Empty lines

On December 12th, voters have the chance to send Boris Johnson a message and escape this Brexit fiasco once and for all.

The above quote is attributed by the Sunday National to SNP candidate for West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, Fergus Mutch. It is not an original line. In fact, it is the line being pushed across the entire SNP election campaign at the moment – complete with the social media hashtag, #StopBrexit, and a rather intrusive gif. It’s a good line. That is to say, it sounds good. It has the superficial appeal common to all such glittering generalities. But neither Fergus Mutch nor, as far as I can determine, anyone else who speaks for the SNP has seen fit to explain or expand on the line in a way which might lift it out of the category of an emotionally appealing phrase amenable to being repeated with great conviction despite being devoid of supporting information or reason.

It looks good in a Tweet. It doubtless sounds good when parroted on the doorsteps. But what if somebody asks the obvious questions? What happens if Fergus Mutch, or any of the SNP campaigners instructed by the party to deploy this line, encounters an awkward bugger like myself who isn’t about to be satisfied with facile sloganeering?

What happens if somebody asks what message is being sent to Boris Johnson? Or why there might be any point in sending him any message at all?

What happens if somebody asks how this “Brexit fiasco” might be either escaped or stopped? What happens if they insist on being given an explanation of the process by which voting in a particular way – presumably for their local SNP candidate – on 12 December leads either to Scotland escaping an imposed Brexit or Brexit being stopped altogether?

Is it fair, or sensible, to send out candidates and campaigners to sell this line to voters without arming them to deal with such questions? And, if they have been armed with the answers, where might the rest of us access the relevant information?

While I’m on the subject of awkward questions, were we not assured that independence was to be at the heart of the SNP’s election campaign? Dare I suggest that #DissolveTheUnion is a lot closer to what we were promised than #StopBrexit. And it has the advantage of being something that could actually be done.

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It must be the SNP

I found it quite depressing reading through transcripts of the speeches given at The National’s rally in Glasgow yesterday. Not that the speeches weren’t for the most part, excellent. There is power and passion in them. There is outrage and anger. There is aspiration and ambition. There is hope and hints of the fear that this hope must overcome. The speeches were stirring. Rousing. Inspiring. But we’ve heard it all before.

But for the historical detail, there is hardly anything about any of these speeches which hasn’t been said in a thousand speeches and more since 2011. Much of what was said in George Square yesterday, and certainly the spirit in which it was said; the general tone of the thing, transports me back to the last time we were poised waiting to see if an imperious British state would grant its gracious consent to the exercise of our right of self-determination.

But it is not my intention to once again go over the well-trodden ground of concerns about the Section 30 process and the First Minister’s commitment to it. Everything that needs to be said about that has been said. With the rather notable exception of any explanation as to how that process might work for Scotland’s cause rather than for the cause of preserving the Union at whatever cost to our nation.

I am resigned to the fact that no such explanation is ever going to be forthcoming; either from the First Minister or from those who insist that her choice of a Unionist strategy to address Scotland’s constitutional issue should never be questioned or scrutinised. Concerns about the Section 30 process are not going to be answered – for the most obvious of reasons.

Amidst all the fine, if dated, rhetoric from yesterday’s event, one observation impressed me as relating pointedly to the reality of Scotland’s present predicament. I quote Paul Kavanagh at length.

We are here today to say we want Scottish independence. A lot of people have different ideas about the best way to get there, about different strategies at arriving at an independence referendum. But all those routes, all those different strategies must first cross the bridge of the General Election yet to come.

Next month there is going to be a General Election and it is vital Scotland sends back as many pro-independence MPs as possible in that election.

The message from Westminster will be – if we don’t do that – that Scotland doesn’t want independence.

If we don’t get out there and vote, if we don’t put our differences behind us and make sure we all campaign for the SNP to get as many MPs as possible, the message won’t be that we are disagreeing about strategy for getting an independence referendum. It won’t be that Scotland wants to send a message on climate change. It will be that Scotland doesn’t want an independence referendum.

