Litany of complacency

If you didn’t already have concerns about the SNP leadership’s approach to the constitutional issue then you surely will after reading Pete Wishart’s latest blog article. It’s really no more than a restatement of the stuff we’ve been getting from various SNP worthies over the past week or two. This, it seems, is the party’s official response to the growing grumbles of dissatisfaction and increasing demands for a rethink from across the independence movement. Basically, that response boils down to a patronising insistence that dissenting voices should just shut up and leave things to the ‘professionals’. Few do patronising better than Pete Wishart.

There are a number of elements to the message being peddled by and on behalf of the SNP leadership.

Time is not a factor

Relax! No need to fret! There is no urgency! If we just keep on plodding along as we’ve been doing for the last five years then we’ll get there. There’s no need to consider what the British government might do in the meantime. We have to trust that the British establishment will behave with restraint and with respect for democratic principles.

Let’s not think about the fact that, according to the polls, five years of plodding has got us nowhere. Let’s draw a discreet veil over the conduct of the British political elite in recent, and not so recent times. Nothing bad is going to happen! It’ll take as long as it takes.

Opposition is unsustainable

The British political elite can’t go on denying us a referendum. The British public won’t stand for it! Any day now, the people who persist in electing increasing rabid right-wing governments are going to see the error of their ways and tell their political leaders to be nice to Scotland.

We don’t have to do anything. It’ll just happen. Don’t be deceived by the fact that the British parties’ opposition to a new referendum is hardening and the language growing more strident. It’s all going to crumble sometime. Honest!

A Scottish referendum can’t be ‘legal’

The only way a referendum can be ‘legal; is if it is sanctioned by the British government and conducted according to rules and procedures that meet with their approval. Never mind all the international laws and conventions guaranteeing the right of self-determination; these are all subordinate to ‘Great British Law’.

It’s not just us who are expected to accept this. Apparently, it matters not at all how unimpeachably democratic our referendum is, the entire international community will be waiting on the not from the British Prime Minister before they recognise independent Scotland.

Leave campaign strategy to us

The campaign for independence must not deviate in any way from the strategy adopted by the SNP for the 2014 campaign. It doesn’t matter how badly the Union affects Scotland, don’t mention it. Stick with the ‘positive case for independence’ and be keep on trying to find better answers to whatever questions British Nationalists throw at us.

Don’t focus on the fact that this strategy stopped having any effect after 2014. Believe us when we tell you in will work eventually. And don’t worry! We ave all the time we need!

And don’t fret! If the Section 30 process doesn’t work out despite us have all our fingers crossed then “we will have to consider a range of options”. We’re not saying what those options are; or how they can be legal when we’ve said the Section 30 process is the only legal way. It would be better if everybody just stopped talking about other options because we are committed to the Section 30 process despite the fact that we recognise it is likely to fail and we will then need those other options that we don’t want anyone talking about.

Anyway! We’ve plenty of time! Because the British political elite are basically a decent bunch and they’d never do the dirty on us.

People who question any of this are zoomers

Beware of anybody who so much as raises an eyebrow at the SNP’s ‘plans’. Denounce anyone who questions the orthodox analysis and standard conclusions. Ignore all that crazy talk about how it’s Scotland’s referendum because the people of Scotland are sovereign. Disregard the nutters who say the legal validity of our referendum rests on a solid body of international laws and conventions. Anybody who says we should go against the British state is just daft.

Pay no attention to folk who claim the democratic legitimacy of our referendum derives from the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. Obviously, we agree that the people are sovereign. Just not quite as sovereign as the British crown in the British parliament. We must remember our place.

Have you got the message? Are you all just going to settle down and stop your #DissolveTheUnion nonsense?

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Waiting for worse

What’s going on in the upper echelons of the SNP? What is the current thinking on Scotland’s predicament? Is there a plan, or even an intention, to address the constitutional issue? When is the First Minister going to act, and what is she going to do?

These are the questions preoccupying many, perhaps most, people in the Yes movement. We are all looking for clues. We scrutinise every statement made by Nicola Sturgeon and every article written by senior figures in the SNP seeking some indication of what the immediate future holds. As often as not this turns out to be a disappointing and even a depressing activity.

