Time for another teaser, Nicola? A wee shillin’ in the meter tae keep the independence pot warm on that back burner? Something ‘fresh’ that the faithful can point to as they shout down the doubters and the dissenters and the folk in the cheap seats who just want this pantomime to end? Behold! Verily Nicola hath spake unto ye saying “Aye! Jist hing oan, eh! Gonnae no’ gie me a hard time, eh? It’s oan ma tae-dae list, FFS!”. If we just #WheeshtForIndy another six months or so then for certain maybe something will happen all being well. How could it possibly be clearer?
What is it that’s lacking? What has Nicola Sturgeon been holding off for all these long, wearying years of postponement, procrastination and promises? What does she need that she doesn’t have? Or that she hasn’t had, but let go? What conditions must exist for her to act?
Much of the delay can, of course, be attributed to Sturgeon’s long-held conviction (some might say delusion) that the British state in the odious person of Boris Johnson would come around. That he would relent. That he would experience some kind of democratic epiphany and overnight change from fanatical devotion to the Union to an equally fervent commitment to democracy as it is normally understood. It is only lately that Sturgeon’s belief in such a magical transformation has seemed to waver a bit. Perhaps because she realised that what she was hoping for was not merely the metamorphosis of Boris Johnson, but the transubstantiation of the British state. Maybe it finally dawned on her that the transmutation of shite to gold was a more promising project.
Now, she says she will unilaterally pass legislation at Holyrood and dare UK ministers to challenge it in court. Which is what she was always going to have to do given that her Plan A couldn’t even find the starting blocks. Assuming she is sincere about this and assuming she has the nerve for such confrontational politics and assuming her revised plan is any better than its predecessor and assuming she and her colleagues are sufficiently resolute and assuming this is a near-complete list of assumptions, maybe we’re getting somewhere.
Let’s say Nicola Sturgeon has at last realised the folly of pursuing a process which is critically dependent on Boris Johnson possessing all the fine qualities he isn’t known for. Let’s say she now recognises the true nature of the British state. What does she require in order pursue a less fantastical process? What would be on her checklist of things that are essential as she goes into battle with the British political elite. As well as things that she would just prefer to have.
Such a list would include things like a mandate from the people of Scotland; a substantial and sustained lead for Yes in the polls; a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament; a pro-independence Scottish Government with a secure working majority; fair treatment from the media; strong evidence that the Union is bad for Scotland; an army of campaigners ready to be led into battle; new shoes etc.
Is there anything on that list that she doesn’t have? Or could have if she asked? Or has had but lost? She has a mandate. It’s not the mandate that she should have. It’s not the mandate that she should have been given in May whether she wanted it or not. But she has an adequate mandate. The British will not accept that it is adequate. They will not accept that she has a mandate at all. They were never going to accept that she had a mandate. Unless she’d been given a ‘supermandate’, of course. That is to say, a mandate that not even the British could claim was non-existent or insufficient. We, the voters, had it in our power to provide such a supermandate. Had the Yes movement united in an effort to create that supermandate it would very likely have succeeded. But much (most?) of the Yes movement declined this opportunity. They had better things to do. Or they’d given up doing anything.
Despite this failure, the mandate box is ticked.
The substantial and sustained (for a while) lead in the polls is one of the things the Yes cause had and now doesn’t. It wasn’t a sustainable lead because it wasn’t built on greater acceptance of the need to end the Union but on the popularity of Nicola Sturgeon. Popularity that was always fragile because the electorate is a fickle beast and none too clever. What the 58% recorded in 2020 tells us is that there is an appreciable chunk of the electorate which can be swayed with the right kind of appeal. An appeal to emotion. It wasn’t Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s economic facts and figures which captured that extra ten points. Those ‘case for independence’ arguments have been around for a decade and more. For the last seven of those years the polls haven’t moved – apart from that spell in 2020 when Yes got a boost courtesy of Sturgeon’s presentation skills. The polls jumped not because of information supplied to voters but because they were made to feel something. They were engaged and enthused not by what Nicola Sturgeon told them at those briefings but because she made them feel important and involved and just a bit safer. It was feelings of trust and confidence and security that did the trick, not graphs and charts and reams of statistics.
There’s a rather obvious lesson to be learned there. The fact that support for Yes has fallen back again suggests that lesson has not been learned. A substantial and sustained lead in the polls is quite readily attainable if the correct approach is adopted.
Sturgeon has a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament and a pro-independence Scottish Government with a secure working majority. So we can tick those boxes. There could hardly be stronger evidence that the Union is bad for Scotland. That evidence is piling up as never before. The fact that this alone isn’t bumping up the polls tells us that this evidence in not being exploited to its fullest. The British government is unquestionably doing its bit for Scotland’s cause. Somebody else isn’t.
Fair treatment from the British media will not be forthcoming. They are the BRITISH media. That is all anybody needs to know on that subject.
That brings us to that army of campaigners ready to be led into battle. Which is arguably the most interesting item on the list of prerequisites for a start to the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. It is certainly in the column headed ‘squandered’. Most people reading this will remember the Yes movement as it was in 2013 and 2014. What a wondrous thing it was! Massive! Dedicated! Unafraid! Cheerful and at times joyous! And effective – up to a point. That point being That point being 44.70% of the popular vote on a turnout of 84.59%. A point significantly short of victory.
