It’s clear that the second Scottish independence referendum, which the Scottish Government is committed to delivering within the term of this Scottish Parliament, is going to be very different in character from the first. Although the independence cause ultimately failed to get over the 50% threshold in the referendum of September 2014, the campaign scored some significant and lasting victories upon which which the campaign in front of us is able to build.
One of the most important of these victories, was the seismic achievement of changing the Scottish political landscape in a fundamental way. The victory of the Better Together campaign was a Pyrrhic one, which has seen the annihilation of the Labour party in Scotland and the destruction of its former position of dominance. Far from making the independence issue go away as Labour and its Tory allies so fondly hoped, the narrow defeat of the Yes campaign in 2014 did not result in a return to the Scottish politics of the 1990s and the early years of the 21st century. Quite the opposite, the issue of independence is now central to Scottish politics, indeed it has become the dominant issue around which all other issues revolve.
As we approach a second referendum what this means is that the question of independence has established itself as a serious and realistic prospect in the Scottish population at large, even amongst those who do not themselves support it. This gives the Yes campaign a huge advantage as it no longer needs to work to establish the idea of independence as a plausible reality in the face of anti-independence parties and a media which was keen to dismiss the idea out of hand as a Scotch pie in the sky which had no basis in the real world. We now live in a Scotland which opinion polling has repeatedly confirmed that most people believe is ultimately destined for independence. This figure is consistently higher than the number who currently support independence, which means that a small but significant section of those who oppose independence believe that theirs is ultimately a lost cause.
However there are also dangers here for the Yes campaign. As the 2014 campaign got underway the Better Together campaign and the London-centric media were characterised by a deep rooted arrogance, their unshakeable belief in British exceptionalism meant that they airily dismissed the independence movement and confidently predicted a crushing victory of 75% or more for opponents of independence. The narrowness of the final result shook them to the core, and goes a long way to explaining the anger and resentment that Anglo-British nationalism in Scotland has displayed ever since.
Another major difference between 2014 and now is that the Anglo-British opponents of independence will struggle to frame the independence referendum campaign as a choice between Scottish nationalism on the one hand, with all the emotionally loaded baggage which the word nationalism carries, and non-nationalism on the other. Brexit and the union flag fetish of the Conservatives, their rank xenophobia and constant appeals to a Great British nostalgia have laid bare the regressive and reactionary Anglo-British nationalism of the Westminster parties, above all the Conservatives, and even with the assistance of a willing media have made it much harder for them to peddle the foundational delusion of Anglo-British nationalism, that it is better than the nationalisms of lesser nations like Scotland by virtue of not being nationalist at all. We see through that deluded fairy story all too clearly now.
The next referendum will not present a false choice between Scottish nationalism and a fake non-nationalism, but rather must be framed as a choice between whether Scotland is best served by a destiny chosen for it by the Anglo-British nationalists like Alister Jack, who by his own admission does not even like to acknowledge the existence of Scotland as a distinct country in its own right, and who seeks to subsume Scotland into a unitary and centralised British nation state, or by a destiny chosen by the people of Scotland and a government answerable to the people of Scotland and no one else.
Effectively the choice before us in the next independence referendum is a starkly existential question. Do you want Scotland to continue as a distinct country and nation, making its own contribution to the world on its own terms, or are you content to see Scotland erased as a meaningful polity and country and reduced to a historic region of a unitary and centralised British nation state, with no more political significance, modern identity, or ability to frame its own public policies, than Mercia or Wessex. Because make no mistake, that is the future that the Conservatives have in mind for us, and which they will not hesitate to make a reality once they are no longer constrained by the prospect of another Scottish independence referendum.
One of the marked characteristics of the 2014 campaign was the “happy clappy” nature of the Yes campaign and its determination to focus exclusively on making a positive case for independence and to avoid talking about the risks that Scotland faced if it rejected independence. Brexit and this irredeemably corrupt Conservative government with its clear trajectory into authoritarianism and the neutering and destruction of democratic safeguards has changed all that. In the coming campaign we must highlight the immense dangers that Scotland faces if it is foolish enough to reject independence a second time.
There can be no question this time round of Gordon Brown’s federalist fantasy. The Conservatives will take a defeat for independence as a green light to embark upon an all out assault on the devolution settlement and the powers of the Scottish Parliament. They will certainly take steps to ensure that Scotland cannot have any more referendums and will have no compunction about transforming the UK from a voluntary union of nations into a union based upon compulsion, making a third referendum unlawful and removing the right of the people of Scotland to determine for themselves the form of government best suited to their needs.
In the next referendum we must highlight that the choice before us is either independence or Scotland ceasing to exist in any politically meaningful way, as nothing more than one of Alister Jack’s regions with a quaint dialect and a colourful past, just a pretty tartan bow on a Great British shortbread tin.
I have been in a lot of pain and discomfort this past week, so much so that I am having difficulty walking and am experiencing a lot of fatigue and exhaustion. Unfortunately I am not operating at full capacity and consequently won’t be able to get new blog pieces online as frequently as I would like to. I have also been told that it is unlikely that I will ever regain sufficient sensation and control in my left hand to be able to use it for tasks requiring fine motor control. I’m going to have to learn how to write with my right hand. As someone who was very dominantly left handed before the stroke, that’s going to be a challenge. But needs must.
My Gaelic maps of Scotland are still available, a perfect gift for any Gaelic learner or just for anyone who likes maps. The maps cost £15 each plus £7 P&P within the UK. You can order by sending a PayPal payment of £22 to firstname.lastname@example.org (Please remember to include the postal address where you want the map sent to).
I am now writing the daily newsletter for The National, published every day from Monday to Friday in the late afternoon. So if you’d like a daily dose of dug you can subscribe to The National, Scotland’s only pro-independence newspaper, here: Subscriptions from The National
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