Nothing for us

My memory is very unreliable. But as I read the transcript of Nicola Sturgeon’s closing address to the SNP conference in Aberdeen, I quite vividly recalled the same point in proceedings back in 2019. I was there as a party member and branch delegate. The mood in the hall was upbeat. The party managers had done their job well. The party leadership had said all the right words and pressed all the right buttons. Nicola Sturgeon’s address had been as masterful as always. But what I remember most was a nagging feeling of unease. The speech was skillfully crafted and perfectly delivered. It was also formulaic. I recall that as the address continued, I started thinking about how many times I’d heard what was basically the same speech. Then I started to wonder how many times I might hear it again. The whole point of a formula is to facilitate easy repetition. Why settle on a formula if not so that you can use it time after time.

I did not participate in the standing ovation that by custom so enduring as to make it all but obligatory, followed the leader’s closing address. Initially, this was because I was having difficulty getting to my feet. I was still massively overweight at that time and my knees were very painful after a weekend of conference activity. I would have stood out of habit. I then realised that would be the only reason. The hesitation occasioned by my dodgy knees gave me a moment to realise that I didn’t really want to reward that speech with a standing ovation. I just didn’t feel a standing ovation was warranted.

When I say that Nicola Sturgeon’s closing address was the same as the one I’d heard on many previous occasions, I do not, of course, mean that literally. The words were different ─ mostly. The detail was different. But the formula was the same. These speeches are not for imparting information. It’s not about what you are being told, it’s about how you are being made to feel. The achievements listed in the self-congratulatory section of the speech would be different each time. But there was always that section. And it would always be crafted so as to elicit the same emotional response. The policy announcement portion of the speech would likewise have something new each time. But it always has the same purpose. The speech is assembled from modules labeled with the emotional response they are intended to trigger. The task of the speechwriter is to fill each of the modules with suitable words. It is all very mechanistic. Very manipulative.

As I listened to Nicola Sturgeon’s address in 2019, my main interest was as you might expect, the module labelled ‘independence’. There was the usual stuff about how we were winning the arguments and persuading people and the standard not-quite-a-promise of a referendum next year. We’d heard it all before. I, for one, was starting to get rather fed up with hearing it. The ‘independence’ module of the speech wasn’t having the intended effect. I was not inspired by it. I was irked. Over the course of the next year, irk turned to anger and in April 2021 after months of internal debate, I resigned my membership of the SNP almost sixty years after I first joined the party.

As I read the transcript of Nicola Sturgeon’s 2022 conference speech, I found nothing to make me regret that decision.

Let’s get the ‘credit where it’s due’ bit out of the way before concentrating on the constitutional issue. Much of what Nicola Sturgeon said is to be applauded. The sentiments she expressed about asylum-seekers are more than worthy. Congratulations are in order for most of what is listed in the ‘achievements’ module ─ particularly with regard to the support provided for families with young children. Broadly speaking, I don’t doubt the SNP’s claim to progressive credentials. I seriously doubt that we could have had a better devolved government. I cannot imagine having a better First Minister. Neither government nor FM are all I might hope for. But given that I can’t get what I hope for, I’ll settle for what we’ve got. We could do a lot worse.

When it comes to the constitutional issue, however, Nicola Sturgeon and successive SNP governments have been an unmitigated disaster. The contrast between their general competence as an administration and their abysmal failure as the ‘party of independence is stark indeed. As evidence I need only point to the fact that Scotland’s independence has not yet been restored. Nor is there any realistic prospect of our independence being restored. For the self-styled ‘party of independence’ every day that Scotland remains shackled to the British state by the Union is another day in which they have failed. Every day that passes without some tangible progress towards ending the Union and restoring independence is another day they have failed. As far as Scotland’s cause is concerned, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have a record of abject failure.

Let me remind you of the main content of the ‘independence’ module in Nicola Sturgeon’s 2019 address. (My emphasis)

We have a cast iron mandate for an independence referendum. That fact is beyond doubt.

But we don’t just have a right to offer the people of Scotland a choice over their future. In the circumstances now Scotland faces, we have a duty to do so. And it is what we intend to do.

