The summit to reach

In the previous article we looked at the current state of play in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence (A mountain to climb). Stephen Duncan’s analysis of polling on support for Yes presented a daunting picture for whoever replaces Nicola Sturgeon as de facto leader of the independence movement. Especially when, as well as the stagnation of polling support, we take account of the fact that there is no longer a unified Yes movement standing ready to be mobilised in a new campaign. The new leader will first have to find a way of bringing together the squabbling factions. They will have to formulate a strategy which gains the backing of numerous groups with diverse agendas. No easy task.

The political environment has also changed dramatically since 2014/2015. The British political system has descended into a farce of corruption and ineptitude where the mainstream has been invaded and occupied by the fringe and an openly aggressive British Nationalism has supplanted the casual exceptionalism of an earlier time. This too adds to the difficulties confronting the new leader. The starting point for them is emphatically not the enviable one that was bequeathed to Nicola Sturgeon by Alex Salmond. Nor is it sensibly comparable with the situation Salmond found himself in following the 2011 election. Any candidate for the SNP leadership and associated positions who talks of Scotland never having been closer to independence should be rejected as a deluded buffoon. It is essential that the new leader and the entire Yes movement properly appreciate the starting point for a new phase of the independence campaign.

Assuming a realistic idea of the starting point has been established, the next thing that must be identified is the destination. It is not enough to simply state the destination as independence. It is not a fixed concept. Ask a hundred people what independence means to them and you are likely to get a hundred and one different responses. Mostly, these differences will relate to the individual’s ‘vision’ of/for independent Scotland. It has long been maintained by the principals in the independence movement that the ‘trick’ to growing support for Yes is to present the right ‘vision’. The problem with this should be obvious. What is the right vision for one person may well be the wrong vision for another. The Holy Grail of the independence movement has been some magical formulation of ‘The Message’ which will persuade waverers. That perfect message does not exist.

The slipperiness of the ‘vision/message’ means that there can be no fixed definition of independence. But it is possible to have two working definitions that are starkly distinct. We can think of independence as something that is given. Or we can think of it as something that is taken. It is the former that has characterised the approach to the constitutional issue taken by almost the entirety of Scotland’s political elite ─ nationalist and Unionist. There’s nothing very surprising in the fact that Unionists think of Scotland’s independence being something that is in the gift of the British state. No other conception fits with the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. It is less easy to understand why nationalists should define independence in the same way. But they do.

All the main players in the independence movement subscribe to the Section 30 process. Which means they define independence as something that has to be ‘won’ from England-as-Britain. The Section 30 process is that process by which we secure an opportunity to exercise our right of self-determination by acknowledging and accepting the authority of England-as-Britain to deny us that opportunity. It is not possible to make concession to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty without compromising the principle of popular sovereignty. The two principles are incompatible and irreconcilable. Either is destroyed by any accommodation with the other. This has implications for the form of ‘independence’ that can be the outcome of the Section 30 process.

Should the Section 30 process succeed in its own terms the outcome might be called independence, but it cannot be true independence. It will always be something that was granted by a beneficent British state. It is independence that has been bought by trading the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. It is inevitably conditional independence since it has been gained only by acceding to the British state’s asserted authority to deny independence. It is independence that is conditional on the British state’s continuing consent because it has been gained by allowing that it is in the gift of the British state. It is independence that has been gained by overcoming the British state’s authority to withhold it. Which is also necessarily the authority to withdraw it. So, it is not independence. It is devolution.

If any candidate for leadership defines their goal as the ‘pretendependence’ that is the reward for successfully negotiating the British state’s ‘gold standard’ process, then they must be rejected. Candidates must accept that true independence can only be taken. That which is given cannot be independence because accepting ─ or even requesting it ─ it places the giver above the people of Scotland.

Many commentators (e.g. Gerry Hassan) tell us we shouldn’t worry about process but concentrate on substance. This is nonsense. For a start, there is nothing substantial about any ‘vision’ of/for independent Scotland. A vision is an imagining. It has the same substantiality as a dream. Which is why everybody can have their own version. Process matters because what you get is largely defined by the way you get it. A prize won by honest effort and a prize won by cheating are not the same prize even if the physical award is the same. Process matters!

Our starting point is not within reach of the summit. At best, the new leader will commence from the foothills. Process is the journey. The ascent. Independence is the summit that must be reached. Ascent by the Section 30 route takes us to a false summit from which there is no route to the real summit. The candidates for leader of the independence movement must have in mind as their destination independence that is taken as Scotland’s rightful status; not independence granted as a boon courtesy of the British ruling elite. It is the place where we belong; not a place we are visiting with the grace of the British state.

Having this clear idea of the starting point and the end point, we can start to consider the route that will take us to the summit.

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8 thoughts on “The summit to reach

  1. We are not even at base camp. Disavowal of the “gold standard” s30 process which carelessly and without authority discarded the sovereign right to self determination for a cap doffing obsequience to an oppressor neighbour who forced Scotland into union will be a massive change to what has become an accepted narrative (albeit leading to a dead end) and not come easily if at all. Without that step Scotland will remain mired in the broken and increasingly fascistic UK.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. An excellent article.

