Quite inadvertently, I’m sure, The National’s website this morning juxtaposed two stories neither of which would have been particularly interesting but for this juxtaposition. The first is fairly standard National gee-up the troops fare which spins some Blackfordian bloviation to create the impression that the SNP has committed to doing something more for Scotland’s cause than congratulating itself on how much it’s doing for Scotland’s cause.
“Indyref2 will be held next year, says Ian Blackford” runs the headline.
“That referendum will take place and we need to plan that that referendum must take place in 2021.” says Ian Blackford. Which is not quite the same thing. Where ‘not quite’ means missing the diametric opposite by no more than a degree or two. In fact, The National’s exclusive interview with Mr Blackford gave us no more of substance than did his exclusive interview with Lesley Riddoch at the AUOB Assembly last Saturday. Where ‘no more of substance’ means nothing of any substance at all. Certainly not the commitment to a 2021 referendum implied by that headline.
Blackford spurts, spits, splutters and skips about like water on a hot skillet. When talking about next year’s Holyrood election he stresses the importance of a big SNP win in a way that always provokes some to point out that “it’s not all about the SNP”. Thus missing the point that as far as next year’s Holyrood election is concerned it most certainly is all about the SNP while stating the obvious pointlessly pointing out that the independence movement is not only the SNP. Really? Who knew!?
Ian Blackford is entitled to state how important it is that the SNP stays in power; if only because the alternative would be one or more of the British parties seizing control – with all the horrors that would entail. What irks is that when it comes to being held accountable for three or four or five or six years (depending on your preference) of inaction on the constitutional issue all of a sudden,
It’s not about us, it’s about those that we’re bringing across towards us and demonstrating the way we are being treated, demonstrating what the Covid crisis is showing, and indeed blahing the blah of the blah blah blah….
And off he goes on another erratic trip around the political skillet all the while diminishing in a cloud of hot vapour – much like our interest in his recitation of the official Scrabble word guide.
The other piece – you may remember me mentioning two stories – is a mercifully short column by Michael Gray. A chap who manages simultaneously to look both too old to be so silly and too young to be such a grinding bore. Old Michael waxes tedious as he contradicts the adjacent headline by assuring us that “There won’t be an independence referendum in 2021“. Young Michael descends into silliness as he attempts to explain and justify this assurance.
Young Michael cites three factors which “make a 2021 referendum improbable” (backpedalling already?). The first is Covid. Which is both tedious on account of having become the excuse for so many things not happening here and silly on account of the many things it hasn’t prevented happening elsewhere – including a US Presidential election and the customary referendums in Switzerland and, of course, Brexit. Nobody but mindless British Nationalist trolls denies that Nicola Sturgeon is coping well with the public health crisis. It is just unfortunate that she only manages this by coping not at all with so many other things.
The second factor making a 2021 referendum not likely or not happening depending on which point you’ve reached in Michael Gray’s account, is “unfinished independence planning”. Which is silly in at least two ways. It’s woefully close to circular reasoning. The start and end points of the reasoning are the same. Or as close to being the same as makes no difference. We haven’t prepared so it can’t be done. It can’t be done because we haven’t prepared. Repeat until you disappear up your own logical fallacy.
It’s also extremely silly because there is no way that independence planning can ever be anything other than “unfinished”. Independence isn’t an occurrence. It’s a condition. A status. It’s not just for referendum day. It’s forever. It’s not just for independence day. It’s for all the days that follow stretching far, far farther into the future than anyone can sensibly plan for. Just about the only thing that will be fixed and unchanging post-independence is Scotland’s constitutional status. We must suppose that Scotland will not voluntarily cease to be an independent nation having spent more than three hundred years learning a lesson for the first time we ‘voluntarily’ gave up our independence. Everything else – fiscal policy, monetary policy, social policy and all the rest – will be subject to the same vagaries as must be dealt with by all independent nations. Planning how to deal with those vagaries is continuous. It is definitively unfinishable.
Michael’s third reason for thinking a 2021 referendum impossible or improbable (depending on…) is succinctly understated as “Westminster intransigence”. Or what I would characterise less succinctly but more accurately as the British establishment’s imperative to preserve their ‘precious’ Union. Lest despair set in, Michael hastens to inform us that Westminster intransigence “is no reason to give in to despair”. Which is silly because it absolutely is the ultimate reason to despair of an opportunity to exercise our right of self-determination.
Westminster intransigence isn’t going to change. Preserving the Union at whatever cost is not going to become less of an imperative for the British establishment. On the contrary, with Brexit preservation of the Union becomes even more vital to England-as-Britain’s conceit of itself. If like Michael you accept that Westminster intransigence is sufficient to prevent a referendum in 2021 then it is just as sufficient in 2022. And 2023. And any year that can be numbered. In fact, all that will happen over time is that the “legal barriers” put in place by the British state to protect the Union will be built higher and stronger. Because in the real world that’s what you do with barriers that are under threat of being surmounted.
The silliness continues with the inevitable straw men.
It is easy, in the face of that danger, to pretend that with a flick of a magic wand the pandemic, unfinished planning, and legal barriers all disappear. They won’t.
How have we managed all these years without Michael Gray to tell us there’s no such thing as magic? If you’re thinking ‘condescending wee nyaff’ then it’s for cause.
Nobody has ever suggested that any of the difficulties confronting the fight to restore Scotland’s independence might be overcome with a “flick of a magic wand”. It’s an idiotic notion. Michael would do well to bear in mind just whose idiotic notion it is. The grown-ups, meanwhile, realise that this is a fight. A real-world political fight. Mature adults know what is implied by the term ‘fight’. Pragmatic realists recognise that fighting involves putting up a fight. It involves relentless attack and resolute defence. It involves doing stuff.
Michael Gray doesn’t envisage a fight. In fact, it’s not at all clear just how he imagines a new referendum – and hence independence – might come about. Unless he’s a secret believer in supernatural powers. Covid makes it impossible. But this particular emergency isn’t going away any time soon. If and when it does this will only be to be replaced by some other major issue that prevents the Scottish Government dealing with the major constitutional issue. The pandemic is serious. But it is far from unprecedented in terms of its seriousness. If Covid can make a referendum impossible (Or is it improbable?) then so can countless other things.
We’ve already covered the foolishness of supposing “independence planning” can ever be anything other than “unfinished”. If you’re waiting until every conceivable question has been answered in a way that satisfies every single voter then you are never going to do anything other than wait. Which suits Michael Gray fine because waiting is precisely the ‘strategy’ he advocates. Only waiting. As far as can be deduced from his article, there are no other strings to his strategising bow. Just waiting.
Young and silly Michael will have ample opportunity to become older and hopefully wiser Michael having accepted “Westminster intransigence” as a “legal barrier” that cannot be overcome but must await removal by the British state. Why would they? The barrier has put put in place for a reason. According to Michael, it is serving its intended purpose very well. The reason for putting the barrier in place hasn’t changed in over three hundred years. The intended purpose of the Union is the same now as it was in 1707. There is no prospect of that changing any time soon. Certainly, Michael Gray doesn’t provide any reason to think it might.
It’s a fight, Michael! A fight! The thing about a fight is that, by definition, it involves determination, not complacency. It requires action, not acquiescence. It demands defiance, not compliance. It means confrontation, not avoidance. You could have made your article a lot shorter by saying simply that there won’t be an independence referendum in 2021 because you’re not prepared to fight for it. That would at least be honest. Even if not grounded in reality.