I accept that the phrase ‘once in a generation’ was part of the debate, but let us at least be honest with each other about the context in which that was said. It was said invariably by those who were proposing a Yes vote for independence as a caution to their supporters that they might not get another chance. It was not made as a promise or qualification to those who opposed independence that it was going to go away forever.The National: Tommy Sheppard says ‘once in a generation phrase’ misused in indyref2 debate
So what, Tommy? Do you really think the British Nationalists aren’t aware of the idiomatic nature of the phrase ‘once in a generation/lifetime’? They’re fully aware! They don’t care. They don’t have to care. They’re British Nationalists. Any lie or deception or smear is justified when it is done in the name of preserving their ‘precious’ Union. Misrepresenting a phrase is as nothing when you’ve told the kind of lies that trip off the forked tongues of British politicians pretty much every time they speak.
Christian Matheson MP (British Labour) was right when he points out that what matters here is the fact that it was SNP politicians who used used the phrase. He wasn’t right in the way he thought when he leapt to the aid of his fellow British Nationalists on the Tory benches. But there is an accidental truth in his remark. Not that it was the SNP that said it. But that this is what matters.
It’s what should matter to the SNP. It’s what should matter to the independence movement. That the British political elite seek to weaponise the phrase against us is old news. The point is that they shouldn’t have been given this weapon in the first place.
Those who avidly read every comment I make will immediately assume a contradiction here as I have been known to say that we should not allow concerns about how the opposition will use our words against us to work as a form of self-censorship. How then can I now say that it was a mistake to use the phrase ‘once in a lifetime/generation’ because it was always going to be weaponised in the way that it has. But that is not what I’m saying. It may be considered to have been ill-advised on those grounds. But much more importantly it matters because it betrays the mindset of the people who deployed the phrase.
It’s our old friends sovereignty and self-determination again. The sovereignty of the people of Scotland and the right of self-determination that is ours by virtue of the fact that Scotland is a nation. My point is that someone who fully comprehends these concepts; when they are an established part of their worldview; when they are an ineradicable facet of their mindset constantly standing on alert in their subconcious, that person would tend not to use a phrase such as ‘once in a generation/lifetime’ in the context of the exercise by the sovereign people of Scotland of our inalienable right of self-determination.
They would tend not to say such a thing because they would be intuitively aware that in its implications and connotation the phrase clashes jarringly with those essential concepts. Indelibly imprinted on their minds would be the principle that no power or authority may rightfully constrain the absolute right of the people of Scotland to choose by means of a democratic process the form of government which we consider best serves our needs, priorities and aspirations.
It simply would not occur to a person equipped with such a mindset that a phrase such as ‘once in a generation’ might sensibly be used in the context of a constitutional referendum. If it did occur to them then they would be pulled up short of actually uttering the phrase by an instinctive awareness of how inappropriate it would be.
There is an important lesson to be learned for a new referendum campaign. Maybe two. It would certainly be advisable for SNP politicians to have access to proficient communication advisers who could cast a critical eye over planned speeches. But given that not all utterances are scripted it would be beneficial if every individual who might be perceived as speaking for the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence were to undergo a ‘refresher course’ on the concepts of popular sovereignty and the right of self-determination.
Get the mindset right and we get the campaign right.