Ineffectual!

It was entirely predictable that British Nationalists would seek to create new impediments to holding a referendum and further obstacles to achieving a Yes vote should their efforts to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination fail. Knowing the British mentality as we do, this anti-democratic manoeuvring was only to be expected. The British political elite always play by the rules. So long as they are allowed to write the rules; and to change them at will and without notice; and to have one set of rules for themselves and another for everybody else. The effort to ‘rig’ the process was readily anticipated and was, in fact, foretold by several commentators.

Nobody is surprised. Except, apparently, the SNP. The people we’d hope would be more politically astute than most appear to have been naive enough to suppose the British establishment would actually respect democratic principles. Nicola Sturgeon continues to be totally and unshakably committed to the Section 30 process despite the inevitability of the British political elite using that process to thwart democracy. Our First Minister remains completely deaf to the growing clamour within the Yes movement warning of the danger of trusting the British government. She remains oblivious to the voices urging her to immediately seize control of the entire referendum process in the name of preserving Scotland’s democracy. Despite the obvious anti-democratic intent of the British political elite, Nicola Sturgeon still seems happy to cede to them all the authority they need to ‘rig’ the process.

There are protests. Keith Brown says “the Tories are holding democracy in contempt”. Well of course they are, Keith! What did you expect? More importantly, what do you intend to do about it? He insists, yet again, that the Scottish Government has a mandate for a new referendum and that to refuse to recognise that mandate constitutes contempt of Scotland’s Parliament. But there is not so much as a hint that he and his colleagues have any intention to respond purposefully to this attack on Scotland’s democratic institutions.

It’s the same with Brexit. We get entirely redundant daily reminders from Ian Blackford and others about how catastrophic Brexit will be and how awful it is that this is being imposed on Scotland against the will of the Scottish people. But, apart from the incessant lament, what has the Scottish Government actually done to prevent Scotland being dragged out of the EU despite our emphatic Remain vote? They say this is unacceptable. But they seem content to accept it.

Already I can hear the pathetic bleating issuing from those with minds so effectively colonised as to render them incapable of thinking outside the British box. What can we do? We have no power! We have to obey the rules! We can’t be seen to do anything naughty! What do you expect?

[Insert appropriately expressive expletive!]

We can do whatever we are sufficiently determined to do! We have whatever power we choose to assert! We are under absolutely no obligation to obey any rules other than those we make for ourselves! We have to be seen to be willing to defend our democracy! I expect our politicians to do the job we elected them to do!

I don’t dismiss the difficulties involved in confronting the British state. Those difficulties have been aggravated by five years of inaction. They will only get greater with every day that passes without the bold, decisive action which is required to stop the British Nationalist juggernaut crushing our our democratic institutions.

The Scottish Government must recognise that the British state is absolutely determined to close all democratic routes to independence. They must realise that only democratic route to independence we can rely on is the one we create for ourselves and over which we retain total control. A process made by the Scottish Government working through the Scottish Parliament with the support of the sovereign people of Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon must explicitly reject the authority of the British political elite to interfere in any way in process by which Scotland decides the matter of its constitutional status and chooses the form of government which best suits the needs of Scotland’s people. The First Minister must abandon the Section 30 process. She must insist that the British state, its agencies and its proxies are entirely excluded from Scotland’s constitutional decision-making process, in accordance with international laws and conventions. The SNP’s whole approach to the constitutional issue must be subject to an immediate, urgent and rigorous review.

Circumstances demand a mindset very different from that which is presently in evidence. How can we claim to be ready and determined to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status if we aren’t even prepared to take control of the process by which constitutional normality will be restored?

How can we even claim to deserve independence if the government we elect is prepared to let a government entirely lacking in democratic legitimacy make the rules for us?

How can we claim that the people of Scotland are sovereign while our own elected leaders are in thrall to the sovereignty of the British parliament?

