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By Jason Michael
LAST YEAR, when we first went into lockdown, I reached out to a few friends online inviting them to a game of Diplomacy — a board game created in 1954 by Allen Calhamer and used to teach students history, strategy, geopolitics, and negotiation. Andy, Ron, Roddy, ‘Highlander Patriot’, a couple of others, and myself set our clocks back to the beginning of the twentieth century and played the parts of Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Britain, Ottoman Turkey, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; each striving to dominate the continent by diplomacy, back-stabbing, subterfuge, and brute force. At game’s end, as gents of our vintage are wont to do, we retired to the pub — a virtual bar opened by ‘Highlander Patriot,’ managed by Roddy, and patronised by all which soon became affectionately known as The Dog and Duck.
Little did we know then that this strange digital boozer would become a Salon of Revolution. Devoted independentistas all, it was not long before the banter gave way to natter of national concern. The moment it happened, I remember well. Andy took a break from clipping his toenails, looked thoughtfully into the screen, and invited us to transform The Dog and Duck into a forum for ‘engineering’ independence. He had somehow gotten the idea into his head — it may have been the Cognac — that he was in the company of the greatest political minds in Scottish politics. Sure, we were nothing of the kind. But, being writers and rabble-rousing twitterers, we had something to our credit that was every bit as good. We had a shed load of contacts and a few decent ideas.
Then, back in The Dog and Duck, a word was uttered; an impossible dream of a word, a seemingly hopeless word — supermajority.
Over the course of a year we invited ‘guests’ into the bosom of the lounge, and, tucked up in the snug of our cyber bar, we plotted and schemed and hatched a few plans. At about this time the now infamous Victoria Johnson — who defected to Trump — and I were discussing the idea of a list vote strategy to maximise the number of pro-independence MSPs in the Scottish parliament. Ultimately, she joined with Colette Walker, a talented and dedicated independence activist, and put together the Independence for Scotland Party. Then, back in The Dog and Duck, a word was uttered; an impossible dream of a word, a seemingly hopeless word — supermajority. What if we could use a regional list vote strategy to pack Holyrood with a two-thirds majority? In one stroke we could near enough rid the place of unionists and arm ourselves with a powerful mandate London could not ignore without dropping the pretence of being an honest democratic broker.
This was so worth a shot, but there was no one in Scottish public and political life with the presence and stature to pull something like this off. We racked our brains. There was no one except for the one person who was no longer available. But was that true? Was he no longer available? There would be no harm in asking. We decided to write a letter and send it through ‘C.,’ our intermediary:
The Rt Hon. Alex Salmond … Our country and the movement for its independence owe you an immeasurable debt of gratitude. Your efforts for Scotland and for the Scottish National Party have transformed the country and birthed an energised independence movement, the impact of which will reverberate for generations …
That was in mid-July 2020. Nothing came of it. Nothing but an encouraging nod from C. that Mr Salmond had read it and knew me as ‘the Irish blogger.’ Summer passed into autumn. Winter came bearing gifts of Brexit and British isolationism. The new year arrived, and now we were despondent. We had been promised Scotland would not be taken out of the European Union against our will — and yet we were. Everywhere across the movement the sense of crisis deepened. The Edinburgh parliamentary inquiry was the death knell. The Scottish government — our SNP-led government — had gone after Mr Salmond with everything it had, even against its own legal counsel, and it had colluded with the crown, the British civil service, and the unionist media to destroy him; a man found Not Guilty of the charges. Even still, the SNP was working overtime to sully his name and reputation. Only someone as dangerous to the British state as Alex Salmond, it seemed, was guilty no matter the verdict. When Peter Bell broke ranks, the most Party of all the bloggers, I knew that was it — as I had predicted, independence was punted at least three decades down the road.
In barely a whisper, Roddy suggested he might take up an offer from Rangers — well, the chance to podcast for the Bears’ fans. After my run in with the Green Brigade it was unlikely anyone at Celtic would want to hear from me again. The ghost was up. Something had died in The Dog and Duck and we knew things would never be the same. Ron and I retreated to the comfort of the chess board, and burned the days away with him trying to best me.
