Attempting to sum up the SNP/Alba false dilemma within the confines of a single Tweet I recently stated that the SNP is not currently effective in terms of restoring Scotland’s independence but is the only party that can be effective within the relevant time frame. Alba Party is not currently effective in terms of restoring Scotland’s independence and can’t be effective within the relevant time frame. This, I think, succinctly states the position. The logical conclusion is that, of the two, the SNP must offer the best chance of effective action on the constitutional issue if only because Alba offers no chance whatever. Not everybody likes this conclusion. Not everybody is prepared to submit to the logic.
As you might expect, the Tweet prompted a number of responses. I haven’t looked at the stats – I’m not obsessed with such things – but I think there were a good few likes and retweets. The comments can be placed in two broad categories. (Although this is probably oversimplifying a bit, there’s no great harm done.) There are those who went for flat denial and the bitter litany of tediously repeated complaints against the SNP with which readers will doubtless be familiar – whether they want to be or not. Basically, the Alba devotees insist that we disregard the facts and defy the logic and just believe that their party is going to save Scotland. Don’t ask them how. Unless you really want another recitation of that bitter litany of tediously repeated complaints against the SNP. You definitely won’t get a rational explanation of the process by which Alba is going to be effective in terms of restoring Scotland’s independence. Alba supporters don’t do answers and explanations. They feel no need to. Why would we want explanations when all that’s needed is faith?
The other category of comment was considerably more sensible. These are the ones that took up the matter of the time frame referred to – what it is and how it is defined etc. Not something that’s easily restricted to the limits of a Tweet. So I thought I’d address the question at some length here.
What I’m talking about is the window of time within which action must be taken to at least initiate the process of restoring Scotland’s independence and/or derail or delay the British Nationalist juggernaut even now commenced to crushing Scotland’s democracy. That window is open now. In a sense, it has been open for more than 300 years. For present purposes, however, it is important to recognise that the window remained open even after the 2014 referendum. It has never closed. We could, in principle, have had another referendum at any time in the last seven and a half years. There are practical considerations, of course. Even if the decision to have another vote had been made immediately following the first referendum time would have been required to prepare for it. The window was open. We just didn’t have a ladder to reach it.
By mid-2015 to early 2016 (I’m not looking for precision here. Just sketching.) we had the ladder. Or we could have had the ladder. If the momentum gained in the 2014 campaign had been maintained then the EU referendum would have been the event which put the ladder at the window ready for us to ascend. The outcome of that referendum should have been the trigger for the announcement of a new referendum to be held no later than September 2018. Those who say we couldn’t have won in 2018 make the foolish assumption that there would have been no campaign. Or that the campaign would have failed to make any difference. In fact, the right campaign could have produced a decisive result in favour of Yes. It was a matter of being properly prepared for a No vote in 2014 and having a strong but flexible plan for how to proceed from that point.
Assuming everything had been done correctly – when in reality pretty much nothing was – then the window of opportunity would have been open and accessible for the past six years. We’ve spent that time farting around on the middle rungs of the ladder while the open window was within reach. It is heartbreaking to think of the time that has been wasted and the opportunities that have been squandered. All for the want of a bit of bold, imaginative leadership.
We are where we are. I’m not harking back to the past. I’m merely trying to create a bit of context. That window remains open. Our concern now must be how long it will remain open. Isn’t it? No, it isn’t! Our concern, if we have any sense, is how long can we safely assume the window might remain open. We’re not interested in when it will close because it will be too late well before that point. To understand just picture that window slowly closing. It gets increasingly difficult to squeeze through. At some point, it becomes effectively impossible.
The window of opportunity to rescue Scotland remains open. But it is closing. It is closing at an accelerating rate. What we must consider is how long we can safely assume we have before it becomes impassable.
Why think of the window closing at all? Surely our right of self-determination is absolute and inalienable. We will always have the right to choose independence. The problem with that is that there is a difference between having a right and having the ability to exercise that right. If they are powerful enough, those who would prefer that we didn’t exercise our right of self-determination can contrive some very daunting obstacles and impediments. The British state is doing this right now. And make no mistake, they are powerful enough. The Union gives them the power. Which is why the Union is so ‘precious’ to them.
