The next trick

Joanna Cherry gets it! She understands the situation and the circumstances and the dynamics. This much is evident from her column in The National today. She sees the opportunities and the potential pitfalls. And she is not shy about presenting a perspective which contrasts sharply with that set out by Nicola Sturgeon. All of which is very welcome. We needed this.

The contradiction of Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist order to the independence movement is explicit enough to be effective but framed in such a way as to avoid constituting a direct challenge to the party leader. Almost as if it had been composed by a lawyer. But let us not mistake this for anything other than a challenge – not for the leadership but to the leadership of the SNP. A challenge to the ethos of small ‘c’ conservatism and hyper-caution with which the leadership has lately become imbued. A challenge to the mindset which allowed the independence campaign to become moribund long before the current public health crisis was even on the horizon.

It was always the case that the SNP, both in Edinburgh and in London, was going to have to work within the British political system even as the party sought to break Scotland free from it. That is the nature of devolution. It is the nature of the Union. It’s the realpolitik. This meant that there was always the danger of the party becoming mired in that system. It’s how the British state operates. Those challenges to established power which cannot be crushed are absorbed. Or they are absorbed only to be crushed.

This is not to imply that the SNP group at Westminster has ‘gone native’. Not completely, anyway. Nor does it imply that the party leadership, rightly centred at Holyrood, has become ‘tame’. Not completely, anyway. It is only to say that there is a necessary compromise to be made between being the radical spanner in the works of the British political system and being enough of a cog in the machine to function as an administration in Scotland and Scotland’s (token) representation in the British parliament. The barely veiled sub-text of Joanna Cherry’s article is that the current leadership has got that balance wrong.

Somebody had to say it. Somebody other than a cantankerous, irascible, contrary and most of all inconsequential old blogger, that is. Somebody with presence had to speak out. Somebody with political heft and clout. Somebody who would be listened to even by those disinclined to hear any criticism of Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP. With all due respect to Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, this was always going to be Joanna Cherry MP. Angus’s interventions have been very welcome and have served the important purpose of keeping alive the spirit of the independence movement which Nicola Sturgeon was attempting to subdue. But I’m sure he understands full well that Joanna Cherry’s voice is the one which will reach those who need to hear.

Nicola Sturgeon cannot afford to ignore either Joanna Cherry’s warning about the fate of Winston Churchill or her call for the lifting of that cease and desist order. This will have to be addressed. Concerns about her commitment to the Section 30 process were not addressed – were pointedly and even contemptuously ignored – because those concerns were not voiced by anyone of Joanna Cherry’s stature. Ms Cherry cannot be ignored. Not even the First Minister may treat her with disdain. Belatedly, the SNP leadership will be obliged to rethink its strategy of disregarding constructive criticism and closing down ‘inconvenient’ debate.

Nicola Sturgeon has proved herself as a political leader. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak hit us, she was recognised as an extraordinarily able party leader and a highly competent First Minister. She is popular and respected. Her handling of the public health crisis has greatly enhanced a reputation such as few politicians can aspire to. But, as Joanna Cherry points out, this is not enough. As Winston Churchill discovered, people always want to know what your next trick will be no matter how amazing the last one was. They always demand more no matter how much they have been given. They always ask, “What have you done for us lately?”, no matter how much you’ve done for them recently.

The electorate may be occasionally grateful, but is is always demanding. And the Scottish electorate is arguably more demanding than most.

Joanna Cherry’s intervention provides Nicola Sturgeon with an opportunity to signal a shift in strategy. It need not be dramatic. Not immediately. It need not come from Nicola Sturgeon herself in a manner which might be portrayed as a climb-down. The signal could come from anyone close to the leadership. A few names spring to mind, but I suspect none of them would be grateful is I mentioned their names in this context. Just ask yourself who among Nicola Sturgeon’s closest allies speaks with an authority to match that which Joanna Cherry brings to this issue.

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14 thoughts on “The next trick

  1. Is it a change in strategy? None of the parliamentarians has suggested anything other than another indyref. Just a slightly different approach, then. I can understand the thinking: the first devolution ref was lost and it gave people an appetite; but there is a world of difference between devolution and independence, as we know, on both sides of the divide. There also seems to be this ‘faith’ – no other word will suffice – that, if we just get that second indyref, the rest will be a walk in the park. Once we start campaigning again for independence, it is said, we will see a huge rise in numbers of people who opt for indy. Will we? That’s precisely what the Quebecois thought. The very fact that all these blunders and ill-considered decisions by Westminster have not translated into an overwhelming surge for independence should be enough to urge dropping the complacency. Nowhere does it say that we will win this time. It is the very fact that we stick to this one mantra chant about an indyref that precludes other means of reaching our goal. The truth is that no pre independence referendum in the ‘mature democracies’ has ever been won. No law says we must have an indyref in the first place. Why does Joanna Cherry and every other SNP parliamentarian, not to mention the YES movement and almost everyone else insist it is the only way to go? Because it’s democratic? Because it’s legal? So are other, equally democratic and legal routes that are not even being explored. I am not saying we wouldn’t win a second indyref, I’m saying, be careful because it is not a done deal, and the polls show that. If we lose again through complacency and because – well, it’s the easiest option and a precedent was set in 2014 – I doubt that we will come back from that in several generations, or peacefully.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There has to be a referendum. Independence can only be restored with the support of Scotland’s people. The Union can only be ended with the consent of Scotland’s people. Major constitutional reform of any kind absolutely requires a popular mandate.

