I sense a change of mood in what used to be the Yes movement before it was ‘improved’ in the way software developers ‘improve’ their products until they become unusable. I doubt if anyone thought it would be a good idea to turn a mass democratic movement into a ramshackle assortment of squabbling factions. But evidently, nobody could be bothered stopping it from happening. But to whatever extent the wonderful Yes movement of old still exists, I get a feeling that it is stirring from the catatonic condition induced by eight years of inaction, prevarication and timid compliance on the part of the SNP/Scottish Government.
It’s little things. Making a genuine effort not to do so too grudgingly, some credit must be given to Nicola Sturgeon. Her announcement of a referendum in October 2023 has certainly fired up the party loyalists and the more easily ignited parts of the independence movement, even if it has barely warmed those of us who see her proposal for the flavourless fudge that it surely is. It was something. And after eight years of nothing, even flavourless fudge might be something to get a wee bit excited about.
Then there’s the incident yesterday when ALBA Party MPs Neale Hanvey and Kenny MacAskill were unceremoniously ceremonially frog-marched from the Commons Chamber by somebody who hasn’t learned how to spell ‘sergeant’ for the heinous offence of being Scottish and conducting themselves in a manner reminiscent of the way real British MPs behave much of the time. Spare a soupcon of pity for the poor Serjeant at Arms who attempting to follow instructions from Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to the letter, spent the rest of his shift looking for somebody called Maskell so that they too could be unceremoniously ceremonially frog-marched from the Commons Chamber. Although they’d probably already left by that time – but protocol is protocol.
Actually, it wasn’t so much the incident itself – cheering as it was to see some kind of action – but the response to it on social media and among my contacts. Actually, it wasn’t so much the ALBA MP’s action they were reacting to as the inaction of the SNP group. Not that there was anything wrong with the inaction per se. As inaction goes the SNP MPs’ inaction was as accomplished as you’d expect from people who have been practising for eight years. It was the fact of the inaction that bothered folk rather than the honed perfection of its execution. A lot of people were asking why those SNP MPs didn’t do anything. Others were asking why the SNP MPs did nothing. More still wanted to know WTF those SNP MPs were playing at as they played by the British rules rather than show the slightest hint of sympathy for the ALBA MPs’ action.
There were, as always, the party loyalists who enthusiastically applauded the SNP group’s elegant inactivity. The usual drivel was churned out. The SNP mustn’t give the British media any excuse to say the things about the SNP that the British media says about the SNP no matter what the SNP does. Or doesn’t, if you take my meaning. But by far the majority of comments I saw – I do not pretend this was a scientific study – were to the effect that the SNP group should have broken with tradition and shown some solidarity with fellow independence-supporting MPs. Why wasn’t Ian Blackford on his feet doing his righteous indignation schtick? Why wasn’t Pete Wishart – the Man Who Would be Speaker – firing off points of order like machine-gun bullets? Why were all the SNP MPs present putting all their effort into pretending they weren’t there? (Angus Brendan MacNeil MP was, I believe, the lone exception, as seems to be the case rather often lately.)
There was genuine anger that the SNP MPs did nothing. Even those who claimed to understand why they might have been reluctant to walk out in support of the ALBA ‘rebels’ were irked that those SNP MPs made such a point of not associating themselves with Kenny MacAskill (aka Benny Maskell) and Neale Hanvey. After all, the pair were protesting at the same thing the SNP has been objecting to for as long as anybody can remember. Others professed to be sickened by the hypocrisy of the SNP calling for independence supporters to unite with one face while the other face is turning from fellow independence supporters in the British parliament.
You know me! I have questions. Before joining in the condemnation of the craven compliance of the SNP Westminster group which contrasted so starkly with the mischievous defiance of the ALBA guys, I wonder if those ALBA guys asked for SNP support. Did they even inform the SNP group of what they intended to do? If not, then the SNP group can have some excuse for failing to have a prepared response. It’s not easy for a large group to act spontaneously. Although if Blackford and Wishart had shown a bit of leadership the rest wouldn’t have been sitting waiting to see if somebody else would be the first to make a move. Being a leader and going first are kind of the same thing. Maybe somebody should inform the SNP leadership of this.
