Ruth Wishart adds her own plea for an end to squabbling within the independence movement to the seemingly endless list of other such futile efforts at refereeing the affray. The Believe in Scotland Facebook group threatens to eject anyone judged to be conducting “internecine warfare”. There we have the two most common ‘solutions’ to the fractious factionalism currently dividing the Yes house against itself. Neither approach, you may note, actually attempts to address the causes of this division. Both seek only to conceal the ‘squabbling’ behind a facade of unity. Or silence dissenting voices with the cudgel of heavy-handed moderation. Needless to say, neither approach has any chance of measurable success.
Consider what is being asked of those, like myself, who have grave concerns about various matters relating to or impinging upon the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. I’ll hazard with little fear of contradiction that all of those held to be guilty of provoking squabbles and/or promoting internecine warfare put that fight at the top of their priorities. For those, like myself, whose voices are raised in dissent, Scotland’s cause is what matters. We are most certainly NOT “independence waverers”. Yet we are being asked to remain silent as we see that cause being put in jeopardy.
Of course, there is the obligatory – and often grudging – nod to freedom of expression.
For this is a debate where the loudest voices have been allowed to silence honest dissent. A confident party, and a confident nation can cope with differences of opinion; screeching putdowns are something else.
See what she did there? If “honest dissent” has been silenced then does this not necessarily imply that all that’s left is “screeching putdowns”? Including what those like myself consider to be honest dissent voiced purely out of concern for Scotland’s cause. One person’s honest dissent is another’s “screeching putdown”. Which is not to say that there aren’t “screeching putdowns”. Of course there are. But that’s not what’s silencing “honest dissent”. That’s just the meagre way some people have of voicing their dissent or responding to other’s voicing of honest dissent. The “screeching” is to varying degrees, an element of all political discourse. It doesn’t prevent that discourse proceeding. What does most to silence honest dissent is the pleas for a pretence of unity from respected individuals and the power of officious Facebook group administrators.
People like myself are told it’s OK to criticise the SNP or Nicola Sturgeon or the Scottish Government or Alba Party or the Yes movement so long as we do so at the right time and in the appropriate manner. But the time is never right. No manner is ever appropriate. You’re a ‘screecher’ unless and until the self-appointed guardians of the ‘One True Way’ say otherwise. And they never say otherwise because they have to justify their self-appointment as guardians of the ‘One True Way’.
Ruth Wishart opens with what she doubtless considers timely and appropriately expressed criticism of both the SNP and Alba. I wholeheartedly concur with the criticism. But it will doubtless be condemned as disloyal and divisive by those in the independence movement intent on unity so long as it is on their terms.
The error lies in attempting to conceal the symptoms of division within the independence movement rather than dealing with the causes of that divisions. Ruth offers some sound advice to both the SNP and Alba as the two main camps in a divided movement. She implores the SNP to “accept that critical friends are just that”. She tells Alba to “ask themselves why their message failed”. Wise as it is, that advice comes far too late. Those like myself who proffered similar advice when, if heeded, it might have prevented the worst of the squabbling and internecine warfare well remember being condemned as disloyal and divisive for doing so.
The right time for honest dissent will always be too late. The appropriate way of expressing that dissent will always be the least effective. Some things cannot be put back together once broken. The unity of purpose which held the independence movement together has been allowed to wither. It cannot be restored. The momentum that the independence cause had has been allowed to dissipate. It cannot be regained. The opportunities that the independence cause had have been squandered. There is no replay button.
If only the voices of honest dissent had been heard and heeded. If only.
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