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By Jason Michael
THERE’S A LOT going on right now. Yes, we are in danger here of making the understatement of the year – and it is still only January. We are in the midst of a global health emergency, and many of us are still in total lockdown and suffering the social and psychological ill effects of physical and social distancing. The British government has come good on its diabolical plan to leave the European Union, and we are right now feeling the impact of that decision on business and trade, and noticing the empty shelves in the supermarket. Over the water, in case you missed it, there was a failed Putsch; with armed pro-Trump insurrectionists storming the seat of the United States’ government on Capitol Hill. It goes entirely without saying that there is a lot happening right now. But we have to think about what is happening here in Scotland – and there is much to think about.
We were promised Scotland would not be taken out of Europe against our will. Against calls for a Section 30 order and a Plan B for an independence referendum during the Brexit negotiations, the leadership of the Scottish National Party said we would have to wait to see what the final deal would look like. We waited. Alas, when we knew the shape the deal would take, again the SNP resisted; saying we would have to allow Brexit happen in order to demonstrate that we have tested every available legitimate course of action before doing anything. Now that that promise has been broken and we have found ourselves taken out of the EU against our will, the word from the top is that we will have to wait even longer so that we might assess the economic damage of the pandemic on the Scottish economy. No doubt, when that is known, there will be another excuse.
‘England’s weakness is Ireland’s opportunity’ is not a slogan Scotland is not prepared to adopt in the campaign for independence. We have been forced into a predicament in which we must do everything according to the book, according to Britain’s playbook. But, in all this, no one has once suggested that Westminster should stop having everything its own way during this pandemic. No, it is only Scotland that should simmer down and do what it is told. At the slightest pressure from the British government-aligned press and media, the Scottish government buckles. The sole attempt of the National Party to address the hostility in the media was to employ the man who printed ‘the Vow’ for the union cause in the Daily Record – and what has he done?
There are, of course, people telling bloggers like me to calm down, that the polls are in our favour – which they are, but the polls don’t matter when we don’t have a party in government in Scotland with the minerals to act. All we are getting from the SNP-led Scottish government in Edinburgh are deeply problematic and divisive policy suggestions and dogmatic calls for loyalty and blind obedience – to the party and not the cause for independence. Mindless obedience isn’t really my thing, people. Docility and obedience, while excellent characteristics in a dog, are not really the qualities which come to mind when we think of a movement engaged in a struggle for independence from the British state. Our First Minister’s continual acquiescence to the will of the British government on the issue of another referendum is a serious cause for concern. Either she and her government are incompetent, which I do not believe, or we are looking at an administration that has been compromised.
Another reason so many in the movement are losing heart and losing faith in the Scottish National Party is the behaviour of the party’s leadership around the Alex Salmond case – a débâcle. Every day it looks increasingly as though there was a conspiracy against the man. From WhatsApp conversations to the use of taxpayers’ money to illegally coach witnesses for the trial which acquitted him of the charges, the hierarchy of the National Party is not emerging from this smelling of roses. Without a good explanation, in the face of this, the call for us to be quiet and obedient seems like they think we are stupid. No wonder the mood in the movement is so low.
This is not the end of the road, and we must take some heart in that at least. While we wait for the rank and file of the SNP to come to their senses, while we wait for the SNP to come to its senses – which may take some time, there are other options; other wheels turning. The Scottish National Party is not the only pro-independence party. We can always vote with our feet. But these too have their own issues. Initially, I welcomed the creation of the ISP – The Independence for Scotland Party. Those I know in the party are genuinely committed to independence, but they lack political experience and have so far failed to attract experience. It is not a single-issue party. Rather than making itself welcoming to everyone who supports independence, the ISP made the decision to put gender front and centre. Regardless, then, of what our opinion is on women’s rights versus transgender rights, the ISP will struggle to grow precisely because of its gender critical dogma.
This said, and as critical as I can be, I am still very much in favour of a hold-your-nose approach to the coming elections. What we cannot have is a situation in the movement where discord and division lead to a loss of pro-independence seats in Holyrood. I am still very much of the opinion we must vote for a pro-independence supermajority by adopting a strategy of voting SNP for the constituency and another pro-independence party for the list. We do not need to love these parties or the personalities. Politics is a dirty business and will always require a fair amount of nose holding.
Yes, I see the contraction here. On the one hand I am saying I have lost faith in the SNP, that I simply do not trust those in charge, and on the other I am saying we should still vote SNP in May. This is a contradiction, but it is a necessary one. As far as I see it, we are in a holding pattern. Sure, we have the polls on our side, but I am willing to wager all that I have that no matter what the polls say the SNP is not – not – going to deliver. Left with the SNP, an unchanged SNP, we are looking down the barrel of a party that will – absolutely will – procrastinate and make empty promises until the energy in the movement is entirely sapped and we simply fade away. But, if we hope to see independence in our lifetimes, then we must maintain the status quo until we have built something better. We are defeated the moment we allow the unionist parties to gain a majority in Holyrood. So, preserving the status quo means tolerating a zombie rather than an uncontrollable lion until we have a better solution.
Here, at least, there is some hope on the horizon. All Under One Banner has set up a National Assembly and I am persuaded that is a winning idea. Now, in the past I have been very critical of AUOB. In the coming days I will write something more on my change of heart towards this organisation. In short, there were some pretty shoddy things happening at the organisational level and a couple of organisers were acting the maggot. Thankfully, these characters – chancers – have been removed and I have grown to trust Neil Mackay.
The National Assembly, unlike the parliament, is a democratically elected leadership council for the movement. This will allow us – in a way Yes Cymru has now been doing for a while – to give the sort of leadership to the mass movement the SNP has completely neglected since it unceremoniously shut shop on Yes Scotland. Our movement has been wholly without direction, trusting that somehow, as if by magic, the spirit would lead us. That was always bonkers. Mass movements need direction, and this demands that we have a body that we ourselves can elect to make decisions which reflect the opinion of the whole movement. Going forward (a rancid corporatism if ever there was one), the National Assembly has potentials which certainly appeal to me. As was the case in the French, American, and Russian Revolutions, the revolutionary movement – which is what the independence movement is – established their own people’s parliaments, provisional governments, which were not hindered by the forces of reaction. As we move closer to independence, then, the National Assembly can become such a parliament for the movement when it becomes necessary – when we have all realised Westminster is not going to allow another referendum. This is an institution which we sorely need, whatever it becomes. We need to get onboard with it, support it, and help it grow.
It is all too easy, if you are anything like me, to lose your mojo at times like this. Nothing is happening, yet everything is happening. There is more frustration than fulfilment, and we are tired of the in-fighting and inaction. But this is no time to give up. This is a struggle and if we want independence then we must be prepared to struggle. No one can do this but us. We will get things wrong, from time to time we will be crushed and deflated, we will be licked and beat, but such is the case in every struggle. In the end, we each have to decide if what we are doing is worth all the effort and heartache. I think that it is. I think that we have to do this – if for no other reason than the horrible prospect of the alternative. There is a lot going on, but let us focus on what we have to do.
Calls for Scottish independence gain momentum