New referendum! New mindset!

If an independence referendum were to be called today and the SNP go it alone and be the official ‘Yes’ campaign and it’s SNP versus everyone else, we will lose based solely on voting history. – Chris McEleny

referendum_2018_petitionIf the Yes campaign is to succeed in the coming independence referendum we urgently need a fresh mindset. Sorry, Chris! But this is not it.

Let me say first of all that, having seen him perform in two Depute Leader contests, I have considerable respect for Chris McEleny. I have not the slightest doubt that he is destined to play a major role in Scotland’s politics. But I would suggest that he might benefit from shaking off some of the more conventional thinking that is evident from his views on the new independence referendum.

In some respects, Chris has already done this. He has been prepared to break from the herd and at least put a time-frame around the new referendum. He has said that the vote should be held within eighteen months. Which is a considerable improvement on the indefinite postponement being advocated by some in the SNP. But eighteen months is plenty of time for the British state to do massive damage to Scotland’s democratic institutions and public services. As with the more tremulous Postponers, I’ve yet to hear him explain how he’d go about preventing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists wreaking the havoc that they promise.

A curious thing about Chris’s approach – which seems to be fairly typical of what is becoming the conventional thinking on the matter – is the insistence that “we need to think differently”, quickly followed by a ‘plan’ for the new Yes campaigned so closely modelled on the first one as to be barely distinguishable. Meet the “new Yes Scotland team”! Just like the old Yes Scotland team!

The other thing that puts Chris with the conventional thinkers is the idea that a constitutional referendum can be reduced to a mathematical formula. If our ambitions are limited by “voting history” then we will never even aim for anything, far less achieve it. The nature and form of our activism cannot be dictated by history if we are to have any hope of shaping the future. We will not do what needs to be done by succumbing to the notion that we can only ever do what has been done.

The whole point of campaigning is to make future outcomes different from past outcomes.

I have never heard anybody suggest that the SNP “go it alone”. Never! I constantly hear people insisting that the SNP is not the whole of the independence movement. But I have yet to hear anybody make the claim that it is. I really don’t know what purpose is served by incessantly denying something which, not only isn’t asserted, but is actually impossible.

What needs to be recognised is that the SNP is the political arm of the Yes movement. The independence campaign desperately needs an injection of hard-headed political realism. We have to stop pandering to the various factions which, for whatever reason, resent the SNP’s crucial role. We have to face up to them and tell them straight that the sniping has to stop. We have to get across to every Yes supporters the reality of our situation. Which is that the sure way to lose is to fight the same campaign we fought for the 2014 referendum.

We have to drive home the hard political reality that we will only win by putting the full weight of the Yes movement behind Nicola Sturgeon.

It’s not that complicated! The effective political power provided by the SNP is essential to the independence project. As a political party constrained by its constitution as well as the policies and positions approved by its members, the SNP cannot change to accommodate the diversity of the Yes movement. Therefore, the Yes movement must accommodate the SNP.

It’s not that difficult! The Yes movement doesn’t actually have to change. It doesn’t have to ‘become’ the SNP. It only has to recognise that the movement is not the campaign. The Yes movement and the SNP remain distinct. But both serve a campaign. And that campaign has to be fronted by the SNP for the glaringly obvious reason that the SNP is at the front of the campaign. It is at the point where the independence movement comes up against the British state.

What is the point of the Yes movement putting its weight behind some “new Yes Scotland team” when, almost by definition, that “team” can have no effective political power? A team which is formed for the very purpose of pandering to the factions whose aversion to effective political power outweighs their commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

The Yes movement doesn’t need to be told to “embrace moderate views, socialist philosophies, environmental, radical and democratic thinking”. The Yes movement already does that. The Yes movement is diverse, open and unconstrained. It doesn’t need this to be mediated by a “new Yes team” which will no more represent all of that immensely broad character than the SNP does.

The Yes movement must feed its power directly into a Yes campaign which, in contrast to its own character, is united, focused and disciplined. Like a real, professional political campaign has to be.

This united, focused and disciplined campaign must go on the attack in a way that simply didn’t happen in the 2014 effort. The Union has never been so fragile. It has never been so vulnerable. The Yes campaign must exploit the British state’s weaknesses as ruthlessly and relentlessly as may be consistent with fighting a principled campaign.

