Over the weekend the SNP’s former Westminster leader Angus Robertson announced the launch of a new think tank, Progress Scotland, which aims to build the case for independence by examining the arguments most persuasive to those who previously voted No. The initiative was backed by Murray Foote, the former editor of the Record responsible for the infamous Vow, and Sir David Edward, the former UK judge on the European Court of Justice, who says he is now leaning toward the idea of independence although he confesses to some fears and reservations.
Naturally the usual suspects were not pleased. The SiU’s green ink brigade were out in force and infesting the comments section of online editions with their usual nastiness, deflection, whataboutery, and general biliousness. They are a perfect summation of the character of the British state they effect to defend, nasty, nit-picking, jealous, and totally bereft of anything positive. How dare a pro-independence initiative crowd fund eh? Why, they should just do what pro-UK organisations do, and secretly suck at the teat of the very rich and well connected, because that’s so much more morally superior.
But not all the critics were supporters of the British state. There’s been a bit of harrumphage and sniffy disdain in certain quarters of the more self-righteous wing of the Scottish independence movement about some newcomers to the cause who spoke up in support of Progress Scotland. Some were suspicious of the motives of those who are fresh to the cause. Others can’t get over the hurt that they felt because of the actions of prominent supporters of the No campaign in 2014 who are now supporting Yes. Yet others simply don’t believe that the change of heart and mind is genuine.
However the reality is that unless we persuade soft Noes to come over to Yes, we’re not going to win independence. That means that in order to build a majority, we need to attract the support of people who supported the No cause in 2014. The more prominent that person was in their support for No in 2014, the greater the influence that they are able to have on other soft Noes who are now wavering in their support for the British state because of the mess of Brexit. If you are a committed supporter of independence and have been for years, that’s great, but you’re not the target audience here.
When you read the reasons that these prominent No voters give for coming over to the cause of independence, it is striking that they don’t talk so much about the positive reasons for independence, but rather more about their disenchantment and loss of faith in the institutions of the British state and the ability of the UK to represent Scotland and defend Scottish interests.
So for example David Edwards speaks about the choice he now feels he is confronted with between the “undoubted uncertainties of independence and on the other exit from the EU, and being ruled by people in London who don’t understand or believe in the constitutional implications of the devolution settlement.”
Murray Foote writes, “With mounting anger I’ve watched the Westminster Government choose to inflict vindictive policies across Britain. And, despite overwhelming evidence, they continue to deny the damage their policies cause.
Now we teeter on the brink of Brexit, an act of self-harm for which future generations will pay a heavy price. Again, Brexit is a choice. But it’s not Scotland’s choice. Throughout this unfolding calamity, the Westminster Government has treated Scotland’s democratic preferences with shameful contempt.”
What is striking is that for both men, their movement towards Yes does not seem to have been driven primarily by a positive belief in the advantages of independence, but rather more because of a loss of faith and disenchantment with the British state. Other prominent No supporters who have come over to Yes and who write about their change of heart on the Progress Scotland page likewise talk mainly about their loss of trust and belief in the institutions of the British state more than they talk about their positive belief in the opportunities of an independent Scotland.
So clearly we need a two pronged approach in order to ensure that we convert as many wavering No voters as possible. That’s the best way to skewer the arguments of opponents of independence. A two pronged attack is twice as effective. A battery zaps because it has both a positive and a negative pole. We need to reassure them about the advantages of independence, and also reinforce their concerns about the failures of the UK.
Yes, it is vitally important that we continue to talk up the positives of independence. The moral and democratic arguments for independence are unassailable and hugely important. We have a convincing economic case too, albeit one that struggles to get through the fog of distraction blown out by the Scottish media. It remains extremely important that we have the answers to questions about independence that wavering voters are likely to demand of us.
But what an examination of the words of those who have come over to Yes teaches us is that it is also important that we talk more about the negatives, disadvantages, and damage created for Scotland by the British state. That was something that we didn’t do much in 2014, concerned as we were to present a positive and happy clappy case for independence. We conceded the negative arguments entirely to our opponents. The next time we must not make the same mistake. We must be loud and vocal about the downsides and disadvantages to Scotland if it remains a subordinate and sidelined part of the British state.
Brexit makes that task so much easier, as it has destroyed many of the perceived advantages of the UK. The contempt with which Scotland has been treated by Westminster since 2014 makes that task easier still, as we can now contrast the promises made by the Westminster establishment in 2014 with what has actually transpired, and in every case they come up wanting. The Brexit process has taught us that there is a country in the British Isles which is a valued and equal partner in a family of nations. That country is Ireland within the EU. Ireland had partners which respect it and who listen to its concerns. Scotland within the UK is subordinate and silenced.
However what remains most important of all if we are to win is that when previous opponents do come over to our side, we must welcome them with open arms and warm hearts, no matter what damage they did to the independence movement in 2014. There is a simple equation, the more damage that they did to Scottish nationalism in 2014, the more damage they are able to do to British nationalism now, and that’s why the SiU online trolls have been out in force. We’ve got them rattled.
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