Stirring stuff from Joanna Cherry in The National. Just the sort of stuff SNP members and other independence activists want to hear. But I have questions. If she is serious when she says “the decks need cleared” then why does she in the same breath insist on those same decks being cluttered with policy issues? Why when she advocates that we focus on becoming independent does she also talk of blurring that focus with interminable and irresolvable debate about being independent? Or could it be that she is subtly making that distinction and leaving it to us to figure out where it applies?
Independence is the only way forward. As a party, we must find a way to deliver both the democratic vote in favour of independence that I believe is inevitable and also the policies that will make independence a success.
The “policies” part of that statement is undoubtedly important to the SNP “as a party”. Just as the policy agendas of other parties and groups within the Yes movement are important to them. But are they important in the context of Scotland’s cause? If we are focused on the fight to restore Scotland’s independence then are these policy agenda’s even relevant? If we are debating the core constitutional issue of who decides, is discussion of what might be decided not a serious distraction? If we are campaigning for a Yes vote in a referendum then surely it can only be Yes to ending the Union. It cannot possibly be Yes to any particular policy agenda or ‘vision’.
Precisely no policies will be decided by that referendum. What will be on offer is not a complex choice among various manifestos where many competing priorities must be considered as in an election, but a straightforward choice between the Union and independence. Between the British state and Scotland. Between our right and our capacity to develop our own distinctive political culture and submission to an imposed British political culture that is increasingly alien and anathema. The only priority is the preservation of Scotland’s democracy and national identity.
The issue to be decided in our new constitutional referendum is not what Scotland will be like for future generations of the people who live here, but whether those future generations will be able to decide for themselves what kind of Scotland they want. Or whether those decisions will be made for them by a government they didn’t elect in a parliament where they are effectively unrepresented.
There are many causes. We cannot possibly unite behind them all. If we are to unite – as we must – we have to decide which cause we are uniting behind. That is an easy decision to make – or it should be – because all of the other causes are critically dependent on the success of Scotland’s cause – the cause of ending the Union and restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.
This is not to say that people must abandon any cause. A policy agenda informed by a particular vision of Scotland’s future is important to the SNP as a party. We must assume that the policy agendas and visions of other parties and groups are just as important to each of them as a party or group. But they are not important to the SNP or anyone else as part of Scotland’s Yes movement. As part of Scotland’s Yes movement the only thing that is – or should be – important to any of them is that Scotland’s independence be restored. It is not a matter of opting for one cause at the cost of another. It is a matter of prioritisation. It is not a matter of halting all discussion of policies and visions but of ensuring that those discussions do not impinge on the essential constitutional issue.
Far too many people in the Yes movement – and this includes the SNP – confuse and conflate their own causes with Scotland’s cause. When it comes to a single-issue campaign such as the constitutional referendum must be, then this may rightly be regarded as contamination or pollution. If those terms are too strong for you then try dilution – just don’t imagine that diluting the campaign message is somehow less bad than contaminating it or polluting it.
Unsurprisingly, Joanna Cherry gets is right. As a party, the SNP must find a way to deliver both the democratic vote in favour of independence and the policies that will make independence a success in terms of the party’s vision for Scotland’s future. What she doesn’t say, but perhaps intended to imply, is that everybody else has to make this same distinction between their own cause and the cause of independence. They are not the same thing. While all of those causes are conditional on the success of Scotland’s cause, Scotland’s cause must never be conditional on the success of any other cause.