for your response and I voted SNP myself in 2017 to try to preserve the mandate to hold Indyref 2. The problem with your argument is that the 62% is not a vote for Scotland to remain in the EU as a separate country, as that question was never asked. It was a vote for the UK to remain.

    We do need to face up to the very definite numbers involved in GE 2017.

    Any Indy ref 2 held before Brexit will be lost.


    1. Kenny Smith says:

      Obviously you are right on the question no one can argue that but in both the indy ref + EU ref Scotland voted to remain in the EU because the EU card was played heavily during indy ref. Twice Scots had expressed that view but we find ourselves being pulled out anyway. I think Scot gov was right to try and find ways to make the break less damaging on the UK but were completely ignored. Once the true face of brexit is revealed I believe the yes movement will acquire something it never really had before which is a right wing small c conservative element that want to stay inside the single market, I think that will be the difference in pushing us over the line. Of course it’s only an opinion there will always be those who will never vote yes but for most Tories it’s money that is God and if their investment is at threat then they could mobilise in a decent enough number. I think they are keeping their powder dry for now. I hope that the anti EU yes brigade can see that Westminster rule is far more controlling and domineering than being a part of a European union of free states

  6. Bob Wyper says:

    I see the pieces by Martin Kettle and David Torrance as simple one-line explanations of their job descriptions…. Attack SNP in any way you can today… so I treat them as irritations and no more than that.

    More important was the reply by William Ross who makes a valid point that the numbers are hidden, and no-one really knows what support for independence actually exists today. I only know that the massive jumps from 6% or 10% in the sixties to reach 25% just as the INDYREF was announced in 2012, and then on to 45% in 2014 certainly frightened a few on both sides as no-one believed it was possible.

    The next step will be a full move to independence, but it cannot be achieved by complacency, so unless there is active work by people at all levels, from canvassers to policymakers, then the next very small window of opportunity when the Brexit deal is announced will have gone in a flash, and who knows where the following chance will come from as doors get closed by Westminster to future votes here.

  7. William Ross says:


    Feel free to ignore continuous polling which shows nationalist support for Brexit at 35 to 40% It doesn’t bother me.

    Regarding the Unionist Remain vote bear in mind that virtually all Scottish Unionist politicians were solidly for Remain, not just Ruth Davidson. From Alex Neil, we know that some 10% of SNP MSPs were for Brexit, they were just too scared to say so. What an encouraging sign that is.

    Even you cannot deny the results of GE 2017. Even Nicola Sturgeon has set the “reset” button.

    I am glad that Mike agrees he has no balance. At least he has got that right.


    1. John S Warren says:

      My argument was about Brexit. My comments were about Brexit. The issue I addressed was Brexit. My concern was the support in Scotland for Brexit or Remain; from whatever source (Unionist, SNP or other Nationalist). You seem to be focused on Nationalism. I fail to see the relevance of your remarks to my comment. or the subject I was addressing. I suspect that you are committing a category error.

      As far as I can see whether there is currently 62% support for Remain in Scotland I could not say (it may be less, or the same, or perhaps more; who knows?); but I would hazard the speculation that the Remain majority in Scotland is still above, perhaps substantially above 50%. Of course I could be wrong, but I require solid, concrete evidence of the alternative; not flimsy bits and pieces trawled from the popular press. I have no idea what your point is; or whether you have one.

  8. Big Jock says:

    When people can’t get their flights to Tenerife , when trucks can’t get goods to Calais, when farmers sell up and file for bankruptcy , when the welfare state is destroyed. When Westminster tries to legislate for Holyrood, when Holyrood goes on strike. When the banks go to Frankfurt, when the city becomes like Dublin’s desolate new city after the banking crisis.

    When people lose everything they ever thought to be important, they will learn what is actually important. That’s when Scotland will become independent.

    Unfortunately we need the ultimate punishment in order to see our masters for what they are. Naked , exposed and cruel with hearts of stone.

  9. MBC says:

    It was interesting to be at the SNP conference then see how the unionist press wrote about it. Apparently we are naked spear wielding natives to their civilised metropolitan poise. When the natives are not angrily shaking their spears and being goaded into hot, bloody, suicidal onrushes, we have gone off the boil and are no longer a threat and can be dismissed. The fact that we are quietly and determinedly digging tunnels, building ramparts, consolidating and extending alliances, and are in fact a bigger threat than ever, passes them by, such is their hubris and myopia.

  10. wiliam ross says:

    Big Jock

    You seem to be describing Armageddon but what happened to Project Fear after 24 June 2016?

    Brexit sounds like the collapse of capitalism; the awful catastrophe does need to be continually post-poned. Meanwhile foreign investment pours into the UK. Makes sense?


  11. Big Jock says:

    Brexit with no deal is the death of Capitalism William. You are right I am describing economic armageddon.

    This will be like austerity mark 2. Except this time it will be the IMF being summoned to rescue the system.

    The UK as we know it will cease to exist the days and months after the no deal is completed.

    Scotland will be the only part of the UK with some economic resources. The flight of capital from London will destroy the city. The black gold of Scotland will be all that is left.

    So they won’t let us go quietly into the night. The Tories are bricking it. They know they are commiting economic vandalism but they feel they have to do it.

