2007 - 2021

We need a Spirit of Independence to shape the Scotland of the Future

CspJQjrXEAExDVN.jpg-largeNo one needs reminding that Sunday represented the second anniversary of the indyref. It was a significant watershed: a passing of time from being in the shadow of the 2014 vote to looking to the future.

If that’s true, then an awful lot of attitudes are fairly entrenched. While that’s true of both pro-union and independence opinion, it belies the forces of change to more ruthlessly assess, be honest about failings and foibles, and change and adapt to be successful.

Take this weekend’s polls in ‘Sunday Times Scotland’ on whether voters want a second indyref. It is constantly cited that voters don’t want another indyref anytime soon. The ‘Sunday Times’ front page declared emphatically that ‘Scots against second vote on leaving the UK.’ Ruth Davidson and David Mundell say it all the time – so it must be true.

Trouble was the poll the paper cited said nothing of the kind. The Panelbase survey cited said that, for an indy vote in the next two-three years during Brexit talks, 33% were in favour; in about two-three years after a Brexit deal 21% would support it, and not for a few years 46%. That’s a 54:46 majority for an indyref in the next three years and even the 46% No wasn’t absolute on the wording of the question.

Cue Scottish Secretary for State David Mundell giving an IPPR Scotland address on the Saturday. He repeated as inarguable that ‘the Scots don’t want another independence poll.’ But it isn’t true. It’s also true that most Scots for the next couple of years don’t want another indyref: they would prefer a quiet life, see what Brexit entails and then consider the merits of another poll.

Mundell laid out the argument for the current union with the authority of the UK Government. First is the pedant argument that Scotland didn’t vote to remain in the EU because that wasn’t the question on the ballot paper. Instead, argued Mundell, the 62% of Scots voting to remain in the EU were merely voting for the UK to remain part of the UK. No more, no less. No wider democratic interpretation or meaning.

There was also some torturous logic about Scotland being part of the UK and British politics being decided at a UK level and UK European politics being decided at a UK level. I hope you follow that. What it seemed to mean was that the Scottish Government should stick to the areas it has devolved to it. Greatest union in the world, eh?

Mundell didn’t stop there stretching logic to breaking point. He reminded us that the best way to keep Scotland in the EU in September 2014 had been to vote No. Yes involved Scotland being thrown into a constitutional limbo or even hell. Yet, some people now dared to mutter due to Brexit that they had been sold a false prospectus in the indyref on the EU.

But no, this wasn’t so, he said. In case you missed it, what actually happened was that in January 2013 David Cameron made his Bloomberg speech outlining he was going to have a EU referendum. So you see we all knew this when we voted for Scotland to remain in the UK in the EU in September 2014.

If you remember according to Mundell, Cameron et al – it was an independent Scotland that would have been thrown out the EU. They made that case in 2014. He was still saying it this weekend with no embarrassment, when a Scotland that voted 62% to stay in the EU is said to have no choice but to leave because that’s the way UK works. This shows the mess unionism is in. Making convoluted and contradictory arguments which undermine your own case. This really is the last ditch of unionism.

If you remember according to Mundell, Cameron et al – it was an independent Scotland that would have been thrown out the EU. They made that case in 2014. He was still saying it this weekend with no embarrassment, when a Scotland that voted 62% to stay in the EU is said to have no choice but to leave because that’s the way UK works. This shows the mess unionism is in. Making convoluted and contradictory arguments which undermine your own case. This really is the last ditch of unionism.

With this being the case independence supporters have to honestly debate how to move on, what went wrong last time and how to change the contents of any future indy offer. Lets look at what’s missing from the indy side. There has not been anywhere a proper assessment of the reasons why Yes lost. That’s always helpful in any defeat. We have not looked honestly at the limits of the Yes offer. And most importantly, the work hasn’t begun on updating and revising the independence offer. Time is running out on some of the above – particularly any post-mortem on indyref1 as we begin the beginning of indyref2.

As important in all this is the tone, culture and diversity of the independence movement. Yes we like to tell ourselves we are tolerant and diverse – part of our rainbow coalition nation. It was that sort of spirit which animated many of the events over the weekend including the Scottish Independence Convention rally held at St. Luke’s in the Calton, Glasgow.

