Alternative parties?

If Nicola Sturgeon was doing her job properly there would be no talk of alternative pro-independence parties. But if the ‘People’s Alliance’ or any other alternative party wants my support they will have to convince me of three things – (a) that they really can game the voting system; (b) that they can do so without adversely affecting the SNP vote, and (c) that, if elected, they will have no policy conflicts with the SNP. That’s not going to be an easy task.

The voting system cannot be gamed. It’s impossible. By which I mean that the chances of being able to game the system are so remote as to be unworthy of serious consideration.

Any alternative pro-independence party is bound to impact on the SNP vote. It cannot be avoided when both parties are targetting the same voters. The People’s Alliance can give all the assurances they like. But the parliamentary arithmetic is such that even the slight possibility of even a small negative effect becomes a major gamble.

Assuming that the People’s Alliance is planning on standing human beings as candidates, it’s hard to imagine them having no opinions on anything other than the constitutional issue. It’s hard enough to imagine them agreeing with the SNP as regards the manner and method by which the independence campaign should be progressed. It would be a lot to expect that People’s Alliance MSPs would undertake to vote with the SNP even when in serious disagreement with the latter’s policies. It’s not a great pitch to the voters – “Vote for us and we’ll do whatever the SNP wants!”.

The Yes movement does need to come together and appoint people who can speak to the SNP, the Scottish Government and the country on behalf of the grassroots. The Yes movement needs to give birth to an effective campaigning organisation. Not to fight elections but to fight for independence. Because Nicola Sturgeon isn’t doing the job properly.

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The Cherry approach

Keith Brown says “the reality is that people want [a referendum] and they want it to be made in Scotland, not in Westminster”. Which begs the question, why then is the Scottish Government so obsessed with the Section 30 process which, by definition, affords Westminster a role in the making of Scotland’s referendum?

He goes on to say “the longer the Tories try to block a referendum the higher support for independence will rise”. Which sounds to me like an attempt to rationalise prevarication on the part of the Scottish Government. It sounds as if the ‘plan’ is to invite the British government to spit in Scotland’s face repeatedly in the hope that repetitious disrespect will move the polls without the need for the Scottish Government to actually do anything – other than take the credit if the polls eventually twitch into favourable territory.

Could there be a more undignified way to go about the business of restoring Scotland’s independence?

Apart from which, the obvious problem with this ‘plan’ is that disrespect from the British state is the norm that people in Scotland have learned to live with. We are inured to the contempt. What indignation there is gets vented on trivial matters such as Scottish banknotes being refused by some ill-trained checkout assistant in an English supermarket.

And so to Joanna Cherry. The Sunday National reports her as suggesting “as a way forward against the “current impasse” could be for Holyrood to pass a bill to hold an advisory referendum”. Although when we look at the actual quote we find that the word “advisory” doesn’t appear. The Sunday National may have reason to suppose Ms Cherry meant to say “advisory”. But given that she is both a proficient politician and a highly experienced QC, my assumption would be that she tends to say what she means, and mean what she says. And what she says is,

Having Holyrood pass a bill to hold a referendum could be part of a multi-faceted strategy to move us away from the current impasse and stop the constant and unproductive talk about Section 30 orders and seeking ‘permission’ to act from Westminster.

Until the Sunday National spoiled it by inserting the word “advisory” this was looking like it might at least hint at an eminently sensible approach. The only sensible approach. We know that the Section 30 process cannot provide a path to a new referendum and the restoration of independence, regardless of whether a Section 30 order is granted or refused. We know that there is no effective process that the British state will not deem ‘illegal’. We know that the referendum must be made and managed entirely in Scotland.

We know that the primacy of the Scottish Parliament on the basis of its democratic legitimacy must be asserted. We know that assuming competence to conduct the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination would be a practical and viable way of both rejecting the sovereignty of the British parliament and asserting the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. We know that this is the necessary next step on the road to independence.

Taking Joanna Cherry at her word, I am fully behind her on this. Which means nothing, of course. But if enough of the Yes movement gets behind her – including SNP members – then Nicola Sturgeon will surely be compelled to rethink her approach to the constitutional issue.

