There’s an article in today’s National penned by Iain Black. He is described as “a Voices for Scotland board member and vice-convenor [sic] of the Scottish Independence Convention”. We are assured that the views expressed are his own. They’re not! Or they might be. But they echo the official line taken by the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC). Iain Black’s ideas of how the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence might best be advanced accurately reflect the attitude which prevails in the SIC and in a plethora of other special interest groups which have latched onto ‘independence’ as a useful marketing device for their policy agenda.
The SIC should call themselves ‘Voices for Everything Except Yes’. And they could do with buying a calendar. This is not 2012! It is a long way from 2012. It is considerably more than eight year’s worth of change since 2012. The SIC seems oblivious to the change. They want to fight the same campaign as for the 2014 referendum. They want to fight the campaign in the same way and according to the same rules. It simply doesn’t occur to them that different may be possible, or necessary.
I have some advice for SIC to ignore with their customary elitist arrogance. You will never build a case for independence around which the entire Yes movement can unite. And if you can’t unite the Yes movement then you can’t win the campaign. A single-issue political campaign cannot be built on and around a disputed concept. And ‘independence’ is a disputed concept. Scotland’s cause is a single issue. That issue is the Union. The Union that denies us the agency to effect any meaningful change. The Union which denies the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.
It is an issue which must be addressed in a referendum. A single-issue referendum. There is no other kind. If you are talking about currency you are not addressing the issue. You are, therefore, not part of the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence by ending the Union. You are part of this other thing that should be running in the background.
Partisan politics and ideological agendas have no place in the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. They distract from the mission, divide the movement and dilute the message.
This is not to say that the policy agenda is bad. Invariably, a policy agenda will have bits that some agree with and bits they disagree with. Different people will take different views. And that is precisely the problem. There is no such thing as a ‘case for independence’ on which the Yes movement can agree. Therefore there is little possibility of there being a ‘case for independence’ on which the voters can agree. When I say “very little possibility” what I mean is none.
This is why we have political parties and elections. Elections are different from referendums. (This will sound condescending to some ears. But if you read Iain Black’s column you’ll understand that it has to be said.) Elections provide a mandate for a particular administration to pursue a particular policy agenda as spelled out in the party manifestos. That’s the simple version. In real life politics all is fudge and compromise. A referendum cannot – must not – result in fudge and compromise. The 2014 independence referendum and the 2016 EU referendum each produced a result but no decision. They failed as referendums. Hence the debacle of Brexit. Hence the continuing effort to get a decision on Scotland’s constitutional status. Hence, too, the Union as it has become – an instrument of annexation for Scotland and subordination for Scotland’s people.
People talk about “when the referendum campaign starts”. It has started. It might be more true to say it never stopped. It has most certainly not been conducted effectively over the past five or six years. But it is there. We now need to get that campaign working effectively. We need to move on to the next phase of that campaign. We cannot afford to have a campaign running round the mobius strip of policy debate. We need to get off that treadmill and focus on the one thing that all in the Yes movement should be agreed upon – the need to end the Union.
Everything that Iain Black talks about and everything that all the other special interest groups talk about depends critically on ending the Union. And yet this fundamental necessity is never mentioned. That may be because people like Iain Black reckon the Scottish people can’t cope with the issue being stated so baldy and forcefully. It may be because they are too distracted by vital matter such as the colour of postage stamps after independence. It may even be because they genuinely fail to recognise the fact that dissolving the Union is the single common aim of the entire Yes movement.
The Union or independence. That is the stark choice that will face Scotland’s electorate as they contemplate the referendum which must decide this question. There will be nothing on the ballot paper about the colour of postage stamps. It is a single issue. Therefore, the campaign must be fought on that single issue.
If, as Iain Black insists, we need “new case for independence” for independence today, is it not entirely within the bounds of possibility that we will need another “new case” tomorrow? Or next month? Or next year? Which case is it that we are trying to sell to the people of Scotland? Is any one of these cases a case upon which a clear majority can agree and so produce a decision as well as a result?
Policy debates have their place. They are part of the general political discourse. I would encourage people to engage with this discourse. But I would caution them against supposing these debates are the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. They are a separate thing altogether. Something which should run alongside the single-issue campaign. Otherwise, how might it be the single-issue campaign that it must be for what cannot be other than a single-issue referendum?
Iain Black and SIC and ‘Voices for Everything Maybe Including Yes’ have failed to learn the lessons of the 2014 campaign. They fail to recognise the new reality. (Of which the viral pandemic is only a part.) They suppose that Scotland’s cause can effectively be pursued by the old means utilising the old process. They are wrong! Badly wrong! Tragically wrong!
Unfortunately, so is the SNP. The SIC and similar organisation don’t connect the different elements of the independence movement. They act as a buffer between the Yes movement and both the SNP and the intellectual elites with their ideological agendas and their utter conviction that it is their role to guide the masses. To speak for the masses. To exploit the masses in the service of that ideological agenda. It doesn’t matter how attractive that agenda might be to however many people, it does not relate to the question being asked.
The Yes movement needs to break through these barriers. The Yes movement needs a unified voice in order that it can speak to power. In order that it can instruct power. In order that it can join its strength with effective political power and thus create the force which will lever Scotland out of the Union.
White Rose Rising is the campaign against the Union. That is all! It is a campaign intended to address the actual choice that the people of Scotland will be asked to make. It is a campaign to force the Scottish Government to facilitate that choice through the Scottish Parliament – the only parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland.
White Rose Rising is an idea. It exemplifies what the Yes movement must become in order to effectively pursue the restoration of Scotland’s independence.
Independence! Nothing less! Nothing else!
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