Routes to Independence Four: Howls of Frustration Aren’t Enough

“I totally understand if you want to go faster – but it is time to interrogate the depth of that thinking. How are you going to deliver a referendum, a winning vote, an acceptable withdrawal deal with the rUK and the orderly set-up of a new (and functioning) nation state purely on the basis of demanding a referendum in a loud voice? I don’t think that’s a viable plan, because I don’t really think that’s a plan at all. It’s just a howl of frustration, a frustration I entirely share” argues Robin McAlpine.

When should Scotland hold another referendum on independence? The answer that I give to this hasn’t changed since the 19th of September 2014 – this is the wrong question.

The question for me is how quickly can Scotland achieve its independence? A referendum is part of that – but it is only a part, and it’s not the first part. So to understand this let me work backwards. If Scotland wants to establish itself as an independent country we should want to do so avoiding a ‘No Deal’ scenario with the rUK.

This is because if the rUK refused to recognise Scotland as an independent country, none of the other major world powers would either. This would leave Scotland in a difficult position, probably unable to join crucial international bodies. No one who supports Scottish independence should be hoping for a No Deal outcome.

So if we step backwards from that, it means that any non-agreed route to settling this issue (i.e. a unilateral declaration of independence or a referendum the other side refuses to recognise) should be rejected as our first option.

But equally, we should be very wary of the idea that an ‘ask to be rejected’ approach is particularly helpful either. I know a lot of people think this would provoke a backlash among undecided Scots, but if we ask from a position where we’re behind in the polls I’m very sceptical that such a backlash would occur.

It would need there to be a sense of injustice among undecideds, and I don’t think ‘referendum refused for country that doesn’t even want it’ (if there was less than 50 per cent solid support) would feel suitably unjust.

I think this is back to the confirmation bias that led too many people to be convinced that the Brexit vote in and off itself would deliver us a poll lead. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t (it didn’t) and I’m pretty sure that, right now, the same would happen if we took this gamble.

In any case, it would (yet again) frame the independence debate as an argument over technical process – if we’re asking for a referendum through parliamentary process, that’s what will dominate the media coverage. And that means the story would be a ‘parliamentary intrigue’ one – which is a turn-off to a lot of voters.

And the flip-side of ‘generate a sense of injustice’ is the risk that what we really generate is a sense that we’re out of touch with public opinion and, frankly, weak. Don’t underestimate what it looks like when you ask and a more powerful body just dismisses you. It doesn’t tend to inspire confidence.

That means we need to ask from a position of strength. I know some of you will have read me going over this point a hundred times (I even wrote a book about it…), but I’ll stop writing it as soon as I think it’s no longer true – we need to ask for a Section 30 Order from the position of being consistently ahead in the polls. That is the only way to create the sense of democratic injustice that we would need to deal with the problem of Westminster potentially rejecting a Section 30 Order.

Now I know that many independence supporters believe that the only way to move opinion is during a referendum. I’ve heard the ‘we added 20 points during the last referendum so we’d definitely win this time’ argument many times. I’m sure most of you will appreciate that this is a logical fallacy of the first order – if we held three more referendums in succession would we then be at 100 per cent support?

But much more to the point, to write off our ability to convert people to independence without really trying is a mistake. I know how hard many people (me included) have worked to keep pushing a pro-indy message. But to do it without any resource, without any infrastructure, without any coordination and without the support (frankly) of the SNP, it has been impossible. Telling yourself that ‘we tried’ because we went on a march really is letting ourselves off too lightly.

There are many reasons to be concerned about the near future. I fear that in the context of what is happening around the top of the SNP just now, the Brexit mess might look like the least of our uncertainties. But that’s just another very good reason to remind voters that independence is about much more than one political party, that we’re a broad campaign,

Thankfully this is also the point when the Scottish Independence Convention (owned by all the movement’s national and regional organisations) is about to launch a professional campaign organisation. It will have only one purpose – to speak to soft No voters with a different tone than the political too-and-fro they’re used to.

The biggest remaining barrier is that it simply hasn’t been possible to get the SNP leadership to engage with the question of what case for independence we’re going to present. I’ve been looking at internal public attitude research on views on independence and our biggest problem (post-Brexit calamity) is that people have just been asked to jump blindly – and it went very badly.