Readers will recall also how the engagement and enthusiasm of the Yes movement grew and spread in the wake of that result. The Yes army was probably at its strongest in 2015. That level of voter engagement couldn’t be sustained. But it was given a boost by the EU referendum in 2016. The momentum was still with Yes into 2017, but started to diminish in the second half of that year following what was widely portrayed as a poor performance by the SNP in the 2017 UK general election. Had the independence campaign been given another boost prior to and during the 2017 UK general election campaign then the stage would have been well set for a referendum in September 2018 – before the UK was due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. No such boost was forthcoming. The Yes movement went into decline and has never recovered.
Some will complain that the foregoing is an overly simplified account. I agree. But it’s sufficient for our immediate purpose. The army of campaigners ready to be led into battle is the main thing missing off that list. We now know what Nicola Sturgeon lacks. We know what she’s waiting for. She needs a massive public clamour for action. She needs to be able to point to this massive public clamour and say that she has no choice but to take bold, decisive action. She needs to be provided with justification for dropping her foolish commitment to the Section 30 process. She needs that mass public clamour to legitimise the unilateral action she now not-quite-promises.
You’ll excuse me oozing a bit of glee as I point out that the #WheeshtForIndy mob could hardly have got it more wrong. The restoration of Scotland’s independence is radical politics writ large. Radical political campaigns are not quiet affairs. Not if they hope to succeed. They have to be audible. And visible. And tangible. They must have effect. They must have impact. They must be felt. They must be felt even by those who are customarily disengaged from politics.
By definition, radical political campaigns don’t parrot any party line. They need the effective political power only government can provide. But they are not there to serve the government. They exist to effect change of a kind that established power is decidedly averse to. Radical political campaigns are not owned by political parties. They are not extensions of political parties. They stand outside the normal democratic process because you can’t kick a politician’s arse if you’re standing up close to them. And if radical campaigns are for anything they are for kicking political arse.
The Yes movement needs to get its arse-kicking boots on. Because there are arses begging to be kicked.
I daresay Nicola can afford those new shoes. Quite right too! She is our First Minister. That office must come with remuneration commensurate with its importance to Scotland. But while she goes for style, the Yes movement must choose its footwear by weight.
I shall not get into the maladies that have afflicted the Yes movement over the last four years in particular. If you are reading this then the chances are you are already all to familiar with the factionalism and tribalism and the rest. It’s pointless blaming any individuals or groups or organisations or parties for the condition of the movement. We are all part of the movement so we are all in one way or another part of the problem. I cling desperately to the conviction that this problem has a solution. I remain persuaded that the Yes movement can create that public clamour mentioned earlier. I harbour no illusions about turning the clock back. The Yes movement has left its formative years behind just as we all do. Just as there is no choice but to work with the Scottish Government we have, so there is no choice but to work with the Yes movement as it is. Forget about trying to heal wounds and stop internecine squabbling. Once factionalism and tribalism take hold there is no cure. Certainly no cure that can be effective on the relevant timescale. Whatever the Yes movement does now will have to be done despite the divisions. It has to be something that is totally disconnected from the causes of those divisions – real or imagined.
First of all, we need ‘proof of concept’. The Yes movement must demonstrate that it is capable of action in the name of a common purpose. The movement must do this as much for its own benefit as for the effect of the action. We have to demonstrate to ourselves that we can still combine when it counts. That is the thinking behind White Rose Rising’s #SaltireStrikesBack action. Only a group such as White Rose Rising can be the agency for this action because the group is very purposefully and most emphatically not affiliated to any party or associated with any agenda. The group prides itself on being entirely focused on the constitutional issue. It boasts that it it is rooted in a campaign against the Union that has existed at least as long as the Union has. It is merely the latest manifestation of the people’s fight to end the Union and restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.
The idea was to develop an action which could attract the kind of mass participation of which a public clamour is made. Not everybody can march. Not everybody can attend rallies or do streetwork. Everybody can put a poster in their window. We can all use our windows to participate in a demonstration. We can all display our national flag. The only matter remaining was the question of when would be the right time to ‘experiment’ with this kind of demonstration.
When COP26 starts on Sunday 31 October the eyes of the world will be on Scotland. Boris Johnson is determined that all those eyes will see is the Union flag. The manner of our response hardly needs to be explained. For every Union flag Boris and his agents stick on Scotland, we display ten Saltires. Or a hundred. Or…. You decide!
It’s as simple as that. Get hold of a Saltire flag or poster and on the morning of Sunday 31 October put it in your window or some other place where it will be seen. There’s no rule about how many Saltires you can display. Plaster the entire exterior of your house with them if you want. Use your imagination.
That’s all there is to it. If it works, the world will see a nation asserting its identity in the face of imperialist-style efforts to impose an alien identity. Nicola Sturgeon will see the potential for the public clamour she needs. Perhaps most importantly, the Yes movement will see what it can do. What it can be.
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