Stale and mouldy

I read stuff like this – Leading independence campaigners back new Yes Scotland group – and the years just fall away. I am transported back to 2012/13 and the early days of Yes Scotland and the campaign for the first independence referendum. The Yes movement is in its innocent infancy, the term ‘Project Fear’ has not yet entered the political lexicon, and the lessons of that seemingly interminable campaign have yet to be learned. Everything seems possible because we have yet to discover the true power of the forces ranged against us and to recognise our own weaknesses. Anything seems doable because the intractable issues have yet to be encountered. We are filled with evangelical fervour and sure of the power of our message and as convinced of the appropriateness of the strategy as we are of the righteousness of our cause.

Then, with the dull, damp splat of a wet blanket landing on my face, I am wrenched back to reality. It’s not 2012/13. It’s 2020 and we are days away from an event which stands as the most compelling evidence yet of just how badly Scotland fares in this ‘precious’ Union and how tragic for our nation was the failure of that first referendum campaign. And how the lessons of that failure still haven’t been learned.

Back then, new Yes groups were coming into existence on almost a daily basis. Everybody wanted to be in on the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. Everybody had their own idea of what that meant. Everybody needed their own group to push that idea. The buzz-words were diversity and openness and inclusiveness. It didn’t matter what your agenda was, if you tacked ‘for Yes’ onto it you were part of the Yes family. Such was the enthusiasm you could have started a group called Cannibals for Yes and nobody would have batted an eye.

Whatever your political philosophy, ethnic background, sexual orientation, form of employment, age, health or lifestyle choices, there was a group for you. If there wasn’t, there soon would be. Whenever the campaign encountered an issue, a group would be set up to address that issue. Setting up a group rapidly became an automatic response to any issue. It still is. Whenever there are signs of campaign fatigue, set up a new group – with or without a crowd-funder to finance it.

Not that all these groups turned out to be no more than a panacea for the moment. Some, like the Scottish Independence Foundation, continue to do valuable work. But all too often the launching of a new organisation, or the relaunching or rebranding of an existing one, is just a distraction or a way of being seen to be doing something. Or deferring something.

Establishing a commission has always been a way of punting hot potatoes into the long grass. The initial fanfare provides the instantly gratifying spectacle that the public (media) demands while the ensuing proceedings can usually be relied upon to be dull enough to kill any interest and protracted enough to allow time for something else to grab the headlines.

Does anybody have a tally of all the new initiatives that have been launched in the past five years? I’m prepared to bet you’ll have missed at least one or two.

There are other deja vu prompts, of course. The old familiar language of positive campaigning and listening to opponents and finding better answers is still in use. There’s always somebody telling us that this or that is the only way to proceed or that this or that demographic has to be persuaded or that doing it any way other than this or that will only put off potential converts. There’s always somebody keen to impart some pearl of wisdom which when stripped of the superfluous verbiage turns out to be no more than the less than stunning observation that if Yes is to win we need to get more people to vote Yes.

And, of course, there’s always somebody anxious to remind us for what certainly seems like the millionth time that the independence movement is “more than just the SNP”.

These things have been repeated so often they have become the phatic language of discourse around the constitutional question. It’s just the meaningless stuff people say to fill silences or to pad out a speech or to make the word count for the article. Having become meaningless, nobody now asks about meaning. Nobody asks if being unexceptionally positive is the most effective way of going about the task of persuading people. Nobody asks if listening rather than talking really is the best way of getting the message across. Nobody asks if constantly striving for better answers to the same questions is worth the effort.

Nobody stops to consider whether sidelining the party political arm of the independence movement is a smart move.

I read stuff like this and I think “here we go again”. I read, for example, Kevin Pringle talking about “the best chance of breaking the [Boris] Johnson veto” and wonder how it is possible that, with all that has happened over the last seven or eight years, such an experienced observer of the political scene in Scotland and beyond could have failed to realise that there is no way to overcome the British Prime Minister’s veto on our right of self-determination. Not when Scotland’s First Minister has accepted the legitimacy of the PM’s authority for such a veto.

How is it possible for anybody to believe that the British political elite might relent under the pressure of a moral argument or references to democratic principles? How can anybody imagine that to be the nature of the British state?

