I well remember the SNP Spring Conference in March 2016 and your rousing address to a packed auditorium at the SECC in Glasgow. I recall you referring to former First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, as one of your heroes and quoting her inspirational words “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I can still hear you declare that “Our dream is for Scotland to become independent. To be in the driving seat of our own destiny. To shape our own future.”
You called it a “beautiful dream”. So it was. And so it remains.
Three and a half years later we are no closer to realising that dream of restoring Scotland’s rightful status. A dream which, while still beautiful, has become tinged with a more poignant aspect of urgent longing and desperate trepidation. Now, more than ever, we need to be mindful of those other words of wisdom you borrowed from Eleanor Roosevelt “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
First Minister, may I respectfully observe that many of the people, across Scotland and beyond, who were inspired by what has come to be known as your “beautiful dream” speech have grown weary of wishing and now urgently long to see a plan for making that dream a reality. Some have even begun to fear that the dream may never be more than that. We need new hope. And we look to you to give us that hope.
I do not presume to speak for the independence movement. But I can claim to speak for Scotland’s cause. A cause that I have been part of for so long that it is now an essential part of me. Scotland’s cause is, I maintain, a worthy cause. A just cause. A righteous cause. But the core of that cause is not the extraordinary aspiration that independence is commonly made out to be, but the still glowing ember of resentment of the Union that was imposed on Scotland more than three hundred years ago.
This must be so – because independence is normal. Being in the driving seat of our own destiny is, not a vaulting ambition, but no more than we should expect. The capacity to shape our own future is a fundamental defining characteristic of a nation, and not something that we should be required to reach for in our dreams.
Independence may be portrayed as a “beautiful dream” for the purposes of inspirational rhetoric. But Scotland’s cause is the more prosaic matter of removing the obstacle to realisation of that dream. Scotland’s cause is reclaiming the capacity to shape our future. Scotland’s cause is retaking the driving seat of our destiny. Scotland’s cause is the entirely pragmatic issue of ending the Union which has usurped the driving seat of our destiny and which denies us the capacity to shape our future.
As I take Eleanor Roosevelt to have meant when she pointed out that “it takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan”, the effort we put into dreaming of change might better be applied to actual measures to effect the change we want. The dream may fuel the cause. But the cause must have a practical purpose into which that energy is channeled. The purpose of Scotland’s cause is the dissolution of the Union. The dream begins to become reality with achievement of that purpose..
First Minister, I too am something of an admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt. I find in her pithy aphorisms much that inspires me. And much that encapsulates and clarifies my own thoughts and feelings. It sometimes seems as if there is no set of circumstances for which one cannot find an apt quote of hers. And no present situation which cannot be brought to mind by something she once said.
For example, I read Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to “Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.” and immediately think of the Section 30 process and Boris Johnson. Or, for that matter, any British Prime Minister. I can only suppose that, when you commited so wholeheartedly to the Section 30 process, you were unaware of this advice. Although, given that you are known to be very well-read, it may be more likely that you simply didn’t consider the sage advice relevant. I have to say that I find this perplexing.
I find it perplexing because I have such difficulty understanding why you, as Scotland’s First Minister and de facto defender of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people, would not consider our right of self-determination to be absolute and beyond the whims of any British Prime Minister.
I fail to comprehend why a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional status cannot have democratic legitimacy on the basis of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and legal validity on the basis of international laws and conventions guaranteeing our right of self-determination.
Most of all, I cannot understand how both the democratic legitimacy of the exercise of our sovereignty and the legal validity of the exercise of our right of self-determination can be entirely contingent on the approval of a British Prime Minister whose democratic credentials are non-existent and who treats the law with the same arrogant contempt in which he holds Scotland.
I cannot grasp this. I cannot accept this. I do not consent to this.
Which brings to mind more wise words from Eleanor Roosevelt.
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
It is difficult to imagine being inferior to Boris Johnson. But that is what the Section 30 process does. It makes Scotland subordinate to the British state. Right now Boris Johnson is the British state. I do not consent to being made to feel inferior to Boris Johnson.
I recognise that your first priority at the moment is the removal of Boris Johnson from the role of representing the British political elite; rather than the removal of the British political elite from any role in Scotland’s affairs. Without knowing who will succeed the malignant child-clown I can offer you a cast-iron assurance that neither will I consent to being made to feel inferior to them.
I recognise that your second priority is to prevent a No Deal Brexit; rather than ensuring that Scotland’s Remain vote is honoured. Without knowing what ‘deal’ might be struck, I can assure you that I will never consent to Scotland’s voters being made to feel inferior to the voters of any other nation.
I want independence restored, not because I regard Scotland as superior to other nations, but because I refuse to accept that Scotland is inferior to any other nation. I do not consent to any policy or action on the part of the Scottish Government which allows Scotland to appear inferior or to be treated as inferior. I do not consent to someone being allowed to say no to Scotland who cannot have the power to say yes.
I close, First Minister, with two quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt which I think work well as a pair.
What one has to do can usually be done. What you don’t do can be a destructive force.
What you have to do is extricate Scotland from the Union. It can be done. Not taking bold, decisive action to achieve the purpose of Scotland’s cause may well be seen by future generations as the force which destroyed Scotland’s beautiful dream.
Peter A Bell
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