Brexit as Rorke’s Drift
Bizarrely, the image that comes to mind for the politics of Brexit for the rest of 2018 comes from the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879. Maybe it’s may age…and seeing “Zulu” on the telly on so many Sunday afternoons.
The defence of Scotland’s place in Europe is a series of redoubts…fortified positions that you have no confidence of being able to hold. But you have to do all you can to hold one position before you are forced to retreat to the next one. The first line of defense is the simplest…and yet, for many Independence activists the most troubling. Keep the UK in the EU. You have to do everything you can by every means. In every arena. Westminster, Holyrood, the courts, public opinion. At this moment, there even seems to be the glimmer of a chance of a referendum to decide between whatever deal HMG can cobble together.
So, for me, to be logically consistent, and to take all possible allies with you, we have to wholeheartedly try that. Remember, there is no realistic expectation of the first line of defence holding…but if and when you have to retreat to the second line of defence, a vigorous attempt to hold the first defence will have helped enormously in organising allies.
Those allies will include…and here’s the tricky part for many Nationalisits…Unionists.
In the case of Scotland and Brexit, the second “redoubt” is specific to Scotland: defending the existing devolution settlement and a differential Brexit deal for Scotland…as, no matter what Arlene Foster says about blood lines…there will have to be for N Ireland and Gibraltar. Again….and again Devolution supporters who oppose Independence will have to be part of that defence.
Do you see where I’m going with this? That to make every line of defence the strongest it can be, we need everyone with us. What this means is Independence supporters doing everything they can in these first two lines of defence to bring as many allies with them as possible. And THIS means refuting the accusation of “really being interested only in independence” by making sure it is seen not be true. If we can hold the “British Redoubt” and keep all of the UK inside the EU, then that is what we should commit to do. If it is Devolution we can successfully defend then that is what we should wholly commit to do.
I believe that if we do both of these things, without any other agenda, then when the time comes (as it probably will) to retreat to the third and last redoubt, which is seeking to rejoin the EU or EFTA and thus protecting what we have been trying to protect all along… …then the means we need to do that, political Independence of the UK State will be self-evident and consensual…and will get support rom a lot of people who don’t support it yet.
But here’s the more difficult argument to make when there’s an SNP conference at the weekend…for this journey to work for the people who voted No in 2014, the SNP case must genuinely be above suspicion at each redoubt. We must be genuinely committed to the successive defences of the whole of the UK…and then devolution. And if those defences hold, that has to be enough. That’s where we have to stick. This journey cannot start with independence, even if we think it probably ends there. If what we propose is Independence Now…we lose everyone else. And I believe that we lose the EU…and we lose a referendum that Unionists will boycott anyway, a referendum that even if we win…we lose..
Therefore, I believe that right now, when the idea of a “confirming referendum” is current, we have not yet exhausted the “all UK” defence of Scotland’s relationship with Europe. I think the SNP needs to as near as damn it commit to that campaign. And do all we can to hold that line. I think that this means, along with a commitment to a second EU referendum…and here is where we need to take a deep breath… taking a second Independence referendum of the table if a “UK Remains in the EU” defence succeeds.
Now, before I get shouted at…consider this. There is NO other way to persuade non-Independence supporters of a genuine commitment on our part to the aim of Remaining in Europe. Second, more importantly, the mandate for “Indyref 2” was a “material change” in the circumstances of the UK…then that will be a material change which we will have PREVENTED from happening.
As I say, I have no particular expectations as from week to week, the blathering chaos of Brexit gets more and more disorienting. But I want to see my representatives and my government adopt a realistic and clear posture that can hold the line and carry wide support no matter what comes next.
I think this might be the way to do it.
Finally, whatever the next electoral test is…a general election, a second EU referendum, even the Scottish elections in 2021, the issue of Independence will be on the agenda. For me, to insist on Indyref 2 right now before anything else betrays an unjustified lack of confidence that the logic of the developing situation is entirely on our side. But if and when it comes, what is wrong with Independence being on the bais of consensus? What is wrong with taking people who voted No in 2014 with us?
What is wrong with a walk in the park in five years…even if we need to be confident enough to behave a little strategically now?