It’s a fair point. It’s a statement of the obvious. But sometimes the obvious has to be stated in order to bring it out of the blur of the commonplace and into sharp focus. While concerns about the First Minister’s entire approach to the constitutional issue remain, none of that will matter a jot if we don’t successfully cross the bridge of the UK general election on 12 December.

In passing, we might note that this very fact makes the behaviour of the Scottish Greens inexplicable. It seems they intend to stand candidates in 20 or more constituencies, including at least a few where their presence on the ballot cannot possibly achieve anything other than put in jeopardy a seat held by the SNP.

Nobody disputes that the Scottish Greens are perfectly entitled to stand candidates in whatever constituencies they wish. Nobody is suggesting they owe the SNP any favours. They do, however, have a duty to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. They took that duty on themselves when they proclaimed their commitment to that cause. The SNP isn’t entitled to demand any sacrifices of the Scottish Greens. But the Yes movement has a perfect right to do so.

It may be argued that the Scottish Greens also have a duty to their members, and to causes other than independence – such as the climate crisis. But, while it is trivially easy to see how standing candidates in constituencies such as Perth and North Perthshire – where Pete Wishart is defending a majority of only 21 – threatens to cost us a pro-independence MP, it is extremely difficult to see how either Scottish Green Party members or the causes which they espouse might be served by contesting the seat. Barring a miracle of Biblical proportions, the Scottish Green candidate isn’t going to win. Nor is the climate crisis going to be better highlighted or addressed. There is nothing to be gained other than, perhaps, the shallow satisfaction of increasing their vote relative to the last time they stood a candidate. Satisfaction which would surely be short-lived should they take enough of those votes from Pete Wishart to ensure that his Tory opponent took the seat.

Consider the cost. Not only do the people of Perth and North Perthshire lose a damned fine constituency MP who has served them well for more than 18 years, the SNP group at Westminster is diminished, not only numerically but in terms of valuable experience. Scotland loses someone who has done excellent work as Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee and in various other capacities.

It doesn’t end there. I know that Scotland’s independence will not be restored through Westminster. I know that SNP MPs are treated appallingly by the British parties in the House of Commons. I know that they are not permitted to be at all effective in representing Scotland’s interests. But this does not mean there is no purpose in sending SNP MPs into the snake-pit of the British political system. Once again, the example of Perth and North Perthshire is illustrative. Should Pete Wishart lose the seat, it will be to somebody like Murdo Fraser. Somebody who has amply demonstrated their willingness eagerness to sacrifice Scotland’s interests in the name of political expediency, partisan loyalty, personal advancement, British Nationalist ideology or momentary convenience.

Are the Scottish Greens really prepared to risk this?

What is true of Perth and North Perthshire holds for the whole of Scotland. Even if you can find no other reason to support, campaign for and vote for your local SNP candidate, there is always the fact that SNP MPs fill places at Westminster which would otherwise be taken by individuals whose first loyalty is to neither their constituents nor to Scotland nor to democracy, but to their own careers, their party and their ‘precious’ Union.

Paul Kavanagh is right. There is no dilemma here. If you care about Scotland – our distinctive political culture; our prosperity and potential; our precious public services; our democratic institutions; our identity as a nation; our relationship with the rest of the world; our people and the generations to come – then you must do everything in your power to ensure the maximum number of SNP MPs are sent to Westminster.

To be clear, I am aware that many in the SNP are exploiting this imperative to divert criticism of their performance and scrutiny of the party’s strategy in the independence campaign. Unfortunate – even shameful – as this unquestionably is, it is as nothing compared to the urgent necessity of protecting Scotland from the forces of rampant British Nationalism. And the only way to do that is to #VoteSNP.

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Finding unity

Andrew Wilson is almost entirely correct when he says that “the SNP has to unify the independence case and cause and then unify the country behind it“. That is, indeed, the task facing the party. The part of his argument which gives cause for concern is when he refers to “making a comprehensive case for “why independence””. He is wrong because it simply can’t be done.