Put simply, most of our target voters know the plane is on fire and most of them could be persuaded that the ground is a safer place for them – but they’re still not going to jump out of the door without a parachute. That ‘parachute’ is a proper, comprehensive plan which suggests that we’ve properly prepared for the days, weeks, months and years after a Yes vote. ‘Wait and see’ or ‘it’ll be fine’ are just about the worst things we could possibly say to this audience.

Prepare a plan for independence which answers voters’ key questions (the Common Weal White Paper work is the only work which has been done, but it is a comprehensive starting point), campaign on independence (properly) until we shift enough voters, get to a consistent 55 per cent in the polls, ask for a referendum and prepare a strategy to ratchet up the constitutional pressure if Westminster is still stonewalling when we’re in the position of power – that’s the only realistic route I can see.

I totally understand if you want to go faster – but it is time to interrogate the depth of that thinking. How are you going to deliver a referendum, a winning vote, an acceptable withdrawal deal with the rUK and the orderly set-up of a new (and functioning) nation state purely on the basis of demanding a referendum in a loud voice? I don’t think that’s a viable plan, because I don’t really think that’s a plan at all. It’s just a howl of frustration, a frustration I entirely share.

But if we act in frustration rather than wisdom, we may very well make things worse. There is a path forward – but I don’t believe there is a shortcut.


Read also:

Routes to Independence One: Changing Minds, by Gerry Hassan
Routes to Independence Two: If not Now, When? by Ruth Wishart
Routes to Independence Three: A Collective Transformation by George Kerevan


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  1. Andy Anderson says:

    Well, in presenting his case for holding back on the referendum, until we are in a stronger position, presumably he means in the polls, Robin leaves out one very significant factor, he does not address how this getting stronger is going to happen.
    If I have learned one thing about politics it is that planning political change is not linear. Indeed the opposite tends to be the case. This is obvious from experiences in my own lifetime. Labour won a landslide victory against Churchill in 1945 which was totally against expectations. The Tories failed to increase their majority in 2017 against all the recent polls. The SNP won nearly every seat in Scotland after losing the referendum. Politics is a game of wide swings no steady linear progression.
    However it is not entirely unpredictable it is moved by other great social events and movements, such as are now happening in the UK. I would draw Robin’s attention to the fact that the Scottish people have been observing the May Government breaking all the parliament’s worse records and clinging onto office without power and with no plan to get out. That will have more implications for people’s vote than any polling record will have.
    When we sat down as a group of about 20 people in Portree in 1995 and decided to challenge the UK Government and the criminal law to fight against the Skye Bridge tolls there we not many political analysis who would have given us much chance of success, I’m sure Robin would not have; but we did succeed and we did achieve all our objectives and more, so it is just as well we did not take advice from political analysis before we took on this fight.

    1. Blair says:

      Indyref2 should be a last resort. The way forward is to enlighten the SNP with new policy ideas our MP’s can try and get implemented. Why should rUK not have the chance to change things for the better via Scottish ingenuity? We could have flexibility on the state pension age, a fully elected House of Lords, our companies could employ the talent they need, prisoners could vote. The SNP (and other politicians) must first engage and listen, they will need to share policy ideas and power. Our governments current systems are just not coping, we need to change from an antiquated empire power system to a balanced 3-phase power system. This is achievable and something we must do as a nation. Bella Caledonia has an important part to play by providing the best possible coverage. Where Indyref1 failed the route to Indyref2 can be navigated with caution over BREXIT.

    2. Willie says:

      Absolutely right Andy. The political analysts would have us enjoying austerity and outing of us from Europe whilst they debated when the time was right.

      Our democratic mandate is being trampled now, austerity is now, neo liberal fasicm is now.

      Let’s wait another twenty years whilst the economic apartheid state consolidates itself.

      You’d still be paying tolls crawling on your knees if you subscribed to that philosophy.

    3. Congratulations on the Sky Bridge Toll campaign Andy. I remember it well. I think Robin does have a few ideas about how to build a movement and campaign – through the SIC’s initiative which is just about to launch and appoint a full-time coordinator. This will be the first time the Yes movement has had a professional campaign organisation in five years.

