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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.
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.
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.
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
12 thoughts on “Update on Scotland’s Future”
There is a point at which engaging with Westminster becomes indistinguishable from being just another cog in the British political machine. A point at which the effective political power that the SNP provides to Scotland’s independence cause becomes an end in itself. A point at which the means becomes more precious than the end.
At a time when Scotland needs bold, decisive leadership, Nicola Sturgeon opts for cautious, vacillating political manoeuvres. If the SNP will only fight the fights it is assured of winning, who will fight the fights that need to be fought?
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I don’t agree with you often Peter but you are spot in with this
While I appreciate your insights, Jason, I’m so disappointed with the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon that I have terminated my membership of the SNP. The following is the letter I sent to terminate my membership:
As a result of the First Minister’s address to the Scottish Parliament today I wish to terminate my membership of the Scottish National Party.
In her address to the Scottish Parliament today the First Minister said, “To those who believe independence is not the right change, I say bring forward your own proposals” An invitation to Unionists to make more false promises and tell more lies! She’s still playing the game of the English parliament of the UK by fantasising that she’ll get a Section 30 order. I seriously doubt that there will be a Scottish Parliament if Brexit occurs before the next scheduled Scottish Parliamentary elections. By then we’ll have lost our Scottish National Health Service, authority over which will have been clawed by Westminster into its clutches and sold off to American “healthcare” (sic!) companies. I seriously question whether the SNP really does want independence and wonder whether you are so content with all that you have achieved as a devolved government, protecting Scotland from the worst of Westminster’s acts and policies, that independence has been relegated to a fantasy.
Another factor in my decision to terminate my membership is the treatment of Gareth Wardell by your Gestapo-like Disciplinary Committee. I know antisemitism firsthand. I fought against it in Moncton NB, Canada in 1990-92. A paper I wrote that was published in the New Brunswick Law Journal was used in a Human Rights case that came before the Supreme Court of Canada. There was not the slightest hint of antisemitism in the article used as an excuse to dismiss Wardell. I do not wish to be associated with a party that takes such intolerant, Gestapo-like action against a member.
Please discontinue my membership immediately and discontinue my monthly contributions and the monthly sum I pay for The Independent.
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I agree 100% with the sentiment of this comment. I left the SNP three years ago because I believed in independence
Reblogged this on Ramblings of a 50+ Female and commented:
My only fear is that Westminster would rather hold on to Scotland than Brexit.
I’m with Nicola. In her long journey tramping the streets in the cause of an independent Scotland she has suffered many set backs and defeats. She has a cool head and takes the long view and I trust her judgement.
I will not give up now. Whatever you think about NS no-one else will deliver Independence. I refuse to fall out with others with a different view.
No one here asked you to.
She cannot be forgiven for wasting the last 3 years. She needs to stop trying to prevent England’s Brexit. They should get what they voted for.
What if we had left on 29th March? What did Nicola have in place? Nothing. What if we leave in June? What is in place? Does anyone think Holyrood will have any power left after 8 months outside the EU with the Tories running riot.
The belief is that everything will be as it is if we do nothing. The truth is that Holyrood is being eroded behind the scenes as we speak.
Nicola seems to have a blind spot.
I thought about leaving the SNP after 30 years . Now I think , why should I. I just want a change at the top. It’s my party as well ,not just Nicola’s.
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I think you give Nicola far too much credit Jegit. I read her speech today and saw nothing to give me hope but indeed an incline of what really is in her mind. I wrote a blog on the eve of her answer to Brexit and titled it “ A Road Map To Unionism “ I wrote a blog the next day titled” I told you so “ . She has followed this road for almost three years and that speech yesterday did nothing to convince me otherwise. Her objective is ultimately federalism, not independence. The British government told her today that there will be no section 30 and I wonder if there is anything about that statement she does not understand. Is she does then I want to know her plan B.
There are far too many people who will not accept any criticism of Nicola. An example. When she said to the opposition:” bring forward your ideas to improve devolution”.
Several commentators suggested she was looking at Devo Max or Federalism which is fair comment.
The Sturgeon worshiper sees it as
her laying a cunning trap for the opposition ,as they won’t bring anything forward. It’s the subtle way people who want to believe in something see something that isn’t necesserily there.
How often do You hear” trust Nicola she knows what she’s doing”. Unfortunately leaders and their followers can become like a cult if they are not careful.
Nicola is not the Pope. She is not infallible. I bet she wishes she had done things differently over the last 3 years! The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes. I fear Nicola hasn’t. She seems stuck on a tunnel vision track of her own making.
I just can’t see her being the special one who will deliver independence. Her heart is not in this fight. You need heart to lead people. Tactics only get you so far. People need inspired!
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We fooled ourselves in 2014 thinking that the echo chambers of the Yes Campaign and the love for Scotland in our hearts were enough to win the day. I still think Westminster cheated but there were enough no voters to beat us, whether by 10%, I’m not so sure?
Nicola knows we need to look statesmanlike at all times and build bridges with no voters whilst uniting the Yes Campaign. The Scottish electorate gave us a madate and this gift must be used before the next Scottish election.
The material change isnt that we are being dragged out of the EU against our wishes. The material change is that the Act of Union has been shown to be unequal in that one country can drag another out of the EU against their wishes. Brexit will continue to make us look calm and assured and our unionist masters look wreckless and incompetent.
I cancelled my SNP Membership after the NATO vote a few years back. I still vote SNP and I trust Nicola to deliver our dream of Independence ♡
She is our modern day Robert the Bruce.
“He managed to overcome the divisions and bring Scotland together as a single unit, uniting the various factions to form a coherent front. Sometimes it was done through bargaining, sometimes through promise of position, sometimes it was done through bloodshed and the force of arms, and sometimes through sheer force of personality. This was neatly summed up by the writer Agnes Mute Mackenzie when she wrote: ‘Robert the Bruce knew Scotland, knew every class of her people, as no man who ruled here before or since has done. It was he who asked of her a miracle – and she accomplished it.’ Extract from A Passion for Scotland by the late great David R Ross.
Let’s stick together across the Yes Campaign and deliver her (Scotland) miracle ♡
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