Pete Wishart’s latest musings and mutterings from Perthshire is a case in point. Anyone looking there for hints as to the SNP’s thinking would come away wondering if the party leadership is even aware of Scotland’s predicament. They might well suppose there is no constitutional issue at all for all the attention it gets. They would be in no doubt that, for Mr Wishart at least, the overriding concern is. not so much Scotland’s fate as the party’s – and his own – electoral fortunes.

Clues come early. The article is titled The total humiliation of Ruth Davidson. The very first sentence reads “the Scottish Tories are in trouble”. This sets the tone for the whole article. Now, I’m sure we all relish Ruth Davidson’s embarrassment. But the fact that Davidson’s abasement is now a commonplace of Scottish politics rather takes the edge off the schadenfreude. I’m equally sure that most people in Scotland are perfectly OK with the Scottish Tories being in trouble. But I suspect many will feel that, however delightful the turmoil it has provoked in the Scottish branch of the British Conservative & Unionist Party, the implications for Scotland of Boris Johnson’s elevation to the role of Prime Minister are of considerably greater importance.

There is passing mention of the fact that Johnson being PM means a majority of Scottish voters would vote for independence. But nothing at all about whether or when they might get the opportunity to vote for independence. It is clear that, for Pete Wishart, what matters is the fact that Johnson is an “electoral liability”

Of course, electoral success for the SNP is important. Indeed, it is crucial to Scotland’s cause. If only there were any indication that Pete Wishart sees Ruth Davidson’s woes in that context. But it seems that the constitutional context figures in his thinking hardly at all. The entire focus is on winning the next election.

Having read his article, I anticipate more than a few comments about Pete Wishart being overly concerned with keeping his seat. I would invite those contemplating such comments to grow up and have a wee think. Of course the man is concerned to keep his seat! Why wouldn’t he be? What is wrong with that? Pete Wishart is a career politician. It has been a very successful career. It stands to reason that he would not wish it to end in electoral defeat.

Winning Perth and North Perthshire for the SNP is Pete Wishart’s job. Of course it is important to him. He serves his constituents well. And, simply by holding that seat in the British parliament he makes a valuable contribution to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Criticising him for wanting to win is just plain stupid.

What is troubling is the thought that this latest article from Pete Wishart might tell us something about the attitudes and priorities of the SNP leadership. It is one thing for individual elected members to give precedence to their electoral prospects. That, as has been noted, is their job. Getting elected is their immediate task. But the party as a whole has wider concerns and different priorities. We would hope that these concerns and priorities are shared by those who lead the party. Those who are also the nation’s political leaders.

I have frequently observed that the SNP is very good at winning elections. Perhaps not so good at single-issue political campaigns. It is only to be expected that they will play to their strengths. Which suggests that an electoral route to independence might well be their preference. That the ‘Plan B’ proposed by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny is actually the ‘Plan A’. It may well be that the SNP is pinning the hopes of the Yes movement on an early UK general election and a big win. And it’s not only Pete Wishart giving this impression. Angus Robertson also seems to think the mandate for a referendum needs yet more confirmation.

If this is the way the SNP leadership is thinking then it would certainly explain the present inaction. As ever, it seems to be a case of waiting for the British government to do something. Waiting for events to play out. Waiting for ‘clarity’. Waiting for the ‘right time’. Waiting.

In electoral terms, this may be a valid strategy. If your opponents are in disarray and making themselves unelectable it makes sense to let them get on with it. When the votes are counted in Perth and North Perthshire it makes no difference whether Pete Wishart has won or the Tories have lost. Pete returns to Westminster either way. In the context of the independence campaign, however, waiting for our opponents to lose just won’t work. Because the things that are an electoral liability for the Scottish Tories and causing Ruth Davidson great embarrassment are developments which strengthen the British Nationalism which is the real threat to Scotland.

My fear is that the SNP leadership may have come to confuse and conflate electoral success for the party with success for the independence cause. But beating the Tories is not enough. The Tories are not the problem. The Union is the problem. Even the total collapse and disintegration of the British Conservative & Unionist Party does not spell victory for Scotland’s cause. It means only the advent of an even greater threat to Scotland’s democracy. Defeating the Tories will only leave us facing an even more determined and more ruthless manifestation of British Nationalism.

Personally, I’d rather not wait for that.

