By Jason Michael

IT IS WISDOM of the highest order, or so saith the armchair intelligentsia of the Scottish independence movement, that the simple realisation of our nation’s independence is the pre-eminent singularity of our cause. This dogma of the priority of national self-determination demands that all other politics give way, that no other agenda is its equal, and that Scotland as it is – unchanged by any other social or political necessity – be the absolute subject of the independence campaign. In essence, what this proposes is that between now and independence, whenever that might be, we do everything in our power to maintain the status quo, to put all the currents of Scotland’s political life on ice, to keep it in an unnatural state of suspended animation. The problem with this idea, however, is that Scotland is a complex, living social organism. Like every other country on earth – except for, perhaps, North Korea – continual change due to the ongoing resolution of countless social and political tensions is an unavoidable reality in Scotland. It’s a living thing. We can’t pause it.

Why though? Why do we want to keep the Scotland of September 2014 in a state of perfect stasis? Why are we insisting on having the unique privilege of being able to stand in the same river twice? Somewhere, deep down, we know this is a fiction. Scotland is a changed place. It is always changing. Before answering this question, it will be useful to examine one of the excuses we employ in order to justify forcing this unnatural condition on the organic Scottish body politic. As far as pretexts go, this one is rather ingenious. It masquerades, rather too conveniently, as both a rational political tactic and a form of self-sacrificial altruism; each offering the illusion of a massive victory points bonus. The excuse is this: That, in order to secure as many votes for independence as we can in another independence referendum, we must pander to the needs of “soft Noes” – voters who rejected independence in 2014. And yes, that is the plural of No – I looked it up.


We cannot, for example, discuss the abolition of the monarchy and the idea of a Republican form of government as a constitutional feature of our post-referendum declaration for fear that such radical change will frighten the horses and send soft Noes sympathetic to the royal family or the present reigning monarch scurrying back to the union in the polling station. This merry dance around the soft Noes – royalist and otherwise – also makes it impossible to address in the here and now – while people are actually suffering and dying – some of the fundamental issues around poverty, and social and economic justice that brought us to independence in the first place, and which were a central feature of the 2014 campaign. Our endless efforts to assuage the concerns of soft Noes have relieved us of this potent moral arsenal, while at the same time it is treated as a given that we will inherit, in this latest evolution of “indy,” all the pathogenetic causes of these ills.

It is beyond question, in the prevailing climate, that an independent Scotland will begin life as a British state in miniature – a free market economic system dressed up as a liberal democracy. No one questions the assumption of a neoliberal socio-economic creed, but to suggest leaving the United Kingdom without the monarchy or adopting and anti-capitalist constitution (all of which are ideological morsels on the Smörgåsbord of ideas available to nation-builders) is anathema. Our beloved soft Noes would not be pleased. We would jeopardise independence, or so we are told. It appears as though we have been paralysed by these soft Noes. Keeping them happy and on-board means suffering the insufferable – the independence of a state wrought in the perfect image and likeness of the state from which it gained its independence. This hardly justifies the project. Rationally speaking, if our real desire is to resist all real and meaningful change, the simplest course of action would be inaction; to forget independence altogether.

We have constructed a defence for this excuse too. Our defence is that we can revisit all these other things – as though they were mere trifles – at some unmarked future date (jam tomorrow). But we also know this to be a fiction. If we win this independence – which I can only see as a hollow or provisional national autonomy – in the next year to five years, we will be emerging into the community of nations out of a serious and potentially dangerous political crisis. Scottish unionists love to describe the politics of independence as “divisive,” but, whatever it is, it has been dwarfed by the chaos of Brexit. The process of leaving the European Union has rocked the British state, and the instability it has created as brought us to the verge of actual state collapse. Scotland’s exodus from this mess will of paramount necessity require a prolonged period, perhaps decades, of consolidation and stability under a good caretaker government. It is inconceivable that during this time there would be the political will to revisit these questions. We would simply settle into this “unfinished revolution” to the point that it becomes the settled will of the people.

This is the extraordinary power we are handing to these soft Noes. We are casting aside the independence and the new state that could be in favour of an empty IOU from soft Noes who, we may well suspect, we have simply imagined and reified. Yes, you read that right: It is my conviction that these soft Noes are phantasms. Figments of our imaginations. Ghosts. Sure, in a nation of 5.4 million people with 3,925,800 registered voters there are bound to be some ditherers – some. To suggest now, after five years of broken promises, the failure of the Smith Commission, and the unqualified failure of the British government over Brexit, that there remains a sizeable margin of effectively undecided voters is, quite frankly, preposterous. The suggestion that there are enough royalists who might be persuaded to vote for independence – in full knowledge of the danger independence poses to the future of the monarchy in Scotland – to swing the result in our favour is and always was ludicrous. Other than the odd, vaguely nostalgic and politically unsavvy octogenarian – which is not the norm for people in their 80s, ideological monarchists will not vote for independence. Period. In statistical terms, we are speaking about a fragment of the electorate that is negligible in size.