The most persuasive indication of a shifting mood in the vestigial Yes movement is neither Nicola Sturgeon’s Christmas tree decoration announcement (shiny on the outside but hollow beneath the glitter) nor the ALBA protest in the House of Commons. What has encouraged me to think there may be some life in the old Yes movement yet is the general reaction to my recent comments regarding #ScottishUDI. That reaction has been surprisingly supportive. Although in many cases ‘supportive’ may be too strong a term. Nonetheless, a couple of years ago whenever I mentioned #ScottishUDI the response was in almost every case negative. Often negative in the extreme.
For a very long time, a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) was unmentionable if you didn’t want to be labelled some kind of extremist. I myself was reluctant to use the term and urged a similar reticence in others. Then I started asking those bloody questions again. Seriously thinking about the matter, it became clear that far from the great bogey-man it had been made by British propaganda, UDI is a very ordinary thing. Gaining or restoring independence is always to some degree achieved by some form of UDI. Some part of the process has at least some of the characteristics of UDI. Or so it seemed to me. Once you get past the knee-jerk reaction conditioned by British propaganda you find that there’s nothing scary at all about UDI.
It also became clear to me some time ago that the only way Scotland’s independence could be restored was by some kind of UDI. That is the inevitable conclusion when you recognise that there is no route to independence through the legal and constitutional framework that surrounds the Union like armour. There is nothing that might put the Union in jeopardy that the British ruling elite has not made illegal. Nothing that the British would not make illegal if they thought it threatened the Union. Nothing that they wouldn’t make illegal retrospectively if that was what was needed to preserve their ‘precious’ Union. It is but a short step from this realisation to the conclusion that, if it is going to happen at all, Scotland’s independence will be restored by a unilateral declaration of independence in some guise. The only thing that remains is to decide exactly how it should be presented.
What I have found over the past week is a great many more people being supportive of the idea of #ScottishUDI than previously. Perhaps more significant is the relatively tiny number still rejecting the idea out of hand. Many (most?) who previously dismissed the idea of UDI in angry terms are now more subdued. They say things like it must be a last resort or we’ve not reached that stage yet. The important thing is that this is not rejection. For all that it is qualified acceptance – often heavily qualified – it is that at the very least acceptance that UDI may be an option. Maybe the only one left.
If I am correct then this is a hugely important development. There is much frustration and anger among independence activists who’ve been left out in the cold for so long by the SNP. The tendency to date has been for this frustration and anger to find a proliferation of outlets. It has been vented in all manner of small ways. Being thus diffuse, it has been ineffective. To be effective that frustration and anger must find a common point of focus. Ideally, of course, that should be #DissolveTheUnion. But if #ScottishUDI does the job then I for one won’t be complaining. I am not here talking about the hashtags but the concepts that they represent. It is, unfortunately, necessary to add this disclaimer for the benefit of those shallow-minded enough to suppose I might be referring merely to hashtags as if they could be game-changers for Scotland’s cause. They play a part, certainly. Social media is a powerful tool.
There are also those who will deride today’s musings for being based on nothing more than voices in the ‘echo chamber’ of Twitter. People who don’t understand social media are quick to scoff. Just as those who don’t know how to use research tools deride Wikipedia – almost certainly the most powerful research tool that the general public has ever had. They will sneer at my speculation based on the evidence of my observation of Twitter, Facebook etc. They will say I am both preaching to the choir and part of the choir being preached to. They will say that Twitter is not representative of the ‘real world’. And in this last, they may have a point. Twitter is not representative of the general public. But don’t stop thinking at that point and instead, ask why it isn’t representative of the general public.
It’s because Twitter only attracts the politically engaged. It only attracts activists. But is this a reason to dismiss it so lightly? Isn’t the mood among activists important? Isn’t it a good thing to be able to assess that mood with at least some degree of confidence?
I am firmly persuaded that Twitter is very useful in this regard. It also has the benefit of being immediate and honest. Sometimes too honest. But all of this means it may reflect the true mood at any given moment. And it’s a lot less messy than reading goat entrails.
If I am correct and there is indeed a growing acceptance of UDI – or at least a new readiness to discuss UDI – then something big is happening. But has the SNP detected this shift in the mood of Yes activists? Will they know how to respond? That remains to be seen.
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