The Yes movement is famously diverse. Which is a large part of its strength. But while diversity may be advantageous in a political movement, it is likely to be a weakness in a political campaign. Because a political campaign demands unity, focus and discipline, diversity almost inevitably degenerates into division.

There are countless definitions, versions and visions of independence. They cover a broad range of political perspectives from the small ‘c’ conservative right to the radical left. There is just no way these divergent perspectives can be brought together. They are all too often contradictory and mutually exclusive.

It’s easy to say that we all are united by the conviction that Scotland’s independence must be restored. But there is never going to be any substantial agreement on what independence means. There cannot be a single set of policies and positions that satisfies even a significant portion of the independence movement. Andrew Wilson and Robin McAlpine may both live in Indyburgh, but they don’t live on the same street, far less share a political bed.

Alex Salmond made a brave attempt to produce a unified case for independence with ‘Scotland’s Future’. It was intended as a ‘blueprint’ that the whole Yes movement could support, however grudgingly, without seriously compromising their principles or their ideology. It was probably as close as anyone is ever going to get to the kind unified case that Andrew refers to. And it failed!

The ‘White Paper’ for the 2014 didn’t work as intended, in part because many failed to understand its purpose, but mainly because there were too many entrenched positions – and no readiness to compromise.

‘Scotland’s Future’ ended up being a gift to the anti-independence campaign. It provided them with a plethora of targets to attack and countless opportunities to aggravate and exploit divisions in the independence movement. The currency issue is illustrative. There was no rational reason why the entire movement could not support the position set out in the ‘White Paper’. At the very least, even the far left could have just settled for the general fallback position that monetary policy would be decided by a democratically elected Scottish Government after independence was restored. Instead, they attacked the position viciously and incessantly. In so doing, they undermined the Yes campaign.

Better Together / Project Fear exposed and emphasised existing differences by asking the “What currency?” question. It was a trap. And the largest part of the Yes movement walked right into it. They came up with numerous different answer. Then started arguing amongst themselves about which was ‘correct’. None of them were ‘correct’! There is no correct answer to the question because monetary policy cannot be stipulated in advance. All public policy must respond to developments and be shaped by circumstances. Monetary policy is no exception – even if, by the nature of things, it is less responsive and less malleable than, say, fiscal policy.

In a political campaign, when your opponents throw questions at you, your first response should not be to scurry around trying to find an answer which will satisfy both your opponents and your own side. Your opponents will never admit to being satisfied and, if it is a contentious issue, there will be those on your own side who may be genuinely and vociferously dissatisfied. Your opponents, if they are any good, will always ask questions about contentious issues. Your first reaction should be to ask yourself why they are asking a given question.

There are three reasons. Questions generate doubt. The fact that a question is being asked makes the thing it’s being asked about questionable. The more questions that are asked, and the more effort there is to answer them, the more dubious the thing becomes in the minds of those attending to the debate.

Also, your opponents will ask question that they know will bring out the disagreement within your side. That’s pretty much a constant and true of any question.

They might also ask a particular question in order to divert the debate from the question they don’t want asked of them. In the case of the currency issue, the question they didn’t want to have to answer was “Do you believe Scotland is capable of managing its own monetary policy?”. If, instead of the knee-jerk response the Yes movement indulged in, we had thrown that question at British Nationalist politicians, it would have turned things around.

Why have no lessons been learned from the 2014 campaign? That is a question the SNP and the Yes movement do need to answer. Andrew notes that our opponents “won’t even make the positive case for the Union”. Of course they won’t! they have never been required to. We were too busy frantically scabbling around trying to find more and better answers to ever ask them awkward questions. They new better than get into debate about the detail of their case. We obsessed about the detail of ours. There could never be even broad agreement about such detail. The more detail there is, the more scope for disagreement.

