Certain events have the potential to be truly historic. Not because they are marketed as such but because they achieve or cause something of truly historic proportions. Events which have an impact that reverberates down the years. Events which divert the currents of history and therefore become part of history. The reconvening of the Scottish Parliament was such an event. As was the SNP’s election win in 2011 and the referendum which ensued.
Some events have the potential to be historic but that potential is not realised. The SNP’s UK election victory of 2015 stands out as an example of such a missed opportunity. It should have been the launchpad for the final thrust in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Instead, it is remembered as just another election win.
I can think of three upcoming events which have the potential to be historic. I don’t think anyone disagrees with the contention that the M6 Scottish Parliament election is of extraordinary significance. It is widely regarded as our last opportunity to save Scotland’s distinctive political culture, democratic institutions and national identity. Few doubt the British state’s intention to close all democratic routes to independence; impose direct rule through the unelected and unaccountable UK Government in Scotland; and absorb Scotland into a new ‘Great Britain’ molded in the form of Boris Johnson’s ugly British Nationalist fantasies.
The Scottish Parliament election on 6 May 2021 will be a historic event. That being so, as a friend commented the other day, surely events leading up to the election and related to it must also have the potential to be historic. This is true. But they also have the potential to be the dampest of damp squibs. This can be said of the other two events I have in mind – the SNP Spring Conference and the Now Scotland Conference.
At the time of writing it hasn’t yet been confirmed that there will be an SNP Spring Conference. If the event does go ahead then we may reasonably expect that it will have a format the same as or very similar to last November’s virtual event. Which is to say that it will be so organised as to suppress dissenting voices critical of the party’s approach to the constitutional issue. In a sane world it would be an ideal opportunity to review the independence strategy going into the election. If the plan can even be glorified with the term ‘strategy’.
What we have at the moment is Mike Russell’s risible ’11-point plan’ and the promise of a draft referendum Bill. The former is utter nonsense other than the minor concession to good sense and the rising clamour within the party of saying a referendum will be held regardless of the British Prime Minister’s response to a request which is made all the more ludicrous by being asked when the response is supposedly of no consequence. The latter will supposedly set out how the SNP intends to go about holding this referendum. Will there be any meaningful discussion of either of these things at the maybe conference? Unless the party leadership and senior management seriously surprise us, it is doubtful. We may anticipate a very damp squib indeed.
An SNP Spring Conference certainly has the potential to be a historic event. It could serve as the opportunity to heal at least one of the issues causing increasingly fractious ruptures within the party. (Other issues might well be seen as on their way to being resolved with fresh elections to the NEC.) It could herald the much needed refreshing of the party’s strategy for restoring Scotland’s independence and, perhaps more importantly, restore confidence in the SNP as the political arm of Scotland’s cause; thereby occasioning a return to something like the unity of purpose the independence movement enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of the SNP 2011 election victory and the early days of the first referendum campaign. It could be massively significant. But will it? Ah hae ma doots!
Which is why the third – chronologically the first – event on my list of candidates for their own chapter in future history books is potentially very important. On 6 March Now Scotland will stage its own conference – or assembly. As you should be aware, Now Scotland is the new Yes movement membership organisation born of an initiative mounted by All Under One Banner. The idea is that this organisation will focus exclusively on the constitutional issue setting aside all matters of party or policy. It is, according to my understanding, intended to be an an organisation which will lobby for the adoption by Scottish political parties – principally the SNP, for obvious reasons – of a Manifest for Independence.
My hope is that Now Scotland will use the opportunity of its 6 March assembly to debate and vote on resolutions relating to the constitutional issue. I think it would do Scotland a great service if it were organised as a kind of mock party conference. I would like to see it staging the debates that should be taking place at the SNP’s conference.
Being a virtual event with all the constraints that entails, I would envisage this mock conference debating only three resolutions. It is entirely possible to cover all the crucial aspects of the matter in three resolution. The first should obviously be on the Manifesto for Independence, which the Now Scotland conference might adopt – or adopt provisionally subject to a vote by members – just as if it was a party conference.
The second resolution might usefully be regarding a new written constitution. I don’t suggest the mock conference could possibly do any work on formulating that constitution. That work is being done very effectively by others. It would suffice if a resolution did no more than state that there would be a new written constitution, perhaps mention key points from current drafts and credit the groups/individuals doing the work in this area.
The third resolution could deal with the matter of campaign strategy in the lead-up to the new referendum. Specifically, the reframing of the constitutional issue. This too need not go into any great detail. The resolution need do no more than express the need for and benefits of a reframing exercise and maybe suggest some parameters.
I know most of the people currently managing Now Scotland. I haven’t the slightest doubt that the organisation has the capacity to stage an event such as I envisage. Apart from anything else, it would surely help to boost the organisation’s membership, growth of which I understand has somewhat stalled after a hugely promising start. It would definitely stimulate – and perhaps even improve – debate. By setting an example of how a party conference might be conducted a Now Scotland mock conference would also put ‘soft’ pressure on the SNP to make its own conference more open to a diversity of views on how the fight to restore Scotland’s independence should be taken forward.
I don’t know if anybody from Now Scotland will even read this. I hope so. I hope someone will bring it to their attention. I hope it may offer some inspiration. There’s a blank page in the history books just waiting to see which of the two events best realises its potential to be historic.