Our other soft Noes are just as illusory. Apart from a small fragment of ditherers – whose vote, in any election, will always be a matter of random change anyway, the average Scot will make their mind up on the basis of the objective facts before them and the merits of the various alternatives. Most people are rational. What the polls are telling as at the moment is not that there are soft Noes, but that the necessary conditions now exist for most rational people to opt for independence – even a Republic and/or a more left-leaning version of the Scotland we have – over the uncertainty and chaos guaranteed by the Brexit to which we are being led against our democratic will. Most people make rational political, social, and economic choices based on concrete facts. What this informs us is that pandering to fictional soft Noes is a waste of energy and scarce resources. What the facts tell us is that this is the time to think about the independence we want – not merely an abstract unjustifiable notion of “indy” – and make the case for it to most people. This is how elections are won. It is how they have always been won and how they always will be won. This is how we will win the independence we want – and it may be our last opportunity.

So, now that we have dispensed with the imagined soft No excuse, what is the real reason so many people in the independence movement want to stifle every discussion about the nature of our government and economy until this fabled El Dorado-like future date “after independence?” Given that Independence Day – in terms of government and economy – looks indistinguishable from Britain save for the flag, we have to either suspect this is the independence we want or that we haven’t actually had a proper think about what our independence will look like beyond this “ultimate goal.” Independence is not and cannot be our ultimate goal, and for two very simple reasons: History will not end when Scotland gains its independence, and “independence,” as an abstract term, doesn’t really mean anything – North Korea is an independent state!

Alone, independence means nothing until we have put some shape and form to it. Independence demands that we know or have a decent idea of what kind of independence we want – and, like it or not (and for the reasons stated hereinabove), this is a question for before independence. No one wants a relationship with a prospective partner the nature of which is to be decided after marriage or moving in together. Constituting a family is a massive personal investment, probably the greatest in an individual’s life. States are greater investments, the greatest investment in the life of a nation. We cannot seriously think we can do the deed in the dark and hope it’s a pleasant surprise. What kind of government do you want? What sort of rights should people and private corporations be given? You may not think these are important questions right now, but you can be absolutely certain that your failure to think about them benefits the people who have – the people and ideas who are already in control; the whole injustice system of free market capitalism and the privileged class. Our wilful failure to think about this will guarantee their victory and ownership of Scotland.

We are hiding behind this phantom menace of the soft Noes, I think, because this convenient fiction absolves us of taking full responsibility for the choices we have to make and for the state we are about to play midwife to. It would not surprise me in the least if this concern for the soft Noes was manufactured by the very interests already planning for an independent Scotland to be to their material benefit. So long as we are uninterested in the shape of Scotland after independence – the Scotland we hope to win for our children and grandchildren – we are forfeiting our sovereign right to the ownership of Scotland again. Simply put, we cannot afford to be this politically naïve and illiterate. Our experience of London rule has surely taught us something of the nature of power. Someone, somewhere is right now deciding your future for you. Our concern is not for soft Noes and vague promises for the future, but for determined Yesses and a clear vision of where we’re going.


Yanis Varoufakis: Socialism, Populism, Nationalism and Independence

032 001


15 thoughts on “Convenient Fiction

  1. Jason opines that independence is not enough; it must be the right kind of independence or it is worthless.

    For most of us, I believe, independence is a necessity to give the peoples of Scotland the power to shape their country’s future in a fashion decided by them. Whether that be as a Constitutional Monarchy, Democratic Republic or whatever, it is for them to decide.

    I believe the peoples of Scotland are capable of making the decisions on the constitutional make-up of the newly independent state no matter what the economic situation at the time. I don’t believe they will be like rabbits in the headlights clinging to the illusory “comfort” of Constitutional Monarchy to see them through it and thus eschewing the benefits of a Republic as Jason suggests.

    I also don’t believe we have to suppress any debate on any political belief in order to achieve independence. To me, it is important that people see a plurality of possible futures for an independent Scotland. It is important they see that it won’t just be the SNP forever in an unchanged country and that choices will be available to them. However, Jason implies we should all coalesce behind his vision of a “People’s Socialist Republic” and tell Scots its this or nothing.