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Your daily disappointment

Pete Wishart demands that the British state play nice. Tommy Sheppard pleads for more powers. Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny plan for the failure of whatever ‘Plan A’ is. The common thread running through all of these is reliance on the goodwill of the British political elite.

When will the SNP wake up to the fact that there is no goodwill? What does it take for Pete Wishart to realise that the British state is never going to play nice? Has Tommy Sheppard really not figured out yet that devolution is dead? Do Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny seriously imagine that the British establishment is going to stand idly by while the SNP runs through an entire alphabet of plans?

There are few enough certainties in politics that we would be wise to anchor our thinking in the ones that we have. One such certainty is that Scotland’s independence cannot be restored whilst adhering to the laws, rules and procedures which have been put in place to protect and preserve the Union. Another is that there is no route to independence which does not pass though a point where there is direct and acrimonious confrontation with the British state.

These truths are self-evident. As self-evident as the fact that real power is never given, only taken, Or the fact that the people of Scotland are sovereign. Or the fact that the Union serves to deny the people of Scotland full and effective exercise of the sovereignty that is ours by absolute right.

The British political elite will never admit these truths. And it’s beginning to look like SNP politicians will never recognise these certainties.

Pete Wishart seems intent on making the existing bureaucratic set-up work more efficiently. Tommy Sheppard seems eager to improve devolution. Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny have a plan.

The other common thread here is the total lack of any sense of urgency and, as far as one can tell, no awareness at all of the things that are troubling Yes campaigners. I will not presume to say most, but certainly many in the Yes movement are concerned, not that the present arrangements aren’t working as well as they might, but that those arrangements are about to be swept away completely by a system which sidelines Scotland’s elected representatives altogether.

Many of us are concerned, not about the difficulty of getting more devolved powers, but about the ease with which powers can be stripped away.

Many of us are worried, not about whether we can win a pro-independence majority in the next Holyrood election in 2021, but whether there will even be a Scottish Parliament six months from now.

While SNP politicians seem to be settling in for the long haul, many of us in the Yes movement see a real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions and the essential public services that depend on our our ability to maintain and develop a distinctive political culture We genuinely and justifiably fear for our nation.

We look to the SNP for bold, decisive action to save Scotland from the menace of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. We look to the SNP for political leadership. And we are constantly disappointed.

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Forever Yes!

However interesting or, very occasionally, insightful Pete Wishart may be, he can always be relied upon to spoil the statesmanlike pose he seeks to strike by saying something profoundly stupid. In this case it’s the truly inane notion that anybody might suppose a second referendum defeat would be “consequence-free”. I confidently assert that nobody has ever made such a claim and that nobody actually believes such obvious idiocy.

So why does Pete Wishart feel the need to call in aid such a clownish straw man? Perhaps because his analysis is so shallow and weak it needs whatever straw man it can clutch at.

What Pete Wishart says about Canada’s federal system and Quebec’s place within it is interesting. His conclusion that there can be no way to replicate such a federal structure in the UK could quite reasonably be described as insightful – even if it is hardly a novel or, indeed, an uncommon insight. But he utterly fails to follow through the logical implications for any comparison between Scotland’s independence cause and the cause promoted by the Parti Quebecois. He notes the huge differences between the two situations, then abandons rational analysis to conclude that, despite these massive differences, the fate of Quebec’s independence movement would be exactly matched in Scotland were we also to lose a second independence referendum.

Apart from his pursuit of John Bercow’s job, Pete Wishart is probably best known for his hyper-cautious approach to a new constitutional referendum in Scotland. In numerous articles and statements he has made it clear that he favours indefinite delay. He believes in something called the ‘Optimal Time’ – a perfect moment when all circumstances align so as to make victory for Yes absolutely certain. He also believes that it is possible to predict this moment many months in advance – although he has never, to the best of my knowledge, explained how the ‘Optimal Time’ might be identified. He has never, as far as I am aware, set out the criteria by which the ‘Optimal Time’ might be defined.

Believing that losing a second referendum could be “consequence-free” seems almost sensible compared to believing in the ability to foresee something which can’t even be described.

But Pete Wishart’s faith is more than a match for any reasoned argument about the difficulties of predicting something which we will only be able to recognise after it has happened. And maybe not even then. His faith in the wisdom of indefinitely delaying a new referendum is sufficient to overcome any concerns about the implications of such a course of inaction. He really does seem to believe that delay is “consequence-free”.

