The pro-independence faction of the SNP

“Simply astonishing. And we’re on 54% for Holyrood. Often see people on here saying we’re finished or they’re leaving the party. The Scottish people seem to like what we’re doing.” – Pete Wishart

Poor Pete! He just doesn’t get it. Maybe if he actually listened to some of the people who are “saying we’re finished or they’re leaving the party” he’d know that it has nothing to do with the SNP’s performance as an administration. As it is, he evidently hasn’t a clue why so many members are in despair at or angry with the party. More disturbingly, perhaps, he appears not to care. So long as the SNP is doing well in the polls, all is right with Pete’s wee world.

More troubling still is the fact that this disdain for what is rapidly becoming the pro-independence wing of the nominally pro-independence party extends all the way to the top. The higher echelons of the party have come to define success as being ahead in the polls and/or winning elections. Progressing the cause of independence has ceased to be a measure of success. Those who continue to consider it the principle measure of success are now seen as an impediment to ‘real’ success of the kind that delights Pete Wishart.

Of course, winning elections is important – as a means to an end. Being ahead in the polls is at least pleasing – to the extent that it suggests the means are being secured and the end made more certain. It’s not that the pro-independence wing of the SNP grudges the party its success by other measures. We just want the constitutional issue restored to due prominence.

As far as it’s possible to tell from his comments, Pete Wishart is unaware of this. He is oblivious to the concerns of the pro-independence portion of the membership because he has consistently and stubbornly refused to listen to those concerns. He has flatly refused to answer questions, even from his own constituents, and instantly blocks anyone who expresses the smallest doubt about his perspective or the wisdom of the party leadership.

You would think that members threatening to quit the party would be a matter of grave concern to the SNP hierarchy. But the reality is that the members who remain focused on the restoration of Scotland’s independence are viewed by the party leadership and senior management as at best a bit of a nuisance and even as a serious embarrassment. I have previously defended Wishart and his colleagues against charges that they were only interested in saving their seats. They make it increasingly difficult.

And please don’t bring up Covid-19. The situation I describe has developed over a period of around five years and was well established long before the current public health crisis. It didn’t happen overnight. But we have now reached a situation where some of the most influential people in the SNP are looking at the polls and attributing the party’s performance to the fact that the constitutional issue is being sidelined. And along with it those who deem Scotland’s cause to be of primary importance.

There we have the third measure by which the SNP leadership and management gauge their success . Along with winning elections and staying ahead in the polls, success is measured by how effectively they close down discussion of the constitutional issue and sideline the party’s growing pro-independence faction.



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Scotland’s cause needs a leader

If you’re going to jump on a bandwagon then do it with style. Kevin McKenna shows how with his column in The National. I am not being derogatory at all when I say this. The ‘bandwagon’ idiom suggests only that someone has come late to an issue or cause. It need say nothing condemnatory about their motives for doing so. I don’t keep track of Mr McKenna’s mood swings. His evident anger at the SNP may not be new. What matters is that it is evidently real. What matters is that it is fully justified.

Kevin McKenna is jumping on a bandwagon at least in the sense that he is adding his voice to a growing clamour of protest directed not at the ‘auld enemy’ of the British establishment but at the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. Nothing that he says in his column has not been said by others, including myself. But he says it well enough that it sounds fresh. I congratulate and commend him for this.

Some would contend that there is already a Cummings-like figure in the SNP. Or at least a Cummings-like force. Our lizard brains respond most predictably and vehemently to an identifiable ‘enemy’. The demonisation of and individual is a direct appeal to our basest instincts. Which helps to explain the personality politics that we have grown inured to. The reality is, as Kevin McKenna suggests, that true personalities in politics are uncommon whereas forces are ubiquitous. Those forces can be likened to the eddies in the flow of a river. Little eddies want to become the currents which direct the flow. Minor personalities seek the eddies which have potential to become currents. A few have the skill to make it appear that they are the force pushing the current rather than the flotsam riding on it. Fewer still can actually manage and manipulate the tides of public affairs; and then on in ways that are small and short-lived on the grand scale of history.

