My heart lifted slightly when I caught sight of Richard Walker’s latest column in The National. For a moment I thought he was about to break ranks and suggest a change of approach to the constitutional issue by Nicola Sturgeon. Perhaps I fooled myself in my eagerness to have someone of Richard’s standing add their voice to the inexplicably muted demands for action to be taken as a matter of urgency. Alas, my spirits were to be quickly reset to what has become their default state of despairing despondency as I read on.
Richard does acknowledge that “there is a time imperative to holding the next independence referendum”. Unfortunately, there rest of the article -where it touches on the need for urgency at all – turns out to nothing more than yet another apologia for the First Minister’s vague and not at all vaguely familiar assurances on the matter. Having in passing acknowledged the precariousness of Scotland’s predicament, Richard Walker insists that the necessary sense of urgency is already part of what with heavy irony I shall refer to as the ‘Sturgeon Strategy’.
The facts are that we have a mandate and we will use it within the next five years.
Facts? Or the somewhat less than wholly objective opinion of a dedicated follower of Sturgeon?
That a mandate exists is beyond even the British propaganda machine’s notorious capacity for manufacturing doubt. The efforts of the British parties squatting in Scotland’s Parliament to deny the existence of a mandate have been risible. But a mandate for what? Is it, as a true sense of urgency would require, a mandate to take specified actions such as would initiate the process of restoring Scotland’s independence within an identified time-frame? How can it be, when this is not what the SNP requested from voters in the recent election.
In support of his contention that an adequate sense of urgency is already part of the ‘Sturgeon Strategy’ Richard Walker refers us to the SNP’s election manifesto.
…the most important part of Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment was to hold the referendum while there was still time for the Scottish Government to take on the powers needed to drive Covid recovery.
Commitment? Again, that’s a matter of opinion rather than an empirical fact. Presumably, Richard is referring to the following from the SNP’s 2021 Scottish Parliament election manifesto.
We propose that the referendum should be held once the immediate Covid crisis has passed but in good time to equip our Parliament with the powers it needs to drive our long term recovery from Covid.
Or perhaps this,
We propose that the referendum should be held once the Covid crisis has passed but in good time to decide that we want to equip our Parliament with the powers it needs to drive our long term recovery from Covid.
The same thing repeated? Not quite. Note that the first talks of the “immedia Covid crisis”, while the second omits the word “immediately”. This difference may be dismissed as insignificant. But when politicians seem to say the same thing in even slightly different ways we should be immediately suspicious. There’s a better than fair chance that the difference is purposeful. The purpose being to provide the politicians with options when referring back to some apparent commitment. Options which will allow them to claim whatever is expedient in the moment.
Is the manifesto committing to action “once the Covid crisis has passed” or “once the immediate Covid crisis has passed”? Given that neither is defined – or definable? – these could mean the same thing or two things that are as different as Nicola Sturgeon needs them to be. Can something so devoid of definition be justifiably called a commitment? Can something so indeterminate possibly convey a sense of the urgency Richard Walker agrees is necessary?
But it is not only in the matter of timing that the SNP’s manifesto commitment falls short of meeting any common definition of that term. Not only does the manifesto tell us nothing about the when, neither does it tell us anything meaningful about the what. The talk is of a referendum which will decide the constitutional question. But all we know of this proposed referendum is that it is intended that it should replicate the 2014 referendum in every significant aspect. This despite the massive changes to the political environment since then. And all we are told of the anticipated process leading to that referendum is that it too is to be a repeat of 2014. Section 30 is not specifically mentioned – for the obvious reason that the term has come to have very negative associations as people recognise the ‘unfortunate’ implications of a Section 30 order request. And the even more ‘unfortunate’ implications of that request being granted. But what else could be meant?
So far, so old hat. This is no more than the ‘Sturgeon Strategy’ which has had more than ample time to grow familiar. All that has been added is a bare statement that the referendum will happen regardless of how the British Prime Minister responds to our First Minister’s offer to compromise the sovereignty of Scotland’s people in return for consent which she now says is not required and a promise of cooperation which immediately conjures the image of a previous British Prime Minister standing on a windy airfield brandishing a piece of paper and proclaiming “peace in our time”.
So, the British agreement that was previously deemed necessary now is not and honest cooperation is anticipated from a government previously described by Sturgeon in terms that leave little doubt we can expect anything but honest cooperation from them. Aye! It makes no sense to me either. But Richard Walker is fine with it, apparently. It doesn’t have to make sense. It merely has to satisfy people like Richard who really, really, really want to find it satisfactory.
We don’t know what Sturgeon is proposing to do and we don’t know when she is proposing to do it. But we are not only expected to regard this as a commitment, but as a commitment with an appropriate degree of urgency.
The facts are that the “time to equip our Parliament with the powers it needs to drive our long term recovery from Covid” has already passed. However quickly we act now we will be trying to catch up. We will be not be using the powers returned to our Parliament with the restoration of independence “drive our long term recovery from Covid”. We will be fully occupied using those powers to rectify the problems arising from not having had those powers.
There are a number of senses in which Scotland’s cause has stood still – or gone backwards – since 2014. There is no sense whatever in which Scotland is closer to independence now than it has ever been – as asserted by bladders such as Alyn Smith. We are constantly being told that support for independence has increased dramatically under Sturgeon’s ‘leadership’. But I learned something the other day which demonstrates the nonsensical dishonesty of such claims. The very first poll after the 2014 referendum put support for Yes at 49%. The most recent Panelbase poll puts support for Yes at 49%.
In the 2014 referendum campaign the Yes side said that Scotland’s future would be dependent on a Yes win. Look at the headline over Richard Walker’s column. We’re still saying exactly the same thing. Just as stasis is being represented as progress, we are being asked to see a sense of urgency where none exists. Not everybody is fooled.
It is a major mistake to imagine that propaganda is the exclusive province of the British state and its organs – principally the BBC. We are being constantly plied with propaganda from all directions. Our own government and the SNP propagandise a false notion of where we are in terms of the constitutional issue in order to accommodate an equally false notion of a strategy to take us from this fictional place to our desired destination supported by yet another false notion of that strategy’s success to date. And Alba Party supporters have no cause to feel smug. Their party is just as guilty of plying us with propaganda. They have purveyed what we might euphemistically call a ‘highly embellished’ account of what they could achieve if only electors would give them their votes.
This barrage of propaganda has blurred the distinction between reality and fantasy at the very moment when Scotland’s cause most desperately demands rational, pragmatic, clear-headed thinking. I’m not saying Richard Walker’s column is part of that propaganda bombardment. Or at least, I’m trying very hard not to say that.
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