The Threat of Hope


Since it’s Christmas, I don’t want to make this a critical post. I want to make it a reassuring, positive, uplifting one. It’s going to be difficult – there’s something about the winter that causes a veritable avalanche of organising, panic, and stress – but I’ll give it a go.

So, some say that the “mad,” “obsessed” Nicola Sturgeon is “threatening” a second independence referendum. It’s particularly popular with councillors, MSPs, candidates, newspapers, activists, and supporters of a particular party:

That suggests this is a personal decision on Nicola Sturgeon’s part, much less her government’s, much less her party’s, and that it goes against the wishes of the people of Scotland. Certainly one could possibly conclude that based on polls – which, of course, haven’t exactly had the best of years. Yet how can that be the case when the SNP’s unprecedented third term as the Scottish Government was won on an even greater mandate than the 2011 election which delivered the first referendum – a poll that is obviously far more consequential and decisive than the “snapshots not predictions” so beloved of pundits?

SNP votes 2007
Constituency: 664,227 (32.9%, +10.1%)
Regional: 633,401 (31%, +9.9%)

SNP votes 2011
Constituency: 902,915 (45.4%, +12.4%)
Regional: 876,421 (44%, +13%)

SNP votes 2016
Constituency: 1,059,897 (46.5%, +1.1%)
Regional: 953,587 (41.7%, -2.3%)

A greater number and percentage of Scottish people voted for the SNP than they have for any other party in any Scottish Parliament election, in the second largest turnout of any Scottish Parliament election since it was reconvened – and was, indeed, only a fraction of the vote away from victory in several constituencies, and an overall majority. That a party could lose a majority despite winning an overwhelming majority of constituencies and losing only 2.3% on the list compared to the last election just proves the weirdness of the list system. (It is also, incidentally, a higher percentage than any other party in Scotland has achieved in the UK elections in half a century – not even Blair in his 1997 victory commanded the same percentage Nicola Sturgeon currently possesses on the constituency – to say nothing of the absolute majority David Cameron won on a mere 36.1%, which of course is clearly a greater mandate to take the UK out of the EU than for the SNP to keep Scotland in, right?)

Yet minority government or otherwise, evidently, the people of Scotland are not “threatened” by the idea of indyref2, otherwise they would not have voted for a party which contained the possibility of indyref2 in a very specific set of circumstances in its manifesto:

We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.

The possibility of indyref2 is not a “threat” that has been thrust upon the poor Scottish people – it is an explicit manifesto commitment which the Scottish people clearly and unambiguously voted for, in greater numbers and percentages than any party in the Scottish Parliament’s recent history. The Scottish Government are doing exactly what they were elected to do – indeed, they’re bending over backwards to give the UK a way out, something which more fundamentalist independence supporters find pointless:

I warned from the start that this exercise was not in the realms of practical possibility. If Nicola’s aim was to prove that Scotland is viewed with contempt by Westminster, and has no choice except hard Brexit or Independence, then that has now been resoundingly achieved and we can move quickly on to another referendum in 2017.

But I do not like this approach. Rather than a joyous uphill march to the fantastic possibilities of unlocking the potential to construct a new state for this wonderful nation, it paints Independence as a dire necessity because nothing else works and everything is going to pieces. Independence as a little lifeboat in freezing mountainous seas as the UK Titanic plummets beneath the waves.

My criticism of the last official referendum campaign was that it was exceptionally cautious. The motto seemed to be “Vote for Independence and Nothing will Change!”. You will keep the Queen, keep the Pound, keep NATO, nothing will be any different. That is hardly a rallying cry. This time the motto seems to be “Vote for Independence and We May Be Slightly Less Doomed”.

Frankly I have had enough of this havering. Impossible proposals for Scotland to remain first in the EU, and then a fallback to the EEA, as the UK exits. A “national conversation” as a blatant ploy to keep the SNP troops quiet and believing they are doing something. It is time to re-invoke the energy that burst through from the people in the last referendum campaign and moved us up from 32% to 46% support. The demand for a more egalitarian society that rejects neo-liberalism at home and neo-conservatism abroad. For an open, outward looking country, harnessing its extraordinary resources of renewable energy and an amazingly talented and educated population. A chance to ditch the baggage of the UK’s past and build on our dreams.

Let’s get back to that. Some of us never stopped campaigning for Independence. It is time for the SNP to make the leap of faith and come back into the fray of a full on Independence campaign. Enough of the EU related sophistry. Let’s free this country.

I don’t always agree with Mr Murray – I certainly disagree that the national conversation was a “blatant ploy” to keep us activists occupied, and I’m nowhere as dismissive of the recent proposals – but on occasion, I find something I do chime with.