I have previously pointed out that it is a mistake to regard Boris Johnson as an aberration. Rather, we should think of him as the inevitable product of a political system lost to corruption. Johnson would not be where he is had there not been a tide flowing within the British ruling elites such as to carry him there. Similarly, Dominic Cummings would not have gained the influence he evidently wields had he not been astute enough to see the way the wind was blowing, to mix my fluid mechanics metaphors slightly.

Is such a wind blowing through the SNP? Perhaps! Is there someone who can both take advantage of the current and aid its flow by removing obstacles? Maybe! The Yes movement will decide. Only party members can sort out the cliques and cabals within the SNP. Like it or not, they will require a leader in order to do so. That’s just the way politics works. You won’t change that by snootily opting out, But it is the Yes movement which will decide. The relationship between the two – party and movement – is symbiotic. As is common with such relationships, either can seem like parasite or host depending on how you look at it. In reality, it doesn’t matter which is which. They need each other. Neither is likely to cease to exist without the other. But neither can flourish and prosper unless they work together.

Kevin McKenna’s column will resonate with many people across Scotland this morning. It will resonate with more people this evening. and more still tomorrow. A tide is running through both the SNP and the wider independence movement. The feeling is becoming ever more general that something has to change. Something is needed that will take both movement and party and from them mould a campaign. A campaign which does not pause any more than does the flow of politics or the tides of history. A campaign dedicated to a cause.

A passage from Kevin McKenna’s article struck a chord with me.

Cummings is a formidable political operator who is doing for Boris Johnson what Alastair Campbell did for Tony Blair: protect him; knife his enemies; put the civil service back in its box, and maintain the integrity of the project.

The project! That is the thing. Boris Johnson’s project is Boris Johnson’s advancement. There are signs that he considers that project complete and has grown bored with it. (There are indication that he may want to play at being a father for a while. One can only pity the child if Boris Johnson brings to parenting the same ‘attributes’ as have been his gift to politics.) If there is a next stage in that advancement it is his further elevation – whether this be the award of a Dead Stoat Clock or the rewards accruing to an ‘elder statesman’ (see Tony Blair) – he can be confident that the corrupt British political system will take care of that for him. That’s both cause and symptom of the corruption.

Dominic Cummings has prospered by pairing his project with Johnson’s. He may have a project of his own but if he has it is one which is served by being subsumed into the one that occupies his master.

Neither has a cause. Neither is working towards a greater goal. Both Johnson and Cummings think only of the next phase of the project. The next obstacle to be removed from Boris Johnson’s path. The next political foe to be brought down. The next bit of power to be added to the fortifications of power protecting the power they already have. The difference between them is that Cumnmings approaches the project with a full set of very sharp intellectual tools while Johnson relies on some quality or capacity which I must confess remains a complete mystery to me. They have no cause. The reality they seek to create is whatever reality happen to be once the current stage of the project is finished. There is no master plan. There is nothing at the end of their rainbow. They have no rainbow.

Is this, as Kevin McKenna suggests, the kind of person (or force) that the SNP needs? My finer feelings say no! But my political instincts say yes! In this instance, head wins out over heart. Both the SNP and the Yes movement need an injection of cold, calculating political pragmatism. They both need the Cummings-like figure or force that McKenna describes. With one very important difference. This force must be deployed in the service, not of the party or the movement but the cause. Scotland’s cause! We have a cause where they have only a project. To the extent that we have a project that project has a plan and an objective. A greater goal.

What Scotland needs is someone who knows the difference between a movement and a party and a project and a campaign. Someone who understands the relationships between and among all these. Someone who possesses the technical skills, political acumen and personal qualities needed to draw all these strands together and make them work for Scotland’s cause. The cause of restoring Scotland’s independence.

Scotland’s cause needs a leader.



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Us or them!

Angus Brendan MacNeil has called on Nicola Sturgeon to restart the independence campaign. It will come as a surprise to precisely no-one that I am in total agreement with him on this. The independence campaign should never have been stopped. In fact, it hasn’t been stopped. Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist order was never going to deter anyone who was truly committed to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Faced with an unprecedented public health crisis, their first wasn’t that all campaigning must stop. Their first thought was about how the campaign could be kept going in spite of the lockdown restrictions. They never imagined that campaigning necessarily involved the kind of interpersonal contact that was rendered impossible by an infectious virus in the population. They had never considered campaigning to be entirely and exclusively about leafleting and canvassing and street stalls and public meetings and social events. They realised immediately that the required response to Covid-19 incidentally created ideal conditions in which to develop the online campaign.

