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.
What do Yessers who agitate against the SNP’s indyref timeline hope to achieve?
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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8 thoughts on “Dissenting voices and cloth ears”
Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
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You speak for me Peter but much more verbose than me.
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Gosh, Peter, tell it like it is, why don’t you? You might have added that a pre independence referendum is totally unnecessary in both international and domestic law, and that no independence movement in the history of independence movements has ever achieved independence by the SNP template. The complacency of men like Richard Walker, who would happily wait until women and children have been sacrificed in large enough numbers before they act, in the deluded and vain hope of the gods independence granting the chance of its being just around the corner if a great enough sacrifice of innocents is made. There will be no referendum in 2023, more promises will be made to stave off dissent, Nicola Sturgeon will decamp before the next SE and take up a coveted and highly-paid position somewhere out of reach, and her successor will step up and ensconce himself (it will be a man) on the SNP collaborationist throne, the GRA Reform Bill and the Hate Crime legislation having passed, more and more Scottish cultural institutions having fallen, and Scottish society changed forever to reflect an alien politics that have take root here from the south. Oh, yes, Stonewall is from the south, too, folks. When that day comes, Scots who still want independence for their country will cast envious eyes towards Ireland. I won’t say, told you so, because I will not care any longer – because the right to care will have been taken from me with my right to exist as a biological female. Hell mend all the deluded Richard Walkers.
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Well. Upton Sinclair’s “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” springs to mind.
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Remember too that Richard Walker, while editing a pro-indy newspaper, was at the same time planning to stand as an SNP MP. Would the party vetters have allowed this, unless certain of his unquestioning loyalty to Sturgeon and the SNP? Or, to make the point another way, would one Peter A Bell get past vetting today if he wanted to stand as an SNP MP or MSP? (a question that doesn’t need answering, obviously).
So, what editorial punches were pulled in the run up to Richard Walker’s decision to stand as an SNP MP, and his acceptance as a candidate by the SNP? None, I hear the ultra-loyalists (like Richard) protest. To which I respond, pull the other one.
Richard wasn’t to be trusted as a neutral voice then, and certainly isn’t to be trusted now, any more than Boris Johnson was in his days as a Telegraph scribbler.
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Well Peter, I only scanned his article, same as, I’m afraid, I do to most articles these days. Life’s too short and my time machine is in severe need of maintenance, as are my eternal life crystals. But this from Walker’s article caught my eye:
“Not for the first time, I was left wondering about the motives of those seeking to stir up impatience with SNP tactics, just when they are on the verge of paying dividends.”
Translating this bit “seeking to stir up impatience with SNP tactics” into the more intelligent and inclusive: “with different opinions to mine”, and eliminating this assertion “just when they are on the verge of paying dividends”, which is his opinion to which he is of course entitled, makes his sentence this:
“Not for the first time, I was left wondering about the motives of those with different opinions to mine”
Well, I think he just answered himself. We all have different opinions, to which we are entitled not being clones or robots – or blocks, stones, worse than senseless things!
“You can have an opinion, but it MUST be the same as mine”.
OK, listen up. As they say in the States.
Looking at GLA Southside Central, you get, when it comes to the Alba candidate excluded:
Stage 6 Exclusion of Kamran BUTT 664.00000
Candidate Name Affiliation Votes Transferred Votes Status
Alexander BELIC Scottish National Party (SNP) 124.00000 1,615.00000 Elected
Kamran BUTT Alba Party for independence -664.00000 0.00000
Paul Robert DONNELLY Scottish Socialist Party – End Fuel Poverty 0.00000 0.00000
Jamie DYER 0.00000 0.00000
Elaine GALLAGHER Elect a Scottish Green Councillor 22.00000 1,544.00000 Elected
Sam GLASGOW-JACKSON Scottish Liberal Democrats 0.00000 0.00000
Mhairi HUNTER Scottish National Party (SNP) 33.00000 1,237.00000
Tariq PARVEZ Scottish Conservative and Unionist 0.00000 0.00000
James SCANLON Glasgow Labour 40.00000 1,338.00000
Soryia SIDDIQUE Glasgow Labour 172.00000 1,513.00000
Non-transferable votes 273.00000 470.00000
Non-transferable votes due to rounding 0.00000 0.00000
41 of those Alba votes had come from previous exclusions, so some of the transfers might be them – or not them.
But in general, Alba voters gave 124 to Belic (SNP). 22 to Gallagher (Green), 33 to Hunter for a total of 179 pro-Indy. Then 40 to Parvex (Lab) and 172 to Siddique (Lab) for a total of 212 anti-Indy. And 273 no further selection.
Total of the 664 (or 623) Alba voters to go pro-indy – 179 or 29%.
But it was enough to elect Belic (SNP) and Gallagher (Green) – by the Alba transfers.
Mmm, I think that’s fair enough really, even SNP voters don’t always have SNP 1 and SNP 2 to get the excess transferred (I looked at 2012 results back in 2016 or so). So Belic and Gallagher really ought to thank Alba voters for helping to get them elected, as both got elected at Stage 6 – from Alba transfers..
So it did work pretty well, and perhaps time to bury the hatchet and get on with Indy. No, not there!