The best of reasons

I don’t see independence as a party-political issue. Apart from the fact it is a core policy of the SNP, there is no reason why other parties can’t support it. It’s not tied to any political ideology.

Morag Williamson

Some would say that yet another Yes group can only be a good thing. Some would doubtless proffer a neatly pre-packaged opinion couched in the scriptural language of repenting sinners and/or returning prodigals. The more the merrier, some might say, choosing threadbare cliche over tired Biblical quote. Neither of which is an acceptable substitute for rational, analytical thinking.

There is a very narrow sense in which it is fair to say that more is indeed cause for merriment regardless of any other consideration. In terms of votes in a referendum to determine Scotland’s constitutional status, numbers are all that matters. Nobody is required to pass an exam to be allowed to vote. There is no space on the ballot paper for a compulsory explanation of why the individual voted as they did. Nobody is under any obligation to justify the choices they make when exercising their democratic right to vote. There are no marks for style. As far as the process is concerned, reasons are of no consequence.

It may be contended that if an individual opts to make public how they voted and their reasons then they should be prepared to defend their stated choice and the thinking behind it. But they cannot be required to do so. Democracy not only means that you get a vote it also means that you can use that vote as you please. The reasoning is irrelevant. Only the vote counts. In that sense, more people making the journey from No to Yes is always a good thing.

It may just as reasonably be contended, however, that when it comes to campaigning for votes the reasoning is highly relevant. An individual’s attitude to an issue is bound to influence the manner in which they campaign. The core idea around which individuals coalesce to form a group must have a bearing on what that group brings to the campaign. As Richard Dawkins explained to his young daughter, there are both good and bad reasons for believing. What is true of religious belief is also true of political attitudes. The latter being more important due to its more immediate implications for public policy.

There are good and bad reasons for wanting to restore Scotland’s independence. I should be able to say that there are also good and bad reasons for wanting to preserve the Union. This is problematic because in a lifetime of deep interests and involvement in the constitutional debate I have never encountered or been offered a positive case for the Union. This is not mere rhetoric. To the extent that reasons may be objectively assessed, there are no good reasons for Scotland remaining in the Union. Or, if there are, Unionists themselves have yet to discover them. Or perhaps they’re keeping those good reasons secret. In which case, why?

Better, perhaps, that we say reasons lie on a spectrum of rationality. Simplistic dichotomies are seldom other than abstractions, which may be useful as thinking tools but should never inform conclusions. There are not only bad reasons reasons for wanting to preserve the Union there are also very bad reasons. By the same token, there are good reasons for wanting independence and there are better reasons. The quality of the reasoning affects the form and content of the arguments deployed in campaigning. In this context, reasons matter.

All of which explains why I am not greeting the arrival of Yes for EU with a ticker-tape parade and a pyrotechnic display. I consider it natural and essential to ask what this new group brings to the Yes movement and to Scotland’s cause. I look for clues in the public statements of the group’s spokesperson(s). It doesn’t look promising.

The words of Yes for EU executive committee member Morag Williamson quoted above this article do not inspire confidence that the group is bringing anything new or valuable to the independence campaign. I intend no offence to Ms Williamson when I observe that her statement is, in its parts and in aggregate, fallacious. She may not see independence as a party-political issue but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. In fact, she goes on to contradict herself when she observes that “it is a core policy of the SNP”. Can she not see that this makes it party-political by definition? All issues are party-political to the extent that political parties take a stance on them. That independence is a “core policy” of the SNP means that the party has taken a stance on the issue to the greatest extent possible.

Morag Williamson confuses/conflates the hypothetical attitudes of individual party members with official party policy. That individual members of the British parties in Scotland may, in theory, be persuaded of the merits of independence does not mean that the party’s stance on the matter can be changed – either as readily or at all. The one does not necessarily follow from the other. An individual cannot campaign and vote for a British party and actively pursue the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. The two things are entirely contrary to one another. In Scotland, you pick a party you choose a side in the constitutional debate. If that’s not party-political nothing is.

She goes on to say that “there is no reason why other parties can’t support it [independence]. It’s not tied to any political ideology”. This is just plain wrong. There is every reason why the British parties cannot and shall never support independence regardless of the attitudes of members. It’s because they are British parties. They are parties of the British establishment. They are parties of the Union. They cannot be other than that because the Union is critical to the structures of power, privilege and patronage with which they have a profoundly symbiotic relationship.