Nobody expected Nicola Sturgeon to be at the forefront of this campaign, or even to be a visible presence. Quite literally everybody knew and was happy to acknowledge that, as First Minister, she must focus all her attention on dealing with the challenges of a massive public health crisis. But the more intellectually acute among us also recognised that politics doesn’t stop for anything. Because everything is politics. There is no aspect of life which is completely detached from politics of one kind or another or at one level or another. While Nicola Sturgeon seemed to suppose that the constitutional issue is an exception, others realised that there are no exceptions to the fact that everything is political, only things that are excluded from our political discourse for purposes that are always malign and never acceptable in a democracy.

It takes a very special kind of blinkered idiocy to imagine that the coronavirus crisis has nothing to do with politics. And an unimaginable level of stupidity to fail to recognise the relevance of constitutional politics. One of the main issues is the question of where and how and by whom decisions are taken. Here is just one example.

Perhaps, the most surprising aspect of the British COVID crisis is that the Scottish Government has allowed its strategy and the operations to be directed by Westminster, which has taken a London-centric approach to the epidemic and with respect to the lock down. 

Coronavirus Crisis: Underfunding, Restructuring, Privatisation and Fragmentation at the Heart of the Crisis in Holyrood and Westminster

This has to be political because the matter of who decides is the very essence of constitutional politics. Angus MacNeil gets it. Like myself and increasing numbers of other, Angus is no doubt wondering how the developing debate around a lockdown exit strategy and what follows can sensibly exclude the constitutional issue. How can we talk about how different things will be without reference to the question of who decides what this difference will be? How can we discuss shaping a new normal without considering the forces that will be doing the shaping?

I think our opponents will tell us its bad taste because they don’t want us to do it. The people themselves are receptive to argument. No amount of telling Jackson Carlaw it’s in bad taste to go shouting about the Union will stop Jackson Carlaw go shouting about the Union.

I have previously commented on the curious manner in which the constitutional issue is declared a ‘special case’.

And it is particularly the constitutional issue that is the matter we are supposed to put entirely from our minds. Nobody suggests that the coronavirus crisis obviates the climate crisis. Nobody has suggested that the conflict in Syria has ceased to be of any importance because only the coronavirus crisis can be important. The public health crisis certainly hasn’t put a stop to the British political elite’s constitutional machinations. If anything, the malignant child-clown in Downing Street is accelerating its plans and intensifying its efforts to forcibly mould these islands into a new state made in the image of the imagined ‘Great Britain’ of a grotesquely mythologised past. Only in Scotland are we expected – required – to abandon our aspirations for something better than Boris Johnson’s tawdry blend of Little England and Greater England where every day is a crossover between Dad’s Army and Terry & June. Don’t you ever ask yourself why?

Three crises

I am not saying that Nicola Sturgeon is stupid. She had reasons for issuing that ‘cease and desist’ command to the party and the Yes movement. I’m simply saying they were not good reasons. Her ‘cease and desist’ order was neither necessary nor sufficient. There was no need for it. And it was never going to work. It is puzzling that an individual who exhibits such superb leadership skills in her handling of the Covid-19 crisis can be so politically inept in other areas. It’s as if the Nicola Sturgeon who is First Minister and the Nicola Sturgeon who is the de facto figurehead of the independence campaign are two very different people. Or maybe just one person better able to cope with one role than the other.

I welcome Angus MacNeil’s intervention. I think it is both needed and timely. I also think it is futile – at least in terms of his headline demand. Nicola Sturgeon isn’t about to interrupt one of her daily media briefings to declare the independence campaign on again. I strongly suspect that Angus is well aware of this. His statement was framed to attract media attention, but he’s actually talking to us – the Yes movement. He is making the point that politics hasn’t stopped. He is stating the direct an inevitable connection between the Covid response and the constitutional issue. He is putting that connection out for debate. And he is making it clear that not only is there no good reason to silence that debate, there is very good reason for insisting on it.

