The somewhere was Dunfermline. Greynbow is my agonisingly contrived but even more painfully appropriate term for the assortment of speakers assembled to address a gathering of independence supporters and activists at the Duloch Leisure Centre yesterday afternoon (Sunday 10 April). All credit to the organisers, they did well to get these people to share a platform and the event was very well attended. All of which was very promising. Unfortunately, the actuality did not live up to that promise. Each of the speakers put in their own shade of grey and what came out was a slightly different shade of grey.
Those speakers were, Amanda Burgauer, Ian Grant, Alex Salmond, Colette Walker, Douglas Chapman MP, and Robin McAlpine. All names that will be familiar to most Yes activists. Which may be part of the problem. There’s something a bit stale about this line-up. This is not necessarily to say that the individuals themselves are in any sense “stale”. But looking at them seated on the platform there was very much a sense of the same old faces. Just as when they spoke there was a sense of the same old voices with, for the most part, the same old message.
What relieved this impression of staleness to some extent was the fact that the event brought together people representing a few of the countless factions, groups and organisations which associate themselves with the Yes movement – and which in many instances have little in common other than the Yes logo from before the SNP hijacked and bastardised it. What I still insist it the real Yes logo. Most notably, of course, we had the leader of the Alba Party, Alex Salmond, and a representative from the SNP in the person of local MP Douglas Chapman. Although it wasn’t clear to me whether Douglas was there in any ‘official’ capacity as a spokesperson for the party. Nonetheless, the organisers are to be congratulated on cannot be seen as other than a significant achievement in at least giving the impression of bringing together the two tribes which face each other across the most prominent of the fissures with which the independence movement is presently riven.
Having said that, a first glance at the comments below the report of the event in The National today suggest that any symbolism in SNP and Alba sharing a platform has been totally lost on the former’s loyalists and the latter’s devotees alike. The tribalism persists as tribalism must once it has taken hold. There is no cure. That kind of tribalism is self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. It does not end. We have to learn to live with it and, hopefully, proceed despite its dire effects.
Each speaker was given ten minutes to introduce themselves and convince the attendees that they care. All very worthy. But I was already pretty much convinced that all these people care. Otherwise, why would they be there? Why would they take on a role in any of the parties, organisations and groups that they represent? Of course they care about Scotland’s cause! what I wanted to be persuaded of was that they have a clear and common idea of what that cause is and how it might be realised. I wanted to see at least the embryo of a grouping capable of inspiring the solidarity, focus and discipline that the Yes movement needs if it is to be the vehicle for an effective campaign. I didn’t get what I was looking for. For all the talk of new this and fresh that, the abiding impression was that depressingly little has changed in the decade since I first started attending events which in my admittedly far from perfect memory I have difficulty differentiating from the gathering I attended yesterday.
All the usual tropes were trotted out. It’s not all about one party. We need answers to the big questions. We need to build a new case for independence. We need to persuade the ‘soft Nos’. We must unite. Blah! Blah! Blah! Heard it all before! Been hearing it for so long my mind has numbed to it. Like when you repeat a word over and over it begins to lose any meaning for you. What I heard was a lot of doubtless sincere talk such as I might have heard at any Yes meeting in the last ten years. There has been no change. No evolution. No rethinking. No progress.
To be as fair as I can be under the circumstances, there were momentary flashes of what appeared to be colour in this otherwise greyscale rainbow. Alex Salmond’s comments on the Section 30 process, for example. As reported in The National.
Committing yourself to a Section 30 referendum as a gold standard with nothing behind it, it’s ridiculous. All a Section 30 referendum is, is an agreed legitimacy of a democratic test.
Some will interpret this as a repudiation of the Section 30 process. But if that’s what it is meant to be then it is absolutely not enough. If it is now Alba Party policy to reject and oppose the Section 30 process then that rejection must be more explicit and that opposition has to be more vigorous. If it is to have any influence at all Alba Party must differentiate itself more sharply from the SNP. Democratic politics is a contest of ideas. At present, Alba is all contest and no ideas. In the absence of those novel and distinct ideas, the contest becomes conflict. Lacking the ideas to promote supporters’ energies go all but entirely into attacks on ‘the other’. The ideas have to be credible. of course. But the SNP leadership’s ‘thinking’ on the constitutional issue is sufficiently narrow and shallow that there is plenty of scope for a genuinely different approach.