One word, more than any other, comes to mind when I look at the Scottish Government’s handling of the constitutional issue – ineffectual! Against all the evidence to the contrary, they still proceed on the basis that the British will respect democratic principles. They continue to suppose that there is a path to independence abiding by the rules made by the British state for the purpose of preserving the Union at any cost. They persist in imagining that there must be a route to independence which avoids direct and almost certainly acrimonious confrontation with the British establishment. This is all delusion. And it is delusion which threatens to be fatal to Scotland’s cause.



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That was NOT the question!

John Swinney is not one of the people I usually associate with the SNP’s notoriously clumsy political communication. I have always considered him one of the party’s sharpest minds. Which makes it all the more perplexing that he should so thoughtlessly misrepresent the 2014 referendum by claiming that “Scotland voted to remain as part of the United Kingdom”. We most decidedly did not!

It is not possible for Scotland’s people to have voted to remain part of the UK because that question was never put to them. The question on the ballot paper five years ago was ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’. There was no mention of remaining part of the UK.

There will be those who insist that there is no difference between saying No to independence and saying Yes to the Union. Thus exhibiting a woeful shallowness of thinking such as I never supposed John Swinney might fall prey to.

For a start, the question actually asked makes independence the contentious issue which it should never have been. Independence is not contentious. Independence is normal. Independence is the default status of nations. To discover how fundamentally slanted the question is, just imagine it being put to the people of any other nation. They would consider it ridiculous and offensive. Not only, or even primarily, because their nation already is independent, but because it would never occur to them that this status is something which could or should be called into question.

Not only did the question on the 2014 ballot paper make independence the contentious issue, it ensured that the Yes campaign was built around a contested concept. There was then, and still is, no single agreed definition of independence. The term, as it applied to Scotland, meant many different things to different people. Myriad individuals and groups within the Yes movement all presented voters with their own conception of and vision for independence. The Yes campaign became a confusing fog of competing messages and was thereby rendered very much less effective than it might have been.

Because independence is a contested concept, it is inherently susceptible to being misrepresented and burdened with all manner of prejudicial associations. It was, in other words, highly vulnerable to precisely the kind of negative propaganda effort to which the anti-independence campaign predictably resorted.

When people voted No in 2014 they were not voting FOR anything. They were voting AGAINST an idea of independence as something abstruse and fearful They were voting AGAINST what they had been led to believe was a “leap in the dark”; a voyage into uncharted waters where lurked ravenous monsters. They were voting AGAINST a nightmarish vision painted by a malignant rabble of liars and deceivers in the British government, the British parties and Better Together / Project Fear; with the willing assistance of the British media.

They most assuredly were not voting to remain in the UK.

Contrary to the impression given by John Swinney, the people of Scotland have never given their consent to the Union. They have never been asked. I would suggest that it is long past time this democratic deficiency was rectified.



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I am not the enemy

One of the ways we recognise the “siren voices of populism” is their penchant for grossly misrepresenting any who challenge or criticise them. Andrew Wilson evidently wasn’t mindful of this when he implied that those expressing concerns about the SNP’s strategy were trying to “sell a pup to a population that deserves the best of honesty”. Or, indeed, with that line about “siren voices of populism and extremism”. Or even the repeated mentions of “populism”. I’m sure he reckons he’s done a rather fine job of tarring the SNP’s critics with the brush of “Trump, Johnson, Farage et al” but, for me, the attempt to contrive negative associations was all a bit obvious. One might even say clumsy.

As one of those who is deeply troubled by Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue I am left a little perplexed by Andrew’s attempt to discredit and diminish people such as myself. He says that the SNP is at its best when it is “front foot, ambitious, outward-facing, welcoming, positive” – and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, this is precisely what I am urging. Andrew Wilson might have done better to consider the reasons I and others find it necessary to so urge the party leadership.

