From outside the soundproof room

Julie Hepburn
Julie Hepburn

I’m not sure why Julie Hepburn has called for calm in the “row” over the timing of the next independence referendum. I wasn’t even aware that it was a “row”. I was under the impression there was an attempt to have a discussion. And that discussion is not just calm, but becalmed. It’s going nowhere. Because the different perspectives on the issue are being debated in quite separate spaces.

The only ones who appear other than calm are those frantically trying to close down the debate altogether. Or, at least, to close down that part of it which going on in the space marked ‘Public’. The attitude seems to be that it’s OK for politicians and prominent figures to express a view on the matter of when the new referendum should be held, but that anybody else doing so is ‘divisive’ and ‘damaging’.

I have been called a “hysterical agitator” for presuming to disagree with Pete Wishart. Apparently, getting elected bestows omniscience. Simply being an MSP or MP implies possession of profound knowledge and great wisdom. (We have to wonder what went wrong in the case of Richard Leonard.) To question the pronouncements of our political leaders is, it seems, an act of heresy. Pete Wishart is fantastic. He shits fantastic pearls of fantastic wisdom that the rest of us swine aren’t equipped to appreciate. We should all just shut up and stop asking awkward questions about the emperor’s fantastic new clothes.

Pete Wishart’s fine. As I’ve said elsewhere, he’s an excellent constituency MP and has been doing a damn fine job as chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee. But he is about as all-knowing and all-wise as the Wizard of Oz. There is something rather ridiculous about idea that his is the ultimate word on anything. His opinion on the matter of when the next independence referendum should be held is no more valid that anybody else’s. Like any opinion, it is only as good as the evidence and reasoning on which it is based. Like any opinion which has been publicly stated, it is there to be challenged. Like any opinion which is genuinely held and openly expressed, the person holding and expressing it should be willing and able to defend it.

But that’s not what’s happening. It’s as if Pete Wishart and Chris McEleny and Keith Brown and the rest are talking at us from inside a sealed and soundproofed room. Everything being said outside that room is being widely represented as an irrelevant and unwelcome intrusion. If we are not being told to shut up, we’re being told to calm down. Which is no more appropriate.

Julie Hepburn says,

We undoubtedly have a mandate for an independence referendum, and I trust our First Minister to make the right judgement when the time comes and have every confidence our views as SNP members will greatly inform that decision.

There is absolutely no question about the mandate. And we have every reason to trust Nicola Sturgeon’s judgement. But we have to wonder how the views of SNP members – or the wider Yes movement – might “greatly inform” the decision on the date of the new referendum if those voices are silenced or dismissed, as some very evidently want. And we have to wonder how anybody can become aware of the pros and cons of the various positions if there is no debate in which the arguments are comprehensively rehearsed.

Julie Hepburn goes on to say,

But if we continually focus on the when, then I believe we risk neglecting the more fundamental question of how – how to do we win an independence referendum?

In this, we see again a disturbing failure to appreciate or acknowledge why the issue of timing is critical. If we do not focus on the when then we risk neglecting the fundamental issue of what the British political elite will be doing while Julie Hepburn is busy trying to “build a renewed case for independence” – whatever that might mean. If it actually means anything at all.

The “case for independence” is like one of those Lego kits that has all the parts for building a particular thing – a moon buggy, for example. You can dismantle it and put the bits back together in all manner of different ways. But you’re never going to end up with anything better than the moon buggy. Once you’ve built the moon buggy, you have your moon buggy. There is no extra super moon buggy that can be built from the available parts.

British Nationalists are, of course, perfectly content that the Yes movement should devote all its resources and energies to endlessly reconfiguring the case for independence. They’re always going to demand a better moon buggy. That process is potentially infinite. It takes us precisely nowhere. They, meanwhile, sit there with a grotesque, dysfunctional contraption of randomly assembled Lego parts feeling no need at all to explain what it’s meant to be. They just stick a Union flag on it and it gets to be whatever they want it to be.

At the risk of stretching the analogy beyond breaking point, the timing of the referendum is crucial because British Nationalists have already started stealing our Lego parts. Some of us are warning about this process of attrition. We’re doing so calmly. Maybe Julie Hepburn and her colleagues should consider opening the door of that soundproof room so they can hear us. They might even think about coming out and actually talking to us.

