Co-organiser of Aberdeen Independence Movement (AIM) Progress to Yes conference Alan Petrie said: “It’s going to be very independence-focused looking at things like policy and how we win, and not so much about process.”
How can we win with this kind of stupidity?
First he says the event is going to be “very independence-focused”. My heart lifts. Only to be dashed to the ground again when he immediately adds “looking at things like policy”. Presumably, he is oblivious to the contradiction despite it sitting there like a giant luminous singing turd. If you’re focused on the constitutional issue, you talk about the constitutional issue and nothing else. That’s what focused means. That’s what focus is. If you’re talking about a range of policy issues you are, by definition, NOT focused on anything, far less on the constitutional issue which, for reasons explained at length elsewhere MUST be considered in isolation.
It gets worse! Mr Petrie goes on to mention that one of the things they’ll not be focusing on because all the other things they’re focusing on preclude being focused on anything is “how we win”. By which I assume he means the campaign. A subject that deserves and requires a whole event to itself rather than just a 40-minute breakaway group at a conference discussing a range of policy issues while simultaneously focusing on independence. (Nah! I don’t get it either!)
It gets worse still! No sooner has he stated that the conference will include a wee chat about the campaign than he dismisses the matter of process. How I wish people would govern their speaking so as to prevent it from outrunning their thinking! How can you discuss the campaign without knowing what the process is? The process comes first. The process determines the campaign. There can be no campaign without an established process because there can be no referendum without an appropriate process.
This guy is terminally confused.
Or maybe not. Maybe Mr Petrie is so disinterested in process because he thinks there’s nothing to discuss. Perhaps he just casually assumes that Nicola Sturgeon is on top of that. Could it be that he supposes the matter of process to be already settled? Does he imagine that the First Minister has already decided on a process that will serve as the conclusive exercise of our right of self-determination that Scotland so desperately and urgently requires?
In which case, he’s even more stupid than was immediately apparent.
And he’s not alone. This dismissive attitude to the process by which Scotland’s independence will be restored is common in the utterances of politicians and commentators. So much so that a pervasive impression has been created that process is unimportant. Not worth discussing. It is never a bad idea to devote a lot of attention to the things politicians and their mouthpieces want us to ignore. Give the matter just a few moments’ thought and you will surely realise that as a political cause approaches the realisation of its aims, defining the process by which this will happen becomes crucial. How can you hope to attract people to a campaign if there is nothing to say that it can succeed.
Initially, the process may be quite vaguely defined. But as things proceed it is necessary to tighten up the matter of process. And yet here we are supposedly on the verge of launching a referendum campaign proper and we’re still being told that process is a distraction! Process is fundamental. And the most fundamental component of the referendum process is the question that will appear on the ballot.
A referendum revolves around the question. The question on the ballot paper defines, determines or massively influences absolutely everything relating to the referendum. Everything derives from the question. The question lies at the centre of the entire exercise. The adopted process produces the question and is a product of the question. The question dictates the nature and form of the campaigns on both sides. What action is triggered by the outcome is dependent on the question.
There is no such thing as a neutral question in a constitutional referendum. There is no question that has no effect. Or if there is, it would be the definitive pointless question. The very fact that there is a question has meaning. That meaning is not necessarily fixed. The fact that a question is being asked may mean different things to different people. But it will always mean something, even if the individual is not consciously aware of attaching a particular meaning to this fact.
Questions always have an effect. Questions generally provoke or exacerbate doubt regarding the subject of the question. If the question is about independence, it will engender doubt about independence. If the question is about the Union, it will tend to make people doubt the Union. The aim in setting the question is not to eliminate all effect, but to ensure that both sides have a similar capacity to counter whatever weighting there may be. Ultimately, both campaigns will have to adapt to the question. This process of adapting should be no more difficult for one campaign than it is for the other. That is balance.
In a constitutional referendum – as when the people of a nation exercise their right of self-determination – it is not enough that the question produces a result. It is not enough that there should be a winner and a loser. There must also be a decision. At the outset, it must be made clear precisely what ensues from the result – whatever it is. The decision and the action it entails having been decided may not be altered through the course of a campaign. There should be no possibility of post-referendum debate about what the result ‘really means’.
Despite the obvious importance of the question to be put to the people of Scotland in a new constitutional referendum, as well as the process that surrounds that question, there has been no real debate about what the question should be or what form the process should take. Nicola Sturgeon has evidently decided that she will seek to reuse the process of the 2014 referendum. There was no internal discussion of this within the SNP. Any attempt to initiate such a discussion was rapidly and ruthlessly put down.
Nor has there been any meaningful discussion of this matter in the wider Yes movement. There has been some talk of reframing – which is a closely related subject. But while those touched by this talk have been in various measures enthusiastic about reframing, nothing has actually been done about it. The SNP leadership in particular is highly averse to talk of doing things differently. It is a desert of imagination.
Independence activists should be deeply concerned about this. A few already are. I surely cannot be alone in recognising the stupidity of proceeding as if process was unimportant enough to be left to the politicians. We have people in the Yes movement demanding ‘answers’ on matters that are peripheral or tangential to the constitutional issue at best. Yet there are alarmingly few people asking if SNP+SGP/Scottish Government is working towards a credible process by which the constitutional issue can be resolved. Nobody is campaigning in any real sense because there is no campaign and cannot be one until we know what the process is. There can be no effective campaign until there is a process that we are persuaded will be effective.
There have been countless events over the last ten years such as the one mentioned at the top of this article. There is little to show for any of them or for the aggregate of them. Despite all that discussion, Scotland’s cause is in a very dangerous place. Don’t let the #WheeshtForIndy mob or the Panglossian SNP loyalists tell you otherwise. Events such as the one being organised by AIM won’t help. Nothing useful can come out of any discussion which sidelines the most important topic and excludes all dissenting voices.
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