The evident success of AUOB in bringing together individuals and groups from across the Yes movement is probably the most promising development in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence since the SNP landslide of 2011. Given that the SNP winning an overall majority in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election led directly to the first independence referendum, this may seem like a very bold claim indeed. But think about it. Despite all the hype about opinion poll leads and the British government doing all the heavy lifting so that the SNP doesn’t have to, the fight to restore Scotland’s independence is today pretty much where it was prior to the remarkable events of 2011 when the people of Scotland broke the voting system.
Some will maintain that this too is a very bold claim. But think about it some more. If we assume – as we must – that the final say on the matter of restoring Scotland’s independence rests with Scotland’s people then everything hangs on there being a referendum in prospect. Before the 2011 Holyrood election there was no clear route to a referendum. Today, there is no clear route to a referendum. A decade on, we are going into the 2021 election in very much the same position as we went into the 2011 election.
This is a damning verdict on the SNP’s handling of the constitutional issue. British Nationalists like to portray the SNP as having dragged the people of Scotland along on its quest for political power. The reality is that it is Scotland’s people who have pushed the SNP to the vanguard of our quest for constitutional justice. Ten years ago it was the people who pushed the SNP into holding the first independence referendum. Today, the people must once again force the SNP to do what is required to take forward the fight to restore Scotland’s independence.
To point out this fundamental similarity between then and now is not to say that nothing has changed. A great deal has changed. Almost all of which makes the need to dissolve the Union with England-as-Britain even more urgent than it was. England-as-Britain has changed. Scotland has changed. The SNP has changed. The Yes movement has changed. But the predicament remains basically the same – if more desperate. The choice facing Scotland remains as it always was – a choice between ending the Union or being destroyed by it. If there ever was another option that possibility ended with the same election that brought about the 2014 referendum. At that point, the British establishment realised that the devolution experiment had failed. Rather than securing the Union on which it relies devolution had realised the fears of those who opposed it by placing the Union is jeopardy such as never before. To save their ‘precious’ Union, Scotland’s distinctiveness would have to be eradicated.
The campaign to restore Scotland’s independence that once was aspirational has become existential. Looking back, it was always destined to be so. England / England-as-Britain has always regarded Scotland as both a threat and a resource. The Union was supposed to obviate the former and secure the latter. The story of relations between the two nations ever since has been the story of efforts to preserve the dominance of first England, now England-as-Britain and if the current British Nationalist project should succeed, in future a new ‘Great Britain’ built on mythologised history and the fantasy of English-as-British exceptionalism.
So, here we are. Not back where we started, but facing a situation remarkably similar in its essentials to that which confronted us prior to 2011. Now as then Scotland’s cause depends on the effective political power of the SNP. That’s what the political arm of the independence movement is for. It’s purpose is to implement the political actions which give effect to the movement. Only then can we move into the campaign phase. Unless the SNP is in government with a working majority and an overwhelming mandate for bold, decisive action to restore Scotland’s independence – just as in 2011 – nothing will happen. Or, at least, nothing good. Nothing anyone who has any regard for Scotland would wish for. Nothing anyone who respects democracy would want.
And it must be the SNP. The idea that all pro-independence MSPs are equivalent is political naivety of the most puerile and dangerous kind. Attend to what the British state’s man in Scotland had to say almost exactly a year ago.
…the democratic mandate for a Section 30 order is a matter for 2021. We’ll see whether or not the Scottish National Party get a majority then.
I mean the Scottish National Party – not in collaboration with other parties, not in any alliances – but a Scottish National Party majority, which is what Ruth Davidson pointed out some months ago.
This is the British political elite preparing the ground to discount totally all votes for ‘alternative’ pro-independence parties. Which they were always going to do. And in which they will be aided by the British media. Should any of these ‘alternative’ parties succeed in candidates into Holyrood they will be completely ignored by the British media other than when they are attacking the SNP. If we are intent on creating the most powerful political force possible to stand against the British state then the full strength of the Yes movement must be brought into sharp focus. We cannot afford to take a chance on anything less. All the strength of the Yes movement must be translated into effective political power. This can only happen by lending that strength to a single dedicated source of effective political power. A single political party.
It doesn’t matter that the party is the SNP. It matters that the SNP is the only party in a position to take the strength of the Yes movement and apply it as effective political power to the purpose of restoring Scotland’s independence. It matters that there are no other viable options. And no time to develop any other options. The 2021 Scottish Parliament election is crucial. We know that the British political elite is intent on closing down all democratic routes to independence. We know this because they’ve told us as much. We cannot be sure exactly what the British will do if the 2021 Holyrood does not result in a strong SNP government wielding a massive mandate for a free and fair referendum. We can be sure that whatever they do it will be for the purpose of locking Scotland into a unilaterally ‘reformed’ constitutional settlement that will safeguard the Union for the foreseeable future.
That is why the AUOB Assembly is so important. Working backwards from the election next year we come to the SNP conference to be held at the end of November. If the election is crucial to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence, the conference is crucial to the election. Because the conference is the last chance to force the SNP to take commit to a Manifesto for Independence. The AUOB Assembly is the last chance for the Yes movement to come together and speak with one voice demanding that the SNP does commit to a Manifesto for Independence. It is the last chance for the Yes movement to join with those within the SNP who are fighting to have the SNP go into the 2021 election with an unequivocal commitment to actual action and not just a vague assurance that they’ll do something at some point.
The AUOB Scottish Independence Assembly must not fail. And it could fail very easily. Uniting a movement as diverse and unstructured as the Yes movement is a daunting task. It can only be achieved by finding and focusing on the thing that every part of the movement agrees on – the Union must be dissolved. If the assembly gets into discussion of anything other than the matter of ending the Union and thereby restoring Scotland’s rightful status as an independent nation, it will fail. It is absolutely impossible for a movement as massive and diverse and unstructured as the Yes movement to make common cause on matters of policy. Such common cause cannot be achieved even within political parties. How could there be any hope of unifying a movement entirely without internal cohesion or a common ideology or discipline of hierarchy?
The outcome I hope for from the assembly on Saturday 14 November and the follow-up session on Sunday 22 November is that a small group of people will be appointed with a remit to speak for the Yes movement as a whole solely on the matter of ending the Union and restoring independence. Strictly nothing else! This group should be empowered to make urgent representations to the SNP leadership demanding that the party adopt a Manifesto for Independence. The assembly should be entirely about appointing and authorising this group.
I urge all those who consider themselves part of the Yes movement to set aside personal animosities and partisan interests and work to facilitate a unified movement capable of lending its strength to a Scottish Government charged with taking the bold, decisive, assertive action that will be required if Scotland is to be rescued from its present predicament. Stop talking about the things on which we cannot agree as a movement and focus entirely on the thing we all agree on.
If you can contribute to this unifying effort then please register to participate in the assembly. I hope to speak to you there. I hope to persuade you of the need for unity, focus and discipline. For Scotland’s sake.