I am passionate about independence. I am passionate about independence because I am passionate about justice. I detest injustice. I abhor unfairness. I execrate social, political and economic arrangements which are fuelled by exploitation and inequity and insecurity. I despise the elites who contrive and perpetuate gross social imbalances for their own social, political and economic advantage.
I am passionate about independence because I am passionate about democracy. I hold these truths to be self-evident: that the people are sovereign; that the sovereignty of the people is absolute and inalienable; that all legitimate political authority derives from and returns to the people. Only by way of fully functioning participative democracy can the people be an effective countervailing force with the capacity to confront entrenched elites and challenge established power.
I am passionate about restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status because the Union is a grotesque constitutional anomaly by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty which is theirs by right. The Union is an affront to justice and an insult to democracy. The structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state represent the very antithesis of fundamental democratic principles.
In every fibre of my being and every fraction of my intellect I carry the conviction that, in the name of justice and democracy, the Union must be dissolved and constitutional normality reinstated in Scotland. Only by breaking free of the British state can Scotland realise its potential as a nation and work towards its aspirations as a society.
I am not passionate about the Scottish National Party. I am a member of the SNP. I support the party in various ways. I campaign for its candidates in elections. I celebrate its electoral successes. But I can’t say I’m passionate about it. The very notion of being passionate about a political party seems distinctly odd – even a bit disturbing.
Just as trade unions are the means by which individuals exercise power in the realm of employment, so political parties are the means by which we exercise power in the sphere of public policy. Both offer individuals the opportunity to combine and act collectively. Both serve an entirely practical purpose. I favour the SNP because it is the best tool for the job.
As the party of government, the SNP has proved to be remarkably effective. The bit of the party leader’s address to conference which catalogues the administration’s past achievements and declares its future intentions is never problematic for Nicola Sturgeon. They don’t get everything done. They don’t get everything right. But they earn the highest accolade that a political party in Scotland might hope for – they’re a’ right. The people are the ultimate arbiters of whether a government is doing an acceptable job. The fact that the SNP has a minimum lead of around 24 points over the British parties, despite the rabid hostility of the British media and the rest of the British establishment, proves that I’m far from alone in reckoning that, when it comes to government, the SNP is simply the best tool for the job.
Some would say that they’re the only tool available. Certainly, the British parties have disqualified themselves from government by their refusal to respect the sovereign will of Scotland’s people and their open contempt for the Scottish Parliament. They don’t even pretend to serve Scotland’s interests. They serve only the British state. The SNP’s lead over the British parties may, in part, be explained by the fact that, in electoral terms, they and the British parties are not really in the same race. The SNP is at least attempting to appeal to the entire nation. The British parties are just squabbling over the diminishing British Nationalist vote.
There are rational reasons to elect an SNP government. Nobody votes for any of the British parties in the belief that Scotland would be better governed by them. People vote for the British parties solely in the fervent hope of preserving the Union, at whatever cost to Scotland.
As the party of independence, it is even more obvious that there is no alternative to the SNP. Only the SNP is in a position to provide the effective political power without which the independence movement cannot prevail against the British state. Anyone who disputes this can safely be dismissed as a fantasist.
But being the one and only party of independence puts an onus on the SNP to find an accommodation with the wider independence movement. And to do so as a matter of urgency. Similarly, the wider Yes movement must find an accommodation with the SNP. Yes activists outwith the SNP must accept that, while the Yes movement is wonderfully diverse, the SNP cannot have the same kind of flexibility. Just about every policy agenda imaginable can exist under the umbrella of the Yes movement. The SNP, as a political party, can only stand on that policy agenda which has been approved by its members.
In matters of policy there can only be tolerance and the realisation that no policy agenda is worth the beer-mat it’s scribbled on unless independence is achieved. Where the SNP and the Yes movement will find a workable accommodation is, not on matters of policy, but on the fundamental principles of justice and democracy discussed above.
The best that can be said of the SNP in this regard is that it has a great deal of work to do. Some of the things Nicola Sturgeon said in her address to the SNP Spring Conference give great cause for concern. Let’s take a look at a few quotes.
