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.