It is more than half a century since, on winning the Hamilton by-election, Winnie Ewing declared “Stop the world! Scotland wants to get on!”. Rousing words which had the desired effect at the time. We’ve moved on a bit since then. Well, some of us have. Some of us have realised that the world isn’t going to stop for us any more than politics will stop because of a global pandemic. If we still want to “get on” then we have to keep up. We have to match the speed at which the world moves. If we don’t, then the world moves on leaving us where we are. Similarly, if we opt out of any aspect of the political process it won’t oblige us by stopping until we feel like rejoining. If independence activists aren’t involved in and influencing the debate about Scotland’s future then all we are doing is allowing others to decide that future for us. Do we really want to put Scotland’s future in the hands of people like Alister ‘Union’ Jack?



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A little misunderstanding

Will we do this at the same time in Scotland as the rest of the UK? That will depend on what the evidence tells us. It’s not a point about constitutional ideology either way.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP

I worry when I hear Nicola Sturgeon say things like this. I worry a lot. The inescapable impression is that she hasn’t grasped the essence of constitutional politics. How can anyone sensibly claim that “constitutional ideology” has nothing to do with the ability to act independently according to a distinct interpretation of evidence? Effective political power is precisely what constitutional ideology is all about.

Scotland’s civic nationalist ideology holds that the power to act as the First Minister says she intends should rest with the government that is democratically elected by the people of Scotland. British Nationalist ideology insists that ultimate power rests with a British government and a British Parliament which no democratic legitimacy in Scotland. Scottish nationalist ideology gives primacy to democratic principles. British Nationalist ideology prioritises the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state over everything else – including democracy, justice and the well-being of people throughout the UK.

Our First Minister can only have the power she claims to the extent that Scottish nationalist ideology prevails. Yet she appears to believe that the efficacy of her office and her Government is “not a point about constitutional ideology”. My sense – and it can be no more than that – is that she regards Scotland’s constitutional status as a matter of party policy like any other. Which implies that policy can change. That a party’s stance on the question of Scotland’s constitutional status can be modified if circumstances justify it. Since she is leader of the SNP, the implications are worthy of consideration.

Constitutional ideology is not at all like any other other area of politics. Constitutional politics both overarches and underpins all of a nation’s politics. Constitutional politics is about the power to decide. A constitutional ideology is position on what is the ultimate source of legitimate political authority. Democrats, including Scottish nationalists, take the position that the people are the ultimate source of legitimate political authority. That sovereignty resides with the people. That only the people can therefore bestow legitimacy on effective political power.

British Nationalism is anti-democratic in that, even while paying lip service, it denies popular sovereignty insisting rather that the ultimate source of legitimate political power is the divinely ordained monarch – or “the Crown in Parliament”.

It is only possible to maintain that Scotland’s constitutional status is not a point of constitutional ideology if one reduces the fundamental democratic principle of popular sovereignty to a matter of party policy. There can be no equivalence between democratic and anti-democratic ideologies. Democracy can accommodate diverse positions on matters such as the operation of the tax/benefit system and education and transport and social welfare and everything else. Democracy cannot accommodate anti-democracy. Fundamental democratic principles must not be compromised for the sake of political expediency. Questions of sovereignty are not rightfully the province of party policy.

Whether we do anything in a distinctive way informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people is by definition a “point about constitutional ideology”. It is deeply disturbing that Scotland should be labouring under a political leadership which denies this.



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Business as usual?

I don’t think it follows that the Scottish Government can simply assume that the people of Scotland are all going to fall in behind them when it comes to an election where we’re debating the future of Scotland after that.

Jacskon Carlaw

If Jackson Carlaw had stopped talking at that point then he would have looked considerably less pathetic. To say that no political party can take the voters for granted is merely to state the obvious. Although it does no harm for politicians to be reminded of this. Few things serve democracy so well as the shoogly peg.

But, of course, Carlaw couldn’t leave it there. He had to strut his stuff as Scotland’s leading British Nationalist. He had to establish his credentials as the figurehead of the British Nationalist cause in Scotland. He had to respond to the urging of his insecurity. And so he went on to do exactly what he was warning others against. He makes sweeping and simplistic assumptions about voters’ motivations.

