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?

Comments (15)

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  1. Bill McDermott says:

    As always a good piece Peter. There is one hiccup though and that is the case where a People’s Vote returns another vote for leave in England while Scotland repeats its overwhelming vote to remain. The SNP can only agree to a People’s Vote on condition that Scotland will be treated as an equal, whether that means an EU special case – being in the SM and CU or remaining a full member of the EU.

    I also ask myself the question as to whether we can now have once and for all clarity from the Supreme Court on the status of Scotland within the Union. No more pussy-footing about. We need to know.

  2. Joe says:

    A walk in the park in five years sounds fine in theory, but that’s still five years of suffering to get there.

  3. Graham Ennis says:

    Sadly, I disagree.
    The present SNP Government has steadily drifted to the right, into complacency, and on a whole range of issues, (Starting with the land reform and rural reform issues, and now the recent refusal to clean up the police, who now apparently can get away with murder). Th e increasingly angry response from the floor at SNP conference says it all. There has now been a steady influx of Careerists, socially conservative elements, and the radicalism that is needed is now simply not going to happen.
    Also, any second referendum would have no certainty that it was not going to suffer strange electoral events, like the last one. So we are up a blind alley.

    The SNP has run out of steam. It is not going to deliver, as it has made too many compromises, and become absorbed by the system.
    It makes me sad to say this. But the pre-referendum fire has all but gone from its ranks.

    In such a situation, faced with a very serious forth-coming crisis re BREXIT and the internal crisis of the UK, they are part of the problem, not the solution.

    1. Jim says:

      I tend to agree but what is to be done?

  4. Jamsie says:

    What is wrong with Independence being on the basis of consensus indeed.
    I’m afraid that will be impossible to realise.
    The consensus to date is that the electorate of Scotland do not want independence.
    Nothing has happened to change that.
    Your logic that it is inevitable that it will change does not seem to based on anything other than hope that somehow Brexit might persuade the electorate if Scotland to change their minds.
    But what about the Indy supporters who voted leave or those happy not to rejoin the EU?
    The absolute and totally persuasive argument for remaining in the U.K. is the economy and the benefits provided by this.
    This seems to be the weakness wee Nicola cannot overcome and her economic experts are totally at odds with each other which fills no one with confidence.

    1. Robert Hill says:

      The absolute and totally persuasive argument for remaining in the U.K. is the economy and the benefits provided by this.

      That I just cannot agree with. The UK economy Hass been run for the last 40 or 50 years appallingly badly and entirely for the benefit of the rentier class.

      1. Jamsie says:

        The U.K. economy has enabled the Scottish “government” to run with the massive deficit.
        Without the UK bailing us out we would already be a third world country and economy.
        The truth is wee Nicola has no answer to this and EU membership will not provide the level of support the U.K. does.
        The fiscal incompetence of the SNP is coming home to roost across virtually every aspect of our public services.
        People will punish them at the ballot box for this.

        1. Robert Hill says:

          The real economic figures might suggest otherwise but assuming what you say is correct why is the UK government so keen on keeping scrounging Scotland in the Union when it hates benefits claimants so much?

  5. SleepingDog says:

    Strategic reliance upon fortresses has been criticised long before Niccolò Machiavelli advised that “Fortresses in general are much more harmful than useful” in his Discourses on Livy, often turning into prisons for their occupants, eliminating iniative and locking planners into a siege mentality. Also they can be betrayed by individuals, undermined from within and without, and bombarded by diseased livestock. The last being particularly relevant under expected trade agreements.

    We’ve left static defence dying in a ditch, and moved on to doctrines of mobility, flexibility and initiative (according to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, anyway) since the Battle of Isandlwana (not to mention the Maginot Line and Singapore).

    So unless we want to forget what we are struggling for, hide our heads below a parapet, and resort to political cannibalism, I’d suggest looking at strategies which have actually defeated superpowers.

  6. montfleury says:

    If you’re going to make contentious arguments it’s maybe best to get the article proofread and edited?

    “taking a second Independence referendum of the table if a “UK Remains in the EU” defence succeeds” Of the table?

    “what is wrong with Independence being on the bais of consensus?” The what? The “bais”?

    And what’s with all the “…” bits? Are we meant to fill in the blanks like in a school test?

  7. montfleury says:

    “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.”

    Don’t write in upper case. Just don’t.

    The author appears to be arguing that if the trigger for an event does not occur then the event should not be triggered. Does that really need to be argued? It’s trivial isn’t it? If the UK of GB&NI remains in the EU then the injustice of Scotland leaving the EU against it’s will has been avoided. Nobody has yet argued that the the result of the 2016 in itself constitutes a material change because, well because it obviously doesn’t.

  8. MBC says:

    Peter, are there devolution supporters? My feeling is that those who want independence have moved far beyond devolution whilst those who want the union wish to dispense with devolution.

    1. Robert Hill says:

      I do so agree. If Scotland does not become independent soon the WM government of whatever hue will move to abolish Holyrood at the earliest opportunity.

  9. MBC says:

    I think another thing you are forgetting is that we may have voted 62% to Remain, but very few felt passionate about it. People do tend to feel passionately about the union or independence though.

  10. Chris Ballance says:

    Excellent article Peter.
    If we were to keep all of the UK within the EU, then the major gain – apart from Scotland remaining in the EU of course – is that it will turn the Leave half of England into strong supporters of Scottish independence. The unpalatable truth is that as vassals of Westminster, with no legal rights to self-determination, there’s only three ways we are going to get a binding indie referendum. 1) A minority Corbyn government needs the SNP (and Green/s) to support its policies (possible but certainly not guaranteed to happen). 2.) Westminster has no doubts that we will lose (and that certainty ain’t never going to happen again) or 3) Enough English voters want rid of Scotland that there’s votes in it for English MPs. Talk of films reminds me of “Ghandi”; where some dapper British governor says “But Mr Ghandi, you seem to be saying that the British will just want to walk out of India”. Ghandi: “Yes, that’s right, that’s how it will be” (or some such – I don’t have the text in front of me). And of course, that’s how it was. Indeed in the end, they ran out, as fast as they could.

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