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A 'UDI' of our own

James Kelly seems to have changed his tune about a course of action which he previously denounced as unthinkably irresponsible ‘UDI’. More acute observers, of course, realised a long time ago that if Scotland’s independence is to be restored this will never be by any process deemed ‘legal’ by the UK government. It’s either ‘UDI’ or nothing. Where ‘UDI’ is understood to mean a process which excludes the UK government from any involvement and which must, therefore, be branded ‘illegal’ by a British political elite intent on preserving the Union at any cost.

Calling the referendum at the centre of this process “consultative” is a cop-out. It is an attempt to appease British Nationalists by assuring them that we’re only pretending to exercise our right of self-determination and won’t actually do anything. It’s a binary question of the kind that is perfectly suited to being decided by plebiscite. Assuming a properly framed ballot question and an adequate turnout, the result cannot be other than a clear expression of the will of Scotland’s people. Which, in turn, cannot be other than binding on the government and parliament elected by the people of Scotland and accountable to them.

It didn’t take a survey to know that it was nonsense to assume that ‘UDI’ would alienate large numbers of voters. All it took was some understanding of human nature. To anybody with a modicum of such understanding, bold, assertive action is obviously just the thing to catch the public’s imagination – and the mood of the nation.

The only question remaining is who might take this bold, assertive action that will inevitably be dubbed ‘UDI’ by anti-democratic British Nationalists. And whether it will be done properly. Whether the words “bold” and “assertive” are taken to heart.

The current SNP administration doesn’t look a likely candidate. But we shouldn’t give up on them just yet. To get the job done, we need a particular tool. The SNP is what we have to hand. The parlousness of Scotland’s predicament makes delay seriously inadvisable. So we must use what we have. The Yes movement has to get its act together and force Nicola Sturgeon to do what needs to be done – or to step aside in favour of someone who will. The latter trailing as the second choice some distance behind the former.

Forget the less than half-measure of a “consultative” referendum. Appeasement will always be perceived as weakness and encourage retaliatory action. The Scottish Government must be absolutely resolved and determined. The aim is to break the Union, not caress it.

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What would YOU do?

What would you do? What’s your alternative, smartarse? You’re very good at criticising, but where are your positive suggestions?

I am asked questions like this all the time. Variations on the demand to know what I would do instead have become the standard response when I point out things that the Scottish Government and/or the First Minister are doing that I maintain are mistaken or misguided. There’s been quite a lot of that lately. Much to my dismay. And that’s something people would do well to bear in mind. I get no pleasure from criticising the administration and condemning Nicola Sturgeon. More the latter than the former because the administration, generally speaking does a good job. It is in the matter of the constitutional issue that I take exception and that is all on Nicola Sturgeon’s shoulders. Although Mike Russell may take a bit of flak as well.

I would much rather go back to my previous practice of circumspection. Not that I wouldn’t criticise the party, but I would only do so if the criticism was weighed against the interests of Scotland’s cause and tipped the scales. Even then, I was cautious about the tone of the criticism. I still am. I’m appropriately obliged to the hundreds of people who have been presumptuous enough to point out to me how essential the SNP is to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. I can only assume that these people comment in ignorance of my lever analogy. One really shouldn’t condemn from a position of ignorance.

I have to assume, also, that the interlocutors in question are afflicted with some form of reading difficulty. Because in all of the material I have written berating and bemoaning Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ on the constitutional issue I have never once suggested or implied or hinted or left room for the honest impression that I didn’t acknowledge the vital role of the SNP in the independence project. Nor have I ever done anything other than encourage people to vote SNP at every opportunity. So much so that I was only today referred to by someone obviously unacquainted with my more recent output as an “SNP arse-licker”.

What would you do? The question, however it is framed and regardless of the accompanying epithets (mostly woefully unimaginative), irks me. It irks me somewhat for the false allegations, as described above, stated or implied. It irks me more because the question is commonly deployed, not as a genuine enquiry, but to divert from whatever criticism I’m making. Let’s not talk about what’s actually being done by the people with power. Let’s talk about what someone who has no power might hypothetically do if he did. It’s a feeble and rather cowardly way to avoid having to admit that they cannot address the criticism. They have nothing meaningful to say about whatever defect or deficiency it is that I’ve identified. They have no way to refute the arguments. So they try to change the subject. Pathetic!

