Old thinking. New thinking.

I like to tell the story of the vague epiphany I underwent some years ago when, during the open discussion section of a meeting at which I was guest speaker, someone used the phrase “dissolve the Union”. One of the things I most enjoyed about those speaking engagements was that I almost always came away with some fresh idea or insight gleaned from exchanges with individuals in the audience. My thinking on various matters was changed ─ dramatically or minutely ─ by listening to what others had to say. It might be just the way they phrased a question causing me to adopt a fresh perspective. Or, as in the instance I’m referring to, it could be just a word or phrase that seemed particularly apt.

I can’t recall exactly where or when this epiphany occurred. Neither, regrettably, can I remember the name of the gentleman who used the phrase “dissolve the Union”. But I distinctly remember how it fit my then thinking on the independence campaign like an essential piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Even back then I was firmly persuaded that we needed a massive rethink of the way we approached the constitutional issue. I had long recognised that we required a comprehensive reframing exercise informed by experience of the 2014 referendum campaign. The main idea was to shift the focus from ‘winning independence’ to ‘ending the Union’. To my mind, the phrase #DissolveTheUnion neatly encapsulated the ‘new thinking’ in a hashtag.

It also happens from time to time that one of these mini-epiphanies will be triggered by my own writing. Sometimes I write what I think. Sometimes I write in order to find out what I think. On the odd occasion, something is reflected back to me from the page almost as if it was put there by someone else. What is written to express one idea conveys a different idea when read. So it was when I wrote the following. (Emphasis added)

In this concept of devolved and sovereign powers we find a corrective for much of the ‘old thinking’ within Scotland’s independence movement. For example, the idea of ‘gradualism’ looks rather different when one realises that according to what appears to be a ‘iron law’ of constitutional tinkering, no amount of devolved power can ever translate into independence.

Sovereign powers and devolved powers

Reading that passage back to myself, it occurred to me that a useful way of analysis the divisions in the independence movement might be in terms of old thinking versus new thinking. Which is not to imply a simple dichotomy. But there is a definite distinction to be drawn between the thinking on the constitutional issue of ten years ago and thinking on the matter now. Be warned! May contain generalisations!

The old thinking was that we would get a Section 30 order; hold a constitutional referendum; persuade people to vote Yes by selling independence like a time-share in Marbella; and independence would follow. That thinking was wrong in every regard and in every sense of the word. I have said enough in the past about the folly of requesting a Section 30 order and how it necessarily compromised the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. I won’t go through all of those arguments again her. But the Section 30 process was (and remains) a very bad idea because it does not allow a proper constitutional referendum as many (most?) of us supposed we were getting in 2014. Mainly, this is due to the ‘iron law’ of constitutional politics which states that sovereign powers cannot derive from devolved powers.

The new thinking is that even if the Yes side had won the 2014 ─ even if by a substantial margin ─ we still would not have seen Scotland’s independence restored. The British would have reneged on the undertaking to respect the result. Or rather, they would have insisted that respecting the result didn’t necessarily involve acting on it. The new thinking is that the British will never cooperate with any process which puts the Union in jeopardy. This is because the battle between the Union and constitutional normality for Scotland is existential for both sides.

We were wrong in a different way about the Yes campaign. Many, I know, will reject the idea that the first referendum campaign was all about trying to persuade people to vote Yes by selling independence like a time-share in Marbella.. It is, perhaps, an overstatement to put it in such terms. But the gist of it is accurate enough. The Yes campaign for the 2014 referendum was relentlessly positive ─ mainly at the urging of the SNP. Any hint of negativity was severely frowned upon. This made for a very joyful campaign, no doubt. And, up to a point, a very successful campaign. But only up to a point. After which, nothing! The Yes vote in the 2014 referendum was 44.70%. The average of the first 12 polls after Nicola Sturgeon took over from Alex Salmond was 44.25%. The average for the 12 polls up to 27 November 2022 is 44.33%. There has been no change.

There also has been no campaign. Not in any real sense. The campaigns for referendums announced at various points over the last eight years never actually happened because the referendums never happened. But there has been constant background campaigning. Various parts of the Yes movement have kept the campaign engine running in various ways. Whether it is producing mountains of statistics and charts and graphs, like Business for Scotland, or organising marches or draping flags from bridges, there has always been some kind of campaigning going on even while Nicola Sturgeon adopted a strategy of pusillanimous prevarication. Overwhelmingly, this campaigning has followed the old thinking of relentless positivity. Making the positive case for independence was the name of the game, and for many that was the only game there was.

