Are attitudes changing?

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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8 thoughts on “Are attitudes changing?

  1. The dissolution of the Union can be done in many ways, not all involving a referendum. Using the Claim of Right in a Parliamentary vote is one method. Westminster relies on Holyrood obeying the restrictions of the Scotland Act of 1998. Instead Scotland should be following the UN’s rules on self-determination, not anything Westminster decides.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Precisely. A referendum must be binary. The options must be distinct, defined and deliverable. The 2014 referendum did not meet these criteria. We should be determined to do better. The form of the question is crucial. It determined just about every aspect of the campaign. The 2014 referendum, under the influence of the British state, made independence the contentious issue. It is the Union which is the contentious issue. It is the Union which is the anomaly. It is the Union which must be justified.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Do you not entertain the idea of recalling MPs from Westminster and setting up a proper constitutional convention to declare independence, Peter?
        (And yes, I know pigs will fly before the current SNP leadership would take such a radical step).

        Liked by 2 people

      3. The discussion is not about whether there is a vote but at what stage in the process. My personal preference is that the Scottish Government should invite the Scottish Parliament to assert it competence in all constitutional matters (effectively a declaration of independence) then lay before Parliament a Bill which proposes to dissolve the Union. Assuming the Bill is endorsed by Holyrood the matter should then go to the people by way of a referendum asking if they wish to ratify the proposal to end the Union (Yes).

        An important point is that the referendum I am suggesting takes place after the Scottish Parliament has asserted its competence on the basis of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and the democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament. This implies no formal involvement of influence by the British state. Which is as it should be. The referendum to be held under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament with management and oversight delegated to a National Assembly formed as Scotland’s MPs are recalled from the British Parliament. Some of them in tears.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. “… Has gentle persuasion with a strong emphasis on positivity served Scotland’s cause well?…”

    Emphatically, NO.

    “… he seems to be acknowledging a reality that Sturgeon shows no sign of having grasped… ”

    What if she has grasped it but intends to do nothing about it, and her approach is simply a delaying tactic into infinity? I do not believe that NS ever, from the moment she appeared at Alec Salmond’s side, had any intention of taking us to independence because she is, in her very essence, a devolutionist – and an authoritarian one, at that, I think there is too much naivety around the analysis of what NS is actually doing. It took a helluva barefaced audacity to rule out a pro independence alliance in the SE we just had. So, not exactly a feartie.

    So, what is she? She is very evidently someone who will never take the final step to independence. She will dilly and dally until a situation is created very like Ireland’s. Weak leaders always create the greatest mayhem because they mistake strength of reaction for strength of character. By removing Salmond from any real opportunity to return to front-line politics, she ensured yet another long delay. By stymieing a pro independence alliance in the SE, she ensured yet another delay, by sticking, supposedly, to a S30 Order route, she ensured delay. By being determined to introduce the policies she intends to introduce very soon, she will ensure delay.

    Whatever NS is, she is not an independista; she does not put Scotland’s welfare first. When, if she ever does, hand Scotland its independence, it will be to an Anglo elite that will be wholly in thrall to the British State, just as De Valera handed the northern counties to an Anglo-Scottish elite. The may not have been his desire, and it might not be NS’s either, but that will be the end result of delaying since 2014. Scotland’s situation will be very similar to Ireland’s in the end, a country torn asunder.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I think much of the problem lies with the SNP members at Westminster and in Holyrood who have got far too comfortable. They enjoy their status and feel important when they stand up to speak on ‘weighty’ matters which prove how forward-looking and liberal they are but seem to have forgotten that their primary purpose was, is and shall/should be independence. To some of them it almost seems a dirty word!

    Liked by 4 people

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