There is no failure except in no longer trying

(This is the toughest article I’ve ever written, and likely going to be fairly controversial. But I feel extremely strongly about this. I am positive many readers are going to disagree with it, perhaps some may even be offended, and it’s the first time I’ve ever had such a profound disagreement with others who share the desire for Scottish independence, but I simply must get this all out or I think I might blow a fuse. If nothing else, it’s at least worthwhile to bring it up in the interests of debate)

There’s a trend going about right now in pro-independence circles: “we’re not ready for another referendum.” Certainly former SNP leader Gordon Wilson, who saw fit to offer damning criticisms of the Yes campaign thinks so:

“Support for independence is falling, indeed sunk to 43 per cent. It would be a strategic error to commit to a referendum until you know you are going to win. It will take a lot of character to resist the calls from enthusiastic but inexperienced new members or even those experienced hands who raise the matter prematurely. That is the mark of political leader.”

“The SNP should adopt a medium term strategy. Serious research on currency, pensions and economic growth – all significantly missing from last year’s effort – is necessary.”

I agree with some of Mr Wilson’s assessments, but there are many I disagree with. I found it rather cheeky when he criticized Yes Scotland’s passion, vigour and reluctance to embrace its own “Scottishness,” for example. All I can say is, with respect, he’s the former SNP leader – there’s a reason for that.

There’s this troubling air of uncertainty, of treading carefully, of not biting off more than we can chew. “We need to reflect on why we lost the last one.” “We have to take it slowly.” “We have to be cautious.” “We can’t risk everything on what will certainly be our last chance.” “We’re not ready yet.” “Beware.” Intelligent people whose opinions I respect greatly are urging we not rush into a second referendum before we’re ready, arguing that if we went for another one now or in the not too distant future, we would lose.

This is far too close to the language of the No campaign for me.

“We need to reflect more on why we lost”

Gary Elliot has an article asking “shouldn’t we Shouldn’t we be addressing why indyref 1 was lost before talking about indyref 2?” I don’t know who Mr Elliot converses with, but everyone I know’s been doing plenty of reflection in the ten months since the referendum. You don’t think every single Yes supporter, activist, campaigner and politician hasn’t spent every day thinking about that? I have. Every single day I think “what else could have been done?” “Where did we go wrong?” “What do we need to to next time?” Ten months of reflection – and looking at polls – have led me to a few conclusions.

Only 1 of 35 daily or Sunday newspapers in Scotland backed independence while 16 opposed it – and the 18 others were neutral only in name. Lord Ashcroft’s poll showed that 47% of No voters voted no because ““the risks of becoming independent looked too great when it came to things like the currency, EU membership, the economy, jobs and prices.”


The BBC and BBC Scotland, Scotland’s national broadcaster, were hopelessly and utterly compromised.


Hundreds of businesses, celebrities, politicians, and campaigners opposed independence. All three of the (at the time) largest UK parties were opposed. Only 6 of Scotland’s elected representatives in Westminster supported Scottish independence, and 53 opposed it. They had the power to control the narrative.

Ashcroft Reasons

We took on the massed forces of the British establishment. We faced truly formidable opposition, and it would be little short of a miracle if we gained ground despite all this.

Our message was good. Our purpose was good. Our cause was good. We know this because support for independence continued to climb despite the near-universal opposition in our media, politicians and establishment broadcasting a relentless campaign of fear, uncertainty, danger and threat. The fact it climbed at all shows that we were doing some things right despite enormous struggles.

We know exactly what happened.

“We need better strategies on specific issues (currency, economy, pensions)”

You have a situation where the SNP cannot tell us what their position now is on things like the currency, or on pensions, or on defence, or on Europe.” 

This is what Better Together was saying. “The Yes campaign can’t even tell you what currency you’ll be using.” “The Yes campaign doesn’t know anything about economics” “The Yes campaign cannot guarantee your pensions.” Part of the reason New Labour is in such dire straits is because they completely and utterly capitulated to the Tories on what should be their greatest points of divergence. Instead, they are saying the Tories are right. “We do need austerity.” “We do need to cut down on benefits.” “We do need controls over immigration.”