This was a packed uplifting event: an expression of the slightly chaotic, but vibrant DIY culture of parts of the indyref. Wonderfully MCed by Elaine C. Smith it had music, comedy, speeches, culminating in an emollient Alex Salmond. Then a social media storm broke about the all-girl rap group Whitsherface in a performance calling Ruth Davidson ‘Ruth Dykey-D’ and making disparaging comments about Davidson and Kezia Dugdale.

I missed the words but a twitter tsunami broke afterwards. The Scottish Independence Convention tweeted saying: ‘It appears we upset CyberBritNats with our democracy today… you know we must be doing something right!’ (which was subsequently deleted). Without dwelling on the specifics of this incident, that’s not a great response to criticism on a subject where until recently Scotland was a society scarred by homophobia, prejudice and the silences and evasions of too many issues in public life (the SNP and Labour having pretty awful records here until the turn of the century).

All of this is really a storm in a teacup but it points to a Scotland that between two vocal tribes, in numerous public spaces, and social media, finds it difficult to do shades of gray. To say, hang on, can we just talk and reflect on this? Is this really a great way of talking about a leader of a party? And for those who just say it was fine, how would they feel if the leader of the SNP was an out lesbian or gay man – and described in these terms? Some of those people would go ballistic. We have to be able to bring these issues up. No-go areas and taboos in areas of public debate and interest aren’t generally healthy – and we should know as we have had lots of them.

The Scottish Independence Convention issued a statement on the issue saying: “In response to small section of an act that was Tweeted earlier we want to be clear that the SIC does not condone homophobia in any way. This was a satarised act written by a gay woman and performed many times before by the excellent women’s group. We apologise to anyone who may have taken offence, not our intention, it has been a wonderful day of entertainment reassembling for indy!”

In too many attitudes there is a propensity to believe we are self-evidently the good guys. No in-depth self-reflection of motives or actions are required. But everyone in the world, including the most extreme examples of evil, go around thinking they are doing good. The good guy/bad guy dichotomy with its in crowd identification and love, and out crowd disassociation and hate, does not help political judgements. It disfigures them and ultimately leads to ruin: left politics are littered with such examples: splits, schisms, supporting conservative politics and most recently, the Corbyn phenomenon.

That is not the best approach for a movement which needs to understand the hopes and fears of No voters. The psychological and confidence dimensions of how people voted in 2014 needs to be understood. We know that many No voters last time liked the idea of an independent Scotland – but felt the offer had too many flaws, didn’t like Alex Salmond, or felt it was the wrong time. But there was an undoubted positivity and goodwill to the idea of independence – which is a fundamental change in our nation.

That’s a spirit of independence we have to build on. We need a language and strategy for winning over the floating voters who will give independence a convincing majority next time. I would suggest that one of the central pillars of that is being more honest about the tough choices which will be inherent in the early years of independence. People intrinsically know this, so lets talk about it and work out priorities. All the twenty-four independent states which have emerged from the end of the Soviet bloc had in their early years some shaky times and hard choices. Scotland starting from a better place with lots of advantages will be no different.

That’s a spirit of independence we have to build on. We need a language and strategy for winning over the floating voters who will give independence a convincing majority next time. I would suggest that one of the central pillars of that is being more honest about the tough choices which will be inherent in the early years of independence. People intrinsically know this, so lets talk about it and work out priorities. All the twenty-four independent states which have emerged from the end of the Soviet bloc had in their early years some shaky times and hard choices. Scotland starting from a better place with lots of advantages will be no different.

An independence movement has to be about more than telling ourselves we are the good guys and that we can win by tribalism and berating the other side. We also need to debate difficult subjects from the lack of democracy in Scotland to the fact that all that is wrong in this country isn’t due to Westminster and external forces. Some of our shortcomings are the result of our own decisions, politics and elites: the state of our legal profession being a good example or how education and health are run.

