Considering consequences

pw_siuAssuming, as we must, that Pete Wishart is not entirely delighted at having been appointed poster-boy for the uglier fringes of anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism, he will doubtless be glad of the succour offered by Andrew Tickell. The veteran SNP MP will surely be aware that there’s precious little support for his call to inaction across the Yes movement.

Having trained as a lawyer, Andrew Tickell will probably be aware of the Latin term argumentum ad verecundiam. The rest of us may be more familiar with the English translation argument from authority, or appeal to authority.

Pete Wishart’s public intervention is helpful, not least because his description of the lie of the land better reflects the ambivalent conversations between independence supporters you hear behind closed doors than the noisy certainties which dominate pro-indy debates in public about where Nicola Sturgeon should turn from here.

I don’t doubt that this reflects Andrew’s experience. But, despite his derisive dismissal of alternative accounts as “noisy certainties”, there is no reason to suppose that his experience is any more valid or representative of reality than, say, my own. I have no way of knowing the extent of his eavesdropping on “conversations between independence supporters”. For all I know, he may devote an inordinate amount of time to this pursuit. It may well be that these overheard conversation really were as “ambivalent” as he claims. He may consider that he has amassed sufficient evidence to justify his conclusion. But is it sufficient to satisfy those whose minds are open to alternative accounts?

In recent months I have travelled all over Scotland meeting and talking with individuals and groups from just about every part of the Yes movement. I found very little sign of the “ambivalence” to which Andrew refers. On the contrary, and despite my expectations, these “conversations between independence supporters” revealed a calm, considered confidence that a new referendum in September 2018 is advisable or essential or both.

Just as Andrew’s argument from the unverifiable authority of unquantified private conversations among unidentified independence supporters isn’t quite as conclusive as he might wish us to believe, so Pete Wishart’s exclusive claim to ‘pragmatism’ isn’t finding the unquestioning acceptance he seems to think it deserves. The implication that those who reject his appeal to inertia are being impractical, or overly emotional, is actually quite offensive. The people I speak to aren’t driven by mindless nationalistic fervour. They are at least as capable of rationally assessing the political situation as Pete Wishart is.

Speaking to voters on the doorsteps in his Perth and North Perthshire constituency may give Pete Wishart some insight. But there is no reason to suppose this trumps insights gained by talking to people in Troon and Thurso and Elgin and Lerwick and Glasgow and Portree and Dunfermline. And Pete Wishart’s preference for indefinitely deferring a new independence referendum is finding very little favour in any of those places.

It is arrogant folly of the worst kind to dismiss the views of these people as “noisy certainties”. Messrs Wishart and Tickell would be well advised to at least consider the possibility that the activists who are the bedrock of the Yes movement may be perfectly qualified to reach their own conclusions about the best way forward. If they reject the hyper-cautious approach being commended by a handful of independence supporters it may well be for very sound reasons. Perhaps, like me, they’ve noticed something missing from Pete Wishart’s argument. Perhaps, like me, they’re still waiting to be told what criteria might be used to assess this “optimum time”. Perhaps, like me, they’re still curious as to how this “optimum time” might be predicted months in advance. Perhaps, like me, they’re left wondering how Pete Wishart can be so absolutely certain that September 2018 isn’t the “optimum time”.

Maybe, like me, they’ve considered another big hole in Pete Wishart’s argument. While he frets anxiously and dolefully about what he supposes will be the impact of holding the referendum ‘too soon’ and losing, he appears to have given no thought at all to the consequences of postponing a vote until such time as the portents are entirely auspicious and victory is absolutely assured. Or, to put it another way, never!

Perhaps, like me, those Yes activists who disagree with Pete Wishart have filled in the gaps for themselves. Perhaps, like me, they’ve considered the potential consequences of losing a September 2018 referendum and not holding a referendum in September 2018. Perhaps, like me, they’ve realised that the consequences are precisely the same in both scenarios. Perhaps, like me, they recognise that the only difference is that doing it Pete Wishart’s way makes those consequences a certainty.

