I like to think of myself as one of the ‘Yes bloggers’ hated with such spittle-flecked fervour by the likes of Pete Wishart. I reckon I can fairly claim to be a dissenting voice within Scotland’s independence movement. I would never presume to be representative of all dissent within the Yes movement. I speak only for myself. Nor do I pretend to be a significant influence. My ‘followers’ number in the low thousands at best. My article views rarely get above 500. If I am a voice of dissent, it’s a rather small voice. But is that not what ‘new media’ is all about? If blogging is not about small voices becoming audible, then what? It’s not called ‘alternative media’ for no reason. The value of blogs and social media lies in their accessibility – both for consumers and providers. Anyone can publish their ideas and opinions. Anyone can read those ideas and opinions. Mainstream media is defined by what it excludes. Alternative media is defined by its inclusivity. It’s where the voice of dissent goes to be heard by those who are prepared to listen. I admit to some pride in being part of that – even if only a very small part.
I may not be qualified – and certainly not authorised – to speak for all dissenting voices within the Yes movement. The dissent is as diverse as the movement itself. Nonetheless, I may be in a position to answer the question posed in the headline over Richard Walker’s column in The National today.
The first thing to say is that it is the wrong question. Richard Walker may not be responsible for that headline, but it seems to reflect the perspective which informs his article. Or should I say misinforms? Bearing in mind that I am speaking for nobody but myself here, the question demonstrates a dire misunderstanding of what those dissenting voices are saying. Many of those who revile those dissenting voices – and I do not exclude Pete Wishart from this – have quite clearly either declined to read or failed to comprehend the material which they condemn as traitorous. I doubt very much that Richard Walker would comment on something he hasn’t actually read. But if he genuinely supposed the voice of dissent to be agitating against the SNP’s indyref timeline then all I can say is that he needs to read more widely. Or attend more closely.
I venture to say that nobody is doing what the question suggests. Nobody is agitating against the SNP’s timeline. They may be criticising that timeline or, perhaps more likely, condemning the lack of any timeline. If there is a timeline that leads to the Union being dissolved and Scotland’s independence restored then I have yet to see it. The hints and half-promises being glorified by the term ‘timeline’ are frictionless, elusive things never clearly visible and always slipping and sliding about the calendar like crazed figure-skaters. The voices of dissent are not agitating against a timeline of action to satisfactorily resolve the constitutional issue. It’s safe to say that most of those voices are demanding such a timeline and opposing only the plausible politicking that poses as a timeline.
Curiously, despite the wrong question being asked, Richard Walker’s response would serve moderately well as an answer to the more appropriate question which would ask why there are dissenting voices and what are those voices saying. What are they criticising? What are their criticisms? What, if any, alternatives do they offer? What are they agitating for? Richard presents a passable overview of the reasons so many are unhappy with the SNP’s approach to and handling of the constitutional issue. It is a far from comprehensive catalogue and presented from the perspective of someone who is content with that approach. It acknowledges the failures and failings while portraying them as anything but. The postponements and delays are not denied. Those since 2020 are acknowledged but promptly excused. The period between 2014 and 2020 is airbrushed out of existence. This is despite the fact that it is this period that gives rise to much of the criticism levelled at Nicola Sturgeon.
If Richard Walker was attending seriously to the dissenting voices within the Yes movement he’d be aware that the irritation expressed at repeated declarations of intent trumpeted by so many of The National’s front pages was not prompted only because every one of those declarations turned out to be empty rhetoric. People weren’t just angry because of these repeated false starts. They were – and remain – angry because those headlines appeared mocking coming as they did on top of six years of inaction, inertia and what often looked like indolence and incompetence on the part of an SNP hierarchy which seemed to have let the constitutional issue slip well down its agenda. And to have taken determined measures to prevent the issue from being pushed back up the agenda by the party’s membership.
Had Richard Walker been paying proper attention he’d realise why those rousing front page proclamations were irksome to those of us who are less able to simply disregard the strategic errors and foregone opportunities which litter that period prior to their appearance going back to Nicola Sturgeon taking over as party leader and First Minister. For example, the abject failure to maintain the momentum that the independence campaign had in the immediate aftermath of the first referendum. Or the inexplicable decision to campaign against England’s choice to Leave the EU rather than for Scotland’s right to Remain.
