Back in September 2014, on the day after the defeat of the Yes campaign in the referendum, I wrote about the importance of keeping the flame of hope alive during the storms and gales that were about to strike. The arrest of Alex Salmond on fourteen separate charges including breach of the peace, sexual assault, indecent assault, and attempted rape is one of those storms. There is going to be a howling gale of British nationalist gloating, of finger pointing, and taunting on social media and in the pages of the anti-independence press.
These are serious and shocking charges. This is a very big story. However it must never be forgotten that Alex Salmond deserves due process, and so do those who made the allegations which led to his arrest. He is innocent until proven guilty and he deserves a fair trial, if this matter comes to a trial. Those who made the allegations against him deserve a fair hearing. That needs to be said, because it is a point that is likely to be lost amidst the rush to judgement in a hostile press and the insults and slurs that have already started to fly on social media. He deserves to make his case, and the case of those who made the allegations against him must be heard as well. We must, all of us, respect the legal process. Justice demands it.
It is cold comfort to those of us who have looked up to Alex and respected him as the single individual who has done more than any other to bring the cause of independence into the forefront of Scottish politics, who has made independence respectable and realistic, but we must acknowledge that it is a desireable thing that this is a nation in which no one is above the law. We are not campaigning for an independent Scotland in which a person’s position or status protects them from justice. A Scotland in which no one is above the law is a Scotland which all of us can be proud of living in and being a part of. We should be seeking a Scotland in which those who feel that they are victims of sexual assault are able to make a complaint and have it dealt with sympathetically and seriously no matter how prominent or powerful the person against whom the allegations are made. That’s the independent Scotland we strive for. But it is still a shock to see one of the great heroes of our movement be arrested and potentially face trial.
The flame of hope burns stronger now than it has burned since 2014. We are closer to independence now than we have been at any time since. The British state is reeling from the self-inflicted wounds of Brexit. There is the buzz of expectation of another independence referendum, and many of those who voted no in 2014 are reconsidering their decision in the light of the contempt with which Theresa May’s government has treated Scotland, and remain voters in general, since the EU referendum vote. We have seen all the promises and commitments that the Better Together campaign made to Scotland in 2014 turn to dust.
As the likelihood of a no-deal crashing out of the EU looms ever larger, independence for Scotland is the shining beacon that shows the only clear path out of the mire, the only escape from an eternity of right wing governments and cruelty as official policy. Only independence offers the prospect of a kinder, gentler, better land. We are getting close to the tipping point. We must not be distracted from that. We are winning.
The very last thing that the independence movement needs right now is to succumb to some self-inflicted wounds of its own. It will do the independence movement no favours if we indulge ourselves in conspiracy theories and dark mutterings about the nefarious doings of a British state that is threatened like it has never been threatened before. Such musings and mutterings will do nothing to persuade undecided voters to our cause, at a time when we have succeeded in pushing the rock almost to the top of the hill, at a time when the vista of a better Scotland, an independent Scotland, is almost clear for all to see. So we need to stay calm. We need to stay dignified. We need, above all, to remain focussed on the prize.
Opponents of independence have always been keen to personalise the independence cause. They have consistently sought to portray the desire for independence as the personal creature of first Alex Salmond, and more latterly of Nicola Sturgeon. Naturally they are going to seize with unseemly glee on the arrest of Alex Salmond and the court case which will follow should the Procurator Fiscal’s office decide to proceed with a trial. It’s all their SNPbad Christmasses come at once.
Alex Salmond is a giant of the Scottish independence movement, but he is not the movement. Alex Salmond has had and continues to have a huge influence on the independence movement, but he is not the reason for independence. Our movement is bigger than any individual. The reasons for independence are not embodied in any one person no matter who they are.
Above all, the reasons for independence are to do with the consistent and continual failures of the British state and the British political establishment to respond to, to take on board, and to act upon the democratic desires of the people of Scotland. The story of independence is the story of the systemic failure of the British state, that remains unchanged no matter what personal failures are alleged about any individual.
Making the case for independence means making the case for a nation in which the government is democratically accountable to the people of Scotland, elected by the people of Scotland, and which works in the interests of the people of Scotland. That case remains the exact same today as it did yesterday. That is why no matter what happens with respect to Alex Salmond’s legal issues, the reasons for independence will remain unchanged. We must, as a movement, continue to focus on those reasons. We must continue to tell the story of the better Scotland that is within our grasp. Scotland deserves nothing less, our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.
We will prevail, because we have right on our side. We will get to the top of the mountain, and will see the better land beyond. The flame of hope still burns brightly in the storm. It will light our path to a better Scotland.
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