Division will always undermine a campaign. Discussion of policy will always create division. The solution? Don’t discuss policy!

A unified, focused and disciplined political campaign cannot be built around a contested concept. As we have learned, ‘independence’ is a highly contested concept. It didn’t help that the framing of the 2014 referendum question made ‘independence’ the contentious issue. Independence is normal. It is the Union which is anomalous. And there is the key to unifying the cause. There can be no unified case for independence. So it is all the more important to bring together the whole independence movement with a unified case against the Union.

Unifying the cause – bringing together all the diverse parts of the independence movement – requires that we find the single factor which is common to all those parts. I call it the point of accommodation. The point at which even the most divergent elements of the Yes movement can reach agreement. The point of accommodation is encapsulated in the hashtag #DissolveTheUnion. That is the thing that every single person in the Yes movement holds in common. We all want independence. But we cannot all agree on what independence is or should be. We can, however, all agree that restoring independence requires that we dissolve the political union between Scotland and England.

That is how we unite the cause. We create a unified case against the Union. We make the Union the contentious issue. We force our opponents to defend the Union. We ask questions about the Union. We exploit already growing doubts about the Union and plant new doubts about the Union in people’s minds.

We explain to people, in a frank, forthright and honest manner, what the Union means for Scotland; and what it promises to mean in the future. We tap into people’s sense of justice and spark their anger at the injustice of the Union.

We do all this while offering the people of Scotland a straightforward solution to the problem of an anomalous, archaic and grotesquely asymmetric, Union. We offer them the option to dissolve the Union. We offer them the chance to restore constitutional normality. We offer them independence.

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A strategy, of sorts!

The First Minister’s spokesperson is right about one thing – the election campaign must be totally focused on independence with the clearest and most concise message possible. He is also correct in his implied preference for submitting the Section 30 ‘demand’ prior to parliament being dissolved.

Ideally, the SNP would have their campaign message ready so as it could be part of the public announcement of the ‘demand’ being submitted. But there is good reason to doubt that this would happen. Nicola Sturgeon seems reluctant to let go of the obsession with Brexit. And the party remains susceptible to the lure of a straightforward British-style partisan campaign. Getting the SNP to focus on the constitutional issue will not be easy.

Of course, those of us who’ve thought it through would prefer to avoid the Section 30 trap altogether. But, as the First Minister has inexplicably ruled out all other options, we just have to deal with the situation as we find it.

I suspect the FM’s spokesman may be wrong, however, about a returned Boris Johnson rejecting the ‘demand’ for a Section 30 order outright. If he did that, then Nicola Sturgeon would have to respond, and the only possible response would be to resort to the courts – again.

Boris Johnson could avoid this simply by ignoring the ‘demand’. It worked for Theresa May back in March 2017 when the First Minister’s ‘request’ was dismissed with a contemptuous “Now is not the time!”, but never given a formal response. Absent that official response, the matter would be pending, and it seems unlikely that the courts would get involved.

British Labour is intimating precisely this course of inaction with their characteristically vague and ambiguous talk ‘not allowing’ a new independence referendum for some undefined period which they are calling the “formative years” of a British Labour government. A government which, we may note in passing, would no more be the choice of the people of Scotland than the Tories.

British Labour cannot be trusted any more than the Tories. We have to bear in mind at all times just how much of an imperative it is for the British establishment that the Union be preserved. We must proceed on the assumption that any British government will do everything in its power to prevent a new referendum ever happening.

Unfortunately, the First Minister is proceeding on the markedly different assumption that she can rely on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British political elite. I am told she knows what she is doing.

When I say any British government must be expected to act to block a new independence referendum – and/or ensure it cannot produce a result they don’t want – that includes a minority British Labour government dependent on the votes of 50+ SNP MPs. The idea that the SNP group at Westminster will have irresistible leverage in this situation fails to take due account of the imperative to preserve the Union which is common to all the British parties.

