Two messages

What better way to follow up the tremendous success of the SNP in the European Parliament elections than with a highly visible public display of support for independence? And what better way to help create that highly visible public display of support for Scotland’s cause than to attend the All Under One Banner March in Galashiels on Saturday 1 June?

No sane, sober and sensible person can deny that the EU election result in Scotland is a triumph for the SNP. (And for progressive politics in Scotland; let’s not forget the Scottish Greens’ 8% on top of the SNP’s 38%.) So perhaps we should draw a discreet veil over this Tweet from Stirling Tories.

Ignore the SNP spin. The fact is that in a depressed turnout election, where they sunk a lot of effort Scotland-wide to get their vote out and saw their opponents struggling, they’ve gone nowhere from their 2017 GE result.

No-one has won from these elections that no-one wanted.

https://t.co/iHKaaz5DHq— Stirling Tories (@stirling_tories) May 27, 2019

Or perhaps not.

This was also a massive boost for the independence cause – even if Nicola Sturgeon seemed initially reluctant to include the Yes movement in her own celebration of the result.

Formal declaration to come, but clear now that @theSNP has won the Euro election emphatically – we are on course to take 3 out of 6 seats. A historic victory. And Scotland has rejected Brexit again. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇪🇺🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 26, 2019

Perhaps we should set aside, for the moment, her extraordinary focus on Brexit and look instead on what the First Minister said later.

“If all Westminster has to offer is more chaos and confusion – potentially under the premiership of an extreme Tory Brexiteer – then more and more people will come to the conclusion that Scotland’s future is best served as an independent country.”

Not quite the bold, decisive call to action that many in the Yes movement are awaiting. But at least there’s a mention of the independence cause. Let’s all be grateful for that.

Fortunately, the Yes movement is self-motivating. We act of our own volition and do what we reckon needs to be done. Much as we would wish for some leadership from the SNP, it is clear this is not going to be forthcoming. So we find leadership where we may. Or, to be more precise, leadership arises within the Yes movement where and when it is needed. And, when the need passes, it merges again into the body of the Yes family.

So, we will gather in Galashiels on Saturday 1 June. We will march. We will sing. We will chant. We will wave flags and hold aloft banners. We will make and listen to speeches. We will enjoy music. We will be together. We will be joyous. Some of us will be sore.

We will do all of this for as many reasons as there are people attending. We will certainly do it to send a message to those who sneer at the SNP’s electoral success with the same contempt they have for Scotland’s people, Scotland’s democratic institutions and Scotland’s distinctive political culture. The message is, “We’ve had enough!”

But we will also be sending a message to Nicola Sturgeon. A respectful but forceful message.

IT IS TIME!



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The aim

I think after all of the experience of the last three years, Scotland should have the opportunity to decide whether we want to become an independent European nation.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

First Minister,

As you will surely be aware, the constitution of the Scottish National Party states the aims of the party as follows –

(a) Independence for Scotland; that is the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that its authority is limited only by the sovereign power of the Scottish People to bind it with a written constitution and by such agreements as it may freely enter into with other nations or states or international organisations for the purpose of furthering international cooperation, world peace and the protection of the environment.

(b) The furtherance of all Scottish interests.

Constitution of the Scottish National Party

The first of these aims could just as readily stand as a mission statement for the entire independence movement. That is why the Scottish National Party is the de facto political arm of that movement. That is why you, as leader of the party, are the person to whom the Yes movement looks for leadership. That is why, ultimately, you are the individual in whom is invested the hope and trust of every man, woman and child who is part of the Yes movement.

It is that single objective which unites us. Regardless of our views on any issue of public policy, we are all bound by that common purpose. Whatever differences there may be in our vision of Scotland’s future, we all share that same aspiration – the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament.