  2. Block says:

    “The question for me is how quickly can Scotland achieve its independence? ”

    As soon as the voters can be convinced that its benefits outweigh its costs. At present, the tide is against you. Over the past few months the SNP have destroyed one of the most compelling arguments for voting Yes: that we should believe that Scots are exceptional and that after independence we will, therefore, automatically have a more moral and transparent government, and a different and better kind of politics.

  3. John Cawley says:

    This year is the twentieth anniversary of devolution and , as a nation, we must take stock of where we are now and what we need to do in order to create a better, more democratic and transparent polity in preparation for an independent Scotland of the future. What has worked ? What do we need to do better? One thing is certain: our civic institutions need to be stronger. We need more openness and transparency in our governance. We need more scrutiny of the powerful.- in Holyrood committees, by those at Pacific Quay and in the print and online media. We need to more effectively regulate the lobbying and PR companies that have so effectively attached themselves to the Scottish body politic. We need to ensure we don’t simply replicate Labour’s municipal machine politics in Holyrood and we need to stop making policy on the hoof behind closed doors at unminuted meetings.
    We need to renew, refresh and modify the democratic institutions in order to ensure a democracy fit for an independent Scotland. If the answer to the economic case for Scotland’s future includes Andrew Wilson, then we are asking the wrong question. We have a national broadcaster that illustrates the gulf between the elite and the rest on a weekly basis as Shereen Nanjiani and her pals glibly and complacently discuss the democracy we live in as if she and those she is chatting with are not part of the problem – a gilded elite of journalists, former politicians and insiders all performing their insider status while the deadly combination of Brexit and austerity present an existential threat to the health and well-being of huge numbers of Scots.
    The new BBC Scotland channel promises to be simply another elite, top-down imposition of what the BBC thinks is good for us.: Still Game and the dead hand of BBC Scotland’s news and current affairs department feeding us a weekly fixed fight between the politicians and the journalists to a carefully selected audience in a Scottish Question Time. More Tom Harris anyone? A new BBC Scotland channel headed by a guy described as ‘defensive and evasive’ by a high court judge in the recent Cliff Richard fiasco. Is that what we need? A more defensive and evasive BBC Scotland? Has anyone thought to ask Scots what they want from the new BBC Scotland channel? We could have a new channel modelled on the best of Channel 4. Instead, it’ll be more Shereen, more Victor and Jack and a new channel for the Pacific Quay Pals Act
    We need to be more transparent, more accountable and more honest in the way we govern ourselves. We need to be honest in our analysis of where we are now and in how we get to where we want to be. Brexit is a threat, but it is also an opportunity to learn from the abject failure of the mother of all parliaments to recognise that Brexit is an indication that Westminster doesn’t work anymore, least of all for Scotland.
    Devolved government in Scotland is twenty years old. Where do we want to be twenty years from now and how do we get there?

  4. Graeme McCormick says:

    While our hearts wish an early referendum on Independence and history tells us that opportunity is created out of chaos sometimes out of the blue, that does not release us from preparing for Independence now.

    That’s why I have been calling on the Scottish Government to have a Cabinet Secretary for independence so that the government is preparing for independence and also prepare the people for it .

    Even using existing powers the Scottish government could take effective control of our public funding and drive the wedge which separates us from rUK.

    Equally all of us could act as if we are independent now. We just need encouragement and advice how we do this.

    This is all about creating the culture of independence. Events might not give us much time to do so, but impetus can have a positive impact too.

    1. Block says:

      Constitutional matters are reserved, so to establish a position dedicated to a constitutional matter would be as bad a misuse of public sector funds as the SNP’s pointless forays into foreign policy.

      1. Kenny Smith says:

        Block you have cracked it. I’ll never consider independence again. I’m going to accept that we, you included are shit and hopeless. Thank God for English Tories they are so good at running things, eh oh wait, on second thoughts.

        Tell me your battle strategy for the no campaign, what are the arguments to stay now?

        1. Swiss Toni says:

          Will reply on behalf of Block.

          Economic arguments

          1 Barnett Formula allows higher public spending than an independent Scotland could afford without tax increases

          2 Scotland’s annual deficit of 9% of GDP would need to be reduced to around 3% in order to meet criteria for Euro membership and to access the capital markets. Achieving this reduction would be painful.

          3 Scottish economy is heavily reliant on oil and financial services. The wider UK economy is more diversified, thus lower risk.