Had he not been so intent on disparaging those who decline to toe the party line on the new independence referendum and the subsequent campaign, andrew might have been able to discern the fact that what I and others are seeking is no more than that the SNP should be what it is when it is at its best. We want Nicola Sturgeon to get on the front foot rather than merely reacting to to the pond-life twitchings and squirmings of the British political elite. We want her to be more ambitious than settle for whatever the British state is prepared to offer. We want her to be outward-facing towards the wider Yes movement and to welcome it as a rich resource rather than shunning it as if it might sully her political purity. We want her to be positive about Scotland and its people and its capacities rather than about her own ideas of how to proceed.

We want the SNP to remember what it is for and to at least acknowledge what it is against.

We need no lectures about the absolute necessity of backing Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. We know, at least as well as Andrew Wilson, that the SNP is the lever by which Scotland will be prised out of an injurious and demeaning political union. We know that Nicola Sturgeon and her administration represent the fulcrum on which that lever move. But we recognise that it doesn’t end there. We are aware that this lever requires a solid base on which to rest – the Scottish Parliament. and we have long been cognisant of the threat to Holyrood which Nicola Sturgeon has only lately acknowledged.

We further recognise that this lever is all but useless without the force that can only be provided by the Yes movement. So we can hardly be criticised for our anxieties about that force being diverted or dissipated as a consequence of the way Nicola Sturgeon is seen to be handling things.

I can only speak for myself when I say that I with Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP all the way to independence. But my commitment is, not to any party or personality, but to Scotland’s cause. I therefore reserve the right to do whatever I might to steer the party and its leadership on what I consider to be the course which will most surely take us to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. And to sound a warning when I think they have strayed from that course.

I am firmly persuaded that this can be done without harm to either the party or the cause. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it. I am not the enemy. Neither are any of those in the SNP or the wider Yes movement who voice concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s option-squandering and highly contentious commitment to the Section 30 process. Or about what many see as a failure to learn the lessons of the 2014 campaign.

It is disappointing, to say the least, that the SNP should feel it necessary to propagandise against those who do no more than offer alternative ideas as to how we might best proceed on Scotland’s journey to independence.



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Shaping the campaign

Andrew Tickell comes to the inevitable and unavoidable conclusion concerning the motives behind the British Electoral Commission’s insistence on ‘influencing’ the question asked in the new referendum. It’s because it’s the British Electoral Commission. And the important word there is ‘British’. It is an agency of the very entity which seeks to preserve the Union at any cost. It is only to be expected that it will reflect the “Sir Humphrey grade cynicism” of the British political elite.

Any intervention by any agency of the British state must constitute undue – and very likely unlawful – outside interference in the process by which Scotland exercises its right of self-determination.

Andrew’s exploration of the importance – or otherwise – of the language used in a referendum question is as perspicacious as we would expect. But one comment stands out.

… the basic language of a referendum can powerfully shape how the respective sides are able to campaign

This is a crucial insight. The British Electoral Commission – and by extension the British sate – is pretty much exclusively concerned with the the way the framing of the referendum question affects voters. For obvious reasons. The structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state largely rely on a highly developed apparatus devoted to the manipulation of public perceptions.

But, as Andrew observes, the referendum question is only part of a complex web of influences affecting voters. It is the campaign as a whole that is the context within which these influences operate. So it stands to reason that the most important thing about the question is the way it shapes the campaign. In relation to a new constitutional referendum, that importance is immeasurable.

Consider the question asked in 2014.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Ask this question of any other nation and you would be regarded as an idiot. The people of those nations might regard the question as offensive, if they thought about it at all rather than dismissing it out of hand. That’s because independence is the normal, default status of a nation. The people of all nations take their independence for granted. It’s the way things are and the way they should be. So a more appropriate question might ask why Scotland must be the exception.

The 2014 referendum campaign was entirely shaped by this questioning of independence. It was the condition of independence that was being challenged, despite this being the ‘natural’ condition of nations. The question was inappropriate and it shaped the campaign in a way that favoured the anti-independence side by forcing the Yes campaign onto the defensive.

