2007 - 2022

Why Indy Lite is Wrong


It’s fair to say – along with the not-so-gentle student arm-twisting of a newly elected representative for the South of Scotland region – that the veteran SNP grandee Jim Sillars is responsible for my current political identity.

His concept of independence-in-Europe, articulated in his mid 80’s book Scotland: A Case For Optimism – and still on the SNP website – was the first time I’d heard a truly sophisticated argument for Scottish independence: about reconnecting to the wider world, not just chippily tilting against our largest near-neighbour.

Somewhere in my personal archives I have a piece of campaign literature from the 1992 SNP campaign, arguing for “The New Union” for Scotland – that is, the European Union, with Scotland as integrated but independent nation-state within it. I also remember seeing Jim at a conference about 10 years ago, arguing with great vision about how an independent Scotland could contribute to the creation of a “strong European feel”, which would help legitimate and bolster a European governance that was certainly facing its challenges at that time.

This is personal, too: back to 1992, I shared an SNP Snappy Bus on Jim’s last, desperate day as a Govan MP during that years General Election. My admiration for his commitment to, and sympathy for, ordinary voters hasn’t diminished from that day to this. 

But I have to say, quite clearly, that Jim’s current advocacy of what he’s calling “independence-lite” is fundamentally wrong – by which I mean the wrong political strategy for a majority SNP government, and an independence movement, readying itself for a momentous referendum.

In his Scotsman article, Jim clearly outlines what he thinks this revised vision of Scottish independence is:

an independent country in international law which has a kind of confederal relationship with England, in which the latter continues to carry out cross-Border functions like the DVLA, perhaps pension and social security payments, and a BBC with beefed up Scottish representation at Trust level. One which engages us in a quasi-Nato relationship on shared defence and security against terrorism, with Scotland paying its share of costs of those functions, plus our share of UK debt, from its sovereignty over all taxation including oil, and perhaps offsetting some of those costs by leasing the Trident base for a long period

What is noticeable, instantly, is the absence of the European Union from this picture. Does this mean that independence-supporters are giving up on playing their part in the policy-forming councils of Europe? Particularly when the general thrust of European policy – on social welfare, on environmental regulation, on urban development, on education – is still much more in line with the Scottish consensus than anything coming from Westminster? This seems a bizarre “Little Britain” horizon to impose on a politics of Scottish independence.

(This article is from Thoughtland, see here for the full original piece. We’ve re-produced it in part here because the Devo Max / Indy Lite has many supporters).

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  1. It is a mistake for us to begin the indepenence campaign by stating that `Indy-lite` is good enough. That means sending out a team which knows it’s playing for a draw, when a win is on the cards, for the bold.
    While we may end up sharing the DVLA etc, at least to start with, we don’t go into this battle without playing to win. As for Trident, it’s not a case of us leasing it, more a case of rUK paying us to keep it!

  2. I’m all for full blown independence, I’d rather that the SNP advocated ditching the Royals as well, but, I also think that devo-max is a realistic choice to put on the ballot paper and worth campaigning for a Yes-Yes to both. My reasoning? No matter how my heart sees it I think that full independence is unlikely to gain enough support to become a reality, however, giving the SNP a chance to work on devo-max, build confidence (in Scotland among the doubters) as a Nation and wither the Unionist support in Scotland is no bad thing.

    Of course I’d be delighted to be proved wrong!

  3. Alex Buchan says:

    I don’t really see the reason for the mention here of devo max being popular as this article has nothing to do with devo max. The article is from last May about a suggestion made by Jim Sillars that has nothing to do with the present referendum debate and the issue of whether to have a question on devo max (a completely different idea for progressing Scottish aspirations rather than a fixed destination like Indy Lite).

