I have questions. I always have questions. I hope I will always have questions. Questions are important. Questioning is important. It is important to question everything. It is import to persist with questioning even when you have found an answer that fits. Because it is only by persisting that you may arrive at the right question. And only when you ask the right question will you get the right answer. Only when you have asked all possible questions can you be sure that you’ve asked the right question. Truth lies at the end of an infinite chain of questions.
Of course, in real life few of us enjoy the luxury of the undistracted time it would take to ask all possible questions about everything. Nor are we blessed with the omniscience to always know the right answer when we encounter it. We use our judgement. We assess both questions and answers on the basis of our knowledge and experience and intuition – the latter being simply knowledge and experience operating at a lower level of consciousness. We are only human. Our judgement is flawed. Which is why the first, last and most crucial questioning we must undertake is a rigorous interrogation of our own assumptions, preconceptions and prejudices. The aim is to get as far along that chain of questions as possible taking account of the significance of the matter and the resources at our disposal.
The 2021 Scottish Parliament election is quite significant. In fact, it is crucial. To an extraordinary degree, the future of nations will be decided in that election. Scotland’s future will be determined by the outcome. So we should really should give very serious thought to the question of what outcome would be best for Scotland and how we might go about achieving that outcome. Seeking the wrong outcome and seeking the right outcome in the wrong way would be similarly disastrous. The AltIndy parties manage to do both.
By ‘AltIndy’ I mean the alternative pro-independence parties that have sprouted around the 2021 Holyrood election. The ‘list parties’ as they are sometimes referred to, along with as a few more pejorative terms. The groups making bold claims and glittering promises about what they may achieve in that election. Claims that are flawed and promises that are undeliverable because the wrong questions have been asked. Or, more precisely, the right questions haven’t been asked. By ‘right’ I mean the questions that lie some way further along the chain that would lead us to perfect truth were it not infinite and our lives a lot less so.
Considering the coming election from the perspective of Scotland’s cause – the fight to restore our nation’s independence – the first question we might ask is what would be the ideal outcome? What outcome would best serve our cause? But it is not really the first question. Because that chain of questions is infinite in both directions. There is always a preceding question. In order to sensibly address the question of the ideal outcome we need to understand the nature of the problem for which a solution is being sought and the type of difficulties we are likely to encounter.
The problem is the Union. The solution is to end it. The difficulty is that very powerful forces are determined to preserve the Union. They are determined to prevent us ending the Union. And they are prepared to do absolutely anything to achieve this.
There are many more questions which must be asked to arrive at a satisfactory definition of the ideal outcome in next year’s from the perspective of Scotland’s independence movement. A potentially infinite number, in fact. I have asked a lot of them. The AltIndy groups evidently haven’t. That is why we have come to such differing conclusions. It is because their questioning process has been deficient and mine is less so that they are wrong and I am less so. We know what questions they have asked because we can see where those questions have led them. We know that it has led them to the wrong place because further questions reveal that the outcome they are aiming for does not serve Scotland’s cause. Whether the means to achieving this end is viable doesn’t really matter given that the end is wrong. But when the means is as dubious as the end is misguided then the entire project begins to look farcical.
At this point it occurs to me that the AltIndy project has much in common with the Brexit project. Both can be seen as the product of a seriously flawed process of questioning. The farcical nature of Brexit is beyond doubt. The AltIndy project is fated to be just as farcical and potentially even more deleterious to Scotland’s interests. We might well explore the similarities at another time.
For the moment, let’s return to the question of our ideal outcome. The outcome that best serves the cause of ending the Union and thereby restoring Scotland’s status as an independent nation. This is a constitutional issue. Therefore, it is definitively a political issue. As such, it belongs in the realm of politics. It is an issue that must be resolved democratically and so it must be addressed in the place where Scotland’s democracy resides – the Scottish Parliament. This in turn requires that there be a Scottish Government which is prepared to address the issue. And to address it with such urgency as our predicament demands and by whatever means may be at its disposal – allowing only that those means must be respectful of democratic principles.
At present – and for our purposes there not only is no time like the present but no time other than the present – the only party capable of forming this pro-independence government is the Scottish National Party (SNP). That is a fact so far beyond doubt as to render questioning pointless. Even if there was a different or better answer further along the chain there is no time to get to that answer never mind implement the new solution. It’s the SNP or nothing. So, regardless of any other consideration, shouldn’t that be where all our efforts and resources are directed?
Our ideal outcome is defined in part by there being an SNP government in office after the election. There are no circumstances in which this is not true. Regardless of any and all other factors, our ideal outcome is the same – and SNP administration. To make it ideal in the context of Scotland’s cause it must be an SNP administration absolutely committed to taking that cause forward with appropriate urgency and by effective means. It must be an SNP administration committed to a Manifesto for Independence.
How we ensure this commitment is a question best dealt with separately. For our present purpose let us assume that it has been dealt with successfully. We are, after all, considering our perfect outcome. But it must be noted that the SNP government is essential regardless of any such commitment. Because the alternative is a prospect so unthinkable that nobody who cares about Scotland would risk it. There is nothing that the SNP has done or failed to do or might do or might fail to do which could possibly justify allowing the British parties to seize control. Nothing!