          Cultural Reasons

          1 As well as the Scottish culture of Burns, McDiarmid, Scott etc we share the British culture of Sickens, Shakespeare, Orwell, Dylan Thomas, CS Lewis etc.

          2 As well as Isle of Skye, Loch Lomond, Edinburgh Castle etc, as British citizens Lake District, Snowdonia, Giants Causeway, Stonehenge, Cotswolds etc belong to us.

          3 Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland share a common history of the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution and two World Wars which we surely don’t want to walk away from.

          1. Kenny Smith says:

            Pure pish if that’s all you’ve got your fucked

          2. Kenny Smith says:

            Pure utter foam, if that’s all you’ve got your screwed

          3. Graeme Mccormick says:


            Multiply our urban land, floor and roof space in Scotland by £7.124 per square metre.

            That will produce nearly £100 billion which is £28 billion more that total U.K. , Scottish and local government expenditure in Scotland.

            By the Scottish Parliament legislating for an Annual Ground Rent on this basis all other U.K. and Scottish taxes could be abolished.

            Thus your claim that we need to be subsidised by Westminster is wrong.

          4. Interpolar says:

            Thanks Swiss Toni.

            At some point the Swiss Eidgenossenschaft decided to reject their Austrian Hapsburg overlords, leave the German Empire and shake off Napoleonic hegemony. What came of it? A successful, independent and affluent country which is home to many an international organisation.
            … or should Switzerland be sending it’s representatives to Berlin, Paris or Rome instead?

            If you do not walk away from some things, you cannot embrace certain others.

          5. Wul says:

            You’re well named Toni. A second-hand car salesman in a cheap, shiny suit.

            Here’s your argument condensed; “Scotland is poor because it is part of the UK. This proves it must always be poor”.

            As someone above said; “pish”

          6. Graeme Purves says:

            The French had a fair bit to do with the Enlightenment, I seem to recall, and, along with the rest of Europe, I’m very happy to walk away from two World Wars.

      2. BSA says:

        The village sweetie shop mentality of the dedicated Unionist. If you have no argument on the substance just mention ‘public sector funds’. The SNP are not getting involved in ‘foreign policy’. They are promoting contacts abroad for a range of legitimate reasons. Looking outwards.

      3. Lorna Campbell says:

        When was this agreed by Scotland? Never, is the answer. It was a gradual, creeping take-over, advanced unilaterally by one partner to the Union: England. Every constitutional facet of British Constitutional Law is English. Why should we respect that?

    2. Alf Baird says:

      You are right Graeme, so much more could have been done by this and previous SNP Scottish Governments, Nationalist Governments that supposedly seek to end Westminster rule in Scotland. I have previously advocated the setting up of ‘shadow ministries’ for reserved powers. These could be led by Nationalist MP’s with the input of expert volunteers (of which there are plenty in Scotland across all disciplines) rather than senior unionist civil servants as sent by Whitehall to lead current devolved SG departments. And as you say there are land taxes which could be imposed on the Tory cartels and the offshore-owned privatised utilities who ‘own’ much of Scotland, and certain regulatory powers which could be changed, but have not been. Instead of upsetting and unsettling the exploiting unionist apple cart as a Nationalist administration should be doing, successive SNP Governments have merely been trying their best not to rock the unionist establishment boat. The SNP Government should also have appointed Nationalists to head up all public/semi public sector quangos, much as the Tories used to appoint their own back in the old Scottish Office days. Scotland’s social institutions are still largely run by unionist elites and this does not reflect the democratically elected government. Fowk cannae ser twa maisters.

      1. Graeme McCormick says:

        Right on the button, Alf.

        I’d have the Scottish government open a web page for folk who are interested in serving in a Scottish Public Service Bureau( Civil Service ) to be established on Independence.

        This would encourage Civil servants in Scotland to indicate if they were interested in serving an independent Scottish State.

        The response would help to disrupt the civil service establishment in Scotland.

  5. Peter Glynne says:

    21st January 1919, Ireland declared independence and set up a parallel state and ignored the Brits as was its right, Scotland does deserve it as they have never fought for it as the Irish did

  6. Wul says:

    The YES movement has significant support from a source similar to Brexit & Trump victories. That is, a sense of disappointment and betrayal towards those who lead us.
    We might not like this thought, but what else was the 2015 SNP landslide other than a massive “F – you” to the Westminster establishment?