  4. Alex Buchan says:

    As far as I know nobody is arguing for Indy Lite, except Sillars.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I take your point Alex, though the media will continue to use Sillars argument, and I thought this was a useful contextualisation of his arguments.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        It might be contextualisation but to say it’s ‘useful’ and to confuse it with devo max tends to reveal your underlying motivation. i.e. it’s useful in the on-going attempt to demolish devo max, otherwise why print an out of date article. You’ve every right to try to demolish devo max but it’s important that we have ground rules, just like the referendum itself. The best strategy for securing independence is not a closed book it deserves to be debated. If we can’t have open debate on strategy it suggests we are closed minded and therefore likely to be limited in our appeal to the majority of Scots.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          I’m not sure I get what irks you so much. What do you think my ‘underlying motivation’ is?

      2. Alex Buchan says:

        Hi Bella. Sorry, been trying to come off tablets, so a bit irascible. I can see that maybe your motivation was just to add something to the debate, but my reaction was to the line you inserted at the end, where you said:

        “We’ve re-produced it in part here because the Devo Max /Indy Lite has many supporters”

        I thought, hang on a minute, Alex Salmond has made it clear that he’s referring to something that’s a long-standing liberal policy i.e. definitely nothing to do with Jim Sillars, so why would anyone think they were the same. This lack of knowledge could be excused in journalists from London who haven’t paid much attention and who are anyway condescending, but why would BC. as one of the most informed blogs on this get it wrong? In fact, I’ve noticed that, with the exception of this article, you hardly ever hear the term Indy lite now, because people seem to be a lot clearer about what the issues are, and, from a nationalist point of view, devo max is quite clearly just a possibly brief stop along the way. It’s also something that’s never likely to get through Westminster anyway. So, its principle function for a nationalist is that it takes the public through a, possibly necessary, educational process about the limitations of devolution and creates a crisis in legitimacy for Westminster when Westminster says no. This total exhaustion of devolution’s possibilities could then be argued to provide a better basis for the more daunting shift to Independence.

        What made the post doubly frustrating for me is that I agree 100% with Pat Kane’s article, but I didn’t see what its relevance was to this current debate. In many ways Indy lite is now an obsolete point that’s been superseded. Where the debate is now is in predicting how the Scottish public are going to respond to the referendum debate and what the best strategy is. I think Gerry Hassan’s recent article on BC was an important contribution to this. He argued that the Scottish public uses elections tactically to gain benefits for Scotland within the context of British territorial politics. This single fact makes past voting behaviour far more intelligible as conforming to a pattern and it provides a more sophisticated analysis of the likely outcome of the independence referendum.

        For instance, at first glance the last three elections in Scotland seem to show public opinion moving dramatically back and forth between the SNP and Labour [2009 Euro elections (SNP advance), 2010 UK elections (Labour advance), 2011 Scottish elections (SNP advance)], but using the frame of reference of maximising Scottish pressure in order to maximise benefits then these results show a consistency. Turning to the referendum, this analysis shows that voting for the SNP in the past has, for the majority, been about putting maximum pressure on Westminster to get benefits. It is therefore not surprising that there is no direct correlation between voting strength for the SNP and support for independence. This suggests we need to be cautious in our assumptions about the public’s likely reaction to an independence vote. It is around issues like these that the pros and cons for the inclusion of a devo max option is to be found. It is to be remembered that this is seen as the single most important issue for the UK government, because the inclusion of devo max would necessitate a complete rethink of the No campaign and make their job a hundred times more difficult. These are all valid areas for us to consider because there is a lot at stake in the referendum and negative as well as positive consequences are balanced on the need to get the strategy right.

