I didn’t hear Ian Blackford’s address to the crowd gathered on Glasgow Green at the end of the Yes march in Glasgow on Saturday (9 October) and I have been unable to find a full transcript of his speech. It might be more accurate to say that I couldn’t hear Mr Blackford’s address. My hearing is quite badly impaired and the PA was not the best so I was totally unable to hear. To be honest, I wasn’t much troubled by this. I didn’t anticipate that there would be anything new or particularly meaningful from the leader of the SNP Westminster group. The significance lay in the fact that he was there. Ian Blackford is the most senior SNP politician ever to address a rally organised by the grassroots Yes movement. There can be no doubt that this was intended to send a signal. Or perhaps it was just another placatory gesture. Either way, what he said was unlikely to be as important as the context in which he said it.
The bits of his speech which have been reported confirm that I was right to keep my expectations low. It was the same heavily caveated not-quite-a-promise we’ve been hearing since the last heavily caveated no-quite-a-promise of something maybe being done on the constitutional issue at some undefined point in time.
Our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been very clear that the responsibility that the Government has, that she has, is to lead Scotland through that pandemic.
But I can assure you that the bill for a referendum will be coming in front of the Scottish Parliament, and the First Minister has indicated that if we have dealt with that pandemic, we will be having that referendum in 2023.
Then there was the stuff intended to inspire and motivate and blah! blah! blah!
The job for all of us is to win the hearts and the minds of the people of Scotland. The job for all of us is to go door to door, street to street, village to village, town to town, city to city and to make sure that the people of Scotland are ready to cast their votes for Scotland becoming an independent country.
By all accounts, the response from the assembled Yes activists was lukewarm at best. A scattering of cheers from those whose faith in Nicola Sturgeon is undiminished despite seven years of inaction. Heckling from the increasing numbers who are no longer content with insipid gruel of the kind served up by Ian Blackford. I understand and sympathise with the latter. It is right that people should be disappointed and frustrated and even angered by the failures and failings of the SNP. It is perfectly fitting that Yes activists who have been doing exactly what Ian Blackford urges them to do for ten years and more should feel somewhat aggrieved at being lectured by the party which has been so woefully derelict in fulfilling its part of the informal bargain struck with non-SNP independence supporters.
The largest part of Ian Blackford’s audience was likely to be people who are not now, never were and all but certainly never will be members of the SNP. Nonetheless, most of these people entered into an unspoken pact with Alex Salmond at least ten years ago in which they undertook to supplement the party’s own campaign army and help the SNP win elections in return for the party acting as the political and parliamentary arm of the independence movement. Salmond kept his part of that bargain. His successor has not. So it’s hardly surprising if those non-SNP Yes activists are a bit peeved. Ian Blackford should have been apologising to them rather than delivering a patronising pep-talk.
Some will be more than just a bit peeved. Some will be quite angry. Again, this is understandable and forgivable. Far less so is the unreasoning antipathy towards the SNP to which some have descended. Not anger, but rage. Blind, unthinking rage. That, I do not understand and cannot forgive.
The extent to which some in the Yes movement have succumbed to mindless rage was brought home to me by a comment made on Twitter by what appears to be a member or at least a supporter of the Alba Party. I stress that I have no way of ascertaining whether this individual is associated with Alba. And, besides, it is not only Alba members/supporters who evince this bitter antipathy towards the SNP. Nor can I testify to the words quoted actually having been spoken by Ian Blackford. As I have stated, I was unable to hear his speech. But regardless of any of that, the comment still serves to illustrate the degree to which some in the Yes movement feel alienated from the de facto political wing of Scotland’s cause. It reveals the depth of resentment and even hatred of the SNP that has been allowed to grow like a noxious cancer.
Listen very carefully because after Blackford’s comment on Saturday”the SNP will get more involved with the Yes Movement”the very movement they fragmented in May turning friend against friend we are grassroots and they can stay away from us!
I have disguised the identity of the person who posted this and have chosen not to link to the Tweet because I have no desire to provoke the kind of ‘pile-on’ that is among the less edifying features of social media. It is not the individual I am condemning but the attitude. The SNP under Nicola Sturgeon may not have been the Yes movements best friend or greatest ally. But if we start to regard something so essential to Scotland’s cause as the enemy then Scotland’s cause is surely doomed. Regardless of the justifications for being angry at the party we must never allow that anger to become the kind of rage that blinds us to political reality.
It is a simple statement of fact to say that you can be non-SNP and pro-independence but you cannot be anti-SNP and pro-independence. This has always been the case. The SNP didn’t drag the Yes movement along on a quest for power. The Yes movement pushed the SNP to the vanguard of the fight to restore Scotland’s independence because that fight cannot be won without the effective political power that only the SNP is in a position to provide. It is in that position because we put it there. To tell this essential component of the machinery which will end the accursed Union and restore Scotland’s independence that “they can stay away from us” is little short of madness.
When a part which is critical to the functioning of a machine becomes defective and no suitable spares are available, what kind of warped ‘logic’ dictates that the part be wrenched from its place in the works and discarded? Surely good sense dictates that the only logical course of action is to repair the part. To patch it up somehow so that it is at least functional and the machinery can start to turn again. If anything makes even less sense it is wrenching the part out of the machinery and smashing it beyond repair.
