Angus Brendan MacNeil has called on Nicola Sturgeon to restart the independence campaign. It will come as a surprise to precisely no-one that I am in total agreement with him on this. The independence campaign should never have been stopped. In fact, it hasn’t been stopped. Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist order was never going to deter anyone who was truly committed to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Faced with an unprecedented public health crisis, their first wasn’t that all campaigning must stop. Their first thought was about how the campaign could be kept going in spite of the lockdown restrictions. They never imagined that campaigning necessarily involved the kind of interpersonal contact that was rendered impossible by an infectious virus in the population. They had never considered campaigning to be entirely and exclusively about leafleting and canvassing and street stalls and public meetings and social events. They realised immediately that the required response to Covid-19 incidentally created ideal conditions in which to develop the online campaign.
Nobody expected Nicola Sturgeon to be at the forefront of this campaign, or even to be a visible presence. Quite literally everybody knew and was happy to acknowledge that, as First Minister, she must focus all her attention on dealing with the challenges of a massive public health crisis. But the more intellectually acute among us also recognised that politics doesn’t stop for anything. Because everything is politics. There is no aspect of life which is completely detached from politics of one kind or another or at one level or another. While Nicola Sturgeon seemed to suppose that the constitutional issue is an exception, others realised that there are no exceptions to the fact that everything is political, only things that are excluded from our political discourse for purposes that are always malign and never acceptable in a democracy.
It takes a very special kind of blinkered idiocy to imagine that the coronavirus crisis has nothing to do with politics. And an unimaginable level of stupidity to fail to recognise the relevance of constitutional politics. One of the main issues is the question of where and how and by whom decisions are taken. Here is just one example.
Perhaps, the most surprising aspect of the British COVID crisis is that the Scottish Government has allowed its strategy and the operations to be directed by Westminster, which has taken a London-centric approach to the epidemic and with respect to the lock down.Coronavirus Crisis: Underfunding, Restructuring, Privatisation and Fragmentation at the Heart of the Crisis in Holyrood and Westminster
This has to be political because the matter of who decides is the very essence of constitutional politics. Angus MacNeil gets it. Like myself and increasing numbers of other, Angus is no doubt wondering how the developing debate around a lockdown exit strategy and what follows can sensibly exclude the constitutional issue. How can we talk about how different things will be without reference to the question of who decides what this difference will be? How can we discuss shaping a new normal without considering the forces that will be doing the shaping?
I think our opponents will tell us its bad taste because they don’t want us to do it. The people themselves are receptive to argument. No amount of telling Jackson Carlaw it’s in bad taste to go shouting about the Union will stop Jackson Carlaw go shouting about the Union.
I have previously commented on the curious manner in which the constitutional issue is declared a ‘special case’.
And it is particularly the constitutional issue that is the matter we are supposed to put entirely from our minds. Nobody suggests that the coronavirus crisis obviates the climate crisis. Nobody has suggested that the conflict in Syria has ceased to be of any importance because only the coronavirus crisis can be important. The public health crisis certainly hasn’t put a stop to the British political elite’s constitutional machinations. If anything, the malignant child-clown in Downing Street is accelerating its plans and intensifying its efforts to forcibly mould these islands into a new state made in the image of the imagined ‘Great Britain’ of a grotesquely mythologised past. Only in Scotland are we expected – required – to abandon our aspirations for something better than Boris Johnson’s tawdry blend of Little England and Greater England where every day is a crossover between Dad’s Army and Terry & June. Don’t you ever ask yourself why?Three crises
I am not saying that Nicola Sturgeon is stupid. She had reasons for issuing that ‘cease and desist’ command to the party and the Yes movement. I’m simply saying they were not good reasons. Her ‘cease and desist’ order was neither necessary nor sufficient. There was no need for it. And it was never going to work. It is puzzling that an individual who exhibits such superb leadership skills in her handling of the Covid-19 crisis can be so politically inept in other areas. It’s as if the Nicola Sturgeon who is First Minister and the Nicola Sturgeon who is the de facto figurehead of the independence campaign are two very different people. Or maybe just one person better able to cope with one role than the other.
I welcome Angus MacNeil’s intervention. I think it is both needed and timely. I also think it is futile – at least in terms of his headline demand. Nicola Sturgeon isn’t about to interrupt one of her daily media briefings to declare the independence campaign on again. I strongly suspect that Angus is well aware of this. His statement was framed to attract media attention, but he’s actually talking to us – the Yes movement. He is making the point that politics hasn’t stopped. He is stating the direct an inevitable connection between the Covid response and the constitutional issue. He is putting that connection out for debate. And he is making it clear that not only is there no good reason to silence that debate, there is very good reason for insisting on it.
It is more than half a century since, on winning the Hamilton by-election, Winnie Ewing declared “Stop the world! Scotland wants to get on!”. Rousing words which had the desired effect at the time. We’ve moved on a bit since then. Well, some of us have. Some of us have realised that the world isn’t going to stop for us any more than politics will stop because of a global pandemic. If we still want to “get on” then we have to keep up. We have to match the speed at which the world moves. If we don’t, then the world moves on leaving us where we are. Similarly, if we opt out of any aspect of the political process it won’t oblige us by stopping until we feel like rejoining. If independence activists aren’t involved in and influencing the debate about Scotland’s future then all we are doing is allowing others to decide that future for us. Do we really want to put Scotland’s future in the hands of people like Alister ‘Union’ Jack?
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.