That was hard work! I just read Pete Wishart’s latest ‘contribution’ to the ongoing debate about the timing of Scotland’s new independence referendum. Actually, I’ve read it three times now. And I’m still no clearer about the reasoning behind his determination to indefinitely postpone the vote. I find lots of things in the veteran SNP MP’s most recent blog. Reasoning is conspicuous only by its absence.
I find contradiction and inconsistency. As when, towards the end of the article, he claims he wants to “rescue our nation from a disastrous Brexit and a UK determined to erode out [sic] national Parliament”, but only after “Brexit impacts and people actively want out of an isolated, desolated UK”. And only after giving the British political elite all the time it needs to pursue the ‘One Nation’ project that is already in progress.
At least he acknowledges the British Nationalist threat to the Scottish Parliament; even if only in a casual aside, complete with clumsy spelling error, which suggests he doesn’t take that threat very seriously. It is possible, I suppose, to see this as progress – given that he previously appeared totally oblivious to the jeopardy facing Scotland’s democratic institutions. But I’m still finding absolutely no sense of urgency. As with Brexit, the impression is that Pete Wishart is content to let the damage be done in the hope that this will provoke a reaction which favours the independence cause.
It seems that the ‘optimum conditions’ Pete Wishart is seeking involve Scotland suffering massive economic harm and imposed constitutional ‘reform’ that may well be irreversible. As a political strategy, this leaves something to be desired.
Some will doubtless protest my mentioning one of several spelling errors. They will say that it is petty to point out things like ‘countries’ instead of ‘country’s’. They will insist that these are trivialities. That they are meaningless. But consider the context. Pete Wishart himself acknowledges how critical the issue of timing of the new referendum is and the importance of the debate. His interventions suggest he believes he brings something significant to this debate. So you’d think he’d at least do a basic spell-check. Perhaps get somebody to take a look over his text prior to publication.
Even if you’re prepared to shrug off the spelling errors, you surely must have cringed as mightily as myself at Pete Wishart’s use of the term “sweet spot” in relation to the impact of Brexit on Scotland. Words matter! Especially in politics. We have to seriously question the political judgement of somebody who uses such inappropriate language when referring to potentially catastrophic impact of Scotland being dragged out of the EU against the wishes of the Scottish people and without even the semblance of a plan.
“Sweet spot”!? Really? Get a grip, Pete!
The failure to address criticism of his argument for indefinite postponement is, perhaps, explained by the way Pete Wishart chooses to frame the discussion. He says,
The debate seems to centre round whether we should proceed with a referendum simply because we currently posses [sic] a mandate or whether we hold one when there is good evidence it can be won.
This is one of those occasions when the word ‘disingenuous’ comes in very handy. It serves us well if the aim is to avoid the bluntness of terms such as ‘self-serving’ and ‘dishonest’. We might also reach for phrases such as ‘unfortunate misapprehension’ in euphemistic preference to ‘wilful misrepresentation’. Or ‘regrettable oversimplification’ rather than ‘deliberate distortion’.
I have been closely following the debate about timing of the new referendum. I have never seen anybody suggest that “we should proceed with a referendum simply because we currently posses a mandate”. Certainly, the fact that the Scottish Government has a mandate is among the arguments against indefinite postponement. But it is just as certainly not the sole argument.
By framing the debate as “simply” a matter of possessing a mandate, Pete Wishart obviously hopes to evade the more complex issues and the awkward questions being asked. Such as how he proposes to justify failure to act on the mandate. In future, when the SNP goes to the people of Scotland asking for a mandate, how does he suggest party campaigners and supporters respond to those who point to evidence that the SNP cannot be trusted to use that mandate?
Pete Wishart seems perfectly prepared to treat the existing mandate with a disdain barely distinguishable from that exhibited by British Nationalists. But he is evidently not prepared to deal with the consequences. For all he has to say on the topic, we could be forgiven for thinking he doesn’t even recognise that there shall surely be consequences.
His framing of the debate sets this fallaciously simplistic portrayal of the mandate issue in opposition to the very rational-sounding proposition that the referendum should be held “when there is good evidence it can be won”. Excitement mounts as we anticipate long-awaited answers to questions about how those ‘optimum conditions’ are defined and how they are to be predicted an unspecified length of time in advance.
In what appears to be a stab at a literary device to build tension, Pete then proceeds to describe, at considerable length, what does not define ‘optimum conditions’. Or is it what defines what ‘optimum conditions’ are not? It’s difficult to tell. And, frankly, by the time we’ve waded through this section it’s hard to care.
Pete Wishart devotes well over 300 words to the matter of what ‘optimum conditions’ are not. It would be interesting if we could compare this directly with the attention he gives to explaining what ‘optimum conditions’ actually are. But I’ve searched in vain for anything resembling a clear and explicit definition.
If I was asked to summarise Pete Wishart’s argument it would go something like this –
OBEY THE POLLS!
That’s it! That’s really all there is to it. Don’t do anything while the polls are saying the ‘optimum conditions’ don’t exist. Wait until the polls offer “good evidence” that those still undefined ‘optimum conditions’ are going to exist at some undefined – and almost certainly undefinable – time in the future.
To be fair, Pete does offer some advice on “what we need to do to start to move towards ‘optimal conditions’”. At which point, those conscious of the urgency of Scotland’s situation will probably be sitting with their head in their hands sobbing in frustration and despair. I know I was.
What then follows does nothing to alleviate that frustration and despair. Pete’s advice is to make a “new case” for independence. But what he goes on to describe is nothing more than a rerun of the first referendum campaign. There is absolutely nothing “new” in what he proposes. His great idea is to revisit the narrative dictated by Project Fear. He’s not talking about fighting a new referendum campaign. He’s talking about resuming the old one. Which probably stands to reason as he doesn’t want a new referendum.
If we follow Pete Wishart’s advice we will engage in a campaign for a referendum, that isn’t happening because the ‘optimum conditions’ don’t exist, using the tactics and arguments that all too evidently failed to create the ‘optimum conditions’ in 2014.
And still there is not a word about how he intends to address what the ‘One Nation’ project implies for Scotland. Not a word about how the British state is to be prevented from unilaterally ripping up the devolution settlement; emasculating the Scottish Parliament; eradicating our distinctive political culture and decimating our public services while we dither and waver at the insistence of Pete and the Postponers.
Again, and again, and again! The consequences of attempting to save Scotland from the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project and failing are no different from the consequences that flow from failing to try. Pete Wishart flatly refuses to address or consider or even acknowledge the consequences of indefinitely postponing our new independence referendum.
If I come across as exasperated and angry it’s because I am not deceived. I know that the British state is not benign. It is because I am not complacent. I know what the British state intends. It is because I am seriously afraid for what will happen to Scotland if we do not make a stand now!
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