Unity misused

Just over four years ago I spent two weeks touring the Highlands & Islands speaking with many of the groups listed as part of this new Highlands & Islands Yes alliance. I well recall this project being spoken of at many of our meetings. I know numerous people have worked to bring this about over a period of several years. It is gratifying to see their efforts coming to fruition. My sincerest congratulations and best wishes go out to all involved. You have set an example that the rest of the Yes movement would do well to follow.

Having said this, we must not fear facing awkward questions. It is all too easy in the thrill of such moments of success to overestimate the significance to Scotland’s cause of what has been achieved. It is tempting to make a direct link between this success and the restoration of independence – as if the one inevitably implies the other. So we have to ask what can actually be achieved by such an alliance.

Two years ago, the answer to that question would have been that the Yes movement combining in this way was a game-changer. The combined weight of the Yes movement speaking with one voice is the only thing that might have served as a corrective to the serious flaws in Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue. Sadly, that was not to be. As a consequence, we are on course to either a Section 30 referendum or a toothless ‘consultative’ referendum in 2023. Neither can possibly lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

Sturgeon/SNP loyalists will doubtless complain that I’m pissing on their cornflakes. But somebody has to maintain contact with reality if there is to be any hope for Scotland’s cause. It is one thing to pursue a dream. Quite another to chase a fantasy.

This Highlands & Islands Yes alliance is a great achievement. But it is at least two years too late. Whatever such unity might have accomplished prior to the 2021 election, all it can do now is lend its support to a referendum and associated Yes campaign that is seriously – perhaps fatally – flawed. The die was cast when the Yes movement failed to secure a Manifesto for Independence.

I have no doubt that Yes Highlands & Islands will be a very effective campaigning resource in the hands of Nicola Sturgeon as the de facto leader of the Yes movement. But I worry greatly about where the Yes movement – and Scotland – is being led.

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