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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