So this fair blew up over the conference weekend:
Got to get this off my chest before I go to bed: I’m frustrated, but also heartened, by today’s events.
So first of all, yes, I am immensely frustrated with the SNP’s “Plan A” approach. It reminds me of nothing so much as the currency issue in 2014: it may have been right & vindicated after the vote, but there’s precious little solace in being right after a No vote. If we are to take the plan at face value alone, we’re to presume that the ScotGov are simply going to keep asking the UK Gov for a Section 30 order until they say yes, because the ScotGov believe that will work.Now, it’s undoubted that the ScotGov are privy to things we mere mortals do not, and cannot, know, because they’re a government & we’re not. It means we have literally no choice but to presume that they have something up their sleeves. The problem with that is it really is asking a lot of SNP/indy activists to trust that, in spite of everything the SNP themselves have said about Westminster, that they could be trusted to do the right thing. Right thing? This WM government?So there are 2 possibilities: 1. the ScotGov knows that the UK Gov will deliver Section 30 because it knows something we don’t, or, 2. the ScotGov believes that the UK Gov will deliver Section 30 because it’s “inconceivable” otherwise. Both are, frankly, uncomfortable possibilities to me. The 1st is obviously vastly preferable as it could get us indyref2, but it leaves us completely in the dark, relying on faith & trust alone. Many would say the ScotGov have earned it: others think evidence is essential. The 2nd, of course, relies on us thinking that the ScotGov are utter fools, to believe that a UK Gov which is (according to polls) is ALREADY denying the Will of the People of the UK, let alone Scotland, can be trusted to somehow see reason.So we have 1 group of indy supporters who trust & support the ScotGov even if there is no satisfactory answer to “what if they just keep saying no,” and another who simply cannot trust the ScotGov without convincing evidence that this plan will work. Then there’s folk like me who are dangerously close to “A Plague On Both Your Houses.” I can’t simply believe in the Section 30 Fairies & clap my hands to make them appear, but I’m also not comfortable thinking that they cannot exist purely because I don’t see them.Here’s the deal: if it’s 1 (secret plans) then aye, it’s frustrating that we’re kept out of a process which We The People really should be deeply involved in. But if it’s 2, then what do we do about it?All through the EUref, I put EU citizens front & centre. I furiously argued against the phony referendum which denied them a voice, & promised that my vote would be for them. After the vote, I took the SNP’s promises to heart. I knew that they wouldn’t let this injustice stand. 3 years later, & I can’t count the number of Scots from other EU countries who are utterly despairing. Some have already moved. Some are preparing to get out. My honestly believed reassurance – that the ScotGov will do something – is at risk of becoming nowt but hollow wordsThe SNP had their mandate in 2016 with the greatest percentage, number of votes, & number of constituency MSPs for any party since Parliament was reconvened, with an explicit manifesto commitment for indyref2 in exactly these circumstances. Then the EUref happened, & we double-locked that mandate where every single Scottish constituency voted Remain. Then the 2017 election came… & the SNP used it as a triple lock for the mandate. Using another General Election – the 3rd in half a decade – to quadruple lock the mandate is, frankly, comical, insulting, & facile, & utterly beneath the party. The SNP’s mandate began & ended when the circumstances for indyref2 were explicitly spelled out 3 years ago.But the reason the party is focusing so strongly was highlighted many times today – Rule of Law. We must adhere to the Rule of Law, or other nations won’t accept us. Adhering to the Rule of Law is fine when the law is just. What happens with the Law becomes unjust? Once again I totally understand why the SNP are pushing so heavily on this Rule of Law tack – but it’s predicated on the Law not being an ass, & not undermining the sovereignty of the people. What happens if WM decides to outlaw the idea of independence? What if WM outlaws “separatist” parties? What if WM decides the UK is a country after all, & Scot/Wales/Eng/NI are just regions? What course is open to us according to the “rule of law”?And for the love of Pete, don’t tell me “it’ll never happen.” I’m sick of entirely predictable things happening even when people assured me it was impossible. “No way will UK vote Leave” became “No way will UK leave SM” became “No way will UK leave without a deal.” We heard a lot of solemn