How is it possible for leading figures in the independence movement to recognise that we still need the same things – such as “cross party cooperation” – that we have failed to achieve in all those years of campaigning and acknowledge that we have yet to get support for independence consistently above 50% while simultaneous commending an approach to campaigning which is identical in all meaningful respects to the one that was taken for the 2014 campaign? The one which has become a fixture (fixation?) in the minds of those who make the decisions about campaign strategy.

How is it possible that so vanishingly little can have been learned from past experience?

I read stuff like this and I despair.

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Last chance?

I guess it’s official, then. The new independence referendum postponed from autumn 2018 or spring 2019 but promised for some time in the second half or towards the end of 2020, will not happen. We have the word from Angus Robertson – hardly one of those anonymous party spokespersons. I think it’s safe to say that Angus qualifies as a ‘senior SNP source’.

He is not at all ambiguous about it either. When he eventually gets to the point after enough waffle about how the British Tory government can’t possibly keep doing for much longer what it has effortlessly kept doing for as long as anyone can remember to deter the casual reader, Angus casually states what others have been hinting at almost since a 2020 referendum was not quite promised by the First Minister but dangled in such a way as to have people think that is what they were voting for in last month’s UK general election.

That not-quite-a-promise can be quietly shelved now that the SNP have those votes banked. We’re back to where the SNP leadership always wanted to be.

Hard as it is to endure given the repeated electoral mandates for an independence referendum, the reality is that the issue of indyref2 will be decided in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. With a majority of pro-independence MSPs, it will be impossible to oppose Scottish democracy.

Hang on a moment! Wasn’t a massive preponderance of SNP MPs supposed to make it “impossible to oppose Scottish democracy”? In the same way that Brexit was supposed to be the tipping point for a swing in favour of independence.

Angus Robertson goes on to inform us that “a pro-independence majority of MSPs is the key to Scotland’s future”. Well, duh! Does he seriously think we need to be reminded of this? Does he imagine we are unaware of the critical importance of continuing to vote SNP? Does he suppose we can’t figure out for ourselves how it would be if we allowed our Parliament to fall into the hands of the British parties?

We know what the “key” is. We’ve been handing that key to the SNP for thirteen years. We know we will have to hand them that key again in 2021. What we need to know is when are they going to use that key.

As if to conclusively make the case that the British government’s anti-democratic opposition to a referendum must imminently crumble under the onslaught of various people saying it is “unsustainable” – including a few surprising sources – Angus Robertson quotes the former head of communications for the Scottish Conservatives, Andy Maciver.

If the SNP wins the election with a clear manifesto commitment for a second independence referendum, a full two parliamentary terms after their first win, there can be no serious grounds to oppose it. You can’t be a fair-weather democrat. You can’t demand to get Brexit done because voters asked for it whilst demanding that Indyref2 is continually rejected despite voters asking for it.

But the SNP has already won several elections with a clear manifesto commitment. The referendum hasn’t happened. There are no serious grounds to oppose a referendum and never have been. The referendum hasn’t happened. You can’t be a fair-weather democrat. Yet that is as much as the British political elite has ever been. You can’t be hypocritical. Yet the British political elite has never been anything else.

The British establishment’s position is not going to change. If they can discount four or five mandates, they can discount forty or fifty. If they can disregard one expression of the democratic will of Scotland’s people, they can ignore all such expressions. If democratic principles were a consideration for the British state they would not have blocked a referendum in the first place. If they were going to relent, they would have done so long before now.

The SNP will be forgiven for sort of breaking its not-quite-a-promise of a referendum in 2020. But resentment grows exponentially. They will be given yet another mandate in 2021. But, one way or another, that will surely be the last.

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It is time!

“It’s time to give Scotland the chance to choose our own future.” – Nicola Sturgeon

Give? Really, First Minister? Not to be pernickety, but how can the British government possibly “give” the people of Scotland something which is inalienably ours? How might they gift us something which isn’t in their gift?

And even supposing it was theirs to give, why would we want it? Why would we want anything the British state might be prepared to give to us? If they are prepared to give it, they must consider it worthless. And if it turns out not to be worthless in our hands, they reserve the right to take it back.

Language matters, First Minister. It both expresses and shapes our mindset. If you habitually speak as if you are a supplicant carving a boon from their superior, then that is how you will tend to think of yourself. It is certainly how others will be led to think of you. Especially if you are, by your words, merely confirming their prejudices.

In refusing a Section 30 order Boris Johnson is not clinging jealously to something that is his. He is trying to impede our taking something that is ours. He is attempting to deny us the full and effective exercise of our sovereign right to determine the constitutional status of our nation and choose the form of government which best addresses our needs, priorities and aspirations.

