There’s been a flurry of excitement overnight on account of remarks made by the First Minister in a couple of interviews. As reported in The National, Nicola Sturgeon has said that a new independence referendum should be held in the earlier part of the next Holyrood term. While I understand why people on both sides of the constitutional debate might be eager to seize on these comments I would strongly advise that those on the pro-democracy side should treat both the remarks and their presentation with extreme caution.
Appearances would suggest that Nicola Sturgeon and her ‘team’ are totally oblivious to the rising storm of anger in the SNP and the Yes movement over the Scottish Government’s dilatory approach to the matter of rescuing our nation from the British Nationalist onslaught against our democracy and our national identity. Let me assure you that whatever it may look like Ms Sturgeon is too astute a politician to be unaware of anything that is going on in the party or the country. Unless, of course, she chooses to be unaware. In the case of the stirrings and rumblings from those concerned about the lack of progress on the constitutional issue – as well as certain internal matters – we may safely assume that Nicola knows exactly what is going on.
As leader of the SNP and head of the Scottish Government ultimate responsibility for ‘dealing with’ these stirrings and rumblings rests with Nicola Sturgeon. While giving the very distinct impression of blithely ignoring dissent which might impact her administration and her position as leader, she will have been quietly ‘dealing with’ the problem. The phrase ‘dealing with’ is pregnant with meaning.
‘Dealing with’ might mean attending to; taking action to address; resolving or at least attempting to do so. The term may also be a euphemism for killing. ‘Dealing with’ a problem might involve burying it. It might involve what has come to be referred to as ‘Wisharting’ the matter. That is to say, blocking and censoring and shouting down all references to it as if by throwing a tarpaulin over the elephant it ceases to be in the room. Or a problem might be ‘dealt with’ by taking steps to prevent it escalating. It may be possible to live with a small problem but not if it gets to be a bigger one.
‘Dealing with’ might also mean giving the appearance of addressing the matter in some meaningful way – such as ‘promising’ some action – whilst actually doing no more than kicking the can down the road a bit. Or off the road altogether and into the very long grass.
In reality, ‘dealing with’ an issue is likely to involve all these things – and more – in some combination. For present purposes, however, I’d like to focus on the last one mentioned, putting on a show. Not that I’m intent on drawing a veil over other goings-on, such as the shenanigans and finagling in the management of this weekend’s conference – which seems designed to ensure that the conferring bit doesn’t materialise any more than can be avoided. That situation is being ‘dealt with’ by others. Only time will tell which ‘dealing with’ succeeds best. Although it looks very much to me as if the party leadership and senior managers have ‘dealt’ very effectively with the problem of internal dissent becoming visible to media and public. I know a significant number of delegates are hoping to restore conference to its constitutionally ordained purpose. But they are up against a very powerful party machine. Like I say, we will have to wait and see how the membership fares in what might without hyperbole be termed a battle for the soul of the party.
Returning to the matter of a politician seeking to look like they’re ‘dealing with’ an issue as if to resolve it in some satisfactory way, how is this relevant to Nicola Sturgeon’s reported remarks? It is relevant because I reckon there is near certainty that this is what Ms Sturgeon was doing with her comments. My sense is that she was using carefully crafted language in a calculated effort to persuade at least the more persuadable of the grumblers that their concerns about action on the constitutional issue are unfounded.
I read what Nicola Sturgeon actually said and I see a form of words which gives the impression of a promise whilst giving no concrete undertaking. I see language which is ‘optimised’ for being picked up by the media and presented in a ‘simplified’ form which lends substance that is not actually present. I see the words and immediately recognise how they are said in full confidence that the British propaganda machine will remove any semblance of nuance or ambiguity or vagueness to present what Nicola Sturgeon said as a solid commitment to hold a new referendum in the first half of the next term of the Scottish Parliament.
Nicola Sturgeon will be well aware of the power of the the British propaganda machine. She can be sure it will do her work for her in conveying to the membership of the party the impression that they’ve got what they wanted so there’s no point making a fuss at conference. No point working with the delegates who are trying to extract a genuine commitment to a Manifesto for Independence rather than the ghost of a politician’s promise on the matter.
For Nicola Sturgeon, the prize is British approval in the form of a Section 30 order. For the Yes movement, the only prize is the restoration of Scotland’s independence.
Nicola Sturgeon may now consider the problem of dangerously visible democratic activity during the virtual conference at least partly ‘dealt with’. From what I see in media reports and online comments her exercise in containment has been quite successful. At the very least she has re-armed the #WheeshtForIndy mob who can now demand unquestioning faith in Nicola with renewed vigour. At best she will have contributed significantly to deferring the questions and concerns about her whole approach to the constitutional issue until after the 2021 Holyrood election. If she hasn’t actually defused the ticking bomb under the conference then she has probably ensured that the blast will be less than it might have been.
All in all, a good day’s work for Nicola Sturgeon. Another problem ‘dealt with’.