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By Jason Michael
YESTERDAY, ADDRESSING HOLYROOD, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out her thoughts on the way forward for Scotland. It fell considerably short of the expectations of many in the independence movement. This was not “the announcement” we were led to believe she would make when she said a number of months ago that she would shortly make an announcement on another independence referendum. Social media has doled out a few slaps in recent weeks to pro-independence writers, myself included, for daring to question “Nicola,” but, having come to expect little from the current leadership of the Scottish National Party, what we have discovered is that we have been given more than we expected. Sturgeon’s update to the Scottish parliament was not quite the “nothing burger with a side of fries” per David Hooks’ assessment. Yesterday, Sturgeon gave us something rather than nothing. Albeit not what we wanted; it was something.
Not everyone is cock-a-hoop with independence being hitched to the fortunes of England qua the politics of Brexit. Linking these, as the Scottish government does, has two effects; once more it makes independence a reaction to events abroad rather than being an end in itself and it subjects our democracy again a reliance on a set a conditionalities over which England and not Scotland has the final say. Many of us want independence to be about Scotland and only about Scotland. We want this decision to be made as a result of our own initiative and at a time of our choosing. In essence, this want for a truly Scottish independence without reference to England and the politics of Westminster is a type of romanticism, but, and while I consider myself a romantic, in reality, it simply will not work. The difference here is that between idealism and Realpolitik; whether we like it or not Scotland is constitutionally bound to Westminster – and therefore to England and England’s Brexit, and so independence cannot be about Scotland alone.
So a nothing burger with a side of fries then. "we'll have a bill" "we'll talk to opposition parties to find points… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
David Hooks (@PoliticsScot) April 24, 2019
Our independence concerns Westminster because it is about more than Scotland. It is about the break-up of the United Kingdom, the realm of Westminster. The British government will always oppose Scottish independence because it challenges its power and control over our valuable resources. So, any politics of independence in Scotland must, therefore, be engaged with these political realities, and that means engaging with Westminster, England, and the politics of Brexit. England’s decision to leave the European Union has fundamentally altered the status quo. As the First Minister rightly said, it has exposed “a deep democratic deficit.” Our interests – save when they are in agreement with the majority south of the border – are not represented at Westminster, devolution, as it is, has been shown to be unfit for purpose, and Westminster can, as it has done, grab powers back from us – and all of this has been fully demonstrated by Brexit.
Independence, as a historical event, is not a Platonic ideal. It is not a supertemporal anamnesis – a unique and unchanging eventum, always and everywhere the same thing. Our independence, when it comes, will happen amid real and concrete social, economic, and political circumstances, and it will be won as a result of correctly navigating those realities. Right now, those realities are dominated by the politics of Brexit in the context of our national domination by England at Westminster. Thus, if we are to win independence in the next few years, we must win it by engaging with the real obstacles; Westminster, England, and the politics of Brexit.
There is a certain genius, then, in connecting the cause of Scottish independence to Brexit – as it is determining the present conditions of the political field of play and changing the status quo in such a way that people who voted to preserve the union in 2014 can find their needs better served now by voting for independence. This is something the First Minister gave us yesterday; she gave us more clarity on at least how her party is thinking. Strategically, this is not at all bad. At the very least it is realistic and sets out the terrain on which the rules of engagement – her proposed legislation on future referenda in Scotland – will be put to use.
Sturgeon tells Holyrood chamber that public should be offered a choice on independence within lifetime of this parl… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Libby Brooks (@libby_brooks) April 24, 2019
Where she is in danger of making a serious tactical blunder, in my own opinion, is when she says: “the immediate opportunity we now have is to help stop Brexit for the whole UK.” Firstly, this appears to contradict the initial premise of her argument for independence; that Scotland suffers a serious democratic deficit at Westminster, resulting in us being ignored and having policy imposed on us against our will. Regardless of Theresa May’s ability to hold on to her job, Westminster – with the Conservatives and Labour in support – is overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. How can Scotland, which cannot protect its own interests in the Commons, protect the whole of the United Kingdom? How can Scotland save England from itself? At best, the Scottish government’s efforts to stop a Brexit England so clearly wants is a waste of time and resources. At worst, it will damage our cause.
Second to this, working to stop Brexit by having the question of EU membership returned to the electorate or by having Article 50 revoked, when Brexit is the very thing that is working most in favour of Scottish independence, looks to me to be counterproductive in the extreme. The art of diplomacy is allowing your adversaries to have your own way. If England wants this Brexit and Brexit is the very thing doing the heavy lifting for independence here in Scotland, then let England have its Brexit!
We were given two more things which are worthy of mention; a deadline to which we can hold the SNP and a possible alternative route to independence through cross-party coöperation. At long last – at long last – our First Minister has mentioned “the mandate.” It’s not only a mandate. It’s a triple-lock mandate, a cast iron mandate – and one with an expiring shelf life. Sturgeon did affirm this mandate, and although I will quibble on the meaning of its wording, she has acknowledged that her government was elected on that mandate and so the choice between an unwanted Brexit and independence will be put to the people – without a Section 30 order if necessary – before the end of the lifetime of this parliament. This wasn’t the firm date we had hoped for, but it does set a deadline to which we can hold her. This was an important statement. It was a gift. We can run with this.
Inviting the opposition parties at Holyrood to come forward with ideas to mitigate the problems of being part of th… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Dick Winchester (@DickWinchester) April 24, 2019
Given that Westminster is not in Scotland’s bests interests and that devolution, as it is, is not fit for purpose – things even Murdo Fraser has conceded, Nicola Sturgeon has proposed an open process of dialogue with the British unionist parties seeking to gain something short of independence but better than what we have. In a world running short on statesmen, this was a splendid – even Bismarckian – act of statesmanship, and kudos to her for it. Some may see this as a sell-out, but I will argue the case that it is not. This is a smart move. A Yes vote in another independence referendum will never be guaranteed. There are no sure bets in real politics. Recognising this, and after setting out her intention to hold another referendum – albeit under the right conditions, the First Minister has written into this game plan a Plan B. If it happens that we fail to win independence, she has opened the door to the possibility of gaining Home Rule with unionist support, a gradualist approach that worked for Ireland in 1922 with the formation of An Saorstát Éireann (the Irish Free State).
Over the past number of months patience in the wider independence movement has been wearing thin with the SNP and with Nicola Sturgeon in particular. What was offered yesterday was definitely not what we were sorta-kinda led to believe was coming. This was not “the announcement.” Neither was it the unveiling of “the plan” or the firing of the “starting pistol.” It was none of that, and no doubt in some quarters the failure to deliver on these will lead to further frustration and anger, but – and this is important – what she did deliver was not entirely useless. Admittedly, we may be cynical and imagine this something-but-nothing was a ploy to free up space for clapping at conference, but it wasn’t a nothing burger. This was something, and this something rather than nothing bristles with possibility. We have to give her that much. We can make something of this.
Nicola Sturgeon on Brexit and another Scottish independence referendum