  5. Dave McEwan Hill says:

    As someone who slept in the back of his car in Langlands Road in Govan to help in the by- election campaign to elect Jim Sillars to Govan I find his behaviour in recent years deeply hurtful.
    If he wishes to have his say about SNP positions he has every opportunity to take the stage at Conference and National Council and make it yet he continues to niggle away from the sidelines. He had a lot to offer at one point

  6. tom says:

    Naturally people have every right to change their opinions. Unfortunately my abiding memory of Jim is him as Labour candidate – and MP – for South Ayrshire (the NUM man) – jeering at SNP aspirations as a wish to install four taps in every Scottish house: hot, cold, oil and whisky. Not an agreeable memory…

  7. Morag Lennie says:

    Why is anyone surprised at this man’s advocacy of Indy-lite? This is the man, who along with his cohorts, coined the word Fundy, as an insult to those of us committed to Independence nothing less, back in the late 70s and early 80s.Along with his dewy eyed followers, he caused mayhem in the Party, for very little positive benefit, then took himself off to pursue his career furth of Scotland. Like all of us, in all parties and none, he is entitled to his thoughts and opinions, but as someone else has said, disseminate them within the Party of which he is supposed to be a member, but stop carping from the sidelines.

  8. David McCann says:

    I couldnt agree more with Pat. Independence means exactly what it says on the tin. All the other options fall far short of Scotland making the decisions that count. Going to war, macro economics, Europe and Trident. I would vote independence for the last one alone.
    As for Jim Sillars, one day he is a ‘fundy, the next he advocates devo lite. I just dont figure him out.

  9. Indy says:

    Independence is not about having our own DVLA though. We need to argue for independence on the basis of the positive benefits that it will bring to people. Not get stuck in a potential administrative quagmire of having to explain what new departments will be set up, where they will be set up, how many people will work there etc. There is nothing the unionists would like more than for us to get bogged down in that kind of debate – because it’s a debate that won’t inspire anyone to vote for independence. We need to talk about what is exciting about independence – not what is boring.

  10. The term “fundy” was brough up earlier in the discussion on Full Independence or the half-way house of `Indy lite.`. I wish to re-examine what is usually meant by `Fundy` and to conclude,below, that the term is not helpful in the Scottish context.
    The `Fundis` were those in the fundamentalist wing of the German Green Party who clashed with the `Realos, or those who moderated their tactics as the party moved closer to becoming elected, and an accepted part of the German politcal process. Fundis are seen as more radical, principled and prone to extra-parliamentary forms of political action. Realos, on the other hand, first aim to get elected. To do this they had to question which of their policies were deep principles, and which were simply tactics. Generally, the realos have won the debate.
    A Fundi was not simply one who adhered to a rigid an uncompromising stance, but rather one who believed in “Deep Green” poltics. This would mean adopting a fully sustainable lifestyle, reducing one’s environmental footprint to a massive degree, and generally, rejecting most of the 20th century’s consumerist values. For such politics to be adopted, the population would have to fundamentally reject capitalism. Clearly the difference between `fundis` and gradualists is about more than tactics, but is about the shape of society.
    Now, the Scottish move towards independence, while big, is not that big! We are not calling for a wholesale remodelling of Scottish lifestyles, but for National self-determination. In this debate, there really are two options.Scotland will either control it’s own decision-making, or it won’t. The split is not between radicals and moderates, or Deep Blue Scots verses their pale blue counterparts. If you call, tactically, for a third question on the ballot, you are not, fundamentally, any less Scots than I. You are simply taking a cautious route towards the agreed destination.
    Fundamentaly, the use of the term `fundi` is used to discredit those in the movement who see no point in seeking just a wee bit of independence.
    Perhaps the split is about risk-takers versus the risk-averse. As we count down the 1000 days till the vote, I think the arguments for self-determination will accumulate, as will the contradictions of power-sharing. We should have the confidence to call simply for independence because we need to take over our own affairs and deal with our weighty social problems. It’s not an extremist position, but the result of logical thinking.

    1. Indy says:

      In the SNP a fundamentalist was someone who opposed the setting up of the Scottish Parliament. They opposed devolution as they wanted independence nothing less and they believed that devolution was a trap, a cul de sac for the SNP. The opposite point of view – that devolution provided a platform for the SNP to take Scotland forward to independence – was described as the gradualist position. That was the mainstream position within the party. Many of the “fundies” left the party or some of them were eventually expelled. Jim Sillars is a fundie – he stayed in the party but has been critical of the leadership ever since. It’s worthwhile bearing in mind when you read what Jim says now that he opposed devolution. That eexplains why a lot of people in the SNP don’t pay a lot of attetion to him any more as we feel he was proved wrong on that one.

