This was first posted on Facebook on 20th December 2019, with support from my Ko-Fi network.
I did not listen to the live debate in the House of Commons today. The Withdrawal Agreement bill passed second reading 358 votes to 234 – a majority substantially larger than the 80-vote government majority.
In part this is because I genuinely didn’t feel I can face it – after all, we already knew how it ends, wiith a majority of 80 Tory MPs. I am going to follow what has happened in other ways (there’s always Hansard) and write it up at some point before we return to the Withdrawal Agreement debate in January.
Yesterday I skipped listening to the indyref2020 debate in the Scottish Parliament to listen to the Queen’s Speech instead. The result in Holyrood was as predictable as today’s debate will be in Westminster: the SNP and the Greens together have a majority for the independence referendum, and they outvoted the Labour, Tory, and LibDem MSPs against it.
All that remains is for Boris Johnson to grant a Section 30 order, or – if things get sufficiently extreme – for Nicola Sturgeon to go ahead without one.
“Sufficiently extreme” is my speculation, and I’m thinking on the lines of major food and drugs shortages following no-deal or very hard Brexit: no-deal Brexit is now unlikely, and hard Brexit isn’t going to happen til 31st December 2020. The Scottsh Parliamentary elections will take place in May 2021, and if SNP and Green again have a majority, there isn’t really a democratic reason to reject a second indyref.
One coherent argument against indyref2 – or against EUref2, which won’t now happen – is that Boris Johnson will simply summon his team of dishonest-social-media-makers and run a hidden campaign urging people not to vote.
To be clear:
In my opinion, regardless of whether a referendum is legislated to be legally binding, it gains moral authority in itself and in international law if turnout is equivalent to or higher than your average general election, and the result shows a very clear majority for independence – and especially if the result shows the majority of the electorate voted for independence. We had that kind of overwhelming result when Scotland voted to re-establish our Parliament with tax-raising powers: and the 2014 referendum got a strikingly-high turnout (much higher than the turnout for the 2016 referendum).
So Boris Johnson’s simplest method of destroying the validity of a Scottish referendum would be running online campaigns under the table convincing people not to vote, and then pointing at the low turn out as a reason not to honour the referendum result.
This might work.
Or it might not.
Because it *doesn’t* work against grassroots campaigns where people know something isn’t so and can say so loud and clear.
You’ve probably never heard of Marky Booth. At least, I never had. He is, self-described, a young student – early 20s – who graduated Edinburgh University with a First in Politics and International Relations and was a research asisstant for the SNP. He was active in the Scottish independence youth movement when at university and mentions going to Young Scots for Independence karaoke nights. While living in Wales he did some research work for Wings Over Scotland and ran a site called independence dot ws which he then handed over to someone else called Michael Wright to run for him. Independence dot ws has a gofundme link asking for donations. Marky Booth was unexpectedly anti-trans and anti “the woke brigade” in the independence movement – I mean unexpectedly for a supposed-21-year-old, since the rejection of LGBT rights and equality is a very, very generational thing.
Archibald Cameron, who blogs as The Mammoth Whale, discovered that none of this was true, and he did it by asking. No one in the Edinburgh SNP branch or elsewhere remembers or is able to find any trace of a research assistant named Marky Booth. No one recognises the photos. No one in the Edinburgh independence youth movements remembers Marky Booth: no one who went to the YSI karaoke nights ever met him. The photos with a background all look American. There is no degree in Politics and International Relations offered at Edinburgh University. His photo of his fiance’s hand with a ring on it is a stock photo and when asked to provide a timestamped photo of himself he said he was ill, said he had checked into hospital, said he’d made a suicide attempt, and then deleted his account.
Some of this could have been done anywhere by anyone. But what’s telling – and particularly Scottish – is that the community Marky Booth claimed to belong to was available for questioning and didn’t know him. This would apply to any well-connected community, of course. (To my fannish friends. think if someone out of nowhere suddenly claimed to be a BNF/SMOF who’d been to all the Worldcons and done lots of work for fandom: if they did, there would be so many fans around who really *had* gone to those Worldcons and knew people who knew people and would be able to say, definitely: Nope, we never heard of you.) But the point is: Scotland is a small country. Edinburgh, as we Edinburghers are fond of complaining to each other, is a remarkably small city. People know people who know people who know people.
Last time – in 2014 – the campaign for and against independence was very much a town-hall meeting, face-to-face argument campaign. It took place online too – Stuart Campbell, of the late Wings Over Scotland account, made a career out of it. But Stuart Campbell, greatly though I dislike him, was upfront and clear about who he was and where he was living.
Marky Booth may be “really” a man in his forties called Michael Wright who lives in Aberdeen. If we ever find out, it will be because of the gofundme account: which was indubitably set up by a Michael Wright. When you ask for money under a false identity, the police may be interested enough to investigate.
I am more hopeful that, when indyref2 happens, we will be able to see off the bots and the fake news than I am that Labour and the media are prepared for Boris Johnson running yet another lying Facebook campaign when he decides to call the next general election. So long as Labour is tearing itself apart over whether it was Corbyn or Brexit that lost them all of those voters, they’re not going to have a campaign strategy to counterattack the lying social media.