There is no ambiguity about that stated aim. There is no equivocation. No caveats or conditions. No reservations or qualifications or provisions. It embraces and enshrines the essential principle of democracy – that all legitimate political authority derives from the people. That the people are sovereign. It is a complete, concise and coherent statement. It says all that need be said. Understand that statement, and you understand everything that matters about Scotland’s independence cause.

To reject that statement would be to reject democracy. To fail to vigorously and unhesitatingly pursue the aims set out in that statement would be a betrayal of Scotland’s interests and Scotland’s cause.

So, First Minister, please allow me to suggest a couple of amendments to the comment you made to Andrew Marr.

I think after all of the experience of the last three HUNDRED years, Scotland should DEMAND that it become an independent European nation AGAIN!


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The point of it all

Factionalism! The reef upon which radical politics so frequently founders. My ism is better than your ism! Only I represent the One True Way! You are failing The Cause! Therefore I must start my own Faction in order to follow the One True Way and further The Cause!

And let us draw a discreet veil over the fact that The Cause can hardly be furthered by splitting its support. Make that a heavy tarpaulin, because this is a fact so blindingly obvious that the standard discreet veil will hardly suffice to conceal it.

While you’re about it, you’d best ensure the tarpaulin is big enough to cover something else The Splitters would much rather not draw attention to. Namely, that the battle to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status must, perforce, be fought from within the British state. Because that is where Scotland is. Duh! The campaign must be conducted according to the rules, procedures, conventions and practices of the archaic and little more than nominally democratic British political system. (At least up to the point where those rules etc. must be broken. But that’s another matter.)

The British political system is profoundly and inexorably adversarial. It operates on a ‘rule of twos’. Thus, the two-party system. Thus also, winners and losers. One winner takes all. All losers cease to be of any consequence bar the one loser chosen to be representative. Government and Official Opposition. Another binary. It is a system which, by design and evolution, excludes factions – and, thereby, excludes radical politics.

The constitutional battle is no exception. It, too, must be binary. Not least for the purposes of propaganda, there must be an ‘Us’ and a ‘Them’. Good guys and bad guys. Colonists and indigenous peoples unjustly contesting the colonists’ claim to ’empty lands’. Unionists and nationalists. Because the British ruling elite controls the media, as well as for more prosaic reasons of electoral reality, the ‘Them’ to their ‘Us’ is and will be for as long as matters to any of us, the Scottish National Party. It is the political arm of the independence movement. Any ‘alternatives’ might as well not exist for all the impact they will have on the British state.

Bear in mind, also, that this is a British state which recognises only brute power. It is a near-impregnable object. It may only be breached by a massive force focused on a single point.

The Splitters will, of course deny the very thing that gives them their name. They will insist that they are not splitting support for The Cause as they are still supporting The Cause – but in their own manner and under their own banner. Remaining stubbornly blind to the inescapable logic that having their own manner and banner definitively implies a split.

The factions proliferate. The forces for reform are scattered. Diversity becomes division becomes diffusion becomes disadvantage becomes defeat.

It has taken decades to get the SNP in a position to be the effective political force that the independence cause absolutely requires. It would be an act beyond political madness to discard that tool at this crucial time in the hope of being able to fashion a new one. Or, even worse, an entire tool shed full of new and untested devices.

I criticise the SNP. Not because I want to replace it with something better, but because I want to make it something better, I want it to be the effective political force the independence cause needs. I want it to be the political arm of the Yes movement. And I recognise that it is not doing particularly well in this regard.

But I don’t only blame the SNP for this. The Yes movement has made great strides towards accepting, if not exactly embracing, the SNP as its political arm. This effort has not been adequately reciprocated by the party. It all to often appears as if the effort is being rebuffed. This is a tragic mistake. There are good reason why the SNP, as a political party, must be wary of close association with external bodies. Especially when those bodies are as powerful as the Yes movement. But it is up to the party to find a way. It is up to the SNP to be different from other political parties. That is what the people of Scotland, and certainly those in the independence movement, have come to expect.