We are close to our ideal outcome having an SNP government armed with a mandate to implement the Manifesto for Independence. To add the final polish we need to stipulate that it is a majority government. A government with a working majority. An overall majority. Somewhere in the region of 66 to 70 seats. If a working majority is the icing on the cake then let’s add the cherry – over 50% of the popular vote! And since we’re working on our ultimate dream outcome, how about some sprinkles? How about we give the SNP in excess of 50% of the regional vote as well!
Now we have a hammer capable of cracking the British nut! A lever with the potential to prise Scotland out of the accursed Union!
This may be our dream outcome but it is achievable. It is at least possible to get some way towards it. It is massively ambitious, but not fantastical. It is what we should be working for even if we can get only half way there. We must aim high. We must aim highest.
There is no such thing as magic. Even with this dream outcome there would still be work to be done. Independence is not going to fall into our laps. Anyone who imagines independence automatically ensues from even such a decisive out come as has just been described is deluded. They are failing to take account of the nature of the British state and the existential imperative to preserve the Union. There is a reason the Union is ‘precious’ to British Nationalists. And that reason means that they will not easily relent in their effort to maintain Britannia’s grip on Scotland. But with something close to the ideal outcome described we will at least be properly equipped for the task of restoring Scotland’s independence.
Surely that is worth working for? Surely it is worth fighting for? Surely it is something for which we all should be prepared to set aside personal or partisan agendas and unite?
Which brings us to the AltIndy groups. Groups which represent the antithesis of unity – factionalism. It is hard to imagine anything that might serve Scotland’s cause less well – particularly given our present predicament – than to introduce the cancer of factionalism to the Yes movement. Any loss of focus might be fatal. anything that detracts or distract from the effort to get as close as we might to our ideal outcome should be anathema to those who truly believe in Scotland’s cause. Yet here we are, embroiled in an increasingly ‘tense’ debate, not about how to achieve the unity which best serves our cause, but about which brand of factionalism is the most appealing and which faction the most attractive. We have a choice of deadly cancers. Aren’t we lucky!
How did this happen? How did people who I know to be as dedicated to Scotland’s cause as I am end up going down this path? How could they be so misguided? By asking the wrong questions!
There is no single reason. There almost never is. People are complex. Simple explanation tend to be a poor fit. Some do not accept independence as an end in itself – to rectify an injustice and restore normality – but as means to realise some policy agenda. Their support for Scotland’s cause is conditional on getting the Scotland they want. Some hate the SNP so much they refuse to acknowledge the party’s critical role in providing the effective political power Scotland’s cause requires. They desperately want there to be another way. They want this so much they are prepared to entertain some truly fantastical ideas.
I heard one the other day talking in all seriousness about his favoured faction getting the two-thirds majority required to (possibly) force a new election. This put the ones now claiming 24 seats is possible right in the shade. It seems but weeks ago eyebrows were being raised in quizzical incredulity at the idea of any pop-up party getting one or two seats. Once you cast off from the moorings of rationality to drift on the sea of fantasy then you can end up supposing any mirage to be real.
I have no doubt that for some of those jumping on the AltIndy bandwagon personal ambition is the principle motivation. Which is fine. We might wish for a more worthy motive. But we should not condemn a person for pursuing their own goals. Particularly if independence is some kind of consideration. But the things this has in common with all other explanations is that the motivation leads to asking the wrong questions.
With all the usual caveats about generalisation, non of those involved with the AltIndy groups has asked the question addressed earlier. What is the ideal outcome for Scotland’s cause in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election? Had they asked that question they would almost certainly have come to the same conclusion. They would quite certainly have come to the same conclusion had they shared my assessment of Scotland’s predicament. The ideal outcome has to be as described or so similar as to make the difference insignificant. Because nothing else will work. Nothing other than the outcome described will put Scotland in a position to confront the British state in the way that the British state must be confronted if Scotland’s independence is to be restored.
The person who is motivated by personal ambition will tend to ask what best serves that ambition rather than what best serves Scotland’s cause. They will also tend to put Scotland’s cause in front of their personal ambition when presenting themselves to the public. Some will do this less effectively than others. Some will fail utterly to conceal their desire for personal advancement. I can think of one such right away. But no names! Let’s not make this personal.
Taking the AltIndy phenomenon as a homogeneous whole just for the sake of concision we might identify some commonalities in the defective questioning process which has taken them down this dead-end. Almost universally they will acknowledge the need to ensure there is an SNP government after the election. They will do so with different degrees of enthusiasm and sincerity. And the will typically seek to move on with unseemly haste from that aspect of things to talk with fervour bordering on zeal about their own ‘answers’. To the question of what best serves Scotland’s cause they are convinced that maximising the number of pro-independence MSPs in the Scottish Parliament is what will do the trick. They like this answer. They like it so much they thought it a pity to risk blemishing its shiny magnificence with further questioning.
