The problem with assuming the next Holyrood election in 2026 could be used by the SNP as a de facto independence referendum is that the British political elite are also aware of this possibility. Given their behaviour to date, we must assume that they will do whatever is necessary to prevent the 2026 election being used as a de facto referendum. We have no way of knowing precisely how they will do this. But bearing in mind that they are bound by no constitutional or ethical constraints, we can be sure they’ll find a way.
What Angus MacNeil recognises with his intervention is the cold hard reality which has always lurked beneath the facile assurance of the Sturgeon doctrine. Notwithstanding her continuing pretence to the contrary, there is no route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence through the legal and constitutional framework constructed by the British state for the purpose of protecting and preserving the Union. To play by their rules is to lose.
Sturgeon’s lauding of the Section 30 process as the democratic ‘gold standard’ and the only ‘legal and constitutional’ way to ‘win’ independence was always an act of gross political folly born of an arrogance that precludes strategic thinking. How can you think strategically if you’re unable to contemplate the possibility of being wrong?
Sturgeon has tacitly acknowledged her mistake She now says that she would unilaterally pass legislation at Holyrood and dare UK ministers to challenge it in court. But only after requesting the consent that this necessarily implies is not required. She now holds two totally contradictory positions – that a Section 30 is required, and that it isn’t. Which I suppose we must allow is one way of hedging her bets. How can she be wrong if she holds both possible positions? It makes perfect sense if not being wrong is the priority.
But Sturgeon is not alone in this doublethink. Her faithful followers are just as bad. Their response to Angus MacNeil will doubtless be as it always has been to those who have pointed out the idiocy of pinning all hope on a process which is critically dependent on the goodwill, good faith and good offices of the British state. In one breath they will fervently deny that their leader is capable of such ineptitude. In the next they will demand that Angus provide a solution to the problem caused by this ineptitude. As if analysis that identifies a ‘misstep’ can only possibly be worthy of consideration if accompanied by a plan to rectify the error. In which case doctors would never diagnose ailments for which they cannot provide a cure.
The capacity for doublethink means it simply never occurs to the Sturgeon faithful that there would be no need for a solution if the problem they deny is a problem really wasn’t a problem. But that’s merely an aspect of the perversity of human nature.
The problem would never have arisen had Sturgeon been willing to listen to those such as Angus MacNeil who are at least prepared to consider the possibility that she may have got things wrong. The problem might have been rectified at an early stage had the Sturgeon/SNP faithful not striven quite so hard to silence and exclude all dissenting voices.
None of which helps, of course. Other than to the extent that it allows a better understanding of the problem. Which is, of course, essential if a solution is to be found. Unfortunately, Angus’s suggestion that the next Holyrood election be turned into a plebiscite on ending the Union does not qualify as a solution. Apart from anything else, if the British political elite is capable of denying that the Scottish Government has a mandate for a referendum then it follows that they are perfectly capable of refusing to accept the validity of an election pretending to be a referendum. So we’d be right back where we are now.
The main obstacle confronting Angus’s ‘solution’, however, is that there will never again be an election to the Scottish Parliament such as he envisages. There will never again be an election to the Scottish Parliament as we know it. Or at least, we must proceed on that basis because to do otherwise is to take an unacceptable gamble with unthinkable stakes. If there is an election in 2026 it will be to a Scottish Parliament even more limited and constrained than it is now. If Holyrood cannot be so shackled and muzzled that it is incapable of doing anything that threatens the Union then the British will simply abolish it. Anybody who imagines this is a step too far even for the Johnson regime really doesn’t understand the British Nationalist mentality.
What can be done? Again, understanding and fully taking on board the reality of the situation is the essential first step. A massive part of that reality about which there is equally massive denial is that it really is ‘all about the SNP’. It cannot be otherwise because the SNP is the party of government right now, and right now is when action must be taken. The notion that there is some alternative to the SNP as the source of the effective political power Scotland’s cause needs is a delusion which seriously weakens the Yes movement.
Another massive part of our reality is that Nicola Sturgeon is fallible and has demonstrated that fallibility in her approach to the constitutional issue. This remains true no matter how competently she has handled other aspects of her brief as First Minister and/or SNP leader.
Yet another significant part of the reality is that just as Sturgeon’s competence in other areas is irrelevant to her handling of the constitutional issue, so her ineptitude – real or perceived – in other areas in no way alters the fact that she is the First Minister at the time when we need the First Minister to act for Scotland’s cause.
Recognition of all aspects of the reality of Scotland’s predicament leads to only one conclusion. If our independence is to be restored, the action(s) required to make it happen must be taken in the Scottish Parliament by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government which she heads. There is no other way. There is no time to find or create another way.
The all too common response to this bald statement of cold hard fact is an angry insistence that Sturgeon and the Government she leads will never do what is required. Or a just as adamant insistence on the part of the faithful that she will and indeed is doing what is required. More doublethink! The former are effectively saying that Scotland’s cause is an impossible dream. They will never admit that’s what they are saying. But if there is only one way to do it and you totally discount that way, what’s left? The latter are also effectively saying that the restoration of Scotland’s independence is not going to happen because they insist that it is inevitable with the current approach and therefore there is no need to take the action which will actually make it happen.
That pretty much sums up the parlous condition of the Yes movement at the moment. It’s a mess! Which is a tragedy. Because the Yes movement is the only hope for Scotland’s cause. Only a united Yes movement speaking with one voice can possibly have the capacity to force a rethink by Sturgeon. Only with the backing of a united Yes movement can Sturgeon have the audacity that the situation demands. The audacity to break the Union’s rules in order to break the Union.
Both the ‘sides’ in the Yes movement described above are partially correct. Both fail to take that correct bit and think it through. The doubters are right when they say Sturgeon won’t do what is required. But they fail to follow the logic which says that if she is the only one who can and she won’t then the only thing to do is to put every ounce of effort into changing the ‘won’t’ part of that. The faithful are right when they say Sturgeon is the only one who can do what is required. But they then jump off the train of logic rather than staying aboard until it comes to the conclusion that if Sturgeon is the only one who can do it then we damn well better make sure she does it and does it effectively.
Whatever way you look at it, the solidarity of the Yes movement has never been so urgently needed. Which is sad because solidarity has never been so lacking.
The politicians are making an arse of it. When the politicians are making an arse of things then it falls to the people to put it right. The people can only do that if they act in combination. The corollary to ‘divide and rule’ is ‘combine and prevail’. It may not roll off the tongue quite so nicely. But it is just as true. The idea of ‘people power’ is misleading. There is no such thing. The people don’t have power. What the people have is strength. Only when that strength is combined and directed does it become power. That power, if it can be unleashed and managed, has the potential to achieve any objective.
You ask what is the solution? I give it to you in one word – combination!
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