Is the SNP prepared for a new independence referendum?

Like him or loathe him, nobody can accuse Kenny MacAskill of mincing his words. He is refreshingly outspoken. But is he right? Is the SNP in condition for fighting a new referendum campaign? Or has the party been allowed to grow flabby and ponderous to an extent that is “not just negligent but criminal”? How can we tell?

We certainly won’t be able to judge the fitness of the SNP if we are examining it with an uncritical eye through rose-tinted spectacles; vision misted with admiration for Nicola Sturgeon’s deft handling of a major crisis; eyes blinded by the glare of opinion poll numbers rendered in garishly coloured neon and flashed in our faces incessantly; ears deafened by the clamour of the loyalist claque that seeks to drown out even the mildest dissent from the party line.

Neither will we get a clear impression of the SNP’s condition from accounts such as The National’s claim that “launching her Programme for Government, Nicola Sturgeon unveiled plans for a new draft Referendum Bill”. She certainly spoke about a draft Referendum Bill. But nothing she said could be taken for a “plan” other than with the kind of effusive goodwill usually reserved for the most mawkish fictional portrayals of a mythical ‘Christmas spirit’.

As ever, we discover the facts by digging until the spades of our questions strike something solid. Is there evidence of preparedness? What would preparedness look like? How credible are claims of preparedness? Are there any claims of preparedness? How does the party rebut accusations that it is ill-prepared or unprepared for its role as the political arm of Scotland’s independence movement.

Let’s begin by looking at that last one. How does the party respond to MacAskill’s allegation that the SNP relies overmuch on “self-satisfied parroting of opinion poll results” to deflect criticism. What does the party say to that? Well, apparently, a party source told The National: “Sir John Curtice is more positive about recent polling than Kenny.”. It seems this “party source” knows not the ways of irony.

If ever there was a moment when the SNP spokesperson need to come up with something – anything! – other than “self-satisfied parroting of opinion poll results”, this was it. Assuming this spokesperson had taken the trouble to read MacAskill’s comments before responding, and assuming they had some evidence of preparedness, this would have been the occasion on which to present that evidence. But all we get is… well… I think you’ve got it by now.

They say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But elegant as that aphorism is it does not capture the whole truth. There are circumstances in which absence of evidence can, with varying degrees of confidence, be taken as constituting evidence of absence. With your indulgence, I shall illustrate the point using a simple analogy/

Imagine two people in an upstairs room on a dark winter’s night. The window looks out over a huge expanse of lawn blanketed deeply in fresh snow. One of the people in the room insists that a large elephant has very recently walked across the snow-covered lawn. They do so with the same fervour as some people insist on the existence of a deity – an original creator. The other person takes them to the window and begs them behold the unsullied smoothness of undisturbed snow as far as the eye can see in all directions.

The religionist will, of course be undaunted in their belief in the Great Elephant God. The absence of evidence in the form of footprints in the snow will be regarded by them as a test of their faith. They have to prove their faith by believing in the Great Elephant God despite the absence of evidence. Awkwardly, the strength of their faith is directly proportional to the persuasiveness of the evidence of non-existence. Taken to its logical conclusion, this necessarily implies that belief in the existence of the Great Elephant God reaches its acme with total acceptance of the evidence for non-existence. Doublethink!

For rational people, the dearth of elephant spoor makes a convincing case for their having been no recent pachyderm activity in the vicinity. The absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

In similar fashion, the fact that the SNP source failed to supply evidence of the party’s preparedness for a new referendum when it is very much require is, at the very least, strongly suggestive of there being no such evidence.

What would preparedness look like? For a start, it would look like a party spokesperson reeling of a catalogue of completed preparations. This is a big thing. To stretch our metaphor to breaking point, it is the elephant outside the room. The constitutional issue is the overarching and overriding issue in Scotland. All other issues, including the public health crisis, are matters of policy and management. The constitution is concerned with questions of power and its exercise. Matters of policy and management must always be subordinate to the matter of how and by whom decisions on policy and management are taken. Like an elephant walking across a pristine snow-covered lawn, a plan for effecting the restoration of Scotland’s independence would be bound to make a mark.

There is no mark. There is no plan.

Kenny MacAskill and I disagree on what that mark would look like if it existed. He says,

Failures in election preparation are matched by a lack of progress on policy issues for an independence referendum.

Kenny MacAskill hits out over ‘lack of indyref2 groundwork’

There are no “policy issues” in an independence referendum. There are no policy issues in any referendum. There can be no plurals. It is binary. By definition. As already noted, the constitution is not concerned with policy and management. The constitution deals with power and its exercise. There will be precisely no questions about policy on the referendum ballot paper.

If there is to be a referendum. Given the precarity of Scotland’s situation and the urgency of our need we would expect to find the political arm of the independence movement showing clear and unmistakable signs of preparedness. Preparedness which could not possibly be kept secret – to answer those in the loyalist claque whose knee-jerk response will be to refer to tricks up sleeves, cards close to chests and a seemingly endless list of cliched metaphors all of which rely for relevance on there being an infinite number of options including many which are so arcane as to be unknowable to intellects any less acute than Nicola Sturgeon’s.

