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By Jason Michael
IT IS NO EXAGGERATION to say that the Scottish National Party is in trouble, and with it the cause for Scottish independence. Our independence is, in the long-term, an inevitability; not because of any particular qualities of the independence movement or its leadership, but because the British project has a shelf life and all the signs are showing that the union state is fast coming undone. But this does not mean our independence is imminent and nor does it mean we cannot – by our own actions and inaction – delay the inevitable. As every chess player knows, it is never too late to throw the game away – and this, sadly, appears to be precisely what we have done.
Not willing to realise it at the time, many of us did not quite grasp that the No vote in 2014 knocked another referendum about ten years down the line. Sure, we all hoped it would be sooner, but in retrospect we can more easily appreciate that it would take about another ten years to get another crack at the whip. Recent events lead me to believe that independence has just been kicked about another thirty years down the road – and, yes, this does need to be explained.
The present dire mess of the SNP (which we shall discuss below) began in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 independence referendum when, in the 2015 election, the independence movement formed during the Yes Scotland campaign elected to merge the independence cause with the Scottish National Party; thereby putting all its eggs in the one basket. From then until now the SNP has effectively been the party of independence and the independence movement – the ‘vehicle’ by which we hoped to continue the campaign and secure independence. This, as any cold analysis of the situation will show, was a serious tactical blunder. Entrusting our hopes for Scottish independence in the leadership and fortunes of a single and an all-too-human political party was at once a significant risk and a recipe for disaster. And the latent awareness of this precarious reality fed into the creation of a cult of personality around its leader, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Steve Clarke 🎸🎵🎶🍺🍻 (@Gaudd) February 02, 2021
Still, this is not an anti-SNP tract or polemic. As a Republican, I am not a member of the SNP and what happens within that party is none of my business. It is a pro-independence party, and as such I have treated it as an ally in the cause. What is my concern, however, is when independence is held hostage because its realisation has foolishly been surrendered to this one party – and I have never hidden my reservations about this. Like all political parties, the National Party is made up of people with varying degrees of competence. Ms Sturgeon has proven herself to be a remarkable First Minister, but her ability to unite and mobilise the movement to press forward to independence has been lacking from the very beginning of her tenure.
While there are gifted leaders who are passionate in the parliamentary party, there are also dullards and placeholders – complete nonentities who were elected because of the rosette they wore on the doorsteps rather than their capabilities and commitment to independence. Again, this makes the SNP no different to any other party. But we decided in 2015 to unite and so confuse the SNP with independence and now, well, the predictable has happened.
The evidence we have today certainly points to a conspiracy within the party leadership to politically assassinate Alex Salmond, the man who was very much the face and voice of the independence campaign in 2014. Rank and file SNP members and independence supporters right across the movement are angry, and have become angrier still to see the party work in tandem with the BBC and the British political and media establishments to destroy Mr Salmond, the former First Minister and leader of the SNP. Even after the courts upheld his innocence, Ms Sturgeon and those closest to her have continued to pursue their vendetta against him – a course which leads onlookers to suspect some level of collusion between the SNP and the British state. In no reality was this ever going to go well for the National Party or indeed for the independence cause wrapped up in the party.
Sure, blame me. Criticism is essential to a healthy democracy. But I had no part in the mess the SNP has made. That… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 02, 2021
Since 2015 the SNP has completely abandoned the grassroots of the independence movement, leaving hard-working and committed activists and pro-independence organisations without political support, guidance, and entirely leaving them to their own devices. Sub-intellectual morons in the party have relentlessly attacked the pro-independence bloggers and content producers – activists who have given so much to the cause. Some they have expelled from the party on spurious accusations and others, like Mark Hirst and myself, they have attempted to criminalise. After promising that Scotland would not be taken out of the European Union against our will, the SNP worked with unionist parties in England to save England from its own decision – yet another hiding to nowhere and a massive frustration to those who quite rightly saw Brexit as a golden ticket to independence. It is difficult not to imagine that somewhere in the leadership of the National Party there were persons actively acting – for whatever reason – in the best interests of the British state.
Now we have the Westminster reshuffle! Without even mentioning their names or thanking them for their service, all of Ms Sturgeons opponents were relegated to the backbenches – including Joanna Cherry, one of the most committed and capable independentistas in the party. And at this, in the blinking of an eye, those people who have spent the past six years attacking me for my criticism of the SNP have joined the ‘SNP Bad’ chorus. It would seem the penny has dropped.
