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The Tories and the Lib Dems have decided that they’re going to boycott the Citizens’ Assembly initiative of the Scottish Government which is being chaired by former Labour MEP David Martin. They have been joined in their refusal by those professional proponents of nawbaggery, Scotland in Union. This is because getting a representative sample of the Scottish population together in one room to discuss the future of Scotland is only going to allow people to talk about independence, and that will never do. The Tories only want to hear from the Scottish people when those Scottish people happen to be fully signed up members of the Tory party. Or failing that the local lodge. Though there’s considerable overlap there.
The Lib Dems aren’t wearing it because that representative sample of the Scottish populace might say that they want a referendum that’s not a Jo Swinson approved referendum. And we can’t have Jo being shown up as a liar now, can we.
The Tories’ Adam It’s The Law Tomkins dismissed the Citizens’ Assembly as a “nationalist stunt to kick-start the conversation about independence”. Imagine the audacity, people in Scotland discussing options for Scotland’s constitutional future which aren’t pre-approved by Adam. Meanwhile Wullie Rennie took a break from driving the number 17 to Kelty to tell people at the bus stop that the Assembly was an “SNP exercise set up to simply to patch up the SNP’s case for independence”. Which was grand, but the only statement anyone wanted from Wullie was some info on when the bus to Cowdenbeath was due.
The key thing here is that the members of the Citizens’ Assembly will be selected in such a way as to provide a representative sample of the Scottish population. They will therefore represent the real balance in Scottish opinion between independence and the UK, between remaining in the EU or Brexit, between women and men, between young and old, between Scottish born and Scottish by adoption. The members will be a representative sample of political party voting intention, or none. The members of the Citizens’ Assembly are not going to be hand picked by the Scottish Resistance. Nicola Sturgeon isn’t going to go through a list of names and pre-approve only those who have a YES poster in their windae. It is difficult to comprehend why any reasonable person should have an issue with this. But then the clue is in the phrase “reasonable person”.
The point of the exercise is to try and find some sort of consensus in Scotland about the way ahead. The Tories and the Lib Dems are forever telling us how divisive the independence debate is. You’d think that they would welcome an initiative which aims to bring people together and allow them to discuss Scotland’s constitutional differences in a calm and reasonable manner with the goal of finding some common ground. That’s the real way to heal divisions. But for all that the Tories go on about how dreadful divisions in society are, the truth is that they don’t want to do anything to heal those divisions. The Tories just want absolute victory. The only healing of divisions that the Conservatives can countenance is the absolute crushing of the independence cause. Dialogue threatens them. The Conservatives can only comprehend control and domination.
Now in their intransigence they’ve just handed the independence movement another weapon to use against them. The next time anyone in the Tory party bewails the divisions in Scotland we only need to point out that the Tories have rejected the only serious proposal made to find common ground and to heal those divisions. The truth is that the Tories depend upon the divisions, because they need something that they can present as a threat in order to scare people into supporting them. It’s not like they’ve got anything positive to offer Scotland. Without constantly harping on about how they don’t want a referendum, the Tories in Scotland would have nothing to say. They need that wedge, they need the divisions they create by banging on about it to the exclusion of all other policies. It’s all they’ve got.
If the Tories and their pals are boycotting this initiative, is can only be because irrespective of their excuses they don’t want to hear what the people of Scotland really think. It can only be because they want to set limits on what the people of Scotland can or cannot decide to be in the best interests of Scotland. That’s not listening, that’s dictating. Or it could be that the Tories and the Lib Dems are struggling to grasp the concept of ‘representative’. This is possibly the kindest explanation, and certainly allows us to understand why they think that they can tell everyone in Scotland what to do even though they are minority parties.
But what this boycott really show us is the vacuum at the heart of Scottish opposition to independence. Participation in the Citizens’ Assembly would only expose how the Conservatives have undermined devolution, how they’ve ignored the will of the Scottish people in pursuit of a Brexit that Scotland doesn’t want, how they plan to centralise the UK even further. You can’t participate in a forum that allows citizens to speak when your entire politics depends upon silencing the citizenry. All you can do is to try to delegitimise the forum.
Participating in the Citizens’ Assembly would mean that the Tories, the Lib Dems, and the SiU would have to reach beyond their naaaaawwwww! comfort zone. They’d have to develop a positive case for the Union. They’d have to offer something concrete. They’d have to spell out their plans for strengthening devolution and the Scottish parliament, and for ensuring that Scotland has a strong voice and real influence within this so-called precious union that is no real union at all. They’d have to demonstrate how Scotland can grow and flourish and achieve as a part of the UK in a way that it couldn’t do as an independent country. But they can’t do that.
The Tories say that they don’t want to participate in the Citizens’ Assembly because they don’t want to legitimise talk of independence. What they really mean is that they don’t want to legitimise the right of the people of Scotland to decide for themselves what sort of future this country needs. They can’t do that because being a British nationalist in Scotland means to surrender control of Scotland’s destiny to Westminster.
What sort of vision is it when all that you can offer the people of Scotland as a prospectus for the future boils down to, “We have to let someone else decide for us and speak for us.” All the more so when that someone else is Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, that decision is Brexit, and what they say is that Scotland must wheesht and do as it is told. You can’t offer a vision when all your party offers Scotland is to go into the future wearing a union flag blindfold.
The Tories aren’t just boycotting the Citizens’ Assembly, they’re boycotting the people of Scotland. The real reason why the Tories and their allies are boycotting the Citizens’ Assembly is the same as the reason why they are so desperate to prevent another independence referendum from happening. It’s because they have nothing to offer Scotland except being silenced and being submissive, and because they are terrified of the verdict of the people of Scotland on all of Westminster’s lies and deceit. But they can’t hide forever, and when the people of Scotland do give their verdict on their record, on the way that the UK has treated Scotland, it will be a damning one.