Perhaps, like me, they know that the only chance we have of avoiding the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is to go for a referendum in September 2018 and put all our energies into making that the “optimum time”.


If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence campaign.

donate with paypal

donate with pingit

 

Referendum 2018

referendum_2018_petitionDebate rumbles on about the timing of Scotland’s new independence referendum. Recently, the most public aspect of this debate has been an exchange between Pete Wishart and James Kelly. This began, as I recall, with a column written by veteran SNP MP which was slated by the SCOT goes POP blogger in an article for iScot Magazine. Wishart than demanded a right of reply and the latest episode in this spat appears as a letter in the April issue of iScot. (You can download an image of the letter here.)

I say “latest episode” although, as James Kelly subsequently pointed out, the letter addresses none of the criticisms of the original column and does nothing whatever to clarify Pete Wishart’s notion of an “optimum time” for holding a new independence referendum. We are told nothing new. The letter merely rehashes the pieties and platitudes and does nothing to aid our understanding of exactly how Mr Wishart hopes to know, presumably some months in advance, what will be the “optimum time” for another vote on Scotland’s constitutional question.

I was as frustrated by this lack of explanation as was James Kelly. Particularly as I had, myself, written a lengthy critique of Pete Wishart’s original column to which he did not see fit to respond. I had hoped to find in his 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.

In truth, this ongoing debate seems perplexing and pointless to me. To my mind, the issue of when the referendum should be held was settled more than three years ago. Realising that the constitutional issue could not possibly be considered settled by a No vote won on an entirely false prospectus and having given the matter serious thought in the days and weeks after the 2014 vote, I concluded that the earliest possible date for a new referendum was September 2018. The Leave vote in the EU referendum and the constitutional implications for Scotland of Brexit meant that this changed from being the earliest date to the latest.

Nothing Pete Wishart has said dissuades me from the conviction that the new referendum must be held no later than Thursday 20 September 2018. He has had ample opportunity to make the case that it is possible to define an “optimum time” and accurately predict when that time will arrive several months in advance. He has failed to do so. He cannot say what factors identify the right time and differentiate it from the wrong time. He cannot tell us what portents we must look for in order to know that the time is approaching. He has nothing to say about the actions the British state is all but certain to take whilst he is dabbling in the entrails of a goat looking for a sign.

Recognising the threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions and distinctive political culture posed by rampant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism, and in the absence of any rational arguments for delay, I cannot see insistence that a new referendum be deferred indefinitely as anything other than the utmost folly.

I am far from alone in being unconvinced by Pete Wishart’s hyper-cautious approach. Veteran commentator Ruth Wishart (no relation) is one of many who have taken him to task for his vacillation. As she says,

This Autumn will be the fourth anniversary of the 2014 Referendum.  We risk losing all the passion, all the hope, all the ambition which that generated if our best rallying cry is NOT YET.

I hadn’t intended to comment further, having pretty much said all I felt need to be said in that earlier article – and having had no response. But then I opened my inbox this morning to find three new blog articles on the subject of what Ruth Wishart calls The Great Indyref Timing Debate. None could be described as sympathetic to Pete Wishart’s point of view.

The redoubtable Barrhead Boy could hardly make his position clearer,

I have made my position quite clear all along, I favour autumn this year for the simple reason that our biggest asset is our grassroots and they are better deployed through a summer campaign rather than in the depths of winter.

We also cannot wait till Autumn 2019 because by that time the power grab will be in full swing and for all we know Westminster may have neutered Holyrood so much our right to call and hold a referendum could well be gone.

It may be worth noting in passing that Pete Wishart has addressed neither of these points. He is too vague about the timing to even specify a season of the year. And there is no indication that he is even aware of the threat to the Scottish Parliament necessarily implied by talk of “UK-wide common frameworks” and the creation of a shadow Scottish government at the Scotland Office ready to take powers stripped from Holyrood.

Another two articles are interesting both for the differences between them and the agreement. In Campaigning ‘for’ Scotland we find talk of an “official non-party affiliated Yes Movement” umbrella group – the Scottish Independence Convention is specifically mentioned – as well as encouragement to mount a new ‘positive’ campaign.

