Unleashing Scotland – resisting the chorus of caution

img_5726Following a number of insightful pieces on the prospects of a future independence referendum from Robin McAlpine, Ian Macwhirter, and Euan McColm, it seems there is a chorus of caution entering into the debate surrounding a potential indyref2.

There is a view held by some commentators that it is “only a matter of time” before Scotland obtains independence and so we should wait it out for more favourable conditions to manifest.

Implicit in this argument is that the devolution process started a one-way train towards independence and there is nothing that can be done to stop it, regardless of political developments in the meantime.

Resting on the idea of a permanent SNP juggernaut or, more broadly, a pro-independence majority being present at Holyrood, may be comforting for some. However, this is based on the erroneous assumption that the status quo will continue to prevail. Political developments often surprise even the most astute political commentators.

The only reason people can argue indyref2 is only a matter of time is because the SNP dominance is assumed to be in a fixed position come what may. If we remove this assumption, holding to the “only a matter of time” argument becomes considerably more difficult.

“It bears repeating — now and in future — that a second independence referendum is not guaranteed. A week is a long time in politics, to say nothing of months and years.”

In just over the last year or so, the list of political events that were near impossible to accurately predict include: the Corbyn victory, the Sanders surge, the SNP landslide at the last UK elections, and the victory for Leave in the EU referendum.

On the specific question of the SNP, the last Scottish election showed how much voting patterns are consolidating around the constitutional question. Although we shouldn’t read too much into a by-election with a meagre 20 per cent turnout, Tory transfers in the recent North Ayrshire Council by-election helped Labour scrape over the line. Whatever the exact cause, the impact of increased Tory representation reflects a rejuvenated right and, unfortunately, it is not a guarantee that their vote share won’t grow. It wasn’t so long ago that the Tories were thought “dead” in Scotland.

The debate around tactical voting seems likely to sharpen at the next Scottish election and not in a way that benefits advocates of independence. Aside from anything else, the last result helped to make the Tories seem like a legitimate alternative to a struggling Labour Party — Ruth Davidson’s party is no longer isolated after years in the wilderness.

Furthermore, the political landscape in the UK could change sufficiently in such a way that could make blocking a second independence referendum more likely. For example, if the Corbyn/PLP dynamic ends badly, the prospect of an increased Tory majority is not so farfetched. In this political climate, it is entirely possible that attitudes in England towards granting a second independence referendum could harden.

Finally, if we wait for what would undoubtedly be years of negotiations, with independence campaigners inevitably reduced to spectator status in the absence of a new referendum, we won’t have a campaign. In fact, the political direction of any future indyref2 we do get could be seriously compromised because of the lack of grassroots involvement, which by then would likely have substantially dwindled.

“While it’s true that taking risks makes defeat possible, the ‘Yes’ campaign stands to lose out for a second time if we choose to sit and wait for the right moment that might never come.”

It bears repeating — now and in future — that a second independence referendum is not guaranteed. A week is a long time in politics, to say nothing of months and years.

That said, the flipside to this position requires equal scrutiny. Robin McAlpine, has argued that “we don’t have a hope in hell” of getting a second independence referendum, but let’s consider what this view is premised upon.

The common assumption within this argument is that the Tory government would block a new referendum. This significantly understates the political implications of such an action, and even Ruth Davidson has quite forcefully argued against doing so. It would provide Sturgeon with a platform to continually denounce the undemocratic instincts of the Tory government and, given how much impact the SNP had on the UK debates previously (with people wanting to vote SNP in England), this may not be a path Tories on either side of the border would want to go down.

It’s also worth remembering that many people claimed that the first referendum wouldn’t happen. Similarly, the idea that the Tories could challenge the democratic mandate to call a new referendum is also problematic. People voted SNP knowing their well publicised claim that they had the right to call a new referendum if, for example, Scotland was withdrawn from the EU against its will. No-one was misled on this point.

“It’s also worth remembering that many people claimed that the first referendum wouldn’t happen.”