But many in the Yes movement expect too much of the SNP. They expect it to mirror the Yes movement in ways that are quite impossible for a political party. And, if the SNP stops being a (successful) political party, it stops being the tool that the Yes movement needs.

An accommodation must be found. Factionalism is most certainly not any kind of solution. It is, in fact, a way of avoiding the difficult task of finding that accommodation between the SNP and the Yes movement – and among all the elements of the independence cause – which will allow each and all to be effective.

In the Yes movement, we have come almost to worship diversity as the greatest of virtues. For a movement, this may be true, But for a campaign, the greatest virtue is solidarity. In celebrating our diversity, we have fallen into the habit of talking about our differences, rather than that which we hold in common. Recognition that “we all want the same thing” tends to come as an afterthought to lengthy discussion of distinctive policy platforms – if it comes at all. We talk about our respective visions for Scotland’s future, relegating consideration of the key to that future to somewhere lower down the agenda.

The single point at which all the elements of the independence cause meet is the Union. The thing that everybody in the independence movement agrees on is that the Union must end. It cannot even be said that all agree on independence. Because there are differing ideas about what independence means. There is no ambiguity whatever about the imperative to end the Union.

It is a happy coincidence that the point at which all the elements of the independence campaign come together also happens to be the British state’s weakest point. So, let’s not talk of factions. No faction is going to prise Scotland out of its entanglement in the British state. This will only be achieved by the four constituent parts of the independence campaign acting in accord. The SNP as the lever. The Scottish Government (Nicola Sturgeon) as the fulcrum. The Scottish Parliament as the base. The Yes movement as the force.

And let us all agree that the object we are acting against is the Union.


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Why are we marching?

Today, the Yes movement marches in Glasgow. As many as 100,000 people from every corner of Scotland will converge on the city for what will be one of the biggest political demonstrations our nation has ever seen.

If past events are any guide, it will be a joyous occasion attended by people of all ages and from all walks of life. There will be bands. There will be flags. There will be speeches. There will be people from other parts of the world – individuals and groups who have travelled many hundreds or even thousands of kilometres to lend their support to Scotland’s Yes movement. There will be songs. There will be chants. There will be smiles and laughter.

There will be the energy of people motivated by a great cause. A worthy cause. A just cause.

There will be the excitement of knowing the time is at hand when gatherings such as that today in Glasgow will seem like mere rehearsals for Scotland’s Independence Day celebrations.

But why are we marching? What is the purpose of today’s event and the many more which All Under One Banner has planned for the months ahead?

Are we marching to tell Theresa May that we’ve had enough? Are we marching to tell the British parties that they have failed Scotland’s people? Are we marching to send a message to the British Government in London?

What would be the point of that? They’re not listening! They never listened before. They’re not listening now. And there is no possibility that they ever will listen.

They’re not listening because they don’t care. The British political elite cares less than nothing for Scotland’s needs and priorities; our hopes and aspirations. The whole point of the Union is that they don’t have to care. They don’t have to care because nothing we say or do can have any meaningful impact.

As Brexit has demonstrated so vividly, the Union ensures that the people of Scotland cannot be politically effective within the British state. Therefore, we can safely be ignored by British politicians.

We may be tossed a few crumbs from time to time. The British ruling elite may consider it expedient to experiment with devolution, secure in the knowledge that they retain the power to strip it all away with a stroke of a pen. The power which rightfully belongs to the people of Scotland has been taken from them by the Union. We may insist that the people are sovereign. But as long as we accept the Union, we will never be allowed to properly exercise that sovereignty.

Marching to send a message to the British government is futile. Petitioning the British government for our democratic right of self-determination is both futile and demeaning. It is not the British government we need to be addressing.

The Yes movement marches in Glasgow today, not to send an angry message to the British Prime Minister, but to send a hopeful message to Scotland’s First Minister.