      I agree with you to the extent that a referendum need not be the focus of the political effort. It is, after all, merely the means by which change is confirmed. The political rhetoric and associated actions should focus on the change itself. I agree to the extent that, heretofore, too much effort has been put into making people want a referendum at significant cost to the effort to make people want independence. Or, better still because it is not a contested concept, to want an end to the Union.

      The SNP and most of the Yes movement have been fixated on the idea of a referendum as the start of the process. It need not be. It may be the end of a process which prepares the reforms and only awaits approval from the electorate.

      The comparison with Quebec is misplaced. The fact that “these blunders and ill-considered decisions by Westminster have not translated into an overwhelming surge for independence” is entirely explained by the failure of the SNP to exploit the situation. And the party’s failure to provide the leadership which would have enabled the Yes movement to more fully exploit the situation by responding in a more focused and coordinated manner.

      The support for reform IS there. But people are not inspired by inaction. If you want to move the people, give them something concrete to get enthusiastic about. Instead of looking at how the Quebec campaign failed it would be more appropriate to look at the extent to which the 2014 campaign succeeded – despite being poorly strategies in many ways. Support for independence began to rise as soon as it became clear that there was going to be a referendum. More to the point, that support began to grow the instant Alex Salmond was seen to be taking bold and decisive action.

      We will win a new referendum. We will win by a significant, possibly massive margin. But only if there is a complete rethink of the entire effort. Only if the main focus of the campaign is not on ‘winning’ independence from the British state as if it was a prize only they could bestow, but on taking power that is rightfully ours but is being illegitimately withheld from us. And only if Nicola Sturgeon is even more bold and decisive than Alex Salmond was.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree with much of that, Mr Bell. I am entirely in favour of a post independence ratifying/confirmatory referendum. However, that does not solve the issue of the Treaty of Union which is a binding, legal contract in international law. I could almost guarantee that England-as-the-UK will try to use it against us, to take resources it is not entitled to and to foist existing burdens on us that we never agreed to at any time. At least two of our best constitutional minds have already warned us that this would be the case because there is no way out of that Treaty without resorting to international law. The Treaty can be our salvation or our undoing. That is up to us and how we handle the independence question from here on in. Neither Joanna Cherry nor any other power broker in the SNP has even attempted to answer these issues. I find it utterly baffling in a party with so many lawyers in it. It is as baffling as the GRA issue and the inevitable legal pitfalls that will emerge very soon as more and more women realize they have been sold out in the West by the usual suspects – corporate business, in this instance, the pharmaceutical industry. The SNP needs to get back to basics and start using the skills and knowledge of its lawyers to point out the deep holes that they are constantly falling into, legally. Yes, politics will take us to independence, but the law will finalize it. There is no getting round that.


        1. There is no issue of the Treaty of Union. The Union ends when we say it is ended. So long as the process by which we say this is transparently democratic, none can challenge it.


    2. Good analysis Lorna. I think your caution and your optimism are well balanced and together with Peter’s insistence on a rethought Indy campaign, I think things are going in the right direction.

      You say “The truth is that no pre independence referendum in the ‘mature democracies’ has ever been won”. You may be right, but the UK has been boarded by brexiters who are treating it as a bouncy pirate ship and are hoisting a Jolly Roger. With Boris Johnson as the schoolboy who caught COVID because he disobeyed instructions to wash his hands, it is hard to frame the UK as a mature democracy at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lorna, you’re right to question the mantra of indyref being the only course open to us, and if Joanna and others step up to wrest back independence from the political cupboard it’s being stored in by the current SNP leadership, and thrust it back into the light, then the indyref mechanism must go.

    The first indyref was granted because the English Establishment knew they could rig it with their well used and reliable political tools of colonialism. With blanket control of the media, and substitute postal votes already printed and marked, it was a near certainty NO would win. We surprised them with a higher yes count than they calculated, and they’ve been nervous ever since as proven with the increased onslaught of the Butcher’s Apron colonialism we see every day.

    If we’re foolish enough to continue pushing for a second indyref, then we can expect the same result, from the same colonialists using the same tools as they did before. What’s the old saying about doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?

    Indyref puts the control, and subsequent result, right in the English oppressor’s hands.Why is the current SNP leadership so determined to do this? What are they getting out of it, personally?

    We must dissolve the union, or press for UDI. It’s the only way we will gain our independence, and keep that process out of the hands of the oppressors. It’s for Scots to decide their future, the same as any nation who seeks to determine their own destiny. It’s emphatically obvious the English Establishment will NEVER play fair because they never have. And every nation that left the grasp of their English oppressors still has their independence. Not one of them has volunteered to give it up to rejoin the world of the Butcher’s Apron.