How on earth are we meant to convince people our cause is right if we so openly concede to the pro-Union campaign on the exact matters Better Together attacked us on?

The Yes campaign’s problems with currency, the economy, pensions and more are nothing to do with the plans or policies being poor, weak, or undefined – the problems were because the Yes campaign let Better Together command the narrative. When Alex Salmond stated one of his regrets of the Yes campaign was that he should have been clearer about the currency, that doesn’t mean the strategy wasn’t sound – it meant the message wasn’t getting through. We let Better Together present an independent nation using the Pound Sterling as unworkable even though it is what happened with nearly every other country that gained independence from the British Empire in the last two centuries. Better Together made the pound a key factor, and they were allowed to present themselves as being in the right. As a result, the pound was cited as the most important issue for No voters.

Pensions? That is watertight. Whether you go by the Minister for Pension’s statement to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, the Pensions officer for Prospect, international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, or by the letter from the Department of Work and Pensions themselves, there is zero justification for Better Together’s “don’t risk your pensionspropaganda. Yet once again, Better Together falsely presented the question of pensions as a risk, and what do you know, the second most important issue for No voters was pensions.

Every time someone came into Yes Inverclyde with questions about the pound, pensions, the economy, we were there with all these sources, and almost every one left satisfied. When the Wee Blue Book came out, we made sure we had plenty of them in stock. And support for Yes kept climbing in a constituency that headquarters thought would be lucky to break 20%. We chose the positive route, and it succeeded in securing a much greater percentage of the vote that David Cameron’s advisers ever thought possible. But people respect strength. They respect people who have the confidence and the belief that their ideas are right, consistent, supportable, and defensible. We need to be strong in our positivity.

“We should do a Devomax referendum instead”

We had a vote on Devomax this year.

In the 2015 General Election, Scottish parties put forward their manifestos.

We will devolve extensive new powers to the Scottish Parliament in Labour’s Home Rule Bill, making it one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world. This will mean new powers over tax, jobs and welfare. It will also mean new powers over borrowing. We will set out how we will use these powers in the best interests of Scotland in the next year.
The Scottish Labour Manifesto 2015

Ad we can say we will transfer more power to Scotland from Westminster to rebalance the economy and build a fairer Scotland because we passed the Scotland Act 2012 in Government and drafted the clauses to enact the Smith Commission proposals, delivering Home Rule for Scotland.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats Manifesto 2015

The SNP believes that decisions about Scotland’s future – about our economy and society – are best taken by the people of Scotland: the more powers we have in Scotland the more we can achieve for the people who live here.
That is why we campaigned for a Scottish Parliament and voted for the Scotland Act 1998. It is why we supported the limited extension of devolution in the Scotland Act 2012, and called for a far more substantial package of powers at that point.
The same principle underpins our continued support for independence and was at the heart of our campaign for a Yes vote in September 2014.
The Scottish National Party Manifesto 2015

All the major parties of Scotland offered some variation on greater devolution. The SNP, New Labour and Liberal Democrat vote combined meant 81.8% of Scots voted for some variation of Home Rule.

Scotland Bill — New Clause 3 — Powers of the Scottish Parliament

This Amendment would allow the Scottish Parliament to make provision for the registration and funding of political parties, but would otherwise retain the Part I reserved matters covering the constitution, foreign affairs, public service, defence and treason. It would entirely remove the remaining reservations over financial and economic matters, home affairs, trade and industry, energy, transport, social security, regulation of the professions, employment, health and medicines, media and culture and other miscellaneous matters. The consent of the Treasury would be needed for any changes in old age pensions which would affect the liabilities of the National Insurance Fund.