Kenny MacAskill is right. He’s right to suggest that there is growing restlessness within the party. And, I might add, throughout the Yes movement. He is also correct about the cause.

Underpinning all the discontent has been a growing despair at the failure of SNP HQ to prepare for indyref2.

But even if he was wrong; even if there was some kind of preparation the he and I and many others haven’t noticed, does it do any harm to urge SNP HQ to greater and better effort on behalf of the independence movement it is supposed to serve? Many party loyalists insist that it does. It is difficult to find the logic in the claim that pressing the SNP to work more diligently and effectively at restoring Scotland’s independence is undermining the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. One can only assume that those making such a claim fail to distinguish between constructive criticism and calumnious condemnation.

For myself, I would like nothing better than to be cheering the SNP leadership and management as the party rolled out a manifesto for independence and credible programme for getting Scotland out from under the crushing, suffocating, crippling weight of the Union. Like Kenny MacAskill, however, I find nothing to cheer.

13 thoughts on “Is the SNP prepared for a new independence referendum?

  1. Andrew Wilson was on radio 4 this morning being interviewed along with some economist by Nick Robinson. The ” discussion” was about the alledged 15 billion £’s black hole in Scotland’s budget and the future difficulty of an independent Scotland being able to borrow money on the world stage especially if the pound sterling was Scotland’s currency.
    What I have to ask is, did Andrew not know what he would be asked? If he did why was he not better prepared to answer Nick Robinson’s questions? Thirdly, why does he have to sound so appologetic all the time?
    Are there no firebrands left in the SNP? Someone to make the case strongly and to soundly rebut the constant repetition of the Unionist single arguement about a future currency. If not then train some as soon as possible, by yesterday!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I agree. The SNP – including the FM – is extremely weak in shooting down this nonsense. It should be a golden opportunity to attack this farcical union. Must do better.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Ooer! An excuse!
    Because of this virus, the eyesight test for the SNP HQ has been delayed till May 2021.
    Methinks reality will kick in , around October time, then a further check in December.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Robin McAlpine from commonweal has been telling anyone that will listen, there is no plan or groundwork being done by the SNP for indyref2. I have personally been asking SNP officials since 2015, are we taking advantage of all the extra money we receive for being the 3rd largest party in Westminster? i.e are we hiring staff to study the enormous amount of information available in the commons library, that may help us with Indyref2. I will let you guess the answers.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Changing the subject; why are you using this column to attack those of us who hold religious beliefs? What evidence do you need for the existence of a creator? A huge amount of scientific evidence over the past 60 years – from the ‘big bang’ to the fine-tuning of the universe to the complexity of living cells points firmly in the direction of a creative mind.

    The resurrection of Jesus Christ from a public execution is almost certainly the most carefully documented and clearly witnessed event in ancient history.

    There is no absence of evidence. I suggest you are looking in the wrong places.


      1. I’m not a ‘religionist’ nor am I trying to reel you in.

        I look for the truth without pride or prejudice and I follow the evidence. I only express opinions based on what I know to be true.

        If you diss the truth because you think you’re too smart then, to me, you’re not ower wise, ye ken hee haw…

        If you get the big questions wrong, how can we trust you with more trivial matters like events affecting Scotland in our lifetimes?


  5. Religion was put in place to control the masses.
    Before that it was the sun and the moon, in between it was offerings to the gods based on fertility and such things, all grounded on human names of the times.
    Nobody is knocking your faith as long as you keep it to yersel.
    Yet again a minority group, is controlling the majority.
    We have religious group leaders making policy.
    At least their not using the mob to
    Execute folk by burning, drowning , drawing ,quartering and hanging.
    Although India looks like it’s holding onto the practices, along with other religious fundamentalist countries.
    Who’d a thunkit.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I wasn’t talking about the practice of religion, I was talking about the evidence for a creator if you read what I said.

      From reading your comments you clearly have very limited knowledge of the sources of world religions, and it seems extremely prejudiced and simplistic views of the practices of those faiths.

      What makes you say that people with religious beliefs are a minority? How do they control the majority? This is reactionary nonsense.

      Why should I keep my views to myself? I’m not knocking atheism, I’m just pointing to different and, in my view, more persuasive evidence.

      The most up-to-date scientific evidence points to the universe being created in order for life to come into existence. You should read about it, it is fascinating.

      How could anyone argue that the Christian religion was ‘put in place to control the masses?’ The original Christians were a persecuted minority. All but one of the original apostles was executed for their beliefs by the people in control of the masses. Liars don’t make good martyrs.

      This early Christians were convinced they saw a crucified man come back to life. It is a testament to the triumph of life over death. How can anyone see that as a bad thing?

      At times it is practised by bad people. Human beings give often God and religion a bad name.

      Don’t confuse the message with the errors of the messenger.


  6. We need more shit stirrers and firebrands in the SNP.

    No independence movement anywhere has got a result by docilely waiting for the kind permission of the oppressor state by holding a referendum under the oppressor state’s rules and administration.

    If Scots are sovereign people, then we should act as sovereign people.

    We don’t need permission to be free.

    Currently we are giving permission to be oppressed.

    Liked by 1 person

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