To speak of Scotland being ‘given’ the chance to choose our own future implies that there is some doubt about the fact that the choice must be ours because the future is. It implies a mindset which regards independence as something that would be nice to have if only we could persuade the British state to grant it to us. Better for that you, as First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP, should think of independence as an essential thing that is rightfully ours but which is being wrongfully withheld from us by the British state.

Asking for “the chance to choose our own future” also implies a persistent hope that the British political elite will eventually relent. That they can be won over by incessant appeals to reason or principle or conscience. I ask you, First Minister, what cause is there to suppose this to be anything other than a forlorn hope? Does not all evidence and experience indicate that the British political elite is determined to preserve the Union at any cost? Do the words and deeds of British politicians not tell of an abiding disrespect for Scotland and for democracy? Has it not yet become clear to Scotland’s political leaders, as it has to increasing numbers of Scotland’s people, that locking Scotland into the Union is an overarching imperative for England-as-Britain?

And even supposing the right of self-determination was theirs to give and they could be persuaded to give it, do you not recognise that this ‘gift’ would come wrapped in caveats and conditions and conceals traps such as to make it useless for our purposes?

Please, First Minister, stop saying, “It’s time to give Scotland the chance to choose our own future.” Start saying that it is time for Scotland to take what is rightfully ours. Time to defy Boris Johnson and the British government. It is time to stop trying to avoid a confrontation that can only be avoided by abandoning Scotland’s cause. It is time to accept that the route to independence does not and never can lie through Westminster but must be by way of the only Parliament which can claim democratic legitimacy in Scotland. It is time!

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Leave it to the experts

Amidst the eight hundred or so articles I’ve written since I started blogging in February 2012 you will find several which take as their subject warnings about what the future may hold if events play out in particular ways. Warnings, for example, published in the period before the 2014 referendum warning about the consequences of voting No. Or, subsequent to the first referendum, warnings about the implications of too long delaying a new referendum. Here are a few examples, with passages emphasised.

This is from 5 April 2018.

I had hoped to find in his [Pete Wishart] latest writing on the subject answers to such questions as what criteria are to be used in assessing the “optimum time” and how, having delayed the vote, he proposed to deal with the British government’s moves to make a new referendum impossible and/or unwinnable. I’m none the wiser on any of these points.

Referendum 2018

From 7 April 2018.

We can be sure, also, that while emasculating the Scottish Parliament the British government will also introduce measures for the purpose of making an independence referendum ‘unlawful’ and/or unwinnable. If the democratic route to independence is likely to be used, it must be closed off. If the people of Scotland might presume to exercise their democratic right of self-determination, that right must be denied.

Threat and response

From 23 April 208.

The difference – and pretty much the only difference – between the anti-democratic British Nationalists and Pete Wishart is that, while he still supposes there might be a new referendum at some undefined time in the future, Ruth Davidson, Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie) are determined that the referendum be postponed until such time as the British government, to which they give total allegiance, has implemented measures to ensure that a new referendum is impossible and/or unwinnable.

Sage advices

From 19 July 2018.

Scour that timeline as you may, you will find no mention of the steps the British government will be taking in order to make a new independence referendum impossible or unwinnable or both. Which is odd given that Gordon [MacIntyre-Kemp] otherwise seems to suppose the British government to be the only effective actor in all of politics. His timeline is almost entirely a tale of what the British elite does, and how the Scottish Government might react.

It’s what we make it

Finally, from 21 July 2018.

In all this talk of postponing the new referendum, whether it be until 2019 or 2021 or 2022, I see no explanation of how those commending delay propose to deal with the measures that the UK Government will surely implement in order to make a referendum impossible or unwinnable or both. It’s as if they think the British state is a benign entity which is just going to sit back and wait until we get our act together. It’s as if they are dumbly unaware that locking Scotland into a unilaterally redefined political union is one of the principal imperatives driving British policy.

I despair!

Now look at the image below showing the relevant detail of a Bill (Referendums Criteria Bill 2020) currently being considered in the British parliament.

As I express concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to the Section 30 process and the SNP’s whole approach to the constitutional issue one of the most common responses I get is to tell me to shut up because ‘the powers that be’ know better than I do.

Do they?

