Here we go again! We’ve seen this sort of thing from what I’ve come to think of as the Yes movement’s own ‘establishment’. Carolyn Leckie very eloquently makes the case that the great river of history has moved on very dramatically since 2014. In Scotland no less than anywhere else, it’s a different world. All this as a prelude to an argument that we cannot sensibly continue the same approach to the constitutional issue as was considered appropriate in 2014. An argument that never comes. Carolyn Leckie lays the groundwork for a case she doesn’t present. She sets the scene for ‘The bold ideas we need to make the Yes movement unstoppable‘ promised by the headline. But then she gets stage-fright and rather than reveal any “bold ideas”, she reverts to the same ‘righteous radical’ script she read from back then.
Times have certainly changed. Carolyn Leckie evidently hasn’t.
There is comedy here. Having made that argument that we can’t act as if nothing has changed since 2014 Carolyn bids us take our cues from 1945! That tickled me. Does she really suppose that things haven’t so much moved on in the past seven years as circled back nearly seventy? That hardly seems credible. It certainly isn’t persuasive. But 1945 is a vital reference point for righteous radicals. It is the only occasion in relevantly modern history that people in the UK have elected a truly radical government. Or, to be more accurate, a government that did some truly radical things. However much the great river of history moves on righteous radicals will still be referring to 1945. Because for as much as these righteous radicals have convinced themselves – and try to convince the rest of us – that the people of Scotland are any moment about to experience some kind of mass epiphany and proceed to sweep away the old order in a tsunami of “bold ideas”, the hard reality is that the people of Scotland have elected truly radical governments even less often that they’ve elected Tory ones. And there is precisely no evidence that this is changing.
It sure as hell isn’t changing while the Union denies our right to choose the form of government that best addresses our needs, priorities and aspirations.
But, hang on a moment! Didn’t Carolyn Leckie start off talking about a new independence referendum and how the Yes movement should conduct its campaign? Didn’t she hint at some “bold ideas” in this regard? How did we end up talking about elections and policies such as “Universal Basic Income, Green New Deal, and a fundamental restructuring of the tax system”?
The same way we always do! Carolyn Leckie, like so many in the Yes ‘establishment’ and pretty much all righteous radicals, is distinctly uncomfortable talking about the constitutional issue. I’m not entirely sure why. I have some thoughts. But that’s for another time. Perhaps it’s simply because I’m neither a righteous radical nor part of the Yes ‘establishment’. I count my blessings. For the moment, let’s concentrate on what Carolyn is saying. Because what she is saying is representative of one side in the great constitutional debate going on within the Yes movement and within the larger debate about Scotland’s constitutional status.
On one side of this debate we have what I have previously referred to as ‘The pro-independence faction of the SNP‘ and its associated section of the non-SNP Yes movement. That is to say, the side which argues for genuine “bold ideas” and a genuinely new and genuinely radical approach to the constitutional issue. The side I am on. Carolyn Leckie represents the side which, while trying to give the impression of presenting “bold ideas” and novel thinking, in fact clings to the same approach as was taken in the 2014 referendum and advocates a campaign strategy that is unchanged. For all the fine rhetoric about the need for new thinking, the argument is depressingly familiar.
Let’s summarise that argument. It goes like this –
In order to secure a vote for independence in a constitutional referendum our campaign must not talk about the constitution. Nor should we talk about the process by which we might actually bring about that referendum. Instead, we must talk as if the referendum were actually an election. We must talk about policies and programmes for government and definitely not democratic principles and the reality of Scotland’s constitutional predicament and the myriad ways in which this impacts ever single one of Scotland’s people.
It goes without saying that we should assiduously avoid mentioning the fact that we can’t actually guarantee to deliver any of the policies we’re talking about. Nor should we dwell on the decidedly awkward fact that many others are talking about other policies and programmes for government which are markedly different from the policies and programmes for government that we are talking about. We must ignore completely the fact that the people of Scotland have no way of knowing which of these policies and programmes for government they will be voting for or against. And we must do everything we can to prevent the people of Scotland realising that they won’t actually be voting for any of these policies or programmes for government because it’s a referendum and not an election and they will actually be voting solely on the constitutional issue that we refuse to talk about.
Lastly, although it actually comes before all of the above, we must not permit any discussion of the process by which we bring about the referendum that we intend to treat as if it were an election. For two reasons. Firstly, if we allow talk about the process by which we might bring about this referendum people will be bound to realise that it is a referendum and we’ll look rather silly talking about it as if it’s an election. Secondly, we cannot admit the truth about the process by which we might bring about a new constitutional referendum. We cannot acknowledge that the process which was considered appropriate for the first referendum is not only inappropriate in this changed world but totally infeasible! Were we to acknowledge this then we’d have to allow that the only alternative is a process which really is bold and radical and requires that we act boldly and radically instead of just talking as if we were bold and radical.
No, I don’t get it either. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m on the pro-independence wing of the SNP/Yes movement or the reason I find myself on the opposite side from Carolyn Leckie.
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