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By Jason Michael
IN THE PAST FEW DAYS, I’ve gotten a bit of a whooping on social media over remarks I made on Barrhead Boy’s podcast Through a Scottish Prism. In fairness, it’s his podcast so I’m holding him responsible. Apparently, I was a tad too critical of Nicola Sturgeon and a little too pessimistic on the question of independence. Some listeners were disgruntled that our conversation had dropped shade on the First Minister and our prospects of independence, not – strangely enough – that they thought we were wrong. One commenter, ‘Tom,’ brought to my attention by Barrhead Boy, said: ‘We don’t need to listen to a couple of gloom and doom merchants…,’ and he’s right. No one needs to listen to anyone, but asking for social media page moderators to delete content because ‘it undermines the pro SNP stance’ of a site – not because it is incorrect – is the sort of attitude that sends a shiver down my back. Still, I do understand where Tom and people like him are coming from. Maybe we ought to thrash out what I said on the podcast and what I meant by it.
What I concluded was that right now we are in a terrible predicament regarding independence – and we are. In the podcast I think I used the word ‘crap,’ but I’d be happy to go further and upgrade that to an expletive. There has been no material change in our constitutional reality in the past six years, we are no nearer independence today than we were on 18 September 2014. In fact, if we are being honest, we could argue that we are considerably further from that goal than we were then. I get why this would upset people like Tom, I do. What I don’t get is why we should be forbidden from saying it. There are a few hard truths that need telling, and that is one of the reasons I write.
Let me first reiterate my position in this discussion. I am not a member of the Scottish National Party, and to be quite frank – given recent developments – I am glad I’m not. My political loyalty is to the independence of a Scottish Republic. Domiciled in Dublin, Ireland, and a member of Sinn Féin, my political struggle – which is not everyone’s, I understand – is against the British state; meaning my interest is in removing Britain from Ireland and breaking Britain’s back with Scottish and Welsh independence. For me, these are all theatres in the same conflict. I am not loyal to the SNP, and nor am I loyal to Nicola Sturgeon. My loyalty is to Scotland, to the Republic, and to the people of Scotland. I am content to support the SNP and work with Nicola Sturgeon so long as we are working towards the same goal. When that is not how I see things going, I’m happy to plough my own furrow.
My patience – personally speaking – with the Scottish National Party ran out when, while on a talking tour of Scotland, unionist politicians and the unionist media collaborated to paint a picture of me in the press as a member or at least a supporter of the Irish Republican Army; a set of statements which resulted in me being detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act at Cairnryan port. The SNP’s Maree Todd was of course available to support these claims by describing my opinions as ‘abhorrent’ in the Daily Mail – that most Scottish of rags. In the days that followed, after requesting some support from SNP MSPs and MPs, the message from high command was to unfollow me and give me the cold shoulder. I was chucked under the bus by my so-called political allies. Trust me, I will never make that mistake with the SNP ever again.
But I wasn’t alone. In the past few years, the SNP has made something of a habit of throwing people – independence activists – under the bus; Michelle Thomson, Grouse Beater, Neale Hanvey, Denise Findlay, and Alex Salmond – to name a few. Loyalty to the SNP, it seems, is a dangerous thing – especially when the current leadership appears more than delighted to crucify anyone who challenges the very strange dogmas of the party. In recent months the SNP has adopted a politically weaponised definition of antisemitism which both the United Nations and the European Union have rejected on the grounds that it hampers legitimate criticism of the State of Israel. It looks like the SNP has forgotten that the overwhelming majority of the independence movement in Scotland is working class and left leaning. No one on the left is going to buy this definition. Support for Palestine is a pillar of the left precisely because Israel is a vicious and merciless neoliberal colonial aggressor – not at all unlike the United Kingdom. Adopting the pro-Israel IHRA definition, as far as keeping the left on board, was a monumental act of self-harm for the SNP.
Then we have the GRA, the Gender Recognition Act – Mother of God! – the mother and father of all political timebombs. Look, forget this nonsense about ‘keeping our eyes on the prize.’ You cannot win a democratic independence debate when in other areas you are working around the clock to alienate women, their allies, and the entire political left. There is no independence for Scotland unless the political ‘vehicle’ can carry the majority of the electorate. In the past six years, the SNP has been doing almost everything it can to sever its bonds of goodwill and affection with various elements of the independence movement. A winning formula this is not.
Our government said it would not tolerate a power grab, that it would not stand for Scotland being taken out of the European Union against the democratic will of the Scottish people. It has had mandate after mandate to move forward with independence. It had the support to resist the British state over Brexit. We watched as the United Kingdom staggered from one constitutional crisis to another – and in the end we got sweet feck all. Don’t shoot the messenger! Don’t discount what I’m saying just because it hurts your feelings. It hurts my feelings too. Rather than letting your emotions dictate your position, think – is what I’m saying true? You’ll find it is.
What’s more, our government, our First Minister handed the right to grant or refuse a Section 30 order over to Westminster – something that had never been law before. We can talk all we want about the Claim of Right and the sovereignty of the Scottish people, these things count for nothing in London. The architects of union don’t give a monkey’s for Scotland’s quaint little notions. What matters in London, regarding England’s hegemony over Scotland, Wales, and the six counties, is the law of the United Kingdom – the legal narrative of England’s dominion over us. There is no peaceful, democratic route to independence for Scotland except through England and Britain’s law – and we handed that over as a gift to the British government.
But I don’t believe even this is a route to independence. So long as the prerogative is England’s, the goalposts will always be shifted to ensure our imprisonment in perpetuity. So yes, it is true – we are further now from independence than we were six years ago, and we put ourselves in this position, and we did it because we were too afraid to speak out and speak up against an SNP – or a leading faction within the SNP – that has completely given up on the idea of independence. Yes, our situation is terrible. It is completely crap. It is shit. But it is not beyond redemption.
As I have said, I am content to work with the SNP and its leadership so long as we are on the same road. Right now, we are not – and we aren’t. If other heads prevail in the party and it changes its course, then I am with it. If not, then I remain loyal to an independent Scottish Republic and I will seek that end by other means. The SNP is not our only hope. It never has been. Nicola Sturgeon is not the messiah. She never has been. We have to get rid of this infantile impatience. History is long, and if needs be, we can take a longer road to independence – because longer is infinitely better than never.
Independence must be our priority; meaning our choice of political representation and the time we devote to it must be put to the service of this priority. If it takes a hundred years and a whole new party, then so be it. Independence is the goal, not our party loyalties, political crushes, and schedules. Independence comes first, and it feels to me like we have lost sight of that simple truth. At the present moment, it looks as though we have come to a dead end with a party in a hurry to sink all our chances. Its behaviour is enough to make a cynical republican suspicious. So, if there’s rats on the deck – it’s time to let loose the cats.