Before May 2011, no unionist (other than Wendy Alexander perhaps) had any inclination for Scotland to hold a referendum on independence. Since then, however, they have been clamoring for the referendum to come along as soon as humanly possible. They treat it as some silly little question, a hindrance to talking about the proper issues, and this has never been more true than since the unionists started saying they would offer Scots more devolution, but not until we got the independence question “out of the way”.
As someone who has wanted independence for Scotland ever since I was old enough to realise that Scotland wasn’t like other countries, I find this really insulting. Independence is not a quirk. It’s not a phase we have to get past, and it’s not some deranged idea that the rest of the country has to go along with just to humour us weirdo nationalists who keep harping on about it, a punishment for being stupid enough to give the SNP a majority. Believing that your country should have the same powers as any other country is a genuine and credible position to hold. The fact that unionists cannot see this speaks volumes about how much they fail to grasp the nub of the issue, and perhaps explains why they still don’t understand that the “jam tomorrow” approach just isn’t good enough. “Oh, are you still banging on about more powers? Well okay, say no to independence and we’ll sort you out with something. What powers? Oh I dunno, income tax or something. What do you mean that’s not enough? Look, we’ll sort it out later. Now if you don’t mind, we still have some nationalised industries to privatise, so run along, there’s a good chap.”
It’s annoyed me for a while, but it became particularly annoying when I watched some of the Lib Dem conference highlights on Sunday (yes, I know I’m strange). Charles Kennedy – a man who has often been seen as the one saving grace in the current Lib Dems – was telling the conference that it would be completely hypocritical to complain about the SNP not properly defining independence while at the same time failing to tell the electorate what this post-referendum “further devolution” that unionists speak of will be. Unionists would do well to not put this down as the rantings of a drunkard and actually listen to the man, because he is completely correct, and it is their only hope of beating independence. However, the words of activists interviewed by the BBC suggested that he was speaking to an audience that didn’t want to hear. One of the activists – a poor deluded fellow who thinks the Lib Dems are still the party of Home Rule – was putting forward a motion to debate the merits of having home rule (or whatever unionist ruse Ming Campbell is going to come up with) put on the referendum paper. But his two colleagues were resolutely against this proposal, using the same tired expressions of getting the independence “out of the way” first, and the same illogical logic that Scotland needs to throw away its only bargaining chip before trying to get more powers. Imagine a Mexican stand-off where one combatant suddenly throws his gun away, yet still expects to come out on top. That’s basically what unionists want us to do.
I just wonder what Lib Dems would think if people talked of holding a referendum on federalism and getting it “out of the way”, so we can get on with the proper grown-up stuff? Then again, I suppose that’s exactly what happened with the AV referendum, which was a textbook example of why you don’t rush a referendum and try to “get it out of the way” instead of debating the issue thoroughly. Do Lib Dems (and those pro-AV Labourites) not understand this point, or do they understand it only too well and this is exactly why they want us to “get it out of the way”?
Either way, their continued usage of this style of language gives us no reason to think they are in any way serious about wanting to give Scotland the powers we want, the powers we need, and more importantly, the powers we deserve. It’s fairly obvious their only priority is “beating” the SNP. What a way to serve the people.
I’ve got news for these sort of people: independence will not go away just by treating it as a silly little obsession of a deluded minority. Treat the debate with respect, or else if the referendum is defeated we will just be right back here in a few years. This is not the sort of issue you can pay lip service to in order to shut people up. We don’t need the independence question out of the way – we need it to be answered fully and thoroughly, after a properly informed debate. It’ll never go away otherwise.