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By Jason Michael
PETE WISHART IS NOT WRONG when he says to the movement that what we need is ‘gentle persuasion’ to win unionists over to the idea of independence. He is simply misguided. On 5 January Stuart Campbell published a short piece on the Wings Over Scotland website in which he provided the data and analysis for something we all already know – that there will be no movement in the polls outwith an official campaign. More worrying, however, was the idea shared by Mike Russell recently in the Sunday National, that ‘at the start of this new decade we need to put into the hands of every single member…’ – an idea which, on the face of it, begins to sound like a capitulation, like a long-term strategic plan for the decade ahead. How long, we must ask, before these calls for a calmer, more measured – longer – approach from the party’s outriders become a matter of policy?
There is nothing wrong with gentle persuasion and good political leadership equipping members and activists with the necessary tools to convince family, friends, and neighbours of the merits of independence. There can be no doubt that both of these elements belong to the gold standard class of political engagement. Yet, the problem is twofold; until now – the eve of Brexit – neither gentle persuasion nor political education have been priorities of the SNP, and we are flat out of time. This is why these ideas are not wrong, but wholly misguided.
Pete Wishart (@PeteWishart) December 28, 2019
Everything is shaky. Our entire political structure, both at Westminster and at Edinburgh, is quaking. Here, I am not talking about the Westminster system. The time of England’s weakness has passed, and Boris Johnson is quite right to assume a triumphant Conservative ascendancy for the next ten years at least. This was yet another opportunity we missed in a very long line of golden opportunities. Rather, when I say our political structure is shaky, what I mean is that the SNP’s dominance in the Commons and Holyrood is not as assured as we might like to think. Ten years is a long time to be in power. Another ten years is far from a given, and without movement in the direction of a referendum and independence – the basis for much of the present Scottish government’s support – that dominance will end. As fine as the golden head of shoulders of this statue look, as all campaigns have over time, given long enough it will prove to have feet of clay.
We will not be granted a Section 30 order. I think it’s safe to assume we all know this, and, given the legal constitutional realities of the United Kingdom, the legal process is not a sure bet. Any honest survey of the situation in which we now find ourselves is forced to concede that at best the ground is precarious. The reason for this is simple, and it is the same reason Wishart and Russell are misguided – time. Britain’s strategists understand well the importance of time. When it comes to the question of maintaining power in this imperfect democracy, the British political establishment knows a few things. It knows that voters quickly get used to new normals after a crisis, and it knows social and political movements eventually run out of steam. In the waiting game, it is the predator who can wait the longest that wins. Westminster has pushed us into its game of patience.
Forget winning this game. We aren’t even playing by our own rules. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell of us winning this game. From 2012 to 2014 the plan for independence was built on catching London off guard, by playing on the British political establishment’s belief we would never get the numbers, while working for a rapid turn-around in the last months of the Yes Scotland campaign. It nearly worked. But the problem we have now, without the ongoing engagement of the SNP with the independence movement, is that the mass movement is still operating according to that plan in an environment now firmly controlled by London.
Please don’t tell me you hadn’t realised this? Gentle persuasion and a ten-year plan will not work for us. The time for that was ten years ago. Now, without a referendum to do the persuading, it seems as though we have run aground. It’s true – only a referendum campaign will shift the balance, and we are not getting one of those anytime soon. I know what you’re thinking; here’s another dose of negativity from Jeggit. But you’re wrong. I am never negative. I will tell you what I think, sure. And telling you the SNP has it wrong would only be negativity if I wasn’t able to offer an alternative – and that is something I have been offering for a while.
Let me spell it out one more time. While it is true only a campaign can shift the balance, it is not the full truth. It’s not the campaign that changes things, but the conditions created by a campaign – uncertainty and a measured sense of crisis. In fact, the crises conjured up by Brexit had all the power to do this, and this was expertly exploited by the Conservatives in England in the last general election. It never worked in Scotland to the benefit of the SNP and the independence cause because the leadership of the SNP spent all its energy south of the border – trying to work with unionist parties – to save England from its own democratic choice. In doing this, either by accident or by design, it overlooked the democratic choice of Scotland and missed the chance to harness the crisis to shake things up in Scottish opinion. Another missed opportunity.
So, with Brexit coming to its awful conclusion and no other speed bumps on the horizon, we find ourselves in dire need of another crisis (or two). Please don’t think me a fan of the man, but we have to acknowledge the genius of Milton Friedman. In his 1962 work Capitalism and Freedom he laid out the foundations of the shock doctrine. We should read this extract from the preface carefully:
Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around… Our basic function [is] to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.
The devil always has the best lines. Less than gently persuading Scotland of the necessity of independence requires a shock, a crisis – actual or perceived. An actual shock would be a war with Iran, an accident at the Faslane nuclear base on the Clyde, or an armed rebellion, but – seriously – we don’t want any of these. But a perceived crisis will work just as well. Such a crisis would perfectly simulate the conditions of a campaign so long as we used it to our advantage by offering the right solution; by making the politically impossible the politically inevitable.
Boiled down, this is problem-crisis-solution thinking. All that is needed is a problem we can turn into a crisis so that we can provide the solution, and Scotland – as you might have guessed – has no shortage of problems. Our chief problem is our lack of independence. This is what we want to transform into a crisis. And what is independence? Independence is maximum devolution of power. Thus, the problem is really limited devolution. Now that you’re thinking about it, it’s obvious – Britain’s reserved powers are actually the union’s Achilles heel. By assuming the right to exercise these powers – as a sovereign people – we force London to concede them or to take action. Every concession is welcome, and every time it takes action it creates an equally welcome crisis. Will the Scottish government do this? No, it won’t. It won’t even push for a referendum. But, then, it doesn’t have to. This is something we can do, and in doing it we force the SNP to chase us.
Effectively, this means ignoring Britain’s power in and over Scotland. This can be done perfectly peacefully. It is the essence of passive resistance and non-cooperation. Britain will act. It will give us the crisis we need, and so highlight to a greater number of Scots the very real need for independence in order to do the things Scotland and Scots need done in Scotland and by Scots. It comes down to the old dictum that there is no ideology without conflict of ideology, meaning we show Scotland by our actions that we are fundamentally different to England – that we have different priorities and different ideas – and we force London to underline this by telling us to stop. Only when we are told to stop will we really get going. It is time for a crisis.
Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine