Less than a year ago if you’d uttered the term “UDI” in conversation with a group of SNP members there would have been at least one pant-wetting incident and quite possible a hospitalisation. Or at least the attendance of paramedics. Talking about Scotland following any route to independence other than the ‘gold standard’ cul-de-sac chosen by our First Minister was generally regarded as heresy. Those guilty of pointing out the all too evident flaws in what was proclaimed to be the only true path to independence might well anticipate being introduced to exceptionally well heated accommodations in the belly of a giant male effigy wrought in wicker. How times have changed!
It seems like only yesterday that Nicola Sturgeon thought it appropriate to entertain a Women for Independence gathering with a wee routine roundly mocking the idea of dissolving the Union. Would she give that same performance now? Certainly not if she is as aware as she should of the mood in the party and the rest of the Yes movement. The WfI ladies may have thought it hilarious back then. Today, Nicola would be lucky to get a polite and plainly forced guffaw. The mood has shifted dramatically.
Certainly, there is no outward sign from the SNP political leadership and/or senior management that they realise the extent to which discourse within the independence movement has transformed over recent months. But we wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, expect that there would be an immediate and evident reaction. It takes time for such change to filter through and be assessed. And this is as it should be. Humza Yousaf and Pete Wishart (Aye! Him again!) have lately provided ample evidence of the dangers inherent in thoughtless, mindless, reckless knee-jerk reaction. Particularly on social media. Just as a car needs both an accelerator and a brake, political parties need both radical and conservative elements. The latter serve as a governor which prevents the radicalism running wild and becoming extremism or just plain idiocy. So it’s good that the party leadership should take a slightly cautious approach.
By the same token, the leadership must take care lest the mood of the membership runs ahead of them. As is likely to happen through being over-cautious. Given that the SNP high heidyins have gained a reputation for near-pathological hyper-caution, we would be justified in taking the lack of movement on their part as a continuation of the inertia that has beset the independence cause since 2014. If that proves to be the case, it’s as much our fault as theirs. Their resistance to change can only be effective if our insistence on change is inadequate. If there is no movement, push harder!
While it is now possible to discuss #ScottishUDI without fear of being stoned to death, there are hold-outs. There are still people who, while recognising that there are certainly problems with the Section 30 process, can’t quite bring themselves to cast off the old gods of meek compliance in order to fully embrace the new doctrine of constructive defiance. There are, rather amazingly, still people who opine that the Section 30 process should be given one more chance. It shouldn’t! It mustn’t!
The most common argument deployed in advocating another go at the utterly discredited Section 30 process is that we must be seen to have tried everything before doing something else. What this argument tends to avoid saying is that we must try everything repeatedly before moving on. Also left out is the bit about who exactly it is that we must convince that we’ve tried everything else before considering something else. Often, it’s a a creature called a ‘softno’ which we have to please. At times we are advised that we mustn’t disturb the delicate sensibilities of recent converts to Yes. By this account, Scotland’s cause hangs on the shoogliest of pegs and Scotland is largely inhabited by egos fragile as the finest porcelain.
The ‘softno’ may not be entirely a creature of myth. But has it ever been sighted outwith its natural habitat in focus groups? Even if these beasties are real, does it make sense to fashion an entire campaign that is limited by their sensitivities? If we are targeting only these ‘softnos’, or if we’re eschewing certain campaign strategies and tactics out of consideration for them, is it not likely that we will fail to reach those of a more robust constitution? There may be pockets of ‘softons’ surviving in the wild. But they are not the only prey out there. If we hunt armed only with feather dusters we won’t bring down any Unionists who are made of sterner stuff. and we need their votes too.
If the ‘softno’ is so rare as to only ever have been seen by pollsters, the wavering Yes voter is a seriously endangered species. It may be too early to tell – who knows what might appear from the mist-shrouded forests of lockdown – but I doubt if there is a viable breeding population. Be honest! Have you ever heard a credible account of a Yes supporter, fresh to the cause or otherwise, who went back over to the dark side? Is it not more common to find these new converts more evangelical on the matter of independence than is seemly? Whisper it! Their fervour can be a bit embarrassing betimes. It’s hard to imagine anything a fellow Yes supporter might do or say to drive them away. When people make the journey from No to Yes, they come not as visitors but as new residents – here to stay and welcome.
The trouble with caution is that it so readily descends into fearful inertia. We’ve borne witness to this over the last five years as the Scottish Government and the SNP totally stalled the independence campaign and by some accounts allowed it to roll backwards.
The reality is that when the argument is made for having another roll of the loaded Section 30 dice, the ‘softnos’ and wavering Yessers serve merely as proxies for the British establishment and its propaganda machine. It is an argument from a still colonised mind. It is an argument which fails to escape the Little Box of Britishness that the BBC and the rest devote so much effort to squeezing us into almost from the moment we are born anywhere in England-as-Britain’s periphery. The problem lies not with the attitudes and sensibilities of the people our campaign seeks to address, but in the mindset of those who continue to insist that we only address them in language constrained by a British etiquette that acts as a form of censorship and/or induces insidious self-censorship. And what is true of language is just as true of action. The colonised mind works like shackles that inhibit an deter movement.
The most significant growth in the Yes movement in its early days was fuelled by people inspired to cast off the shackles of their colonised minds by a combination of circumstances which either no longer pertain or which have weakened in terms of their ability to influence over the years. There are still many people in the Yes movement – including the SNP – who have not entirely freed their minds from colonisation. and a few whose minds may have been in a sense and to some extent recolonised as a result of their immersion in the British political mire. I think a name may immediately spring to mind. As much as we have to address those who may now be having doubts about their commitment to the Union, we need to help those in our midst who are yet to lose the vestiges of a mindset instilled by the British propaganda machine in diverse ways and over generations.
People are not inspired by inaction. Why would they be? We are venturing into new territory with the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Hesitation and timidity will be fatal to our cause. Be need to be bold and assertive and ambitious and determined. The Section 30 process has no place in the mindset required for this fight. In truth, it never had a place in Scotland’s politics any more than a malignant tumour can be said to have a place in a body. It’s long past time that malignancy was excised completely. Nobody wants to give cancer a chance.
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