What is going on? Inferring motive from the actions, it appears the most obvious answer then and therefore the most likely is that the leadership of the party is circling the wagons – and for good reason. As the details of the Alex Salmond débâcle become clear, it looks increasingly likely that in the next few weeks and months disturbing revelations will be made, and there may even be criminal prosecutions. People will be disgraced, people will be sacked, people will be hounded out and forced to leave. Consequently, there will likely be recriminations and in-fighting within the party. There may even be a power vacuum and a series internecine battles for the leadership and other positions of power. It is not improbable that there will be a split while, all the while, members leave and the pro-independence electorate walk away defeated and dejected. And just guess what is all tangled up and confused with the fortunes of the Scottish National Party? – Independence!
Independence has become a longterm project. Over the course of the next three decades we will have to begin from sc… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 02, 2021
When I first voiced this in Twitter, I came under attack. Of course, I would. The messenger is always the first to be shot. But I never did this. I have no truck with the SNP. I have neither voted SNP nor am I a member. All of this was wholly beyond my control. But – understandably – people are confused and frightened. They have invested all their hopes for our country’s independence in this one party, and that party, together with their hopes, is in a shamble this morning. So, like all idealistic emus, they bury their heads and kick the person screaming at them the bush fire is out of control. I lose a few Twitter followers and hold on to my integrity – meh.
Always an optimist, Neil Mackay reached out saying not to worry, that the grassroots was still all fired up and would be ready to simply pick up where the SNP left off and carry on the struggle for independence. He’s wrong. And I don’t mean this as a criticism. But this simply is not how it works in the real world. The National Party has spent the better part of a century building up its reputation and the trust of its voters. For most of that time it was a party in obscurity, on the fringes of Scottish political life. It worked hard to win and maintain the support and loyalty of its base. People just don’t jump-ship and run with the next available party. Some will, sure. But the vast majority – people who are not as activist as Neil Mackay or many others reading this – will lose heart and walk away. They will be heartbroken, deflated, defeated. They will be frustrated and angry, and this absolutely will have an impact on the national support for independence. Polls, like the voters who affect them, are fragile and whimsical. With independence all infused in the SNP, the collapse of the SNP will see a significant and corresponding collapse in support for independence. People angry with the SNP will vent that rage on independence. This is just how people behave.
If the Scottish National Party succumbs to this crisis – as it may well do – then we are looking at independence being cast a considerable distance into the future. Either the SNP will have to rebuild and regain trust or – having untangled independence from this one party – we will have to start afresh from the beginning with a new party or parties and work ourselves back up to the level we are now at. During all this time the British state will be constantly working against us. The most recent polls have shown London how dangerous we can be, and so neither Westminster nor Whitehall will make reconstruction an easy task for us. Every step will be up hill.
🏴 However much we may want to see independence in our lifetime, it's not about us. This is about the future o… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 02, 2021
So why do I say this will take 30 years? Well, it will take more than ten. With 45 percent support for independence in September 2014, the SNP got off to a running start and still it has taken the Sturgeon administration over six years to get to the point whereat we have granted the British government the legal right to always say ‘No’ to any request for a Section 30 order. The SNP can promise a referendum next year, but this is a nonsense. London will say ‘No’ and the Scottish government will have to accept this as the ‘legal route’ – denied! This brings us back to the observation that it would take about ten years from 2014 to secure another referendum – legally. Now we are looking down the barrel of a seriously weakened SNP and a crushed movement starting all over again. That will definitely be more than another ten years.
This first ten years will witness Scots accommodate themselves to the new realities of Brexit and British isolationism – and they will accommodate themselves to this. Aye, maybe you won’t. But most will. Life goes on, and people have to get on with their lives. They will find some measure of normal in it and it will become normal. It will become the status quo and it will be a bugger to shift after people have settled in to it. Again, this is how real people behave. Add to this the effect of the pandemic on the economy! It took us over ten years to dig ourselves out of the slump created by the International Credit Crunch. The damage done to the global economy by the pandemic – and it’s not even nearly over yet – makes the Credit Crunch look like a bad afternoon in the bookies. Economic hardship and austerity will demotivate people – they will have more pressing real-world concerns, and many of them will have a bad taste in their mouths with what they might by then see as the pipedream of independence. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a generational frustration.
Really, I wish I had better news. But I don’t. If things fall apart now, then we are looking at a sorry situation in which we will be revisiting this in three decades – at a minimum. It doesn’t matter what the polls say either. We can have 500 consecutive polls telling us that 99.999 percent of Scotland wants independence, but if the ‘party of independence’ is broken or working against us, and with Westminster with the power granted to it by Holyrood to say ‘No,’ then it’s not happening – unless … Well, I’ll leave that last thought to your imagination.
Kenny MacAskill on Joanna Cherry