The following is partly based on my notes for a speech given at the Hope Over Fear Rally in George Square, Glasgow on Saturday 15 September 2018.
“They wouldn’t be that stupid!” Thus did Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp pronounce his verdict on the UK Government. Admittedly, he was responding to the provocative suggestion that the British state might, at some point in the foreseeable future, declare the Scottish National Party a proscribed organisation. The founder and CEO of Business for Scotland (BfS) was answering questions from the audience at a meeting in the Grampian Hotel, Perth on Thursday night (13 September) jointly organised by Yes Perth City and SNP Perth St Johnstoun Branch. A packed room at the sell-out event had just watched Gordon give a slickly professional presentation setting out an economic case intended to bolster the constitutional demand for independence. Nobody does this better. Whether he is explaining how Scotland is economically disadvantaged by being part of the UK or setting out his vision of a new kind of ‘economics with a social conscience’, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp presents his material with the confidence, conviction and comfortable good-humour of a man totally on top of his subject. On matters economic, he is utterly convincing. On venturing into the realm of politics, perhaps less so.
It should be made clear, at this juncture, that the notion of the SNP being banned under UK law did not come from some bampot in a Bacofoil bunnet. The remark was made by a well-known and highly respected local Yes activist who was seeking to make a point about the lengths to which the British establishment might go driven by the imperative to maintain the British state’s grip on Scotland. The point being made was that we underestimate the manifest stupidity of the British political elite at our peril.
I’ve no doubt there was a time prior to the 2016 EU referendum when the invariable response to suggestions that the British government might try to extricate the UK from the EU without so much as the pretence of any planning was, “They wouldn’t be that stupid!”. I know for a fact that right up to the moment Theresa May’s administration called a snap general election in 2017 there were people insisting that, “They wouldn’t be that stupid!”. Going back through the less recent history of the British state I’m certain one could identify any number of episodes which were, or could quite justifiably have been, preceded by the exclamation, “They wouldn’t be that stupid!”. Any expression of doubt about the British political elite’s capacity for stupidity risks giving the impression of naivety. Out of respect for Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, I’ll put it no more strongly than that.
We would be stupid to imagine that the British state is benign.
We would be stupid to ignore the fact that the British state is founded on a political union which contrives to deny to the people of Scotland the due and proper exercise of their sovereignty.
We would be stupid to disregard the fact that the British state has already seized powers which must rightfully belong to the Scottish Parliament as the only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland.
We would be stupid to neglect the fact that the British state has already awarded itself the legal authority to strip further powers from the Scottish Parliament at will. Or that it is in the process of establishing the necessary apparatus to administer those powers in the form of the ominously titled ‘UK Government in Scotland’.
We would be stupid to remain oblivious to the British state’s efforts to marginalise the Scottish Government; delegitimise the Scottish Parliament; and, by means of a relentless propaganda campaign of distortion, disinformation and denigration, to undermine confidence in Scotland’s democratic institutions and public services.
We would be stupid to suppose that there is no purpose to all of this. We would be stupid to imagine the purpose might have anything at all to do with serving Scotland’s interests.
Given what is at stake, we cannot afford to be naive. We cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot afford to be stupid.
“Brexit is the key!” This is another phrase that has remained firmly lodged in my mind following Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s presentation. The theory being that once the – presumably ‘unfortunate’- reality of Brexit fully impacts on the people of Scotland they will flock to the independence cause. I have a few problems with this. For a start, there is the perversity of wishing on the people of Scotland the worst that Brexit might bring. Call me old-fashioned, but I see it as the role of the progressive Yes movement to oppose every harmful policy that the British state seeks to impose on Scotland. Furthermore, I regard it as the solemn duty of the Scottish Government to protect us from such harm. The idea of facilitating potentially catastrophic damage for political gain is something I find utterly reprehensible and totally repugnant. Even if the gain were to be an end to the Union.
Another problem with the ‘wait and see’ strategy is that it is quite falsely portrayed as a consequence-free option. I have yet to find any advocate of postponing action on the constitutional issue until ‘after Brexit’ who is even prepared to acknowledge that the British government will not be idle while we dither. The project to lock Scotland into a unilaterally rewritten constitutional arrangement is not going to be put on hold for the convenience of the hesitant and indecisive elements of the Yes movement. The process by which Scotland’s status within the UK is redefined continues independently of the Brexit timetable. That process is already in train. It is happening now. There is absolutely no rational reason to suppose it will be suspended until ‘after Brexit’.
What does that phrase even mean? How might ‘after Brexit’ be defined? Brexit isn’t an event or an occurrence. It is a condition. It is a new and continuing reality – constitutional, economic, diplomatic, social, cultural and everything else. Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp spoke of a ‘Brexit deal’ as something being signed, sealed and delivered – with a full-stop gesture for emphasis – as if we are all going to awake one morning to a definitive awareness of all that is implied by being dragged out of the EU against our democratic will and without any plan or preparation. It is this awareness, together with an immediate tangible impact on pockets, which is proposed as the thing which will give decisive impetus to the independence campaign.
This is deplorable, and potentially dangerous, nonsense. There will be neither clarity nor any moment of epiphany. Relations between the UK and the EU will be in flux for decades. The ‘deal’ will be a fudge and there will be just as many accounts of what Brexit ‘really means’ after it has supposedly happened as there have been to date.