It irks me when people imply, or explicitly state, that criticism cannot be valid if no alternative is offered. I’ll let that one lie here and steam gently taking care not to step in it as I move on.

But the question irks me most because it is very unfair. It asks me what I would do in a situation that is not of my making. A situation which, had I the power that is being hypothetically attributed to me, would not have arisen. It demand’s to know how I would clean up somebody else’s mess.

If people were to ask what would I have done, that would be a fair question. And no more hypothetical than the one I’m being asked. And it might even be a sensible, useful question. There’s a chance that figuring out how a situation might have been averted might reveal clues as to how it may be rectified. At the very least, such revision could provide insights relating to the actual situation and a better understanding of the problems. At the very, very least there may be valuable lessons for the future nested like pearls in the oyster of rewritten history.

I am now going to assume that somebody has asked the sensible question. I shall pretend someone has had the wits to ask what I would have done. All the while mourning the fact that I have to pretend.

What would I have done differently? How would I have avoided the present situation? Anyone with the sense to ask that question would almost certainly wish to point out that a future event or development can only be averted if it can be foreseen. You can’t avoid it if you don’t see it coming. I maintain that it was perfectly possible to predict how things would pan out given various educated assumptions.

The story of what I would have done begins on Friday 19 September 2014. Or maybe a day or two after that. But no later. I really did start thinking about a second referendum almost immediately after the unfortunate (euphemism!) outcome of the first one. I set myself the immediate task of working out the earliest possible date for this new referendum after which I undertook a review of the past campaign to see what lessons might be learned. I won’t go into the process by which I arrived at a date; I’ve told the story enough times to be bored with it and it’s not that important. What matters is that it wasn’t just picked at random. It was a rough calculation, not a complete guess. The date was Thursday 20 September 2018.

This was the earliest date for a new referendum. When the EU referendum came along, I had to take another look. By one of those weird coincidences that give superstitious folk goosebumps. it turned out that taking the EU referendum into consideration Thursday 20 September 2018 went from being the earliest date for a new referendum to the latest. This was due to the constitutional implications of what would come to be called Brexit.

Of course, I couldn’t know the result of the EU referendum beforehand. But it wasn’t difficult to figure out what the consequences would be whichever way it went. The September 2018 date was intended to allow Scotland to escape Brexit. Or, more precisely, the constitutional implications of the UK leaving the EU. Bear in mind that my calculations didn’t take account of the extensions. Cut me a bit of slack here! By the time we were at the Article 50 extension stage it was already too late for a September 2018 vote.

The preparation for that vote should have started in 2015. That left plenty of time before for a thorough review of the 2014 campaign, and sufficient time after for the process leading up to a vote – principally, the passing of legislation.

I would have fired the starting gun immediately after the 2015 UK general election on 7 May. I would have announced the date and set out a timetable for the preparations. I may be accused of exploiting 20/20 hindsight concerning the result of that election. But while I can’t and wouldn’t claim to have foreseen the scale of the SNP landslide, I was confident that, riding the wave of enthusiasm that followed the 2014 referendum, the SNP would do well. Certainly well enough to provide an excellent backdrop against which to announce the new referendum.

People will say that ‘we didn’t have the numbers’ at that time. But the surest way to get the numbers is to give people something to latch onto. The surest way to not get the numbers is not to do anything at all. People aren’t inspired by inaction.

The main problem with launching so far in advance would have been maintaining momentum. But we had the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 as well as a number of other electoral events. And, with a big group of MPs at Westminster it would not have been difficult to engineer enough ‘activity’ to keep the issue live and lively. The 2016 Holyrood elections would not have been as fraught as they were because the spirit which existed post-2014 would not have been allowed to subside and dissipate in the way that it did. And there would have been the passage of various bits of legislation in the Scottish Parliament to keep the media interested. The Referendums Act just enacted last December was, like so much the Scottish Government has done, at least two and as much as four years late. I would not have allowed that time to be squandered.

