Out of time

I fear the Yes movement has rather left Angus Robertson behind. All this stuff about “focus groups” and “research” and “the pro-independence message” just seems so 2012. The political landscape has changed dramatically since the first Scottish independence referendum. Many of us realised even in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 referendum that there would have to be another – and that it would be very different. This realisation doesn’t appear to have reached the higher echelons of the SNP. Which, considering the vital role the party has in the independence movement, is more than a little disturbing.

We are months away from a new referendum. I know the First Minister is talking about the “latter half” of 2020, but that has to be no more than political gamesmanship. Brexit is happening on 31 October 2019. There is no realistic possibility of the EU granting a further extension, even less chance of Article 50 being revoked and only slightly better odds on a UK general election being called. Even if any of these things wasn’t such a long shot, we simply cannot afford to proceed on the assumption that they will happen. The policy of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst is well past its sell-by date.

The timetable has shifted by a year. So all the arguments that were relevant to having the referendum in September 2018 now apply to September 2019. The constitutional implications of Brexit for Scotland – which have been quietly festering in the background while everybody has been distracted by pointless ‘economic arguments’ – will now kick in towards the end of this year. And they will kick in hard. Because, by the end of the summer, the Tories will have chosen a new leader and a new British Prime Minister. They look set to choose a hard-right ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist.

First day on the job, this new Tory PM will be looking for a way to make his mark. (Let’s assume, for convenience, that the male pronoun is appropriate.) He will want to impress the massive chunk of the Tory vote which absconded to Farage’s ‘Brexit Party’ in the European Parliament elections. It will also suit him to divert attention from the whole Brexit shambles, This will be easier than trying to pretend he is in control of the situation. He could declare war on Iran. Or he could declare war on Scotland’s independence movement. Which do you think is more likely?

Taking all of this into account, Thursday 19 September 2019 looks like a good day for that new referendum. Which means the ‘hot’ campaign would start around the beginning of August.

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But, of course, campaigning will be going on all through the eight weeks before that. We have to think very hard about the nature of that campaign. Some of us have been thinking about it since the day after the 2014 vote. Angus Robertson has a bit of catching up to do. In fact, he has a huge amount of catching up to do if the SNP is to provide the leadership that the independence movement will need over the next few months. To be talking about research and focus groups at this stage seems oddly detached from the situation on the ground.

Unless Nicola Sturgeon has a team beavering away in a secret lair inside a volcano somewhere, it looks as if no preparation at all has been done for the coming referendum campaign. The impression is that groups like Progress Scotland have been hastily cobbled together to give the appearance of being on top of the situation. But it’s all too late.

Seven or eight years too late, by my reckoning. Because when I read what Angus Robertson says about “research” and “focus groups” and formulating the “pro-independence message”, I’m reading about preparations for the 2014 referendum. I’m reading about preparations for the wrong campaign. I’m reading about preparations which are, not only tragically belated, but woefully misguided.

All of which puts a burden of responsibility on the increasing number of people in the Yes movement who realise the need for a new referendum this year and recognise that the campaign must take the form of an all-out assault on the Union. If the SNP leadership isn’t listening, then we have to shout louder.

We will have an opportunity to try again to get Nicola Sturgeon’s attention at #AUOBGalashiels on Saturday 1 June. A date which, coincidentally, should mark the start of the campaign to #DissolveTheUnion. We must ask ourselves, if the SNP won’t take the lead in this campaign, who will?

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