It is more than merely probable that the British parties will collude to make sure the SNP can’t use its voting power to extort a Section 30 order from Jeremy Corbyn.

As I have said before, the Section 30 process can only lead to a new referendum if the British political elite allow it. There being no realistic possibility that they will allow it purposefully, we are left relying on them screwing up in some way.

It’s a strategy of sorts, I suppose.

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I wholeheartedly agree with the editorial in The National which insists that the coming UK general election must be about independence rather than Brexit or the Tories or Boris Johnson. Across the UK, the British media will undoubtedly seek to ensure that Brexit is the main issue. Here in Scotland, we must combat that narrative in every way that we can. It will not be easy. The fact that I have already mentioned the very things I urge people to avoid talking about shows how tricky it can be. But the effort must be made. And it is an effort that must be led by the SNP.

The National sensibly states that “we would never argue that an election should be a single-issue plebiscite”. It really isn’t possible to make an election serve as a referendum. The two are fundamentally different democratic exercises. But it is certainly possible to make a particular issue the main focus of an election. In fact, political parties do it all the time. During election campaigns, they either try to focus on the policy areas where they reckon they are strong, or on the policy areas where opponents are thought to be particularly weak. They will seek to control the media narrative accordingly. And, for the most part, they succeed.

Generally speaking, the media will work from the press releases put out by the main parties. That is a big part of how the main parties get to be the main parties and remain so. The media want words and pictures. The public want controversy and spectacle – and maybe a little bit of information and analysis. The parties want to influence public opinion. So the parties feed carefully crafted messages to the media in the hope that these will be conveyed in the way that they want and that they will have the desired effect. The media play along because they get the stuff that fills their pages and airtime and, importantly, because they want to keep their contacts in high places.

The result of all this is that the main (British) parties and the mainstream (British) media have it all pretty much stitched up between/among them. If the main parties want to talk about education, here in Scotland we get flooded with talk of England’s education system and England’s education policies despite the fact that it is quite irrelevant to us. If it’s Day 3, 9 or 15 of the campaign, it must be defence. If it’s Friday, the parties are priming the media with topics for the politics shows on Sunday. It’s all very thoroughly worked out. And it’s all extremely London-centric. The periphery – Scotland, Wales, The North etc. – are allocated a small portion of time and attention when badly-briefed ‘big hitters’ from the main parties are sent on flying visits to the provinces where they lecture the natives on what’s good for them before scurrying back to London on the first available shuttle.

The most obvious exception to all of this tightly organised and professionally stage-managed performance is ‘The Personality of The Moment!’. The media likes to spice up the dull stuff by featuring the antics of someone from the zanier fringes of British politics. They’re rather spoilt for choice at the moment. But Nigel Farage is a good example. As was Nick Griffin. Boris Johnson has also filled that role and continues to do so despite being the British Prime Minister. You can always tell who is ‘The Personality of The Moment!’ because they do endless photo-ops and appear on the BBC Question Time panel every week.

Mostly, the job of ‘The Personality Of The Moment!’ is to provide titillation. They have to be ridiculous or outrageous or offensive or, as in the case of Boris Johnson, all of the above. They are the seasoning in the bland dish of politics coverage.

Occasionally, however, the media will pick on someone to be ‘Queen For A Day!’. Which is a bit of a misnomer because they don’t have to be female, or gay, and it’s usually for a bit more than a day. The title of ‘Queen For A Day!’ goes to whichever talentless but photogenic and moderately eloquent individual the media have decided to elevate to a position of some nominal significance by means of endless exposure and exclusively positive coverage. If you are already thinking of Ruth Davidson, don’t consider yourself especially clever, everybody was!

That’s what we’re up against. It’s not all of what we’re up against. But it gives a pretty good flavour. How do we get Scotland’s constitutional issue front and centre when the British political elite would rather be waterboarded than go near the issue and the media already have a sufficient and reliable supply of material, so isn’t interested in trivial matters such as… well… anything that’s not in a press release from one of the main parties?

