So this is it then. This is the better, safer change they promised us in return for a no vote in 2014. This is that brighter future in a Britain that respects and loves Scotland. This is the equality, the partnership, the leading not leaving. Every one of us in Scotland who is weighed down by a UK passport is losing our European citizenship, despite the fact that Scotland voted to remain a part of the EU by a considerably larger margin than it voted to remain a part of the UK, despite the fact that a central plank of the no campaign’s pitch in 2014 was that Scotland could only remain a part of the EU by voting against independence. This is where we are now, on the dark end of a benighted island, ignored, marginalised, sidelined, treated with contempt and derision. Today there is mourning and anger. But there is more than grief and rage, lying beneath, like the glistening metal beneath the rust of a decaying British state, is a steely Scottish resolve that we will have our say, that we will have our day, that our light will shine.
This is the end of the Scottish Unionism of old, the comforting myth of partnership between Scotland and the rest of the UK dies today. Brexit’s acid burns away the fairy story of equality. This is the time of wakening up. This is where the pretending stops. The pretending that Scotland can be both British and European. That has been taken away by those who claim to defend and love the so-called union between Scotland and the rest of the UK. You can no longer realistically say that you want Scotland to be part of the EU and a part of the UK. It has to be one or the other. The UK will not be rejoining the EU any time soon. The quickest route back, the only realistic route back, the only route which is politically plausible, is the route of Scottish independence. It’s time to choose between a Scotland which determines its own path, or a Scotland whose path is decided for it by politicians in London who are only interested in Scotland as an extension of their own vanity and pride.
There are those who would try to confuse us with the deceit that Scottish independence can be equated with Brexit. It’s a lie. Scottish independence allows those of us who choose a Scottish citizenship to exercise it, it allows those Scots who identify as British to continue as British. Scottish independence would allow anyone who identifies as British in Scotland to retain their British citizenship, their British passport, their British identity. If any of those things were to be lost to British people in Scotland as a result of Scotland becoming independent it would be as a result of decisions made by Westminster, not by Holyrood. Brexit strips European citizenship from every Scot with British citizenship, whether we want it or not. It imposes and commands, it lessens and diminishes. It tells us who we have to be whether we recognise ourselves in the Brexit mirror or not. Brexit amputates Scotland from its European self and gives us a Great British shortbread tin in its place.
Today is the day that the real struggle begins. Today will mark the turning of the tide, when a consistent and growing majority of voters in Scotland support independence. The YouGov poll which was published this week showed a majority in support of independence, 51% in favour with 49% against. It was a historic poll from a polling company which has usually returned a lower support for independence than other pollsters. But lurking beyond the headline figure there was an even more significant result in that same YouGov poll. Of those under the age of 65, 58% support independence. Scotland is shifting from being a country where support for the UK is the norm to becoming one where support for independence is the norm. The future of UK rule in Scotland is time limited.
The Tories tell us no. They tell us that we can’t have another independence referendum, not now, not after the Holyrood elections, not ever. They claim that the result of the 2014 referendum must stand for all eternity irrespective of how circumstances change, or how the Tories have traduced the promises that they made in order to win that vote. Then having denied that there has been a material change in circumstances they tell us that they are perfectly entitled to make unilateral changes to the devolution settlement because Brexit is not a normal circumstance. The Tories are, as Nicola Sturgeon said in her speech today, goading Scotland not governing it.
Today we got a call from the First Minister for more persuading, more campaigning. The First Minister’s speech will have disappointed many of us who have already been persuading, campaigning and making the case for independence. We’ve not been sitting on our hands for the past six years. It will not have reassured those of us who want to know what happens when Boris Johnson says no in 2021 just as he’s said no already. This campaign needs to be proactive not reactive, it needs to take the fight to Westminster. Instead of fearing a Westminster legal challenge to a referendum without a Section 30 order, it needs to start legal action of its own. You don’t win independence with timidity.
Yet the reality is that those of us who were disappointed today are not the target audience of the First Minister’s speech. We’re not the ones who need to be persuaded. We’re not the ones who need to be courted. We’d crawl on our hands and knees over broken glass in order to vote yes. There is only one way in which to win Scotland’s independence, and that is to ensure that there is a solid majority for it, not to haggle over procedure and process. Winning independence is hard work.
But the danger for the SNP leadership is that in its understandable and entirely sensible focus on persuading soft no voters and undecideds that it alienates and discourages those who are already committed, those who are needed to do the persuading. On this day of endings, we needed a sense of a new beginning. Sadly we didn’t get that from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech. Her tactics may be right, but the tone was wrong. On a dark and fearful day we need fire to light a route out of the darkness, not managerialism.
But look beyond the disappointment of a speech that didn’t live up to expectations. There is hope. Scotland is changing, it is rediscovering itself and its place in the world. That new beginning does exist, it remains within reach. Every opinion poll showing a majority for yes confirms it. Scotland is on a path that leads to independence. It will be a rocky path. There will be reversals along the way, but there is only one destination. It’s a Scottish destination in the heart of Europe. There is a light for Scotland, it’s a light we shine for ourselves.
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