Keith Brown joins the long list of pro-independence politicians plying the Yes movement with pious soundbites urging us to “reach out to our communities and former No voters, and make the strong and positive case for independence”. I’m surely not the only one who hears such bromides and immediately thinks, “Been there! Done that! Got the No vote and its dire consequences to prove it!”. I can’t be alone in craving something more from the SNP than a litany of banalities about ‘the power of being positive’ that sound like they’ve been lifted from the monthly motivational talk given by the sales manager of an office supplies wholesaler.
OK! I get that the new Depute Leader is, first and foremost, a politician. There are public expectations about how ‘real’ and ‘serious’ politicians behave and sound. Ducks don’t strut! Ducks don’t roar! Keith Brown and his colleagues have to act the part. But don’t you just wish more of them would step out of character once in a while? Don’t you long to see the duck strut? Aren’t you desperate to hear the duck roar?
Apparently, many of you are. While the reaction of the British establishment to the SNP House of Commons walk-out led by Ian Blackford has been predictably sneering and hateful, the public seems to have loved it. The prissy, tut-tutting disapproval of this bit of political theatre emanating from the British political elite was all but totally drowned out by the cheering and applause from the cheap seats. SNP membership surged yet again and social media blazed with an enthusiasm that not even the wet blankets of the British media were able to damp down.
Perhaps encouraged by the public’s reaction to the walk-out, Blackford strode back onto the boards at Westminster to give a storming speech in the almost debate-like play unofficially titled “Sewell? So what?”. Fearful of a severe upstaging, David Mundell side-stepped the starring role in favour of his understudy. He was right to do so. Blackford’s performance sizzled with righteous anger and crackled with genuine passion. As a follow-up to his part in ‘SNP Walkout’, it was perfect.
Twice now, Ian Blackford has shown that an SNP politician can strut and roar without any cost to their credibility. People are ready for this. People want this.
Of course, the ‘positive case’ for independence must continue to be made. But this must be more than a dull recitation of dry facts and dusty figures. It cannot be only a tedious repetition of the arguments made in the first referendum campaign. Something more is needed. We need a positive case which is at least as much about democratic principle as it is about economic prosperity. But the tempered steel of this positive case also needs to be given a sharp edge.
One of the Yes movement’s most compelling slogans is ‘Hope Over Fear’. This is commonly taken to mean, among other things, that we should campaign exclusively on a message of hope and eschew the politics of fear. But functioning democracy requires the informed consent of the electorate. Which necessarily means that, when faced with a political choice, they should be aware of the possible negative implications as well as the potential positive consequences associated with either or every option.
How different the outcome of the 2014 referendum might have been if, as well as offering a bright vision of independent Scotland, the Yes campaign had done more to make people aware of the dire consequences for the country of remaining part of the UK. It’s not as if we didn’t know. The effect of a No vote was foreseeable and foreseen. The subsequent behaviour of the British political elite was predictable and predicted. But little, if any, of this was conveyed to voters by a Yes campaign which came to regard any hint of negativity as heretical.
Nelson Mandela famously urged that our choices should reflect our hopes and not our fears. He did not suggest that we should be oblivious to threats which might prevent realisation of our hopes. The light of hope is measured by the darkness of the fear it overcomes. SNP politicians have been very good at describing the light. They have been far less willing to talk about the dark that threatens to enfold us should we fail to seize that light.
Reframing the campaign to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status as resistance to the threat of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism doesn’t mean we abandon the ‘positive case’ for independence. It simply means that we add an extra element to that campaign. We’ve made people aware of what Scotland can do as an independent nation. It is right and necessary that we should also make them aware of what will be done to Scotland should we remain part of the UK. The case for independence is augmented and made complete by the case against the Union.
Both cases will benefit from being put to the people with such facts as may be available; such rational arguments as may be formulated; and such objective appraisal of the options as may be possible. But all of this is likely to leave people cold unless it is lit with the fire of justified anger and honest passion.
I’m not asking for Braveheart. Just a bit more Blackford.
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