Already it can be seen how things would have been totally different if we’d gone for #Referendum2018. And I am firmly persuaded we could have won. The conditions would have been better because we would have acted to make them better rather than sitting around waiting for them to magically improve. The campaign itself would have been better because, having properly learned the lessons of the 2014 campaign I would have ensured that the 2018 campaign was different in a number of significant ways. I’m not sure if details of this are relevant here. I’ll gladly answer questions about what I would have done in terms of the actual campaign. And, indeed, what I would still do were there to be a campaign in the future.

Instead of seizing the moment, we gave the British government time to recover from every one of its serial fuck-ups. Now, we’re up against an administration with a substantial majority, led by a man who, for all his buffoon image, has so far got everything he wanted and, most important, a British government with the ideological mindset to fully exploit the power afforded it by the Union without pause or scruple or any consideration of principle.

Most of the foregoing is stuff that I was happy to talk about in the years between 2014 and 2018. And talk about it I did – both online and at countless gatherings. And people were coming round to the idea of a 2018 referendum. But it was not to be. There were some things that I declined to talk about back then, however. Things that I could foresee, but which I foreswore to speak of. For reasons which should become obvious.

Even in 2015 I could see that the good ship SNP was going to hit the odd rock within a very few years. Not that I had specific predictions. Just that history tells us parties which are in government for a decade start to encounter problems. I think we can safely say I was correct. And you can see why it would have been inappropriate to say anything about this at the time. Just as in was both inappropriate and inadvisable to mention the fact that cracks would eventually start to show in the Yes movement. Fortunately, the Yes movement has proven to be remarkably resilient and robust. Without doubt, it is the best thing to come out of the 2014 campaign. But how long can people keep marching as they see their destination receding?

Similarly, it was possible five years ago to see which way the British government was headed. I don’t claim to have predicted that Boris Johnson would become Prime Minister. I wish I’d had a tenner on that in 2014! But it was entirely possible to read the trends. The British political system was bound to excrete a Boris Johnson eventually.

Brexit hadn’t even become a word and it was obvious it would be a total shambles. Without ten years of planning and preparation, it couldn’t be anything else. What was important to recognise was how this would influence the government in London and the electorate in England-as-Britain. It might have been assumed that the government would be weakened by making such a hash of things. But the way the British system works is that governments which fuck up deal with the problems they’ve created for themselves by making themselves stronger. And in the process they become more populist. So the anticipated backlash from the voters never materialises.

Five years ago it was possible to see where British ‘demockracy’ was headed. I would have avoided being dragged down with the rest of the UK. I would have been campaigning while these fuck-ups were happening or fresh in people’s minds. I wouldn’t have been asking the voters to think back and try to get angry again about something the British media barely reported at the time and have played down ever since. I wouldn’t have adopted a strategy of allowing the worst to happen in the hope of political advantage.

The one thing I came nowhere near to predicting is Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the constitutional issue. Quite honestly, if you were to ask me what I would do now, I’d be stumped. I’m not even sure this can be fixed. In five years we’ve gone from the certainty that independence would be restored to clinging to the last vestiges of confidence that we will even have a referendum before the British Nationalist juggernaut crushes the final bit of hope.

It could all have been so different.

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DIY mind laundering

I’ve seen a lot of this. People saying that at first they were disappointed by Nicola Sturgeons ‘Next Steps or Should That Be Running On The Spot speech’, but then they “got over it”. In most cases, I strongly suspect, they didn’t so much get over their disappointment as find a way to rationalise the let-down and get back to a comfortable position behind the boss.

The thing about such rationalisations is that they tend not to stand up to much scrutiny. And the very first thing that such scrutiny uncovers is the fact that none of the rationalisations deals with the fatal flaws in the First Minister’s whole approach to the constitutional issue. If you felt disappointment after listening to the speech that was your intuition telling you there’s something not quite right about all of this. You should heed your intuition.

In order to drown out the screech of his bullshit detector, Paul Kavanagh has had to convince himself that Boris Johnson can be forced into providing Nicola Sturgeon with the British government cooperation on which her ‘plan’ critically depends. He has had to persuade himself that this coerced cooperation will be no less genuine and complete for being grudged. And he’s had to embrace the notion that what will oblige Boris Johnson to facilitate a process whose likely outcome is anathema to him is to make it seem more likely that this outcome will be realised.

