Assuming, as we must, that Pete Wishart is not entirely delighted at having been appointed poster-boy for the uglier fringes of anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism, he will doubtless be glad of the succour offered by Andrew Tickell. The veteran SNP MP will surely be aware that there’s precious little support for his call to inaction across the Yes movement.
Having trained as a lawyer, Andrew Tickell will probably be aware of the Latin term argumentum ad verecundiam. The rest of us may be more familiar with the English translation argument from authority, or appeal to authority.
Pete Wishart’s public intervention is helpful, not least because his description of the lie of the land better reflects the ambivalent conversations between independence supporters you hear behind closed doors than the noisy certainties which dominate pro-indy debates in public about where Nicola Sturgeon should turn from here.
I don’t doubt that this reflects Andrew’s experience. But, despite his derisive dismissal of alternative accounts as “noisy certainties”, there is no reason to suppose that his experience is any more valid or representative of reality than, say, my own. I have no way of knowing the extent of his eavesdropping on “conversations between independence supporters”. For all I know, he may devote an inordinate amount of time to this pursuit. It may well be that these overheard conversation really were as “ambivalent” as he claims. He may consider that he has amassed sufficient evidence to justify his conclusion. But is it sufficient to satisfy those whose minds are open to alternative accounts?
In recent months I have travelled all over Scotland meeting and talking with individuals and groups from just about every part of the Yes movement. I found very little sign of the “ambivalence” to which Andrew refers. On the contrary, and despite my expectations, these “conversations between independence supporters” revealed a calm, considered confidence that a new referendum in September 2018 is advisable or essential or both.
Just as Andrew’s argument from the unverifiable authority of unquantified private conversations among unidentified independence supporters isn’t quite as conclusive as he might wish us to believe, so Pete Wishart’s exclusive claim to ‘pragmatism’ isn’t finding the unquestioning acceptance he seems to think it deserves. The implication that those who reject his appeal to inertia are being impractical, or overly emotional, is actually quite offensive. The people I speak to aren’t driven by mindless nationalistic fervour. They are at least as capable of rationally assessing the political situation as Pete Wishart is.
Speaking to voters on the doorsteps in his Perth and North Perthshire constituency may give Pete Wishart some insight. But there is no reason to suppose this trumps insights gained by talking to people in Troon and Thurso and Elgin and Lerwick and Glasgow and Portree and Dunfermline. And Pete Wishart’s preference for indefinitely deferring a new independence referendum is finding very little favour in any of those places.
It is arrogant folly of the worst kind to dismiss the views of these people as “noisy certainties”. Messrs Wishart and Tickell would be well advised to at least consider the possibility that the activists who are the bedrock of the Yes movement may be perfectly qualified to reach their own conclusions about the best way forward. If they reject the hyper-cautious approach being commended by a handful of independence supporters it may well be for very sound reasons. Perhaps, like me, they’ve noticed something missing from Pete Wishart’s argument. Perhaps, like me, they’re still waiting to be told what criteria might be used to assess this “optimum time”. Perhaps, like me, they’re still curious as to how this “optimum time” might be predicted months in advance. Perhaps, like me, they’re left wondering how Pete Wishart can be so absolutely certain that September 2018 isn’t the “optimum time”.
Maybe, like me, they’ve considered another big hole in Pete Wishart’s argument. While he frets anxiously and dolefully about what he supposes will be the impact of holding the referendum ‘too soon’ and losing, he appears to have given no thought at all to the consequences of postponing a vote until such time as the portents are entirely auspicious and victory is absolutely assured. Or, to put it another way, never!
Perhaps, like me, those Yes activists who disagree with Pete Wishart have filled in the gaps for themselves. Perhaps, like me, they’ve considered the potential consequences of losing a September 2018 referendum and not holding a referendum in September 2018. Perhaps, like me, they’ve realised that the consequences are precisely the same in both scenarios. Perhaps, like me, they recognise that the only difference is that doing it Pete Wishart’s way makes those consequences a certainty.
Perhaps, like me, they know that the only chance we have of avoiding the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is to go for a referendum in September 2018 and put all our energies into making that the “optimum time”.
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