Although polls temporarily showed an increase in support for an indyref2 following Brexit, I’ve argued before that the post-Brexit bounce could be temporary. Similarly, both Euan McColm and Iain Macwhirter argue that there is no clear evidence of an increased support for independence.

However, that is only part of the story. What Brexit has achieved is to trigger the only condition in the SNP manifesto that explicitly states the right to a new referendum. As a result, it has energised the independence movement and the recent pro-independence march exceeded all expectations. In addition, No voters may well be more receptive to our arguments in a post Brexit context.

In light of this, the argument that we need to wait for consistent polling of 60 per cent for ‘Yes’ before calling for a new referendum poses considerable risk, as this is a condition that might never come about. Of course, independence campaigners will seek to get the number as high as possible in the meantime, but if we tie ourselves to a specific support percentage, we may not get the chance for an indyref2 at all.

Does anyone think the last independence referendum was a waste of time? The ‘Yes’ campaign was miles behind when the race began, to the point where the UK media was trying to kill it off with an almost daily bombardment of polling showing how hopeless it all was. Fortunately, it was far closer than many predictions and Scottish politics has not been the same since.

“Of course, independence campaigners will seek to get the number as high as possible in the meantime, but if we tie ourselves to a specific support percentage, we may not get the chance for an indyref2 at all.”

The bonfire of the Blairites that resulted and the Corbyn surge arguably stemmed from this shift in the political landscape. While winning the last few per cent over to ‘Yes’ is of course a challenge that needs to be met full-on, we are starting from a much more solid base in the polls and have more organisational strength this time around.

In our corner, we now have alternative media outlets; research we did not have previously (e.g. on currency); activists with more experience of campaigning, and therefore a potentially much larger base of people willing to chap doors and talk to people than ever before, steeled in the mistakes and defeat of the last campaign.

Euan McColm’s recent article citing Alex Neil is a useful contribution to the debate, citing uncertainty over the EU and the Brexit deal, potential borders with England, and the currency question and should be engaged with seriously.

The work around currency, in particular, is evidence of a turnaround in the debate and it is very welcome. Doubtless, regarding the potential outcomes post-Brexit, a power of work would have to be done to prepare our arguments within an admittedly complex set of circumstances, and more still to adequately address issues already pre-existing from the first referendum.

“Whatever the exact cause, the impact of increased Tory representation reflects a rejuvenated right and, unfortunately, it is not a guarantee that their vote share won’t grow. It wasn’t so long ago that the Tories were thought “dead” in Scotland.”

No-one should avoid these essential discussions. Each needs to be addressed. However, there was plenty of uncertainty last time around — there always will be. Fortunately, people like Robin McAlpine, among others, were strongly arguing to prepare the ground immediately after the last referendum, given that we were not strong enough on some of the issues last time.

While it’s true that taking risks makes defeat possible, the ‘Yes’ campaign stands to lose out for a second time if we choose to sit and wait for the right moment that might never come. Robin McAlpine insists that we cannot be 100 per cent sure we would win it if we did have a second referendum, but how often can we be 100 per cent sure of anything in politics?

However, as Tommy Sheppard has suggested, these are “challenges to be overcome”, rather than problems which should lead to paralysis. If we unleash the creative potential and intelligence that independence campaigners have displayed in the past, we can start putting together the building blocks we urgently need for a new Scotland. If we start to build the campaign now, we could have an independence referendum by 2018. There is no time to waste.



Danny McGregor, Ph.D., is a former lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, and an active campaigner for social justice, equality, and Scottish independence. He can be found on Twitter @dannym_1984

Comments (28)

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  1. Wullie says:

    Magrit Curran agreed with McWhirter on the wireless! so we’re aw doomed.

  2. Crubag says:

    As a general thing, the SNP dominance won’t last forever, even though as Scots we do seem to like a political monoculture (Scottish Unionists to Scottish Labour to SNP). Time takes the shine of all governments, and the SNP’s own seeds of doom are already being sown – for example, making their committee members, whose purpose is to scrutinise government, the deputies of the ministers they are meant to be scrutinising. How do you think they will mark teacher’s homework?