What we can do though is start once again campaigning ‘for’ Scotland. Start to provide a vision of what Scotland can be. Start to put forward projections of the impact renewable energy, the proposed national investment bank, continued and enhanced investment in the social contract, the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from our country, the introduction of a Scottish defence and coastal service, capital investment proposals, and loads more, can have as an independent country.

This would, I suspect, find favour with Pete Wishart, who seems to believe that there is some novel formulation of the ‘positive’ case for independence which will induce an epiphany in former No voters. A message which, for all the ‘diversity’ of the Yes movement, we failed to find first time around. To me, however, this kind of thinking seems woefully outdated and inadequate. I long since came to the conclusion that it would be a tragic mistake to simply attempt a rerun of the first Yes campaign. Not that what we did then was wrong, necessarily. But it was right for its time and the circumstances that prevailed.

Things have changed. While we need to maintain the vision of Scotland’s potential to be a better, fairer, more prosperous nation, the coming referendum campaign needs something else. It needs a hard edge. It needs to be at least as much a campaign against the Union as ‘for’ Scotland.

The new referendum campaign must adopt a more hard-headed, pragmatic approach. And I don’t mean Pete Wishart’s brand of pragmatism. A term which he deploys to give his arguments a veneer of rationality and in an attempt to disarm his critics by suggesting they are something other than pragmatic. I’m talking about a campaign informed by an awareness of realpolitik and recognition of the fact that the British state is no friend to Scotland. That means we should forget about the diversion of an ‘umbrella group’ and concentrate all the power of the Yes movement where it will be most effective – behind Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government.

This is the argument made forcibly by Jason Michael on Random Public Journal.

Our task is to start afflicting the comfortable. Independence will not be won by making the case for independence. We’ve tried that already. Feelings, not well-reasoned and politely delivered arguments, win votes in the modern political context. Better Together won in 2014 not because it convinced anyone Scotland was incapable of statehood, but because it terrorised just enough of the electorate to persuade them to vote for the status quo. Feels trump reals in modern politics, and whether we like that fact or not we had better bloody get used to it. Independence will not be won in Scotland with what Pete Wishart recently described as a “persuasive new case to overcome deeply held convictions.” Independence will be won by the side that can inflict the most discomfort on the other. Scotland will not be free while Jack is alright.

That’s more like it!

While these articles may differ in what they see as the best way of conducting the new referendum campaign, and argue their case in different ways, they agree on one thing. Pete Wishart has got it wrong. Delay is not an option. It has to be #Referendum2018.


If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence campaign.

donate with paypal

donate with pingit

 

Breakout!

saltire_breakoutNice one, Pete! Putting a reference to Braveheart right at the top of your article was a stroke of genius. Braveheart is a trigger word for British Nationalists. They are pathologically obsessive about Mel Gibson’s kilt and claymore account of a mild-mannered minor Scottish nobleman turned blue-faced, bare-arsed freedum-fighter who, having out-thought and out-fought the Englander enemy, was betrayed by his ain folk and totally went to pieces over it. Unionists were bound to latch onto this cinematic allusion and be distracted from the vague, vacuous and vacillating drivel that follows.

I like Pete Wishart. He is a superb MP. He has served his constituency and his country admirably over many years at Westminster. As Chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee he has proved an embarrassment to most of his predecessors in that role. His work-rate is phenomenal. He is a credit to his party. He’s one of the good guys. But this article is almost a definitive statement of the very attitudes and thinking which the SNP and the Yes movement must eschew if Scotland is to be saved.

I say this, not to give offence – although I accept that offence may be taken, possibly by Pete Wishart himself and all but certainly by others on his behalf. I say it because my dedication to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence is as strong as his. It would be remiss of me to be reticent out of respect for one individual when such a cause is at stake. To remain silent, even for friendship’s sake, in the face of what I can only regard as dangerous folly would be to betray the cause to which we both are committed.

The article deals with three main topics. The scheduling of a new independence referendum, and the timing of a formal declaration by the Scottish Government of its intention to hold such a referendum.