His belief in a mystical ‘Optimal Time’ is such that every analysis must be bent to its service. Thus, he is no doubt genuinely incapable of seeing that the impossibility of a Quebec-style constitutional settlement; the fundamental nature of the British state; and the motivations of Scotland’s independence cause all conspire to make it extremely unlikely that Scotland’s civic nationalist movement would be affected by a second defeat in any way similarly to Quebec’s sovereigntist movement.

Quebec’s independence movement has largely died because it was possible to find a constitutional settlement within the federation which was satisfactory. Scotland’s independence movement won’t die because the Union makes a satisfactory settlement impossible.

Independence is inevitable, and the independence cause indefinitely sustainable, because any constitutional arrangement within the UK which succeeds in terms of the aims, ambitions and purposes of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

Of course, losing a second referendum would not be “consequence-free”. But what Pete Wishart determinedly refuses to recognise is that the consequences of delay are no different from the consequences of defeat. To assume the ability to survive the former is to assume we would survive the latter.

There are many ways in which the independence cause might suffer another setback. But I know the Yes movement well enough to realise that nothing would break its spirit more certainly than looking back and seeing that we lost because we were afraid to try.

There is no ‘Optimal Moment’ waiting to be discovered. There is only the moment you seize and make of what you can.

Let’s talk!

I enjoy visiting groups throughout Scotland to talk about the constitutional issue.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

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Loose talk

A few days ago I chided a fellow pro-independence blogger for “peddling the idea that the mandate for a new independence referendum is entirely conditional on Brexit”. It is bad enough that we have the British media distorting facts and deceiving the public without sections of the Yes movement parroting the British state’s propaganda. And it’s worse still when the disinformation is coming from a senior SNP politician.

Writing in The National, Pete Wishart says,

Such is our endorsement of a People’s Vote that we have unconditionally given our support to a second EU referendum, regardless of its outcome, and without any guarantees for our nation or acknowledgement of a future vote in Scotland. Without the inclusion of a set of conditions we could be expected to “respect’” the outcome even if it meant that Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will again.

If somehow a People’s Vote is successful we remove the very conditions that makes Scottish independence a majority position amongst the Scottish people. Critically, we also remove the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016.

Why a People’s Vote causes all sorts of problems for independence

Two paragraphs. Two seriously misleading statements. The assertion that Brexit was “the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016” is just plain untrue. As I pointed out in that previous article,

This is based solely on a single phrase abstracted from a section of the SNP’s 2016 election manifesto – “taken out of the EU”. But it doesn’t just say “taken out of the EU”. It says “…or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will” (my emphasis). You can’t pretend those words aren’t there just because it suits your argument.

A bad place

Don’t take my word for it. Read the SNP 2016 Manifesto for yourself. There is nothing vague or ambiguous about the relevant paragraph. It is perfectly clear that being “taken out of the EU” is merely given as an example of “significant and material change”. The clue is in the words “such as”.

I’m not sure how the myth of Brexit being a “specified condition” got started. I do know that the British media apply themselves diligently to promulgating such myths. And I can understand this. That’s their job. They manipulate public opinion by manipulating the facts. Being part of the British establishment, it is entirely unsurprising that the British media spin stories in whatever way best serves the interests of established power.

What I find inexplicable is that Yes supporters should go along with the deception. I can’t believe that they are knowingly aiding and abetting the British state’s anti-SNP propaganda effort. Although this may be true in a very few cases, for the most part the best, if nonetheless profoundly regrettable, explanation is mere intellectual indolence. Laziness! Checking facts is a task. Questioning one’s own assumptions and preconceptions doesn’t come naturally. It calls for a conscious effort. Not to mention awareness that healthy scepticism begins at home. Questioning all media messages is important. Being prepared to question one’s own understanding of things is crucial. But going with what you ‘know’ is easier. Following your prejudices requires less effort than interrogating them.

In an ideal world, everybody in the Yes movement wouldn’t make a statement such as ‘Brexit was the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016’ without asking themselves if this was correct. It’s a useful habit to acquire. For SNP politicians such as Pete Wishart, it should be instinctive.

Certain statements should ring alarm bells. They should immediately prompt questions about accuracy and veracity. And about advisability. No professional politician or competent political campaigner should ever make a statement without first asking themselves whether, and how, it can be defended. Which means asking how the statement will be misrepresented by their political opponents and hostile media. For political campaigners, statements about the aims and purposes of the campaign call for particular care. Politicians must be particularly cautious with references to party policies and positions.