Alex Salmond and his party need to identify all the things about the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue which are being criticised and condemned by other elements of the independence movement and campaign for the opposite. Or at least take that as the starting point for their reframing of the issue and rethinking of campaign strategy. By which I mean the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence and not the campaign to get elected. We sure as hell don’t need another party that gets these things confused.
Salmond and his team would do well to accept that Alba is not going to serve Scotland’s cause from within our democratic institutions. There is no time for that to happen. Or at least we cannot afford to assume that there is time. If we leave things until the next Holyrood election in 2026 we are almost certain to find that the British state has devised all manner of new impediments to the exercise of our right of self-determination. Who can possibly doubt that this is their intention? If Alba Party is to do anything at all it must do it more as a campaigning group than as a political party. That means it will have to attract significant numbers of people. For that to happen the party will have to present an idea around which Yes activists might coalesce. Crucially, it must do this without posing a threat to the pro-independence parliament and government. It must be seen to supplement and augment the SNP rather than to seek its downfall. I do believe that was the original intention. If so, it has gone very badly wrong. Alba Party must take responsibility for that failure and not settle for blaming the SNP and the voters. They might look to British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) to see where that will get them. Nowhere they want to be!
The Yes movement needs to be inspired, not merely enthused. There is enthusiasm aplenty even if not as it was back in the day. The edge has dulled. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t enthusiasm. Only that the enthusiasm has taken a different form. There was much talk yesterday about recapturing the spirit of 2014. This is a reflection of the backwards-looking attitude that pervades the Yes movement. We cannot recreate 2014. We cannot revive that same spirit. We must not try to fight that same fight in the same way. what we can do is create a new fighting spirit. That spirit will be founded not on the joyful optimism of the past but on the cold anger that is more appropriate to our present predicament. We should not lose that optimism completely. But we must overlay it with purposefully directed anger at what the Union means for Scotland.
In general, the speakers at yesterday’s event devoted far too much of their allotted time stating the problem. Describing the situation. Cataloguing the corruption and incompetence of the British government and listing the deleterious effects on Scotland. Why? Did they seriously imagine anyone in that room was unaware of any of this? Apart from this pointless recounting of Scotland’s woes, words like ‘case’, ‘vision’ and ‘answers’ were dutifully repeated as often as they have been at any time in the last 90 months. That’s seven and a half years in which Scotland’s cause has made absolutely no tangible progress. At what point do these folk admit that this approach just isn’t working? They state the problem but then all they have to offer as a solution is the same as has had no effect whatever over a period of time vastly greater than is required for it to be considered a fair test. No wonder my mood oscillates between anger and despair as I listen to them.
So much of what they say is just plain wrong. There is no single clear way, declared one. Yes, there is! If there isn’t such a way then we are all wasting our time and efforts. Another dismisses out of hand that thing that Pete Bell in Perth is fond of saying – #DissolveTheUnion. How the hell does he imagine we might restore Scotland’s independence without first dissolving the Union which defines Scotland as not independent? Another talks of divorcing the campaign for independence from the Scottish Government so as to avoid the campaign being tainted by association with some of its policies and positions. But the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence cannot possibly succeed without the effective political power that only the Scottish Government can provide. And it doesn’t matter which party is the party of government, some people are always going to object to some of its policies. Some of those policies will always be considered by some to be the sort of policies with which that campaign should not be associated.
To imagine the independence campaign can be divorced from the Scottish Government is just daft. Just as daft as supposing there might somehow be a government that everybody agrees with all the time on everything. Such fantasies will be the death of Scotland’s cause. although they might well be the death of me long before that.