The relevance of Brexit to these questions of scheduling and timing.

The form, manner and conduct of the campaign to first secure and then achieve a Yes vote in a new independence referendum.

In each of these areas I find Pete Wishart’s analysis to be shallow, his conclusions indecisive, his ideas unimaginative and his general approach cautious almost to the point of paralysis. I know it’s only a short newspaper article. But if the intention was to give an impression of his thinking in relation to the core political issue of our time then, with every gram of goodwill I can muster, I cannot do otherwise than conclude that his thinking is woefully inadequate.

On the matter of when the new referendum should be announced and then held, Pete would have us wait until we can be “certain of victory”. He would have us put off the campaign until the campaign has been won. We should wait and see. We should make ourselves slave to the polls. We should be dictated to by events.

I genuinely don’t understand this. We don’t campaign because the polls have moved in our favour. We campaign in order to move them. We don’t campaign because public attitudes have changed. We campaign in order to change them. We don’t wait for the conditions to be right. We make them right.

If there is a point at which conditions are right for a new referendum, Pete declines to define it for us. He leaves such definition to indeterminate developments and unknown circumstances.

But what of developments which have already happened, or are in train now? What of the circumstances which already exist, or can be foreseen with a high degree of confidence? Where is their influence on Pete Wishart’s thinking? If development’s in the relationship between the UK and Scottish governments since 2014 do not have a definitive effect on thinking about the need for a new referendum, then what might?

What future developments might give adequate grounds if all the broken promises and exposed lies and imposition of execrable policies and casual disrespect of the last 40 grim months is to be borne without protest? What is it going to take before Pete Wishart is prepared to say enough?

The ‘Parable of Stirling Bridge’ with which Pete opens his article has a superficial ring of wisdom to it. It sounds very plausible to say that we should “hold” until the right moment. But this is no more than superficially plausible unless we are told precisely how close the enemy must be before we unleash our weaponry. And it makes absolutely no sense at all if the enemy is already upon is.

What are the circumstances in which Pete Wishart would consider the time ripe for making our move? We are none the wiser on that score for knowing his thoughts on the matter. To the extent that he chooses to reveal them, his thoughts appear to be that there is some mystical alignment of polling results and public mood which somehow allow us to know that the moment has arrived.

But what circumstances could be more propitious than those which have already been created by the British government? What circumstances could better suit the independence campaign than those which the British state is in the process of creating? We are already in a situation where Scotland is politically and economically disadvantaged by the Union. That situation isn’t going to get any better. It’s neither paranoia nor fear-mongering nor resort to the politics of grievance to state that things are going to get a great deal worse. The British political elite is telling us this every single day.

The process of delegitimising and bypassing our democratic institutions and elected representatives is already well advanced. It is not surreptitious. It is brazenly overt. The effort to undermine public confidence in our services and our infrastructure and our capacities is so ubiquitous and relentless as to have become a commonplace of daily life. Part of the prevailing circumstances.

This isn’t happening for no reason. There is a purpose. And we cannot afford to be so naive as to assume benign intent on the part of a British state whose imperatives include preventing the exercise of our democratic right of self-determination and locking Scotland into a political union on terms that are no more subject to meaningful consultation or negotiation involving the Scottish Government than the Brexit process. We have to take a realistic view of where all this delegitimising and undermining takes us.

These are the circumstances that pertain right now. We can be as sure as we need to be what those circumstances will become if we do nothing to alter the course of events. We don’t have to wait and see. The time to “hold” is already past. Now is certainly the day! Even if now isn’t quite yet the hour.

brexit_titanicThen there is Brexit. And, if we take Pete Wishart’s advice, more holding. He acknowledges the inevitable economic impact of Scotland being dragged out of the EU despite voting decisively to Remain. He acknowledges that we’re “doomed”. Unless we take to the lifeboats. Pete deploys the metaphor of a stricken ocean liner. If you think of it that way, taking to the lifeboats is a, perhaps convenient, option. I prefer the analogy of a tall building.