All the ‘agitating’ Richard and others refer to can only be understood in the context of the SNP’s record over the entire period since the 2014 referendum. And what a woeful record it is. In relation to the restoration of Scotland’s independence not one millimetre of progress has been made in all that time. If those who denounce others for expressing concerns about Sturgeon’s self-evidently failed and failing approach to the constitutional issue had put half as much effort into addressing those concerns then it is at least likely that far fewer would have been alienated by the SNP’s faithful claque. If the SNP leadership had shown the slightest inclination to listen and respond to the voice of dissent then perhaps there might have been a bit less of the ‘agitating’ that so upsets the unquestioning party loyalists.
Instead, the SNP leadership has eradicated all possibility of effective questioning of strategy internally. And external critics are made to feel as if they don’t exist. The First Minister deploys the tactic of actively ignoring dissenting voices altogether too well. As a seasoned politician, she should know that the one thing people will not tolerate is being ignored. You can disrespect them and even insult them and get away with it. But treat them with absolute disdain and they will come to despise you. More than a few have already reached that stage. This is unfortunate for more than just the obvious reason. Obviously, it’s not great if the de facto leader of the independence movement is detested by any significant number of those on whom the success of Scotland’s cause depends. It is also unfortunate because those who give vent to that hatred provide an easy target for numpties like Pete Wishart.
Even non-numpties such as Richard Walker can be susceptible to perceiving these angry voices as characteristic of dissenting voices more generally. That is a serious mistake. Those dissenting voices might have a significant contribution to make to Scotland’s cause. To put it another way, failure to question or permit questioning of strategy allows mistakes to be made and repeated. The notion that the leadership is always right and their explanations always adequate is decidedly unhealthy for any political cause. Richard Walker nicely illustrates my point.
The truth is that a referendum campaign could not possibly have been conducted while we were in the grip of Covid-19. There would have been no point in holding such a vote when lockdown prevented campaigning and so dominated the narrative that the public had little energy to devote to anything else. We would not have won such a vote had we persisted in holding it. [emphasis added]
The truth? What makes this truth other than that it is an almost verbatim recitation of the excuse explanation offered by Nicola Sturgeon for her issuing a cease and desist order not only to SNP members but with jaw-dropping presumption to the entire Yes movement? did Richard ever question this assertion that campaigning was impossible? Did anybody in Sturgeon’s inner circle dare to question it? Were they even told about this cease and desist order before it was issued?
The dissenting voices questioned it. They are dissenting voices largely because they decline to be fobbed off with these plausible explanations. And because they are disinclined to accept the patronising manner in which both instructions and the reasoning behind them are handed down from on high. Had the dissenting voices been attended to instead of being treated with a contempt horribly reminiscent of that shown by the British state in all its dealings with Scotland then a solid argument would have been heard for a continuing and even intensified campaign tailored to the very particular circumstances of lockdown.
Much or even most of the success of the first referendum campaign might reasonably be attributed to the willingness of Yes groups to try out novel campaigning methods. Nobody was discouraged from offering suggestions. Thinking was not stifled. Thinkers were not abused. How things have changed. All in the name of the SNP’s near-pathological control-freakery.
As to that question about what those dissenting voices hope to achieve, again I stress that I can only speak for myself. What I hope to achieve is the dissolution of the Union and the restoration of Scotland’s independence. That alone explains why I cannot possibly be complacently content with an approach to the constitutional issue which has meant zero progress in nearly eight years. Eight years, moreover, during which circumstances made it more difficult to fail to make progress than to succeed. The SNP’s failure can only be regarded as a success in this way.
I know that I as an individual cannot achieve the goal to which I aspire. All I can do is try to assist in the best way I am able. Some interpret this as requiring unquestioning support for those who have been charged with leading the effort to restore independence. As a rational person, I cannot support or fail to question a leadership which has so obviously failed to make progress for eight long and wearying years. It is incumbent on activists to ensure that the leadership of our movement is fit for purpose and that the strategy adopted is at least credible. I do not shirk that responsibility. Others need to ask themselves not only what they hope to achieve but whether they are fully satisfied that it is likely to be achieved by way of the approach adopted by those leading the campaign. If they answer critically and honestly then they may find themselves joining the growing chorus of dissenting voices.
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