The worst of times

As you watch events unfold over the coming days and weeks please remember this. It is not the diagnosis that kills the patient. It’s the disease. It is not the people who warn of impending failure who bring about that failure. It’s the people who ignore those warnings. Before you start shooting messengers, bear in mind that everyone who speaks out sends a message. Even silence is a message. We are all messengers. Start shooting messengers and you better save a bullet for yourself.

The disease that has struck down the Yes movement, depriving Scotland’s cause of it’s breath and muscle, is time. It was no single act of human folly but the accumulation of many such acts. There certainly was no conspiracy to destroy the Yes movement. Even if such a thing were feasible it would be redundant. Time could be relied on to do the job.

No one person, group, organisation or party is to blame. All bear some form and burden of responsibility. There is no necessary malign intent. Merely the aggregate of good intentions which, often only with hindsight, can be seen to be misguided. In political movements 2+2 has countless ways of make shit and precious few ways of making 4. Looking back over the last ten years it appears as if Scotland’s independence movement was set upon exploring all the ways of making 2+2 add up to shit. That’s not how it was, of course. It’s just how it seems

It’s human nature to ask where and when it all went wrong every bit as much as it’s in our nature to ask who is to blame. Recorded history is an attempt to satisfy this need for explanation. But it’s like sticking pins in a river to mark the cause of a flood. No event or development occurs in isolation. Everything is connected to everything else. Everything is affected by everything else in ways that depend at least as much on perspective as on any identifiable action or actor.

This is not to say that all is random. We can give an account which selects certain points as being of significance. But even something as significant as a tipping point tends to defy the kind of precise definition that might satisfy the human need for pattern and predictability. There is vanishingly seldom general agreement on where the crux of the tipping point lies. Serious and prolonged conflict can arise from disagreement about just such matters.

All of this would matter if there were useful lessons to be learned from a dispassionate analysis the last decade in the history of Scotland’s independence movement. There are interesting lessons to be learned, for sure. Lessons of academic interest. But it’s extremely doubtful that they might be useful, for the simple reason that they would only be useful in circumstances that now no longer exist and cannot be recreated because the circumstances that might have allowed their recreation have also ceased to exist.

The Yes movement of a decade ago no longer exists. It almost certainly cannot be rebuilt. Attempts to do so are very probably futile and quite possibly counterproductive. Which doesn’t mean that the “beautiful dream” is dead. Only that the popular campaign against the Union will have to take a different form. What that form might be is not yet clear.

What is abundantly clear is that the constitutional issue cannot be left to the politicians. And by this I mean all the politicians. I could do chapter and verse on the poor choices and bad decisions made by all the parties and all the main players. But to do so would be to indulge and encourage the tribalism which has seeped into every part of our political culture and every corner of our democratic infrastructure. There is now no way to remove the tribalism. We can only choose to remove ourselves from it.

I’m not even sure what that last sentence means. I have no clear idea of what is implied by the idea of removing ourselves from the toxic broth of polarised, dogmatic factionalism which now seethes where once stood a magnificent popular democratic movement. I don’t know how we go about building something that is both different from the Yes movement of old and a viable alternative for it. I only know that I am now firmly persuaded that this is the only way to keep the “beautiful dream” alive.

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5 thoughts on “The worst of times

  1. Yeah, seems reasonable to me.

    But that tribalism is us, not the 90% or 95% who are currently taking no inerest in Indy either way.

    The YES movement was needed to make people aware of Independence, to make it mainstream. Well, it worked 100%. I don’t know what comes next; maybe it’s just let the people work it out for themselves – and vote. The future is an undiscovered country.


  2. In a land cursed by the implant of sectarianism it is perfectly feasible to see why this has emerged within the YES movement.
    If you think about it. There are agents afoot of that I am sure. How far up the chain they are embedded I have no proof.


  3. The only feasible way left that I can see is not through a referendum – too little care and too many English have moved to Scotland who will vote to remain part of the union. Even if there were to be a referendum the people who would most benefit from independence will not be motivated to go out and vote this time like they were in 2014.The only way, and I don’t know how it will be done with SNP in government, is to announce the end of the union due to the terms of the Act of Union having been broken by England. It was saddening to see stalls out at the weekend knowing the activists were just being led on a merry dance. I don’t think they have read the room well.


    1. There must be a referendum. But it needn’t be the start of the process, as per the Sturgeon doctrine. The process of restoring Scotland’s independence can be initiated by some form of action, similar to but NOT the action you suggest. That’s a recipe for handing control of the issue to the courts. Which is a massive gamble. The process must remain within the political realm.

      What concerns me most now is not that there won’t be a referendum but that there will. A referendum and campaign done as Sturgeon appears to wish would almost certainly fail. I have to qualify that statement because weird things do happen in politics. But only a fool keeps their fingers crossed and hopes for the best. We must act so as to tip the balance of probabilities in our favour as much as possible.


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