anecdotes about the most vulnerable in fear for their homes, their livelihoods, their very lives post UK leaving. I don’t doubt every single SNP elected member genuinely cares. But caring amounts to a hill of beans if the nightmare begins.So that’s the frustration: where does the heartening come in? Well, for one thing, I refuse to countenance any ideas that the SNP are leading us up the garden path. There are much better ways to make money in the UK than the carrot-dangling conspiracies suggest. The other thing is this: let’s suppose our worst fears are correct, that what we see is the whole truth, & that the SNP truly are somehow the dumbest party in the entire UK Parliament. Let’s suppose it’s true: what can we do about it?Well, never forget how the SNP got where they are. They are here by the consent of a politically informed, active, and very very opinionated Scottish electorate. That electorate transformed a stagnating stronghold of donkeys in red rosettes into an unprecedented result in 2015. You really think the same Scottish electorate who completely revolutionised Scottish politics within the space of a few years can’t do it again? Aye, we can.“But Al, how does this get us any closer to indy?” Well, that’s the thing. Remember that march a week or so ago? The one that (if the 200k count was accurate) 3.7% of the entire Scottish Population? Well, according to the experts, that’s comfortably above the Magic Number.That is what terrifies the UK Establishment most of all. Not the idea of support for indy in and of itself – but the mere possibility that 3.7% of the Scottish population are motivated enough to get out of bed on a wet October day & march for miles up & down Edinburgh. When a sufficiently large number of people are motivated, they can send the government into paroxysms of fear. The Poll Tax demonstrations which so brought Thatcher’s government to its knees boasted barely a fraction of the numbers of even a modest Indy march. Marching is one thing. But even a percentage of those marchers going on to other things – leafleting, canvassing, campaigning, demonstrating – is worth more than all the hirelings most UK Establishment cronies can buy.I think the ScotGov are well aware of this too. Along with “rule of law,” another mantra was “the people will decide.” If the people decide the SNP don’t represent them, then they have 2 choices: pick someone else, or convince the SNP otherwise. The SNP has changed its mind in the past. It can in the future. But the only people who can do that are the people of Scotland themselves. We can’t rely on the SNP to just fix it for us.Seriously, today was bizarre. A Panelbase poll showing 50% Yes for the first time, & 54% Yes in a post-Leave scenario. Billy Connolly suggesting he might back indy if the rest of Scotland does. A march beating the 3.5% threshold. Why aren’t we bouncing off the walls in glee?It’s difficult to think of a better encapsulation of the Caledonian Antisyzygy than for so many indy supporters to be despondent at a time when there’s so much to be positive about. Yet, unlike the Cringe, I feel the Antisyzygy is vital to our character. We need to consider worst-case scenarios. We need to question, to criticise, to challenge. If something stands up to criticism, good: if it doesn’t, then we rebuild & make it stronger. Two halves make a whole. Thus ends my panegyric. Ithankyouandgoodnight.
The rest of conference after this was very interesting on multiple levels. I’m deeply appreciative of all the comments & responses I received from everyone online and offline – activists, campaigners, staff, even a number of politicians, who I shan’t embarrass by namedropping.
A fair number of SNP activists are champing at the bit & want more than what the party are giving them, but plenty of SNP activists are perfectly content to leave it to the High Heid-Yins: they don’t need the details, just point us to where needs canvassing & they’ll go. What we have here are two implacable positions who have somehow found themselves at loggerheads: the Party Faithful who are with the SNP to the end, and the Indy Faithful who don’t necessarily agree that the SNP are doing the right thing.
Now, I’ve made no secret of my dedication to the SNP: short of reneging on their anti-nuclear stance or abandoning independence itself, at this point, they’d have to kick me out before I’d leave. At the same time, I’ve spoken my mind when I disagreed with the party’s direction – often in quite frank terms – so I can’t say being kicked out is strictly an impossibility, exactly. I mean, much more important people than me have been expelled at various points in the party’s history. So I wasn’t surprised that some SNP stalwarts disagreed with me, though I hope they could at least appreciate where the argument was coming from.
