A single, unifying vision for independence is not only unrealistic, but anathema to the diverse and varied political stances of Scotland.Stephen Paton: This is why a single, unifying vision for independence is unrealistic
Surely the most sensible – even insightful – thing Stephen Paton has ever said. If he’d written no more than that then he would have made a valuable contribution to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. In terms of campaign strategy, there is almost certainly no single more important thing to understand than that a single, unifying vision is not only unrealistic, but genuinely impossible. Where there is great diversity there can be unity of a single clearly defined purpose. But there cannot possibly be unity of vision. Diversity and a common vision are mutually exclusive. The more complex and detailed the vision, the more impossible it is to sustain both diversity and unity. For the simple and glaringly obvious reason that within true diversity there must be those who have strong feelings – both positive and negative – about at least some element of that complex and detailed vision.
In a campaign based on visions of a future Scotland, diversity inevitably becomes division. A campaign strategy reliant on finding a single unifying vision is bound to fail. It must become a diffused campaign for the numerous different visions favoured by the diverse elements of the movement. Not to mention the diversity of the electorate. Competing visions. Mutually exclusive visions. The seeds of division and even conflict within the campaign are sown by the campaign strategy. To succeed, the campaign must draw together the diversity of the movement around a single unifying purpose.
None of which will be new to long-time readers of this blog. If there are any. It is a drum I’ve been beating almost since the first independence referendum campaign reached its tragic conclusion. I’ve written and spoken at great length about how the form of a referendum campaign is determined by the question. And how the Yes side was massively disadvantaged from the outset by the fact that the question made independence to contentious issue rather than the Union. And how the Yes campaign not only failed to counter this disadvantage but actually aggravated it by developing within itself innumerable competing visions. And how there were crucial lessons to be learned from that first campaign which would have to inform a new campaign if it was to have any hope of success. And how the first lesson was that a “single, unifying vision for independence is not only unrealistic, but anathema to the diverse and varied political stances of Scotland”. And how we needed instead to find the single unifying purpose that would enable a campaign that was irresistibly powerful because it was tightly focused on a single strictly defined objective. The core objective of the independence movement common to every element of its diversity – ending the Union.
I can’t claim any success in getting this message across. Not to to the people that matter. And not to enough of the people who don’t matter unless they combine. Not enough to persuade Nicola Sturgeon that she needed to rethink her approach to the constitutional issue. Not enough to have the entire constitutional issue reframed as solid opposition to the Union rather than an amorphous mass of aspirations based on an infinitely variable definition of what independence means and countless visions of what independence would mean.
It is gratifying to find that Stephen Paton ‘gets it’. I hasten to add that I claim no credit for his epiphany – if such it was. I can state with some confidence that he did not reach his conclusion by way of my writings on the matter. Which is fine! Pleased as I am that he has put this conclusion across to vastly more people than I can ever hope to reach with this blog, I cannot attribute to him any extraordinary perspicacity – any more than I attribute such to myself. What Stephen observes should be obvious to all. It requires no particular genius to work out that a single unifying vision is an impossibility. Much of the frustration I feel – and I know others do too – is due to so many people so inexplicably failing to reach the same conclusion. Despite the plain and obvious truth of what Stephen says the notion yet prevails in the Yes movement that all we have to do is what we’ve always done, but do it better in some way that is never made clear. We are urged to develop and hone those disparate visions and associated messages despite the fact that to do so is to obviate any possibility of the unity Scotland’s cause so desperately needs.
Is it too late to achieve the unity of purpose and hence the focus and force that our cause requires? I’d love to pretend that the whole of Stephen Paton’s column was as sagacious as his pronouncement regarding the unrealistic prospect of a single unifying vision. Regrettably, there is much in there that would tend to detract from this sagacity were we to dwell upon it. I don’t want to do that. I have no desire to take away from the power and importance of the words quoted at the top of this article. In answering my own question about whether it’s too late to do any good even supposing everybody in the Yes movement takes on board what Stephen says, however, I select one other thing he says which stands in stark contrast to the good sense of that statement.
Scotland is on the cusp of achieving independence from the UK.
Not quite as daft as Alyn Smith’s “never closer” pish. But daft enough. Quite simply, there is no route to a free and fair and conclusive referend and hence to the restoration of Scotland’s independence following the approach to which Nicola Sturgeon is wedded. An approach which takes no account whatever of what the first referendum has to teach us. We are no closer to independence now than we were a decade ago. We will never be closer to independence unless we unite. The approach adopted by Sturgeon precludes that unity. The prospects for Scotland are accordingly bleak.
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