There is no point hoping that the British government will respond to our democratic demands. That’s not how the British state works. That not what the Union is for. Only the Scottish Government has the power to act on our behalf. Only the Scottish Government has the mandate to do what is required. Only the Scottish Parliament has democratic legitimacy and the rightful authority to speak for Scotland.

We march in Glasgow today to tell Nicola Sturgeon that now is the time to act. To assure her that she has our full backing. To insist that she join with the Yes movement in order that, together, we may restore the powers of Scotland’s Parliament, the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and the pride of our nation by ending the Union.


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Gathering our strength


The Gathering worked like a precision machine building itself out of a confusing array of disparate bits gathered from across the geographic and social length and breadth of Scotland.

I wrote the above after the first National Yes Registry Gathering back in May. I think you can tell from my comments that I was greatly impressed and enthused by an event which brought together hundreds of Yes activists in Stirling’s Albert Hall to discuss matters such as organising and funding the movement; currency and national debt; voting systems; the economy; a written constitution and, of course, campaigning in a new independence referendum.

I am now looking forward to the second such event – Gathering 2 – which takes place on Saturday 24 November. The venue, once again, is the Albert Hall, Stirling and registration is from 09:00. Tickets for the full-day event cost £14 and can be obtained from Eventbrite.

I cannot stress enough how important these events are to the Yes movement and the cause of independence. Our strength lies, not in great wealth or charismatic leadership, but in grassroots numbers and our ability to find leadership where and when it is required. To maximise this strength, we must develop powerful networks which allow us to tap into the skills of individuals and the resources of groups and use the collective power of the Yes movement to greatest effect. The movement must organise in order to campaign. The Gatherings are a highly effective way to network and organise.

But Gathering 2 is special for another reason. As you will be aware, the SNP has been seeking to consult as widely as possible on the Sustainable Growth Commission Report. To this end, the party held a series of National Assemblies for the purpose of consultation among members of the SNP. But the party was always determined to widen this consultation and Depute Leader Keith Brown MSP has joined with National Yes Registry with the aim of establishing a framework for engaging as fully as possible with the Yes movement. As Gathering 2 organiser Janey MacDonald says,

This is the very first grassroots-run consultation to be officially sanctioned by any Scottish party of government. It’s a historic moment for Yes, and underlines how essential it is that as many of our movement take part in the Gathering as possible, to maximise the legitimacy of this unique opportunity and directly influence power. Come and add your voice.

This is no exaggeration. Gathering 2 promises to be a transformational exercise for both the Yes movement and for the SNP. It is emblematic of the distinctive political culture that we are developing in Scotland. This is how we want, and intend, to do politics. This is democracy in action. The Yes movement has, for some time now, been reaching out to the SNP as its de facto political arm. This cooperation between the party and National Yes Registry represents the SNP’s positive and constructive response.It is no exaggeration at all to say that this changes everything. And you can be part of this change. You can be there as history is made. You can help shape that history.

Which still leaves us with a campaign to prepare for the moment when Nicola Sturgeon initiates the final phase of the project to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. At Gathering 2 you will not only have the opportunity to help set parameters for the official grassroots’ consultation on the Sustainable Growth Commission Report, you will also see the launch of the newly-completed IndyApp 2.0 and be able to participate in a range of seminars and discussions. Most notably, perhaps, on the ‘hot topic’ of reframing.

Keith Brown himself will be attending Gathering 2 along with Sustainable Growth Commission Report authors Jim Mather & Roger Mullin, who will give a short presentation and be available to answer questions and take points from the various working groups.

In addition, there will be a seminar on reframing led by recognised experts Bill Mills and Dr. June Maxwell – with ample opportunity to discuss and learn about this fascinating subject.

But the most important people at Gathering 2 will be the grassroots Yes activists who are prepared to give of their time and talents to make all of this work. I urge you to attend and participate if you possibly can. You will be contributing to a uniquely important exercise in policy consultation. You will be helping to create the campaign which will lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. And you will also enjoy a most inspiring and rewarding experience.