Surely simple logic dictates that it is the Union which should be questioned. It is the Union which is anomalous. It is the Union which is ‘unnatural’. It is the Union that sets Scotland apart from other nations. It is the Union that prevents Scotland from being normal.

Consider how different the campaign would have been had the question been,

Should Scotland dissolve the Union with England?

Such a question accepts the default assumption of independence and challenges the claim that an alternative constitutional settlement is preferrable. It forces Unionists to justify the Union. It puts the Union under scrutiny rather than the concept of independence which, despite – or perhaps because of – it being so ‘natural’, can be difficult to define.

Independence was placed at the centre of the constitutional issue. But independence is a disputed concept. Think back to the 2014 referendum. Not only were there massive differences between the way independence was portrayed by the opposing sides, there were significant differences even within the Yes campaign. A multitude of them! There was no single universally agreed idea of independence on which the Yes campaign could focus. Campaigning for a disputed concept is seriously problematic. The anti-independence campaign had no such problem.

The Union is not a disputed concept. It is a fact. It is a concrete thing. What is disputed is the justice and efficacy of that thing. Does this not, even at an intuitive level, seem like a more rational basis for a referendum? Does it not makes sense that, if there is to be a debate, then all the parties should be talking about the same thing? A referendum is, by definition, binary. So surely it is a basic prerequisite of a referendum that everybody should be campaign for or against the same thing.

The 2014 referendum campaign wasn’t so much shaped by the question as badly distorted by it. I accept that it almost certainly had to be that way given the circumstances that pertained 7 or 8 years ago. But the lesson is there to be learned. And circumstances have changed dramatically. We must not allow the new campaign to be distorted in the same way. And allowing agencies of the British state to determine the question is a sure way of ensuring that it is.



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Against the Union

Left Unionists are fond of saying that working people in Scotland have more in common with working people in England than they do with Scotland’s landowners and millionaires. Indeed they do. And the biggest thing they have in common is that the Union keeps both of them in their place.

Tommy Sheppard clearly gets it. How gratifying it is to at last see an SNP politician explicitly acknowledging that the Union is the problem and at least hinting that Scotland’s cause is not gaining independence but escaping a political union which serves none of the people of these islands well, but serves Scotland particularly ill. A political union formed in a different age entirely for the purposes of a ruling elite whose successors continue to be the sole beneficiaries.

The effect is rather spoiled when he says things like,

Will this next election be about independence? You betcha!

Maybe he hasn’t quite completely got it. Or maybe it’s just that old habits of thinking die hard. Let’s be glad of whatever we get. Even if Tommy is no more than half way to the realisation that we need to be campaigning against the Union rather than for independence, he’ll still be some distance ahead of the SNP leadership.

We must campaign against the Union because the Union denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty which is ours by absolute right. It really is as simple as that. It is from this denial of a fundamental democratic right that all of Scotland’s constitutional issues derive; along with most of our political, social and economic issues. Independence doesn’t resolve those issues. But even if you don’t accept that the Union is a major cause of Scotland’s problems, it is impossible to sensibly deny that it prevents us from addressing them as deemed appropriate by the people who actually live in Scotland.

It’s not even as if the Union is required. As I wrote during the 2014 referendum campaign,

Alex Salmond addressed this issue back in July 2013 when he spoke of the six unions that “govern our lives today in Scotland”. The political union of the UK; union with Europe through the EU; the currency union, the Union of the Crowns; a defence union based on Nato and a social union among the people of the UK.

The First Minister talked of these six unions in terms of their importance to Scotland, making the point that only the first of these – political union with the UK – works against Scotland’s interests. The others serve us reasonably well and are generally valued by the people of Scotland.

The political union between Scotland and England is not necessary to the maintenance of all those other unions. All that is needed is the consent of the people. So long as we consent to a currency union, we can have a currency union. It is the political union which forces on us a currency union which is not freely negotiated.

