What should we make of it?

How can “moving to a speedy referendum” after the 2021 election be compatible with adhering to the Section 30 process? Obviously, it can’t. We can have a process in which the form and timing of the referendum is determined by the government we elect. Or we can have a process which is entirely dependent on the good grace, good faith and goodwill of the British political elite. One or the other. So, is Mike Russell hinting broadly that the Section 30 commitment is to be dropped? Or is he telling us that the Scottish Government continues to cling to the notion that the British political elite will undergo some miraculous metamorphosis on 7 May next year such as will assure us of their honest cooperation in the conduct of an early, free and referendum?

And what are we to make of this,

In reality there isn’t that much difference between the Plan A which will do that and is working and the other plans from other parts of the national movement which also focus on the importance of May next year.

If by “plans from other parts of the national movement” Mike Russell means the so-called Plan B proposed by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny then he is correct. There can be no meaningful difference between Plan A and Plan B because Plan B only kicks in after Plan A has been executed and has failed. Given that all we know about Plan A is that it is entirely dependent on the non-existent good grace, good faith and goodwill of the British political elite, we know it is bound to fail. The Section 30 process cannot possibly deliver a free and fair referendum. We can know this with absolute certainty because under the Section 30 process the form of the referendum – if it is ‘permitted’ – will be largely determined by the British government. There is, therefore, not a glimmer of hope that such a referendum could be free and fair.

The problem with Plan B is that we may not get to it. We may not get to it because Plan A might succeed as the First Minister defines success. It might succeed in that it actually does deliver a referendum. But then it would also succeed as the British political elite sees success. Because it would allow the British government – to all intents and purposes an unfriendly foreign power – to have significant influence in deciding the form of the referendum. Sufficient influence to ensure that it is as far from being free and fair as that influence can make it.

A more concise way of putting the two options I mentioned earlier is that we can have a Scottish referendum or we can have a British referendum. One or the other.

Which it is will be decided well before 7 May 2021. Look closely at Plan B and what do you see? It is not, in fact, an alternative to Plan A but a device to put pressure on the British government to let Plan A work. The idea of it is that the British government will choose to grant a Section 30 order – possibly even before the election for the sake of disruption – so as to have a referendum they control rather than a process that would threaten to take it completely out of their control. If there is to be a referendum, the British establishment would obviously want it to be a British referendum rather than a Scottish referendum.

Could it be that Mike Russell is perfectly well aware of all this? Or, to put it another way, how could Mike Russell possibly be unaware? When he refers to “plans from other parts of the national movement”, might he be talking about some of the other plans which have been none too quietly cooking over the fires of various camps within the Yes movement and within the party for the past while? For certain, those plans “also focus on the importance of May next year”. So he clearly isn’t excluding them. But is he subtly signalling a softening of the SNP leadership’s stance on those plans which involve renunciation of the Section 30 process so as to ensure that we get a free and fair Scottish referendum rather than a fiddled and fixed and generally f***ed up British referendum? Or is he not addressing the people of Scotland at all with this message? Is he simply seeking to add to the pressure created by Plan B by falsely signalling a weakening of the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Section 30 process?

Or is he just typing stuff to make up his word count? That’s another possibility. But I think a highly unlikely one. Mike Russell is a serious man and an astute politician. He is also one of the SNP’s more accomplished communicators. Something that perhaps tends to be concealed by the glare of the floodlights on Nicola Sturgeon’s communication skills. When Mike Russell chooses his words he chooses then purposefully and well. So when he says that Plan A will “lead the country forward in the most responsible, and least harmful, way possible”, the hope that the Scottish Government might be open to considering a Scottish referendum rather than a British one diminishes. Disappointment and despair make a rapid comeback.

If Mike Russell is telling us that the Section 30 process is the “most responsible, and least harmful” way to make progress towards restoring Scotland’s independence; if he is restating and reaffirming the position taken by Nicola Sturgeon; if he is, in effect, telling us that The Scottish Government would rather have a British referendum than a Scottish referendum, then Scotland’s cause is all but certainly lost.

Perhaps that is why I pick over Mike Russell’s words so fastidiously. I am looking for something that will give me hope. So desperately am I seeking this that I may be finding something that isn’t there.

But what should we make of this?

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