When someone is threatening to push you off the top of a tall building you, firstly, don’t want to suppose that they might not do it. You’re now standing right on the edge of the roof; the precipice only millimetres away; your assailant advancing towards you with a mad gleam in their eye and arms outstretched, screaming their murderous intent, you should be naturally disinclined to pin your hopes on them changing their mind.

Nor need you reflect long and hard on the potential consequences of that final shove. When somebody pushes you off the top of a tall building, you don’t have to wait until you hit the pavement to know that it isn’t going to end well. There may be time for a last desperate hope of a parachute. Or the miracle of flight. Maybe even a lifeboat. But your fate is sealed. Having been pushed off that building you are doomed – with a capital ‘F’.

Pete Wishart’s assessment of the situation lacks the appropriate sense of urgency. Perhaps it might if he took any account of the constitutional, as well as the economic, implications of Brexit. Think of it as a precedent. The true relevance of Brexit to the independence campaign is, not that it promises to be economically ruinous, but that it represents probably the most extreme illustration to date of the asymmetry of power – or democratic deficit – which is one of the fatal flaws at the heart of the Union. Along with the denial of popular sovereignty, it is this inherent, systemic subordination of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people which makes the Union untenable.

But Pete seems not to consider this constitutional dimension. His analysis focuses almost entirely on the economic aspect. Eventually, people will feel the impact. Eventually they will hit the pavement. What use will a lifeboat be then?

There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which negates Scotland’s Remain vote. There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which is not an insult to Scotland. There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which can possibly compensate Scotland for the harm done by Brexit.

I don’t want to hear reassurances from SNP politicians that it may not happen, and even if it does it may not be so bad, and even if it is we may have a way out. I want to hear our elected representatives sounding angry and indignant about what is being done to Scotland. I want to hear them talking openly about the real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy and distinctive political culture from rampant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

I want them to stop talking about Brexit as if it is the disease rather than merely a symptom of a cancer right at the heart of our constitutional arrangements. I want to hear them tell us of their determination to cut out this malignancy. I want to hear their ideas about how we might cure this increasing unbearable condition.

I don’t want to be placated with stories of how wonderful everything will be once the cancer of the Union is gone. I want to hear them come up with some convincing ideas about how we get rid of it.

I’m not getting any of that from Pete Wishart.

He asks the question, “How do we then get over the line and win?”. But his answer takes us absolutely nowhere.

“I don’t believe that it is in simply offering the same perspective that lost us the last referendum. We need a new independence offering that reflects the Scotland we now live in and takes into account the new political environment that we inhabit. Most importantly it needs to be sufficiently persuasive to win over that section of our population that have hitherto been unconvinced.”

This makes no more sense than talk of an “early referendum”. What constitutes “early”? Relative to what? What are the rules governing the interval between referendums? Who made these rules?

Was it our “perspective” that lost us the first referendum? What was it about that perspective which put people off? We need to be told.

What would a “new independence offering” look like? What could possibly be new about independence? How many different kinds of independence are there? This is not explained.

What might constitute “sufficiently persuasive”? What is the form of words which is going to induce an epiphany in “that section of our population that have hitherto been unconvinced”? Is such a form of words even possible? If it is, why has the entire Yes movement failed to find it? No answers.

Pete acknowledges that “offering the same prospectus, with the same arguments, is likely to produce the same result”. So don’t! Accept instead that there is no new way of presenting independence that is going to persuade those who aren’t listening because they’ve already decided that independence isn’t happening. Accept that we’ve already won over everybody who can be won over by the positive arguments.

Accept that we have already harvested the aspirational Yes vote. The only fertile ground left lies just to the No side of Yesland but well short of the desert of ideological British Nationalism. It is in that ground that we must now plant our seeds. And they must be the seeds of doubt.

Doubt was what Project Fear was all about. What gave the anti-independence campaign its strength was its capacity for generating doubt. Better Together was remarkably successful in creating an atmosphere of uncertainty even where none was warranted. Especially where none was warranted. Their strategy was to play on the fear of change. To exploit the insecurity that is a characteristic of the prevailing economic orthodoxy. To take the normal vagaries of life and exaggerate them until, however little actual substance they possessed, they took on the appearance of monstrous catastrophes awaiting those who dared challenge the established order.

