Debate rumbles on about the timing of Scotland’s new independence referendum. Recently, the most public aspect of this debate has been an exchange between Pete Wishart and James Kelly. This began, as I recall, with a column written by veteran SNP MP which was slated by the SCOT goes POP blogger in an article for iScot Magazine. Wishart than demanded a right of reply and the latest episode in this spat appears as a letter in the April issue of iScot. (You can download an image of the letter here.)
I say “latest episode” although, as James Kelly subsequently pointed out, the letter addresses none of the criticisms of the original column and does nothing whatever to clarify Pete Wishart’s notion of an “optimum time” for holding a new independence referendum. We are told nothing new. The letter merely rehashes the pieties and platitudes and does nothing to aid our understanding of exactly how Mr Wishart hopes to know, presumably some months in advance, what will be the “optimum time” for another vote on Scotland’s constitutional question.
I was as frustrated by this lack of explanation as was James Kelly. Particularly as I had, myself, written a lengthy critique of Pete Wishart’s original column to which he did not see fit to respond. I had hoped to find in his latest writing on the subject answers to such questions as what criteria are to be used in assessing the “optimum time” and how, having delayed the vote, he proposed to deal with the British government’s moves to make a new referendum impossible and/or unwinnable. I’m none the wiser on any of these points.
In truth, this ongoing debate seems perplexing and pointless to me. To my mind, the issue of when the referendum should be held was settled more than three years ago. Realising that the constitutional issue could not possibly be considered settled by a No vote won on an entirely false prospectus and having given the matter serious thought in the days and weeks after the 2014 vote, I concluded that the earliest possible date for a new referendum was September 2018. The Leave vote in the EU referendum and the constitutional implications for Scotland of Brexit meant that this changed from being the earliest date to the latest.
Nothing Pete Wishart has said dissuades me from the conviction that the new referendum must be held no later than Thursday 20 September 2018. He has had ample opportunity to make the case that it is possible to define an “optimum time” and accurately predict when that time will arrive several months in advance. He has failed to do so. He cannot say what factors identify the right time and differentiate it from the wrong time. He cannot tell us what portents we must look for in order to know that the time is approaching. He has nothing to say about the actions the British state is all but certain to take whilst he is dabbling in the entrails of a goat looking for a sign.
Recognising the threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions and distinctive political culture posed by rampant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism, and in the absence of any rational arguments for delay, I cannot see insistence that a new referendum be deferred indefinitely as anything other than the utmost folly.
I am far from alone in being unconvinced by Pete Wishart’s hyper-cautious approach. Veteran commentator Ruth Wishart (no relation) is one of many who have taken him to task for his vacillation. As she says,
This Autumn will be the fourth anniversary of the 2014 Referendum. We risk losing all the passion, all the hope, all the ambition which that generated if our best rallying cry is NOT YET.
I hadn’t intended to comment further, having pretty much said all I felt need to be said in that earlier article – and having had no response. But then I opened my inbox this morning to find three new blog articles on the subject of what Ruth Wishart calls The Great Indyref Timing Debate. None could be described as sympathetic to Pete Wishart’s point of view.
The redoubtable Barrhead Boy could hardly make his position clearer,
I have made my position quite clear all along, I favour autumn this year for the simple reason that our biggest asset is our grassroots and they are better deployed through a summer campaign rather than in the depths of winter.
We also cannot wait till Autumn 2019 because by that time the power grab will be in full swing and for all we know Westminster may have neutered Holyrood so much our right to call and hold a referendum could well be gone.
It may be worth noting in passing that Pete Wishart has addressed neither of these points. He is too vague about the timing to even specify a season of the year. And there is no indication that he is even aware of the threat to the Scottish Parliament necessarily implied by talk of “UK-wide common frameworks” and the creation of a shadow Scottish government at the Scotland Office ready to take powers stripped from Holyrood.
Another two articles are interesting both for the differences between them and the agreement. In Campaigning ‘for’ Scotland we find talk of an “official non-party affiliated Yes Movement” umbrella group – the Scottish Independence Convention is specifically mentioned – as well as encouragement to mount a new ‘positive’ campaign.
What we can do though is start once again campaigning ‘for’ Scotland. Start to provide a vision of what Scotland can be. Start to put forward projections of the impact renewable energy, the proposed national investment bank, continued and enhanced investment in the social contract, the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from our country, the introduction of a Scottish defence and coastal service, capital investment proposals, and loads more, can have as an independent country.
This would, I suspect, find favour with Pete Wishart, who seems to believe that there is some novel formulation of the ‘positive’ case for independence which will induce an epiphany in former No voters. A message which, for all the ‘diversity’ of the Yes movement, we failed to find first time around. To me, however, this kind of thinking seems woefully outdated and inadequate. I long since came to the conclusion that it would be a tragic mistake to simply attempt a rerun of the first Yes campaign. Not that what we did then was wrong, necessarily. But it was right for its time and the circumstances that prevailed.
Things have changed. While we need to maintain the vision of Scotland’s potential to be a better, fairer, more prosperous nation, the coming referendum campaign needs something else. It needs a hard edge. It needs to be at least as much a campaign against the Union as ‘for’ Scotland.
The new referendum campaign must adopt a more hard-headed, pragmatic approach. And I don’t mean Pete Wishart’s brand of pragmatism. A term which he deploys to give his arguments a veneer of rationality and in an attempt to disarm his critics by suggesting they are something other than pragmatic. I’m talking about a campaign informed by an awareness of realpolitik and recognition of the fact that the British state is no friend to Scotland. That means we should forget about the diversion of an ‘umbrella group’ and concentrate all the power of the Yes movement where it will be most effective – behind Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government.
This is the argument made forcibly by Jason Michael on Random Public Journal.
Our task is to start afflicting the comfortable. Independence will not be won by making the case for independence. We’ve tried that already. Feelings, not well-reasoned and politely delivered arguments, win votes in the modern political context. Better Together won in 2014 not because it convinced anyone Scotland was incapable of statehood, but because it terrorised just enough of the electorate to persuade them to vote for the status quo. Feels trump reals in modern politics, and whether we like that fact or not we had better bloody get used to it. Independence will not be won in Scotland with what Pete Wishart recently described as a “persuasive new case to overcome deeply held convictions.” Independence will be won by the side that can inflict the most discomfort on the other. Scotland will not be free while Jack is alright.
That’s more like it!
While these articles may differ in what they see as the best way of conducting the new referendum campaign, and argue their case in different ways, they agree on one thing. Pete Wishart has got it wrong. Delay is not an option. It has to be #Referendum2018.
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