    This is the equivalent of burning down your house because you lost a silly bet. At every level you will be worse off but you have to pretend you can rebuild it.

    What of Scotland? Do we go down with the captain or escape on a life raft. That will be our choice.

    1. Just Flow says:

      varoufakis is a populist imposter in many ways responsible for cheating the greek people with undeliverable promises, adding another 100 billion of debt out of his failed so called negotiation and then jumping ship. the only thing varoufakis ever managed was to set himself up for life writing silly pompous books having countless suckers buying them and talking about them as if he was a genuinely important economist which he is not.

  12. William Ross says:

    John Warren still doesn`t get that the 62% support in Scotland to “Remain” was for the UK to “Remain”. There is not now and never has been a majority ( nothing like it) for Scotland to “Remain” in the EU as an independent country. Quite apart from that, even if pre-Brexit Indyref 2 were to return a Yes vote Scotland still could not “Remain”. We would be out of the EU as the always benign, truthful and unbiased EU Commission has always maintained.

    Yanis Varoufakis, incidentally, has some interesting views on the EU`s negotiating methods. Check out his book ” Adults in the Room”. The awful truth is laid bare there.

  13. William Ross says:

    Big Jock

    I appreciate that you really do believe in Brexit Armageddon but all your assertions are merely predictive and without foundation. It may very well be that we have no deal and that we will be trading with the EU on WTO rules. It doesn`t worry me at all.

    Why. Because the huge majority of our economic activity in the UK occurs in the UK internal market. We have no currency issue, unlike Scotland in 2014 ( or now) Of our international trade, some 55% is already with non-EU countries. Our EU trade has been falling steadily for decades. About 10% of our GDP is tied up in EU trade. The Single Market is mainly a single market in products and the huge majority of our economy is services. We may see a dip in the 10% but the great majority of our trade with the EU will continue. This scenario is precisely what the 2016 Fraser of Allander Institute Report on Brexit ( Brexit Report) predicts. The only problem is that the Brexit Report fails to consider the huge economic upsides from Brexit. At worst 80,000 jobs would be lost in ten years ( Nicola`s mantra). Well, I work in the oil industry and live in Aberdeenshire. We lost over 100,000 oil industry jobs in two years but nobody noticed.

    I know the City very well and I can assure that some jobs will be lost but these will be in the 10,000s at most. The City will remain secure as the World`s leading financial center. After all, the great majority of its business is with the UK and the World economy.

    You place great hopes in our black gold. Well I have lived off it. Our oil industry will remain important for many years but it will never produce massive revenue again. It would help if we were allowed to access our onshore resources instead of having to import fracked ethane and NGLs from the US.

    I have always been a Scottish patriot but I have no time for specious left wing ideology. We need to complete Brexit and then seek independence in the British Isles.

    I am sad that someone like you would want to throw your lot in with the oligarchs of Brussels who cannot condemn ( much less protect) Catalans trying to vote. They are the same privileged elite who beat the living daylights out of Greece. Austerity2? Why not read Varoufakis` book?


  14. Big Jock says:

    William where can I start. You just admitted yourself that 45% of our trade is with the Eu. That’s nearly half our book!

    You can’t just wipe that aside. Trade deals take years to set up with other countries. England is a small country in relative terms. Frankfurt can grow it’s financial sector and it will.

    As for letting London take over from Brussels. Wake up man its London and WM that has been hurting Scotland for decades not Brussels.

    The economy and social welfare are WM remit not Brussels. What will happen is we will lose any protection we had with the Eu. Workers rights, the social union, court of human rights, freedom of movement, E11 cards, Eu passports.

    Britain will be an isolated little enclave with no friends in Europe.

    Then they will slowly dismantle devolution. We will be even less independent than we are now.

    Do I trust Brussels more than London. You bet I do!

  15. William Ross says:

    Big Jock

    Yes I admitted that about 45% of our international trade is with the EU. Most of that is not going anywhere. Remember that the 45% figure represents about 10% GDP. The Fraser of Allander Institute proposes a circa 25% reduction ( of the 10%) with WTO rules. That does not consider our ability to do new trade deals, or other Brexit upsides.

    Trade deals take years? Look how Iceland and Switzerland do them! Are we too daft and stupid?

    You are very concerned about loss of the alleged EU rights. Big Jock, that worries me immensely. What you are saying is that you prefer to trust our laws to totally unaccountable Brussels oligarchs rather than the people of the UK or ( much better) Scotland. This is a strange and sad argument.
    What would Donald Stewart or Gordon Wilson have thought?

    Why would we have no friends in Europe? Just because we don’t want to be part of the EU country?
    In that case Scotland should never become independent, because we would lose our friends in England?

    Westminster is trying to dismantle devolution? Balderdash. The only salient issue is HOW MUCH MORE powerful our Parliament will become after Brexit.

    Tell me slowly: “William, I am content, as a Scottish nationalist, to put my country in the hands of Germany and Jean Claude Juncker”

    Surely not!


  16. William Ross says:

    I have just read Jean Claude Juncker being quoted as saying, regarding Catalonia :” I would not like an EU that in 15 years consisted of 98 states” Sucks to you self-determination! ” There is no democracy against the EU treaties”

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