There was talk of forcing Westminster to blah! blah! blah!. Forcing Westminster to give us our independence? Forcing Westminster to give us a referendum? Forcing Westminster to allow us to exercise our right of self-determination? What manner of colonised mind does this betray? What kind of mindset does it evidence? Do they not realise that if you talk of Scotland as being inferior and subordinate to England-as-Britain then you will think of Scotland as inferior and subordinate and you will act as if Scotland is inferior and subordinate and if you act as if Scotland is inferior and subordinate then that is exactly what Scotland will be. If you go out campaigning with that mindset then that will inevitably be the attitude that you convey to people.
I hear Yes activists say in one breath that if we want /Scotland to be an independent nation then we must act as if Scotland is an independent nation then in the next breath say that we must demand this and that from the British/English government. Or that we must force them to do something. If you are genuinely thinking of Scotland as if it was an independent country then why the **** are you looking to the government of another country for things that every independent nation assumes to be theirs by absolute and inalienable right?
The only one of the speakers at the event who elicited anything more than polite applause from me was Robin McAlpine. When he spoke of taking control, setting the agenda and making things happen, I thought I was at last hearing what I had hoped to hear. It was a pity he prefaced these remarks with some ghastly virtue-signalling about social media. But I was nonetheless uplifted somewhat by what he said about changing the public mood – even if he failed to acknowledge the need to tap into the latent anger that will energise the final thrust towards the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. It’s for sure nothing else will. The nature of that final thrust and what it is thrusting against demands anger.
Having thus lifted me up did Robin not go and dash me down again? After all that he had said about taking control and making things happen, in a later response did he not have his own ‘other breath’ moment when he clearly implied that the UK government would have an effective veto over Scotland’s independence being recognised by the international community. He stated that this recognition was critically dependent on a “negotiated settlement” in which the British state bestowed its recognition of Scotland’s independence and thus paved the way for other nations to follow suit.
I have heard some grotesque folly in my years as an advocate of restoring Scotland’s independence, but this is just jaw-droppingly idiotic. Even to the extent that some nations may hesitate to formalise recognition while the British state continues to resist the inevitable, we can be very sure that none of those nations will accord the British state an effective veto over their right to recognise Scotland’s independence. Why then does Robin think Scotland should? It is utter madness!
The reality is that so long as we ensure that the process by which we restore our independence is impeccably democratic no government will have a legitimate reason to withhold recognition. That includes the government of England-as-Britain. Far from them holding back recognition by the rest of the international community, it will be the international community that takes the lead and puts pressure on the doubtless recalcitrant rump British state. Robin is wrong in every way that it is possible to be wrong.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that Robin McAlpine is so disastrously wrong about this. Things will pan out as these things tend to regardless of anything Robin lets slip at a gathering in Dunfermline one sunny Sunday afternoon in March. Why it matters to me is, again, because of the mindset revealed. Robin McAlpine is without question a highly influential figure in the independence movement. He is the principal author of the Wee Alba Book as well as having done a huge amount of work with Common Weal. It worries me greatly that this subconscious acceptance of Scotland’s subordinacy to the British ruling elite should so thoroughly pervade the Yes movement. Though I’m certain none of them would admit it, the evidence of this sense that Scotland cannot proceed without British approval was evident in all the speeches.
Robin McAlpine spoke of changing the mood of the country. I applaud that sentiment wholeheartedly. But I must caution him and all of yesterday’s speakers that we will never succeed in such an endeavour if we do not embark upon it with the appropriate mindset. We must not defer to Westminster. It would help if we did not even refer to Westminster unless it is unavoidable. The language we use both conveys and shapes our attitudes. We must stop thinking of independence as something that would be nice if only we could persuade Westminster to allow it and start thinking of independence as something which is ours by absolute right but which is being illegitimately withheld by a British ruling elite afflicted with the imperialist attitudes of a bygone age.
The people of Scotland are sovereign. It is our absolute and inalienable right to choose the constitutional arrangements which best serve our needs, priorities and aspirations. Let’s get out from under the oppressive greynbow and out of the accursed Union.
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