We can have a defence union. But, if democracy prevails, it must be a choice made on the basis of what the people of both Scotland and England consider best serves our mutual interests; not what serves the narrow interests of those who have inherited the status and power of the cliques the Union was designed to benefit.

Nowhere is the deleterious, anti-democratic impact of the Union more evident than in the matter of the “union with Europe through the EU”. Do I really have to elaborate? We are all painfully familiar with the fact that Scotland is being wrenched out of that union against the will of the Scottish people. The point I want to make here is that it would be perfectly possible for Scotland and England to share that union with Europe in the absence of a political union between our two nations. It is the grotesque asymmetry of the Union that destroys the possibility of a symmetrical arrangement whereby each nation makes its own choices.

The Union is the massive bluebottle in the ointment of harmonious coexistence and cooperation. It is the Union that prevents us developing a form of association between Scotland and England – and among all parts of these islands – which is fit for 21st century democracy rather than the conditions that existed over three centuries ago.

Kindly bear with me as I quote again, and at length, from that article published in November 2013 under the counter-intuitive title ‘Vote Yes to save the Union‘.

…if we get past the self-serving politicians of the British parties whose sole priority is the preservation of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which benefit them and their clients; if we address those who have been lured by the simplistic slogans of the anti-independence campaign and induce them to really think about what it is that they value about the Union, it is highly probable that they will come up with much the same answers that Alex Salmond did. They would surely place the highest value on the social union. And, while they might vary in the way they prioritise the others, there would still be general agreement with pro-independence campaigners on the list as a whole.

We all, nationalist and unionist alike, tend to value the same things about the Union, differing only in the emphasis that we put on each. Where we part company is principally, if not solely, on the matter of the political union of the UK. I would urge unionists to think long and hard about whether we do not have a common interest in that regard also.

I fervently hope Tommy Sheppard’s article signals a shift in emphasis away from campaigning for independence and towards campaigning against the Union. Because that is where we find common ground across the independence movement, and very possibly beyond.



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Options and priorities

As I have said on many occasions, the most valuable thing a political leader can have is a range of options. I have also acknowledged Nicola Sturgeon as a worthy pupil of one of the most astute politicians of our time – her erstwhile mentor, Alex Salmond. So I find it totally inexplicable both that she should discard options for taking forward the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence and that she should do so by choosing a route so fraught with potential pitfalls.

Unlike many other SNP members and a good number of my fellow Yes activists, I was perfectly content that the MacNeil/McEleny ‘Plan B’ resolution was rejected. I won’t go through all the reasons for this here, but they included the First Minister’s concern about distraction as well as recognition of the difficulties involved in making an election work as a substitute for a referendum. And the fact that a conference resolution isn’t needed for Plan B. The SNP can just stick in their manifesto for any election a declaration that a favourable outcome will be taken as a mandate to start negotiations. Who’s going to object? Apart from the usual suspects

I suggested then that Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny might have had more success putting forward an amendment to the resolution in the names of John Swinney and Maree Todd, which they have now done; although I don’t for one moment suppose my words had any bearing on that decision. Besides, I also advised that they should drop their ‘Plan B’ and instead submit an amendment advocating a greater sense of urgency from the Scottish Government and exhorting the First Minister to keep her options open on on the matter of process rather than insisting on rigid adherence to procedures established by the British government. Obviously, Angus and Chris have not heeded this part of my advice.

I take the view that getting Plan A right is vastly more important than having a backup plan. Not least because, should Plan A fail, it’s unlikely that there will be an opportunity to resort to Plan B. If the British establishment is aware of the potential of Plan B, and how could they not be, then they will have a countermeasure ready to be deployed.

Nicola Sturgeon is absolutely correct in sating that focus must be on her plan. Where I part company with her is that I insist this focus shout take the form of critical scrutiny, rather than obedient acceptance.

I suggest that the four SNP MPs now backing a Plan B route to independence would serve Scotland’s cause better were they to take the lead in questioning the efficacy and wisdom of following the Section 30 route.