The biggest worry I have from talking at conference, with activists and campaigners, office bearers and assistants, local councillors and members of parliaments, is that they are still treating these times as if they were “normal politics.” I attended a very interesting fringe event:
Given the gaping chasm which should be filled with trust in politics, I was determined to attend this event. The Deputy First Minister gave very impassioned & considered support for the Civil Service in Scotland, and the audience was generally respectful. Of course, the question of Baron Macpherson of Earl’s Court (who most of the panel just called Nick) came up, & the infamous intervention during the 2014 referendum campaign. Yet despite the obvious importance of the Civil Service in the context of an independence referendum – they were at an SNP conference fringe event, after all – the majority of proceedings seemed to concentrate on the UK leaving the EU, and the attacks made on the Civil Service by the vampires in control.
This was important, because despite being at pains to defend themselves from attacks by Senior Lawbreaker to Boris Johnson Dominic Cummings, the Civil Service still seem to be treating the likes of Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg, & their minions as if they were actual politicians. Professionals to a tee, they lived in a bureaucratic world where things have to make a certain kind of sense. The idea that they might be working for thieves who have conned their way into the role of politicians simply doesn’t seem to have entered their minds – possibly because their job description doesn’t allow such things. They desperately tried to look for some political, economic, or populist reason behind some of the insane demands, decisions, & accusations made against them, when they simply don’t exist.
What’s more, they adhere to the “post-truth” line that dilutes & belittles what’s really going on: lies. Cummings is lying. Johnson is lying. Gove, Rees-Mogg, Farage, & their grunts are lying. Stop dancing on a pinhead saying “facts don’t matter to them” or “they don’t care about the truth,” as if there’s any ambiguity as to their intentions. They are making conscious decisions to lie to us all. Once again – we used to know how to deal with liars. If I don’t trust the Civil Service, it would not be because I think they’re biased, but because I don’t think they truly understand what’s going on. I fear that many of our politicians – including in the SNP – are not fully comprehending the danger we are all in.
So many folk are despondent: with the SNP, with the campaign for independence, with the general state of these isles. Folk are at the end of their tethers, thinking we’re throwing away our best chance, if we haven’t already.
And all I can think of is that first orienteering session at Yes Scotland. It was at the Greenock Holiday Inn Express, where three or four dozen eager campaigners were told by the official campaign for Scottish Independence that we would not get Inverclyde. We were told to aim for 20% – we would be lucky if we got 20%. We shouldn’t even think about getting a Yes vote for Inverclyde, just concentrate on a high turnout – that way it would help the national numbers. We were soldiers in a war, & some soldiers don’t win, it seemed.
You all know how the Inverclyde vote went, because I won’t shut up about it. Regardless of whether there’s a Scottish Independence Referendum in 2020 or not, I am not of the temperament to let that stop me. And it wasn’t as if that first session was the only time: every day I was informed that there was no way Inverclyde would vote Yes. Every canvassing session, someone would say “aye, it’s a shame we won’t get it.” Every time someone from HQ, or a travelling Yesser, or a local stalwart, visited the shop, we’d be reminded: “don’t get your hopes up about Inverclyde, though.” Even on the night of the vote, fellow independence campaigners were depressed, looking to each other at the count, muttering “we’ve lost it.” In the end, there were 86 votes between Yes and No. No, the official result didn’t go our way – but can you honestly say all that negativity, that certainty we would lose, was justified, given less than a percentage was in it?
I am precisely the wrong person to be amenable to worst scenarios & darkest fears, because I lived almost 2 years of my life campaigning for a constituency that everyone – even Yes supporters – was absolutely convinced wouldn’t beat 20%. Let alone 30%, 40%, even coming within a hair of winning.
As I said, all outcomes are important to consider. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them get me down.