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By Jason Michael
LOCKDOWN HAS AFFORDED us something altogether quite rare in life – time. As a young student I remember being quite taken with the Protestant theologian John Wesley’s idea of the ‘redemption of time;’ this being the filling of idle moments with study. Perhaps this is the only element of the Protestant work ethic I ever found attractive. Ever since first encountering Wesley, I have been in the habit of carrying a book with me wherever I go. Not a novel or a puzzle book, but something to expand my understanding of things. Once upon a time that was more likely than not to be Church History or something on modern liturgy or theology. Nowadays it’s Max Weber, Carl Popper, James Connolly, Gramsci or Marx (my intellectual development having descended somewhat from heaven to earth). But the pandemic has given me a great deal more time to redeem.
Alongside my Random Public Journal, I have kept a more focused private journal; a series of hardback red Leuchtturn1917 notebooks in which I have penned my evolving political theories and plans for world domination – I kid you not. Thinking is a serious business. Our thoughts have to be ordered and disciplined. We must record them and watch how they mature and change over time. We must observe not only how they change, but what thoughts and events affect their change. In my experience, journaling this personal epistemology has helped me to see things with more clarity and has allowed me to better understand why I see things the way I do. And – believe it or not – it has enabled me to see the future. An awareness of the theoretical mechanics of thoughts and ideas allows us to identify trends, and invariably these trends point us to where things are going.
Like a latter-day Antonio Gramsci – at least in my own head – I have spent almost twelve months, effectively under house arrest, diving ever deeper into my political ruminations, extending my personal prison diary by six volumes. Admittedly, few of these ideas are examples of intellectual genius – but one is! In the middle of lockdown, while the latest excuse from the Scottish National Party was that independence couldn’t be pushed ‘in the middle of a pandemic,’ I was struck by the astonishing progress being made in the Welsh independence movement by Yes Cymru. An organisation which had only recently started making itself known on the streets with marches and rallies was increasing its membership at the rate of thousands per day. The organisation’s growth was, by any estimation, astronomical. Its character was entirely different to the character of the Scottish independence movement. Where we have been a movement of disparate individuals and groups brought together by a cause, Yes Cymru was rooted in an assembly from which the cause was explained and articulated, and which fostered a national sense of solidarity and purpose.
“Any national pro-independence Assembly representing the whole of the independence movement in a nation in which independence is the majority opinion is – even in its infancy – an institution that terrifies those who pretend to the ownership of that nation.”Jason Michael McCann
An Assembly! Why, in the name of the wee man, had I not thought of an Assembly before? This is the one idea that binds everything – absolutely everything – else that has been percolating in my mind. Everything is brought together and moved from idea to reality – solidified and concretised – by an Assembly. I mean, like, this was always sitting at the edge of my thinking; the conclusion I was slowly coming to – it was on the tip of my tongue. But right there in Wales it had already, and long since, made the leap from thought to action. Taking in these events brought me in an instant to my Eureka moment. This was the answer to the question I was yet to ask.
Without exception, every successful revolutionary movement in history has grown from the combination of thinkers and activists in assembly. In the North American colonies prior to independence this was at first the Albany and then the Continental Congress, a self-appointed legislative body from 1774 that brought the thirteen colonies to their Declaration of Independence two years later. In France this was the Assemblée Nationale – which became the Assemblée Nationale Constituante and later the Convention Nationale – that from June 1789 acted as the government of the Première République during the struggle – the French Revolution – against the Ancien Régime. In 1917 in Russia, at the time of the Двоевластие – what Lenin described as the ‘dual power’ – this was the Petrogradskiy Soviet Rabochikh i Soldatskikh Deputatov or the Petrograd Soviet; the workers’ provisional government that claimed for itself the nationwide jurisdiction of the Russian parliament, the Duma.
And why I hadn’t seen this or grasped the necessity for such an assembly in the case of Scotland was a mystery – until quite recently. Thinking my way through the current crisis facing Scottish independence; namely the growing animosity between various factions of the independence movement and the SNP, the conclusion I reached in a recent article, Our Derailment, was this:
The present dire mess of the SNP 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.
This fusion of the SNP with the cause had the effect of camouflaging our lack of a national assembly representative of all the interests of the independence movement. By mistakenly identifying the National Party – one political party – with the idea of independence itself we effectively obfuscated the fact that individuals, local groups, and entire factions in the wider movement which were not aligned to the SNP were left wholly without a voice and political representation. We erroneously assumed the SNP, and by extension the Scottish parliament in which it had a majority, was the assembly of the movement. But this it could never be, and for a number of reasons. The Scottish National Party is just one political party – a faction. No one political party and no single faction of a national social or political movement can represent the entire movement. There will always be a remainder, and wherever there is a remainder – a lack of representation – there will eventually be a crisis. The Scottish parliament cannot represent the will of the independence movement because it also represents its nemesis, the unionist cause. And furthermore, it cannot represent us because it is not in fact a Scottish parliament, but rather a legislative council exercising Westminster’s sovereignty in a devolved capacity in our territory. Its is as much a part of the British colonial apparatus in Scotland as the crown courts and the military.