That a lot of DIY brainwashing.

But Paul is right about one thing. Boris Johnson’s political freedom of movement is “very limited”. The constraints, however, are not on his capacity to refuse the cooperation the First Minister hopes for, relies on and inexplicably expects, but on his freedom to provide that cooperation. There are powers behind the British Prime Minister’s throne. And those powers are ruthlessly determined that the Union shall be preserved and, moreover, that threats to the Union shall be eliminated.

The hard truth of the matter is that granting a Section 30 order free of caveats and conditions that would allow the process to be scuppered at a later stage will ALWAYS be politically more costly than continuing to say no. Partly because that cost will be the Prime Minister’s job but mostly because saying no carries no cost at all.

I wonder if Paul Kavanagh suffered a moment of discomfort when/if he noticed the glaring contradiction which, together with dizzying inconsistency, is an identifying characteristic of the desperate rationalisation. In his final paragraph, he states that “the only way [Boris Johnson] can make Scotland surrender to his bullying is by offering Scotland concessions that his own party won’t allow”. In order to justify agreeing with Nicola Sturgeon’s counsel of inaction and procrastination, he has simultaneously to believe that Boris Johnson won’t be allowed to offer relatively minor concessions and that he will be allowed to offer the biggest and most objectionable concession of all.

Such doublethink betokens a brain not merely washed but thoroughly laundered after steeping overnight.

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On Friday, just after listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s much-hyped ‘next steps’ announcement, I had to travel to Edinburgh to attend events marking Brexit on Friday and Saturday. I also met up with my wife who was traveling back from a work-related trip to Denmark, for a rare evening out together. All of this by way of excuse for not responding earlier to that speech. Although the delay may have been a good thing. I have seen some of the responses made in immediate disappointment and/or frustration and/or anger and I’m rather glad I didn’t take a computer with me. Instead, I vented my initial reaction on Twitter where such things belong.

I have, for example, seen Stu Campbell’s article prompted by the First Minister’s speech and, while he is essentially correct in his analysis, he tends towards the intemperate in some of his comments and brings in matters which would be better discussed separately. The desire to lash out may be easy to apprehend, but in Stu’s case it turns what was a perceptive account of the inadequacy of Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue into a vitriolic attack on her and the SNP. I think that unfortunate. I have always respected Stu’s ability to get to the nub of the matter and appreciated his ability to communicate his thoughts on matters of importance to us all. The forceful and forthright manner in which he habitually expresses himself only adds to the power of his message. I’m hardly in a position criticise anybody for adopting a robust tone.

I should not have been disappointed by what Nicola Sturgeon said as I never had any expectation that she would say anything of significance. I had actually made an effort to damp-down expectations because I knew there was nothing significant she could say from the position in which she has placed herself. Short of renouncing her ill-advised commitment to the Section 30 process, all she could possibly have to offer was another reading of the charges against the British state peppered with platitudes and bromides and leading to the now standard rationalisations for inaction.

Even the one thing she spoke of that might have seemed superficially significant – the new independence convention – was stripped of any sparkle it might have had by being at least two years too late and by the fact that it joins an already overlong list of similar initiatives which failed to strike a match far less set the heather afire.

The truth is understandably painful for people to hear, but hear it they must. The de facto leader of the independence movement in whom we invested so much trust has driven that campaign into a narrow cul-de-sac where she can neither turn around nor proceed. And her speech of Friday made it clear that she is disinclined to reverse out of that dead-end road. This is not to say that she was not and is not worthy of our respect. As a First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has done Scotland proud. Nor is it a call for her to be replaced, as has been the knee-jerk reaction from all too many people. There is no appetite in the party for removing her. And we can well do without the distraction of a leadership contest. Especially as that contest might not be as ‘civilised’ as previous contests for elevated positions in the SNP. And because there is no guarantee that a distracting and quite possibly damaging leadership battle would result in a change to the Scottish Government’s current fatally flawed approach. There is no sign of any high-profile questioning of the position taken by Nicola Sturgeon. Although I may be due Angus MacNeil an apology for saying this.