    We should not be embarrassed about this, because the reality of the raw deal that UK citizens get is demonstrable and measurable. It is not manufactured from made-up stories in a red-top comic about “immigrants stealing our jobs”.

    How much money & resource has been syphoned from our economy by centuries of tax evasion, subsidies to the rich, theft of the common good, fleecing of local authorities by PFI, “incentives” for corporations, misuse of our land resource, deliberate concentration of wealth & land in the hands of the few, public compensation to private individuals, inflated professional fees, interest extraction & usury of the working man, speculation on housing, diversion of national assets into private hands etc etc ?
    If awareness of this was more widely known, people would be angry enough to demand a better deal.

    The independence movement needs to be bold and radical and offer a truly different, modern way of running a country; nationalised free public transport, fair distribution of the land resource, citizen’s income, improved employment rights. Land Tax, etc etc. A real, actual way of living which puts citizens first. Would it scare “business” away? Yes.

    We don’t need “business”. Or rather, we don’t need businesses which actually make our country poorer; e.g Amazon, Sports Direct, almost all of the financial sector, landed “estates”, tract housing providers, giant agri-business, landlords & other rentiers. What we do need is honest & fair trade, new technology and to start making and inventing things; Scots are good at that.

    ( “How would we pay for all that?” How do we pay for all the wars and free money for the super rich just now? Take that cash and put it towards the above. Tax the land.)

    The SNP won’t offer this bold prospectus because it would be hammered and pilloried by a very powerful media ( and perhaps because there are more than a few “self-made businessman” types in the SNP). However, it would be deeply popular with the masses. There is a popular uprising waiting to follow whomever is bold enough to offer a radically better way of life to the masses.
    Please let it be offered by people who actually want the best for Scotland and not some Farage-like, wounded narcissist who would misuse us.

  7. john burrows says:

    Robin’s main premise is that Scotland should wait to push for a constitutional change only after polls consistently show 55% support for independence. I can only assume by this that Robin is suggesting we place the future of Scotland in the hands of John Curtice, YouGov and Survation. Can’t say I understand this argument.

    Robin also fails to address how we accomplish this growth in the polls when there is almost universal opposition to Scottish independence across the entirety of the traditional media in the UK, and Scotland in particular. Recent events surely demonstrates that fact, even to the willfully blind. There is no neutral platform to debate independence in the UK. I don’t care how professional your campaign team is. If there is no medium to deliver your message to a national audience, you are wasting your time and breath.

    I can more readily understand Robin’s frustration with the leadership of the SNP. The legend of Peter and the Wolf springs to mind every time I hear MP’s, MSP’s and the FM these days. What do they expect to accomplish using this tactic of threatening independence but never actually forcing the issue?

    If the FM again cautions delay in her coming update, she will only succeed in defenestrating the raison d’etre of the party, its representatives in Holyrood and in Westminster. If you threaten independence on a regular basis against your opponents, but then turn around and tell your supporters that now is not the time, you only make yourself an object for the derision of both. If the FM doesn’t get off the fence soon, she will only undermine her own leadership, the Party and the wider independence movement. Surrendering the initiative to your opponents is the strategy of defence. What nation has ever secured its independence by hiding in a corner?

    Independence is a state of mind. Although there is calculation in the minds of voters, it is not just an academic exercise. A campaign for independence will be emotional. It will be divisive. After all, we seek to divide the UK. But, if the Scottish electorate haven’t already drawn the conclusion that the UK is already a failed state, nothing the professional campaigners can contrive will ever convince them to tread the path to independence. If Brexit teaches us anything, it is that rational argument holds little sway in such momentous decisions. The electorate chose head over heart in 2014, and just look were we are now.

    If we follow Robin’s strategy, we simply accept the argument of our opponents that independence must be placed on hold until another generation has shuffled off this mortal coil. I’m sorry, I can’t and won’t agree to this. I will not stand idly by, while spivs and sociopaths reduce my nation to penury.

    1. Robin does not argue that we should stand idly by. Robin is many things – but an idler is something he isn’t (!)

      “Robin’s main premise is that Scotland should wait to push for a constitutional change only after polls consistently show 55% support for independence”.

      That’s just not true.

      1. john burrows says:

        I am not questioning Robin’s conviction on the principle of independence. Only his criteria for pressing the case for independence.

