As Bob said way back when: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”. The article today by Murray Foote (‘Independence is the Means to a Greater End’) is a sign of the Times, standing in stark contrast to the thoughts of his colleague over at his sister paper. The article is remarkable from someone who was a key protagonist in the independence referendum and is a weathervane of a British political crisis and a Yes movement in revival. It’s all about the optics (as they say), and the English media and Westminster Bubble seems incapable of seeing itself and understanding how bad this looks and the impact it has. As the former Yes organiser Stewart Kirkpatrick has said: “I don’t think Bercow and the rest of the house understands how appalling it looks to many Scottish viewers that they continue to laugh uproariously at feeble jokes as the entire SNP cohort walks out. It serves to confirm the SNP line that Scots interests are treated with disdain.”
Foote’s article is the death of The Vow and the era of establishment Scotland propping up a decaying regime that it represented. It also represents four further breaks: the death of Two Government Scotland; the death of the Brexit consensus; the death of the pan-Britain establishment pact; and the death of the federalist myth.
The article is remarkable, not just as a sign of rapid change, but in what he actually says:
“the philosophy that Holyrood exists merely to mitigate the excesses of Westminster is not a belief system to which I subscribe. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to be far more progressive, dynamic, ambitious.”
The idea that we have two governments: one we elect and one we don’t – and that the first has a function to ameliorate the damage of the second – is so absurd that even the most conservative commentators are beginning to realise that this is unsustainable.
There has been much hand-wringing that there has been little or no constitutional impact from Brexit, but that moment of confused uncertain stasis is coming to an end:
“As we continue to labour under a vindictive Westminster administration, the nascent Scottish benefits agency will be another waypoint on the journey to more compassionate devolved government. Now we are on the brink of Brexit. But where devolution arrived bearing promise and hope, Brexit is draped in a shroud of despair. We have not yet completed our shameful retreat from the EU and I cling to the diminishing hope we never do.”
The collaboration between establishment Britain and establishment Scotland has also had its day, broken by the xenophobia of the Brexit farce:
“I cannot tolerate a Tory government prepared to treat devolution with the blatant contempt displayed in Tuesday’s cynical one-man debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill. It was a democratic abomination. I can no longer stand by while a cabal of the privileged deprive our children the right to live in 27 European countries because they don’t like Johnnie Foreigner encroaching their elite club.”
A key line – and one which several of Murray’s colleagues cling to like driftwood – is the regurgitated idea of federalism, which Foote also casts aside:
“Nor can I await the arrival of a unicorn, that mythical federal Britain. So independence it must be.”
The new pragmatism of the Growth Commission (massively flawed as it is) has has the effect of bringing in the outliers like Foote to some simple realities of the potential of sovereignty:
“For me, independence is about autonomy, allowing Scotland to meet success and failure on its own merit and not point an embittered finger of blame at anyone else. I have reconciled that independence would herald good and bad. I trust in us to solve the problems that will come our way. If so many other countries can, it is inconceivable that Scotland can’t.”
Taken as a whole, these changes and ruptures in the establishment view are significant. Like it or not these people shape the news agenda and wield power in dictating the media view of politics. Alec Finlay argues it represents the death of the ‘constructive ambiguity’ that the Vow represented:
“The erasure of all the devolved nations in the Westminster debate was not an exceptional event, it was absolutely in line with the position that British pro Brexit parties have taken, and it reflected British state policy since The Vow, which was to create constructive ambiguity, promise much, and deliver little. People have said that Brexit hasn’t changed Scottish politics in the way the SNP hoped. Scots are canny. They wait and see. And now some are seeing what it means to demeaned, lied to, patronised, baulked, and ignored. The Scottish parliament voted en masse to reject Brexit legislation and the attack on devolution. Two significant shifts recently. More Scots believe the economy would be better off if we were indepndent, and the architect of The Vow, a key member of civic society, now believes in independence. He knows he was part of the assault on democracy The Vow represented, a tactic typical of the constructive ambiguity and lying we have seen from all pro-Brexit parties. He has changed his mind. Slowly people are. One can only stand being fooled so many times.”
We can overplay and fetishise the impact of the Vow as a means to indulge in a conspiracy fantasy. That time is over too. But this is a significant moment, and comes as a wave of new energy sweeps through the Yes movement and the reality of the Brexit crisis hits home. It will be interesting to see how Foote’s colleagues and allies respond to his uncomfortable message.
It matters less what establishment Scotland thinks, than the reality that there’s lots of people “on the pavement, thinking about the government”. Get Born.
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