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By Jason Michael
ROSA ZAMBONINI, an SNP staffer, recently shared her frustration at the ‘invisible line’ running through the independence movement which has made itself felt over the past number of months. No doubt she was referring to the yawning chasm between the supporters of Alex Salmond and the supporters of Nicola Sturgeon that has resulted from what Ruth Wishart aptly described as the ‘Sturgeon/Salmond psychodrama’ unfolding at the very heart of Scottish independence politics. It would be entirely wrong of me to suggest I am non-partisan in this festering conflict. Neither is it true that I am merely disposed to one side rather than the other; I am an active belligerent on the side of the former First Minister, Alex Salmond. Rosa and I are not on the same side, but this does not mean I do not feel the same frustration.
Over the course of this fracas my notifications on social media have become increasingly more toxic, I have been involved in more spats, and I have lost almost a thousand followers – a painful experience for anyone conditioned to seek approval from the internet. Rosa is right, a terrible dividing line has violently traced its way through a movement once characterised by its jovial solidarity and unicity. All of a sudden, we now find ourselves on opposing barricades squaring up for a rumble, and there is nothing about this that it pretty or comforting. We have become opponents right at the moment when our common cause – independence – is the majority opinion in Scotland.
All of a sudden, we now find ourselves on opposing barricades squaring up for a rumble, and there is nothing about this that it pretty or comforting.
Naturally, this is what the peaceniks in the movement keep shouting at us; that independence is within reach, that the polls are the highest they have ever been, and that we are on the cusp of returning the Scottish National Party to a majority position in Holyrood. Why, they keep asking, are we now fighting among ourselves? Those with less subtle minds see in this the work of an unseen hand, the work of secret agents of the British state busy in our midst applying the old imperial doctrine of divide and rule. Meh. Actually, allow me to put to you a third possibility – that the internecine squabble in which we are now engaged is entirely healthy and normal.
It has been a very long time indeed since I crossed swords with a unionist. The slow-witted and fanatical outriders of the union cause on social media – the bargain basement loyalists, the pseudo-academics, and the neo-fascist entrepreneurs – are still out there feeding at the bottom, sure, but we should all have them muted and blocked by now. The actual unionists – the slack jawed Cletus Spuckler types in the Scottish parliament and the incel beta males thumping their keyboards at the Herald, the Daily Record, and The Scotsman – have all fallen silent. The height of their intellectual flatulence has descended to the level of writing desperate articles, hidden behind paywalls, attempting to convince themselves ‘standards of democracy, accountability and transparency are significantly lower in Scotland than most other places in the western hemisphere (The Telegraph, 24 Feb. 2021).’ They know they are licked, and compounding this for them is their awful awareness that their last hope is in a murder of cocaine-addled soy boys in London so fantastically incompetent they even managed to botch the greatest act of self-harm in British history.
The height of their intellectual flatulence has descended to the level of writing desperate articles hidden behind paywalls.
So defeated is the union, they have fallen back to the last ditch of denying democracy. When the former Chancellor, George Osborne, advised Prime Minister
Worzel Gummidge Boris Johnson to simply refuse Scotland another Section 30 Order, they knew their game was up. No commander ever gives the command ‘No surrender’ unless defeat is imminent. Even in Edinburgh the lackeys of the London bosses are taking shelter behind a pandemic in order to stop the next election in Scotland. Never in the history of democracy has a winning side asked for the suspension of democracy for the sake of public health – and for the Conservatives, of all people, to be pretending to care for the old, the sick, and the vulnerable is simply hilarious. It is for good reason the unionists are quiet, and for good reason we are fighting among ourselves.
The set-to over Sturgeon and Salmond is not only about Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond, this is a proxy for two very different visions of an independent Scotland. We’re divided down other lines too, wrangling between factions with distinct visions of their own. And this idea of vision is, we can be sure, the key to understanding why we are in this maul. Perhaps without realising it, we have moved to the next stage of the independence campaign; the stage at which we have accepted the defeat of the union and have begun thinking about politics beyond independence. Take a close look at the factions and ask yourself what it is they really want? Why have they mobilised and why are their ideas and positions so precious to them? Let me tell you – these are microcosms of Scotland’s possible futures. There are conservatives, traditionalists, progressives, socialists, libertarians, liberals, neo-liberals, the lot. The fact they have started in on the brawl betrays the fact that somewhere in their psyche they have cottoned on to the fact independence is coming and after the fact is too late to begin shaping the Scotland of their dreams. Independence will be won by the force and faction and ideology that will go on to shape the first government of an independent Scotland, and the stamp of that faction will – at least for a while – become the new normal of Scotland. Every faction wants to be that faction, or at the very least have its feet under the table when independence comes.
Perhaps without realising it, we have moved to the next stage of the independence campaign; the stage at which we have accepted the defeat of the union and have begun thinking about politics beyond independence.
While it may feel uncomfortable and deeply frustrating, this part of the process is entirely normal. We can’t imagine for a single moment that about sixty percent of the adult population of Scotland all shares the exact same vision of independence? We don’t. And we are becoming more and more aware of time running out before we can put our faction’s mark on the future of our country. The prevailing political ideology of the SNP is one of economic conservativism, business oriented, and with more than a hint of a latent authoritarianism. This is not as left and progressive as we might like to think. If we want independence to be the realisation of something different, then the time to make that happen is right now. However, this does not mean we have to be uncivil. Thus far, our campaign has been marked by the antithesis of falling standards of democracy. On the contrary, we have been a beacon of hope to the democracies of the world – and through a time when democracy has been under a dark shadow in many parts of the world.
These contentions are perfectly healthy and we should engage in them. We ought to pick a side and slug it out. An old Jewish proverb says when you save a life you become responsible for it. Independence is about saving Scotland, and we who are saving it are responsible for its life hereafter. Responsibility means standing up for and defending what we believe to be the best – and this is important. Rosa Zambonini and I can be on different sides of this big ruckus, but this does not mean I should make the conflict personal. We are big enough and ugly enough to trust that the other genuinely has what they believe to be the best for Scotland in their heart. It’s perfectly alright to disagree and fight our corner, but this doesn’t need to get truly ugly. We are fighting because we are winning and that’s great.
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