        I recognize and accept that Robin is devoted to the cause. I also accept I my suggestion that his main premise is the 55% poll requirement, as the article explores the several constitutional barriers to even securing a process for organizing and holding a legitimate poll. But, it seems clear from his statement that all of these maneuvers are predicated on this level of support being required before forcing the issue. Or so I read it.

        In simple terms, as I interpret it, the strategy requires the Scottish populace to endure a ‘hell mend them’ period of decline, to boost the polls in favor of independence. I do not see how the polls can possibly be increased by any other method. This path only dooms many of our fellow citizens to a hopeless future. I just don’t see how our society benefits from this Fabian strategy. Indeed, it can only result in further harm at this stage.

        In my own opinion, the consequences of delay allows time for a weak reactionary government in London to gain strength in the interim, and after there long sought rupture with the EU, will work actively to isolate us even further from our allies on the continent, and the wider world, while simultaneously exposing us to the danger of them further eroding the powers of our current devolved assembly. Reducing it in actuality to a parish council.

        London has already demonstrated its willingness to rewrite the rules to suit its own purposes while we are still in the EU. It is even more likely they will resort to such underhanded constitutional hocus pocus when we are out. Robin should stop pretending that these people will be reasonable, when push comes to shove.

        1. john burrows says:

          My apologies, that should read “…is not necessarily the 55% poll…”

      2. Lorna Campbell says:

        The fundamental problem, Ed, is that Mr McAlpine is making the same mistake that so many make: that independence is held back by voters not appreciating economic factors. It is actually being held back by voters who are neo colonialists at heart. It is this fundamental truth that so many simply cannot come to terms with, and would rather deny it altogether. I do not say that economic factors are not relevant or even very, very relevant, but the vast majority of NO voters will not be persuaded by this argument because it is not the one they hold in reality. They may want us to believe that it is, but, what I have found is that British/English Nationalism holds considerably more sway – which is why the debate is now so polarised and toxic. What we have, in its essentials, is one nationalism pitted against another. One nationalism, ours, is, essentially, a desire to be able to make our own decisions in our own way (self-determination) which is no more or less than almost every other country in the world enjoys, so it is not a crime or an aberration; the other nationalism is based on a sense of imperial entitlement and Brexit is the expression of an English existential crisis, not a ‘British’ one. It is not racist to tell those truths. We do not hate the English or want them out of Scotland; we just want Scotland to be an independent country. Why is that so offensive to some? Why must our children’s and grandchildren’s futures be blighted by a minority? Those Unionists who believe in the Union for its own sake or who are scared witless by the economic fears of independence at least have a right to feel that way. Neo colonialists might feel entitled to deny others their self-determination, but they can scarcely be considered 21st century progressives. Yet, still we pander to them, to their vote, to their double NO/Leave vote that is the epitome of crushing regression and aggression.

        1. Graeme McCormick says:

          most folk have their price. Soft NOs will vote yes if they either are suffering financial discomfort in the Union or the Scottish government can deliver a significantly better financial position for the soft NOs which will be threatened by continuing in the Union.

          A Universal Citizens Income of better than current U.K. pensions would be an example of attracting the soft NOs. The Scottish government could introduce this now funded by AGR.

          1. Alf Baird says:

            I’m not so sure culture has a price, Graeme. I would happily pay good money to see Scotland independent. However my culture is inevitably ‘Yes’ anyway. Historic census and voting intention data suggests that around half or more of No voters resident here are not of Scottish culture/heritage. Many of these people also have family and other connections in rest-UK. This group therefore tend to have the least desire for Scottish citizenship or Scottish nationality which is what a vote for independence is about. Indeed those from rest-UK exhibit twice the propensity to vote against independence as indigenous Scots do. Any conclusion from this fact alone should seem obvious. In-migration from rest-UK to Scotland is averaging around 50,000 people annually which implies since devolution in 1999 the arrival of around one million people, and the loss of a smaller number in out-migration, the latter mainly Scots one might assume. Twenty years ago Scotland was a Tory Free Zone yet we are anything but now. Why is that? Put simply, the Tory vote (and hence the No vote) has been and is being replenished in Scotland and this is an ongoing process. Though clearly not by Scots. Lorna’s analysis well explains the phenomenon based around neo-colonialism. Our challenge is therefore population change, and cultural/linguistic, as that is ultimately the defining criteria for individual voting intentions when it comes to matters of preferred identity. So, not dissimilar to Quebec, Catalonia etc.

