I’ve just read yet another blog peddling the idea that the mandate for a new independence referendum is entirely conditional on Brexit. 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.
And you can’t escape the import of those words. Unless you wilfully distort it by excluding a big chunk of the text and even more of the context, that paragraph sets down two separate and non-mutually exclusive situations in which the Scottish Parliament “should have the right to hold another [independence] referendum”. Those two situations are –
(a) “if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people”
(b) “if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014”
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”. Unfortunately, those who come to this section of the SNP manifesto having already made up their minds what it says tend to be oblivious to the bits that contradict their preconceptions.
It could easily be argued that it was a mistake to include that example. It may be maintained that by doing so the SNP was inviting precisely the kind of distorted interpretation presented in this article. That British Nationalists would twist the words to suit their malign purpose was to be expected. The fact that so many in the Yes movement are happily parroting this British Nationalist propaganda is one of the reasons I have lately come to despair for the cause of independence.
Another reason is glib utterances such as “we do not have any instant easy fixes that can magically be deployed”. I am not aware that anybody has ever suggested any “instant easy fixes”. So this is, essentially, nothing more than a rather silly straw man deployed in preference to actually addressing the alternative process implied by the hashtag #DissolveTheUnion. The attitude seems to be that, if you don’t understand an idea and can’t be bothered making the effort, then simply dismiss it with some trite phrase.
But, a couple of days ago in the course of a near day long series of exchanges on Twitter, a realisation gradually dawned on me. It wouldn’t matter if there was an “instant easy fix”. Or, at least a relatively straightforward process by which we could advance the independence cause. It wouldn’t matter because what certainly seems to be the entire Yes movement has convinced itself that the process must be complex and convoluted in order to be ‘real’.
This notion is, I think, closely associated with the notion that the process must be ‘legal’. By which is generally meant, in accordance with whatever laws, regulations and rules devised by the British state are deemed to be relevant. The British political elite make hoops and we must jump through them. Once we have jumped through all the hoops, we’ll have completed a process that is ‘legally watertight’.
There is an obvious problem with this which, for all that it is so obvious, seems to elude those who insist on accepting ‘British’ as the definitive standard in all things. There is no limit to the number of hoops the British state can set up for us to jump through. So long as we meekly accept that we must jump through their hoops, they will always produce another one.
There is no route to independence which does not pass through a point at which there is direct and possibly unpleasant confrontation with the British political elite. If you are trying to contrive some ‘legal’ device by which to bypass that point, you are wasting time and resources. If you are not prepared to face that point, then you are not committed to the cause of independence.
There is also a less obvious issue with this notion of ‘legality’. The relevant standard by which the process whereby Scotland’s independence is restored is democratic not legal. So long as that process by which Scotland’s people exercise their right of self-determination is wholly and transparently democratic, then it cannot be ‘illegal’.
I am now resigned, however, to the fact that this fundamental truth is not going to gain anything like the required traction in the Yes movement. I don’t know how many times I’ve explained what that passage from the SNP manifesto actually says. Even though it’s written in English plain enough that you’d have to be motivated to misunderstand it. Nobody is listening! Likewise, the point about democratic legitimacy being more relevant than legislative compliance. Nobody is listening! Also the exploration of bold and decisive action to resolve the issue of Scotland’s constitutional status. Nobody is listening!
Another thing occurred to me in the course of that Twitter exchange. I’ve found myself in a place where Yes supporters frustrate and annoy me more than British Nationalists. That’s not a place I want to be.
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