I am not about to fall into the same error. But I strongly suspect that the people of Scotland may be setting their sights rather higher than Carlaw can possibly be comfortable with. I seriously doubt if, having been told that the Covid-19 pandemic changes everything, they are going to settle for some minor tweaks and cosmetic changes that leave the old order intact.

Carlaw’s words should serve as a warning to us. As Scotland emerges from the pandemic the British propaganda machine will be devoted to persuading us yet again that we should settle for less than we might have. That we should be less than we might be. That we should once again shy away from an opportunity to break the structures of power, privilege and patronage which advantage the few at incalculable cost to the many.

Decide now how you intend to respond to the efforts of Carlaw and his ilk to drag us back to “business as usual”.



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Unnecessary words and rightful anger

The decision by the Voices for Scotland board to “pause” their campaign during the Covid-19 crisis has served only to reignite my anger at Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist order to the SNP membership and the Yes movement. It is a decision which is disappointing if not deplorable. It is a choice which would almost certainly been very different had our First Minister not been so inadequate and inept in her role as de facto leader of the independence campaign. She has an army of apologists, of course. None of whom seem to understand how badly she has betrayed Scotland’s cause. Precious few who are prepared to listen to any criticism of someone who, I regret to say, is at the centre of what looks more and more like a cult of personality. I am not a member of that cult. I’m just angry.

Voices for Scotland (VfS) is, as you may know, one of the brands used by the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) in its ongoing fund-raising campaign to finance various initiatives such as the launch of VfS. Initiatives which in one of those strange quirks of fate that make life such a wild ride have tended to coincide with the SNP administration’s need for the launch of some new initiative to divert attention from its own lack of any initiative in taking forward the independence project. That they have “paused” their campaigning – although not, apparently, their fundraising – probably isn’t the most massive misfortune to befall the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. Nor is their unquestioning compliance with Nicola Sturgeon’s order to stop all campaigning the most shocking thing to happen in Scottish politics of late. Although the order itself might well qualify for that title.

SIC has always been one of those organisations or groups by which the SNP and the Scottish Government have kept the Yes movement at arms length. That is its main purpose. The SIC sits between the SNP and the Yes movement to provide the appearance of connection while actually serving as a barrier/buffer. That it has stopped doing what it was that it had been doing won’t affect the independence campaign at all. The fact that it has been encouraged to abandon whatever part it was playing in that campaign by Nicola Sturgeon is the real scandal here. That is what people should be angry about.

To understand the politics of this and why it should make you angry you have to forget about Covid-19. The pandemic has nothing to do with it. It is marginally and tangentially relevant at best. The political situation was in train long before the virus came on the scene. It has played a role. But it was never essential to the way things were playing out. If it hadn’t been Covid-19 it would have been something else. The virus was written into the script while shooting was in progress because the plot required a plausible enabler for one of the main characters. It may seem strange to think of it in this way but, as far as this episode of the Scottish politics show is concerned, Covid-19 just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

When Covid-19 arrived on set the independence project was already at a standstill. At least, I like to think it was at a standstill. Being stalled would have been a great improvement given that the project had mostly been going backwards since 2014. The moment Nicola Sturgeon committed wholly and irrevocably to the Section 30 process, the project was doomed. Committing to the Section 30 process was probably the surest way of killing the independence project stone dead. It could not possibly lead to a new referendum. It was never going to work. It was always obvious that it was never going to work. Not even the people who supported it could explain how it might work. The people responsible for committing to it, including Nicola Sturgeon, steadfastly refused to answer any questions about the Section 30 process. They totally ignored those who expressed concerns about it other than to berate and belittle them. At no time did any of them ever address any of those concerns. Every effort was made to close down any discussion of the matter.

Why did Nicola Sturgeon commit to the Section 30 process? Was she unaware of the fact that it was both a dead end and a trap? That seems unlikely. She is not stupid. And there was nothing unclear or uncertain about the nature of the Section 30 process. The huge dead-end signs and the flashing neon arrows with the word TRAP were there as clues. And if that wasn’t enough to mark it as a very bad choice indeed then there was the fact that the British political elite had dubbed it the ‘gold standard’. Nicola Sturgeon must have known what she was getting into. What she was getting us into. What she was getting Scotland into. So, why?