I have been told that, for various procedural reasons, this Bill might make no further progress in the British parliament. To focus on this, however, is to miss the point. The point being that the Bill existed in the first place. It serves to illustrate the ways in which the British establishment will seek to close down all democratic routes to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Something which could easily be foreseen.

It has been further stated proposal of the Referendums Criteria Bill 2020 was prompted by the 2016 EU referendum and the ensuing chaos. So what? Does this mean it wouldn’t have applied to Scotland? No! Does it mean it wouldn’t have serious implications for the independence campaign? No!

Does it mean there is no possibility of further efforts to make a new referendum impossible and/or unwinnable? No!

Is the Scottish Government ready to deal with those efforts? You’d like to think so. But….

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What's to stop them?

Simple question. What’s to stop them? What’s to stop the British government denying Scotland’s right of self-determination indefinitely?

Ian Blackford asks,

How many times do the people of Scotland have to vote for the SNP to give the Scottish Parliament a mandate to have an independence referendum?

Rather than ask what the number is he’d have done better to ask if there is a number. If one mandate can be dismissed then so can two. And four. And eight. And any number you care to think of. It is no more problematic for the British government to dismiss mandate number 1,765 than mandate number three. Or four. Or whatever it is that we’re at now. If anything, it gets easier for them. They’ll quickly get into a routine.

There is no cost to them. It costs the British government nothing to ignore a mandate for a new referendum. The cost is zero. It doesn’t matter what zero is multiplied by, it is still zero.

Ian Blackford asks,

Is he [Borish Johnson] really prepared to ignore a party that has got 80% of the seats from Scotland in this place and has won 45% of the vote?

Yes, he is. We know he is. Because he’s said he is very often and with as much clarity as he is capable of. And why not? Why shouldn’t he ignore 100% of the seats on 100% of the vote? The set of rules and procedures which Nicola Sturgeon has called the “gold standard” allows any British Prime Minister to ignore any vote in Scotland. Look at our 62% remain vote. 62% is more than 45% and two successive British Prime Ministers have ignored it with effortless ease and at absolutely no cost.

Any British Prime Minister can ignore any vote in Scotland with effortless ease and at absolutely no cost because that set of rules and procedures which Nicola Sturgeon calls the “gold standard” is built on the foundation of a political union contrived and imposed for the purpose of ensuring that the British Prime Minister and the parliament of England-as-Britain will be able to ignore all votes in Scotland in perpetuity.

A question for Ian Blackford. How is that situation going to change if the SNP isn’t prepared, and the Yes movement isn’t allowed, to even mention the possibility of ending the Union?

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Don't ask for dumb loyalty

Yet another senior SNP figure pops up to tell us we must have faith in the party leadership and desist from “niggling within our own team”. Presumably, this is aimed at, possibly among others, the people who are expressing grave concerns about the party’s approach to the constitutional issue. I hesitate to call it hypocrisy, but there’s certainly a double standard in Andrew Wilson insisting we treat opponents and No voters with respect while he shows such scant regard for those of us “in our own team” who harbour serious doubts about whether the Section 30 process can work. Doubts which he, of course, makes no attempt to address.

I don’t do faith. I certainly don’t do blind faith. I do confidence when I am persuaded confidence is warranted. I do trust where trust is earned. But I don’t do faith. Faith is belief against evidence. Faith requires that we set aside even the most rational doubts and reasoned concerns. Faith, even outside the context of religion, involves at least partial denial of one’s own intellect. I don’t do faith.

If Andrew Wilson and the SNP leadership are so intent on stopping the “niggling within our own team” then they have, in their own hands, the means to do so. They need only treat those who have concerns about the Section 30 process with some of the respect they tell us we must afford to everyone else. The concerns to which I refer are real and justified. The doubts have cause and can only grow if left unaddressed. Telling us to abandon intellect for faith and be silent demonstrates a lack of respect. Dismissing them as “niggling” suggests a failure to comprehend the reasons people are worried.

I trust Nicola Sturgeon to put Scotland’s interests first. I have confidence in the dedication and ability of our First Minister and her colleagues. But even the most trustworthy of leaders is capable of misidentifying what best serves Scotland’s interests. The efforts of even the most committed and competent team may turn out to be misguided. If others are questioning the wisdom of a particular course of action it will tend to be because those responsible have neglected to ask the pertinent questions. Or they are perceived as having failed to do so.

