However interesting or, very occasionally, insightful Pete Wishart may be, he can always be relied upon to spoil the statesmanlike pose he seeks to strike by saying something profoundly stupid. In this case it’s the truly inane notion that anybody might suppose a second referendum defeat would be “consequence-free”. I confidently assert that nobody has ever made such a claim and that nobody actually believes such obvious idiocy.
So why does Pete Wishart feel the need to call in aid such a clownish straw man? Perhaps because his analysis is so shallow and weak it needs whatever straw man it can clutch at.
What Pete Wishart says about Canada’s federal system and Quebec’s place within it is interesting. His conclusion that there can be no way to replicate such a federal structure in the UK could quite reasonably be described as insightful – even if it is hardly a novel or, indeed, an uncommon insight. But he utterly fails to follow through the logical implications for any comparison between Scotland’s independence cause and the cause promoted by the Parti Quebecois. He notes the huge differences between the two situations, then abandons rational analysis to conclude that, despite these massive differences, the fate of Quebec’s independence movement would be exactly matched in Scotland were we also to lose a second independence referendum.
Apart from his pursuit of John Bercow’s job, Pete Wishart is probably best known for his hyper-cautious approach to a new constitutional referendum in Scotland. In numerous articles and statements he has made it clear that he favours indefinite delay. He believes in something called the ‘Optimal Time’ – a perfect moment when all circumstances align so as to make victory for Yes absolutely certain. He also believes that it is possible to predict this moment many months in advance – although he has never, to the best of my knowledge, explained how the ‘Optimal Time’ might be identified. He has never, as far as I am aware, set out the criteria by which the ‘Optimal Time’ might be defined.
Believing that losing a second referendum could be “consequence-free” seems almost sensible compared to believing in the ability to foresee something which can’t even be described.
But Pete Wishart’s faith is more than a match for any reasoned argument about the difficulties of predicting something which we will only be able to recognise after it has happened. And maybe not even then. His faith in the wisdom of indefinitely delaying a new referendum is sufficient to overcome any concerns about the implications of such a course of inaction. He really does seem to believe that delay is “consequence-free”.
His belief in a mystical ‘Optimal Time’ is such that every analysis must be bent to its service. Thus, he is no doubt genuinely incapable of seeing that the impossibility of a Quebec-style constitutional settlement; the fundamental nature of the British state; and the motivations of Scotland’s independence cause all conspire to make it extremely unlikely that Scotland’s civic nationalist movement would be affected by a second defeat in any way similarly to Quebec’s sovereigntist movement.
Quebec’s independence movement has largely died because it was possible to find a constitutional settlement within the federation which was satisfactory. Scotland’s independence movement won’t die because the Union makes a satisfactory settlement impossible.
Independence is inevitable, and the independence cause indefinitely sustainable, because any constitutional arrangement within the UK which succeeds in terms of the aims, ambitions and purposes of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.
Of course, losing a second referendum would not be “consequence-free”. But what Pete Wishart determinedly refuses to recognise is that the consequences of delay are no different from the consequences of defeat. To assume the ability to survive the former is to assume we would survive the latter.
There are many ways in which the independence cause might suffer another setback. But I know the Yes movement well enough to realise that nothing would break its spirit more certainly than looking back and seeing that we lost because we were afraid to try.
There is no ‘Optimal Moment’ waiting to be discovered. There is only the moment you seize and make of what you can.