      1. Morag Lennie says:

        Sorry Indy, Jim Sillars was hell bent on taking the SNP into the Constitutional Convention, was very much a gradualist, though the term had not been coined at the point in time I posted about. He it was who tried to demonise those of us who wanted nothing to do with what was proposed in 1979, because it was an ASSEMBLY, i.e. talking shop, a sop to the masses. Believe me the Fundies, as he christened us, did not leave the party, Gordon Wilson, Anthony J.C. Kerr, Ken Fee, Angus Lyon, John Swinney, Winnie Ewing, Willie McRae, loads more, and well down the food chain Me. It was Mr. Sillars, who though not leaving, chose to carp from the sidelines. had his Scottish Labour Party, or whatever he called it taken off, he would never have come near the SNP.
        P.S. He only walked out of the Constitutional Conventions first meeting, because it was Party policy that, unless there was an Independence option on any referendum, we would not become involved. There wasn’t, and we didn’t. I find it a constant source of amusement these days to see people , who nowadays call themselves Fundies, who vilified anyone who did not fall at the feet of Mr. Sillars back then. One can only assume they had a road to Pitlochry experience.

  11. Tocasaid says:

    Jim seems to be a bit of serial whinger and idealogical jukebox. Indy-lite, like devolution, are ok as stepping stones. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing some kind of anarchist-socialist society, but it aint gonna happen until humans progress much further than they are now – maybe by 3012?. In the meantime, independence for small nations and community control over their own land and resources is good step in the right direction.

  12. Teri Forsyth says:

    Jim Sillars has been going on about ‘IndyLite’ for quite some time now, but it is not a view I share. For me, there is no halfway house, which is what I see this to be. It must be full Independence and nothing else. As an Independent nation, we wont be a wee place doing more of the same as before. We will be a confident nation making all of our own decisions and ready to play our part on the International stage.

  13. john grant says:

    forget indy lite devo max whatever they are independace is the only way or the status quo people have to realise what is at stake here surely nobody can be satisfied the way things are .

  14. aucheorn says:

    In my views I’ve now gone full circle. For years I was Independence nothing less, a fundamentalist, then lets take what we get and improve and grow it, a gradualist, but now as fulfilment of my hopes and dreams draws near I’m back to being a fundamentalist.

    I’m quite sure that very many people have traveled the same path.

  15. Graham says:

    I thought gradualism and devolution was a mistake for the Independence movement. It looks like I was wrong and I couldn’t be happier. But let’s not kid ourselves, there were no Mystic Morags predicting this coming together of circumstances to create the perfect storm (how could they?). My recollection is that the projections of gradualism were vague indeed, hamstrung by a voting system designed to prevent an absolute majoritiy. And the 2011 result took even the SNP by surprise. Yesterday’s news though.

    Of course Independence is not about having our own DVLA, that’s just daft. It’s about having our own everything and deciding for ourselves what we do with it. That’s why I get confused when Stephen Noon writes about Scotland’s New Deal, Stronger Together as Equals, Re-negotiation of the Treaty of Union and replacing the Brit-Scot-Eur hierarchy with a Scot-Brit-Eur one. I’m not even going to mention the absurdity of a herditary monarch continuing as head of state. This confusion turns to disappointment, anger and then disgust when I begin to see what this could mean – shared defence forces, foreign policy and social security policy, and a nice wee earner in renting nuclear weapons. Get tae.

    Full fiscal autonomy is better than nothing but it doesn’t get any better than Independence so that is best. Independence for me is about more than control of tax and spend decisions, vital though that is. I don’t understand why Scotland should not take all its own decsions including defence and foreign policy.

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