Kenny MacAskill is right! He is saying what people such as myself have been saying for several years. He is expressing the thoughts and feelings of increasing numbers of Yes activists. In an article written for Wings Over Scotland and reported in The National today, Kenny MacAskill lends focus to the anger and frustration provoked by the SNP’s lackadaisical and lacklustre approach to the constitutional issue. More significantly, he gives purpose to what was in danger of becoming rudderless rage. Rage as likely to backfire on the SNP and those who afford the party uncritical support as to find a mark among the British Nationalist ideologues threatening Scotland’s democracy.
Scotland’s cause desperately needs leadership. That has been apparent for several years. Initially, my hope and expectation was that this leadership would come from the SNP. That would have been convenient. There are distinct advantages in the campaign for a cause being led by those who will ultimately be responsible for giving political effect to the campaign’s victory. And those who will inevitably be blamed for any failure regardless of whether they provide leadership or not. Having the campaign fronted by some individual or group without effective power mean that, in the end. whatever support has been gained must be transferred to those who do.
My preference would have been that Nicola Sturgeon combine her role as Scotland’s political leader and her role as de facto figurehead of the independence movement with a role as the ‘face’ of the campaign – with the SNP managing that campaign. This has not happened. Nor is it going to. Nicola Sturgeon has shied away from the role I envisaged her taking. And, as Kenny MacAskill notes, the party has done nothing since 2014 either to secure a new referendum or to prepare for the campaign. There has been no leadership.
In part, at least, this may be explained by the fact that while the Yes movement requires leadership, the SNP demands control. There is undoubtedly a point at which both could meet. But there has been no movement towards that point. The point has been identified. It just hasn’t been accepted by Yes activists generally or the SNP hierarchy at all. All of which is a bit like saying that there is no leadership because there hasn’t been the leadership necessary to permit leadership to emerge. Such conundrums can arise when one is dealing with such slippery concepts.
The point is the Union. More precisely, the point is to end the Union. That is the point on which there can be no disagreement among those who aspire to the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Ending the Union is our common cause. That is the point around which the entire independence movement – including its political arm – can coalesce to form a campaign organisation regardless of policy agenda’s and partisan interests and personal animosities. Ending the Union is the one thing all Yes activists can talk about without disagreement. It is the only point on which the entire independence movement can speak with one voice. It is the torch which must be grasped and held aloft by any person or group which would provide the leadership the movement so desperately needs.
Like many of us, Kenny MacAskill seems to have given up hope of Nicola Sturgeon seizing this torch. If it was going to happen, it would have happened by now. Or we would at least be seeing some indications that it might happen. If she had any thought of adopting a Manifesto for Independence in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections then we would have known about it by this time. Speculation would be rife. Instead, it is confined to a handful of commentators such as myself. The general expectation is that Nicola Sturgeon intends sticking as closely as she can to the same path as led to the 2014 referendum. She could confound those expectations. I could grow new teeth.
But the SNP is still crucial to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Without an SNP administration endowed with a powerful popular mandate it matters little how much public support there is or how well we campaign, nothing can actually happen. It may, therefore, be more accurate to say that the Yes movement needs not so much to lead as to push. The SNP remains the lever by which we will prise Scotland from the Union. And there are compelling reasons why we must ensure that SNP administration other than its role in providing effective political power. The party is, if you will forgive the mixed metaphor, the head of the spear while Yes activists form the shaft. There is, quite literally, no point in the shaft leading the spearhead.
But Kenny MacAskill is certainly right when he says,
The groups are and will remain autonomous, but a central team is important. Moreover, the leadership of a mass movement should come from within, not be appointed from on high.
Leadership must emerge from the Yes movement. Leadership cannot come from the Scottish Independence Convention/Voices for Scotland as suggested by The National because it is so widely regarded as a creature of the SNP. One of the many organisations and ‘initiatives’ launched by the party to appear to be doing something while actually doing nothing more than putting buffers between itself and the Yes movement. The SNP must, however, facilitate this emergent leadership. If the Yes movement is to speak with one voice then it needs both a message and an audience. The first audience has to be the SNP. The first message has to be that the party must adopt a Manifesto for Independence.
Only then can the whole independence movement come together in a campaign. Only then can the campaign message be #DissolveTheUnion. Only then will we find a willing audience in the people of Scotland.