The new thinking is that this relentlessly positive campaigning has achieved all it can achieve. All the convertibles who were susceptible to one or other of the ‘visions’ on offer have been converted. The new thinking is that the additional Yes votes needed by Scotland’s cause can now only come from among those who identify as Unionists. And/or the unengaged who, by definition, don’t take a side at all. The new thinking is that within the section of the electorate identifying as Unionist there will always be a certain proportion who are having doubts. Among the unengaged, there will always be a few who might be reengaged with the right kind of provocation. The new thinking is that these potential sources of additional support for Yes will be reached by the negative campaigning which was almost entirely missing from the first referendum campaign. The new thinking is that we reframe the constitutional issue as a fight against the Union rather than solely as a fight for independence.

This reframing of the constitutional issue is arguably the most important aspect of the new thinking. It is closely linked, however, to a rethinking of the role of the British state in the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. The old thinking is that independence is something that has to be won from and/or negotiated with the British state. The new thinking is that there is no role for the British state in the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. The new thinking regards the British state as an external power. The new thinking maintains that the process of restoring Scotland’s independence must happen entirely within Scotland through Scotland’s established democratic institutions and with the consent of the Scottish electorate.

Readers will doubtless come up with more examples illustrating the contrasts between the thinking of a decade ago and the thinking in a present dramatically changed in almost every way imaginable. That the old thinking still pervades the Yes movement is a problem for Scotland’s cause. That the First Minister and the Scottish Government are so firmly lodged in the old thinking is a potential tragedy for the nation. Scotland’s entire political class is failing us at this crucial time. A wake-up call is urgently required.

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16 thoughts on “Old thinking. New thinking.

  1. I agree totally.

    There is very little thinking at all in the Scottish Government/SNP with respect to the constitutional question these last 8 years. What little there is amounts to ‘just one more push’ which is not only nowhere near good enough but a betrayal of the entire reason for being of ‘the party of Independence’. Nicola Sturgeon is simply not a strategist. Worse she won’t delegate to those that perhaps can. Original thought does not come easily to her, so she sticks to the ‘tried and tested’. Or, more accurately, the ‘tried and tested but failed’.

    There is more than enough ammunition in the arsenal to hammer home to people the cause-and-effect relationship between British Union and their plight. There are more than enough examples of the broken promises of Better Together in 2014 to match up to their lying outcomes. But nobody, or not enough people, will advocate this approach.

    Instead, they are subjected to the same old hot air from their elected politicians, now probably a greater contributor to global warming and climate change than greenhouse gases. Then there’s the faux outrage, the cliches, the platitudes etc. Nobody’s listening anymore, if they ever were. Folks merely conclude that ‘they are all the same’ and shuffle on with their lives.

    And that’s the ones who are engaged. The unengaged are swamped with a sea of economics and statistics. Why? These two disciplines are still not even in the national mandatory school curriculum for 15-year-olds … how are ordinary people expected to grasp the concept of currency, exchange rates, central banking, demand management and other aspects of monetary and fiscal policy when they’ve got day to day issues of bringing up children, feeding and educating them etc? As for statistics, I can think of no greater turn-off than endless discussion of the likes of GDP growth and balance of payments for the uninitiated, especially when it is all hypothetical. (I say all this as an economist and statistician). Unless you explain (very easily) that Independence is Normal, everybody else manages it and GERS actually stands for Great English Resource Swindle then expect the apathetic to remain uninspired and uninterested.

    A shake-up of our would-be leaders is sorely needed and long overdue.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Introduce this as the new dynamic, #dissolve the union . The Treaty of the Union did NOT dissolve Scotland. Scots ARE Sovereign, not England’s Gov’t & Parliament, the SC, or the King. Scotland does not need be dictated to by the numerically greater English nationalists, who care only about themselves and their former ‘glories’ and little else. The operative word is self determination, not determination by someone else. Did the Scottish parliament of 1706 have the right to dissolve itself? England has a completely autonomous parliament, with NO restrictions on its powers, no other country in this “equal” union has a veto, England can dissolve the union any time it wishes. England breaks the union treaty without penalty and helps itself illegally to our resources. I don’t care if the ONE half of the Union England doesn’t want Scotland to dissolve it….Scotland wants it!! Until then the Union continues as the ‘English Occupation.’

    Liked by 4 people

  3. The old thinking / new thinking are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Both arguments need to be made, old thinking to reinforce the existing Yes voters, new anti-union thinking to reinforce existing Yessers and to break through with the undecideds and maybe make a dent in persuadable No voters, who will then seek to reinforce their new standpoint by accepting some of the positive arguments pro-independence. Simple it is not, but both arguments must be made as they feed one another.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In regards to the campaign, I agree that the positive campaign has to be maintained. If I give emphasis to the negative, anti-Union side of the campaign it is only because this is the side which has been largely neglected. Having said that, my preference would be to have a focused, hard-hitting, sustained, NATIONAL anti-Union effort with the positive stuff running in the background and at a more local level.