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12 thoughts on “From outside the soundproof room

  1. Like the Lego moon buggy analogy Peter. SNP parliamentarians, some of them, are a wee bit too ready to believe they have stellar rank and the grass roots should keep quiet and await their decisions. While I value Sturgeon she has alas set the autocratic tone in her party in recent years by an over-inclination to use the personal pronoun in speeches and sound bites. “I’m doing this”, “I’ve introduced that”, “I’m bringing forward legislation”, “my government”, “a vote for me”, “that’s why I’ve decided” etc etc.


    1. I note that you provide no links to specific examples. But that’s not the way this works, is it?

      What you see as setting an “autocratic tone” I see as taking personal responsibility. But that’s because I choose not to disregard the fact that the First Minister is personally responsible for a great many things.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wasn’t having a go at Sturgeon’s record at all. Merely in the language she sometimes uses. And I was suggesting a link between Wishart’s negative attitude to debate and Sturgeon’s presidential style at press conferences. I think if you look back at Sturgeon interviews and speeches on youtube you’ll find the personal pronoun gets used a lot. A more collegiate tone would be better.


        1. But would a “more collegiate” tone be appropriate when Sturgeon is referring to matters that are the personal responsibility of the First Minister? Or would it tend to sound like trying to “spread the blame”? How you see it depends on the prejudices you bring to the question.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Great points Peter. Well past time that politicians realised they have been granted the privilege of representing the people rather than winning a competition that allows them to autocratically rule over us.


  3. Hi Peter. Good article as usual. My “problem” (and I appreciate that I might be the only one) is how to ensure that the debate, when to comes, on Independence Reprise, is how to focus on the principles of self-determination and not be sidetracked by the minutiae of POLICY, which will be determined by whomever the Scottish electorate entrust in an Independent country.

    I understand the currency issue: so we need a simple narrative that Scotland will have a currency of its closing and in its best interests.

    About the economy: we need a simple message that iScotland has massive resources, far more than any other comparable small independence country, and are pro-Union people saying we are so inept that we can’t maximize these for the benefits of all Scots?

    Of course it leaves questions, but then so does a Brexit UK or even an EU-UK. Policy by successive WM governments has not exactly been overwhelmingly successful. The message is, of course we can do better, but POLICY will be presented to the Scottish people who can choose the party they feel most confident will deliver.

    Better brains than me need t start sorting this out or we will just have IndyRef remix, with the same predictable result. This may be our last good chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “how to focus on the principles of self-determination and not be sidetracked”

      “we need a simple narrative that Scotland will have a currency”

      “we need a simple message that iScotland has massive resources”

      See what you did there?


    2. @Tony L

      Please excuse, but the only way I could unpack Peter’s response to your post was to see if I could see where the stream of earnest YES points we all have gets muddled.

      Don’t feel alone.
      The YES movement is getting lost in its own dust storm. Many discussions lack momentum and too many are mixing up points from 2014, policy and the current looming threat to Scottish sovereignty.

      I think you put and then mix 3 key points.

      2- WHAT IS THE REFERENDUM ABOUT? – Self-determination/Loosing sovereignty.

      Points 1 & 2 above (the debate / the issue) are crucial here and is at the heart of the friction between positions advocated for by Peter Bell vs. those by Pete Wishart .

      For many still in the mindset of 2014 Indyref or early post-Brexit result, which point is the priority is mistakenly a chicken and egg scenario. However, when the brexit vote occurred, no one fully extrapolated/knew the potential dangers to Scotland.

      If you want to break out in a cold sweat just consider the implications of the following 4 revelations/facts:

      * BREXIT HENRY VIII powers –
      Ministers alone can change repeal any
      act/law with out parliament approval

      * SCOTLAND OFFICE – Supersized
      Indycar’s information about a secret & massive
      expansion of Westminster’s Scotland Office….(why and what for)

      * A NEW ACT OF UNION – by Westminster
      Sooooo freaky. How can anyone in Scotland sleep at night.

      Once a convention is broken by parliament,
      it is no longer part of the UK Constitution.
      Any new convention is part of the Constitution.

      If you don’t see it… just feed POINT 1 into POINT 4, and then apply to POINTS 2 & 3.