But let me be clear about this. The process by which we choose Scotland’s future must be capable of actually achieving independence.

It must allow majority support to be expressed clearly and unambiguously. It must be legal. And it must have the recognition of the international community.


Because our job is not just to deliver a referendum. Our job is to deliver independence.

My call is that the referendum must happen next year.

Nicola Sturgeon’s full conference speech at #SNP19

The referendum didn’t happen in 2020. Sturgeon/SNP apologists will plead that the pandemic intervened. What they will not do is explain why Scotland’s cause was so uniquely impacted by the public health crisis. They will not explain why Nicola Sturgeon moved so quickly to close down independence campaigning so completely as she did in March 2020. Nor will they explain what gave Sturgeon the right to issue her cease and desist diktat to the entire Yes movement and not just the party she led.

As you may sense, I have still not stopped being angry about that email. Moving on…

You will notice the highlighted passage in the above quote. In 2019 Nicola Sturgeon said,

The process by which we choose Scotland’s future must be capable of actually achieving independence.

That statement is self-evidently true. Three years on, this is what Nicola Sturgeon says.

For now, the question of process – the ‘how’ of securing independence – is in the hands of judges.

Nicola Sturgeon’s address to #SNP22 Conference

Three years and at least a couple of mandate confirmations later and Sturgeon still has no idea of the process by which independence will be secured. She says it is in the hands of the UK Supreme Court (UKSC). That is a lie. The process the UKSC is being asked to rule on is not “capable of actually achieving independence”. But supposing it was, should it be? Why was that question never asked?

Sturgeon said

…this issue was always destined to end up in court, sooner or later Better, in my view, that it is sooner.

Maybe “this issue” really was destined to end up in court. But if by “this issue” she means the matter of a process involving a referendum that is “capable of actually achieving independence” then that is not the issue that is before the court. The issue before the court concerns a referendum that absolutely is not capable of actually achieving independence.

Supposing the issue really was a proper independence referendum, is it really better that the matter was taken out of the realm of democratic politics and handed to the courts sooner rather than later? Is Scotland’s cause best served by doing it the way Sturgeon has chosen to do it? What alternative strategies were considered?

The Scottish Government has, in essence, taken itself to court to ask if it can lawfully ask the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum that has no effect. Was this really the best way of going about it? It puts the burden of proof on the Scottish Government. The onus is on the Scottish Government to make the case that it can lawfully hold a referendum on the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ on the strict condition that no action will ensue from a Yes vote. For a start, the court’s ruling will have no implications whatever for a referendum that is capable of actually achieving independence. The essential question of competence will remain unanswered. But we may still usefully ask whether this is not turning the issue on its head. And doing this in a way that is potentially seriously detrimental to Scotland’s cause.

The real issue is not whether the Scottish Parliament has the right to hold a proper constitutional referendum, but whether the British state has the authority to deny that right. The real issue is whether the British state can lawfully prevent the people of Scotland exercising our right of self-determination. Why is this not the issue that is being placed before the court? It is not the lawfulness of the democratic process that is in dispute. It is the lawfulness of obstructing the democratic process. So why isn’t the matter being put to the court in this form?

The obvious alternative to the Sturgeon strategy of asking if it is lawful to hold a totally ineffectual referendum would be to propose a proper referendum that serves as a formal exercise of our right of self-determination and is therefore capable of actually achieving independence then wait for the British government to launch a legal challenge in which the onus would be on them to convince the UKSC that Scotland is not a nation; that the people of Scotland are not sovereign; that the Scottish Parliament does not have greater democratic legitimacy than Westminster; and that the people of Scotland do not have the right of self-determination. That’s a tall order. So tall, in fact., that the UK government might well decide it’s a case they can’t win. Or a case that they can only win at a cost they’re not prepared to pay.

With this alternative available to her ─ an alternative that would put the British state under serious pressure ─ Nicola Sturgeon has chosen to launch a preemptive strike at herself. Why? And why are so few people asking that question? Why are so many SNP supporters getting so angry at those who do as why Nicola Sturgeon has opted to go about things in a way that makes absolutely no legal, political, strategical or logical sense? Why are so many people labouring under the delusion that the case before the UKSC is a challenge to the British state and something that is important for Scotland’s cause.