The paucity of the case put by Mundell post-Brexit is both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is a self-governing nation taking charge of its future, but the challenge is that we are playing for high stakes. That means we have to not believe our own hype on how special and unique we are, and that we can somehow do the hard stuff without serious work. Do we really just want independence as changing the signs on the front of the building, or we are we aspiring to be a different kind of society? The fate of the future is decided in the here and now; not on Independence Day plus one.

* * *

ScotlandTheBold_176.270Gerry Hassan is author of Scotland the Bold: How Our Nation Changed and Why There is No Way Back published by Freight Publishing on October 20th.

Comments (17)

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  1. Thrawn says:

    Gerry…you need to have a conversation about the reaction of the readers of this blog to anyone who doesnt agree with them…not much respect or self-criticism there I’m afraid

  2. Redgauntlet says:

    Independence is there to be taken and I am not sure if we need an offensive campaign so much as a cautious one and let Unionism do the rest. But, in case it needed pointing out, here are a few of the arguments which Unionism can no longer call on in the next ref campaign due to the Brexit vote:

    1) Its slogan, Better Together, and all its connotations. The biggest emotional argument for voting NO was that we were part of something bigger than ourselves, one of a “family of nations”. But Post Brexit Britain offers withdrawal and isolation from Europe. So, not better together, better apart according to our fellow Brits down south. This was an extremely powerful, maybe the most powerful, argument which Unionism had. It no longer has it.

    2) Economic security. This was clearly a huge factor in the vote leaning to NO, that Indie Scotland offered a step into the dark, while boring Britain was at least predictable. This is no longer the case. Nobody knows what Brexit might do to the British economy from here to 10 years down the line. The canny and cautious argument is now to vote for independence, because a lot less will change with an Indie Scotland in the EU than a post Breixt Britain out of it. Unionism cannot offer reliable or credible economic data when it does not have trade deals in place, and so the economic case for remaining in the UK has been significantly undermined.

    3) The anti nationalism argument. The Brexit vote showed us the difference between Scottish civic nationalism and xenophobic nationalism. Of course, that was always likely to happen, because the history of British nationalism has ALWAYS been about a condescending superiority complex regarding foreigners, it is an IMPERIAL nationalism, which Scottish nationalism never has been. But the argument that Scottish independence was “narrow” and that diversity was more assured in the UK has gone, it’s a dead duck.

    In my opinion, the single most important thing the SNP should do is to offer a referendum on the Head of State of a post indie Scotland in the first parliament after independence.

    As Tom Nairn shows us in “The Enchanted Glass”, the wellspring and glue of the British identity is monarchy and the royal family. Even by arguing for a referendum on the head of state, the SNP would be questioning its relevance and validity and, by doing so, undermine Britishness….

  3. William Ross says:

    This is another useful contribution by Gerry. There is only one thing that I strongly disagree with: there is no way that Better Together gave the Scottish people a guarantee that there NEVER be a UK – wide referendum on the EU in the event of a No vote. Mundell is quite right to note that an EU referendum was clearly Tory policy since 2013. What Better Together argued ( quite rightly) was that a Yes vote would endanger our membership of the EU. No-one with an eye to see could possibly assume that there would not be a UK -wide EU referendum at some time. Having such a referendum necessarily opened up the possibility of a Brexit.

    On this point we are talking rot.

    Redgauntlet seems to be in a dreamworld regarding Brexit. A little short of 40% of Yessers voted for Brexit and it would be as well to cease attacking them.

  4. Crubag says:

    This is looking in the rearview mirror.

    The Brexit vote has happened and the rEU states have adjusted and moved on.

    They don’t agree on where they’re going, but by the time Scotland is in a position to be a potential applicant, I doubt that will be a saleable position.

    The political elites might like the idea, but as in Norway or Iceland the people wilk vote against it.

  5. Sandy Watson says:

    Maybe Scotland doesn’t feel oppressed enough yet to see the independence alternative as attractive?

  6. Frank says:

    Not much in this article other than it’s a puff piece for a book. Having said that Gerry Hassan’s commentary on independence is always insightful where he plays the role of the semi-detached academic to good effect. Gerry’s last book Caledonia Dreaming is one of the best books I have read in the last decade. Yet, less thoughtful however is Gerry’s twitter feed, which these days is full of nasty swipes at Corbyn and Momentum and has effectively become a part of the PR wing of Owen Smith and the Labour right. Gerry take my advice – keep up the good academic work but do yourself a favour and delete the Twitter account?