That the First Minister has made an error of judgement is now beyond dispute, although this will not stop some disputing it even though doing so requires that they turn a blind eye to the fatal flaws in the approach she has adopted – and clings to. I have previously set out my concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s total and stubborn commitment to the Section 30 process. Concerns which have come to be shared by a number of people but which have never, to my knowledge, been addressed. The fatal flaws in Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ derive almost entirely from this commitment and the refusal to consider any other perspective or course of action.

As an aside before I list the three fatal flaws which I maintain characterise the First Minister’s current approach to the constitutional issue, I want to say that one of the most disappointing and distressing aspects of her ‘next steps’ speech was the fact that she seemed to be totally oblivious to how that speech might be received by many people across the Yes movement. She just didn’t appear to appreciate that what she was saying – and not saying – would provoke a strong reaction. There was a distinct impression of taking support for granted. It would be gratifying to think that a salutary lesson might be learned. But experience tells us that those most in need of a lesson in self-awareness tend to be those least amenable to learning such a lesson. Look at Richard Leonard.

This is doubly distressing given that one of the things I have always admired most about the SNP is (was?) their connectedness to the people. If the party has lost that, then it is seriously diminished.

And so to the reasons Nicola Sturgeon’s approach is doomed to fail.

Firstly, there is the matter of time. Aside from anything else, Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘next steps’ speech was remarkable for its lack of urgency. At most, the threat to Scotland’s democracy was vaguely and tangentially hinted at. And there was nothing said about how this threat might be countered. The consequences of delaying meaningful action to restore Scotland’s independence were, from the evidence of that speech, not worthy of consideration.

This lack of urgency is extremely worrying. We have to assume that the British government’s aim and intention is to lock Scotland into the Union. Brexit provides an ideal opportunity to do this. And Brexit is upon us. Action to rescue Scotland from the rolling juggernaut of British Nationalism has already been delayed far too long. The message from Nicola Sturgeon and other leading figures in the SNP is that they are prepared to delay action indefinitely. The talk of a referendum this year is little more than a flimsy veil thrown over this desire to put off doing anything effective as long as possible.

I’m starting to get angry all over again as I write this. So I’ll move on to the next fatal flaw in Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue.

One of the central features of this approach is the notion that increasing support for a new referendum and/or for independence will put irresistible pressure on Boris Johnson to relent and grant a Section 30 order. Why is the fallacy of this not face-slappingly obvious? Given that preservation of the Union is an overarching imperative for the British state – one might readily argue that it is an existential imperative – then surely the greater the probability of a referendum leading to the dissolution of the Union the greater the incentive to ensure that no referendum ever takes place. And we know that the British political elite will be totally ruthless and completely unscrupulous in defending the structures of power, privilege and patronage which operate to their benefit.

The only thing that is going to win the kind of support Nicola Sturgeon demands before she acts is the action she refuses to take before she has that level of support. The idea that the British Prime Minister can be moved to grant a Section 30 order by an appeal to conscience or democratic principles isn’t far short of risible. Although I sure as hell am not laughing when I hear such drivel being spouted by our political leaders.

That’s the anger rising again. Time to move on to what is almost certainly the most telling of the fatal flaws in Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’.

The First Minister’s entire ‘strategy’ is critically dependent on gaining the willing and honest cooperation of the British government in a process which almost certainly would lead to an outcome to which the British government is fervently and implacably opposed.

Need I say more? Can I resist the urge to do so?

When the reality of the Scottish Government’s approach to the constitutional issue is stated as baldly as this it difficult – nay impossible! – to comprehend how any person of normal intelligence could consider an approach with such a ludicrous dependency viable. The question is not whether this fatal flaw is a reality – it is actually central to Nicola Sturgeon’s argument – but why she would embrace such self-evident nonsense and adopt such an obviously doomed approach.

But let’s leave such inquiries for another time. My purpose here is to consider what Nicola Sturgeon’s speech on Friday, and her commitment to a fatally flawed ‘strategy’ implies for Scotland’s cause. Where do we go from here?