The theory that people will be firmly nudged towards Yes by the reality of Brexit is fatally flawed for another reason. It is not the reality that matters. What matters is the perception. And who controls the apparatus by which public perception is manipulated? The British state, of course! Even if it were true that “Brexit is the key!”, that key is entirely in the hands of a British state with a massive propaganda machine at its disposal. I don’t want the key to Scotland’s future in the hands the British political elite. I want the key to Scotland’s future firmly in the grasp of Scotland’s people.
I urge that we seize that key with all due haste rather than wait in the hope that it will fall into our hands.
I reluctantly acknowledge that there will be no referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018. History will judge whether I was right to press for this date. But my main purpose in pressing for action at the earliest opportunity remains valid. All too evidently, there is still a need to inject a sense of urgency into the independence campaign. It was immensely heartening to see elected SNP politicians on the stage at the Hope Over Fear Rally. The warmth with which they were received by the crowd in George Square – by no means all ‘natural’ SNP supporters – clearly indicated how welcome this engagement is. There was a palpable sense of something akin to relief that here, at last, was some sign of the de facto political arm of the independence cause reaching out to connect with the grassroots Yes movement in a way that the bulk of the Yes movement is now reaching out to the SNP.
I am surely far from alone in entertaining the fervent hope that the appearance of SNP elected members at a Hope Over Fear Rally, and the manner in which they were welcomed, signifies something meaningful for the independence cause. Perhaps a start to restoring a unity which has, on occasion, seemed a bit fragile. Perhaps something more.
But the impetus which will drive the final stage of our project to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will not come from those SNP politicians alone. That impetus must come from rank-and-file SNP members and the grassroots Yes movement. We must stand ready to provide that impetus. We must continue to demand action. We must be determined to break the Union.
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9 thoughts on “A significant day”
Thank you for this Peter. I needed to see someone is still sounding the alarm.
But even more importantly, I am so glad a notable voice is recognising that YES this time needs the SNP to be their weapon. As such, more than ever, YES needs to take on the role of creating clean air for the SNP so it can cut through.
If YES leave the SNP without a majority support or mired in a cacophony of BBC noise about day-to-day government…Independence’s real political weapon will have no impact.
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Yes, this facile belief now being punted in some kind of post-Brexit mass epiphany is dangerous self-deluded nonsense. If pursued, it will lose us the best chance we will ever have of our freedom. We need to start actively setting the agenda, not meekly following one set by others while passively hoping that it will somehow all magically work out right.
I tend to think that if the UK state wanted to take control quickly they would just blow something Scottish up, blame the Russians or someone else, and then take control and expect us to thank them for the use of the “broad shoulders” of the UK in our time of need. If ever a country was ripe for a false flag attack in the near future, it is Scotland.
I’m pretty certain that this winter will provide the opportunity to take control they are seeking and afterwards they’ll just forget to leave. I think they had a UK wide media dress rehearsal with the focus on tiny (<2k) Strathblane in March this year. Despite Lincolnshire and Cumbria in England having major problems with snow over a much wider area, involving far more people, causing much more disruption and lasting significantly longer the news seemed inordinately concerned about a tiny Scottish village. https://www.channel4.com/news/scottish-families-still-cut-off-after-the-beast-from-the-east
Very well said Peter.
The Scottish electorate learnt a very hard (and slow) lesson with the Labour Party.
That impacts on SNP Policy in that their every request to ‘keep our powder dry’ will be held up to scrutiny to see if what they are actually doing is ‘pulling their punches’.
There is no good news about Brexit, the can will be kicked down the road, but even a Blind Brexit will be clear enough for businesses and investors and jobs will (and already have) start the exodus.
We must start campaigning to save our country. Now we must.
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I admire your writing and your speaking Peter. Most of all I admire your energy and determination. This piece is well up to the usual quality that is expected of you these days. I have one request though which I hope that you will be able to consider, or re-consider, as the case may be.
Westminster does not deserve the benefit of continuing to be associated with the word “British”. “UKish” fits it better. “UcKish is better still but the acronym fails. For many of my generation and older, British Road Services, British Railways, British Overseas Airways Corporation and British Gas etc. trigger happier political memories ..not to mention the role of our forefathers in the British Army in the winning of two world wars. My demographic (Over 60 and resident in Scotland by choice rather than by virtue of having been born here) is surely one of the keys to success in #ScotRef. IMO We will get to Indy easier if we don’t destroy fond memories unnecessarily to do so. There is no need to. Please consider improving your outstandingly great contributions to the Indy effort by attacking UKishness instead of Britishness but without changing the force or effectiveness of your attack. UKishness is an easier target. It is also a more fitting target. In the eyes of some, Scottish UKishness will disappear by the move to iScotland, but many regard Scottish Britishness as an unchangeable geographical feature.
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Once again you are the voice or reason. I also wanted the referendum to take place on the 20th September, but alas that wasn’t to be. I am also afraid of what is to come if we leave going for a referendum until after Brexit. I do not underestimate the British State, they have not blatantly set up a government in Scotland. That in itself should be enough to have the alarm bells ringing.
Brilliant as always.
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Peter Bell, great article and I could not agree more. The SNP seem to be waiting for brexit to bite, which I believe will be a disastrous mistake. The way the rabble at Westminster are behaving now, makes this the perfect time to call a referendum. But no section 30 order, not required and limits your options if voting is rigged. I want to see Scotland independent at least two months before brexit, so that some of the transition period is still covered by EU laws.
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