To say that nationalism need not be “tied to any political ideology” is not the same as saying that it cannot be associated with any political ideology. Indeed, nationalism as an ideology in and of itself would, if it could exist, be an arid and vacuous thing. Rather, nationalism is a component of ideology; as is social conscience and appreciation of human nature. In practice nationalism is a component of all ideologies and – contrary to Morag Williamson’s claim – is always tied to an ideology. Nationalism is politically neutral. It is merely the measure of concern with the affairs of a particular legislative area. The particular community of communities within which the holder of the ideology has direct democratic influence. It is the ideology which lends meaning to the nationalism. It is ideology which determines the form and nature of the nationalism. It is the ideology to which the nationalism is tied which makes it good or bad.

There is a shallow but regrettably widespread tendency to associate nationalism only and exclusively with extreme and/or totalitarian ideologies; and, therefore, to consider it bad. People are all too often blind to the nationalism in their own ideology precisely because it is neutral. It is benign so long as the ideology with which it is associated is not malign. The benign tends to go unnoticed.

It would appear that Yes for EU brings to Scotland’s cause fallacies which are unfortunately all too common already. An impression which intensifies as Ms Williamson continues,

A few of our group were very keen on keeping the UK together and many have come round to the view that the EU is so important that a campaign for independence is the best way to get back in.

Ultimately, it may not matter why people vote Yes in the next independence referendum just so long as they do. But, as noted earlier, the motivations of campaigners must be significant. It may be perfectly valid to argue that independence is the best way to rejoin the EU. It may even be argued that independence is necessary for the purpose of rejoining the EU. But is rejoining the EU a sufficient reason for restoring Scotland’s independence? More prosaically, to what extent is the Yes campaign helped or hindered by arguing that rejoining the EU is the only or main reason for restoring Scotland’s independence? It may be a reason. But can it be the reason? It may be necessary. But does it satisfy the other essential criterion? Is it sufficient?

There are many such secondary or ancillary arguments for restoring Scotland’s independence. There are, I suspect, always such supplemental arguments for (or against) any public policy proposal. There may be economic or cultural arguments, for example. But what is the nub of the matter? Any and all valid arguments may legitimately be deployed in pursuing reform. But there surely must be a core cause that is served by these supplementary arguments. The fundamental reason for seeking reform. The thing that must change for the cause to be realised.

Whatever other arguments may be used, a campaign must be founded on and informed by this fundamental argument. It follows, therefore, that all individuals and groups involved in the campaign should be aware of this fundamental argument in order that they may ensure that their secondary arguments actually serve the cause and neither distract nor detract from it.

The restoration of Scotland’s independence is a matter of basic justice. It is a matter of fundamental democratic principle. It is a question of righting a wrong. Of rectifying a gross and grotesque constitutional anomaly. The Union is unjust and undemocratic. And that is why it must be dissolved and Scotland’s rightful constitutional status restored. That is what lies at the heart of the constitutional issue. That is what must inform the campaign for independence.

Some may welcome new groups into the Yes fold unquestioningly, on the assumption that more is always better. Only better is always better. And it is better if campaigning groups are motivated not just by good reasons but by the best reason.

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12 thoughts on “The best of reasons

  1. I agree. EU membership is a secondary consideration to restoring Scotland as an independent nation in the world. As you say it is a struggle to protect justice, democracy and choice in a small part of the world which is increasingly not protecting these rights. EU membership may or may not be a result of Independence, there are other means of securing many rights provided by the EU but only accessible to us if we are independent. It will be our choice at that time.


  2. “…A few of our group were very keen on keeping the UK together and many have come round to the view that the EU is so important that a campaign for independence is the best way to get back in…”

    Have been saying for ages that the 2014 referendum NO vote should have been subjected to intense and close analysis, but wasn’t, because it was too blatantly obvious why we lost: the demographics. This immediately puts one into the ‘she must be anti English’ corner, when, in fact, all half-decent political analysts cannot afford to exclude anyone on the grounds of ‘woke’, right-on sensibilities. Otherwise, you get a skewed and pointless exercise rather than a detailed analysis that might help explain the trends. The fact that almost 75% of rUK voters in Scotland in 2014 voted NO should have been a wake-up call for the independence movement as a whole. Why would so many of one group feel so strongly against Scottish independence – ‘feel’ being the obvious word, since it cannot have been based on any kind of rational and empirical, a priori evidence? The question was never asked, let alone answered.

