Will the flockers just flock off?

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.

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7 thoughts on “Will the flockers just flock off?

  1. What is remarkable about the latest reported poll from ScotGoesPop [carried out by Panelbase] is not the ‘surge’ of the headline writers. It is how steady the last 4 polls have been, within margin of error. The Cummings affair and the looming brexit and the collapse in respect for Johnson seem to be having almost no effect.

    When you look at more general UK polls, the effect is similar. Cummings seems only to have done serious damage to Johnson’s personal approval ratings. In terms of voting intention, Cummings seems only to have wiped out the tories’ boost from being in charge in a crisis.

    I think Cummings and Johnson chaos will probably take quite a while to work through to a reduction in tory voting intention or and increase for Indy, may be 6 to 18 months. Over the period since 2017, Indy support has been steadily rising and to some extent I think this is preferable to a surge, because I think this support is likely to be fairly solid. A handy tracker is https://whatscotlandthinks.org/questions/how-would-you-vote-in-the-in-a-scottish-independence-referendum-if-held-now-ask/ . On a quick glance, it does not look like potential negatives such as the Salmond trial have had anything like as much effect as brexit events, which adds to my thought that the support is firm.

    My conversations with those you describe as ‘Unionist’ [admittedly few recently] indicate that while some are viscerally opposed to Indy, many others are mentally prepared for Indy and would accept it, but would not vote for it, because they fear difficult negotiations or a hard border or a shambles of some sort. And looking at the brexit negotiations, I think there is good reason to fear that rUK will not negotiate in good faith.

    It is also for these people that the section 30 order is a Gold Standard and the legitimacy of the process has to be right in their terms, not ours [Another reason to argue that the Section 30 is the Gold Standard]. We are likely not to get the Section 30, so we actually have 2 mountains to climb with them – firstly to accept that on balance Indy is better and secondly to accept that a route other than Section 30 is legitimate.

    The big cloud on the horizon for me [and I am one who made a rational decision for Indy as an adult rather than being a birthright Independista] is how quickly Labour might get its act together. I would expect them to make a good pitch for ’24 and I actually expect them to win, particularly now that Johnson is being made to do brexit and own it. I don’t think Labour can go into ’24 with a manifesto to reverse brexit, but if they win, I expect them to negotiate a reaccession to the Single Market and the Customs Union late in their term, for submission to a referendum after ’29.

    The exact details of this don’t matter, but it leaves them needing something serious to offer in ’24. Not being the tories is not good enough and I expect constitutional reform, such as House of Lords reform and a serious attempt at rebalancing the union. A while back, I was thinking that after the brexit shambles, the UK would not be open to any attempt at reform for a generation. But with what the tories have been doing lately – eg the Rees-Mogg conga voting, I think there will be more of an appetite for reform.

    This brings us to federalism. If Labour put that on the table, the Indy polls go 3 ways. To me it is a bigger danger than the tories shutting down Holyrood. I think you might find in Scotland 40% for Indy, 35% for federalism, 15% for status quo and 10% DK. It also corresponds with your Indy, Unionist and BritNat division. It would leave Scotland divided with no hope of a majority for anything and crucially, tied to the rUK to have a cross society consensus.

    It puts the pressure on to get Indy done in Holyrood ’21 before Labour get their act together for Westminster ’24.


    1. Your points about Labour are interesting, but most of us are not interested in waiting for Labour to get back to power in 2024, or before that, if the opportunity arises.
      Scotland really does need to get out of the Union, way before then.
      Now I get the bit there are still enough folks who might want to go along with the Labour idea, for a slew of reasons,
      But history has shown us too often, Labour cannot be trusted, Any “Federalism” ideas Labour come up with would be of a very limited kind, and make us no more than a bit of England, and it still leave Scotland at the mercy of Westminster, on things like Brexit. They would never let us have full control of our finances, etc, either.
      There is no way anything coming from the Unionist politicians will be to Scotland’s advantage.

      We have to move now. Waiting ’till the next UK General Election is not an option.
      We would hope it is not an option, on the minds of SNP .too.
      Because if it is, and there might just be a few MPs who think along those lines, it will do SNP no favors at all.
      The upcoming Holyrood election is their last chance for many of us.
      If they throw it away this time, then, by 2024, they could find themselves overtaken by others. Could that be enough time for any new group to get established?.
      But the hope is by 2024, we don’t have to worry about it. We want the Union over by then.

      As to UK negotiating anything, SNP made the mistake of taking UK Govt, and the pro London lot at their word in 2013.,but during the entire 2014 campaigning, they were as devious as ever! But SNP kept scrupulously too polite. The fact is, UK never does anything in good faith, as the EU is finding out right now.
      Scotland, will be have to be just as hard with UK Govt, in turn.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gordon Keane: “Your points about Labour are interesting, but most of us are not interested in waiting for Labour to get back to power in 2024, or before that, if the opportunity arises.”

        There is no ‘but’ about it. The points about Labour are very much the reason for thinking we need to have Indy done. Well done for understanding that part of my point and restating it.

        The bit you are missing is that I am trying to see this not from our point of view but from the point of view of the soft middle whom we need to convince [whom our old curmudgeon is pointing out for us today]. There is no point in making out I am wrong when I attempt to explain it. I think I have been successful in alerting you to the inherent risks of Federalism, but then you go on to argue me down for stating how federalism could screw us with the soft middle as though I were arguing for it. Well, you have won that argument with me before you started. But you don’t need to win that argument with me.

        We cannot dismiss Federalism. It is of little interest to us. But it is the one thing which will best trip us up with the soft middle. Don’t waste your time telling me what is wrong with it on Indy terms. What we need is a strategy not to be confronted with it as an option or tactics to deal with it if it does become an option. We need to know what is wrong with it on soft unionist terms.


      2. I’m not arguing you down. I note what you mean. I simply point out the pitfalls to those who would be tempted to follow Labour, (like some Daily Record readers). And we have to have the counter arguments to throw back at them. Reminding them, Labour can never be trusted.


    2. Sorry, good post, but I had to laugh at this; “House of Lords reform”!!!! I can’t remember a time Labour haven’t virtue signalled over this issue, even when in government. However, with it packed out with former Labour/Socialist/Republican campaigners of old (step forward Alistair Darling and sundry others), any claims to be serious about meaningful reform would surely be met with derision and a further serious loss of credibility in the eyes of the electorate. It would actually be literally laughable.


  2. When Rhona Duffy says “It’s also crucial to have coherent plans for the currency, economy, and public services” she might speak for a lot of ‘converts’.


    As James Carvelle, strategist for Bill Clinton, didn’t quite say in 1992: “It’s demcracy, stupid”.

    Liked by 1 person

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