    But as for a quickfire referendum, I don’t see that happening before BREXIT is concluded. There are too many uncertainties – basically whether Scots would prefer a European union to a British union, what the border deal will be for rUK/EU countries (Eire will show us that), and what shape the EU and the UK themselves will be in the next three or four years.

  3. Harry Alffa (@HarryAlffa) says:

    Excellent article.
    Illustrating to us all, even those who think of themselves as entirely rational, that some at least some of what we hold is as much a belief system as any religion.
    Excellent that Danny goes on to replace that belief system via a rational examination with a less comforting but still confident; do it sooner or maybe we won’t get it at all.

    I’m surprised that anyone gives any credence to “Westminster won’t let us have a referendum”. Like policing, we are governed only by our permission. If the people want a referendum we’ll be bloody well having one.

    It’s a risk/reward question.

    1. Richard MacKinnon says:

      “Westminster won’t let us have a referendum”. Your words. You give the argument ‘no credence’, so let me try and frame that same argument, your argument slightly closer to home and without the grievance factor.
      Lets consider the scenario Harry?
      What if the SNP put a second referendum on their 2021 manifesto and win a majority. How do you think Ruth Davidson would respond? Would she lead the fight for a second No vote? Or would she say to the 55% of Scots that voted No last time, ignore it, this second referendum has no legitimacy, don’t even bother to vote, we won last time.
      I imagine Ruth Davidson would love to lead that campaign.
      What you going to do then Harry?

      1. Harry Alffa (@HarryAlffa) says:

        I’ll tell you what I’d be doing – not giving a single fuck about what Ruth Davidson says.
        You’re contextless, non sequitur about ‘grievance’ tells me you aren’t anywhere near as clever as you think you are.
        Get some self-awareness here: https://www.mensa.org.uk/workout
        It’s timed to 15 minutes, nae pressure pal.

        I will not respond to any future comments by you.

        Bye bye.

        1. Richard MacKinnon says:

          Touched a nerve have I Harry?
          Your problem is, the argument has credence. You hope of Westminster refusing to agree a second referendum, they wont, they don’t have to. It will be Scottish unionists that will refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of a second referendum, which will make any result meaningless; even a 90% Yes, 10% No will mean nothing on a 35% turnout.
          Ironic is it not, it wasn’t devolution that killed independence stone dead after all, it was Eck’s referendum.

          1. Neil Anderson says:

            There won’t be a 35% turnout Dick. There’ll be at least a 45% turnout to which you can add the other bods who were wooed last time but many of whom, no doubt, have learned a bitter lesson. This is by no means over and that’s why you feel the need to antagonise. Ye’ll be scrapin the crust aff yer pants for long and weary Dicky boy, until ye huv tae throw them awa’!

          2. Black Rab says:

            You don’t like the idea of democracy. Which system of government do yo favour?

        2. Jim Robertson says:

          You’re not only full of grievance but you’re also a bitter Nat fucktard that went on full attack mode to a politely worded disagreement.

          It wouldn’t be legal and it ain’t happening. Keep dreaming Caledonia.

          1. Robert Graham says:

            Oh dear you can almost feel the hope and vision of better things to come from your sad rant , so we all sit in the corner and shut up do nothing never aim to change things just sit and be pissed on without comment, what a dreary hopeless existence you have.

      2. John B Dick says:

        Harry will vote YES and so will I.

        Don’t forget RD is in place due to HQ and favorable planted press coverage. The initial response ignorantly crafted in London was “We are the official opposition now”. Jackson Carlaw cleverly managed a form of words that drew back from that assertion while leaving the inference that in second place with fewer than half the votes of the SNP and not enough MSPs to fill all the cabinet posts, they were on the point of replacing the governing party.

