Everyone who makes the journey from No to Yes is, of course, very welcome. But it is relevant to consider their reason(s) for doing so and what prompted them to start that journey. This is important for at least two reasons. Obviously, understanding what it is that makes people begin to question their attitude to independence and to Scotland will be helpful in devising a campaign aimed at encouraging more former No voters to make the journey to Yes. But it is important, too, that we understand the nature of that change. It is crucial that a cause be mindful of the character and quality of its support and not just the numbers.
Let me make it clear that, unless so stated, none of what follows relates specifically to Rhona Duffy who writes in today’s National of her own personal journey from No to Yes. I am thinking in very broad terms about those whose commitment to independence is qualitatively different from my own. No normative judgement is implied. It is simply a fact that someone who has come late to a cause will relate to it differently from someone who, like myself, is unaware of ever been other than totally committed to that cause.
It may be somewhat analogous to language. When we learn a second language later in life – after the age of about twelve – we learn by an entirely different process than when we learn language as a child. Two people having learned by different processes can be just as fluent in use of the language. But it will sit differently in their minds. It is the difference between a learned and an innate skill. As a child, we acquire languages utilising our innate capacity to absorb them. Later in life, we must rely on a largely acquired ability to learn.
It is all but certainly impossible for me to not want Scotland’s independence restored. Lifelong independence supporters such as myself are often ‘accused’ of having an emotional commitment to the idea. As if that is a bad thing! I haven’t the slightest hesitation in acknowledging that I have a very strong emotional commitment to Scotland’s cause. But there is no reason whatever why such an emotional commitment must preclude or detract from rational motivation. You will rarely if ever find me referring to the emotional aspect of my commitment to Scotland’s cause as I write and talk about it in an effort to persuade others. My emotional commitment cannot have a role in the campaign because it is entirely mine. It is personal – in the truest and most absolute sense. Nobody else can possibly feel what I feel, no matter how skilful I might be at conveying those feelings. Others can understand my reasons for wanting Scotland’s independence restored. Nobody else can feel the way I do about it.
There’s an old saying that reason is useless in persuading a person from a position they didn’t arrive at by reason. Like most such sayings, there is a kernel of truth there. Like all such simplisms, however, it fails to take due account of human complexity. What matters is not whether a position was arrived at by other than reason, but whether and to what extent the person holding that position believes they arrived at it by reason. To the truly mad person it is everyone else who is insane.
Many people genuinely believe they had/have good, rational reasons for opposing the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Rational reasons based on empirical evidence and objective assessment of the facts. These are the people I refer to as Unionists. Difficult as it may be for them, Unionists have at least the theoretical capacity to realise that what they took to be facts are actually distortions and lies and that under the influence of an insidiously powerful propaganda machine their assessment was nowhere near as objective as they imagined it to be.
Then there are the British Nationalists. For them, it’s a case of the Union at any cost. They are fanatics. They don’t care if it’s all lies. They have no interest in objectivity. In contrast to Unionists who have at least a varnish of rationality on their attitude to Scottish independence, British Nationalists take pride in having no need for rationality. There’s is an exclusively emotional commitment to the Union.
The emotional commitment to which I own is vulnerable to reason. If there was good cause to suppose that great harm would ensue from the restoration of Scotland’s independence; if I were wholly convinced that it would be seriously detrimental to Scotland and its people, I would set aside my aspirations. The British Nationalist will demand the preservation of the Union even knowing beyond doubt that this would be disastrous for Scotland. No British Nationalist has ever or shall ever make the journey from No to Yes. Only Unionists can do that. Because a Unionist is someone who has yet to question the Union while a British Nationalist is someone who insists that the Union must never be questioned.
It is this questioning of the Union which is the common factor among those who have made the journey from No to Yes. We know that Rhona Duffy is not and never was a British Nationalist. Because she was able to challenge her own assumptions and preconceptions about the nature of the Union and its ongoing effect on Scotland. Nobody who has engaged with the issue on this basis has failed to conclude that the Union must end. There are unthinking people on both sides of the constitutional question. There are no unthinking people among those who have gone from one side of that question to the other. The thinking of people who have made the journey from No to Yes is a precious resource for the campaign to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. A campaign which, if it is to succeed, must be a lot less about ‘making the case for independence’ and a great deal more about making a case against the Union which can tap into the Unionists’ thought processes.
A Unionist who has made the journey to Yes can tell you a lot more about how Unionists think than someone who, like myself, has been a nationalist all their life.
But there is a less positive side to this. We must ask ourselves how reliable is the support of those who have already switched sides at least once. If someone has succumbed to British propaganda before, might they not do so again? There may be no reliable accounts of anybody every going back having made that journey from No to Yes. On the contrary, these tend to be some of the most ardent advocates for Scotland’s cause. But I worry, nonetheless.
Rhona Duffy’s penultimate paragraph nicely encapsulates the issue.
It’s also crucial to have coherent plans for the currency, economy, and public services. We can’t be on the defensive. We need to be positive and confident, backed up with facts. No matter what you think about Brexit, we can learn lessons from the Leave campaign. “Get Brexit done” will be imprinted on the minds of many forever.
What she says about the sloganeering of Brexiteers demonstrates an awareness of the power of the British state’s propaganda apparatus. The apparatus which keeps Unionists onside. Awareness is the best defence against manipulative media. But the stuff about it being “crucial to have coherent plans for the currency, economy, and public services” makes me more than a little uncomfortable.
Not, I stress, that I am casting aspersions on Rhona’s stated support for independence. I do not doubt that she has made that journey from No to Yes in good faith. What concerns me is a phenomenon that I am aware exists, but which need not exist in the case of any particular individual. I am aware that there are those who latch onto economic arguments. not as rational reasons for taking a position, but as the means to rationalise a position already committed to for what are mainly or entirely emotional reasons.
I also worry about support for Scotland’s cause which is conditional – either on being provided with an ‘economic case’ or on being assured of special consideration for a particular policy agenda. That is support which, by definition, cannot be relied upon. It is support which could vanish like snaw aff a dyke when decision time comes. It is support which may not be resilient enough even to take us to a point of decision.
It’s not that it’s wrong to state that “coherent plans for the currency, economy, and public services” are important. It’s just that feeling the need to say this betrays a certain mindset. It speaks to me of a commitment to Scotland’s cause which is undermined by doubt. Why would someone need an ‘economic case for independence’ unless they were looking for a get-out clause in their support for independence? There can be no economic case against independence. The right to independence is not conditional on passing any test other than the electoral one. So why would anybody want such a case to be made?
If you genuinely think Scotland should be independent, why would you not take as your starting assumption that Scotland is perfectly capable of managing its “currency, economy, and public services”? Why would you need to be convinced of this after coming to the conclusion that Scotland’s affairs are not well managed while mired in the Union?
When I hear of people flocking to the cause of independence on account of Brexit or Boris or Dom Cummings or differential handling of the coronavirus crisis, I cannot help but wonder whether that support might not just flock off again at the drop of a British Nationalist smear story against some senior SNP politician. Or in view of some action on the part of the Scottish Government – real or invented by the British media. Or because they are not given the kind of certainty on matters economic which doesn’t exist.
I look at polls showing support for independence increasing as a reaction to current scandals and crises and I wonder what kind of basis this is for a decision on major constitutional reform.
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.