    He is not alone in this. Several prominent bloggers are positively evangelical about it. But, at this time, Scots don’t buy it. These same bloggers urged Scots to vote for RISE in the last Holyrood election and this collection of Socialist Republican parties achieved the heady heights of “negligible” in the poll.

    Most people, I believe, see a newly independent Scotland as a traditional European Liberal Democracy that currently happens to be left leaning and they are perfectly happy with this. Rightly or wrongly, Constitutional Monarchy or Republic is of little importance to them right now. Personally, I would favour a Republic and see that as achievable in an independent Scotland but not within the UK.

    Jason and those who share his vision need to decide whether their committment to independence is for the right of the peoples of Scotland to decide their own future or if it is contingent on the unrealistic imposition of a Socialist Republic from day one. Would they vote for it if it became clear it would initially be a Liberal Democracy? The latter is far, far more likely than the former. It is not “soft noes” I worry about. It is apparently “soft yesses” like Jason that are of more concern.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m a soft Yes now? I don’t recall using the word ‘socialist’ in the piece. I am not a supporter of RISE, and neither would I describe myself as a Republican socialist. I don’t think you have thought this through.


  2. “What kind of government do you want? What sort of rights should people and private corporations be given? You may not think these are important questions right now, but you can be absolutely certain that your failure to think about them benefits the people who have – the people and ideas who are already in control; the whole injustice system of free market capitalism and the privileged class. Our wilful failure to think about this will guarantee their victory and ownership of Scotland.” I think these are questions we need to ask.

    A proposal to engender discussion is, https://scottishconstitution.com. I don’t agree with everything in it, but I agree with most. I suppose you ave read it, Jason, and have some well thought out opinions on it. I would be happy to read your views.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry, I don’t agree with any of this.
    Scotland can be as forward looking, progressive and innovative as we like, ONLY after we have full independence.

    Independence is all that matters. It’s the watermark, after which we can become anything that we have the heart, intellect, resources and vision for. Independence is a wall to be scaled before we can enjoy the view.

    Discussions on what Scotland will be on the other side of this wall are interesting, but should only be conjecture, until people are voting for directions and destinations that suit the majority of us.
    A simple enough example, I am an ‘assertive atheist’ and although technically protestant, a definite republican. I’d prefer to see a Scotland without the ossifying strictures of the establishment and the monarchy. I’d prefer to see secular schools, politics and culture.
    However, I cannot determine what Scotland will be on the other side of the wall. I simply want the opportunity for us to discover who we can be.

    On the other hand, I am convinced that the numbers for YES are much bigger than we are constantly led to believe. And although we may well have lost anyway in 2014, I do think the voting was tampered with.


  4. I find much to disagree with here. That’s good. Everything should be considered discussed then accepted/rejected. But I don’t accept that the notional independent Scotland should be ossified before it is achieved.
    Monarchy? What kind – Saudi or Norwegian? Socialist republic? Liberal democracy? Each model has so many variables as to render definitions meaningless.
    Independence will be a work in progress, not a final state.


  5. An abused partner doesn’t leave home unless she/(he) has considered where they are going to live, how they are going to make ends meet, etc. You don’t just walk out of the door, land on the pavement, and only then think about the future. The time between the decision to leave and the actual date of doing so is the time to make some key choices about the future.

    As a soon-to-be independent country we need intelligent, experienced advice from people who have a vested interest in our collective prosperity. I’m not convinced that this can be found solely within the political sphere of Holyrood. I trust those leading our government can demonstrate humility in this regard and work towards making Scotland a model of socioeconomic best practice.

    From a personal perspective, I hope the concept of subservience to an unelected monarch would be as abhorrent to government as deference to an imagined deity. Neither concepts should have undue influence (if any) in a modern constitution. But these are very emotive traditional areas which should be subject to review and reform rather than outright abolition as a prerequisite of independence. The new Scotland will not be built in a day.


    1. I think you would actually be surprised at the number of women who do throw some stuff in a bin bag and just leave.
      They spend time sofa surfing and eventually get themselves sorted…. And once the decision has been made they “just do it”….
      Nevertheless while I see Jason’s point ( I’ve been pontificating for years that campaigners can’t just walk away after the Yes vote is in and think job done. Because business and “so called” civic Scotland will rush right in and design a mini me Westminster to serve them) I suspect that this drive not to upset the soft noes is really a cover and a hangover from Indy Ref 1?
      When a prospectus of what an Indy Scotland “could” look like was laid out it only gave ammunition to the No Campaign and was treated like it was SNP scripture ( still is).
      I think, and I hope that we are concentrating on the myriad of possibilities, of what we may do and, gaining the power to do it, is in essence not to fall back into that trap again.