    From the ‘NO to YES’ pieces that have appeared in The National, it is obvious that two factors predominated in these NO votes: one was a feeling – that world again, with no basis in reality – that seeking Scottish independence was, and is, intrinsically anti English; and, secondly, that it was the Brexit vote that changed minds. Of course, these same ‘feelings’ exist in the Scottish Unionist camp, too, as, again, the NO vote showed, so that we have a combination of two irrational and unfounded prejudices against independence that bear no foundation in reality.

    Ergo, it is not Scottish independence that motivates many who say they would campaign and vote for Scottish independence, but a desire to return to the EU, in the main. That should worry us all, because, if Brexit is not finalized any time soon, and the prospect of returning to the EU is mooted as a British possibility, where does that leave the independence movement? That is why another referendum – were we ever to ‘get’ or hold one, could so easily be lost again. No one on the independence scene – either the SNP nor the YES movement, or, indeed, anyone else – has pointed out that a referendum is eminently unnecessary.

    If the SNP were to win a reasonable majority in 2021, that should be the only factor that moves independence forward by other legitimate and democratic means. Neither has anyone ever pointed out that trying to stand against the self-determination of a nation is contrary to international law – the very law that the UK itself has signed up to – contained within the UN Charter. Why not? Again, no one has ever stated that the Treaty may be resiled, as any contract may be resiled when one of the parties is acting ultra vires or in bad faith, as England-as-the-Uk has done since day one of the Union. Why not? Start asking the right questions and we might get the right answers, for once.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lorna, the Scottish government invited them to have the casting vote on our self-determination by holding a referendum. Sadly, the possibility of rescinding the Treaty died when the vote came in on September 18th.
      British intransigence on indyref2 offers us the chance of a plebiscite Holyrood election, but when MacNeil and McEleny proposed it, the only way out of the impasse, they were slapped down like naughty schoolboys.

      As for the “EU for Yes’, just as we need a significant amount of Labour supporters who will never be entirely sold on independence, we need those English nationals who have been disabused of the notion that voting No was the way to stay in the EU. They are allies rather than core supporters, but allies we need.


      1. The Treaty, j4i, has never been challenged at all, at any time, ever, in any serious and determined fashion by anyone since 1707. There have been half-hearted attempts, that’s all. It is still extant. Some of the brightest and best of our constitutional lawyers have researched it thoroughly. I’m no expert, but I did the same some time ago from a political perspective, as well as a legal one, and that Treaty could be our salvation. I think that, when we come through this pandemic and out the other side, the SNP will know that they can no longer get away with endless prevarication or they will lose everything. Yes, I agree that we need allies. I was not suggesting otherwise. I have no problems at all with rUK voters who vote for independence whatever their motivation, or with former Unionists, but we should be cautious in relying on those whose sole motivation is re-entry to the EU. If a better offer comes along to get what they want, they are going to ditch independence. I talked to some Quebecois, and they were sure that many of those who said they had changed their minds and would vote for them did not do so, when given the opportunity in the second referendum. That is all I am saying. I know, having researched it, that the across-the-board vote actually scuppered us, and any future referendum cannot be held in the same way, so it is best to abandon such a scheme now unless we are 99.9% sure we can win it. Referendums are not necessary or even advisable, albeit Mr Salmond took the risk of the Edinburgh Agreement and the S30 Order. Rightly so. That will never be repeated, and nor should it: they wouldn’t stick to them anyway, as they did not stick to the rules in 2014.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. “I think that, when we come through this pandemic and out the other side, the SNP will know that they can no longer get away with endless prevarication…”

          Or they will think the very opposite. They will calculate that kudos won for the handling of the public health crisis will carry them through further prevarication on the constitutional issue. Either way, we can’t take the chance. The Yes movement needs to be piling on the pressure NOW to ensure that the SNP acts boldly and decisively after the next Scottish Parliament election. If we don’t, an SNP administration will kick the can down the road yet again using the excuse of “rebuilding in the wake of the pandemic”.