If frustration at the failure of this vital component to work as it should becomes destructive rage then the individual concerned will tend to reach for any rationalisation for their vandalism. They might, for example, insist that the machine doesn’t need the part now lying broken because they have an alternative. They need an alternative in order to make their behaviour look slightly less irrational. So desperate are they to identify such an alternative that they may well point to a little heap of old odds and ends raked out of the bottom of the tool-box and proclaim this mismatched assortment to be the makings of a replacement for a highly sophisticated piece of kit. Like saying you can build a carburettor out of the stuff left over from previous adventures in flat-pack furniture construction.
Or like the belief that a party with no elected representatives, derisory polling and neither power nor influence can be a substitute for the party of government with a host of elected representatives, an unassailable lead in every poll and all the power and influence that these things entail.
The need to present their behaviour as something other than deranged destructiveness may prompt denial of all political reality. Time ceases to be a factor. As does the known and anticipated actions of opponents. The belief in this alternative exists in a little bubble of a reality of its own making. An endlessly malleable reality wich can be adjusted in any way necessary to make the supposed alternative look like a shiny new machine part rather than a heap of rusting junk.
Have you guessed what I’m referring to? Aye! Alba Party!
Let me make it clear at this point that I have absolutely nothing against Alba other than that it is falsely presented as an alternative to the SNP – despite the fact that it is quite impossible for Alba Party to be a source of effective political power or to become such within the time left before the British Nationalist assault on our democracy and identity gets to be unstoppable. It simply cannot happen – absent a magical intervention. I have great respect for leading figures in Alba such as Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill. I am broadly in agreement with the party’s policy platform. I admire that it appears to have the kind of member-led structures and procedures which used to be a feature of the SNP. I even gave my regional vote to Alba in May – although this was not in expectation of the party actually achieving anything but because the people topping the SNP and SGP lists were such that I simply could not endorse.
Everything about Alba Party could be absolutely perfect and tickety-boo. That doesn’t alter the fact that it is not the party of government right now, and right now is all that matters. If you are talking about any future Scottish Parliament election then you are indulging in fantasy politics every bit as much as if you suppose Alba to be an alternative to the SNP in the present. There is no alternative to the SNP! This remains true no matter how much you may hate the SNP or to what extent that hatred is justified or how adept your are at rationalising it. The cold, hard, undeniable-by-other-than-the-seriously-deluded reality is that if we don’t ‘get independence done’ by the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government that we have now then it is highly probable that we will never get it done. It is certain beyond dispute that if action is not taken by this SNP+SGP/Scottish Government then the fight to restore Scotland’s independence is set to become very much more difficult.
The reality plainly visible to rational, pragmatic assessment of Scotland’s predicament is that Alba has nothing to contribute to Scotland’s cause beyond what it could contribute as an ‘ordinary’ Yes organisation without the pretence of being an alternative to the SNP. That the SNP may be almost entirely to blame for people seeking an alternative does not justify Alba’s pretence. Indeed, to the extent that this pretence is diverting Yes activists from the only task that matters – getting the SNP back on track – then the party is a serious impediment to Scotland’s cause.
Alba’s leaders could perhaps have prevented the tribalism evident in that Tweet taking hold. The potential for it to develop as soon as the disaffected were presented with the illusion of an alternative must have been obvious to a man of Alex Salmond’s experience. Kenny MacAskill must have recognised the danger. Even now, Alba’s leaders could do something to mitigate the harm being done to Scotland’s cause. They will never stop the tribalism altogether. But they could do more to distance themselves from the mindless hatred of the SNP evident in that Tweet and countless other social media messages. They could puncture the delusion of Alba Party being an alternative to the SNP in anything other than the most trivial sense. They could set aside partisan prejudice and political expediency for the sake of Scotland’s cause.
I can point to nothing which suggests they are prepared to do this. On the contrary, as I read articles written by senior figures in Alba I gain the distinct impression of a struggle between not wanting to be seen to encourage the tribalism and not wanting to actually discourage it. Personally, I am no less pissed-off by them than by Ian Blackford.
I could count on my fingers the individuals among Scotland’s political elite who aren’t immediately relegated to the ranks of those failing Scotland’s cause – and still have enough fingers to type this article. To say that I am frustrated with and annoyed with our political leaders would be a considerable understatement. I am angry. Of course I am. But however much Blackford’s patronising bloviation may irk me, I will not allow myself the false comfort of facile hatred and directionless rage.
I am very, very wary of the SNP seeking to be “more involved with the Yes Movement”. I am realistic enough to recognise the SNP’s way of absorbing and neutralising the voices of dissent and/or the organisations which facilitate those voices. But I do not let emotion blind me to the fact that the SNP and the Yes movement are both essential components of the machinery that will bring an end to the grotesquely asymmetrical Union and restore Scotland’s independence. That the SNP is in conflict with any part of the Yes movement (or vice versa) is probably the most disturbing development afflicting Scotland’s cause. It is a symptom of a tragic failure of political leadership. But so is the increasingly virulent enmity of Alba Party towards the SNP.
The people of Scotland are beset from all directions by failure of political leadership. Not for the first time, I suggest that arses need to be kicked.
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