We must recognise that these are different times and new circumstances. This isn’t a re-running of 2014. The UK that existed then does not exist any more. Our approach must be different.
I would wholeheartedly endorse this statement, but for the fact that nothing in what follows matches up to the sentiment. Everything that is known about what Nicola Sturgeon calls “our strategy to win our country’s independence” suggests the intention to take precisely the same approach as for the 2014 referendum. (I’ll come back to that word “win” later.) Take this, for example,
We are establishing a non-party Citizens’ Assembly so that people from across Scotland can guide the conversation.
While I enthusiastically welcome anything that seems intended to encourage engagement with politics and facilitate participation in the democratic process, in terms of the independence campaign is this not looking like a revamped Yes Scotland? Does it not seem that, just as in 2012, the SNP feels the need to put in place some sort of buffer between itself and the wider independence movement? Whatever else it may be, The Citizens’ Assembly has the appearance of a device to keep the Yes movement at arms length.
Is another talking shop what the independence movement needs at this juncture? Look at what Nicola Sturgeon said the Citizens’ Assembly will be “tasked with considering”.
What kind of country are we seeking to build?
How can we best overcome the challenges we face, including those arising from Brexit?
And what further work should be carried out to give people the detail they need to make informed choices about the future of the country?
Again, Mike Russell will set out more details shortly, and seek views from other parties on the operation and remit.
Haven’t we done all this? Haven’t we been ‘having this conversation’ for at least seven years? What is the point? How does any of this relate to the ‘different approach’ to the independence campaign which is required?
What the Yes movement needs right now is, not more research or more analysis or more discussion, but more leadership!
And so I can announce today that we will now launch the biggest campaign on the economics of independence in our party’s history
Isn’t that exactly the basis on which the 2014 campaign was fought? Wasn’t one of the main problems with the campaign that we allowed British Nationalists to take the debate onto the ground of economics so that we were prevented from discussing it as a constitutional issue?
Why is Nicola Sturgeon pandering to British Nationalists’ endless demands for more and better answers rather than demanding at least some answers from those who are determined to preserve an iniquitous constitutional arrangement?
There is no economic case against independence. Why, then, must there be an economic case for independence?
You cannot answer a constitutional question with a calculator!
For all her fine words about “our approach must be different”, Nicola Sturgeon can’t help drifting back to the same approach as was ultimately unsuccessful in the 2014 referendum campaign because she hasn’t changed her thinking since then. She’s coming at it with the same mindset. A mindset which is fatally flawed. A mindset which is evidenced by her characterisation of independence as a “prize” which must be “won” rather than as an absolute right which the British state is trying by devious means to withhold from the people of Scotland.
The SNP and the Yes movement must be purged of the idea that independence is something for which we must qualify in a series of tests set and marked by the British political elite. If we take this approach, there will always be another test. And there will always be at least one test which we cannot pass no matter how many Citizens’ Assemblies we task with finding the ‘correct’ answers.
Nicola Sturgeon again,
Independence is about the children we can lift out of poverty. And the fairer, more equal society we can create. That starts with building confidence in the economic case. Answering people’s questions. Addressing their concerns. And inspiring them about the future.
No! Independence is about rectifying the constitutional anomaly which allows the imposition on Scotland of the policies which cause children to be in poverty. It is the policies we then choose as an independent nation which will lift those children out of poverty. And it sure as hell doesn’t start with validating a lack of confidence about Scotland’s ability to manage its affairs. Or endlessly answering questions whose sole purpose is to create the impression of doubt. Even the attempt to answer such questions fosters uncertainty. It’s not more answers we need but better questions of our own. Questions that expose the true nature of the Union.
Despair seems to be my default state at the moment. Nicola Sturgeon’s conference address did nothing to dispel that despair. Reading it, I get the clear impression of an SNP leadership set on once again allowing the British establishment to set the agenda, determine the rules of engagement, and control the process. It’s just as well I wasn’t there to hear it.
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