    2. bringiton says:

      Completely agree.
      The mistake the unionists made in 2014 was to agree that the people of Scotland have the right to determine our constitutional arrangements.
      This acknowledged our status in international terms as a distinct entity subject to the same rules and practices as any other country.
      For now,we agreed to remain in England’s union but that was conditional based on promises and vows made by the Westminster establishment leading up to the vote.
      Imagine if Brussels had interfered in the Brexit referendum in the same way that London did with ours and promised that the UK could have complete control over immigration if we voted to Remain,only to renage on that promise the moment the remain result was won.

      1. Crubag says:

        Probably where “Brussels” went wrong. They only promised a one-time, temporary limit on immigration, rather than full control of borders.

        Though immigration was only one reason why people voted Leave. Accountability, sovereignty, economy etc. were all factors.

        I don’t see anyone voting to join the EU anytime soon. If the SNP do go for a second referendum, I think they will seek to separate independence from the UK from union with Brussels. According to the polling, 1/3 of 2015 SNP voters alone voted Leave, and the margins are too fine at the moment to lose that quadrant.

    3. John B Dick says:

      “I’m surprised that anyone gives any credence to “Westminster won’t let us have a referendum””.

      So am I, and anyone who says so downgrades the credibility of everything else they ever say on any subject whatever.

      Some are determined to prove the bottle is half empty, when it is at least half full. The other side of that situation is to ignore factors on the half full side.

      Generational change, and getting rid of coffin dodgers like me will sort it in 8 years. I’ll be sorry to miss it.

      There will be a snowball effect once a bare majority is reached.

      We are only one Eton Mess financial scandal or the formal collapse of the UK Labour party as an alternative government in FPTP Westminster to reach a critical mass for independence.

      Morale and expectation on the YES side has not faltered. Is that the case with the No side, despite The Vow and EVEL, and Brexit?

      Were those who forecast that Armageddon would follow Brexit entirely wrong? If they were even partly right, would that make a difference

      Has the new UK administration wised up to Scottish sensibilities, values, demography and geography, or will they continue as before. Without Westminster ignorance of Scotland, the SNP would be where SGP are today.

      Trident, Trident, Trident, Trident.

      Broadcast journalists often ask the rhetorical question: “What would we see different the day after Brexit/independence”.

      From where I’m sitting, literally, my wife’s joke answer was “Three Trident Submarines passing the window.”

      1. C Rober says:

        Now if the referendum was for Englands voters on remaining in the Uk , do we think that would change the result? Brexit seems to have given the democratic power to middle Englanders , and many are now asking why they are subsidizing Scotland ?

        Turkeys and xmas , perhaps the better option for Scotland , and before they realise how bad the EU leaving is for their exports.

        Then perhaps that Little England across the Irish sea , will be a bug out bunker for EU trade , without a border with Eire , the rich and powerful will choose that economic route instead of Jock land. Its easier to control them compared to the Scots , smaller population , and the last bastion of colonial empire. Job done on two fronts , appeasement of certain “political” groups on both sides through income improvement should keep the “troubles” at bay.

  4. Sandy Watson says:

    Surely then, the urgency is not to set a date for the referendum but to get the campaigning and awareness-raising underway and to the highest pitch possible, as soon as possible.

    1. Jfoubert says:

      Well the best way to get people campaigning is to commit to a second referendum. And the best way to get people to tune out and splinter off is to put it off.

      There might be other things that can be done instead of a referendum, but your fears of a second referendum have a huge impact on the population’s perception of it. Sovereignists of all people cannot ever in any way fear engaging in the democratic process of bringing on independence.

  5. Onwards says:

    I want to remain in Europe, but I agree there are risks with a quick referendum on the premise of asking people to choose between different unions.

    Unless the UK gets a really bad deal and ends up completely out the single market.
    But I reckon the UK will end up paying the price for tariff-free single market access, keeping freedom of movement, so it won’t be so black and white.

    There is still time for a referendum within this parliament after seeing how the bricks land with a Brexit deal. And any ‘refusal’ would bolster the SNP vote under a specific mandate at the next Holyrood election.

    1. C Rober says:

      I am beginning to think that the downward trend in the pound value vs the euro is being set up for negating trade tarrifs even today , in that when the pound is valued low inward investment and exports are economically a good thing.