          2. Graeme McCormick says:

            Alf, this is certainly a challenge for us.

            I’m not so sure that the inward migration from the South has been organised. I’ve seen a large number of older folk move north and suspect they are Unionist voters and possibly Brexiteers also.

          3. Alf Baird says:

            Graeme, the census tells us that that largest ethnic migrant group coming to Scotland over the past century and more since records began has been people from rest-UK, mostly from England. The census also tells us that among this group the professional classes were/are very significant. Normal practice for a very long time has of course been to advertise all of Scotland’s ‘top’ and professional jobs in the London press, which helps explain the latter. The census also tells us that in some areas of Scotland almost half or more of the population today are from rest-UK (e.g. on Mull, and parts of Orkney/Shetland, Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, Borders, D&G etc. And many Scottish people over the past 20-30 years have moved out of ‘fashionable’ Edinburgh, to the suburbs (Lothians) and elsewhere, which means the resident population inside the city has altered quite substantially over a relatively short period. There are 101 reasons why people want to come to live in Scotland. I agree with you this movement is not ‘organised’ per se. However, unlike in most other countries, neither is it controlled in any way; in other words Scotland has no authority over the movement of people to/from Scotland hence what happens to Scotland’s population is outwith Scotland’s control. Unionists tell us this movement of people works both ways and it does, but only to an extent. Clearly 5% of Scots moving to rest-UK every 20-30 years (say 250,000 people) makes very little difference to a population of 60m+, whereas even just 2% moving in the other direction from rest-UK to Scotland (1.2m) over 20-30 years makes a very substantial difference to the make-up of Scotland’s population, and hence influences also Scotland’s culture/language and indeed the ‘way’ of voting here, and hence this also directly impacts (adversely) on the prospect or demand for self-determination.

          4. Graeme McCormick says:


            I can’t argue with your piece. On the face of it we can’t do anything ot stop or vary that movement. I don’t know if there has been less or more immigration from the South since the 2014 Referendum and if so, if reasons were give by the immigarnts to come to Scotland and if that included the possibility of Independence. We could find that some English people are migrating here in the hope we become independent.

            A recent survey suggested that the MOD was struggling to recruit sub mariners because they will all be based at Faslane in the next couple of years and many were put off because of the prospects of Independence.

            It may be that YES groups ocally shoudl secure the names and address of new purchases from the Land Register (if possible) or the Electoral or Council Tax register and make a point of calling at these households with a welcome to Scotland message and ask how tney feel about Independence. That requires a bit of organisation but could inform us of the attitude of incomers and also become common knowledge that potential purchasers from the South will be aware of the activities of YES groups before they commit to a purchase.

          5. Gavin says:

            I can’t speak for other migrants, but my wife and I both intend to move to Scotland due to the likelihood of independence. My wife is very English by upbringing, I grew up in England but I have Scottish parentage. Both of us think prospects are infinitely better in an independent Scotland than could foreseeably be the case in the current UK.

  8. Willie says:

    Don’t know if I agree with the statement that if the rUK refused to recognise and independent Scotland then no other country in the World would either.

    I find this very hard to believe. Incredible in fact. Maybe the British Empire from America to Australia to India to Africa is still intact, or did all of these countries just take their independence, and the Brits then had to agree

    Similar comments about how Scotland could not set up an orderly state, unless the Brits agreed. Of course Scotland could, but of course the rUK could declare war on Scotland if they wanted too .

    Appreciate all the good work Robin, but the time for push is now……the UK is coming apart at the seams, time to leave.

  9. Redgauntlet says:

    Robin McAlpine surprisingly endorses the SNP line that we must sit and wait for the polls to change.

    Robin, friend, you might as well sit there singing “Will He No Come Back Again”, waiting for Bonnie Prince Charlie to return to the glens…

    Robin rightly says that howling with frustration is not a policy, but neither is waiting for the polls to change… or something as touchy-feely and woolly minded as “winning hearts and changing minds…” If people like Gerry Hassan are to be believed, all you need to do is offer a persuasive and polite argument to voters and they will be won over, when the stark fact is that the Scottish bourgeoisie’s interests have been locked into the Union with England since 1707. That is precisely why it worked for 300 years.