It was only with an internal SNP crisis that this obfuscation became apparent. When party members, enraged by the current party leadership’s treatment of Alex Salmond, the former First Minister and leader of the SNP, left the party or distanced themselves from the party line that the lack of a truly ecumenical assembly became obvious. It was only at this point that it became obvious to me. It was in contemplating the success of the independence movement in Wales that the scales finally fell from my eyes. This is what the Welsh are doing right and what we have been doing wrong. What we need to truly mobilise the entire movement and move the campaign for independence forward is an Assembly of our own. This was the one ingenious realisation of my lockdown thinking, and no sooner had I broadcast it on social media than someone from AUOB reached out to me and shared their big idea – the formation of a national Assembly for the whole of the Scottish independence movement!
‘Oh, and that’s not “radical.” It’s no more radical than how any other independence movement in history won its independence. If the idea of taking the state sounds too radical to you, then – trust me – independence, the very definition of taking the state, is not for you. The unionists are looking for people like you.’Jason Michael McCann
Now, anyone familiar with my own particular contribution to political controversy in Scotland will be aware of my past – what shall we call it? – set-to with the All Under One Banner organisation. Yes, absolutely – and I stand by my previous criticisms and misgivings – there were serious issues within the organisation. But ruckuses and the belligerence of bloggers chance things. The atrocious antics of certain organisers were exposed, but like all healthy organisations AUOB did not fall asunder. People within the organisation, people with whom I have had lengthy and fruitful conversations, people I believe I can trust, stepped up and repaired the damage. Organisations can and do change. I come from an organisation that is right now working to put right the damage caused by decades – possibly even centuries – of abuse and scandal. The people now leading AUOB are, in my estimation – and I am not an easily pleased man, excellent people, and they are doing a fantastic job. Mind you, I am particularly attracted to people who have the same ideas as me.
So, now we have an incipient national Assembly – Now Scotland, and it is up to us – all of us – what we do with it. The first thing we must do with it is join it. If this is to become an institution like the revolutionary Continental Congress or the French Assemblée Nationale then it must firstly become representative of the whole of the independence movement in our country. Only then will it have the potential to hold the Scottish government’s feet to the fire or, in the event that that British administration refuses to act on the will of the sovereign Scottish people, become itself the provisional government of an independent Scotland. And yes, you read that right – the provisional government of a sovereign and independent Scottish state. Oh, and that’s not ‘radical.’ It’s no more radical than how any other independence movement in history won its independence. If the idea of taking the state sounds too radical to you, then – trust me – independence, the very definition of taking the state, is not for you. The unionists are looking for people like you.
Any Assembly representing the entire spectrum of pro-independence sentiment – the majority opinion in Scotland today – is sovereign by its very nature. Its establishment furnishes us immediately with a powerful instrument with which we can challenge both the British administration in Scotland qua the Scottish government and the British colonial hegemon in London. Without reference to Westminster and unencumbered by any obligation to negotiate with the British government, a truly independent Scottish National Assembly representing all the interests of the Scottish independence movement (actually folks, this is my dream come true) realises my most treasured Parnellite dictum:
No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country thus far shalt thou go and no further.
No one can say to such an Assembly ‘Thou Shalt Not.’ Our Assembly will determine how far it goes and when and where it goes. Its existence alone dictates that there is no Ne Plus Ultra. It allows us to do whatever we – and we alone – want it to do. I am persuaded, convinced completely, that a national Assembly can be a better vehicle for the political aspirations of our country than any one political party or faction can ever be. Simply, it is not merely something we must have – it is something we cannot afford to be without.
The Scottish National Party, as useful as it is to that faction of the independence movement that shares its political beliefs and its socio-economic positionality, can only ever advance those policies which reflect the opinions of its constituency – the faction it represents. Therefore, the only independence it is capable of bringing about is an independence wrought in the image and likeness of that constituency. This will be an independence which will only benefit that class and constituency. It will be an independence in which there will always be a remainder; a state which benefits some and not others. Thus, the great advantage of the national Assembly representing the constituency of the SNP and every other constituency and faction of the independence movement is that the independence it can bring about will be an independence reflecting and benefiting the whole of Scotland. Its necessity, then, to me, is a no-brainer.
Similarly, the SNP – as a single party representing the political, social, and economic interests of a single constituency and faction – can and will only advance policies consistent with the aspirations and ideals of its constituency. Again, this is just a logical statement. A national Assembly representative of the whole of the independence movement can and will put forward policy proposals from other political, social, and economic positions. It does not need to pander to a single faction, but rather, and by common consent, speak for every part of our movement – the majority opinion right now in Scotland. It offers us all the advantages of the Scottish National Party and all the advantages offered by every other constituency of the movement. Why would we not want this? Perhaps, maybe, some in the Scottish National Party would object. But why? Well, because it challenges their party’s current dominance – and it does. But it certainly does not propose to do away with the SNP. No, it would have to include the SNP. Yet, it would no longer be the sole mediator of the politics of independence. It would force the SNP to negotiate its positions with the rest of the movement – something to this point that has not been happening; a reality that has led to the present crisis in the party and in the movement and which will always lead to other crises.
Sister and brothers, my fellow independentistas, here I have put before you a brilliant idea – and it is a brilliant idea. It is now up to us to consider this, to look at Now Scotland and decide what it is we want it to become; what we want it to do. It has been established, but it is in its infancy. So, it comes down to you and to me to transform it and grow it into something. But I can promise you this: Any national pro-independence Assembly representing the whole of the independence movement in a nation in which independence is the majority opinion is – even in its infancy – an institution that terrifies those who pretend to the ownership of that nation. Take a moment and let that idea sink in. You will soon see that this is not something we can afford not to grasp with both hands.