What is obvious is that, wherever the Yes movement goes from here, it does so separately from the SNP/Scottish Government. We would be insane to follow Nicola Sturgeon into that dead-end street. This is in total contradiction to what I had hoped for and what I was urging a few months ago. Then, I envisaged Nicola Sturgeon providing the leadership that the Yes movement needs if it is to become a campaign – or give birth to a tightly focused and strongly disciplined campaigning organisation rather than a loose association of diverse groups all doing their own thing. I hoped to have the SNP providing the finely-crafted messages that would then be amplified and taken to the people by an army of Yes activists totally on board with the party’s campaign strategy. That’s not going to happen.

Nicola Sturgeon has effectively cut the SNP and the Scottish Government adrift from the grassroots Yes movement. It is my contention that we should simply accept this as it seems futile to kick against it and doing so will only result in acrimony between the party and the movement. What the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence needs is unity of purpose, not uniformity of thinking. So long a the party and the movement share the same goal, we should be able to approach the campaign in different ways without undermining that campaign. If the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue is as deeply, fatally flawed as is now undeniably the case, then it would be disastrous to our cause if the entire Yes movement were to follow where Nicola Sturgeon leads.

There need be no bitterness or recrimination. A two-pronged campaign may be less than ideal. But as we clearly have no choice in the matter we must focus on making the best we can of the situation. We know the flaws in the SNP’s approach, and this is fortunate because it means we know what we must compensate for.

The precise form of this second prong of the independence campaign has yet to be decided. (Needless to say, I have my own ideas.) And the problem of leadership remains to be resolved. But the Yes movement is nothing if not resourceful. I see no insurmountable issues.

What we must constantly bear in mind, however, is that the SNP is crucial to the realisation of our goal. Without the effective political power of a pro-independence government and Parliament, there is not the remotest possibility of success. People power alone is not enough. That power has to be concentrated behind a government with the power to act for the people. As things stand, that means the SNP. And that situation is not going to change any time soon. So get to grips with it!

The second wing of the independence campaign must always be looking to and working towards the moment when the SNP is obliged to accept the folly and futility of its current approach to the constitutional issue and join with the grassroots movement in the final effort to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

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The speech that never was

I was due to address the hundreds of Yes activists who attended the rally outside the Scottish Parliament on Saturday afternoon (1 February). Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties I was unable to make that speech. The following is what I had intended to say.

I don’t want to be making this speech. Or, to be more precise, this is not the speech I want to make. I would prefer to make a different speech.

It would be much easier to make one of those speeches in which I say something rude about Boris Johnson and everybody laughs.

Or perhaps a speech in which I say wise-sounding things about Boris’s position being “unsustainable.

Maybe a speech in which I go for resounding rhetoric about how we’ve “never been closer to independence.

But I can’t make those kind of speeches. I can’t dismiss Boris Johnson as a buffoon because he’s a buffoon who wins. Stop laughing at him – or raging at him – for a moment and think about it. He’s got everything he wanted.

People will point to him losing the court case on proroguing of parliament. But even then he got the delay and distraction he wanted.

Boris Johnson is now the British Prime Minister leading a Tory government with a substantial majority that has been purged of his opponents. And he’s ‘got Brexit done’. If that’s buffoonery, we could do with some in the Scottish Government.

Nonetheless, Boris is irrelevant. He will not be delivering independence for Scotland. Our independence will not be restored via Westminster. Why would I waste my energies trying to undermine his credibility. He has none. Why would I talk to him or about him when he has no business interfering in Scotland’s constitutional debate?

Boris Johnson doesn’t have a vote in a Scottish independence referendum. Other, that is, than the effective veto afforded him by the Section 30 process. And he’s already used that vote. By his own rules, he shouldn’t get to vote again until everybody who was alive for the first referendum has died.

I can’t talk about Boris Johnson’s position as being unsustainable. Because he is sustaining it. The reality is that it costs him absolutely nothing to keep on refusing a Section 30 order. If anything, it wins him favour among the constituency from which he draws the bilk of his support – the proudly ill-informed British Nationalists.

I can’t talk about how we’ve ‘never been closer to independence’ because not only is it not true, it’s a stunningly stupid claim to make. I could make a very strong argument that we were closer to independence in 2015 – when the SNP enjoyed an unprecedented and possibly unrepeatable landslide in the UK general election and we should have had our eyes firmly fixed on a referendum in September 2018.