These things are rarely amenable to simple explanation. When it comes to human behaviour and motivation, any explanation that is simple enough to be described in words probably doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the matter. We cannot know what was going on in Nicola Sturgeon’s mind. But we can deduce some of what must have had an influence on her thinking. We must assume, for example, that independence was a consideration. But it wouldn’t be the only one. Two other considerations come immediately to my mind. Which suggests they may very well have occurred to Nicola Sturgeon as well.

She would surely have to take account of the SNP’s electoral fortunes. She’s leader of the party. The party must always be a consideration. And it would be extraordinary to the point of freakishness had she not given some thought to her own reputation and political career. These and doubtless numerous other factors would all be fed into the calculation which resulted in the decision to commit to the Section 30 process. My own sense of the thing is that there was a powerful conflict between what was best for the independence project and what best served Sturgeon’s personal ambitions. The interests of the party weren’t decisive. The SNP’s electoral position was unusually secure. Pretty much any choice she made could be argued to be either good or bad in terms of the party’s electoral chances.

My suspicion is that the dilemma was resolved by Nicola Sturgeon persuading herself and/or allowing herself to be persuaded that the Section 30 process might work. All the talk of Boris Johnson’s position be “unsustainable” sounded ludicrous to those of us who were watching him sustain it with consummate ease and nary a hint of being affected by the “pressure” which was supposed to force him to relent. The constant repetition of the “untenable” and “unsustainable” mantra by a battery of SNP big guns never sounded convincing. But it did sound utterly convinced. They believed it because the alternative was to go against Nicola Sturgeon. And that was unthinkable. Almost literally unthinkable.

Of course, it was going to be increasingly difficult to maintain the conviction in the face of unfolding non-events. As the promised collapse of the British state’s resistance to democracy neither happened nor looked remotely likely so it became increasingly problematic to maintain the insistence that it would – eventually. Although nobody could ever say why it might. Nobody could ever explain what it was costing Boris Johnson to say no as often and as long as was required. More and more voices were raised expressing concerns. More and more people were asking awkward questions. Nicola Sturgeon had no answers. She had no plan. She had no route mapped because there were no more options. No way out. She needed something that would eclipse the constitutional issue. She needed somewhere to put the blame for the project having totally stalled rather than have it all lying on her own shoulders.

Along came Covid-19!

Whatever else it is -and we all know what else it is well enough that we don’t need pompous, self-righteous reminders – the pandemic was just what Nicola Sturgeon needed. Politicians exploit situations. Whether you approve or not, it’s what happens. Deal with it!

Nicola Sturgeon had her justification for setting aside the independence project. And it was a good one. Nobody could possibly blame her for making the pandemic the Scottish Government’s main priority. Nobody does blame her for making the pandemic her first priority. I certainly don’t. I’m not stupid. I know full well that she had no choice in the matter. That the pandemic also happened to be politically convenient is entirely incidental. But for Covid-19 she would have had to find another excuse. I don’t doubt that she would. I can’t imagine that it would be better than the one fate dropped in her lap.

Let me repeat this because it is something Nicola Sturgeon’s apologists have great difficulty comprehending. A difficulty which, it must be said, is almost as convenient for their argument as Covid-19 is for Nicola Sturgeon’s political credibility. It is not the fact that in her role as First Minister she put the constitutional issue aside which I find objectionable. It was the right thing to do. What angers me is that she compounded her catastrophic handling of the constitutional issue by issuing that cease and desist order in her role as leader of the SNP.

In part, I was angered by the presumptuousness of her assuming command of the Yes movement. Having utterly failed/refused to provide the leadership the Yes movement craved and required to progress the independence campaign, she had the impertinence to appoint herself leader for the purpose of ordering a halt to the campaign. That rankles!

But what really angers me is that it was totally unnecessary. She didn’t have to say anything at all about the independence campaign. It would have been very much better if she had simply shut up about it. After all, she had ‘more important’ things to occupy her mind. Why was she talking about the independence campaign? Let Jackson Carlaw raise the subject. Let him provide the First Minister with another opportunity to slap him down for obsessing about independence at a time like this. But no! She had to issue a statement which included the following.