      But with that comes less income for the worker that fulfills that export , and of course the increase in price of imports , thus more expensive fuel (gas) and food.

  6. Jamie says:

    A persuasive argument you have put forward. As good a case for a quick referendum that I have yet to hear.

  7. Interpolar says:

    Congratulations to Bella for fielding this article and several others which show a range of views and arguments. The subsequent debates taking place on this forum are really offering an excellent basis for a meaningful progression of thought.

  8. Johnny R udkin says:

    the longer we wait for referendum 2 the less chance we have of winning already a lot of impatient people including me are starting to wonder if the snp want another chance for independence and it is showing up on face book with a lot of differing opinions about how to go about it the labour party have lost all their big hitters in scotland and they have not got the people to knock on doors as in the past the next vote will include the youth of scotland and after one go they will come up with the votes this time because of brexit it is the youth that suffers most with the brexit votes then there is the immigrants in scotland a lot of them voted no the last time but i think it will be different this time because of brexit so come on scotland now is the time lets do it and get our freedom SCOTLAND FOR INDEPENDENCE

  9. Alf Baird says:

    Easiest and quickest way to ‘bring-on’ independence is for the 56 SNP MP’s at Westminster all to resign enbloc, leading to by-elections throughout Scotland, where they could each re-stand on a purely indy ticket. However I fear the SNP MPs may have settled into the unionist salaried/expenses lifestyle a tad too well to consider anything so ‘radical’ as asking the Scottish electorate to vote for indy.

    1. Crubag says:

      That used to be the SNP position when I was first a member – a majority of MPs would equal a demand for independence.

      The use of a referendum has been a clever tactic (strategy?) as it allows unionists to vote SNP without committing to independence. When you think about solid No-voting, SNP heartlands like Perthshire, Angus or Moray, you can see why.

      It’s anyone’s guess how people would vote now on a UDI ticket (with or without a promise of a referendum on applying for EU membership).

    2. Harry Alffa (@HarryAlffa) says:

      Yes Alf, I’ve said exactly that on Twitter – somewhere!
      Not sure about the ‘settled into salaries’ bit, you may be even more cynical than me! No question that the longer they’re there the more will fall into the Dark Side without really noticing – like slowly, gradually boiling frogs.

  10. Lochside says:

    Have to agree with Alf Baird. It’s time to bring the Westminster edifice down. It’s rudderless anyway and led by career politicians who couldn’t find their dicks with both hands. If the 56 SNP resigned it would trigger the Constitutional crisis that we are all waiting for ( except colonial creeps). The Bank of England has pumped out more monopoly money, ensuring that the 3000 casino gamblers in the City of London will continue to get their £1 million pound bonuses each, while we exist on the £30 billion pocket money of the ‘Barnett’.

    Like you Alf, I am beginning to sense that there are too many comfortable managerial type SNP MPs sitting lapping up the ‘ambience’ of the HOC. I always understood once we had a majority, never mind a whitewash of the parliamentary seats, that we would call for dissolution of the Union.
    What does it take?

    1. Josef O Luain says:

      It’s the “legalists”, given the chance, that’ll screw the whole indy project up. That is, those who don’t appreciate the fact that we are engaged in the business of revolution here, a scenario which contains its own dynamic without recourse to business-as-usual.

      I am with those who question the continued presence of our democratically elected representatives sitting in a forum where there voices are tolerated but routinely ignored.

      Pile them onto a fleet of buses and have them tour the country, explaining and arguing for independence through the medium of public meetings, for as long as it takes.

    2. Willie says:

      Yes Lochside, you are I think correct in your observation about too many comfortable managerial types in the SNP. Comfortable salaries, fabulous pensions, fabulous expenses, the SNP unless it is careful will become the new Scottish Labour. Indeed, I once heard an SNP MP declare that he would only be down in Westminster for as long as it takes to gain independence and that he would work tirelessly for same. Try now however to contact aforesaid MP and he’s too busy with Westminster business. Clearly he is a big shot now with more weighty matters of the British state to deal with.

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