    With the coordinates of starting and end points surely we’ll be able to navigate the either the shortest distance or path of least resistance (whichever suits best) from one to the other.

    To this end I think Salvo and SSRG are also doing some very useful work – reclaiming, rather than just begging for a piece of, what’s already ours (with apologies to Craig & Charlie Reid).

    Onwards … and Upwards.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There is no “path of least resistance”. Resistance to ending the Union is total. So, it must be the same no matter what path is chosen.

      As to Salvo and SRG, Andrew Tickell’s column in The Sunday National today is relevant. Pretty much echoing my own sentiments.

      “The SNP have [sic] historically been ­uncomfortable discussing strategic ­issues like this candidly in public – in part ­because experience has taught them that looping the Scottish press into ­internal party debates about ­strategy only ­generates damaging headlines about ­division, in part because an honest ­reckoning of the current deadlock isn’t exactly a heart-grabber and vote-winner.

      THIS political vacuum has been filled with a lot of unicorn chasing, leading some independence supporters to search for legal skeleton keys to unlock the Union, including imaginary international courts, unreported House of Commons debates, secret annexes to the Act of Union, or articles from the Claim of Right (sometimes the 1689 version, sometimes it’s 1989).

      There’s nothing radical about demanding the impossible, nothing constructive about encouraging folk to chase after ­legal wisps. But in the absence of a candid discussion, this is how frustrations have often manifested.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I take your point.

    With respect to Salvo/SSRG I didn’t intend that they should be the shining path to freedom.

    Rather the educational piece about the rip-off of Scotland’s resources by our southern neighbour is helpful if it encourages anger that can be harnessed to aid and abet Scotland’s Cause.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. The legal and constitutional case should have been the very first step. Most Unionists and rUK in Scotland and outside Scotland honestly believe that we: a) have no legal right to leave the Union; b) that we have built a grievance culture on nothing concrete. These are facts that a properly explained legal and constitutional case would have laid to rest long since, but we are always having to go over old ground. Once established, the tired old arguments of the Unionists and rUK could have been kicked away easily. Independence is primarily a political expression of the will, but, without legality, it becomes a hollow bleat. Without democracy, which is itself based on legality – political legality – it becomes a hollow bleat.

    I believe that, after 2014, establishing the legal and constitutional case for independence became crucial, not just important. The political and the legal/constitutional go hand-in-hand, with the legal/constitutional being the first step (the fundamental), the political being the second step (the pragmatical) and independence itself being the top step (the final + negotiations). That was not done because the SNP did not wish to do it, and the Greens certainly did not wish to do it, which is why the GRRB became the mainstay of nationalist politics which was anything but nationalist. The GRRB was first started in 2015, into 2016. Obviously, even Brexit was not going to disrupt the trajectory. This could only have been done by the SNP capitulating on this issue to the Greens in exchange for their support and the cementing of power.

    This is precisely why there has not been any moves towards independence. Few in the parliamentary party wanted it and even fewer in the coalition wanted it. This has to be faced up to: the deliberate pushing on to the back burner, with the back burner turned off, of independence. Women have understood this from day one, that the GRRB WAS the policy and independence was the DISTRACTION, not the other way round. The retention of power, on an individual and on a party level, was the unifying motivation. Too many men – I discount the silly bints who support this bilge against their own interests, and the interests of women as a sex class, and fully half the electorate, as being unworthy of comment – as evidenced by the letters in The National – still lack the nous to get it. I despair, I truly do. Even after Michael Russell’s so obvious attempt to placate the Greens by calling for the GRRB to continue with a case to the SC of the UK, they still believe that the SNP wants independence any time soon.

    One thing has come out of all this: women are wiser about how valued we are in Scottish society – not. Our rights would have been taken away without a murmur from most of these men. I wonder how many of them would have been perfectly happy, delirious even, to enter an independent Scotland (fat chance!) with no rights? How many? Yet they would have sacrificed women and children to a cause that does not even exist anymore in the SNP, as it is now. I call it the the Gaulish Vercingetorix factor: sacrifice your women and children for a battle you are never going to win. He’s a hero in France. Not as far as I am concerned or any other thinking person should be. If he were a real hero, he would have understood the futility of what he was doing and surrendered to fight another day., in a different way, using the Roman laws against the Romans. However, we are not talking about thinking people. If the letter writers were thinking people, they would understand immediately that, without the female vote, independence is impossible. They alienate us at their peril. These self-centred men need to get a grip and start thinking critically or they will not be forgiven for their callousness.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Education, education,education.
    The dying embers of an English imperial state, kidding themselves on ,they are sovereign, doesn’t fool anyone , unless of course they are a deaf ,dumb and blind English nationalist.
    Don’t discount Salvo, and the claim of right, it is all part of bringing our past and our history front and centre.
    Let’s face it, the English state and their compliant stenographers can repeat the lie as often as they like.
    We can also combat their lie with fact.
    The fact the people of Scotland are sovereign.
    Enough said and the way forwards

    There is no point in entering into dialogue with the English state when it’s time to go.
    It’s our choice,
    Onwards and upwards.


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