A Premature Keening for the Independence Movement
28th June 2017
Amidst much doom and gloom, the professional mourners of the unionist press are out wailing and keening. David Torrance was on fine form on Radio 4 this morning combining a gloriously gloomy line with some barely concealed glee. He was repeating his line that “…my sense of the atmosphere at Holyrood is one of decay, as if the life has gone out of the FM, the SNP and the independence project”.
Cut to funereal music as the waxy countenance of the First Minister beams out from a Soviet style casket on parade, a saltire gracefully draped, perhaps a quaich filled with Irn-Bru, with a purvey featuring (non Tunnocks) teacakes and generous libations of uisge-beatha.
But that’s not ‘my sense’ at all.
What has happened is a very important turning point in that the SNP has realised that there is a whole grassroots movement out there that needs connected with, supported and recognised. This is not an easy thing for a professional modern political party to do, but that is what is happening. That is what’s about to happen.
Here’s what the (very much alive) First Minister said that was significant:
“We will seek to support, engage and grow the movement, and build the case…That is what my party will do. We won’t do it on our own – because the independence case is bigger than us too. We will seek to support, engage and grow the movement, and build the case…we will engage openly and inclusively with, and work as part of, the wider independence movement.”
We have seen politicians smeared and demeaned unsuccessfully in recent weeks and pundits like Torrance left looking clueless and disoriented. Here’s some of my favourite examples:
“The outcome of the 2017 General Election is not in doubt; the Conservatives will win a majority similar to that gained by one of Theresa May’s predecessors 30 years ago, almost to the day. Labour will be crushed.” – Former Labour MP Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph, 19 April. The Tory majority in 1987 was, er, 102.
“In terms of share of the vote, Labour’s result in June will draw comparisons with Michael Foot’s disastrous campaign against Margaret Thatcher in 1983.” – Former Labour MP Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph, 19 April. Labour’s share in 1983 was 27.6 percent, compared with 40 percent in 2017.
“My own view is that despite the twists and turns of this increasingly surreal campaign, Corbyn will struggle to significantly exceed the 31 percent Ed Miliband achieved in 2015, while Theresa May is locked in with about 45 percent of the vote. Anything less than a Conservative majority in excess of 100 seats would be surprising… May has faltered. On Thursday, the British people will come to her rescue.” – Dan Hodges, Mail on Sunday, 4 June
“Corbyn may even succeed in his real objective of beating the 30 percent Miliband achieved for Labour – but in an old-fashioned two-party contest that won’t prevent the Conservatives winning their biggest parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987.” – Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times, 4 June
“General Election Seat by Seat: My final predictions – A Tory Landslide is Still On.” – Iain Dale, iaindale.com, 5 June. As polls tightened, the broadcaster and publisher revised his predicted Tory majority from 134 down to 122.
Rumour Tories could be looking at 400 seats – we’ll find out in a min.” – Tweet from Steve Hawkes, Sun deputy political editor, just ahead of exit poll on 8 June
“Mrs May isn’t just kicking Corbyn when he’s down, she’s dug his political grave, prepared the coffin, set the date for the funeral service and invited us all to attend his career death. Many, even within his own party, believe it will be the greatest slaughter in the history of British politics. I think it could be worse than that… if Corbyn leads Labour into this General Election on 8 June, I fear he’s going to get beaten so badly the party itself may never recover and Britain will move forward with no viable opposition party.” – Piers Morgan, Mail Online, 18 April
The reality was a disappointment to many of these professional shrewdsters…
The writer Dougald Hine has talked about us living in an era of ‘radical uncertainty’. The political crisis is reflected in a media crisis in which:
“The regular mechanisms of political narration are breaking down. The pollsters lose confidence in their methods, the pundits struggle to offer authoritative explanations for events that they laughed off as wild improbabilities only months before.”
So we are living in a period of real disorientation where sense-making has become a vital craft, not an indulgence. Unfortunately a lot of these commentators are so embedded within the system they are supposed to be commenting on that they are often incapable of getting a perspective on it. That’s why we get the Draculian prophesies from David Torrance or the gleeful nihilism of Tom Harris. The problem of course is their entire careers are predicated on opining with huge self-confidence … strutting male ego across print, screen and airwaves, pontificating endlessly, trying desperately to suppress their wishful thinking (‘Labour must die, indy must die…’).
Angela Haggerty, the editor of CommonSpace has a different perspective on the Nicola Sturgeons’s statement to Holyrood:
“Not an awful lot has changed. Sturgeon’s plan had always been to hold a referendum at the conclusion of the Brexit process. What’s different here is the timing of the technicality of the process, but the section 30 order still stands and the central proposition remains the same. Only something unexpected on the Brexit front – or a sudden collapse in indy support, which hasn’t happened since 2014 – would be likely to change things now. Meanwhile, the independence movement – which is much wider than the SNP and is made up of much more radical and visionary elements and grassroots groups – is continuing to build the case for indy at pace, and today’s announcement was essentially getting a green light after being stuck on amber since the General Election. The vital point is this: the indy movement must find the answers to the big questions that were obstacles in 2014 (economy, currency, pensions etc), and in my humble wee opinion it must communicate a wider array of options for Scotland’s eventual relationship with Europe. The SNP is absolutely pro-EU, but the movement can take a broader position which takes into account many of the reservations people have about EU structures. This can be done with a pro-European, pro-immigration spirit at its heart and will defeat attempts by the right to exploit a gap in the conversation.”
Lesley Riddoch also has a different understanding about what’s just happened, and what’s just about to happen:
— Erik Geddes (@erikgeddes) June 28, 2017
Decay and Renewal
Decay? You talk of decay? When it is announced today that “The DUP has secured the promise of a law designed to shield British security forces from prosecution over Troubles killings as part of its agreement to prop up the Conservative government.” On the day when – too late far too late – some semblance of justice is being served for the Hillsborough disaster, and as the horrors of Grenfell Tower are barely beginning to be revealed, the levels of deception, cover-up and vested interests in British society are on show. On this day it is not the nascent Scottish state that is the issue. The level of depravity and brokeness of the British state seems to be emerging in clearer and clearer form. The level of disquiet and growing anger across Britain seems to be self-evident.
Meanwhile there are key emergent groups who have been working for some time and are building the infrastructure and the network for a renewed independence movement – one that reclaims the energy and organisational models of 2014 (self-organisation, multiple leadership, a radical imagination, diversity) but also has the maturity to have learned key lessons from that time.
At the same time the First Ministers announcement takes the wind out of the sails of the over-hyped Conservative leaders rhetoric. Ruth Davidson has had one soundbite on a loop now for about six months. Having re-set the timing of the potential referendum, this now makes the Tory leaders chuntering look like a dull misdirection. A Colonel riding on a One Trick Pony being cheered to the rafters as she gallops around the paddock. But her Secretary of State looks fatally wounded by his role (or lack of role) in the DUP deal and her new MPs look impotent and unsettled. If its a difficult task for SNP MPs to go down to Westminster and look useful (and it is), how much more difficult is it for Scottish Tory MPs to do this and not look like hopeless useless apologists for a regime their country didn’t vote for?
The idea that anyone’s going anywhere, the idea that this movement is dead is forlorn wishful thinking.
So let’s hold the funeral plans. Cancel the hearse. Disband the cortege.
As the Edinburgh survivor Joseph McIvor said appearing from beneath the rubble: “”Heave awa’ lads, I’m no’ deid yet!”