They did this in various ways. And, of course, the anti-independence campaign enjoyed the support and assistance of shamefully compliant and docile mainstream media. This was essential, as the creation of doubt required that everything the Yes side did was constantly and repeatedly questioned while nothing the No side said or did was ever subject to any meaningful scrutiny. Uncertainty is relative. Simply by questioning one side more than the other, that side seems to have the most uncertainty associated with it.

If we want to win, we should look to the winners for lessons. We didn’t lose because there was something deficient or defective about the Yes message. We lost because they were better at frightening people than we were at inspiring people.

We have to accept that fear will tend to outweigh inspiration. Frightening people is relatively easy. Inspiring them is seriously hard.

Not that we want to emulate Project Fear. We don’t have to. We can instil in accessible minds an uncertainty about the assumed merits of the Union simply be telling the truth. Pretty much everybody who moved from No to Yes in the past started that journey by questioning their assumptions about the Union. The positive arguments of the Yes campaign had to be there in order for them to have somewhere to go when they let go of the status quo. But it was the letting go that was crucial.

The new Yes campaign must utilise this process in reverse. We need to change the emphasis of our narrative from one of heading towards a better future to one of breaking away from the past. We need to talk a bit less about the new age we hope to enter and considerably more about the existing mire from which we must extricate ourselves.

We don’t need a new independence campaign. We need an anti-Union campaign like we’ve never had.

That is the fresh thinking we require. That is the new approach we need. A more aggressive and proactive approach. In terms of the practical measures and methods we must adopt, we would do well to take what we can from the tactics that worked for Better Together/Project Fear. There is not space here to go into detail, but, by way of illustration, we might look to the fact that the No side had a message which was simple, concise and consistent. It may, when unwrapped, have been intellectually bereft; devoid of any substance or worth; riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies and contaminated by duplicity, deceit and dishonesty but. in its short form, it was always and everywhere the same.

By contrast, there were as many definitions of Yes as there were people asked to define it. The fundamental constitutional issue came to be lost in a welter of policy positions. People couldn’t see the question for the options.

While discussion of being independent has its place, that place is alongside the actual independence campaign. It cannot be the campaign. It is too diffuse and amorphous. If we are to break Scotland out of the Union, we need something hard and heavy and with a sharp point. We need some of that weaponry Wallace unleashed at Stirling Bridge. We need to be preparing that weaponry now. But we first of all need the leaders and influencers in the Yes movement to acknowledge that these are the kind of weapons we require.

I find in Pete Wishart’s article no such acknowledgement. His thinking appears to be that, faced with the formidable might of the British state, we need only fluff up the pillows we took to the last sword-fight.

I find no sense that the day of battle is already upon us, and that only the precise hour remains to be decided.

I find no evident awareness of the urgency of our fight. No recognition that, while Pete Wishart pores over polls and strives to read the public mood from the portents and urges ever more and ever ‘wider’ debate about this and that and this again, the British political elite is not idle. It is mustering its forces. it is conducting its intrigues. It is pursuing its agenda and its aims.

We know what is intended for Scotland. We know that the British government’s plans for our future will start to take solid form towards the end of this year. We know that Brexit is merely an opportunity and a means by which those plans can be taken forward. We know that, if it wasn’t Brexit, it would be something else. We know that if it isn’t Brexit then it certainly will be something else.

We know that the British establishment is absolutely determined to preserve the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state and which advantage the few at the expense of the many.

We know all we need to know. If we don’t want to remain enmeshed in these structures; if we don’t want to be ensnared by the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project; If we want to do things differently, we must act before it is too late. We cannot be deterred by fear of losing. Because failure to act would bring about the same outcome, but make it even more unbearable.

We need a new independence referendum no later than September 2018. We need to conduct the Yes campaign on the basis that it is a fight to save Scotland. We need solidarity, focus and discipline. Because the front of battle lours.


If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence campaign.

donate with paypal

donate with pingit