Asking questions, expressing concerns and airing doubts about strategy does not harm Scotland’s cause. Like all the marches and rallies and inspirational rhetoric and strictly on-message newspaper columns, the debate about strategy becomes part of the clamour for independence. Part of the demonstrable public demand for a new referendum that the First Minister requires.

I do not presume to speak for anyone else, although I’ll wager I speak for most of those expressing concerns and airing doubts about the Section 30 process when I assure Andrew Wilson and others who demand dumb loyalty that questioning the Scottish Government’s strategy on the constitutional issue does not betoken any lack of commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Rather, it is lifelong dedication to that cause which compels me to speak out.

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What might have been

As a follow-up to my earlier article about where we are and how we got here where we’re going, it occurred to me that it might be thought-provoking to consider how things might have been different. I know some will say that looking back like this is pointless. But let’s consider an exercise in political analysis. If it is valid to speculate about the future in order to better understand what is happening now then it is also valid to review the past in the hope of finding guidance on how to avoid unfortunate outcomes. Taking things apart and putting them back together again in a different form is part of human nature. (Were it not so there would be no Lego.) Think of this as an alternative history in broad strokes.

One might have expected Scotland’s independence movement to be laid low be the result of the 2014 referendum. But even those involved in the various campaigning groups and organisations were taken aback by what actually happened. SNP membership soared. Yes groups not only remained intact but gained new recruits. New groups and organisations formed. Arguably, the Yes movement as a whole was never stronger than in the months following defeat in the 2014 referendum. The political leaders of the movement could, quite literally, have asked anything of Yes activists at that time and it would have been done in an instant. The power was palpable. It just needed to be directed.

Recognising the potential, the SNP convened a commission to review ever aspect of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, with particular focus on the Yes campaign. The review commission drew members from across the independence movement, More than a hundred people gave evidence and thousands of other made written submissions. The activities of the commission were credited with contributing to the SNP’s stunning victory in the 2015 UK general election when the party took 56 of the country’s 59 seats in the British parliament.

Mindful of the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2016 and urged to even greater effort by the forthcoming referendum on EU membership the review commission worked hard and fast producing a preliminary report by the end of January 2015 and its full findings only two months later. Initially, some parts of the report were not published. The argument was that criticisms of the Yes campaign strategy would be picked up on by the media and spun in the usual negative way. Likewise some of the suggestions and recommendations. After some debate, however, it was decided that openness was worth the price of the ‘bad press’ which was going to happen anyway and the full report was made public.

The main findings of the report were that, while the 2014 referendum had produced a result, it had not provided a decision. The deplorable conduct of the No campaign and the fact that it was unclear what a No vote actually meant required that a new referendum be held at the earliest possible date in order to properly determine the will of Scotland’s people. The commission recommended that the Scottish Government take the necessary step to ensure there would be a new referendum in September 2018.

Analysis of the campaign strategies and tactics of both sides produced some of the most controversial material in the report. Basically, what is said was that while the Yes campaign was good it was far from as effective as it might have been. And while the No campaign was appalling there was a great deal that could be learned from it.

The SNP leadership objected strongly to the verdict on a campaign for which the party was almost entirely responsible. Their position was that 2018 was too soon and that any future campaign should stick with the strategy that had increased support for independence by at least 50% in the course of the 2014 campaign. Others argued that delaying the referendum would allow the British government time to put more obstacles in the way of a vote and that it would be difficult to maintain the unity and enthusiasm of the Yes movement without the prospect of a new referendum in sight.

SNP leaders were also offended by the suggestion that their administration in Edinburgh might falter after a long period in office. Past examples which suggested that the sensible thing to do was to get out before the first big policy failure or public scandal. Given that the British government was intent on making life difficult for the SNP and digging frantically for something that could be made to look like dirt, the SNP administration was more susceptible than most to encountering problems in the coming years.

Pressure from delegates at two successive party conferences in late 2015 and spring 2016 forced the party bosses to back down to some extent. The Scottish Government would actively explore the possibility of a new referendum in September 2018 and it was agreed that the strategy for the campaign would be informed by the recommendations of the review commission. Nobody was happy. But very few were angry. What more could one hope for.

Then came the EU referendum. The impact of the result changed thinking about independence completely. Scotland’s vote to Remain being totally discounted and the Scottish Government being almost entirely excluded from the Brexit process were regarded, not only as signifiers of what the Union implied for Scotland, but as harbingers of what the British state intended for Scotland. The SNP quickly confirmed its support for a 2018 referendum. The Scottish Government began laying the legislative foundations for that referendum. And the decision was made that the new referendum would be totally different from the first one.

