I have spent the last two days staring at a blank page. Blank, that is, but for the title at the top – ‘What next?’. I set out to explore options for the independence movement now that the opportunity offered by the 2021 Scottish Parliament election has been squandered. It was an opportunity for Scotland’s cause to take a massive leap forward. But it was not to be. My inclination now is to explore the reasons for the failure to make it the ‘Independence Election’. But it’s difficult to do this without descending – or appearing to descend – into the realm of blame and recrimination. It is necessary to understand those reasons. But there seems no possibility of rational discussion. The polarisation so horribly evident on social media poisons all political discourse. What has come to be regarded as the SNP/Alba divide is a chasm that will not be bridged by reason. Every attempt falls into the abyss of prejudice and tribalism.
That divide can be defined in many ways. Each dichotomy is risibly simplistic in isolation. In aggregate they account for the complexity of the dynamic at work. But it is in the nature of these things that vanishingly few people get any further than the first ‘explanation’ that aligns with their prejudices and preconceptions. The trenches are dug deep on both sides. Once in either of those trenches nothing can be seen but what is in the trench with you. It’s well nigh impossible to see over the parapet. If you did, all you’d see is the trench occupied by the ‘enemy’. Nothing long survives in the no-man’s land between. Who ventures there comes under heavy fire from both sides. Nobody’s leaving their foxhole.
In such circumstances the deceptively simple question posed in the tile – ‘What next?’ – becomes a devilishly intractable problem. The politicians with the power to act have neither incentive nor intention to do so. The politicians with no power to act can’t obtain that power without becoming just like the politicians they seek to replace. People gravitate to one or other depending on whether they are attracted more by the illusory security of the comfortably familiar or the faux boldness of the superficially novel. Small ‘c’ conservatives rally around Sturgeon. Wannabe radicals flock to Salmond’s banner. All gradations are lost. Only a list of antonyms remains. Wise and cautious and mature face off against foolish, reckless and juvenile and never the twain shall meet.
Of course, in the real world nobody is ever entirely wise or completely foolish. Caution and recklessness coexist in all of us. But this not the real world. It is the world of partisan politics. The world of tribalism. People think themselves wise who merely fail to perceive their own foolishness. They consider themselves cautious only because they haven’t properly considered consequences. An observer from another planet might wonder how a group of people who all profess exactly the same objective might fall into two apparently irreconcilable camps. What might we say by way of explanation other than that these are people. And people are shite.
What next? That’s actually two questions. There’s the question of what I’d like to see happen. And there’s the question of what is actually likely to happen. What I’d like to see is the Yes movement coming together to conduct a massive, coordinated and disciplined program of collective direct action – demonstrations, boycotts, strikes and the like. Peaceful civil disobedience targeting, not Westminster or the Tories, but the Scottish Government and the SNP. The aim should be to force the Scottish Government to initiate the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. What I anticipate is that there will be no such campaign. There will be protests at Holyrood and maybe Bute House. But they’ll be small, sporadic and ineffectual. Instead of banners and placards demanding an end to the Union there will be the usual anti-Tory stuff. The message will be confused. Nothing will be achieved.
Attempts may be made to organise boycotts. But the essentials will be missed. So there will be no impact. Every time somebody comes up with a good campaigning idea somebody else will take it into their head that they can improve on it and soon there’s a proliferation of different implementations none of which is sufficient to have any significant effect. That’s just the way the Yes movement is now.
I will be accused of being negative and overly pessimistic. I will be urged to have faith and be patient. I’m negative because there is nothing positive to say unless one resorts to fantasy. I’m pessimistic because I’m a realist. I see what is. Not what I wish was. Those who urge me to have faith do so because they cannot offer me the reason that hope requires. They tell me to be patient when what they really want is that I should be as wilfully blind as they are to the real and imminent threat that looms over Scotland. I don’t do faith. I can’t be unaware. I can’t unknow what I have come to realise about Sturgeon and her cabal or what I have recognised about Alba Party. I can’t be oblivious to what is being done to my country by malign forces both external and internal. I can subscribe to neither the faith-based position of the SNP camp nor the fantasy-based position of the Alba camp.
Which leaves me in that wilderness between the trenches. A lamb bleating in the desert. Not that I have any qualms about being a lone voice. Or feeling that I am. But there are only so many ways to say the same thing. There is nothing new to be said. Or nothing I can think of. There’s nobody listening in any case. Or too few. I read Stu Campbell’s latest and perhaps last article with a mix of despondency and anger. Despondency because I recognise only too well the truth of what he says. Anger that there is so little space for such truth in what Scotland has become.
I’m hardly the one to author a hagiography for Stu Campbell. And I reckon it’s not yet time for a eulogy. But if Wings Over Scotland is to be no more then that is a tragedy for the independence movement and for journalism. It is hard to imagine the Yes movement without Wings Over Scotland. There’s all too few places where you’ll find principled, responsible, forensic journalism such as Stu Campbell offers. Whatever else he may be, I believe Stu to be an honest and an honourable man. Perhaps not a likeable person. But I never wanted him as a friend. I wanted him as a voice. A voice that Scotland desperately needs. A voice that is in danger of being silenced entirely by the warring tribes. The voice of reasoned dissent.
If I were asked to name three things which, for me, represent the spirit of the Yes movement I’d have to include Wings Over Scotland along with All Under One Banner and National Yes Registry (as both an organisation and as a proxy for the network of Yes groups all over Scotland and beyond). Scotland has been the richer for that spirit. Should that spirit be lost, Scotland will be irretrievably diminished. Stu Campbell’s words struck my ear as the death-rattle of the Yes spirit. The Yes movement is very much bigger than Wings Over Scotland. But the Yes movement cannot be other than less without it.
What next for Scotland’s cause? What is possible? What is credible? The most honest answer I can give is, nothing. Nothing will be done. The Scottish Government under Nicola Sturgeon will not act on the constitutional issue. They will not ensure a free and fair referendum on ending the Union. They will be no more effective in defending Scotland against the ravages of rampant British Nationalism than they have been for the past six years. Which is not effective at all. The spirit of Yes is not yet quite dead. It will not be killed. But it may well die for the want of action that engages the spirit. It won’t be routed. It may well just wither away.
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