68 for, 298 against
For: 56 SNP, 8(+2) Conservative, 2 PC, 1 New Labour, 1 Green
Against: 294(+2) Conservatives, 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Independent
Absent: 231 New Labour, 24 Conservatives, 8 Lib Dem, 6 DUP, 1 PC, 1 Green, 3 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP

The UK parties have had multiple opportunities to deliver Devomax. They had the option to implement it in the 2012 Scotland Bill. They had the option to put it on the ballot paper for the independence referendum. They had the option to honour The Vow. They could have delivered Home Rule at any time in the past 100 years. But they didn’t. This vote was their last chance.

This amendment was supported by all 56 SNP MPs. New Labour abstained almost to a man, including the entirety of New Labour in Scotland. The Liberal Democrats abstained entirely. The Conservatives voted against. If only Scottish MPs voted, the amendment would have been passed 56-1. As it is, it was rejected 298-68.

We already saw the sovereign will of the Scottish people trampled into the dust when the Conservatives voted down 18 Scotland Bill amendments backed by representatives the majority of the Scottish people. We already know the majority of Scots support more powers for the Scottish Parliament. We should know by now that Westminster will not simply give these powers to us just because the people of Scotland demand it.

We Are Charlie Brown

David Cameron said that the Smith commission represented “the right resting place,” and thus, the end of the road for devolution. It’s one of the rare occasions where he spoke truthfully.

“We need to have control over broadcasting”

See above: we had a vote to devolve broadcasting, among other things. It was rejected. Every terrestrial UK channel opposes giving control over broadcasting in Scotland to Scotland. The BBC refuses to change. Westminster will never give us control over broadcasting any more than they’ll give us control over Trident.

This is the same for every other policy: “we need to devolve welfare, or finances, or energy.” They are forever in Westminster’s gift to devolve. They will not give those powers to us. And as we’ve seen, it’s all too possible they will take the powers we do have away – as the Lords did with our powers over renewables.

I agree that something must be done about the BBC, but we’re not going to do it by expecting the Conservatives to voluntarily relinquish the most powerful propaganda tool at their disposal – and for that same propaganda tool to transform of its own accord. “Don’t hate the media: become the media.” Supplant the news. Render it obsolete. Ensure that every home in Scotland has some way to be reached beyond the television and the newspaper.

“We need to talk to Europe”

We are forbidden from talking to Europe. We are not permitted to ask European nations to intervene on our behalf. We are not even allowed to choose who represents our own fishing industry. Each European country had their chance to comment, to come out in support or opposition to independence. Each kept silent. And given the appalling treatment of Greece, it’s clear now more than ever that this state of affairs cannot continue. Since the UK government will never allow Scottish MEPs to have full control over Scottish EU affairs, there’s only one way to do it.

“We cannot simply assume we’ll win the next referendum”

We couldn’t assume we would have won the first one – but we still fought it. The Yes vote back when the campaign started was only polling 30%. It isn’t a matter of assuming we’ll win, it’s a matter of having to win. Every bone, every vein, every nerve and sinew you and I and all of us have strained trying to gain a Yes vote last time around will be aching, but they must be ready to ache again whenever the people of Scotland decide it. They decided a No vote last time, and we acknowledged it. If they decide a referendum in the next five years, then we must acknowledge that too.

That is what an SNP spokesperson said, after all:

“The timing of any future referendum is a matter for the people of Scotland to decide — and not for a Tory prime minister to dictate.”

Likewise, the timing of any future referendum is not for the SNP alone to decide.

“If we don’t win the next referendum, we will never win Scottish independence”

Whatever happened to “as long as a hundred of us remain alive”? What happened to “the dream shall never die?”

To Hell with this “if we don’t win next time, we’ll never win.” You think an idea as powerful as Scottish independence can be quashed so easily? After three centuries of marginalisation, cultural cleansing, ridicule, and patronisation? After convincing 1.6 million people to escape from the cave?

The only people who can stop Scotland from becoming independent again are the people of Scotland themselves. That applies to Yes voters as much as No voters.