I say the decision was made. But, actually, it was more a case of it developing. The SNP had to play catch-up with the Yes movement which had matured greatly in the aftermath of the 2014 campaign. New skills had been learned – or discovered – and networking had been vastly improved. The Yes movement, while still retaining its character as a political movement, had developed the capacity to transform itself into a massive campaigning machine. A machine so powerful that even the ‘old-timers’ in the SNP had to defer to it.

One of the most crucial developments was the creation of a liaison committee bringing together the pro-independence political parties and the Yes movement. Two huge difficulties had to be overcome for this to be possible. The political parties – especially the SNP, for obvious reasons – needed to overcome it’s reluctance to be associated with any organisation it did not control. The Yes movement had to overcome its reluctance to appoint people who could speak for the entire movement. That both succeeded to the extent that they did is the single most important thing that made what followed possible.

With the backing of the Yes movement and a platform promising a new referendum, the SNP pulled off another remarkable victory in the 2017 snap UK general election, holding all but two of the seats they they previously held while, thanks to the vagaries of FPTP, actually increasing their share of the vote. British Nationalist tried to portray this as a massive defeat for the SNP and a setback for the independence cause, but even some in the British media weren’t buying it. The public certainly weren’t. In Scotland, the mood for change was growing.

Things moved rapidly after that. The Scottish Government let it be known that if a Section 30 order was not forthcoming it would press ahead with the referendum in September 2018 regardless. It was made clear that any attempt to stop the referendum would be defied and any challenge to the result would be met and defeated. After much ado, the Scottish Parliament, where the SNP still had a working majority and the support (mostly) of the Scottish Greens, passed a proposal to dissolve the Union with England subject to a referendum to be held on Thursday 20 September 2018 in which Scotland’s voters would be asked whether they agreed with this proposal – Yes or No.

The UK Government, after much huffing and puffing, backed down. Their first strategy of encouraging a Unionist boycott was abandoned when several Scottish Labour MSPs and even one Tory refused to join the boycott campaign. It was shunned also by much of civic Scotland and quite sharply criticised by the Electoral Commission. In addition, there was no mood for it in Scotland. In part this may have been due to the referendum legislation which stated that the result would stand so long as turnout was above 80% and that if the turnout reached 65% despite a boycott then the referendum would be rerun within a year.

Much to the very vocal annoyance of hard-line Unionsists, the UK Government stated that it would not challenge the referendum result so long as the upper turnout figure was met and any Yes vote was “decisive”. They would, however, take whatever steps were necessary to ensure that there would be no rerun should turnout fall below 80%. The thinking was that the political cost of obstruct would be greater than was warranted given their ability to ensure that the referendum didn’t succeed. It was a gamble. But the strategists and campaign managers reckoned that they could hold just enough of the No vote from 2014 and deter just enough people from voting – even without a formal boycott – to ensure the vile separatists were defeated. They were wrong. We now know how wrong they were.

Support for independence in the polls had jumped 5 points when the Scottish Parliament passed the proposal to end the Union. Subsequently, it stayed steady at between 50 and 55%. A low-level campaign had, of course, been running for a year or more. By the time the official campaign period started, it was clear what the Yes strategy would be. Following the recommendations of the review commission, a two-pronged effort was launched. One strand of the campaign would focus on the “positive” case for independence but, instead of getting bogged down in policy debates that had no relevance to the constitutional issue, would focus on the powers of the Scottish Parliament; building on what was known about people’s preferences for where decisions were made. Independence would hardly be mentioned. It would be about bringing Scotland’s government home.

The second strand would be the “negative” stuff that was almost entirely left out in the 2014. It would be an anti-Union campaign focusing on the ways in which the Union is detrimental to Scotland. This, together with the way the ballot was to be framed, would ensure that the anti-independence side were put on the back foot, forced to defend the Union rather than attack the idea of independence – which was difficult to target anyway now that it wasn’t being talked about by the Yes side.

Importantly, the form of the campaign strategy allowed the Yes movement to unite and focus and stay on-message. No longer did we have the multitude of competing ‘visions’ of independence which so fatally diluted the first Yes campaign. Everybody now could focus on specific powers that should rest with the Scottish Parliament and/or any of a range of lines of attack on the Union.

The result was 69% Yes on a turnout of 82%. And the rest is alternative history.

That was fun!

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