In one breath David Pratt urges hard-deaded (and if necessary hard-hearted?) political pragmatism. In the next he peddles naive notions of some kind of ‘rainbow’ coalition coming together across ideological divides in pursuit of a common cause – Scotland’s cause. Realism versus sentimentalism. Let’s think about that.
The fact is political niceties are out the window. The pandemic can no longer be used as an excuse for everyone pulling on the same rope of solidarity, for that is simply not true. The Scottish Government if it hasn’t already needs to wake up to this fast. It needs also to get the gloves off and seize the political opportunity Johnson’s mess has presented us with.
In short it’s time to go on the offensive.David Pratt: The two worries I have about Scotland’s hopes for independence
He’ll get no argument from me on that point. It is precisely the attitude I have been urging for some time. We may aspire to a better, kinder politics. But wishful thinking is no basis for political strategising. We must accept that until Scotland’s independence is restored we are operating within a British political system where there are no points for style. Only power matters. And only winners get power. It is a brutish system built on the concept of a divinely ordained ruling class which has a duty to trample all before it to ensure that power remains in the hands of the ‘right people’. Time and social reform and cultural evolution may have dulled some of the rougher edges of this system. But not so much that the brutishness does not emerge when the beast is cornered. The British ruling elites may have refined their politics to include the options to absorb or erode challenges to their power. But not at the cost of their readiness to crush any who would put the established order in jeopardy.
Never underestimate the importance to that established order of Scotland and therefore the Union. The constitutional confrontation which pits Scotland’s aspirations against British entitlement is a parallel to – perhaps a proxy for – the ages-old battle between deprivation and privilege. Between insecurity and invulnerability. Between power denied and power accrued. To be a nationalist in the context of the fight to restore Scotland’s rightful status and defend the identity which is imbued with our hope and determination to address the gross imbalances of British society, is to be part of the same cause as inspired all the great social reformers of the past. Wear your Scottish civic nationalism with quiet pride! It is an honourable and a worthy thing.
David Pratt cautions against letting this unprecedentedly auspicious moment slip from our grasp. He may well be correct in supposing that the circumstances – craftily contrived and clumsily occasioned alike – which the British political elite has seized upon as offering a ‘final solution’ to the Scottish problem also favour Scotland’s cause. The mask of urbanity has slipped and the ugliness of the British state has been exposed. A great many people have been shocked by what they’ve seen. Truths are coming to light in a manner difficult for even committed Unionists to deny. Although British Nationalists will, as ever, easily rationalise every instance of contempt and every example of callousness and every episode of ineptitude. All of which augurs well for a campaign to end the Union. For it is the Union which requires that Scotland endure the contempt, callousness and incompetence of the British ruling elites. If it is time to go on the offensive, it must be in a campaign against the Union.
I have often opined that the right time to act is not an accident of circumstance. It is not a concrete thing defined by a particular combination of public mood and conditions of life and myriad other factors. These things can coincide to make a particular moment relatively more propitious. But there is no way to predict this moment with anything like the confidence on which any sane, sober and sensible person would chance the future of a nation. Should this ideal moment – this ‘right time’ – occur we will only be able to recognise it with hindsight. Even now, when circumstances seem so favourable to Scotland’s cause, we can have little certainty that those circumstances will persist. To wait in hope of a better time is to wait forever. And to live with regret for opportunities missed.
The ‘right time’ is not something that we happen upon as we drift along on the tides of history. It is only in part a thing that we seize. It is in far larger part a thing that we make. What we latch onto is not the ‘right time’, but the conditions which give us cause to think that the ‘right time’ can be carved out of history and moulded by our efforts.
As David Pratt observes, conditions now are such as to help – or at least not hinder – our efforts to make the moment of Nicola Sturgeon’s choosing the right moment for Scotland’s cause. There have been other times that could have been made the right time. That those opportunities were missed is not an argument for foregoing new opportunities as some kind of perverse recrimination. There is no logic whatever to the argument which says you didn’t take the chance when you had it so we refuse to help you take this new chance. It makes no sense.