“The time isn’t right”

The time will always be right.

We have spent all this time saying Scotland can be independent, that we’re not too small or too poor or too incapable, that we can join the 190 other independent nations on the planet as an equal member. If you try, you might fail. But if you don’t try, you will never succeed.

I say we need to strike when the iron is hot. G.A. Ponsonby writes:

The anti-independence campaign will be shorn of some of its most influential figures. Brown and his former colleague Darling are unlikely to feature prominently in the next referendum. There will be no Better Together campaign this time around. Unionists will be split on what tactics to employ against an increasingly attractive Yes campaign which will resurrect its theme of hope.

The No campaign will be trying to resurrect scare stories long since devalued. There will be no Barroso ready and willing to fuel EU-exit claims. Scots facing permanent austerity will not be put off voting Yes in the face of any currency threats from George Osborne.

Indyref2 is indeed inevitable and 2019 offers the best chance of success. A win isn’t guaranteed of course, there’s still the beast of the BBC to contend with. But nationalists may never again get the stars to align as they are about to.

Few believed the independence movement would regroup as quickly as it did following its defeat last year.  Even fewer believed we could vanquish Labour in a UK general election. The SNP needs to seize this unexpected opportunity.

Wee Ginger Dug notes the democratic deficit, even though he also seems to be of the opinion the time isn’t right:

We voted to grow our economy, we voted not to blame the poor and the low paid for the sins of the banks and the bosses. But we’re getting Iain Duncan Smith making Cruella de Vile look like a patron of PETA, and George Osborne being touted as the next Prime Minister. The self immolation of a Labour party that no longer has a clue what it’s there for, what it’s doing, or how it’s supposed to get out of the hole it’s dug for itself means that we’re all facing being condemned to the Conservative con for another decade and a half. You want the Thatcher era all over again, only this time with no family silver in the form of nationalised industries to flog off? Well that’s what you’re getting, No voters. But there’s still an escape route, and it’s marked Indyref2.

Finally, Scot Goes Pop points out that time is as much an enemy as an ally:

If our starting point is that we are aiming for a second referendum at some point, the correct time to do it is not when the risk of defeat has been eliminated (it never will be), but instead when the probability of victory is highest.  Even if that probability is only 30% or 40%, it’s still rational to take the risk if you’ve got reason to believe that the odds will lengthen in future.  So there is in fact a perfectly respectable case to be made for an early referendum – it’s hard to believe that the good will towards the SNP is ever going to be stronger than it is now, or that Nicola Sturgeon’s personal standing with the public will ever be better.  Furthermore, we have to remember that there needs to be a pro-independence majority at Holyrood for a referendum to even be possible, and we can’t rely on that majority being there indefinitely.

At the end of the day, you either want Scotland to be an independent country, or you don’t.

Think of the undecided voters, or those who voted No in the belief that it would result in more powers. What sort of message does it send if we suddenly start to say that Scotland isn’t ready for a referendum? If we aren’t ready for a referendum, how on earth could be be ready for independence? Haven’t we spent two years arguing that we have all the things needed to be a wealthy, successful independent country?

The biggest reason No voters cited as explanation was that the risks were too great. They did not have confidence that the Scottish government would be able to make it. Are we, then, to say “Better Together were right, the risks are too great?” If we cannot sell Scottish independence even on the idea that Scotland would be better off even as a poor country as long as it has control of its own affairs, then what are we doing here?

I voted Yes because I believe that all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland. I believe that whether it’s in time of economic prosperity or economic recession. I am not a fair-weather Scottish nationalist, who only believes in independence when it the future looks brightest and easiest – I believe that the sheer principle that Scots define their own destiny trumps any bribery and baubles from an ancient, corrupt establishment.

At the end of the day, I believe that Scotland should be an independent country. There is no “best time” for Scotland to be independent. There is no “right time” to set a referendum. Independence does not have a shelf life. There is only a belief in independence, not a belief in when or how.

