Progressive politics is a package deal. It is a political set menu with cult-like or at least communitarian characteristics. It is a tribal political identity rather than a series of beliefs and policy ideas people can weigh up and decide on based on their individual merits. Defending the rights of racial and ethnic minorities is both progressive and objectively right. The same is true of cutting carbon emissions and seeking greater economic justice for the poorest people in society, but the same cannot necessarily be said of other complex legal and social issues.
The conditions that prevailed in 2011 are no more. The 2014 referendum and the ongoing constitutional war of attrition have fundamentally changed the dynamics of how we do politics, of how we think politics. Unionist support is continuing to rally behind the Conservatives, and this, along with the continued success of the SNP in the constituency vote, will now always work against the SNP. Yet, Stewart McDonald is right. The SNP strategy in 2011 has been the only one that has worked, and it has won an SNP majority. It can win that majority again – theoretically, at least.
Yet, the SNP campaign of 2012-14 was itself the product of change. On the eve of devolution, in the 1997 general election, Salmond’s SNP won a paltry six seats. It made no impact on the major population centres of the central belt, had no appeal to the socialist heart of Scotland, and failed to attract meaningful numbers from the country’s minority populations. At that election the SNP felt the full force of a New Labour landslide that swept across the whole of the United Kingdom and brought us the painful disappointment that was Tony Blair.
Our government said it would not tolerate a power grab, that it would not stand for Scotland being taken out of the European Union against the democratic will of the Scottish people. It has had mandate after mandate to move forward with independence. It had the support to resist the British state over Brexit. We watched as the United Kingdom staggered from one constitutional crisis to another – and in the end we got sweet feck all. Don’t shoot the messenger! Don’t discount what I’m saying just because it hurts your feelings. It hurts my feelings too.
In 2014 we saw ourselves as a small nation in a David-versus-Goliath fight. Realistically, in the beginning we did not expect to win. One theme repeated frequently at the time was that we just wanted to be a nuisance, that we wanted to have a bit of craic, upset the apple cart, and maybe – if we got lucky – give the English political establishment a bloody nose. We saw ourselves as a pesky younger sibling trying to make a point. But something changed. At some point in August 2014 it dawned on us that we might win – that we had a real shot of securing independence.
Stuart Campbell came remarkably close to saying this in his recent interview with Alex Salmond when he said “we will all grow old and die before we have a second referendum” if we continue on with this policy of asking and asking ad nauseam permission from a British government which we have effectively handed the power to always say: “Now is not the time.” Ultimately, what this means is that the independence movement in Scotland and its political leadership are pinned down in their constant reference to England – to the will of Westminster and the English state.
Scotland’s independence is a question of justice, and no injustice can last forever. Having come to see the nature of the injustice of British rule, we have come to know that final defeat is impossible. No matter how many defeats – no matter how crushing, in the end Scotland will be free. Our efforts now are not so much a contest against unionism. The union is already dead. Our competition is against future generations of the independence movement. We must rob them of the glory by ensuring that freedom is won in our generation, to our glory and immortal memory.
Listening to people in the “grassroots” of the independence movement, as opposed to those who have styled themselves the political, cultural, and intellectual leadership of the movement (the kites and the crows), we hear other objectives. There are those who want independence “for their children and grandchildren,” “for the future,” “to end austerity,” “to put power back in the hands of the Scottish people,” and so on. This is not the independence envisioned by Sarsfield, the leaders of 1798, nor indeed Ireland’s campaign for Home Rule.