The above is fairly typical of the abuse that I receive pretty much constantly. This was in response to a previous blog article in which I asked how it could be acceptable for the First Minister to give the British Prime Minister an effective veto over Scotland’s right of self-determination and invite external interference in the exercise of our right of self-determination. You may note that my interlocutor doesn’t address either of these points. They never do. They never dispute or debate the facts or reasoned arguments. The abuse is not occasioned by me saying something that is untrue or incorrect. The abuse is not for what I’m saying but for the fact that I’m saying it.
Nobody even tries to argue that Nicola Sturgeon has done or isn’t doing the things I refer to. They just don’t like me referring to them. As if it doesn’t matter so long as you don’t mention it. Nobody actually disputes that Nicola Sturgeon has committed totally to the Section 30 process. Nobody tries to make the case that the Section 30 process is what I say it is and has the effect that I say it has. Nobody argues that Nicola Sturgeon isn’t treating the Section 30 process as the only “legal and constitutional” way to have a new independence referendum.
Occasionally, someone will ask for a direct quote from Nicola Sturgeon saying that the Section 30 process is the only legal and constitutional way to have a referendum. As if we needed her to say the words to know that it is so. Boris Johnson has never stated explicitly that he intends to lock Scotland into the Union, dismantle our democratic institutions and feed our public services to US corporate hyenas. Does anyone doubt that it is so? Does anyone need him to say the actual words? Or are we all perfectly capable of figuring it out?
Nobody who attended the SNP Conference in October could be in any doubt. The phrase “the only legal and constitutional way” was repeated ad nauseam by senior party figures such as Mike Russell and Alyn Smith. It wasn’t difficult to know why. There was a bit of a buzz that the SNP leadership’s ‘strategy’ might be questioned at Conference. Indeed, an attempt was made. This was quickly crushed and it was plainly evident that word had come down from on high that any talk of a ‘Plan B’ or any concerns expressed about the Section 30 process were to be dismissed with the insistence that this was the only legal and constitutional way.
Nobody can sensibly argue that declaring one thing the only legal thing isn’t the same as saying that all other things are not legal. All they can do is berate us for saying so out loud.
The abuse itself doesn’t trouble me. I’m a big boy. I can both dish it out and take it. What troubles me is the lack of any real debate about Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’. What really worries me is the determination on the part of at least a significant minority to close down debate with accusations such as we see above. And worse! I can understand why the SNP didn’t want voices like mine being heard at Conference. It’s very much a stage-managed showcase for the party. I accept that this is just the way politics is done these days. The SNP offers other avenues for members to engage in policy debate. But when it becomes difficult, or impossible, discuss independence campaign strategy in the wider Yes movement, then something has changed. And not for the better. Something is broken.
I will persist. Because, as more than a few have commented, somebody has to. This is too important an issue for anything to be taken on trust. Blind faith in a charismatic leader is, at best, counter-productive. It can be downright dangerous. If the fight to restore Scotland’s independence is crucial – and it is both crucial and a fight – then the political strategies and campaign tactics deployed are also important. We have to get it right. That cannot happen unless we are able to engage in frank and open discussion of all aspects of the effort.
Another thing I’m often accused of is thinking I know better than Nicola Sturgeon. As if that were a ridiculous proposition. As if it were impossible that anyone could know better than her. It isn’t. As I suspect she would concede. And even if I am not the one who knows better, how will we ever find the one who knows better unless all those who might know better are allowed to speak. Unless all those who think differently are able to express themselves.
It’s not only me, of course. There are many others who are not convinced Nicola Sturgeon is going about things in a way that best serves Scotland’s cause. That doesn’t mean we don’t support her. It just means we don’t agree with her. Disagreeing is not “undermining”, as some less intellectually acute commentators maintain. It would be different if I was talking about whether we should pursue the restoration of independence rather than how. So long as I, and others, are debating tactics and strategy for taking Scotland’s cause forward we are part of the growing clamour for independence.
Our First Minister needs that clamour. She needs visible and undeniable public demand for a new referendum and for independence, Far from “undermining” her, vocal public debate about strategy becomes further evidence of restlessness and impatience. The independence movement didn’t get to where we are today by being docile and quiet. Being meek and complacent and acquiescent won’t energise us for what remains to be done.
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