When Ruth Wishart says “we can chuck away that cap and fight for our own future“, is she joining the growing chorus urging that the First Minister abandon her commitment to the Section 30 process and instead dedicate herself to a referendum entirely made and managed in Scotland? If so, her voice is a welcome and very powerful addition to that chorus.
Might we hope that others will follow suit? I wonder how many people, at all levels in the SNP and across the Yes movement, share the concerns that have been expressed about the Section 30 process but are wary about putting their head above the parapet. I wonder what it would take to instill the intestinal fortitude necessary for them to speak up. I wonder if encouragement from someone of Ruth Wishart’s standing might tip the balance in that regard.
It’s easy enough for me to criticise Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue. I have neither position nor status in the SNP. I have nothing to lose by asking the awkward questions about the Scottish Government’s strategy. I am free to think the unthinkable and say the things that many would prefer were left unsaid. My first loyalty is to Scotland’s cause, not to any political party or leader.
For others, it’s not so easy. Because they have a more powerful sense of loyalty to the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon; or because they are bound by collective responsibility; or because it involves their career and ambitions, dissent has a cost for them which it doesn’t have for somebody like myself. I can have some sympathy with their dilemma. I derive no satisfaction from being a dissenting voice. I would much rather I didn’t have to ask those awkward questions and express those concerns. I do it because it needs to be done. And because I can.
I know I’m not alone. I know that many others share my concerns about the Section 30 process. I cannot believe that there are not people in the upper echelons of the party who also see the problems and pitfalls. I expect there are more than a few who are struggling with the dilemma. Do they speak out and face the inevitable accusations of disloyalty as well as the displeasure of the party leadership? Or do they remain silent despite their fears that commitment to the Section 30 process could very well prove to be seriously detrimental to the cause of independence?
If one or two people in positions of significant influence were to express doubts about the Section 30 process it might well open the floodgates. If dissent grows to a level that Nicola Sturgeon can no longer ignore, what then? If she comes under serious pressure to “chuck away that cap and fight for our own future”, how might she respond?
There would seem to be three basic options. She could attempt to face down her critics. She could stick fast to her insistence that the Section 30 process is the only possible route to a new independence referendum and defy anyone to contradict her. At the other extreme, she could threaten to stand down as party leader and/or as First Minister. The former would tend to harden opposition to her approach and make her situation worse. The latter would have repercussions that I prefer not to dwell upon.
The third option is for Nicola Sturgeon to change her approach. If she is unable to address, far less allay, concerns about the Section 30 process – which is, self-evidently, the case – then those concerns must be valid. Being valid, they provide ample justification for declaring that the Section 30 process has been rendered infeasible by the intransigence of the British political elite. Not to mention their duplicity, mendacity, hypocrisy and treachery.
That the Section 30 process will have to be abandoned at some point is beyond doubt. By its very nature, it can only lead to a free and fair referendum with the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British establishment. It only works if the British government cooperates fully and respectfully to achieve an outcome to which it is implacably opposed.
Moreover, the Section 30 process provides the British political elite with the means to readily prevent the outcome to which it is implacably oppose. Put it all together and it’s plain to see that, not only is the Section 30 process unlikely to work as Nicola Sturgeon hopes, it would be little short of a miracle if it did. There are more and better reasons for rejecting the Section 30 process than for committing to it. It would be to Nicola Sturgeon’s credit if she were to acknowledge those reasons. And the sooner the better.
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