As Pete Wishart stated that the SNP has “unconditionally given our support to a second EU referendum, regardless of its outcome, and without any guarantees for our nation” those alarm bells should have been deafening. Is this really the party’s position? How likely is it that an astute political operator such as Nicola Sturgeon would adopt such a position? How credible is it that she would casually commit to a totally unspecified arrangement? Are we to believe that she would voluntarily squander her options in the manner suggested?

Did Pete Wishart ask himself any of these questions? Apparently not! But he can be sure that others are now asking some very serious questions about his judgement.

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How Scotland invited Brexit

peoples_vote_logoOf course a Remain vote in Scotland won’t be respected! In the unlikely event that Scotland for a People’s Vote get their way and a second EU referendum is called, Scotland’s democratic choice will be treated with the same contempt as previously. Why would anyone imagine that it might be otherwise? The abiding purpose of the Union is to serve as a constitution device by which the sovereignty of Scotland’s people can be denied. Is it really credible that the political elite of the British state would have the power to totally discount inconvenient democratic votes and not use that power?

How often must it be pointed out that Brexit is not the problem? Brexit is a symptom. The Union is the problem. It is the Union which makes it possible to impose Brexit on Scotland against the democratic will of Scotland’s people. Just as it is the Union which empowers the British state to impose on Scotland austerity and the bedroom tax and the rape clause and Trident and Iraq and Universal Credit and a whole catalogue of other abominations which are politically alien, economically damaging and socially corrosive.

None of these things would be possible if the people of Scotland were able to fully and effectively exercise the sovereignty which is theirs by right. They only happen because the Union makes it possible. This affront to modern democracy is the ineluctable outcome of the political union bequeathed to us by the predecessors of today’s British ruling elite. In a democracy, politicians only have such power as the people allow them. That archaic and anachronistic political union, devised for purposes which had absolutely nothing to do with the welfare of Scotland and its people, has provided British politicians with an extraordinary power. A power which is the very antithesis of democracy. A power which is, in essence, anti-democratic.

Over the decades, that power has been used, abused, honed and adapted. It has evolved as society and politics has evolved. But always in such a way as to maintain the power to deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

This power was affirmed, and augmented, in 2014 when the people of Scotland were harried, cajoled, intimidated, induced and deceived into voting No in the first Scottish independence referendum. In doing so, they not only registered their acceptance of the grotesquely asymmetric and self-evidently dysfunctional Union, the actually went further by effectively granting the British state licence to do as it pleased in, to and with Scotland.

That is why Brexit is happening. Because we, the people allowed it.. As a nation, we invited it. It doesn’t matter whether you voted Leave or Remain in 2016. Because in 2014 Scotland voted to render your vote meaningless.

Of course a Remain vote in Scotland won’t be respected! As far as the British state is concerned, we squandered our right to be respected when we voted No.

Which still leaves the question of what the Scottish Government’s position should be on a so-called #PeoplesVote. The choices are, to oppose it, to support it or to remain passively indifferent to it. The First Minister has gone for the second option. One must suppose she did so after much consideration and consultation with her advisers. In a development which will shock precisely nobody, not everyone agrees that this is the right choice.

Pete Wishart MP is one senior SNP figure who has expressed misgivings.

I have big concerns about supporting a second Brexit vote and I am particularly anxious about supporting such a vote without any guarantees that our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round.

Well! He’s had his answer on that one! He got it from John Edward, speaking on behalf of Scotland for a People’s Vote. Responding to questions about what would happen if Scotland again voted Remain and the UK voted Leave he said,

If that happens, that happens and a decision would be taken after that.

Glossing over the unpleasantly dismissive tone, this would seem to rule out any kind of assurance that Scotland’s democratic will would be respected. And it raises the question which is fundamental to all of this. Who decides? When John Edward says that a decision on whether to respect Scotland’s vote would be taken after the event, who does he envisage making that decision? Who else but Westminster! Who else but the British political elite which, citing the Union and the 2014 referendum result, asserts a veto over Scotland’s democratic will.