Towards the end of February my WhatsApp bleeped. Roddy had left a voice message summoning us to an extraordinary convocation of The Dog and Duck. ‘Be there at seven o’clock,’ he said in his best conspiratorial voice — he does a good one, ‘and no excuses.’ So mote it be. Seven o’clock it was — and the news was explosive: Salmond was on the move. The name was ‘Alba.’ It was registered and waiting for orders, and all we had to do was keep our mouths shut. Oops! I had already tweeted that there was good news in the pipeline and my notifications were going mental. Someone even suggested that my knee caps might be in danger. Now I had to keep my face shut and look for an opportunity to blame something else as the good news. That moment came when David Davies stood up and blew the lid on the Scottish government in the Commons. Oops! Well, that got me branded a Tory lover by the Sturgeonists and resulted in some dobber pasting my face on a butcher’s apron in a nasty wee meme. But who gave a phuq? — At long last, something was happening.
The plan is so simple it’s positively brilliant.
Days ahead of the reveal, Salmond came looking for us. He didn’t need our missive. The chief had been doing some plotting of his own. But he knew we were on side and he came back to us. ‘Would you be interested in this?’ asked his middleman on the phone. Would I? Hmm. Would I be willing to stick my neck out, suffer endless amounts of abuse from old friends and comrades, and double the amount of my haters to help bring about the conditions we had already figured would bring about the final crisis before independence? ‘Do you actually think I’m going to say no?’ And with that we were right back in the thick of it. The game was on. Time to hussle. Time to huddle.
The plan is so simple it’s positively brilliant. With the Scottish National Party, with its membership at least screaming for independence, doing so well in the constituencies (with the exception of those in South Scotland and the Highlands and Islands), it is guaranteed to get practically nothing in the regional list. In 2016 independence supporters wasted — yes, wasted — almost a million votes on just four SNP list MSPs. The SNP is still doing exceptionally well in the constituencies and will still be massively penalised in the list. But with another party defined by its support for independence standing in the list, which wins a good proportion of the votes which would otherwise be wasted on the SNP, this election could produce that impossible supermajority.
But what about the Scottish Greens? Well, what about the Greens? The Greens are not a pro-independence party. They support independence now, sure — but this is simply the underpants they are wearing today. Patrick Harvie said as much: ‘Greens aren’t defined as a party on the issue of independence (1 March 2014).’ The Greens have been splitting the ‘pro-independence’ vote in the constituencies since the dawn of devolution and have been ‘gaming the system’ in the regional list for as long. Yeah … the Greens. If you support independence and want to do something for the environment on polling day, think about the trees and don’t waste the paper.
Sure, even that clatterbaggin’ numbskull Effie Deans acknowledged in a recent comment that by working a list vote strategy we ‘nationalists’ weren’t ‘splitting the vote,’ we were ‘maximising it.’
Then, of course, we have the issue of the Sturgeonists and the rest of the SNP. This is a bigger problem, admittedly, but it is far from unsurmountable. Nicola Sturgeon and her supporters are putting party before independence here. It’s that simple. The unionists know fine well a supermajority is going to put them out on their ears. Sure, even that clatterbaggin’ numbskull Effie Deans acknowledged in a recent comment that by working a list vote strategy we ‘nationalists’ weren’t ‘splitting the vote,’ we were ‘maximising it.’ This puts Sturgeon in the strange position of being the only pro-independence leader who is campaigning to have more — not less — unionists in the parliament. But all is not lost. The SNP is a house divided, and it is. The loyal can stamp their feet all they like, but Alba would not exist if the SNP was united on the roadmap to independence. There are smart people in the SNP, people like Angus MacNeil, who see which way the wind is blowing:
If all SNP votes were to transfer on the list to Alba you would have 30 odd Alba seats and 30 less London party MSPs, but of course that is using logic and sense. Using politics as I do … it’s both votes SNP of course [😉].
We have to appeal to these people. We must appeal to their ‘logic and sense.’ And what we are asking for is a ‘vote of opportunity.’ If they will use their votes, as we intend to, to support the SNP in the constituencies — depriving every last unionist we can of those seats, they can transfer their vote in the regional list to Alba and break the system; returning an utterly gobsmacking number of pro-independence MSPs to our parliament on 6 May. This is not rocket science. This is the simplest it can ever be — and when asked: Do you want this opportunity to bring about the conditions that will make independence happen? The answer to every level-headed independentista should be Yes, max the Yes. Are you Yes yet? Are you still Yes? — Then vote SNP1 and ALBA2.
Former Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond Speaks