I can tell you what we don’t do! We don’t put out Tweets such as the following!


Notice how independence is not mentioned at all. Notice what is mentioned: “Remain”, “Tory”, “Brexit” and “Boris Johnson”. Never mind that the claims made about, for example, removing Boris Johnson are, shall we say, optimistic, at best. Why talk about these things at all? Especially when some effort has also gone into leaving out any mention of the one thing that the election is supposed to be about.

The only way we can even begin to counter the weight of the British mainstream media is by assiduously avoiding the things the British parties have primed their media partners to push on the public; while at the same time turning every comment, exchange or discussion to the topic of independence – or related matters.

Make independence and the ending of the Union the only thing you talk about or write about or think about. Shoehorn everything into the context of Scotland’s constitutional claim. Don’t share or comment on any online material without first asking yourself whether it serves your purposes, or theirs. Never use hashtags that relate to anything other than the SNP or the independence campaign. Always use the hashtags that do relate to the SNP or the independence campaign.

Whatever a newspaper story is about, if you can’t turn it to the subject of independence or electing SNP candidates, ignore it. Active disdain can be a very powerful tool on social media, where nothing exists if it doesn’t get noticed.

Where you must refer to online material that is evidently part of the tie-in between the media and the British parties, use archived pages or screenshots. If you don’t know how to do that, ask! There are people in the Yes movement who relish any opportunity to share their expertise.

Stop whining about media bias! It won’t make any difference and just makes independence activists look like pathetic victims.

Support the media that supports Scotland’s cause. But The National. Donate to Broadcasting Scotland. Subscribe to iScot Magazine. Convey my apologies to all the deserving people and organisations out there that I haven’t mentioned.

I’m sure you’re getting the idea. But you may be wondering how effective this strategy might be. To which I would respond by saying that it is bound to be more effective than doing nothing. Bear in mind that the Yes movement is huge. And it dominates social media and alternative media. If we act together, we are a formidable force. Do not underestimate our power.

Don’t follow Nicola Sturgeon’s example. Focus! Let’s make a UK general election campaign relevant to Scotland for a change.

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You have one job!

If the only purpose of a December UK general election is for the SNP to take seats from the Tories, or other British parties, then it is likely to be a triumph. But if you have more ambitious aims, then it achieves nothing. In terms of Scotland’s cause, the practical difference between the SNP having 35 seats and 59 is zero.

A 2015-style landslide for the SNP may be claimed to prove support for a new constitutional referendum and/or for independence, but Westminster doesn’t care. If there was a 100% turnout and every single voter in Scotland voted SNP, it would make not the slightest difference to the British state’s position. And the British political elite has all the power it needs to defend that position. They get that power from the Union, augmented by the No vote in 2014.

The British state can prevent Scotland’s independence being restored. And it can do so very easily. That is the reality of Scotland’s predicament. 59 SNP MPs with an indisputable mandate does not alter that situation one iota. Scotland’s independence will not be won at Westminster.

This is most emphatically not an argument against voting for the SNP at every opportunity. They remain the only party which can be relied on to govern well in Scotland and represent Scotland in the parliament of England-as-Britain as effectively as they can. The trouble is that they simply cannot represent Scotland effectively enough. The Union prevents it. The Union prohibits it. The Union was devised, and continues to function, as a device by which Scotland’s needs, priorities and aspirations will always be subordinate to the interests of the clients served by British political elite.

If you care about Scotland; if you care about our public services; if you care about democracy; then you must vote SNP. You must give the SNP the most powerful mandate possible. But you must also demand that the SNP use that mandate. You must demand that they focus on breaking the Union which denies the people of Scotland the full and proper exercise of the sovereignty which is theirs by absolute and inalienable right.

The SNP didn’t drag the people of Scotland along on its quest for power. The people of Scotland pushed the SNP to the vanguard of our fight to restore Scotland’s independence, maintain our distinctive political culture and preserve our national identity. They have a responsibility serve Scotland’s cause. We have a responsibility to ensure that they do.

