What would you do? What would you have done? What is your solution? These and similar are some of the questions I am most frequently asked when I express misgivings about the SNPs approach to the constitutional issue and/or Alba Party’s stance on the matter. When I point out past errors of judgement I am asked what I would have done. When I criticise current action (or inaction) I and asked what I would do. When I explain how the ‘strategies’ adopted by either of these parties must fail, Someone invariably demands to know my solution. It has always struck me as odd that people who never think to question what is being said and done by the politicians and parties with power take so much interest in the thinking of someone who has no power whatever. It would be odder still if that interest was genuine.
For the most part, these questions are not asked in the hope of eliciting an informative response from myself, but to divert from questions, criticism and expressions of concern about Alba or the SNP. The members and supporters of these parties don’t like it when their party comes under scrutiny. So they try to deflect by using a question to not answer questions put to them. It all gets a bit tedious.
I tend not to answer these ‘what would you do?’ types of questions. Partly because to do so would be to allow the diversionary tactic to succeed. Partly because I’ve already set out my thinking on the constitutional issue and the fight to restore Scotland’s independence on countless occasions – and I really dislike repeating myself. At times, however, it is helpful to restate these things. Not least because egregious misrepresentation of one’s view is so tragically commonplace. Not always with clear malicious intent. Often, it’s just ignorance, in the truest sense of the term. It is just as tragically commonplace that people will comment on articles without actually reading them. Certainly without understanding the content. And I regularly find people criticising or condemning what they imagine to be my views because of what others tell them those views are.
These phenomena don’t only affect me, of course. I can only speak knowledgeably about my own experience. But I’ll wager every blogger reading the previous paragraph was nodding in sympathy. It is all too easy to find oneself denounced as a racist or a Fascist or a misogynist or whatever not on the basis of anything that one has written, but solely on the basis of ignorant and malicious gossip. This is not a whine. It’s simply recognising the way things are. There’s no point in whining. It is, however, sensible to proceed always on the basis that the best source for information about the content of a person’s thinking is the person in question. It is beneficial to be frequently reminded that people will most readily believe that which accords with their prejudices, regardless of considerations such as accuracy and veracity. The golden rule, therefore, is to always be sceptical and always ask for evidence. This is so obviously best practice one would be forgiven for assuming it was ubiquitous rather than a rare exception.
My main complaint about the SNP’s performance in regard to the constitutional issue is that they have put off action too often and for too long. It is now more than 7.5 years since the first independence referendum. Or approaching eight years, if you prefer to look at it like that. Despite the inane protestations of babbling buffoons such as Alyn Smith, we are not ‘closer to independence than we have ever been’. In many ways, we are further from the restoration of our nation’s rightful constitutional status than we were ten years ago. A decade ago we knew there definitely would be a referendum. We knew what the question would be. We knew the date of the vote. But the most appalling idiocy in Smith’s thoughtless claim is that it maintains we are ‘closer to independence’ now (or when the statement was made) than we were when the polls opened at 07:00 on the morning of 18 September 2014. Obviously, the man is a fool and should be ignored. Which I just failed to do. Damn!
If I am asked what I would have done in those ‘lost’ years, I have a ready answer. I would have pursued Scotland’s cause. The SNP/Scottish Government cannot claim that it did this. In 2015, the momentum behind the Yes movement was greater even than it had been at the height of the referendum campaign. Rather than putting those uppity Jocks back in their box as the British political elite had hoped and as I think it’s safe to say most commentators expected, the obnoxious behaviour of the British government in the wake of that No vote and various other factors caused a surge in SNP membership and in support for independence. Scotland was ready to come to the boil. At which point Nicola Sturgeon chose to turn down the heat. I can offer no explanation for this other than that she simply wasn’t aware of the mood in the country. It is one of the great tragedies of Scotland’s cause that this momentum was squandered. It genuinely pains me to think of what might have been.