Obviously for our movement, that means suspending all campaigning – cancelling any planned social events and meetings must only be held if using remote technologies. [emphasis added]

This was contained in an email sent to SNP members but which was also made public. It is important to note that the email bears not only the SNP logo but the YES logo as well. The clear implication is that she is addressing the entire independence movement. That she is telling us all to stop any and all campaign activity. Why?

My suspicion is that she just got carried away with the role she was playing – that of ‘leader in time of crisis’. A role which was, of course, forced on her by circumstances. But a role that she could play as she sees fit. At least as much as she was concerned to look competent to the electorate in Scotland, she wanted to look good far a much wider audience. She was behaving as she thought was expected of her according to a model which owed at least as much to West Wing as to the realities of Scottish politics. When this political posing combined with her relief at having escaped the bind she had got herself into with the constitutional issue she overplayed her role. Had she been wise, or well-advised, she would have said nothing whatever about the independence campaign. But she just couldn’t help herself.

The political inadvisability of Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist letter to activists should be obvious to anyone who understands political communication. By issuing that instruction; by effectively declaring herself to be in charge of the entire independence movement, she has taken responsibility for the entire independence movement. She has made herself answerable for everything done by anyone in the movement. The very situation she had been so assiduously avoiding for years. That order to suspend all campaigning will come back to bite her in lots of different ways. It was a stupid thing to do. And that is what makes me angry.

It was also another entry in the catalogue of missed opportunities that Nicola Sturgeon has built up since 2014. Anyone who gives it even a passing thought must recognise that the lockdown presents the ideal conditions for online campaigning. Which happens to be one of the great strengths of the Yes movement. Instead of taking advantage of the fact that more people are accessing material online for longer, Nicola Sturgeon would have thousands of very capable activists sitting idle. We’re not all occupied dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, very few of us are. As few as possible. That’s what lockdown means. Thousands of Yes activists suddenly have more time on their hands than they know what to do with.

Groups like Voices for Scotland should be taking advantage of this situation. The entire Yes movement should be adapting to the new reality. We don’t have to be thinking about Covid-19 every minute of every day. Every one of us with a device and a connection could be contributing to the most massive organically coordinated online campaign ever known. If Nicola Sturgeon had just said nothing about the independence campaign this would almost certainly have happened. I have every right to be angry.



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Just the ticket

It goes without saying that the current public health crisis must be the Scottish Government’s first priority at the moment. But Chris McEleny is correct to point out that “there are still other major issues facing the SNP and Scotland”. Perhaps more importantly, he reminds us – all of us – that however much some might wish it, these issues are not going to simply evaporate while the government and the media are distracted by more immediately newsworthy matters. The coronavirus outbreak is undoubtedly a genuine problem. But don’t imagine for one minute that politicians around the world weren’t thinking of ways to exploit it before they started thinking of ways to deal with it. Scotland NOT excluded.

As obvious as the fact that the coronavirus outbreak must preoccupy the Scottish Government for the next several months is the fact that the British parties squatting in our Parliament together with their political masters in London will be eagerly looking for ways of turning the situation into a cudgel with which to pummel the SNP administration and the independence movement. The British state’s propaganda machine doesn’t stop just because people are falling ill and dying. It has no heart. It has no conscience. Expect no let-up in the relentless campaign of smear and calumny targeting NHS Scotland. To the slobbering hyenas of the British media, the additional burden on our health services means only new openings for attack. An overburdened system is a vulnerable system. The pack has scented prey.

Boris Johnson’s regime will be glad of attention being diverted from the Brexit shambles and the trade deal negotiations which have been rapidly descending to the same level of grim farce as has characterised the rest of the Mad Brexiteers’ asinine adventure. It is entirely possible, too, that the coronavirus will provide Johnson with a fine excuse for going back on his word not to seek another extension. Who could condemn him if he pleads inability to cope with concurrent cock-ups? He’s barely human, after all.

It is not only in Downing Street where the worry of dealing with a major public health threat will be laced with a vein of relief. I don’t for a moment suppose that Nicola Sturgeon will dwell on the fact, but fact it remains that the coronavirus outbreak is politically very convenient. It is perfectly possible for something to be both a tragedy and blessing, of sorts. It’s an ill wind that can’t be turned to some political advantage. Were unfolding events not all too regrettably real but following the script of some Netflix drama, one would be forgiven for thinking the pandemic too timely to be true. Fate can be cruel and/or kind. But very rarely both in such accommodating conjunction.