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No more Septembers

There were a number of reasons I campaigned for a new independence referendum in September 2018. It was an available date four years on from the first referendum; a perfectly adequate interval for those who consider such things important. It allowed for a summer campaign, which give advantage to the campaign which can put boots on the ground. The Yes movement was strong and becoming more mature, And, of course, a September 2018 referendum was intended to preempt Brexit; avoiding the economic fallout and constitutional consequences of that greatest of British follies – so far.

As it turned out, Brexit was deferred for a year. This gave the Scottish Government a year’s grace in which to advance the independence cause. That year has been squandered in a manner which rather justifies my concerns. And it allowed more time for signs of wear to appear in the independence movement.

All of these things I wrote about in some detail and spoke about with some passion at the time. But there were also reasons I was more reluctant to talk about. I discerned potential weaknesses in the SNP, both as a party and as an administration, and developing vulnerabilities in the Yes movement. I was concerned that the SNP administration might become tired and the leadership complacent.

I was aware that the longer a party remains in office the more susceptible it is to accusations of having ‘run out of steam’, And how susceptible to ‘scandals’ – real or maliciously contrived.

I feared the party might suffer problems as it sought to adjust and adapt to its rapid growth after initial enthusiasm stopped distracting folk from the daunting task the SNP faced in reforming itself.

I worried that the Yes movement might fall foul of the factionalism which seems always to attend grass-roots progressive movements. (Is there any other kind?) I worried to that, lacking structures and leadership and being battered by disappointments and anti-climaxes, the Yes movement might succumb to ennui and frustration and just begin to fade away.

In short, I saw the possibility of the independence movement as a whole deteriorating. Not massively. But from a very a very high base to a more sustainable level. I reckoned the independence movement would be at its peak around September 2018. After that, I wasn’t so sure.

Let me be clear! I am not suggesting that the independence movement has broken down or that the SNP has lost its way or that the Yes movement has grown stale and fragile. Merely that things have changed. And the independence campaign must change accordingly. We are none of us what we were even as recently as five years ago. This is reflected in the organisation we form to fight our campaign, and so must also be taken due account of in the campaign itself.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the integrity of any political party or movement is factionalism. By which I mean, not the ordinary discussions and debates and differences of opinion that are inevitable when a number of individuals band together for a common purpose. That is usually healthy and helps the grouping to develop its ideas and arguments. What I am referring to is the kind of factionalism which involves small, or relatively small, cliques forming within the main grouping to pursue, under the ‘flag’; of the grouping, an agenda not agreed by the group as a whole. The key thing here being that the faction seeks to pursue this agenda while retaining and exploiting its identity as part of the larger grouping.

The faction is like a parasite, drawing on the facilities and influence of the organisation for its own ends. Like many parasites elsewhere in nature, the faction can be quite harmless. Its activities need not impact on the ‘parent’ grouping significantly. The organisation may be able to accommodate the faction’s agenda. In principle, at least, it is even possible that the faction might provide some benefit to the organisation.That they may have a symbiotic relationship. Although, by the time that happens it will probably have ceased to be thought of as a faction and will have been reabsorbed into the main grouping.

But factions can also be a powerfully disruptive and even destructive force. If the faction’s agenda, or the methods and rhetoric by which it pursues its aims, are sufficiently at odds with the agreed purpose of the main grouping, conflict will almost inevitably ensue. It is not uncommon that both (or all) sides in this conflict will claim rightful ownership of the organisation and its identity – as well as its assets. It can get nasty.

Another thing about factions is that they tend to proliferate. I won’t get into the whole business of prevailing and countervailing forces here. Suffice it to say that the more powerful the prevailing force, the more it will define the countervailing force. If an organisation develops one faction this implies that it is the kind of organisation (prevailing force) that is prone to developing factions (countervailing forces) and so it is likely that it will develop more factions. It’s very much like playground ‘gangs’ or the way cliques form in the workplace. The same processes are in play. The consequences can be trivial, or not.