      If we want to crack the armour of the British state then we will need a very heavy hammer constantly striking at the weak spot we all know about but have never fully exploited ─ the impossibility of justifying the Union.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. “the impossibility of justifying the Union”

        That’s because its not a union, is it; its a colonial relationship dressed up as a union. The weak spot for the ‘union’ is the Scots finally knowing this reality.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “… This is because the battle between the Union and constitutional normality for Scotland is existential for both sides.. ”

    Yes, indeed, but it is more of an existential question for those who would see an independent Scotland as crucial to the survival of our culture, languages, etc. I don’t believe you can be an independence supporter without believing that we need to save our culture and languages from extinction, and that that is crucial to our independent future. Unionists can be pro Scottish, too, but they rarely feel that the underpinning culture and languages are an essential part of that Scotland they support. In other words, they see their Scotland as being a part of the UK that is a bit different but that is essentially the same. They also see the UK’s economy as being integral to Scotland’s on both a national and personal level.

    The point has to be made that a referendum of any kind before independence, therefore, on independence, is not required in international law, nor in domestic law. I think we need to get right away from referendums except a ratifying one, perhaps. There is no doubt, however, that we need to find both a political and an international route out of the Union, and soon, or this will descend, eventually, into conflict. Brexit has changed everything, and the new frameworks that Westminster considers necessary for trade deals are going to put even more pressure on Scotland.

    The Treaty/CoR together took us into the Union, and they must, together, take us out, but we must also have a parallel political route in operation, too. If not the SNP, who? If we try to hold their feet to the fire, they will extinguish the fire completely before they will give up their privileges, and the ‘trans’ lobby will not give up its funding and influence without a fight. Therein lies the real problem: if the party of independence refuses utterly to do what needs to be done to achieve independence, what then? It has to be replaced or, at the very least, the head has to be removed. In the case of the SNP, this will not be enough because too many are waiting in the wings who are Sturgeon acolytes and ‘wokerati’. It is the hydra.

    I keep saying it, but the SNP is totally captured by the ‘wokerati’, as, indeed, are the Greens and Labour and the Lib Dems, and it takes precedence because it is so deeply entrenched. Had we worked to cripple and remove this faction long ago, we would be half-way to getting the party back on track, but too many were invested in ‘wheesht for indy’, unheeding of the damage being done to the female vote in Scotland. If they are not defeated soon and ousted, they will destroy both independence and Scotland because they have no loyalty to either. These far left thugs have been underestimated by every party, every public institution and every large business.

    If the price of yet another ‘mandate for independence’ or a ‘SNP 1& 2’, is the passing of the GRA reform, many female voters will decamp and any vote for independence will be lost, anyway. You might be able to persuade some female Unionists to back indy at a grudge, but expecting them to back both indy and GRA reform is just asking too much. This is an existential matter for females, just as independence is for all independistas, male and female, and the Tories offer at least some protection from the ‘trans’ lobby. Unionist females will almost certainly opt for protection from the ‘trans’ lobby, so they will not be persuaded any time soon, whether new thinking or old thinking is deployed.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. You’ve nailed it again Lorna , the REAL stumbling block to independence has ALWAYS been the current hierarchy of the nu deviant snp

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Honing the argument Peter. A simple message now.
        Playing nice will never bring an end to the union. We have a mountain of evidence of their feudally embedded, self serving mendacity .Time to play for keeps, dump the whole Ruritanian mess and join the real world.

        I dont expect it anytime soon though . The SNP has been captured by the British state and like a hamster on a wheel goes nowhere because of their lack of appreciation of the irresistible logic of the iron law.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That “captured by the British state” remark strikes me as borderline conspiracy theory. But it may be true in a sense and to a degree. The British political system has a way of enveloping those who become involved. This enveloping can have different purposes/effects depending on the nature of the involvement. In the case of those who ‘fit’, the enveloping serves to cushion and protect. In the case of those who are irritants, the enveloping serves to isolate and smother.

          This property of the British (and other?) system tends to transfer to political parties operating within that system. It infects them so that they too develop ways of protecting the favoured and isolating the irritants. We see this with the SNP very clearly because we’ve been able to watch the process ‘live’, as it were. The SNP is the first party in a very long time to enter the mainstream of British politics untainted by its properties. Those of us who were members during this period actually experienced the disturbingly rapid change from an open, democratic party effectively owned and controlled by the membership to a party tightly controlled by the leadership.