What the Union means, given the overweening power of the British executive, is that the British Prime Minister can overrule the whole of Scotland. Your vote only counts if Theresa May permits it. Is that democracy? Is it the democracy you want? Is it the democracy to which you are entitled?

John Edward goes on to say,

This is a … discussion today on a People’s Vote on Europe, on nothing else. It’s not a party political movement. It’s not anything to do with the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom. This is solely about a People’s Vote.

With all due respect to the former head of the European Parliament Office in Scotland, this is the most appalling drivel. It is ludicrous to suggest that the constitutional question of the UK’s membership of the EU can be isolated from the constitutional issue of whether Scotland remains part of the UK. The two are inextricably linked. Each has huge implications for the other. It defies all sense to imagine that a “People’s Vote” can possibly be abstracted from the matter of the “constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom”. John Edward himself acknowledges the inseparability of the two issues when he assumes that Westminster will decide after the vote whether Scotland’s choice is to be respected. Westminster is only able to assert this veto over Scotland’s democratic will because of the “constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom”. The British political elite can only trample all over Scotland’s democracy because the Union affords them the authority and the justification for doing so. The Union is the problem!

Pete Wishart’s concerns are valid. Self-evidently so. Because, while Scotland for a People’s Vote has no power to offer the guarantee that he is looking for, John Edward’s remarks on the subject are sufficiently redolent of the British state’s attitude that we may, for present purposes, treat his as the voice of the British political elite. There will be no guarantee that “our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round”. To be honest, I suspect Pete knew the answer before he asked the question.

But are those concerns, valid as they may be, reason enough to object to the First Minister’s decision to support a #PeoplesVote? I don’t think so. As I have stated repeatedly in the context of British Nationalist efforts to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination and prevent a new independence referendum, democracy is a process, not an event. It is never a good look to be demanding that people should not have a vote. As has been amply demonstrated by Ruth Davidson’s shrill and borderline despotic ‘No to indyref2!’ campaign.

By mounting a ‘No to #PeoplesVote!’ campaign, Nicola Sturgeon would invite discomfiting comparisons with anti-democratic British Nationalists. Best to avoid that.

Opposing a #PeoplesVote was not a viable option for the First Minister. It would risk her looking too much like the Tories. And, attracted as I am to the idea of remaining detached and indifferent, taking no position would risk looking as vacillating and indecisive as British Labour. On balance, supporting a second EU referendum was probably best.

There are other arguments, of course. Pete Wishart also raises the worry that, should a #PeoplesVote set a precedent, this precedent would be used against the independence cause. He envisages a problematic situation following a Yes vote in the next independence referendum.

… unreconciled Unionists would be working non-stop from the day after the referendum to ensure that a successful outcome would be overturned. Every apparatus of state would be deployed and they would ensure that the worst possible “deal” would be offered to the Scottish people in the hope that their Union could be rescued.

There are several things wrong with this scenario. Not least, the notion that Scotland would inevitably be the weaker party in negotiations with the British state. I find no good reason to suppose that this would be the case. On the contrary, I reckon Scotland would be in an extremely strong position.

But the ‘confirmatory referendum’ problem is very easily resolved. In fact, it won’t even be a problem. Because there must be a second referendum in any case. There will have to be a referendum to approve Scotland’s new written constitution. Those “unreconciled Unionists” would be demanding a referendum that was already going to happen. Not that this can be expected to stop them. Looking ridiculous has never been a deterrent before.

Pete Wishart also exhibits the very mindset that we must rid ourselves of if the Yes campaign is to succeed. In the above quote he approaches the issue from the perspective of ‘us’ trying to sell or defend the idea of independence. We need to turn that on its head, We must force ‘them’ to sell and defend their Union. Given what has already been observed about the nature of that Union and its deleterious implications for Scotland, that would be a daunting task.

We may not have valued our sovereignty well enough in 2014. But once we take back the capacity to fully and effectively exercise that sovereignty, I dare any power to try and wrest it from us.

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Backing off

pw_holdWe have here a curious instance of someone getting the point, then losing it. Pete Wishart lights upon a highly significant observation, only to immediately walk away from it in his eagerness to get back to comfortable and comforting platitudes about “new independence case”.

Difficult as it may be for some to believe, there was a time when there were genuinely Scottish Conservatives who really were regarded as the defenders of ‘Scottishness’. As Pete acknowledges, in the decades following WW2 that ‘Scottishness’ was threatened by a “pervasive, unifying British identity”. It was Conservatives, and particularly rural Conservatives, who stood for all that was distinctively Scottish.