The solidarity, focus, discipline and aggression of that campaign then needs to be put at the service of the SNP and, ultimately, Nicola Sturgeon.

The power of the Yes movement must not be diffused by being filtered through some compromise ‘team’. It must not be diverted to some substitute ‘leader’. The power must be directed where it will be most effective.

That is realpolitik. That is how we win.

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Threat and response

Should Nicola Sturgeon call for a second referendum on Scottish independence to happen before the United Kingdom exits the EU?

filthy_handsThis question, posted on Quora, isn’t really sensible. There can be no doubt that Scotland must have a new independence referendum before the UK exits the EU. Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Circumstances dictate the absolute necessity of a referendum no later than September 2018. The only issue exercising the First Minister’s political judgement is the timing of the announcement.

It is important to understand that Brexit is not the principal causal factor in this. There was always going to be another referendum. While accepting the result of the 2014 vote, we also have to recognise that it did not settle the matter. The No vote was won on an entirely false prospectus and by methods which were dubious in the extreme.

Restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status remains the determined aspiration of something close to half of Scotland’s population. Much as British Nationalists might wish it, the Yes movement isn’t going anywhere. Democracy is a process, not an event. There was always going to be another independence referendum because the democratic process demands it.

Having said this, it cannot be denied that Brexit is a major aspect of the context within which that democratic process is taking Scotland inevitably and inexorably towards a new referendum and dissolution of the Union. The fact that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU despite a decisive Remain vote (62%) stands as a glaring illustration of the fact that Scotland’s interests cannot ever be adequately represented within the UK. Brexit exemplifies the fatal flaws in the current constitutional settlement in a particularly forceful manner.

There must be a new independence referendum because the alternative is to accept that the democratic will of Scotland’s people counts for nothing. This conflicts with the First Minister’s solemn duty to the nation. That conflict can only be resolved by a plebiscite which affords the people an opportunity to assert their primacy and reject a political union in which the principles of democracy are always subordinate to the whims of a British political elite.

Just as Nicola Sturgeon has no choice but to honour the democratic will of Scotland’s people, so she is duty-bound to defend Scotland’s interests in all things and at all times. The office of First Minister requires her to stand against any threat to Scotland’s economic, democratic and social well-being. The role demands that Nicola Sturgeon do all in her power to protect Scotland’s economy, democratic institutions and essential public services. All of these are menaced by the imperatives of the British state.

Driven by those imperatives, the British government will seek to exploit the circumstances of Brexit in order to ‘deal with’ what is perceived by the British political elite – with perfect justification – as a challenge to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. Leaving the European Union necessitates the constitutional redefining of the UK. The British government will seize this opportunity to unilaterally redefine Scotland’s status within the UK – effectively locking Scotland into a political union without reference to Scotland’s people or our elected representatives.

As part of this effort to neutralise the wave of democratic dissent risen in Scotland, the British government will systematically strip Holyrood of its powers, transferring control from the democratically elected Scottish Parliament to an unelected and unaccountable shadow administration at the Scotland Office.

The so-called ‘Brexit power grab’ is the thin end of a very nasty wedge. Anybody who imagines that it will stop at powers relating to animal welfare and food standards is dangerously naive. There is every reason to expect that the ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ being touted will rapidly extend and expand until even Scotland’s precious public health service is in the hands of those who regard it as an asset to be stripped.
We know that these things will happen because British politicians such as David Mundell have made no secret of their intentions. We know that these things will happen because they are already happening.

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.

Nicola Sturgeon must be aware of the threat. As First Minister, she cannot ignore that threat. She must also know that the threat is not from Brexit, but from the political union which allows a British political elite to dispose of Scotland as may be expedient and with total contempt for the democratic will of Scotland’s people. The obvious and only solution is to dissolve that political union. A measure which must be ratified by Scotland’s electorate in a referendum.

Finally, we cannot disregard the matter of electoral politics. As well as be First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is Leader of the Scottish National Party. A party which is unequivocally and unconditionally committed by its constitution to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. A party which has also become Scotland’s main party of government. She has a responsibility to the SNP’s 120,000+ members and all the voters who have given the party a mandate to govern Scotland. This mandate, and her duty as party leader, oblige Nicola Sturgeon to call a new referendum.