It is time to act. Let’s decide that now. This is the time to act. The action taken must be bold, decisive, assertive, forceful and if need be aggressive. Once that action is initiated it must be pursued with absolute determination and all the tenacity that can be mustered. The campaign to end the Union once formally launched must move fast and be agile. It must be relentless and where called for it must be ruthless. We are going up against the British ruling elite in their political arena. There can be no weakness.
This is not a job for the timid or the hesitant. Neither is it a task which lends itself to conversation, compromise and consensus. It is not a job for a committee of the well-meaning working under the constraints of immaculately democratic structures and processes. It is a campaign, not a movement. Movements may have leaders. Campaigns need commanders. Which is why David Pratt’s resort to the tired mantra of the independence movement being bigger than the SNP is so disappointing. It is disappointing because it tilts at a phantom. Nobody has ever claimed that the independence movement isn’t bigger than the SNP. What’s the point in incessantly insisting that it is not all about the SNP when nobody is saying that it is. And if it makes no sense to constantly assert that it is not all about the SNP when there is absolutely no need how much less sense does it make when we’ve arrived at the point where it must be all about the SNP.
Only the Scottish Government can act as required. Only the SNP can form the Scottish Government which can act as required. Therefore, at the point where the Yes movement must become the campaign described earlier only the SNP can do the job. In that moment and for the specific purposes of ending the Union and restoring Scotland’s independence it is all about the SNP. That is the hard-headed, pragmatic political reality.
Of course, all of this demands an appropriate commitment by the SNP. The party must make an unequivocal and unambiguous undertaking to do the job. To act as required. To be the stalwart against the imposition on Scotland of an alien form of Britishness. To be the defender of Scotland’s identity as a nation. To be the force that breaks Scotland out of the Union. To be the draught which keeps alight the fires of progressive politics that they may be stoked by future generations of Scotlands people and, perhaps, warm those furth of our borders.
The SNP’s role right now is not to reach out to the wider Yes movement but to be the hard core around which the Yes movement may coalesce to form a campaign. The party doesn’t so much have to reach out to others dedicated to Scotland’s cause as to draw them in. The unity, focus and discipline demanded by this phase of the fight to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status cannot come from or be created with a loose, diverse and unstructured entity such as the Yes movement. That is why political movements ultimately need political parties. It is political parties which supply the effective political power which is necessary if the movement’s aims are to be realised.
The greater the effective political power – the power to effect change – the greater the chances of success in realising the objectives of the movement. All legitimate political power stems from the people. It is the strength of the people which becomes the power of the political party. Or more precisely the power of the government formed by the political party. It is all about the SNP. But only because the SNP will be in government.
The outcome of the 2021 Holyrood election which best serves Scotland’s cause is the outcome which best serves to maximise the power of the Scottish Government. This would be true regardless of what party was in power – so long as it was a pro-independence party, of course. What maximises the power of the Scottish Government is a mandate from the people. It follows, therefor, that we must must first ensure that the SNP adopts a Manifesto for Independence then provide them with a mandate so massive as to enable the Scottish Government to smash through the legal and constitutional armour protecting the Union and thereby preserving the power, privilege and patronage which defines the British state.
David Pratt’s concerns are justified – even if he goes awry with some of his solutions. I have concerns of my own. I fear the might and the amoral vindictiveness of the British ruling elite. I fear that the SNP will let down Scotland’s cause by persisting with a pusillanimous approach to the constitutional issue which is inexplicable under the circumstances as well as being transparently inappropriate. I fear that the Yes movement will let down Scotland’s cause by succumbing to the cancerous factionalism already running rampant.
I fear failure and the consequences for our nation. I fear my own fallibility as I advocate a course of action which will make exceptional demands of our political leaders and all who espouse Scotland’s cause.
More than any of that I fear the bitter, corrosive remorse that will be our lot if we do not act. If we do not seize this opportunity. If we do not make this our time. Are we actors in the drama of our own lives? Or are we satisfied to be forever dreamers?