The reason I wanted the new referendum in 2018 was that I wanted to get it done before the Yes movement succumbed to the factionalism which I saw in its future. I am surprised and delighted to realise that I may have been overly pessimistic about this. Apart from the usual self-righteous radical factions that nobody takes too seriously, the Yes movement has not developed anything like the proliferation of factions that might have been expected of such a huge and diverse grouping. This is a testament to the power of the common objective which binds the entire grass-roots independence movement.

We would be wise, however, never to lose sight of the fact that our movement is vulnerable to ‘splits’. The fact that it hasn’t done so to any consequent degree up until now is something to celebrate. But we should remain vigilant. The tendency to factionalism is still there within the Yes movement. And, even where the factions themselves are harmless or helpful, their tendency to proliferate may be problematic.

Groups! We’ve all seen the proliferation of Yes groups over the last seven years or so. We have tended to think of this as a good thing. And, mostly, it is. But it often happens that groups are competing for the same constituency. And this can frequently be for no better reason than that somebody has thought of a better name for the group. So they set up their own.

We see it also with things like hashtags. No sooner does someone come up with a hashtag pertinent to the independence cause than somebody else decides they can ‘improve’ it. A seemingly trivial thing. But it is a symptom of a much bigger issue. One of the major weaknesses in the 2014 Yes campaign was the lack of a single, coherent message. In a single-issue political campaign, it is essential that everybody involved should have the same objective. And that they should be able to describe that that objective in a consistent manner. There was never an undisputed concept of independence. And a campaign cannot be effective if it is based on a disputed concept. Bear this in mind when you hear talk of finding or concocting a ‘better’ independence message. The 2014 campaign was badly weakened by so many people trying to find that magical form of words that would convey the wonders of being just an ordinary nation.

The Yes movement is excellent because it makes us all activists. But there is a pervasive notion that it has made us all experts. Nobody can come up with any suggestion without a chorus of people saying, “I’ll just polish that for you.” With the result that we never have a settled campaign message, or voice, or strategy. We have a proliferation of the things. Which, in campaigning terms, is effectively the same as having none.

Now, we have a proposal for a tactical voting plot which is supposed to defeat the d’Hondt system and ensure a pro-independence majority. I have expressed concerns about this proposal in the face of levels of enthusiasm which are tending to overwhelm reasoned evaluation of the plan. An additional worry is that it may prompt the kind of proliferation that is a common feature of factionalism. Once one person or group has a great idea for ‘gaming’ the voting system, what’s the betting others will think they can improve on it.

The ‘Wings Party’ proposal is critically dependent on a number of factors. Not the least of these is that it it be ‘the only game in town’. But, given our experience in other areas, what are the chances of that? And it’s no good pleading that it would be stupid to have two or more independence-only list parties.That would only prompt a dispute about which of the ‘factions’ was most stupid.

I don’t know this would happen. Not in the same way as I know that the sun will rise in the east, But I do know that what the independence movement needs most urgently is a coming together. We must resist factionalism. We must halt the proliferation of individual mini-campaigns and pull the whole movement together behind a single, concentrated effort.

That effort has to start long before the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. By encouraging the idea that it is okay to leave things until the 2021 election, the ‘Wings Party’ proposal, and all the little cousins it may engender, risks blinding people to the more immediate and lethal threat to the very elections on which they want us to depend. The threat to all of Scotland’s democratic institutions.

I won’t be discussing the ‘Wings Party’ again if I can possibly avoid it. I won’t be thinking on a time-scale that stretches all the way to 2021. I want to get back to matters which are pertinent right now – such as the effort to persuade the Scottish Government of the need for bold, decisive, urgent action and the folly of going down the Section 30 route. There’s time enough to think about the 2021 election when we can be sure there will still be a Scottish Parliament in 2021.

A great opportunity was missed in September 2018. We look like missing the opportunity of September 2019. There may be no more Septembers.



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