As she set out her Programme for Government Nicola Sturgeon was at great pains to ensure that her get-out clause on the constitutional issue was not just placed on the public record but hammered into it. By my count the official transcript of her statement refers to ‘Covid/pandemic’ around twenty times while ‘independence’ and ‘referendum’ get a mere three mentions between them. It may be simplistic to suppose this to accurately reflect the First Minister’s priorities, but after seven years of procrastination one could certainly be forgiven for harbouring such suspicions.
What is missing yet again is any explanation of why Scotland’s cause is so uniquely impacted by Covid. Nor are we given any clues as to the criteria which will be used to ascertain when the Covid crisis is officially ‘over’ or ‘passed’ or ‘ended’ or whatever. Nor is there any word on who will make this judgment or what qualifies them to do so. All of which was covered in a previous article. Sturgeon’s statement is being presented by The National and Sturgeon/SNP loyalists as a definitive, unequivocal commitment to action on the constitutional issue. And so it is… but for the dearth of definition and the slippery equivocation and the monumental caveat which makes mock of the word ‘commitment’. The repetition of that huge caveat is intended to make sure the excuse is solidly banked against the day she’s accused of breaking her word again. It’s her ‘Aye, but…’ card tucked up her sleeve ready to be tossed on the table when another deadline comes and goes with nothing done.
We know that’s what it is because we know it’s not what it purports to be and so it must be the only other thing it can be. It is not a justification for further postponing action. There is absolutely no reason why Covid should obviate a referendum. The only argument for this is that it would make campaigning impossible. It wouldn’t! It would make certain forms of campaigning difficult. Being truly committed to a referendum would mean finding ways of dealing with those difficulties. Something the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government isn’t even prepared to discuss. Covid only makes a referendum campaign impossible if you choose to campaign in a way that is made impossible by Covid. But there are many ways of campaigning. There hasn’t even been any discussion of what manner of campaign would be most appropriate. All we know is that as far as Nicola Sturgeon is concerned it is a manner of campaigning which only becomes possible when she says the Covid crisis is ‘over’ or ‘passed’ or whatever.
The Covid caveat has no purpose other than to afford Sturgeon total control of Scotland’s cause. Needless to say, not everybody is content with this. Some are even prepared to make it known that they are not content. What is democracy without dissent?
For those mindful of her record of inaction on the constitutional issue and capable of listening critically to what Nicola Sturgeon says, the Covid caveat is a major concern. As is talk of a “detailed prospectus” which will supposedly “guide the decision” in the ‘iferendum’. We are left to assume that what she is referring to is what I cannot resist calling ‘Back To Scotland’s Future II’. Basically, a rehashing of the ‘white paper’ produced by Alex Salmond’s government for the 2014 referendum. A manifesto-like catalogue of what William Shakespeare called “an infinite deal of nothing.”. All such a ‘prospectus’ does is make independence the contentious issue when it should be the Union that is under scrutiny.
How can there possibly be a ‘prospectus’ for independence? The very idea is nonsensical. The dictionary defines a prospectus as a formal offer. The only thing on offer in the referendum is the restoration Scotland’s independence. There can be no ‘formal offer’ of anything else because nothing else will be decided by the referendum. Referendums are necessarily binary. Nothing can be delivered as a consequence of the referendum outcome other than one or other of the only two options available – independence or the Union. If the choice is independence then what happens next and for the foreseeable future will be decided by the people of Scotland. If the choice is the Union then the people of Scotland will have no meaningful say in what happens next or well into the future. That’s it! There is nothing else! Stripped of pointless waffle the entire ‘prospectus’ could be contained in a Tweet.
What is all too evident from Sturgeon’s statement is that there is ever greater need to maintain the pressure not just for a referendum but for the right referendum. This is too important to be left to the politicians. Especially politicians with Sturgeon’s record of failure to provide the bold, decisive, determined, assertive, tenacious leadership Scotland’s cause requires. There will be those who say we shouldn’t rock the boat. But if the boat is headed for the reef then we have to do something to get the captain’s attention. They will insist that anybody who isn’t fully behind Nicola Sturgeon whatever she decides to do cannot be a true independence supporter. Dissenting voices will be accused of damaging the independence campaign or helping the British Nationalists. I repeat; what is democracy without dissent? Can there be democracy without dissent?
It is entirely possible and proper to disagree fundamentally with Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue – the Sturgeon doctrine – and still be fully committed to Scotland’s cause. Demanding a viable approach to restoring Scotland’s independence cannot possibly be anything other than a vital part of pressing Scotland’s cause. We all know that the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government is crucial to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Nothing better demonstrates a commitment to Scotland’s cause than actively campaigning to ensure that the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government is fit for purpose.
For such a campaign to succeed the whole Yes movement needs to recover its unity of purpose. We need something that might pull the fragmented Yes movement together again. Something in which we can all participate regardless of party or faction. Something like The Saltire Strikes Back, a campaign being promoted by White Rose Rising which aims to strike back against the repellent Union-jackery to which Scotland is being subjected by the British state. Very little is asked of participants. Only that between now and the opening of COP26 on 31 October they stock up on as many Saltire flags, banners, posters, stickers, badges etc. as they can ready to put on display as the world turns its attention to Scotland. The Johnson regime intends that the world will see only Union flags. We can thwart this devious scheme.
On 31 October and for the 12 days of COP26 we should try to come up with imaginative ways of asserting Scotland’s identity by displaying the Saltire in different and/or unusual situations. Pictures can then be shared via social media with the hashtag #SaltireStrikesBack. If enough people join in we should be able to obscure the Union flags altogether.
As was pointed out by somebody commenting on the White Rose Rising blog, Scots all over the world can join in the Saltire Strikes Back campaign. All they need is a photograph of a Saltire in an identifiable location – such as beside a well-known landmark. There’s plenty of time to obtain your Saltire materials and think of a way to display it which might get it noticed. You don’t have to sign up for anything or join an organisation or pay any money – other than the cost of your flag or whatever. When it’s this easy there’s no excuse for any independence supporter failing to participate.
We may see the Yes movement united again. We may make it hard for the politicians to ignore us. Whatever else, we can actually do something. That alone makes it worth the small effort.
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