To squander that mandate and disrespect the principal aims and objectives of the SNP would be unthinkable. Almost certainly, it would also be electorally disastrous. Sturgeon must have at least half an eye on the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2021. She is certainly cognisant of the precarity of the pro-independence majority at Holyrood and, therefore, of the SNP administration.

As an astute political operator, Nicola Sturgeon will have realised that one of the aims of the British establishment is to get the Scottish Parliament back under the control of the British parties, as was always intended. Only a relatively tiny decline in the SNP vote in 2021 would allow the British parties to take power – even if they had to form a ‘Grand Coalition’ in order to do so.

Failure to hold a new independence referendum would be catastrophic, not only for the electoral fortunes of the SNP, but for the status and authority of the Scottish Parliament.
Taking all of the foregoing into account, it is clear that Nicola Sturgeon must act. This leaves only the question of the form which this action takes and the timing of a public declaration.

There is no question that there will be a new independence referendum. Currently, there is a heated debate within the SNP and the Yes movement concerning the matter of when this referendum should be held. There is no debate about whether it should happen. On one side of this debate there are those who are concerned about the consequences of failing to secure a Yes vote in the referendum. They want to postpone the referendum indefinitely. Or, to be as fair to them as is possible, they want to defer the referendum until some some ‘optimum time’ which remains undefined, probably undefinable and certainly impossible to predict as would be required.

On the other side of the debate are those who recognise the threats described above. They are aware of the serious and imminent jeopardy facing Scotland. and they know that the consequences of the Yes side losing in the referendum are functionally identical to the consequences of not holding the referendum at all. In either scenario, the same fate awaits us. The only difference is that not holding the referendum makes that fate a certainty.

The imposition of a repugnant, anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist agenda can only be avoided by dissolving the Union. Nicola Sturgeon must begin this process with a view to having the dissolution affirmed by the people of Scotland in a referendum to be held no later than September 2018.

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Queen to…

white_queenFor some months now I have been attempting to placate those who have expressed impatience with Nicola Sturgeon by assuring them that she has a plan. A plan which involves letting the British government make the case for the moves she intends to make. Moves such as the introduction of the Continuity Bill. It has been a matter of gradually ramping up the response level as the actions of British Ministers grow more explicitly confrontational.

It’s all about proportionality. For many of us, it was plain enough to see that the British government intended to use the Brexit process as an opportunity to weaken the Scottish Parliament – which British Nationalists regard as a potential obstacle to their ‘One nation’ state; not to mention it being a deterrent to the kind of predatory corporate interests with which the British state will be obliged to do business after Brexit. But this was not necessarily evident to the general public. The First Minister has to be able to explain her actions with reference to things actually said and done by British Ministers.

Not that it will make any difference to the media. They will portray Nicola Sturgeon as the intransigent aggressor regardless. According to the British media, David Lidington didn’t threaten to strip powers from the Scottish Parliament and declare the intention to impose ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ that would eliminate “discrepancies” among the nations of the UK. He didn’t declare, in effect, that it is unacceptable for Scotland to have policies developed for Scotland’s needs and priorities; implemented by a government with a mandate from the Scottish people; scrutinised, amended and approved by a parliament with genuine democratic legitimacy. Instead, we are to have forced on us policies and ‘solutions’ devised by people who are not accountable to the Scottish electorate and whose priorities are those of their masters in London.

And the British media’s spin on this? Nicola Sturgeon ‘rejects’ an ‘offer’ from the UK Government. The FM is perfectly aware that this kind of distortion of the facts cannot be prevented. All she can do is wait long enough for the media’s dishonesty to be apparent to as many people as possible.

The First Minister’s actions may seem to be one step behind the British government. But you can be sure her thinking is several moves ahead. Things are moving inexorably towards a new independence referendum in September 2018. The Yes movement need only stand firm with Nicola Sturgeon and her Ministers. The British political elite will do the rest.

PS – Apart from the stated purpose of the Continuity Bill, who has figured out what else it does?

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