In part, those Scottish Conservatives were standing against the homogenising influence of post-war socialism. But they were also resisting the rise – or should we better say, the resurrection – of a form of British identity which had its roots in the idea of the UK as a ‘Greater England’ within which all the constituent parts, but particularly Scotland, were to be subsumed.

Sound familiar? What those Scottish Conservatives were resisting was an earlier, less aggressive, less extreme form of the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which today threatens Scotland’s distinctiveness.

This is, of course, an oversimplification. But there is an essential truth here which Pete Wishart first notes, then chooses to disregard. The Scottish Conservatives of that post-war era won support in rural Scotland (and to some extent in urban areas as well) in large part because they tapped into a popular mood which valued Scottish distinctiveness and rejected the concept of a ‘One Nation’ British state.

What is perplexing is that, having picked up on something which has obvious relevance to the constitutional debate today, Pete Wishart declines to explore its implications. If opposition to ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism was a significant influence on attitudes and electoral choices in rural Scotland then, might it not be an important consideration now? If people in rural communities placed such value on ‘Scottishness’ then, is it not reasonable to assume that they might still do so?

Of course, that was fifty years ago. Times have changed. But have those attitudes also changed? Is that not, at the very least, a question worth asking?

The Scottish Conservatives have certainly changed. In fact, they no longer exist as a political party. As part of the blight of Thatcherism, they were absorbed into the British Tories. Today, the term ‘Scottish Conservatives’ is as much a deceptive misnomer as ‘Scottish Labour’. But the popular regard for Scottish distinctiveness that helped fuel electoral support for Scottish Conservatives half a century ago hasn’t necessarily disappeared along with distinctive Scottish Conservatism. In fact, subsequent SNP electoral success in former Scottish Conservative strongholds such as Perthshire suggests that this desire to maintain a distinct Scottish identity may still be a powerful motivating factor for voters.

Might it not, therefore, be a latent force for Scotland’s independence campaign? If the Scottish Conservatives of old could tap into a vein of opposition to the threat of a “pervasive, unifying British identity” back then, why should the independence movement not exploit that same well of popular feeling today?

Other things have changed since a vote for the Scottish Conservatives meant a vote for ‘Scottishness’. Scotland’s distinctiveness has changed dramatically in both form and degree. Whatever ‘Scottishness’ meant fifty years ago, today it refers to a distinctive political culture. To whatever were the historical and cultural connotations of the term has been added a brand of politics which contrasts starkly with that of the British state. A more progressive and humane politics which is increasingly at odds with the harshness and coldness and downright cruelty of British politics.

There is more that is distinctive now than there was then. More that is worth defending.

The threat has also changed. The “pervasive, unifying British identity” has metamorphosed into an ugly, bitter brand of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which poses a real and imminent threat, not only to Scotland’s distinctive political culture, but to the very democratic institutions and process which have been the source of that distinctiveness. British Nationalism is no longer merely concerned with suppressing ‘Scottishness’. It seeks to destroy ‘Scottishness’ at its roots.

The threat is greater now. There is more that must be resisted.

The obvious conclusion from all of this is that the Yes campaign should take the form of a bastion against the threat posed by this pernicious British Nationalist ideology. What would seem to logically follow from the first part of Pete Wishart’s analysis is that the Yes campaign should go on the attack against a project which would subsume Scotland into a homogenised British state.

I surely can’t be the only one who is perplexed at the way Pete Wishart side-steps the pachyderm in the parlour to get to the comfy chair of his preconceived notions about a “new independence case”.

Even if there was anything “new” to be said about independence, what is the point of presenting this to people who aren’t listening because they’ve already decided that independence isn’t happening? What purpose is served by putting all the resources of the Yes campaign into polishing a proposition which is already as perfect as any political proposition might be?

Why is Pete Wishart so resistant to the idea of doing something new? He almost makes the case for a Yes campaign focused on vigorously defending what Scotland has and aggressively attacking that which puts it in jeopardy. But then he backs off from this and takes refuge in a rather less politically ‘brave’ obsession with being ‘positive’. He almost gets there. But then he chooses to let the British Nationalists off the hook. Why?

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