You either believe, or you don’t. And I believe every Yes voter, whether they want a referendum sooner or later, believes that.

The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it — so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it. How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience, would have achieved success. As the tide goes clear out, so it comes clear in. In business sometimes prospects may seem darkest when really they are on the turn. A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success. There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose.
Elbert Hubbard, as quoted from Electrical Review (c. 1895) without further attribution in The Search for the North Pole (1896) by Evelyn Briggs Baldwin, p. 520


11 thoughts on “There is no failure except in no longer trying

  1. RevStu says:

    “I say we need to strike when the iron is hot”

    But the iron ISN’T hot. We’re still a couple of percent up on where we were in September, but a couple of percent isn’t enough, and it’s fallen back since October/November/December, when Yes was polling over 50%. Given the inevitable last-minute loss of nerve at the ballot box over such major change, it’d be *insane* to go into a vote with less than a consistent 55%+ at the polls.

    While it isn’t as significant as it’s painted, the oil price makes the economics look much worse than they did last year. That’d be attacked relentlessly, and it’s something that voters understand – when our biggest single asset has halved in price, how can that NOT be bad?

    Two defeats in quick succession would be demoralising for the Yes campaign, but it would also REALLY harden public opinion against a third vote. There’s a reason turnout in the second 1974 general election was much lower than the first one. Voters dislike being asked questions they’ve already answered, because it’s disrespectful.

    Time is on our side. Demographics are in our favour, and it’s likely that events will be too. The Tories are going be in power for at least five more years, and almost certainly 10. There’s no sign of the SNP faltering in Scotland. The oil price will very likely recover fully or partially. There’s the EU referendum, which could be pivotal.

    Rushing to have a second referendum now is a mad idea. The risks are huge and the odds against us in all sorts of ways. Just two or three years from now things are likely to look a lot more favourable. More haste, less speed.

    • alharron says:

      “Just two or three years from now things are likely to look a lot more favourable.”

      But isn’t that the absolute earliest a second referendum can be anyway? There were two years between the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement and the referendum, and over three years between the SNP’s election with the referendum manifesto commitment. Would it not require exactly the same amount of time, making 2017 the absolute earliest opportunity, and 2018 the one that doesn’t have another referendum/election that year?

      The Tories, New Labour and Lib Dems are trying to say this is once in a generation or lifetime, meaning anything from 15 to 50 years. Polls show that Scots not only want, but EXPECT another referendum within the next 10 or even 5 years. I can absolutely see it happening.

  2. […] There is no failure except in no longer trying. […]

  3. Passionately argued piece. But I come down (marginally) on the side if patience. Demographics is key. It always is.

  4. […] As I’ve argued, we must continue to argue for independence. Independence can only happen through the mandate of the people of Scotland – that is, through a referendum. Therefore, we must continue to argue for a referendum on independence, on the basis that the people of Scotland alone have the right to dictate the terms of such a plebiscite. The Westminster parties will do everything in their power to stop that from happening, and history has shown that even fighting it has cost them dearly at the polling station. […]

  5. Gina Singleton says:

    We need to start now, I think we need to step up a gear. Why should we listen to those that said NO … David Cameron is bringing the ref for EU forward because if we went at the earlier for another independent ref it would be 2017 and the English press would have be concentrating on that not us.

  6. […] not going to open that “when exactly should we have another referendum” can of snakes again, but suffice to say, it is extremely confusing to me that people who claim to have voted Yes […]

  7. […] the hands of those who want to stop independence at all costs. This is not because I’m “impatient,” or because I’m some sort of masochist who actually enjoys bunions and papercuts and […]

  8. […] pride. I know that if I feel strongly enough about something contentious that matters to me, I will speak my mind, even if it upsets or alienates me from people I care about. I just wish I exercised some bravery […]

  9. […] I’d been arguing for more urgency all the way back in 2015, so I can understand if longtime readers would hardly be nonplussed to know that remains my […]

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