The British establishment has decided that devolution was a mistake. It was an experiment. The experiment has failed. It was supposed to kill the independence movement ‘stone dead’. Instead, it has encouraged and empowered the struggle to restore Scotland’s independence. Blame the SNP. Or to be more precise, blame the voters for electing SNP governments and pro-independence Parliaments. The SNP minority government of 2007 was a wake-up call for British Nationalists. The SNP landslide of 2011 set off every alarm in the British state’s corridors of power. From that moment it became a contest between a Scottish Government (nominally) intent on restoring Scotland’s independence and a British government determined to preserve the Union at any cost to the people of Scotland. To date, the British are winning. Partly because they are prepared to do absolutely anything to preserve the Union. Partly because the SNP/Scottish Government has not been prepared to face the confrontation involved in restoring Scotland’s independence.
I half-joked that in the 2014 referendum campaign the Yes side took a pillow to a knife fight. The SNP still has that pillow. They’ve been flapping it ineffectually at the British state for nearly eight years now. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that maybe a new pillow would be good. A big knife would be better. Better still to realise the British are coming at us this time with guns blazing. We can’t afford to forego the use of all the weapons in our armoury.
How wide is that window right now? I would suggest that it is to be measured in months rather than in years. The event which looms largest is the 2014 UK general election. Or should I say the UK election scheduled for 2014. It could be earlier. But we know that it must be no later than Friday 24 January 2025. Which means it will almost certainly be no later than September or October 2024. Governments don’t hold elections in the winter months unless a low turn-out gives them an advantage.
It is highly likely that the UK election will be fought by all the British parties on a platform of securing the Union. The main British parties will be competing to see which can be the most fervently British Nationalist. Imagine the Leave campaign on speed. Imagine Nigel Farage with the last remnants of his impulse control surgically removed. Imagine George Galloway…. being George Galloway. It will be a horror show when viewed from Scotland.
The Tories don’t care if they get no seats in Scotland. They don’t care if they get no votes in Scotland. They know they only need to win in England. They know that even in England they need to win in a relatively small number of constituencies. They know that these are the constituencies that will elect the likes of Boris Johnson if the right buttons are pressed. They know the right buttons. The Tories don’t give a toss about losing votes in Scotland on account of their attitude. They know that the total of all the votes they might win in Scotland is nothing compared to the mass of votes to be gained by appealing to the baser instincts of a certain part of England’s population. Talking about putting a choke chain on those uppity Jocks presses a lot of buttons.
Where the Tories go in terms of campaigning British Labour follows. It must be so because both are trying to appeal to the same set of voters. British Labour can’t oppose the Tories as the latter campaign to preserve the Union. British Labour is a British party. It’s as committed to preserving the Union as the Tories are. British Labour’s only option is to try and outdo the Tories at their own British Nationalist game. Which will prompt the Tories to up their game. Which will force British Labour to… You see where this is going. Nowhere nice if you happen to care about Scotland or democracy.
For our purposes, we must assume that the window of opportunity to initiate the process of restoring Scotland’s independence closes when the lead-up to the next UK general election starts. This probably means before the date of that election is announced. Which could be just about any day now. That’s how urgent the situation is. You may well ask how the hell it came to this. But that’s one for the historians.
People talking in terms of the next Holyrood election or the one after that or maybe the one after that are deluded. People who are thinking in terms of an ‘alternative’ to the SNP are aff thur heids! There is no alternative to the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government we have right now. Therefore, there is no alternative to the SNP. By the time we are talking realistically about voting another party into government Scotland will effectively have ceased to exist as a distinct political entity and national identity. The independence movement will live on. But it will be operating in an environment which has been altered drastically in favour of our Union ‘partners’.
If you want to see where the British state is intent on taking us you could do worse than look at Catalonia. The aim is to lock Scotland into a ‘reformed’ Union. This will happen without consultation or consent. And it will happen sooner and faster than you may suppose possible.
You may scoff. You may say I could be wrong. Which is true. I could be wrong. But given the stakes, are you prepared to gamble? Remember! I only have to be a little bit right for a delay to be disastrous. You have to be completely right for us to get away with it.
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