I found it quite depressing reading through transcripts of the speeches given at The National’s rally in Glasgow yesterday. Not that the speeches weren’t for the most part, excellent. There is power and passion in them. There is outrage and anger. There is aspiration and ambition. There is hope and hints of the fear that this hope must overcome. The speeches were stirring. Rousing. Inspiring. But we’ve heard it all before.
But for the historical detail, there is hardly anything about any of these speeches which hasn’t been said in a thousand speeches and more since 2011. Much of what was said in George Square yesterday, and certainly the spirit in which it was said; the general tone of the thing, transports me back to the last time we were poised waiting to see if an imperious British state would grant its gracious consent to the exercise of our right of self-determination.
But it is not my intention to once again go over the well-trodden ground of concerns about the Section 30 process and the First Minister’s commitment to it. Everything that needs to be said about that has been said. With the rather notable exception of any explanation as to how that process might work for Scotland’s cause rather than for the cause of preserving the Union at whatever cost to our nation.
I am resigned to the fact that no such explanation is ever going to be forthcoming; either from the First Minister or from those who insist that her choice of a Unionist strategy to address Scotland’s constitutional issue should never be questioned or scrutinised. Concerns about the Section 30 process are not going to be answered – for the most obvious of reasons.
Amidst all the fine, if dated, rhetoric from yesterday’s event, one observation impressed me as relating pointedly to the reality of Scotland’s present predicament. I quote Paul Kavanagh at length.
We are here today to say we want Scottish independence. A lot of people have different ideas about the best way to get there, about different strategies at arriving at an independence referendum. But all those routes, all those different strategies must first cross the bridge of the General Election yet to come.
Next month there is going to be a General Election and it is vital Scotland sends back as many pro-independence MPs as possible in that election.
The message from Westminster will be – if we don’t do that – that Scotland doesn’t want independence.
If we don’t get out there and vote, if we don’t put our differences behind us and make sure we all campaign for the SNP to get as many MPs as possible, the message won’t be that we are disagreeing about strategy for getting an independence referendum. It won’t be that Scotland wants to send a message on climate change. It will be that Scotland doesn’t want an independence referendum.
It’s a fair point. It’s a statement of the obvious. But sometimes the obvious has to be stated in order to bring it out of the blur of the commonplace and into sharp focus. While concerns about the First Minister’s entire approach to the constitutional issue remain, none of that will matter a jot if we don’t successfully cross the bridge of the UK general election on 12 December.
In passing, we might note that this very fact makes the behaviour of the Scottish Greens inexplicable. It seems they intend to stand candidates in 20 or more constituencies, including at least a few where their presence on the ballot cannot possibly achieve anything other than put in jeopardy a seat held by the SNP.
Nobody disputes that the Scottish Greens are perfectly entitled to stand candidates in whatever constituencies they wish. Nobody is suggesting they owe the SNP any favours. They do, however, have a duty to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. They took that duty on themselves when they proclaimed their commitment to that cause. The SNP isn’t entitled to demand any sacrifices of the Scottish Greens. But the Yes movement has a perfect right to do so.
It may be argued that the Scottish Greens also have a duty to their members, and to causes other than independence – such as the climate crisis. But, while it is trivially easy to see how standing candidates in constituencies such as Perth and North Perthshire – where Pete Wishart is defending a majority of only 21 – threatens to cost us a pro-independence MP, it is extremely difficult to see how either Scottish Green Party members or the causes which they espouse might be served by contesting the seat. Barring a miracle of Biblical proportions, the Scottish Green candidate isn’t going to win. Nor is the climate crisis going to be better highlighted or addressed. There is nothing to be gained other than, perhaps, the shallow satisfaction of increasing their vote relative to the last time they stood a candidate. Satisfaction which would surely be short-lived should they take enough of those votes from Pete Wishart to ensure that his Tory opponent took the seat.
Consider the cost. Not only do the people of Perth and North Perthshire lose a damned fine constituency MP who has served them well for more than 18 years, the SNP group at Westminster is diminished, not only numerically but in terms of valuable experience. Scotland loses someone who has done excellent work as Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee and in various other capacities.
It doesn’t end there. I know that Scotland’s independence will not be restored through Westminster. I know that SNP MPs are treated appallingly by the British parties in the House of Commons. I know that they are not permitted to be at all effective in representing Scotland’s interests. But this does not mean there is no purpose in sending SNP MPs into the snake-pit of the British political system. Once again, the example of Perth and North Perthshire is illustrative. Should Pete Wishart lose the seat, it will be to somebody like Murdo Fraser. Somebody who has amply demonstrated their
willingness eagerness to sacrifice Scotland’s interests in the name of political expediency, partisan loyalty, personal advancement, British Nationalist ideology or momentary convenience.
Are the Scottish Greens really prepared to risk this?
What is true of Perth and North Perthshire holds for the whole of Scotland. Even if you can find no other reason to support, campaign for and vote for your local SNP candidate, there is always the fact that SNP MPs fill places at Westminster which would otherwise be taken by individuals whose first loyalty is to neither their constituents nor to Scotland nor to democracy, but to their own careers, their party and their ‘precious’ Union.
Paul Kavanagh is right. There is no dilemma here. If you care about Scotland – our distinctive political culture; our prosperity and potential; our precious public services; our democratic institutions; our identity as a nation; our relationship with the rest of the world; our people and the generations to come – then you must do everything in your power to ensure the maximum number of SNP MPs are sent to Westminster.
To be clear, I am aware that many in the SNP are exploiting this imperative to divert criticism of their performance and scrutiny of the party’s strategy in the independence campaign. Unfortunate – even shameful – as this unquestionably is, it is as nothing compared to the urgent necessity of protecting Scotland from the forces of rampant British Nationalism. And the only way to do that is to #VoteSNP.
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