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Intolerable

yesIn order to take this swivel-eyed scaremongering about Siol nan Gaidheal seriously, you have to believe some stuff that is every bit as crazy as the delusional drivel subscribed to by that insignificant band of brain-dead ‘blood and soil’ nationalists. You have to believe that Scotland in 2018 is just like Germany in 1928, with social and economic conditions and a political culture which combine to provide fertile ground for the rise of fascism.

You must also believe that Siol nan Gaidheal is, not a semi-detached support group for the socially inadequate, scientifically illiterate and pathologically sad, but a terrifying reincarnation of Hitler’s Nazis, faithful to the obscene original in every sordid detail and just as politically effective.

You then must eschew all further reflection that might risk exposing the insulting ridiculousness of this demented fantasy and proceed directly to death-camps on the outskirts of Auchterarder where Siol nan Gaidheal‘s psychopathic minions implement the ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘White Settler’ problem with all the cold, heartless, mechanical efficiency for which the Gaelic master-race is renowned.

Those who seek to put Siol nan Gaidheal on a historical pedestal alongside the Nazis would doubtless respond to my dismissive attitude by insisting that there are similarities between the ideologies and by incessantly referring to Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance. But similarity doesn’t imply equivalence any more than correlation implies causality. And, while they bang on about Popper, they assiduously ‘forget’ to mention that what he was warning against was unlimited tolerance of the intolerant, Which, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has proposed. I certainly did not.

At no time did Popper suggest we abandon all reason and sense of perspective and treat every instance of vaguely politically organised intolerance as if it represented an immediate threat to democratic civilisation. It is worth contrasting his reasoned argument with the grotesque exaggerations and frantic virtue signalling of the Angry Villagers.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

What Jason Michael and others are presenting is an absolutist perversion of Popper’s analysis in which suppression is the first resort rather than the last and rational assessment of the threat is foregone altogether. It is a form of madness on a par with anything spouted by Siol nan Gaidheal. and arguably more pernicious. Because, while the threat to democracy posed by Siol nan Gaidheal is too small to be measured, the absolute intolerance proposed by Jason Michael is a very real threat to the Yes movement.

I repeat, with not the slightest hope that the import of the words will register on those intent on engineering an irrational fear of Siol nan Gaidheal, that nobody is suggesting unlimited tolerance of fascism. My own remarks on the matter are perfectly clear despite much malicious misrepresentation by others. Far from suggesting unlimited tolerance, I don’t suggest any tolerance at all. I merely point out that the Yes movement, as it is presently constituted, has no mechanisms by which to suppress – or exclude – any individual or group. Further to this, I assert that creating such mechanisms necessarily and irrevocably alters the fundamental nature of the Yes movement – in ways that many might regard as unfortunate, if not catastrophic.

Unlike Jason – who apparently believes that the people of Scotland are one Siol nan Gaidheal slogan away from descent into rabid fascism – I am totally confident that society as whole is perfectly capable of providing the appropriate level of suppression whenever it may be required. There is no need to destroy the Yes movement in order to save Scotland from the Siol nan Gaidheal bogey-man. Scotland does not so readily succumb to bogey-men.

Which brings us to the final bit of Jason’s inanity which I intend to address in what will be my last contribution to an exchange which has been as depressing and dispiriting for me as I’m sure it has been for all who value the Yes movement.

In the article referred to earlier I set out what I consider makes the Yes movement special, if not unique.

The Yes movement that I have known and cherished is open and inclusive. It is totally open and inclusive. It is open and inclusive, not because those who are part of the Yes movement choose that it should be so, but because it is incapable of being anything else. By it’s very nature, the Yes movement cannot be other than open and inclusive. It is devoid of the capacity to be exclusive. It lacks the structures, the hierarchies, the regulations and the apparatus required in order to formally include or exclude anyone.

