The best arguments for independence are those based on the positive advantages it would bring and the natural resources we have which would allow us to thrive, prosper and redistribute our wealth more fairly.Richard Walker: Divergent politics with England is just one reason for independence
That has long been the assumption. But all assumptions should be questioned. The longer an assumption has gone unchallenged the greater and more urgent the need to subject it to rigorous scrutiny. The first question we might ask is whether these arguments have been effective. Has gentle persuasion with a strong emphasis on positivity served Scotland’s cause well? It may be claimed that this approach of selling independence to the electorate in the same way – and largely by the same methods – as any election manifesto worked for the cause of independence in the first referendum campaign. That has long been the assumption. After all, what else might explain the approximate doubling of support for Yes over the course of the campaign? I can think of a couple of things.
The grinding negativity and flagrant dishonesty of the anti-independence propaganda effort may well have been a factor. It may be that Better Together succeed only in persuading some people that we were much better apart. The fact that the No campaign was closely associated with the ‘hated’ Tories must surely have had some effect. Certainly, British Labour’s support for the No campaign didn’t succeed in giving it a ‘respectable’ red tint. In Scotland, the No campaign wasn’t seen as a British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) campaign. Rather, BLiS was perceived as having climbed into bed with the Tories. For which treachery they have still not been forgiven.
Perhaps more significant than the foot-shooting of Better Together, however, is the possibility that that the Yes campaign in its early days was pushing at an open door. It would be foolish to discount the idea of a large latent support for independence that was brought out of hibernation by there being an opportunity to express that support. It seems quite likely that a substantial chunk of the increase in support for Yes would have happened regardless of how supercalifragilisticexpialidocious the Yes campaign was. Maybe all of those myriad competing ‘visions’ of and for a shiny new nation didn’t do as much good as proponents of happy-clappy evangelicalism were quick to claim. Maybe by blurring and diluting the campaign message the multiple and multiplying definitions of independence did enough harm to the campaign to offset any benefit.
Let’s at least consider the possibility that the “best arguments for independence” are not necessarily as Richard Walker assumes. Let us also consider the possibility that to whatever extent Richard’s favoured approach was successful a decade ago (Aye! It’s been all of ten years since the first independence referendum campaign had its tentative beginnings.), is it safe to assume that the same approach will be effective now? After all, hasn’t the political environment changed massively since then? Shouldn’t that at least bid us think twice and maybe three times about adopting a campaign strategy that is no more than the ten-year old model dusted down?
Richard Walker states with apparent conviction that the best arguments for independence are the same ones that have been the mainstay of Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue ever since she succeeded Alex Salmond and which, as far as can be determined, form the content of her ‘plan’ for a new referendum campaign. Much work has been done to persuade us that these arguments were effective before and that they will always be so. We are told repeatedly – not least by The National – that Scotland’s cause has has made great progress under Sturgeon’s steady hand. Look at the polls, cry her loyal supporters. We’ve never been closer to independence proclaims Alyn Smith. Everybody who questions Nicola’s leadership of the independence cause is a traitorous zoomer screeches Pete Wishart while Wheeshtmaster General Paul Kavanagh barks and growls at the sound of dissenting voices.
Well, here’s a thing I discovered recently. The very first poll subsequent to the 2014 referendum showed support for independence at 49%. At the time I found out about this a few weeks ago the polls were all within margin of error of 49%. Some progress!
As to the ‘never closer to independence’ drivel, perhaps the less said about that the better. But only if you have some reason to avoid embarrassing the dolts who spout such pish. I find no such reason. So I miss no opportunity to point out the unalloyed idiocy of a claim that we are closer to independence now than we were when polls opened at 07:00 of Thursday 18 September 2014. I reality, we are further from realising the “beautiful dream” today than we were a full ten years ago. At least then we knew that there would be a referendum. We would shortly have a date for the vote and a fair idea of the form that the campaign would take. Today, we have no prospect of a referendum and only the fear that it will take an entirely inappropriate form – largely because of unquestioned assumptions about the effectiveness of the first Yes campaign. Also because the likes of Alyn Smith don’t even have a clue where we are starting from. Mainly because the SNP leadership has adamantly refused to entertain any fresh thinking on the constitutional issue or campaign strategy.
Now! Here’s what I find intriguing about Richard Walker’s column. Apart from what appears to be the obligatory paragraph endorsing what I have called the ‘Sturgeon Doctrine’ (see above), his language suggests that he is instinctively reaching for something that os not at all in keeping with Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue. When he writes of “the threat the Westminster system poses to our ability to achieve that potential” he seems to be acknowledging a reality that Sturgeon shows no sign of having grasped.
Likewise when he notes that “the manifest failings of UK politicians in England can still drag Scotland down and [Westminster?] can still dilute the powers of our own parliament whenever it deems it fit” he appears to have found a sense of urgency that to date has totally eluded our First Minister – who continues to imagine action on the constitutional issue can be postponed indefinitely and that we can rely on the goodwill, good grace and honest cooperation of the British state as we go about restoring Scotland’s independence.
Richard Walker observes,
Another Prime Minister, with another chief adviser, would certainly improve matters but would do nothing to change the fundamental flaw in the UK.
In doing so, he looks to be on the verge of realising that it is a mistake to treat the constitutional issue as if it was ‘ordinary’ party politics. Unless I’m reading too much into this, he seems at least open to the idea that a campaign strategy which relies on the methods and tactics of a parliamentary election just doesn’t work in the context of a necessarily single-issue referendum campaign.
That’s why England still matters to Scotland. What matters even more is that we have no ability to influence its actions, and in particular those actions which have a direct impact on our lives.
With this observation Richard Walker appears to be no more than a hair’s-breadth away from the realisation that what lies at the root of the constitutional issue is the Union. Had he but followed through on that thought ten he might have ended his piece not with a plea for independence but with a demand to #DissolveTheUnion.
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