Let’s go back in time, to one of the first independence-related articles I ever wrote, originally published on another blog, all the way back in September 2013. It’s awfully rough around the edges, and I’m sure much of the information is outdated, but there are some parts of the article that I’m certainly will never change:

People I know are victims of the Poll Tax, which they are still paying for after all these years. They have been victims of successive Conservative and Labour governments which seem hell-bent on making their lives a misery so they can line their pockets. I’ve seen what this has done to their minds and bodies, what it’s done to my whole family. I have a wonderful sister, overflowing with talent, charm and love, who has to deal with stupid and unnecessary financial issues by the same Neo-Liberal austerity that’s hurt my mother. I have a darling niece who I dote over, as I suspect all uncles would: like her mother, she is enormously talented and boundlessly optimistic, and I cannot stand the idea of her being forced to undertake the same trials as I and the rest of my family have. I have a choice: do I vote to continue this union, knowing that it’s a choice between two pillars of Neoliberalism and their soul-selling lackeys, or do I take a leap into the unknown which promises at the very least that I won’t have to worry about the Bedroom Tax, Trident, or anything the Conservative party could concoct?

I’ve seen some amazing things happening with the Yes movement. I’ve seen people from all across the country gather to meet and greet, to talk about what they’ll do when Scotland becomes independent. I’ve seen people come up to strangers in the street to shake their hands, because they’re wearing Yes badges. I’ve seen the brutal, bleak cynicism thirty years of Thatcherism has wrought lifted like a grey blanket when the possibility that it doesn’t have to be this way is elucidated.

I’m tired of thinking there’s no hope for a better world. I’m sick of the idea that there’s no alternative to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. I’ve had enough of Scottish independence being considered a silly fairytale with no place in the modern world. The Scottish people are capable of great things, if they could only realise they could do it. This is the land of Robert Burns, of Walter Scott, of Fleming, Carnegie, Livingstone, Hume. All the talk of economics, of oil, of law, of logistics, is besides the point – I’m talking about a people making a stand and choosing how they want to live their lives. They can’t do that in the UK. They can in an independent Scotland.

During the indyref campaign, my mammy occasionally asked me something strange. She asked “do you have a strange feeling about this, like it’s not real? This all feels like the dress rehearsal, not the real thing.” I didn’t believe it, because I truly believed we would win, and win resoundingly. In recent months, I’m starting to see where she was coming from.

Activists, campaigners, ordinary people who had no interest in politics or policies or anything like that, were all going out an campaigning for something they believed in, back when the possibility of a Yes vote was slim and easily ignored by an arrogant establishment. Even with everything they threw at us, all the warnings and bribes and promises and threats couldn’t stop 1.6 million Scots from believing – believing in Scotland, in themselves, their fellow Scots, born and new. Indyref2 will have its newcomers, who are of course more than welcome to join our quest – but those newcomers will be joining thousands upon thousands of seasoned, experienced, determined activists. People who have suffered the agony of defeat and tasted the ecstasy of triumph; people who now have years walking the streets, tenements, crofts, roads, paths, hills, and islands putting forward the crazy idea that Scotland could be an independent country just like the other 200 we share the world with; people who have gone on to become councillors, MPs, MSPs, community leaders, and activist champions.

The rallying cry for the UK parties now is “well, we voted Leave, time to go.” “Brexit might be bad, but we have to work together to make the most of it.” “We voted to stay in the UK, the UK voted to Leave, therefore Scotland kind of voted to Leave too if you look at it that way.” You know what? I don’t think so – and I think you know fine well that this isn’t going to happen. Scots didn’t vote for David Cameron – or Theresa May – to be Prime Minister. Scots didn’t vote for Nigel Farage’s party in the European Elections. Scots didn’t vote to leave the EU. If you believe in the Sovereign Will of the people of Scotland, then you must acknowledge and respect their vote. Otherwise, you clearly don’t – unless it happens to benefit you.

The meme goes that 2016 has been a horrible year. Certainly horrible things have happened: untimely deaths, appalling atrocities, natural disasters, and shocking tragedies blighted this year, and of course the highly divisive referendum & foreign elections have left people devastated, frightened, and furious with the world. Yet it’s always darkest before the dawn, and we see glimmers of it: the joyous reception hundreds of representatives from other countries gave in solidarity with the people of Scotland; I got to make up for lost time; that sometimes the ravenous forces of capitalist excess can be held at bay; that activist campaigns noisily derided & dismissed can nonetheless achieve real change; that even if some major governments seem in wilful denial about it, most nations’ leaders are much more willing to act on the global climate; that even in a world that seems to be tearing itself apart through war, there are tales of generosity, compassion, peace, and harmony.


It’s all about the wolf you choose to feed. It is easy to glut the Wolf of Despair on all the terrible things that happened this year, even easier if you treat everything as something to despair about – even things that give others hope. But if you know where to look, there’s more than enough good in the world to give that Wolf of Despair a fright.

4 thoughts on “The Threat of Hope

  1. Dek says:

    Realistic and inspirational. Thanks.

  2. scrandoonyeah says:

    I was always with your ‘Mammy’ on whether we would win in 2014, Like her, it always felt like a dummy run and Scotland was not quite ready to take the next step. Although it was so, so beautiful to be part of.

    Now we are ready

  3. […] is, when you look at it in every way except seat numbers & the regional list, the SNP have a greater mandate for an independence referendum than even the 2011 landslide. More people voted SNP – indeed, more people voted […]

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