So, there I was – trudging through the streets of Glasgow in the pishing rain staring at the shamelessly exposed arse of some random dog ahead of me and thinking thoughts. I wondered how long I might have to stare at a dog’s arse before being glad to have my eyes poked out by a flagpole carried by someone oblivious to the fact that there were other people in the vicinity. I dwelt briefly on the realisation that should one ever have the gross misfortune to be kissed by Michael Gove, the last thing you’d see would bear a striking resemblance to that dog’s arse. But mostly I just thought, ten years!
Ten fucking years I’ve been doing this. Ten long wearying years. Ten years of trudging through the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh and Dundee and Dumfries and Edinburgh again and Glasgow again. Ten years of staring at the arses of various dogs. Or it might have been the same dog’s arse. They all start to look the same after a while. Ten years of dodging rogue flagpoles. Ten years of listening to the same chants. Ten years of hearing the same speeches from the same people producing the same reaction from the same crowd. Ten fucking years!
I’ve been a supporter of the fight to restore Scotland’s independence for much longer than that, of course. I think I was born a nationalist, as I have no memory of the moment I became one. That was nearly 71 years ago. I’ve been actively involved in Scotland’s cause on and off and in a variety of ways for about 60 of those years. But it has been a full-time preoccupation for the last ten.
The fight against the Union is at least as old as the Union. But we have a clear starting point for what I think of as the modern age of the independence campaign. That started with the SNP landslide in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election. With a supposedly impossible SNP majority government, a referendum was now inevitable. The campaign for that referendum would be huge. It never even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be part of it. It might have if I’d envisaged the campaign lasting a decade and more. Though I probably would have done exactly as I did. Which was to pack in my business – not a great wrench – and commit to working full-time on the Yes campaign.
The next 30 months or so was hectic, tiring, often frustrating but always satisfying and occasionally exhilarating. Like thousands of other people I did things I didn’t know I could do and went to places I otherwise might never have visited and met people I would otherwise not have met – some of whom I now count among my firmest friends. The Yes movement grew with remarkable speed and to an unprecedented size. This was democracy in action. Real, fundamental, grassroots democracy. Being part of that still stands as one of the great experiences of my life. Up there with becoming a father. Although nothing will ever top that experience.
Ten years on and I’m still trudging the streets of Scotland in the heat and the cold and the wind and the rain staring at a dog’s arse and having waking nightmares about being kissed by Michael Gove while keeping an eye out for the flagpole that would have my out in a very different sense. Safe to say some of the shine has come off that early experience.
Ten years ago things were bad. Bad enough to prompt me and many others to give our energies and our lives over to Scotland’s cause. Ten years on, things are immeasurably worse. I do not wish to contemplate what things will be like in another ten years time. I’m sure there’s no need to explain what I mean by “things”. It’s a different world. And the context in which Scotland’s cause is playing out hasn’t been the exception some seem to imagine. Nicola Sturgeon being one of them. So much has changed in the space of ten years that it would take a very long article to do justice to a catalogue of even the most significant changes. I’ll mention just one thing which is not directly Brexit-related.
I have noted before how the British political elite is becoming more forthcoming and explicit about their attitude to Scotland and what they intend for us. The never very convincing talk of the Union being a ‘partnership of equals’ and how Scotland should ‘lead not leave’ the UK has been all but entirely dropped in favour of brazen contempt for democracy and open hatred of Scotland’s distinctiveness. When British Nationalist politicians such as Alister “Union” Jack talk about Scotland there is no attempt to conceal or disguise the fact that they are talking about a Scotland that is, always has been, and is forever destined to be subordinate to England-as-Britain. An inferior status conferred and enforced by the Union. As is reported in the Sunday National – but regrettably attributed to the Tories rather than the entire British establishment – senior British Nationalist politicians obstinately decline to even acknowledge that Scotland is a nation.
In everything Alister Jack says, and declines to say, there are unmistakable echoes of the malign ‘Greater England Project’ that has ever seethed behind even the most polished facade of British benevolence. Now, they hardly bother with that facade. All pretence of an equitable political union has fallen away to reveal the imperialist/colonialist beast beneath.
This is not a gaffe, or series of gaffes by Alister Jack and others. It is intentional. It is strategic. The British still aim to control the debate around the constitutional issue. They always have. Ten years ago, they succeeded. Ten years ago they saw the advantage in making the debate as detailed and complicated as possible. They sought to bury the constitutional issue in a mass of matters that are tangential at best. The fundamentals of the constitutional issue were barely discussed in the 2014 referendum campaign. Throughout that campaign the British sought to prevent any focus on the dichotomy at the heart of the referendum. They tried to make it more like an election campaign, with most of the discussion focused on matters economic and the rest being filled with things like defence and international relations. They tried to lose the constitutional issue in a fog of contrived doubt about currency and whose picture would appear on postage stamps. With a great deal of help from the SNP/Scottish Government and a large part of the Yes movement, they succeeded. They succeeded well enough to win – despite the No campaign being led by Blair McDougall, a man who missed his calling as a traffic-calming installation.
The British clearly recognise the extent to which the context has changed in ten years. It would be surprising if they didn’t given that they are responsible for by far the largest part of this change. And all that is the worst of it. That they are now blatantly stripping powers from the Scottish Parliament, brazenly intervening in devolved areas, openly undermining Scotland’s democratic institutions, explicitly denying Scotland’s political distinctiveness and outright refusing to acknowledge our right of self-determination all indicate a change of tack in light of the altered context. It appears that rather than massively over-complicating the issue to create confusion and doubt, they now intend reducing it to the basics – the Union versus independence. Or to be more accurate, the Union as they want us to imagine it and independence as they want to portray it.
All of which would be fine – if there was any reason to believe that those charged with formulating and facilitating the process by which Scotland’s independence might be restored similarly recognised the changed context and were planning accordingly. There would be no cause for concern if Nicola Sturgeon and her government and her party looked as if they were likewise intending to rethink the Yes campaign in the light of circumstances as they are now rather than as they were ten years ago.
Ten years on and still marching. Still doing the things we did ten years ago in the same way as we did them then. Trying to resuscitate a movement which can’t breath in this new atmosphere. Trying to revive a campaign that doesn’t fit the new conditions. Sticking with the comfortingly familiar long after context has moved on.
As I trudged through the streets of Glasgow in the pishing rain staring at a dog’s arse and trying to fend off visions of Michael Gove puckered-up for a slobbering snog, it occurred to me that while there may be a place for the tried and tested campaigning methods, something new is needed. Something fresh. Something that addresses the predicament facing Scotland now and not the way we were ten years ago.
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