Jason, and others, are quite explicit about their desire to destroy the fundamental character of the Yes movement by creating mechanisms by which any group or individual might be excluded. They say it’s only in relation to Siol nan Gaidheal. But when did it ever happen that the power of patronage was left unused having become available? Once mechanisms exist by which inclusion may be offered or exclusion threatened, that power will be used. That’s just the way the world is. That’s just the way people are.

I made myself unpopular by asking awkward questions about who exactly would wield this power of patronage newly created within what was formerly known as the Yes movement. Once the principle is accepted that inclusion in the Yes movement is conditional on satisfactorily passing a test of motives (Or whatever other tests may be devised. They tend to proliferate.), then all motives must be scrutinised. And some authority has to do the scrutinising. Some authority has to administer the test. Some authority has to adjudicate on who is deemed fit to be part of the Yes movement. Who would take on this authority?

Jason imagines he gets around this issue by proposing that it should be a matter of “general consensus”. More acute readers would immediately think of the obvious question which Jason is at pains to avoid either asking or answering – who decides when this “general consensus” has been arrived at? All this does is shift the power of patronage dangerously towards anonymity. It resolves precisely nothing.

Creating mechanisms by which any individual or group can be excluded and placing inclusion in the gift of some self-appointed, unaccountable clique spells the end of the Yes movement as we have known it. Worse! It destroys the essential inclusive character of the Yes movement for no good reason. It serves no purpose which is not already very adequately fulfilled by society as a whole.

At best, it is wantonly irresponsible. At worst, it is yet another attempt by some elitist clique to take ownership and control of the Yes movement. Either way, it is intolerable.


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SNP Conference: Something missing

nicola_speechConference is over. I have that strange mix of feelings which tend to come in the wake of being part of an important event – part sad it’s over; part glad it’s over. Sad because an SNP Conference is an enjoyable and uplifting experience. This is real democracy at work. Especially as much of the last couple of days was taken up with protracted, complex and  – let’s face it – dry as dust internal matters.

Which is not to say these matters aren’t important. They most certainly are. The party is currently engaged in a process of internal reorganisation largely aimed at allowing more full and effective participation by all 100,000+ members. Obviously, I can’t go into detail on this. Not only because it is internal party business, but because it would make for the dullest blog in the entire history of blogging. Suffice it to say that, dreadfully dull and confusingly complex as these debates may be, their purpose is worthy and honourable.

There is, I suspect – although to the best of my knowledge this has never been formally studied – a strong correlation between the functional democracy within a political party and that party’s ability to properly serve democracy either in government or opposition. The very fact that the SNP is striving so hard for inclusiveness and engagement within its own structures and processes almost automatically makes it more fit to govern.

The mills of the SNP’s internal reorganisation may grind slowly. But the product will be worth the effort. Of that, I am supremely confident.

Then there’s the social side of things. After the business of the day is done, it’s time to turn to unwind. The evenings spent meeting with friends – old and new – from different parts of the country are as important in their way as anything which goes one at the conference venue.

While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed endless chats with countless folk over beer or a meal, I have to say that the highlight of this weekend’s entertainment was an evening spent in the company of one of Scotland’s brightest talents Alan Bissett. The author, playwright, poet and raconteur put on a specially prepared show in which he performed a selection of his work, including scenes from his plays and readings from his books. And it was wonderful.

Back to the serious business of conference. As well as the discussions on internal reorganisation mentioned above there were the resolutions to be debated – along with all the attendant amendments. This is where the party activists shine as they take to the platform to speak – often with great eloquence and passion – on a range of issues. It is these debates which shape party policy. This is the party talking to the leadership.

Then there’s the set-piece speeches. This is the leadership talking to the party and the public. There were some excellent speeches. There always are. John Swinney spoke with very obvious passion about his aspirations for Scotland’s education system; and just a little pride in the progress which has already been made. Nobody listening could possibly doubt that this is a man who genuinely cares about Scotland’s children and young people. Coming from anyone else, the words “Equal from birth! Equal in life!” might sound like an empty slogan. When John Swinney utters those words there is no mistaking the power of his commitment.