          This MUST be driven by the Yes movement. The bold, decisive action MUST take place in the Scottish Parliament.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha, ha, I wasn’t counting you or me or anyone else who has said that, Mr Bell. I meant the ones in power. We can bang on till the tide comes in, but the people who can make things happen are stubbornly opposed, apparently, to actually telling how we can do it. NO voters of 2014 have never been challenged on their internationally-illegal stance. That was and is my point. Of course you have been asking the right questions, but these questions need to be asked of the Unionists and assorted British/English Nationalists. They need to be faced with the lies and half-truths that they both swallow and disseminate. Instead of ‘Stronger for Scotland’, what about: did you know that voting NO to Scottish independence means that you do not support the UN Charter or the tenets of the Treaty of Union, that you acting ultra vires? Why can’t they be asked those types of questions because I, for one, would like to hear the answers. Maybe it is not necessary for anyone to articulate why he/she voted a certain way, but then, as far as I can see, it is the Unionists and assorted British/English Nationalists who demand to know why we vote for independence. What good for goose… We need the SNP to start using much harsher tactics. NO voters and sundry other vested interests need to be challenged – not in general terms only, but also specifically, and in terms of their stance on international law. If they would so easily dismiss and frustrate our independence quest, would they be any more respecting of our human rights? I wonder.


  4. I have been banging on for a long time that we NEED another independence party , but I personally don’t want one that is focused on anything other than indy , independence is the SOLE and most important policy or should be of ANY new party forming , we don’t need confusion or opinions to deflect from the cause or the target at this time
    Once independence is achieved any and all new parties can come forward with their views and mandates on how they are going to transform our Scotland

    TBH I would prefer a party to be formed consisting of our most prominent bloggers eg Peter A Bell , Grouse beater , Craig Murray , Stuart Campbell , Jeggit , Lesley Riddoch , Gordon Ross ( indycar ) , Lorna Campbell , Maria Carnero , Gordon McIntyre Kemp , Roddie ( Barrhead Boy ) Paul Kavanah , Tommy Sheridan and any others I have unfortunately missed out .

    Again TBH most of these people have travelled the length and breadth of Scotland to illustrate and educate people to the benefits of independence , every last one of them wear their hearts on their sleeve , every last one has unbridled passion and drive to reach the target of independence and has worked tirelessly often in daunting circumstances to achieve that target , and from reading their views and opinions , although they have respect for NS and the SNP and could work with them in parliament their loyalty is to Scotland and independence

    I know that some of them ( sorry ) have large egos and can be self opinionated but I believe in the interests of Scotland’s independence they would work together in forced harmony for the cause

    I would also say that anyone who is interested in independence already knows who these people are and the tireless work they have done to further the cause , we may not always agree with their views or comments but we know that their commitment is undisputed , they also have the benefit of not being overawed by anyone and will not be slow in ensuring that NS and the SNP prioritise the independence cause in whatever way necessary


  5. Mr Bell, I agree that the pressure must be piled on, on the constitutional issue, by telling the SNP, in no uncertain terms, that they will lose our votes, as well as our membership, if they continue to ignore the very reason they were instituted as a party. That is why I would be demanding a written in black-and-white undertaking to instigate independence proceedings ASAP after the election – the day that the final result comes through, and if it is a majority for the party. Nothing else will do now. This could be demanded well in advance of the 2021 election so that it might be included in SNP campaigning material. If the SNP will not undertake that – and it would force their hand into deciding HOW they are going to approach independence finally – then we are not going to get independence anyway, from them, so we will be losing nothing except the SNP, perhaps, and that is the point at which we need to be prepared to support another party or crowdfund a case, on behalf of the YES movement and all independence supporters, in the international court.