Part of the answer to these questions lies in the contradictory and confused messages coming from the SNP conference. For example, on the one hand we have Nicola Sturgeon attaching great importance to the process, the ‘how’ of restoring independence. On the other, we have the leader of the SNP group at Westminster Ian Blackford, urging us to stop talking about the process. Sturgeon herself in her speech follows her acknowledgement that process is important enough to warrant referral to the UKSC with a plea to leave the ‘how’ of it to the judges and concentrate on explaining the ‘why’ of independence. The upshot of all this is a pick ‘n’ mix of soundbites that can be used selectively to counter any criticism of the Sturgeon doctrine.

That pretty much describes Nicola Sturgeon’s speech. There’s something there for everybody. Everybody, that is, except those of us who are hoping to see Scotland’s independence restored. As has been the case for eight very lean years, we get nothing.

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13 thoughts on “Nothing for us

  1. The SNP Conference Leader Speech – Independence Formula Yearly (IFY) manual:

    “I can announce today that …”
    (Select from one of the following alternatives)

    • “… there has been a material change in circumstances”
    • “… Scotland will not be dragged out of the EU against its will”
    • “… the British PM cannot deny Scotland’s right to choose”
    • “… Scotland’s voice will be heard”
    • “… the SNP has a cast-iron mandate for a referendum”
    • “… Scotland has never been closer to Independence”
    • another bespoke novel suitably spin-tested meaningless option

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That list of quotes accurately sums it all up.
      And all of them promises no less, came to nothing!

      I get the impression the First Minister has set out to be as “diplomatic” as she possibly can be, in a futile effort to persuade the anti Independence voters that she is a person who follows all the rules to the letter.
      That she is not extreme in her approach, and also, to try as Labour did, (and still attempt) to get the Media onside, and not be overly hostile to their aims as far as Independence goes.

      But that is a hopeless waste of time and effort.
      For as we have seen, the Media will never let up a chance to paint the SNP as “bad” or Independence as being badder.
      We saw that at the weekend with the “I detest tories” storm in a teacup, which some in the Media whipped into a furore, helped along by tory and Labour.
      That one little comment was quitte on the mild side when we compare what the tories and Labour say about the SNP, and Independence movement on a regular basis.
      Then we have The (Glasgow) Herald, which daily now has some SNP bad story.
      Now we know the ferries and CalMac need a total overhaul, but with the that particular once great publication, they do rather take things to extremes.

      So, this desire to convince the antii Independence voters and Media of how nicer than all the others, SNP is, will never work.
      Not as things are stand, anyhow.


      1. The ‘detest Tories’ comment was mild. From my point of view she didn’t get that right … it’s not the Tories that are the problem, it’s the British Union. Or, more succinctly, ‘it’s the British, stoopid!’.

        But the FM even backed down from using the “detest” adjective, thereby admitting that a) she was wrong to use such ‘aggressive’ language and b) she couldn’t even stand by that.

        Can you imagine what might happen on a really important matter? When the pressure was really on? A situation like negotiating the terms of Scotland’s separation from rUK?

        I imagine that it would be perfectly feasible for Nicola Sturgeon and her team of buffers and blusterers to back down from “no Nuclear weapons on Scotland’s territory” to “no Nuclear weapons on Scotland’s territory, except on the Clyde, Holy Loch, Gare Loch and at Faslane”. Or “The oil and gas revenues will come directly to the new Scottish Exchequer” to “The oil and gas revenues will come directly to the new Scottish Exchequer, for all new fields drilled post-Independence Day”.

        It doesn’t bear thinking about.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. Unlike the author I don’t see a competent administration. The only things they have managed to do well were either implemented by local councils or private companies, or involved changing a number in a computer program. Anything that involves real action by the Scottish government and their quangos tends to either be shit, really shit, or too difficult for them to even start.

    Apparently the Queensferry crossing is a great sucess. There were big tailbacks leading to the old bridge. There are big tailbacks leading to the new bridge. The speed limit on the old bridge was 50mph. The speed limit on the new bridge is usually 40mph. The old bridge got closed by winds. The new bridge gets closed by ice. At least the view is so bad you can hardly see that there is a perfectly good bridge alongside it (with one vehicle every 10 minutes and a walkway and cyclepath from back in the days when people still had use of their legs).