      HENCE. This is not the 2014 question of self-determination. This is potentially an existential threat to Scotland’s very sovereignty.

      Westminster appears to be on a campaign of misdirection of massive proportions. While everyone has been looking at Westminster through the lens of an organized Brexit and only seeing incompetence. Westminster has been careful to silo its actions regarding transfer of power to the Cabinet executive and transitioning Westminster to a totally dominant centre. (Hence its murmurs about a British single market and by extension its attacks on Scottish law and parliament)

      While people are mockingly deriding the Tories for lack of planning at ports, the Tory Cabinet has been building the foundations of a new and very dangerous legislative framework. Think of it like a joint the dots picture….at the moment we the public only see random dots…The full impact will only become obvious once they link them at the end.

      If this is the case, the argument between IF/WHEN and THREAT is a false argument. Anyone who has done project scheduling will tell you…what ever is the critical factor will determine everything else.

      This is easy to see by looking at the extremes.
      – If you had to organize Independence TOMORROW. The timeframe limits how.
      – If you have to get a SUPERMAJORITY—it determines the process.


      If you have to get both:
      …time remains the lead issue.

      On the last point,

      There is a saying that the ground is as comfortable as you are tired.

      The level of threat to Scotland determines the level to which all the subsequent questions need to be answered (or if they are even asked).

      Just as an example, If I told you that within 6months Scotland would cease to be a country, have any parliament, and be assimilated permanently within Brittan as a region…

      What would you do?
      Would you vote for independence?
      How many details of the future independent Scotland’s arrangement would you need fully answered?

      ……….THE MANDATE……….
      People appear to have forgotten the SNP mandate is not a universal “VOTE FOR SNP and HAVE INDYREF2’. It was very specific….

      IF there was a material change
      of circumstance, Scotland reserves
      the right to hold another referendum….

      The current mandate has only been trigged because of new circumstances. AND these are now emerging as an exponentially greater threat to Scotland’s sovereignty than any previous issue (since the Act of Union).

      YES needs to be Strong and honest about the issues. Also, if YES can’t sell the independence case when their sovereignty (being a country) is being removed, then that is a huge problem for the YES movement.

      OH…and to end…

      There potentially really is only 6 -12 months until Scotland faces the danger of no longer being a sovereign country….Less if Westminster crashes out of Brexit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the lengthy response Tom. Nothing I can disagree with. Does that make me a ‘cult’ member?


    3. @Tony L

      No problems. Apologies for the length…but this doesn’t make sense unless the case is laid out.

      I notice more and more, we often all get caught in a mass of good ideas and intentions, but few YES’ers have a clear direction and vision that helps hone their arguments. Or arguments that you get the feeling are a winning case that makes everyone excited.

      Looking at it anecdotally, I suspect this lack of clear momentum harks back to the 2017 Westminster election. This is where YES chose to keep its independance head down to avoid snipping from the UK Press and Unionist parties (colonizers)…and potentially waiting for a Brexit free kick. This small target approach inhibited YES’s ability to spend the last 18months aligning its message, communicating the real threats and building the movement.

      Just between us, never give the opposition room though self-deprication…It inadvertently acknowledges their false arguments. Cult…what cult…Personally, I would always chose to live in a a just parliamentary democracy over a regime that rules by executive decree. England can head to dystopic playground for the wealthy all it wants…A new lord of the files island doesn’t interest me at all.

      I hope YES is able to change the debate to a field Westminster can not play on…(in reality that is a possibility gifted by Westminster’s machinations). YES needs to get to a place where its arguments have the cutting power to unmask Westminster’s & the MSM distortions with simple grabs.

      Here is hoping all your Unicorns are free.


  4. Lemmings to a man…. you will lose any referendum if it his held before 2021, and you will certainly lose your overall majority in Hollyrood also.
    Happy days indeed to see you all snarling at each other.


  5. @geacher

    That is such and interesting post. I am curious as to the important flip-side points contained in your comments.

    What is your view past 2021?
    ….I don’t think you are inferring YES would naturally win after 2021.

    Do you mean there will be no future mandate?
    ….You state – There will not be an Independence mandate in the Scottish parliament after the next election…I don’t think you are stating that Scottish Labor or Tory will give a post 2021 independence referendum.

    Hope you reply.


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