    An outright majority of pro-independence MSPs in the next Holyrood election, be it entirely SNP or a coalition of pro-indy parties and independent MSPs, signals a clear intent by the Scottish people for the direction they wish to take.

    We don’t need to consult the English Establishment, or get their permission, because it’s our country, not theirs.


  3. Lorna, Peter,
    I’ve just re-read Joanna Cherry’s article and she doesn’t go into detail about alternative strategies for independence. But neither does she mention indyref2. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her discussing alternative routes to independence for example via international law – see Kosovo and others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t speak for Joanna Cherry, Geoff. I cannot say what she may be proposing in terms of process. But I take those arguments from international law – as most eloquently set out by Craig Murray ( – to be relevant mainly as background to and support for the contention that the process by which Scotland’s independence is restored derives legal validity from the body of international laws and conventions guaranteeing the right of self-determination; and its democratic legitimacy from the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. That process depends for neither legal validity nor democratic legitimacy on laws enacted by the UK Parliament or indeed transparently spurious claims of democratic legitimacy for the “UK Government in Scotland”.

      That process has nothing to do with Westminster and Westminster must be permitted nothing to do with that process.

      It will, I expect, be obvious about how adopting such a mindset liberates our thinking on the form of the process that takes us to independence. The error – and it is a tragic error – is that to date thinking on this matter has been almost entirely confined to the little box of Britishness which has been inculcated over centuries of British rule. If we are to get out of the Union – as we MUST – then we must first get out of that box.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Craig Murray has adjusted his position from his earlier one, I think. The Treaty is a legally-binding international agreement between TWO nations, not just us. How can we scream about England-as-the-UK treating us how it does and England-as-the-UK deciding that we might leave the EU on a NO-Deal basis when we are prepared to do the same? The fact that the Union we have is emphatically not the Union we signed up to is the evidence we need to convince the international community that our claim is sound in law, and that, therefore, not only should we be independent through resiling theTreaty, but that we should receive instant recognition. Several polls have shown that the two sides are neck-and-neck – which means that we have as much right to approach the international justice/UN/treaty tribunals as the Unionists have to withhold consent – more, because both the UN Charter and human rights are very emphatically not on their side at all. We do not need another indyref to allow them scupper our chances yet again. There is no way round the Treaty. None. England will resurrect it to gain advantages in the negotiations – and there will have to be negotiations – and we will, yet again, by our own lack of foresight and laying the groundwork, come a cropper. Perfidious Albion is a past master at this kind of thing. We are babes in arms. For once, let’s do the thing properly, with courage and determination, but also with a watertight case and our equal partnership in the Union recognized at last.


      2. Just to add on to what Lorna is saying NS has said recently that mass postal voting would have to be considered for the next Holyrood election , if that is not a deliberate determination to encourage fraudulent activity by the yoonionist dark money entrepreneurs alongside holiday home owners , students and sundry others .
        I don’t understand this determined AVERSION to take the numerous breaches of the treaty by a overwhelming supposedly equal partner in flagrant opposition to the other equal partners wishes , eg Brexit to the ICJ , once confirmed that the bringlish parliament is acting contrary to the treaty agreements dissolution of the treaty follows and international recognition is a forgone conclusion

        From a democratic position , if required a further referendum could take place where WE determine what the question is , who takes part and the rules and regulations relating to the referendum Westminster would have NO input or say , and if God forbid the yoonionists won the ref at least a NEW treaty would have to be agreed in which we would not be so innocent or stupid


        1. Explain the process. No magic allowed. Explain the process by which we (who?) take this (what?) to the ICJ (how?). Include a timescale. Take due account of other things happening or likely to happen within that time scale which would impact on your ‘plan’. And remember! No magic!


  4. Well said.

    Especially in these unprecedented times its odd that the only certainty is that support for Independence will increase just as it did in that balmy summer of 2014.

    Makes me think has anyone watched the Scottish football team over these last 5 decades when all they needed was a draw against mesopotamia .

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Peter A Bell, I think this is a good article.

    I am relieved that Joana Cherry is a woman, because whenever I dissent from Nicola Sturgeon’s position, someone promptly turns up to accuse me of latent sexism. It’s so bloody infuriating, I am now very well informed as to WHY I disagree with Nicola Sturgeon.

    I agree with Craig Murray that no other country has yet become independent from Britain or anywhere else by quietly ticking the correct boxes in a formal procedure provided by the establishment for this purpose.

    Generally speaking, they threatened violence.

    Short of this, the SNP should declare that they are NOT campaigning in the election on the basis of good governance. They are not campaigning on the basis of “being nice”, or kind or god help us, feminist.

    They should tell voters they represent a vote for Independence itself, nothing less.

    If unionists complain that some voters might inadvertently vote purely on the basis of good governance, such an argument would be disingenuous.

    Having won yet another majority in Holyrood, the SNP should cite the Treaty of Union and proceed accordingly.


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