If you really believe that the biggest enemy of the independence cause is the SNP leadership and a substantial chunk of the party, if you really believe that the only way to attain independence is to overthrow them and set up another party, then you have given up on any realistic chances of attaining independence for decades to come. That is the unarguable consequence of your own logic. You will have consigned Scotland to a Tory dystopia for the foreseeable future.
Your tactics are going to result in a much longer period of time before Scotland ever manages to win back its independence – if we ever do because by the time that (if ever) this new party is in a position to win support Scotland will have been gutted by the Conservatives. You will have committed the errors that indy fundamentalists have constantly accused the Scottish left of – of putting other issues before the goal of achieving independence.
You might believe that the SNP has been taken over by careerists and opportunists and that’s why it’s not making progress toward our goal. There is indeed abundant evidence of careerism and opportunism among sections of the party. Sadly that’s inevitable in any political party which has been successful electorally. If you want to wipe out the SNP and start afresh with a new purist party purged of careerists, you will enjoy the best part of a decade in the electoral wilderness before your new party becomes established – if it ever does. In the meantime the Tories will continue to crush Scotland. Untold damage will be done, and Scotland will be without a strong voice to resist because you’ve been spending your time and energy attacking the one Scottish party that Westminster fears.
However as soon as your purist party starts to become successful, as it must do before it can achieve the aims you have for it, then it too will start to attract its share of careerists and opportunists whom you will accuse of being comfortable with the status quo. Then we’ll be back at square one having wasted a decade or more and a new generation of indy fundamentalists will be demanding a clear out of the opportunists and careerists in your no longer quite so purist party.
This is not Estonia in the dying days of the Soviet Union. What worked for the Baltic states is not going to succeed in the very different political and historical circumstances which prevail in Scotland. Proposals to “dissolve the union as soon as possible” are doomed to failure – unless, and this is an important caveat, we exhaust all other avenues first, and crucially are seen to have done so by both the Scottish public and the international community. If we cannot take both majority Scottish support and international opinion with us at every step of the way, we will lose.
It is a comforting straw man argument to claim that those of us who resist jumping the gun are saying that the only path to independence is to keep asking nicely for a referendum. However demanding a referendum with a Section 30 is a vital first step, one which cannot be skipped over no matter how convinced you might be that Johnson will never agree to it. I have consistently argued for years that there are alternative routes to independence, nevertheless it remains a political imperative that first we must demand a Section 30 order from Westminster following a Scottish election which has been convincingly won by pro-independence parties standing on a manifesto explicitly demanding a referendum. And that’s not a conditional manifesto commitment either, such as a we had in 2016 – a mandate which in any case was fatally holed below the water by the SNP’s huge losses in the 2017 Westminster General Election.
However the truth is that no “mandate for a referendum” is worth anything if there is not majority support in Scotland for independence. It is only within the past few months that we’ve seen such support. Pointing to previous SNP mandates and demanding to know why there has not been a referendum yet is merely to demand to know why we’ve not had a referendum that we were likely to lose. The point of the exercise here is not to get a referendum, the point is to win it.
The only way, the ONLY way, that a unilateral declaration of independence would have any chance at all of success is if Scotland first pursues and does to death all other alternatives. The first of those steps is to achieve similar political conditions which resulted in the first referendum, and to dare the British Government to refuse. It’s their refusal which legitimises other courses of action. That is the point of a demand for a Section 30 order that the those who bewail that Johnson and the Tories will never agree to a Section 30 order are missing. The Conservatives’ refusal of a Section 30 order following the clear and unarguable demand for a referendum by the people of this country in a Scottish election is exactly what we need in order to legitimise other strategies.
We can best achieve this by refusing to concede that Johnson has any moral or political right to refuse, by insisting that he must agree if the UK wants to continue to call itself democratic. This is because we need to ensure that Scottish public opinion and international opinion are sufficiently angered that they will back subsequent action, action which may even have to include a mass campaign of civil disobedience. This is such a simple point, it’s really peculiar that so many people are so blind to it.
We cannot simply assert “Oh well Johnson will never agree to a Section 30 order”. We have to have the fact of his refusal of a Section 30 order. It’s only after that has happened – and not merely when we have asserted that it’s going to happen – that successive steps gain political legitimacy in the eyes of a majority of the Scottish electorate and the international community. To believe otherwise is wishful thinking. It’s to assume that all of Scotland is already as convinced of the need for independence as you are and as willing to support a route to independence other than the route mapped out in the Edinburgh Agreement. Well they’re not. We have to make sure that they become so. I’ve yet to hear anything from those who demand UDI or immediate action which is going to do that.
To believe that the international community would recognise Scottish independence if we do not first exhaust the Section 30 order route and go directly for a plebiscite election or UDI is frankly delusional. Because the very first thing that they’ll ask is – why did you not demand a referendum from Westminster like the last time? And then all that the Scottish government could reply would be “Well we didn’t think that they’d agree.” To which the obvious retort is “How can you know that if you didn’t ask?”
There are no short cuts here. Before any unilateral declaration of independence can succeed it MUST be preceded by a ballot in which we achieve a majority explicitly for independence. And that ballot in turn can only have legitimacy in the eyes of the Scottish public and the international community if we have first demanded a referendum from Westminster and Westminster has given a refusal. “Well we all know that they will refuse” just isn’t going to cut it.
This is all the more the case because the Conservatives are currently showing every sign of cracking. You don’t start to air discussions about gerrymandering the ballot if you are convinced that there will never be a vote. You don’t start to talk about the secession of parts of Scotland if you are convinced that independence can be resisted forever. These are not political giants we’re up against here. They are small men and women with limited visions and limited horizons. Yet there are people in the independence movement who are more convinced of the ability of the Conservatives to resist Scotland’s democratic rights than the Conservatives themselves are.
A macho fantasy of Scotland’s struggle for independence, skipping vital democratic steps, is not a path we need to take – far less is it the only path we need to take. Indeed it’s a path that we have a moral responsibility to avoid. Arguing that it’s the way we need to go is playing into the hands of the British state and British nationalists. It’s setting the independence movement up as an undemocratic force which it is legitimate to resist with British nationalist violence like that we saw so recently in George Square. It destroys our credibility amongst the very people whom we need on our side right now – that section of Scottish opinion which is neither convinced of the need for independence nor convinced of support for the UK. It is gob-smackingly stupid.
God knows I have mountains of disagreements with the SNP. The party has committed numerous errors in policy and in judgement. There are people who are more interested in briefing against their rivals within the party. There are rampant egos in the SNP that seriously need to get a grip of themselves. But the fact remains that Scotland’s only chance of independence remains through the ballot box and through the SNP.
Put it this way, if you are in despair your options are either to give the SNP one last chance, one more term in office in which it can deliver a referendum and deliver independence, or you really are throwing away any chance of independence for many years to come. You can either summon up any benefit of the doubt to give the SNP and allow them to prove you wrong, or you can have the certainty of knowing that we will not achieve independence until well into the 2030s if at all – a self-fulfilling prophecy that you will have helped to bring about.
To decide at this juncture that we must make it our priority to bring down the SNP, when we have majority support for independence and the SNP is on course to win a majority at the next Scottish elections on an explicit platform of demanding a referendum is to stare victory in the face and then throw it all away. When we start to attack the only party that can deliver a referendum, we are doing the Conservatives’ job for them and we are ensuring that there’s no chance at all of independence for a generation or more. Michael Gove will be loving it.
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