Reading the room

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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19 thoughts on “Reading the room

  1. I did notice in the comments btl in the very pro-SNP National that the posts were overwhelmingly in favour of the actions taken by Kenny MacaAkill and Neale Hanvey. Even the bulk, though not all of course, of the usual “SNP only” suspects were supportive and were even questioning why their party had not joined in and taken such similar loud and ballsy action.

    A bit of passion on Scotland’s rights, and their abuse by the British state, serves to inspire genuine supporters of the return of Scotland’s self-government.

    We’ll have to wait and see if this ripples through to the top hierarchy of the SNP. You state that “being a leader and going first are kind of the same thing. Maybe somebody should inform the SNP leadership of this.”

    That’s true … but this will require someone to come forward.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Perhaps, if the Alba MPs (though their constituents elected SNP ones …. that’s a thing) had co-ordinated with the SNP or, at least informed them of their “plans”, a more meaningful demonstration could have been organised. However, being all but invisible since they turned on their constituents and colleagues, it would have come as a surprise to most SNP MPs that they still existed, never mind had plans.

      It’s strange that two “invisible men” do squat for years and then get proclaimed heroes for getting chucked out (not walking out) while the SNP MPs get dogs abuse from the echo-chambers for standing up for Scotland week-in week-out and getting dogs abuse from unionist MPs.

      The echo-chambers appear to have forgotten the SNP MPs have “walked out” before (not “chucked out”) which had much more impact than the two unofficially invisible men being rendered …. officially invisible.

      Like

      1. “Perhaps, if the Alba MPs (though their constituents elected SNP ones …. that’s a thing) had co-ordinated with the SNP or, at least informed them of their “plans”, a more meaningful demonstration could have been organised.”

        Why don’t you tip off the SNP contingent in Westminster?

        However I suspect you’d be wasting your time now that the FM has dismissed MacAskill and Hanvey’s assertion of Scotland’s right of self-determination – actually protesting about the first strand (Section 30 referendum) of Nicola Sturgeon’s announced plan – as mere “gesture politics”.

        Independence is Scotland’s Cause. It is not owned by the SNP, Alba, ISP or separately by anybody else.

        At a minimum there should be solidarity across the spectrum of those who wish to restore the full self-government and statehood of this nation.

        To adapt James Carville’s phrase from 30 years ago: it’s the country, not the party, stupid.

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        1. “Why don’t you tip off the SNP contingent in Westminster?”

          That was my point. Alba didn’t. I suspect the whole point of their “demonstration” was to be seen to be doing something …. anything …. to remind people off their existence.

          “At a minimum there should be solidarity across the spectrum of those who wish to restore the full self-government and statehood of this nation.”

          All I’ve ever asked for on these sites. The echo-chambers are not interested unfortunately.

          “To adapt James Carville’s phrase from 30 years ago: it’s the country, not the party, stupid.”

          Perhaps you should tell the malcontents that.

          Like

  2. UDI! Yes indeed.
    There’s nothing wrong in mentioning it.
    I mentioned it years ago, when I said years ago , there was no point in entering into discussions with the English on our Independence.
    A similar thing happened, with the Irish all those years ago.
    They entered into discussions with the English and it dragged on for years.
    That is the English way.
    That’s why they revel in , the statement
    , Westminster is the mother of all parliament’s, not because it is democratic , it isn’t, neither is it honest or acts with integrity.
    It’s perfididity lies in its ability to obfuscate and change the rules without oversight.
    Just mention UDI in the Westminster cess pit would throw it open to the international community.
    Put fear into the neoliberal corporates that control the system.
    There is nothing illegal in mentioning
    UDI!
    Onwards and upwards
    🐼🐼🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
    Onwards and upwards

    Liked by 5 people

  3. For a long time I respected yo then fell out in regard to your attitude, at the time, to considering UDI as a relevant force to accomplish our regaining independence. I am utterly delighted to see that as well as now countenancing the very idea of UDI you are almost becoming supportive. Grateful am I that I can now restart reading your writings in the knowledge that it takes balls to admit that you may have been wrong, but guts to publicly admit it. Welcome home!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As things stand at the moment, we have the First Minister still wanting to go to London and ask “permission”, and we had talk of her even suggesting some kind of compromise of her own stated schedule!
    This stuff is totally unacceptable.
    We have to make the SNP “Leadership” realise how fulite their approach is.

    As to yesterday in House of Commons, I did think it was a bit pointless,, however, I was appalled at the manner of the Speaker. He was quite disgraceful. But I as also not impressed other SNP membres didn’t walk out with them.
    I get Blackford staying as he had to do PMQs, however there was no good excuse for others not having joined the ALBA MPs. At least they could have walked out for a bit, then come back. There was nothing to stop them doing that.
    No, instead they all sit there like little schoolkids obedient to their bosses!
    Only MP MacNeil and later MP J.Cherry offered any support of any kind.
    MacNeil in the Chamber, Cherry outside.
    It doesn’t’ make SNP look too good.
    We can only hope the adverse reaction to the MPs force them to reflect. Or at least enough of them!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Blackford and his SNP MP troughers have been warned from on high NOT to do anything in solidarity with the Aba MPs, she who must be obeyed from Bute House has called Alba’s satnding up for Scotland “gesture politics”

    https://12ft.io/proxy?q=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.thenational.scot%2Fnews%2F20279048.nicola-sturgeon-responds-alba-mps-westminster-protest%2F

    UDI is in my opinion the only way out of this union, but we’re going nowhere until Sturgeon is kicked out of Bute House, she couldn’t even bend the rules on a reserved matter (Drugs laws) for drug consumption rooms in Scotland as thousands of Scots died from drug overdoses, what makes anyone think she’s sincere about holding a poorly planned indyref or plebiscitary election that will lead nowhere fast.