          We see the cushioning effect in the way the leadership elite surrounds itself with layers of protection. The clique that has ‘captured’ key positions in the party, for example. Then there’s an outer shell of ‘loyalists’ who seek to shout down and ‘other’ any dissenters.

          Nobody plans this. Nobody purposefully sets out to create and maintain these processes. They are, in aggregate, an emergent property of organisations in general and, perhaps, political parties and systems in particular. There is no conspiracy.


          1. Stepping back smartly from conspiracy theory territory which I can see I strayed into. Thanks for the reality check, Peter.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Strangely, Peter, I agree with you vis-a-vis the British State. I don’t think it really has to exert much effort to keep us in line with its own needs and interests; it works by a kind of osmosis, and peripheral parts of the UK strive to co-operate with the centre for fear of being cut off from funding, etc. I also very much agree with you in relation to what happened in the SNP, except that I do think it was infiltrated by far left ‘wokies’ as per the Denton’s Document. That was a template for the takeover of all public institutions, and many private ones, too. I wouldn’t even call that a conspiracy theory because ‘Queer Marxism’ is more a philosophy and just as political as any other doctrine.

    I do believe that the SNP was singled out, though, as, a) being more susceptible to takeover because we were so happy to co-opt new members, b) because the SNP itself was a party in power in a small part of the UK. It is how the ‘woke’, specifically, ‘trans’ movement works – by radiating outwards from a centre point (the whole of the UK, especially England, being the ultimate prize), and c) because the party was trying so hard to be acceptable to all that it neglected to guard itself against bad faith players. These people, or the ones behind them, really are even more sleekit and single-minded than even the British state apparatus, which is why it, too will fall to it unless it is very careful.

    This is very much bigger than Scotland and much bigger than England. It is, essentially, an Anglosphere, Western phenomenon, and extremely dangerous, although many would say that is hyperbole. Anyone who does think that has not seen what it has done in a matter of a few years. Independence won’t save us from it if we allow it to embed itself in our independence, and make the same mistakes we made after 2014, but ousting it could save us for independence, which I also think is coming whether the majority see it or not. I am also of the opinion that, if we defeat the ‘trans’ lobby, women will come out stronger and with a far greater understanding of the ways in which men seek to re-enslave us – no insult intended. We so often say that this or that is the way of the world when it really isn’t and need not be – either for our independence or for female emancipation. Because we haven’t tried something does not mean it is impossible to achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Really? I don’t mean to be. I rarely give opinions that are not considered and/or not researched, Peter, and I know I sometimes say things that are a bit out there, but, again, not without reason. I have been in the doldrums for some time now about the state of Scotland and the water-treading we are doing currently. However, I feel that something has shifted in the political sphere, like minute vibrations, and I sense rather than know cognitively, that the tide is turning. It might take a while yet, but the vibrations are getting stronger that change will come – probably overnight when most least expect it. I can’t really articulate what it is, except to say that my political (and legal) antennae are twitching – and it has little to do with Mr Flynn’s accession. It’s the same with the ‘trans’ issue. Something there, too, has breached the ‘trans’ line. Again, I don’t know what it is, and the GRR Bill might well go through, but it is real and the politicians enabling this will pay the price. Women are learning fast, much faster than anyone expected. Evolution can be slow or it can be very rapid, when survival is at stake. The evolution of both independistas and females is happening very quickly in answer to the threats we face to our very existence as a people and as a sex class. That wee laddie is hovering just out of the eyeline, ready to declare: “The Emperor’s in the altogether, the altogether… ” The two issues are closely linked. They always have been in Scotland and in the SNP.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, Peter, I have no need to point out reality to you in relation to the British State and/or the SNP as a political party, but, on the trans issue, unless you know what it’s doing, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s daft and harmless. It isn’t. It’s extremely dangerous to both females and to Scottish independistas. I’m afraid that only total defeat of the ‘wokerati’ will suffice now on both fronts. We must move away from ‘Just be Kind’ to ‘Just be a Total B*****d’. If I end up in prison as a ‘transphobe’, I shall lead a revolt of Scottish BBC licence non-payers to protect them from the hairy a***d rape nymphs who so fear being taken for real women in the male prison estate that they demand access to the female one. I heard that Nikla has ordered the female inmates to be rounded up and issued with baby wipes for the cleaning-up of poo from the adult baby inmates. I’m afraid that I couldn’t really do justice to the whole and varied repertoire of the Stonewall circus. No one would believe it.


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