And we certainly aren’t closer to independence than we were at 7am on the morning of Thursday 18 September 2014 when, for the next 15 hours the people of Scotland held in our hands total political power.

Regardless of the fact that the people of Scotland ultimately decided to hand that power back to the British political elite does not alter the fact that, as the polls opened on that day we were only 15 hours away from independence. Nobody can sensibly make the claim that we are closer now than we were them. Those who do are treating us as fools of the kind that will be influenced by a bit of witless, vacuous political rhetoric.

The best that can be said of the time since the first referendum is that the independence campaign has stood still. Which is not to say that Yes activists have been idle. Far from it! The Yes movement has been working as hard as ever. We’ve had a series of marches and rallies which attracted huge support. And scores of Yes groups the length and breadth of Scotland have been busy organising and keeping the momentum going for a new referendum

The trouble is that all this effort was to no avail so long as the Scottish Government was more concerned with stopping Brexit than with working to ensure Brexit couldn’t be imposed on Scotland.

The cause of restoring Scotland’s independence has made not one millimetre of progress in the five years since the first referendum. Despite the fact that circumstances were almost ideal and the British government was almost daily providing opportunities, no progress was made. All those opportunities were squandered. The ideal circumstance were not exploited.

Which brings me to the First Minister’s speech yesterday morning [Friday 31 January] in which she had promised to set out the “next steps” for the independence campaign.

As it turned out, she announced no steps at all. Just more running on the spot. To say the speech was disappointing would be an understatement. It may well have been the most important speech of Nicola Sturgeon’s political career. Although she gave no indication she was aware of this.

I shouldn’t have been disappointed. Having spent the period leading up to the speech trying to damp-down expectations because I knew there was nothing significant that the First Minister could say, the reality should not have been an anti-climax. But it was.

I expected little. I got nothing. I should have expected less when the speech was moved from the Wednesday to Friday, when the various events marking Brexit would provide a distraction. But, cynical as I was – and remain – I still held a glimmer of hope that Nicola Sturgeon would give the Yes movement something. Even that small hope was dashed.

The fact is that the approach to the constitutional issue adopted by the First Minster has failed.

A few days ago I watched as people celebrated a poll showing Yes at 51% and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about when the polls should have been at least ten points higher.

The approach taken by the Scottish Government has failed to gain a significant lead in the polls despite the most propitious circumstances. If you don’t exploit opportunities offered by Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister and Brexit being imposed on Scotland, your ‘strategy’ has failed by definition!

The approach is still failing. Despite all the fine rhetoric about a referendum in 2020, those who look at the situation absent the rose-tinted spectacles recognise that the chances of such a referendum are vanishingly small.

Even the superficially appealing idea of a new independence convention loses its sheen when one realises that it is at least two years late. It loses even more of its polish when one views the announcement in the context of all the other initiatives that have been announced over the past five years only to fizzle out like a damp squib.

The approach taken by the Scottish Government was always bound to fail. Serious concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s unswerving commitment to the Section 30 process have never been addressed. The fatal flaws in this approach have been identified. But, if the First Minister heard those concerns there is no evidence that she heeded them.

My time is short today. So I will mention only one of these fatal flaws. Nicola Sturgeon’s entire approach to the issue, as typified by her commitment to the Section 30 process, is critically dependent on gaining the full, willing and honest cooperation of the British government. That is never going to happen.

No British Prime Minister will ever facilitate or cooperate with a process which might result in the dissolution of the Union. Should they choose to grant a Section order – and there is no way they can be compelled to do so – it will only be because they know that the process can be sabotaged at a later stage.

The independence campaign has been driven into a cul-de-sac. The engine may still be running. But the vehicle is going nowhere. Nicola Sturgeon insists that this is the only route to a new referendum and independence. But it is not a route at all. It could only become a route if the British political elite could be persuaded to demolish their own house and build a road. But even if they could be persuaded to do this, they would insist on putting a series of barriers across the road

It’s not clear where the Yes movement goes from here. But the one thing that we can take from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech is that, if we are to make progress, it must be despite the Scottish Government rather than in company with it.

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