How different would be our situation today had Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues exhibited better political nous in 2015? Had the opportunity been fully exploited then I am persuaded Scotland would have been marking its second year of restored independence around about now. Had the momentum been maintained with a series of demonstrations and political theatrics such as SNP MP’s walking out of the British parliament and a coordinated response to EVEL and suchlike, then the Yes campaign would have been superbly placed to take advantage of the EU referendum and in particular the contemptuous way in which Scotland’s democratic will was brushed aside as meaningless. Mid to late 2016 would have seen another surge such as occurred after the 2014 vote but building from a higher base.
It was at this point that Sturgeon made another monumentally stupid miscalculation. Rather than pursue Scotland’s cause she decided to fight Brexit. She attempted to divert the energies of the Yes movement from the fight to restore Scotland’s independence into an always futile effort to stop Brexit. Where she could have been working to keep Scotland in the EU in accordance with the will of Scotland’s people, she chose to try and stop the UK from leaving the EU despite the fact that a majority in England and Wales had voted Leave. I reckon that was the point at which the cracks started to show in the always fragile Yes alliance. Sturgeon lost if not the support then at least the enthusiasm of those who opposed EU membership and those who recognised the folly of trying to prevent Brexit from happening and those who desperately wanted to continue the independence campaign. Whatever momentum had been gained was completely lost. The remaining campaigners were running just to stand still.
Immediately the EU referendum result was known and it was clear that Scotland was to be dragged out of the EU against its will the Scottish Government should have declared its intention to hold a referendum giving the people of Scotland the opportunity to choose independence before we were taken out of the EU. The 2017 UK general election would have been fought on this basis. Almost certainly resulting in a considerable swing to the SNP and a significant presence for the party at Westminster.
Because the initial date for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was 19 March 2019 as well as for other reasons the date for a new referendum would have been no later than September 2018. The campaign for that referendum would have started immediately after the 2017 UK general election – again taking advantage of existing momentum. Ideally, this campaign would have been very different from the 2014 referendum Yes campaign. Ideally, lessons would have been learned and applied. Had this been done, the result of the referendum would have been decisively in favour of restoring independence.
When I say we should have had a referendum in September 2018 I always get several people protesting that we could not possibly have won that referendum because we ‘didn’t have the numbers. They totally miss the point that those numbers would have been markedly different had the campaign not been sidetracked by Nicola Sturgeon’s obsession with overturning England’s democratic choice. It’s a stupid comment anyway because it assumes that the polling figures as they were in 2017/2018 predicted the outcome of a referendum. But this is to suppose there was no campaign to change those numbers. What do these fools imagine was going to happen? Do they seriously think a referendum would have been called and then nothing else happens until the vote so that the polls remain unaffected? It’s just silliness. But it’s the kind of silliness that influences the ‘strategic’ thinking in the upper echelons of the SNP. Hence, the failure to get the Yes numbers up because the Yes numbers were too low to do anything that might get the Yes numbers up.
Of course, none of this happened. The point is, it could have. That it didn’t is entirely down to the choices made by the SNP leadership. But before Yes activists get too smug they should ask themselves how much effort they put into preventing the SNP from making such a monumental arse of things.
It is the Yes movement that I blame most for the failure of the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections to result in certainty about where Scotland’s cause is headed. Again, I am asked what I would have done differently. What I don’t get is anybody trying to rebut my critique of the way things were done. I point out the nonsense of the whole Alba ‘supermajority’ myth and nobody tries to refute those arguments. They either repeat the rote spiel received from more senior snake-oil peddlers, or they demand to know what was my brilliant solution. It is flattering that they so often use such terms. But I suspect there may be at least a soupçon of sarcasm in there.
First of all, we have to be clear that the ‘supermajority’ notion was and remains a pile of pish. It simply couldn’t work. It is a notion with huge appeal, I grant you. But so was the notion of nuclear-generated electricity ‘too cheap to meter. Lots of very daft notions have enough superficial credibility to capture the credulous. The number of people gullible enough to be taken in by the ‘supermajority’ scam was small at the 2021 Holyrood election. What was significant is that this contingent included some of the most active and influential members of the Yes movement. Basically, they decided to quit that movement in favour of partisan politicking for the Alba Party. Because the ‘supermajority’ myth had absolutely nothing to do with Scotland’s cause and everything to do with getting votes for Alba.