    Anyway, does anyone know why anyone bothered to attend the SNP conference? They could have stayed at home and got the same results without wasting three days of their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Peter, this is powerful stuff. (I’ll have to read it again tomorrow to take it all in as my poor auld brain is getting a bit tired.) Some really clever arguments in there.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s quite ironic that the very people who attack the Lord Advocate and believe that the proposed Indy Ref as it stands is useless, are in fact the ones who support her own case to the UKSC, that the proposed referendum is NOT self-executing, and is advisory and non-binding. And to take that a bit further, those who think Sturgeon has no interest in Independence, even help to nullify the political argument that a YES vote in it will inevitably lead to Independence.

    Also the likes of this and SGP with “Nicola Sturgeon’s “we will, of course, reflect” comment should set alarm bells ringing for the independence movement – is this 2017 all over again?” also cast doubt that the process will continue, which means the UKSC should consider that its decision might totally stall any move to Independence via consulation of any sort, which would mean that effectively the Court is making a political decision even if it is not supposed to consider political consequences of its decision which should be purely on the basis of Law, not politics. A Catch 22 for them methinks.

    Whereas those who staunchly support Sturgeon and believe in her every act, meaning I suppose that they think success at the UKSC or even failure will still inevitably lead to Independence, are actually perhaps a negative factor for the Court to consider.

    The irony is Simply Delicious, as Darina Allen might say.

    Which leads to the inevitable Question: What’s in the Diet for today?


  5. Peter , the pendulum , I referred to the other day , that swings between Sabotage v Incompetence re Sturgeon’s actions has swung again to the former . Not in regard to the * Plant * question – that’s an imponderable distraction into theories of a conspiratorial nature .

    It’s swung due to N Sturgeon’s choice of Lord Advocate & member of the Scottish Government – D Bain’s woeful , self-defeating * arguments * re the holding of ( toothless , boneless , pointless ) Ref – you’ve probably read the transcript or watched the entire dismal exercise yourself ; so no need to go over it .

    This parting-shot from Craig Murray’s article on the subject sums-up the suspicion that – for whatever reason – N Sturgeon is acting against the interest of Scottish Independence .

    I honestly don’t see any other coherent explanation of her behaviour .

    ” My reading of today is that the judges of the UK Supreme Court are sympathetic to the democratic argument for an outlet for the will of the Scottish people, but that Dorothy Bain has – not by accident, and in collusion with Sturgeon – presented so poor an argument as to make that decision virtually impossible for the court. “

    Liked by 4 people

    1. My thinking went in a similar direction as I read Craig Murray’s sketch of the first day’s proceeding before the UK Supreme Court. I can accept that The First Minister is not, as some might suppose, at liberty to appoint whoever she wants as Lord Advocate. I am not familiar with the precise details of the procedure, but I expect she is presented with a short-list and has to weigh numerous factors in making her choice. In short, there may be a perfectly legitimate explanation as to why someone with rather apparent Unionist sympathies was appointed Lord Advocate. She may have been the best of a bad bunch.

      What is infinitely more difficult to explain is why the First Minister would choose a course of action which afforded the selected Unionist a critical role. Why Nicola Sturgeon allowed the matter to be referred to the UKSC at all is a mystery. Why she did so knowing that the person arguing for what we must suppose is the Scottish Government position is someone who at best has severe reservations, is something that takes that mystery and makes it look like political madness.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Cast your mind back to the 2017 conference at the Armadillo.
    Remember the young care leavers at the front of the hall gazing at Nicola with adulation and hero worship.
    Remember the tear in her eye as she promised that she will right all the wrongs that ‘the system’ has forced them to endure.
    My gut then screamed at me that this was a carefully orchestrated political stunt dreamed up by one of her legion of overpaid SPADs.
    Five years on and alll I see is the burden shifted to Local Authorities with minimal extra funding.
    I really need to try and trust my gut more

    Liked by 3 people

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