    The result of the Wings poll would suggest that we are as much victims of the ‘mature democracies’ complacency as any other similar country that could and, perhaps, would lead to another collapse of the independence vote in another indyref. In the end, I really do not care how we get to indy, but we must all be aware that the Treaty will always be a stumbling block and will require to be dealt with. England-as-the-UK will use it to its own advantage in any subsequent negotiations – and there will have to be negotiations. At least two of the best and brightest Scottish constitutional lawyers have warned as much. The Treaty, they say, which has always been debased as having been superseded by the Acts of Union is very much extant and alive, as we would discover too late b. ec cause we have swallowed the lies. Westminster will use it to secure a good deal for England, and a very bad one for us. No referendum result will change that at all. Any administration which is willing to leave the EU on a no-deal basis is just as likely – more so – to try and destroy any advantage that independence might give us – if we let them. The Treaty, in its original, international legal form will afford us equal representation on the international stage, which keeping our independence within the domestic arena can never do, will never be allowed to do by Westminster and Whitehall.

    That is not to say they will not fight tooth and nail for the status quo, and, if that fails, for the best advantage they can gain from us which could see us continuing to host Trident and MoD dumps for generations. I have little faith in finding the backbone necessary to fight the evil twins of Westminster and Whitehall amongst our present crop of politicians, unless we have some international backing – which we will get if we take our case to the international stage. In fact, the only SNP politician who might leave extreme caution behind and dig in his heels is Keith Brown, if Nicola Sturgeon urges caution yet again. Otherwise, we are on our own. Remember Michael Collins and what came after the split with de Valera because the Irish could not out-negotiate the British. Perfidious Albion knows how to play the game; we seem, always, to be unwilling to even try to learn.


    1. I mostly agree with this. Especially the stuff about delivering an ultimatum to the SNP, demanding specific action, getting a binding undertaking and being prepared to follow up on threatened withdrawal of support should the party fail to deliver again.

      I still don’t understand why or how we’d resort to “the international court”. But that doesn’t matter since it’s never going to happen. The “stage” on which this must be played out is the Scottish Parliament. And, of course, the ballot box.

      We are as one, however on concerns regarding the testicular fortitude of our political leaders. Confronting the British state in the manner required is bound to be a daunting prospect. Which is why as well as offering the SNP and ultimatum we must also assure them of our full support. They need to know we’re behind them as they go into this fight.

      As would any party that might be brought in as an alternative. Given the impossibility of providing total support while dividing that support between or among alternatives, this strikes me as a very bad idea. The tragedy is that by its mishandling of the constitutional affair over the past five years the SNP is actively encouraging notions about alternative parties. Inviting their own nemesis is one thing. Inviting something that will surely cripple the independence campaign is quite another matter.


      1. Regards new political Parties, and elections, etc, what do you think of the idea of having a List only grouping, for that is how the Greens managed it into Holyrood, although they did stand in a few places, Edinburgh Central being one example.
        But in the main, they use the List system.
        As others have said, and I have said for a while, we do need another Party of Independence.
        But again, we don’t want one that is in open opposition to SNP,, but one that helps to get things moving. But any such a group would have to act carefully.
        For as we see at present, leaving it all to SNP, has not been a great idea..
        And the Greens, come across as too weak to be trusted on the Independence.


        1. You start from the assumption that “we do need another Party of Independence”. Which is to prejudge the fundamental issue. It avoids the prior question – do we need another party of independence? Why? What purpose does it serve? Does it serve our purpose? And, most fundamental of all, what is our purpose? What is it that we hope to achieve? What is our ultimate aim?

          Analytical thinking is all about asking questions. Lots of questions. All the questions. That should be the aim, anyway. If the issue is important enough to demand serious analysis then we need to be sure we ask the right questions. If we’re trying to ask every possible question then there’s less chance of missing the important ones.

          I have asked lots of questions about the ‘alternative party’ idea. I have interrogated it thoroughly. And I am not convinced. I am am not persuaded that an alternative party is either necessary or sufficient to achieve or significantly contribute to achieving the ultimate aim.

          I’m not going to rehash my thinking on the matter here. I have written about this often enough. For example But the main reason I’m not getting more deeply into this here is that it’s not my job. It is for those advancing an alternative party proposal to persuade others that their solution is necessary and sufficient for the goal of restoring Scotland’s independence. Or that it makes a worthwhile contribution to the cause. Or, at least, that it does no harm to the cause. They have to convince me that their proposed solution is better than the solution I already have. And, yes! I do mean me personally. Because if you can’t persuade me then you won’t persuade anyone who is asking similar questions. And if you can’t persuade the people who are asking the pertinent questions then there is, by definition, a problem with your solution.

          Liked by 1 person

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