    We’re being played, and unless the masses carry this indy chance forward on a wave of optimism and determination that Sturgeon cannot suppress then the games up until she’s evited from Bute House.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As others have said, and Peter Bell says, it’s unlikely Nicola Sturgeon will be forced out.
      I don’t know if that would be a good thing just at this moment.
      What we need is for Nicola Sturgeon to be forced to change course.
      However, if she insists on going along her present path, the time may yet come, when SNP membership rise against her.
      The problem for Scotland, being, we don’t really have the time to wait that long.

      As to “gesture politics”, etc, we notice SNP were happy to have MP Blackford make such a gesture not too long ago, and all the SNP members walked out of House of Commons.
      MP Wishart was all for that back then.
      Pity is, they went back to the place!

      Like

  6. Well I never, a slither of optimism from Peter……
    But wait a minute, has he not being saying for months Alba are a waste of space?

    Like

    1. Pointless! I said ABLBA is pointless. Meaning it serves no purpose. Which is absolutely true when the party is doing electoral politics. As I said in at least one article, ALBA’s leadership made a bad mistake starting off with a focus on winning elections that is almost as obsessive as the SNP. This was just one among many mistakes. But sticking with this one for the moment, the party should have stayed out of serious electoral politics altogether until it had established itself. I don’t just mean the machinery behind the party’s public activities but established itself in the ‘market’. It failed to get a strong image of itself fixed in people’s minds. It failed to develop a distinctive identity. Instead of being an alternative to the SNP that augmented the independence campaign, it came to be perceived as an SNP clone which harmed Scotland’s cause by competing with the SNP for the same votes.

      ALBA devotees will insist that this is not what they were about. It doesn’t matter. Perception is everything. ALBA failed to manage perceptions at the time when doing so was absolutely crucial. The party may never recover from that. Especially given the refusal to acknowledge that the made catastrophic mistakes. They blame the SNP for everything. Having such an easy scapegoat they never bother to look elsewhere. Such as in a mirror.

      What Kenny and Neale did is precisely the kind of thing ALBA should have been doing. Instead of doing things exactly as the SNP does, ALBA should have been doing the stuff the SNP won’t or can’t do. As I have pointed out previously, fringe/startup parties have one huge advantage over established parties. They have nothing to lose. They can say and do and promise anything (within limits) while the mainstream parties are bound by their history and their status and their responsibilities.

      The fact that the SNP didn’t walk out with them is a good thing for ALBA. It points to a difference between the two parties. Unfortunately, ALBA ruins this by using the fact that they didn’t walk out as a stick to beat the SNP. Blackford &Co should have supported the LBA MPs, but in their own way. Using their own tactics. They should, for example, have tabled a series of points of order regarding the way the Speaker handled the matter. That is the kind of two-pronged action that ALBA should be facilitating.

      I could write a book on the mistakes ALBA has made. But there would be no point. ALBA’s only response would be “What about the mistakes the SNP made!”. They don’t get that they can only deal with their own mistakes. They can’t control what the SNP does. And they don’t use the SNP’s mistakes in the right way. They try to use them to get electoral advantage. Tereby creating the very impression that they should be trying to avoid. Instead of hammering the SNP with its failures and failings ALBA should be seen as striving to compensate for the failings and correct the mistakes.

      Like I said, I could write a book. In all probability someone will. But not here.

      Like

  7. If we were to believe the massive hype on the internet before the last Holyrood election, Alba would be, at the very least, the third force in the Parliament right now. Instead, they got a tiny share of the vote. So be careful reading anything into any support for a UDI based on that. The “echo-chambers” are indicative of nothing.

    But that is the ultimate problem with your calls to abandon all other processes and jump straight to a UDI tomorrow (I exaggerate for dramatic effect, in case you decide to deflect by highlighting it). It assumes the ordinary voter (not the dedicated activist) is absolutely fine with that. You have no evidence to suggest they are. Never mind any measures taken by the UK state to annul the UDI (legal, political or violent), if a significant number of potential Indy voters recoil from it, it is dead in the water and might well destroy any chance of independence for decades …. if not forever.

    I know you have no time for those who urge caution in the face of your fixated evangelism, however, the more pragmatic among us realise there are problems with it. We ask questions. Granted, that just gets us abuse, but we ask anyway. Perhaps, one day, you’ll have answers for us. In the meantime, I’ll continue to argue we must convince the ordinary Scottish voter of the benefits of independence, that it is “demonstrably” impossible to achieve it “legally” in the face of a hostile UK govt and, having done so, primed them to accept a UDI as the only way forward.

    It is all I have ever argued and the Scottish govt’s moves make it possible. Your impatience, and blind assumption the “people” (again, not dedicated activists) will be enthusiastically supportive of a UDI without having been presented with the evidence it is necessary, is far riskier and could kill the Indy cause stone dead.

    Like

  8. I have been an active campaigner for Independence for over 60 years now. It has always been my understanding that elections and referenda were indicators of the strength of support for Independence. When it has been demonstrated that such support is over 50% the current Scottish Government will declare UDI and begin to disentangle ourselves from our neighbours. The importance of a pro Indy majority before UDI is not to prove anything to RUK who will probably ignore or argue against it. Proof that the majority support The Declaration of Independence is for the wider world so that they will accept Scotland as a Sovereign Country.

    Like

    1. Then we have to wonder why the current Scottish Government has done precisely nothing to increase support for independence. Not the Government nor the SNP nor any of the other pro-independence parties nor the Yes movement as a whole.

      Like

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