  7. Graham King says:

    Typo, para 6:
    …voting for the UK to remain part of the UK. No more, no less
    should read
    …voting for the UK to remain part of the EU. No more, no less
    shurely?
    😉

  8. punklin says:

    Social media storm, as so often, misses the point – I was there and saw Whitsherface? They were hilarious.

    Comedy edited for every ounce of possibly incorrect-when-plucked-out phrasing? Wouldn’t be a laugh in the house!

  9. Justin Kenrick says:

    Is the key question:

    Not “what went wrong last time and how to change the contents of any future indy offer”,
    But “what went RIGHT last time and how to UPDATE the contents of any future indy offer”?

    1. Good point Justin. I think both.

  10. A great response piece on the entertainment issue by Paul Kavanagh here:

    https://weegingerdug.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/a-storm-in-a-d-quip/

    1. Josef O Luain says:

      Paul Kavanagh nailed-it for me.

  11. Piotr says:

    I agree with Gerry when he says we need a proper assessment of what went wrong last time.

    It would be useful to know how a ‘proper assessment’ can be made.

    However, a clear view about what went wrong last time may not necessarily be enough to secure a YES to independence next time.

    The entanglement of views about Scotland’s place in the EU and independence makes winning the argument for independence much more complicated. Understanding the impact of this entanglement and creating a strong and appealing narrative for YES is a very significant challenge of quite a different order.

    1. Crubag says:

      Only if it comes upon us quickly – which it won’t. Sturgeon is congentially cautious and the numbers don’t look right.

      By the time indy2 comes, we’ll be out of the EU and the world won’t have ended. rEU will be different, either much looser or much tighter.

      So it will be two, sequential referendums. The first for independence and then maybe a couple of years later for rEU membership.

  12. James Dow says:

    What Scotland really needs is the return of all the archetypal Scots that have emigrated over the years just to show you domestic Scots how real Scots used to be in Scotland. Unlike the passionless, Anglicized versions you have become, but then that was always the agenda of the English.

  13. Paddy says:

    There needs to be some serious discussion as to whether an independent Scotland would allow the continuation of Neo Liberal economics, where the financial elites are kind enough to flood investment into dividends for fracking, coal gasification and every rip off these self serving greedy pieces of vermin plot for their own emolument at the expose of the majority. Or whether the economy is shaped to serve the people. So little discussion of Neo liberal economics occurred during the Indy ref 1 almost as though we were not deemed clever enough to understand the economic system we are living under. Independence will be a mirage, a waste of time, if we are not independent of Neo liberal economics which create social engineering and impoverishment of our economic resources for the few at the cost for the many. A new future needs a bolder vision of how it will empower us all, how it will really benefit us all. That means looking at the creation of a national Scottish bank. QE for the banks is acceptable nowadays. So why is QE through a national new Scottish bank not a real choice for infrastructure? Why is QE for regeneration of Scotland not on the agenda? We really ought to have a plan for total green power in ever community, whether from solar or wave or wind power (esp wind) and have everyone working towards that national economic goal. One day we must see and know the truth that a Scottish economy has to be organised to serve the people, that it is for the people and by the people and the framework is national. For now this all looks like pie in the sky and we are still dependent on investment from the corrupt stock exchange and hard nosed business attitudes seem to be naturally Tory, that we sit and wait like kids for big daddy greed to hand us out a few zero hour jobs and we accept that cap-in-hand old paradigm. Seeking a critique of greedy social engineering exploitative Neo liberalism seems to be beyond us. are we to have Independence which just retweaks the right wing economics of debt as enslavement to the financial elites and call that our countries’ biggest ambition while we insult the intellect of the people?

  14. Burlington in Bed says:

    Went to Oban Argyll for the hustings for the Deputy FM it was a fantastic day with loads of new members all candidates were off a high standard so it was difficult to choose.

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