Mike Russell confirmed his role as Scotland’s champion in the battle to save Scotland’s Parliament from the rapacious depredations of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. He didn’t quite put it like that. But one gets a distinct sense that he’d like to. His anger at what the UK Government is attempting is every bit as genuine as John Swinney’s commitment to give Scotland a world-class education system. Both make it very clear that they see the Union as both a threat to what we have, and an obstacle to achieving more. Both are quite explicit about their determination to remove that obstacle.

And so to the grand finale. The big one. The Party Leader’s address to Conference. Nicola Sturgeon’s speech. Before commenting on this, it is important to note yet again the fact that the SNP two quite distinct roles. It is both the party of government – the administration, and the political arm of the independence movement. When Nicola Sturgeon speaks, she may do so in her role as First Minister, or as the de facto figurehead of the independence movement. Occasionally, as in her Conference address, she will speak in both roles.

The speech follows a fairly well established format. There are regular components, such as the tribute to the host city and the jokes at the expense of one or more British establishment figures. Generally, however, the speech can be divided into two parts – a listing of the Scottish Government’s achievements and announcement of significant new policy initiatives, and something on the constitutional issue. This reflects the party’s dual role.

In regard to the first, Nicola Sturgeon was superb. It would be surprising if she wasn’t given that she has such strong material to work with. Her administration’s achievements have been little short of miraculous when considered in the context of Westminster austerity and the debilitating constraints of devolution. The announcement too were impressive. The immediate pay rise for NHS Scotland staff being probably the standout example. I would urge you to read the speech in full so as to better appreciate what an excellent job the SNP administration is doing – whatever the media may say to the contrary.

It was when Nicola Sturgeon turned to the matter of independence and a new referendum that things went badly wrong.

Let me make this clear – although my remarks will inevitably be misrepresented regardless of any clarification. Nobody with an ounce of sense anticipated that Nicola Sturgeon would use her conference address to announce the date of a new referendum. That was never going to happen. She is far to astute to squander her options at this stage.

What may of us did hope for was some sense of awareness of the precariousness of Scotland’s situation and the need for urgency in addressing the threat to our Parliament and our democracy. At the very minimum we expected an acknowledgement of the rising power and presence of the Yes movement. We were given neither.

When Nicola Sturgeon said that we should not “focus on the ‘when’ of independence”, that felt like a rebuke to a Yes movement which is increasingly concerned that the the consequences of delaying the referendum are not being recognised or appreciated by the SNP leadership. Those concerns most certainly aren’t being addressed by senior SNP politicians. And those who hoped for better from Nicola Sturgeon must now be feeling extremely disappointed.

Perhaps worse, however, was the disregard – dare I say, disdain – for the Yes movement. In recent weeks there have been massively significant events which have shown how the Yes movement is growing, maturing and becoming more active. The marches in Glasgow and Dumfries, as well as The Gathering in Stirling, are rightly regarded by the wider independence movement as landmark events with great import for the independence cause. People are bound to be perplexed and offended that Nicola Sturgeon chose to ignore them.

It grieves me to say it, but Nicola has made a grave error of judgement. Doubtless, some will say that that she was ill-served by her advisers and speech writer. There is some merit in this argument. I can’t be the only one who cringed at references to “the NHS” rather than ‘NHS Scotland’. But, as Party Leader and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is ultimately responsible. The Scottish buck stops with her.

Listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s remarks about the referendum I got a sense of something bordering on complacency. In her failure to give to much as a hat-tip to the Yes movement, for the first time ever I got a disturbingly distinct impression of a political leader detached from the base of that movement.

PS – If you’d like to chat about events at the SNP Conference, I’ll be talking about my impressions and listening to yours at The Bridge Street Social Club on Sunday 10 June from 14:00.


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