Let me make one thing clear. Alba did not cause the splits in the Yes movement. Its arrival was more symptom than cause. What it unquestionably did do, however, was bring about a rapid, catastrophic and almost certainly irreversible polarisation. Whereas the voice of dissent from the Sturgeon orthodoxy within the Yes movement had been fragmented and diffuse, it now largely coalesced around Alba. Which would have been fine but for the fact that it was coalescing around something which is totally ineffectual. Alba didn’t empower the voice of dissent. Alba sucked all the power out of it and put it where it was no threat to the SNP. As has been demonstrated. Alba is a year old and as far as both the SNP leadership and Scotland’s cause are concerned it might as well not exist. Alba devotees will bleat that their party needs more time. But we don’t have more time. Tell them we don’t have time and they will agree that we don’t have time before insisting that Alba needs more time that we don’t have but it’ll all somehow work out.
If the choice in the 2021 election was between the SNP and Alba then it was a choice between a party that could but didn’t want to and a party that couldn’t possibly even if it wanted. The logic went only one way. There was less than no point in working on a party that couldn’t possibly do anything no matter how successful it was in electoral terms. As I pointed out in Fantasy politics and problematic arithmetic, even had Alba Party returned all 32 of its candidates – which would have attracted the interest of whoever catalogues miracles in the Vatican – there was no credible way to create a ‘supermajority’ and no credible way to bring about an extraordinary election and no credible way to make that election serve as a plebiscite such as might have an outcome that could credibly settle the constitutional issue. Betting on Alba wasn’t just betting on the outsider. It was betting on the pot of glue.
Given where we were prior to the 2012 election logic and pragmatism pointed in only one direction. What was needed was not an impossible ‘supermajority’ that failed even if it succeeded by the standards of its proponents but a just feasible ‘supermandate’ which worked for Scotland’s cause even if it failed by the strictest definition of its aim.
The idea of a supermandate was to give the Scottish Government – necessarily the SNP – a mandate so massive that only the most insanely anti-democratic of British Nationalists could deny it. More importantly, a mandate so massive that the SNP Scottish Government couldn’t possibly make any excuse for failing to act on it. In other words, A mandate that truly kicked arse. A mandate which, in order to ensure it kicked the right arse kicked every arse in sight and a fair few beyond. I’m talking about a clear working majority and over 50% on both ballots.
This was achievable. It has the benefit of just as much intuitive appeal as the ‘supermajority’ notion but the added advantage of being extremely simple. The voting strategy, rather than being some complex calculation, was just to pile every vote possible onto the SNP. Counter-intuitively, this would not be to give the party massive power. Or, to be more accurate, it would be to give the SNP Scottish Government massive power, but limit strictly the purposes to which that power could be applied. A Scottish Government with a supermandate may not depart from it in the same way governments habitually depart from what is ordinarily understood by the term ‘mandate’. The terms of the mandate are too specific. There is no wriggle room.
- Repudiate the Section 30 process as an illegitimate constraint on Scotland’s right of self-determination
- Assert the primacy of the Scottish Parliament on the basis of its democratic legitimacy and the sovereignty of Scotland’s people
- Recall Scotland’s Members of Parliament from Westminster to sit on a National Convention with Members of the Scottish Parliament and such representatives of civic society as are deemed appropriate by the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of overseeing the drafting of a Constitution for Scotland
- Propose dissolution of the Union with England subject to approval by the Scottish Parliament and ratification by the people of Scotland in a referendum
- Hold a referendum on the question of the Union under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and subject to oversight and management by the National Convention and such bodies as may be appointed by the Scottish Parliament
Prior to the election, rather than farting about with new parties that would never be able to do anything the entire Yes movement should have been on the streets and surrounding Holyrood and massed in front of Bute House demanding that the SNP adopt a Manifest for Independence which committed them to certain actions once in government. Those actions being the initiation of the process which would lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence.
It may not be too late. Ideally, this should have been done a year ago. But it might still be possible to force the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government’s hand. If we don’t then either there will be no referendum or the referendum we get will be a pathetic farce with no effect.
There! It’s done! Now when somebody comes out with that ‘what would you do?’ question I can just give them a link to this article.
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