The health crisis comes at a time when the SNP, both as a party and as the administration, was facing increasing disquiet about its approach to the constitutional issue. None will admit it, but many in the party’s upper echelons will be discreetly heaving a sigh of relief that they will not now be required to face delegates any time in the near future. A chicken-wire screen in front of the stage is one movie cliche that conference managers will gladly eschew.

There will be some relief also that public health precautions now preclude other large gatherings at which criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ may have been voiced along with ever more insistent calls for a rethink. Or a ‘Plan B’, as Chris McEleny might say. But the disquiet and discontent don’t go away just because there’s a public health crisis. The constitutional is all-pervasive and all-encompassing. It is overarching and underlying. It is more than three centuries old and only becomes more urgent as time passes. Injustice does not diminish with time. The longer it persists, the more corrosive it becomes. Nor is it diminished by intervening events – no matter how serious these may be. The coronavirus tragedy will not be the first to be outlasted by the imperative of restoring constitutional normality to Scotland.

There is absolutely no reason why the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence might not or should continue by whatever means are left to us and by whoever is not otherwise occupied dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. We can expect a screeching chorus of “Now is not the time!” from the BritNat harpies. We should be thoroughly inured to their self-serving faux outrage by now. There is never a time when it is not appropriate to act in defence of democracy and for the ends of justice.

The Yes movement may not be able to march. Yes groups may be obliged to cancel planned events. SNP branch and constituency meetings will fall victim to essential restrictions on gathering of any size. But this means only that we are freed to apply our energies elsewhere. There is much that can still be done online, for example. It may be a good time to start your own blog. Or to devote more time to reading and sharing existing material in support of Scotland’s cause. The web provides us with unparalleled facilities for communicating and collaborating on all manner of projects. Writing letters to newspapers may be something you’ve always intended to do but never found time.

Email still works fine. Why not let SNP MSPs and MPs know how you feel about the fact that the independence project has stalled – and not because of the pandemic! Tell them of your concerns. Ask them questions. And when answers aren’t forthcoming, ask again!

It would be all too easy for this latest setback to become a cause for despondency and despair, coming as it does on top of the disappointments and frustrations of the past five years. We must avoid this. We must use this time. If politicians can exploit such situations, so can we. We just need to use our imaginations, our skills and the networks built by the Yes movement.

As some of you may have suspected, all of this has been leading up to my own suggestion as to what the Yes movement and SNP members could be doing over the coming weeks. Regular readers will be aware that I had previously envisaged Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP providing the leadership that the Yes movement requires in order to become an effective machine for fighting our political campaign. This has not happened. Let’s say no more at this juncture than that the necessary leadership has not been forthcoming. My own ‘Plan B’ is that the leadership should come from within the Yes movement. The question which remained to be answered concerned the practicalities. How would it be done? I believe I may have the answer to that question.

I had been thinking that building a campaign with the necessary unity, focus and discipline would require a new organisation born out of or hived off from the Yes movement. The aims of the organisation would be threefold –

  • to compel the Scottish Government to take a more assertive approach to the constitutional issue
  • to facilitate by any means necessary the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination
  • to devise a strategy to force constitutional reform built on the twin aspirations to build a better nation and end the injustice of the Union.

It has been brought to my attention, however, that a suitable organisation may already exist in the form of the SNP Common Weal Group. The stated aims of this group are, I am persuaded, sufficiently in accord with the aims set out above as to make it a suitable candidate for transformation into the kind of pressure group and campaigning organisation that is required if Scotland’s cause is to progress. I would urge everyone in the SNP and the Yes movement to at least consider how they might contribute to this transformation.

In the short-term, my hope is that this article might spark a more focused debate about taking the independence campaign out of the doldrums. In the longer-term… well… there is no longer-term. I am convinced that if the grassroots does not seize the initiative – seize it hard and seize it quickly – then the project to restore Scotland’s independence may suffer setbacks from which it will not easily or soon recover.



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