I intend to by-pass the matter of whether this is actually achievable. The psephology is being dealt with by other better qualified than myself. And the permutations are so immense and complex even the real experts tend to be reduced to simplifications and abstractions which distort the presentation or confuse the perception. The IndyAlt mob have some stock answers – very much like the politicians they claim to abhor – and are extremely fond of proclaiming that the numbers don’t lie. To which my stock response is, GERS!
Also, I am dubious about anyone who claims to have a wondrous ‘solution’. This dubiety becomes outright scepticism when they further claim that their super-powerful solution does does its super-powerful thing with absolutely no ‘unfortunate’ side-effects or consequences. A bit like claiming their industrial-strength gunk will instantly unblock any drain while presenting no danger to the environment or curious toddlers taking advantage of lax supervision to top up the levels of chlorine in their system.
Others have discussed to potentially adverse consequences of the AltIndy groups taking a significant part of the vote. I also recognise the possible deleterious impact od a campaign effectively telling independence supporters it’s OK not to vote SNP. But my main issue with this whole this is its total pointlessness.
When these people evangelise about how we must ‘Max the Yes’ and how flooding the Scottish Parliament with pro-independence MSPs will bring independence as the morning brings the sun, I have questions. ‘Max the Yes’ is a good slogan. In fact, as political slogans go, it is quite excellent. It sounds so obviously desirable and advisable. It seems intuitively right. That’s because there is a sense in which it is right. Of course we want to ‘Max the Yes’! Maximising support for independence and Yes votes in a referendum is self-evidently a Good Thing. But what the slogan does is steal the trueness of the phrase in relation to these things and apply it to something else entirely. It implies that because maxing the Yes in terms of support/votes is a Good Thing, maximising the number of pro-independence MSPs in Holyrood must also be a Good Thing. I am not fooled by such slogans I have questions.
I ask the face-slappingly obvious question that apparently hasn’t occurred to any of the AltIndy mob. Or if it has they didn’t like the answer so choose to pretend it isn’t there. I don’t pretend. I ask the question and am bound to accept the most truthful answer. More pro-independence MSPs is not better. More makes absolutely no difference. There is nothing that can be done with a majority of 20 that cannot be done with a majority of 2. There is nothing that can be done better with a majority of 20 than can be done with a majority 2. In terms of Scotland’s cause, these additional pro-independence MSPs serve no purpose whatever. They are entirely redundant.
They say it must be a Good Thing to reduce the number of British MSPs squatting in the Scottish Parliament. I query that. It may be a desirable thing, But is it a Good Thing? Does it benefit the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence? No! It doesn’t! Because those British MSPs can do nothing to stop the kind of SNP government I have described. They can bitch and moan and snipe from the side-lines and table wrecking amendments and feed lying soundbites to their pals at the BBC – but they can’t actually do anything.
The same can be said of the AltIndy MSPs. There is either nothing for them to do or nothing they can do. There is no credible scenario in which 3, 30 or 90 AltIndy MSPs can actually do anything practical to progress Scotland’s cause. Consider the scenarios for yourself and you’ll see that I’m right. Ask the questions. Attend to the answers. You will find that even if the AltIndy phenomenon does no real harm to Scotland’s cause – which is far from certain – it can do absolutely no good. And who’s to say that these AltIndy MSPs won’t end up sniping and moaning and bitching just like those British MSPs if it is the only way they can get the attention they seek?
Let’s not forget why those British MSPs are there. They are in the Scottish Parliament because of the way the people of Scotland have voted. Whatever else may be said about our voting system it does produce proportional representation. The AltIndy groups want to break that. They want to make the system less proportional. It may, with considerable justification, be argued that the circumstances are extraordinary and that extraordinary measures are necessary. But we can’t make that argument without also making it available to our opponents. And I hate to think what they might consider justifiable extraordinary measures! Also. we can be sure that the British will cry foul. They’ll use the situation the AltIndy mob want to engineer as a stick with which to beat our democratic institutions. We have little need to be making their job easier for them.
They say they will “hold the SNP government’s feet to the fire. I ask, how? How if not by behaving in a way that is indistinguishable from the way the British MSPs do? More importantly, why? It’ll be too late! The SNP’s feet need to be held to the fire before the election. So that they adopt the Manifesto for Independence before the election. So that they can be elected on the basis of that manifesto. So that they will have a mandate for that manifesto. A mandate totally unlike any of the others they have been given. The putative AltIndy MSPs would have no way to force the SNP government to adopt a Manifesto for Independence other than by threatening to withhold their support – thereby going against what they have said to gain votes. And even if they could force the SNP government to belatedly adopt the Manifesto for Independence it would be pointless because there would be no electoral mandate.
I challenge anyone to describe a credible post-election scenario in which any number of AltIndy MSPs serves any purpose whatever with regard to the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Answer the question the spoksepersons for the AltIndy groups refuse to answer. What will you actually do for Scotland’s cause?
Here’s another question to finish with. Probably the best one of the lot. Why? Why bother with this AltIndy thing at all? Why?