      I’ve always been of the view the even Independence was the wrong word…. The plain truth that we are in a Union and we need to look at if it’s still working for Scotland or not .Would have been a better proposition.

      To look at and examine the Union arrangements and see if it was fit for purpose.
      And to present how we could do it differently. Thanks to the US entertainment industry almost everyone understood what a Constitution is and that it’s a good thing.That would have been as easy sell to voters…. There’s nae argument against it!!
      But that wasn’t the road we were on. Hopefully we are now?

      Yes, we can draw lessons from the Brexit campaign about not having even the bones of a plan,and yes ,Jason’s right …. Everything should be on the table…..
      But we must also learn from all the different promises that were implied to all the different groups which were and are undeliverable.
      We should only make promises we can deliver,be seen to deliver,and start delivering within days of the vote.

      We cannot afford in the early years after the Yes vote and especially before independence day to have a ” But You Said” ringing round most of the population.
      We need to aim for a population that’s enthused with ideas and plans and learning how to compromise and enjoying the freedom to do all of it.
      Being proud that they will be part of making history and have input into that Constitution that was not only promised but is being completely delivered has the potential to keep the population on board and not let the vested interests hijack our future.

      I quit like the K.I.S.S. type of proposition that Independence First offers.
      If for no other reason than to head off the British State sponsored reunification campaign that will surely start the morning after that Yes vote is in.
      We need to keep everyone on board with writing Scotland’s story and from that, the kind of country we become will follow, everything else from now till then is just details and should not be morphed into expectations.


  6. As a No voter in 2014 and now an ardent 71 year old Yes voter, a marcher for independence and member of SNP. I hear what you are saying but my worry is the strength of the unionists. My other concern is that looking at what has been happening in Glasgow that it looks more like ugly bigotry that is being levelled at SNP support. Born Protestant but realised early how awful these religious labels truly are. Not for many regrettably. Queen and country I hear them cry. Soft Noes?


  7. Hello Jason – I enjoy your articles very much even when I disagree with them – as in this case, for there are much more important issues than removal of the monarchy with regard to independence. Removing child poverty surely is one more important example. This will never happen in a United Kingdom (it failed even though it was a key aim of Blair and Brown governments) but it can be possible in an independent Scotland whether or not it is constituted as a republic or constitutional monarchy. It is you who is guilty of putting ‘all the currents of Scotland’s political life on ice’ in this article. The Scottish Government are progressing many important political agendas presently including house building, environment, energy. Your view of what constitutes ‘meaningful change’ is very narrow if it is republicanism. If you offer a hungry child a republic or a meal they will take the latter.


    1. Wynn, you do realise that this article is not about a Republic, don’t you? You seem quite caught up in this. I fail to see quite how suggesting we don’t shut down discussion equates to putting things on ice, but hey – it’s the internet, comment at will.


  8. Hello again Jason – thanks for your response – but I think you willingly misunderstand my reply. Still, in response to your response I would point out that the article is about republicanism – perhaps you do not realise it yourself but it is there. You are a republican and it runs through your writing. Let me make it clear – I too want a republic of Scotland but I do not think it is the most important political issue facing the independence movement or the Scottish Government. To me, reducing child poverty is much a more important issue as each day disadvantage eats away at life.

    Nobody setting up a new state would think ‘let’s get some guy and make him the big boss of it – he’ll be the King and then his family will run it forever’ And nobody setting up an independent nation of Scotland thinks that either. There is no shutting down discussion nor putting things on ice – it is you who say these things. I have been discussing republican politics for years – there’s a debate on that in England too – but, there is no need to hitch independence to the future political shape of that country. It confuses things. My republic might not be your republic – I dare say that Kim Jong-un is pretty happy with the shape of his republic. Monarchists? Plenty will vote for an independent Scotland – plenty already do so.

    You say “Most people make rational political, social, and economic choices based on concrete facts.” but that is not true – it is an assumption. People vote for a myriad of reasons and certainly not all of them are rational otherwise the UK would not be leaving the EU, Scotland would be independent, and we would have a world without war.

    We have to keep the choice simple to assuage not just ‘soft noes’ but also those who hold a different vision of what they want Scotland to be. Who am I to say that my vision is better than theirs? I am blinded by my own prejudices and predilections and so are you – we all are. It is the discussion that leads us to the truth or to the conclusion. That discussion exists now, here on your blog, on Bella Caledonia, on Scot goes pop – there is no ‘shutting down discussion’, but independence and the “nature of our government and economy” are separate things.


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