Whenever the next UK general election takes place we all must put our best efforts into sending as many SNP MP’s to Westminster as possible. Our target should be 59. But it must be clearly understood by every single one of those MPs, and by the SNP leadership, that we are sending those MPs to Westminster for one purpose – to bring about the end of the Union!

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Damping the fire

Associating Scotland’s independence cause with Brexit must surely count among history’s great political blunders. The mandate for a new constitutional referendum in Scotland was never formally made contingent on Scotland actually being wrenched from the EU despite a decisive Remain vote. That’s not what the SNP’s 2016 manifesto says no matter how many idiots in the independence movement claim otherwise – invariably without having taken the trouble to read the relevant part of the document in question. But it cannot be denied that the SNP leadership have subsequently committed themselves wholeheartedly to linking the two issues of Brexit and a second independence referendum.

Scotland’s cause demands a certain amount of passion. People are not passionate about the EU. They just aren’t. There are no pro-EU counterparts to the ranting Europhobes with whom we’ve all become familiar over the past forty or fifty years. There are no Raving Remainers equivalent to the Mad Brexiteers who created the current mess. Lots of people hate the EU. A few even have reasons which rescue their detestation from total mindlessness. But nobody loves the EU. Not among the electorate.

There are people who understand why the EU exists. There are people who appreciate what the EU has achieved. There are even some who understand how it works. These people have not been taken in by the constant drip-feed of anti-EU propaganda that turned to a torrent before and during the 2016 referendum. They see the EU for what it is – a flawed but functioning attempt to create a novel form of post-imperialist international association. They recognise that, if the EU did not exist, it would be necessary to create something all but indistinguishable from what we have. They are pragmatic about the EU. They are not passionate about the EU.

Putting Brexit at the centre of Scotland’s cause has proved to be a very bad mistake. The cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status needed no further justification. It is, and always has been, fully warranted by the inherent injustice of the Union. Self-evidently wrong as it is to act contrary to the democratic will of Scotland’s people, the core issue is not Brexit, but the Union which strips Scotland’s people of the right to have their democratic will honoured.

Brexit was never going to fuel the drive to restore Scotland’s independence. It simply doesn’t burn hot enough in the lives of Scottish voters. Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will may stand as a particularly egregious example of how the Union serves us ill, but it clearly is not the issue that might unleash the passion needed to take the independence project forward.

Forty months on and after countless ‘poor-us-it’s-not-fair’ plaints from the SNP, there is still no sign of the hoped-for Brexit effect. Still no indication that the infinite patience approach is paying off. Scotland’s metaphorical cheeks are raw from being ever more viciously slapped by the British political elite. And still we are assured that stoically accepting yet more abuse is the winning strategy.

Eventually, we are told, people will realise the economic cost of Brexit and make the calculation that independence is a viable alternative. But Scotland’s cause is a matter of principle, not policy. It cannot be reduced to a pound value. To make that cause about economics rather than the anti-democratic injustice of the Union is to rip the heart from it and replace it with a calculator.

Whatever their conceit of themselves, people don’t vote on the basis of facts and figures. They vote on the basis of feelings. Their decisions come down to where they sit on the spectrum of fear/hope. They can feel enthusiastic. Or they can feel angry. Or they can feel despondent. It is that feeling which informs and drives their choices and not the mass of confusing, conflicting, contradictory data that is thrown at them. The graphs and charts and spreadsheets are useful only as a way of rationalising decisions made on the basis of how they feel.

When it comes to the EU, the vast majority of people don’t feel anything very much. A relatively tiny number are fervently opposed. Almost none have strong feelings in favour. Wrapping Scotland’s cause in Brexit was a sure way of damping down the fire that was lit eight years ago, and which still blazed in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. Unless that was the intention – which I do not suppose to be the case – then the SNP’s obsessive focus on Brexit must be considered a serious misjudgement.

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