    In fact, even more, the Scottish bourgeoisie, a very, very peculiar bourgeoisie, part colonized, part colonizing, are in fact a creation and the embodiment of the Union of 1707… has a European country ever won independence without the majority of the bourgeoisie being on board?

    Clearly, to win the next referendum, minds DO have to be changed, but WHICH MINDS (capitals instead of cursive) and HOW?.

    They call it political SCIENCE. They call it political science because a political situation such as the one we are in susceptible to something like scientific analysis. OK, not as much as the physical world, but we know for a fact that the Scottish middle class broadly voted against independence and the Scottish working class broadly voted in favour.

    Which group specifically needs to be won over? The 45% is rock solid it seems, so we need to win over 10%-20% of NO voters. Who are they and which strategy best suits changing their minds?

    Maybe this time YES needs to run its own version of project fear, because the newspapers are full of very worrying and scary stories such as the suspension of the Human Rights Act, and the declaration of martial law no less, while economists talk of economic Armageddon if there is No Deal with the EU.

    To point out that leaving the EU, and with No Deal, will make people less wealthy, less secure and less free – to travel, work and live in Europe – is simply to state the bald facts.

    The SNP have a lot of money and a lot of people working for them. It is their job to come up with a strategy to deliver independence. I don’t know if we do need to offer a positive plan as Robin suggests, given the deeply worrying circumstances we are in.

    I don’t know. I am not one of those people who is employed by the SNP to suss out what the Scottish electorate is thinking, and where they feel most vulnernable.

    As for the international context, well, we have a precedent, in 18/9/14 and we have the support of most of Europe. The UK will eventually try to negotiate something like a trade deal with the EU, and the EU does not want Scotland to leave. We should certainly seek the endorsement and oversight of the European Parliament for any future referendum. We need the European Parliament on board.

    An option might be for the SNP to call an advisory referendum, which it is entitled to do, as Ruth Wishart has spelled out. We would need to win it of course… but it would give Nicola a mandate, if turnout was over 50% for YES to demand a referendum and, most importantly, put the ball back into Westminster’s court.

    I think, in fact, this may be the most important thing of all right now. Putting the ball back into their court, changing the momentum, and being open to running a completely different campaign to the last one…

    1. Willie says:

      Well put Red Gauntlet.

      People want change, they do not like what they see, and this very much the time to push for independence.

      Out of Europe the spectre of even greater economic apartheid looms.

      Stuck within a state that already has in place an illegal hostile environment against immigrants and the poor, it doesn’t take too much thinking to understand that if we do not get out, many in the near future will feel like the Jewish folks and others who did not get out of 1930s Germany when they could .

      No one should be in any doubt as to exactly what type of state the UK will be out of Europe

      Austerity and a hatred of foreigners is just the start.

      Time to get out.

    2. I read it very differently. I read it as “lets get ahead in the polls – lets build a movement”, not as the passive state that some are seeing here.

      1. Redgauntlet says:

        OK, Bella, maybe I am misreading Robin somewhat…

        What I think we definitely need is a bit more science.

        For the Scottish Enlightenment, for thinkers like Adam Ferguson and Lord Kames, history is the laboratory of the social scientist. These guys INVENTED the social science in late 18th century Scotland, along with Smith and Hume et al, and they believed that by reading history they could work out a lot of the present… they could test ideas and theories. We need a bit more thinking in that vein.

        I am not a historian of ideas obviously, but if you look at the history of European nationalism, from the period 1848-1920, say, more or less, you will find the national bourgeoisie leading the “national awakening” of each country all across Europe, from Poland to the Czech Lands to Ireland and India. Almost always with a huge input from national writers and poets and composers. For this reasons the Marxists denounced nationalism as “bourgeois”.

        What were the Scottish bourgeoisie doing between 1848-1920? They were busy with Empire, running it for England. Scotland did not have a national awakening comparable to the rest of Europe then, though it did from 1920 onwards…

        So, how do we get the Scottish middle class on board independence? That’s really the question. The Union may simply unravel, but we have to be prepared for that when it happens….

        As I said above, I can’t help but feel we have lost momentum and the initiative since June 2016… for reasons beyond anybody’s control.

        Imagine if Nicola called an advisory – ie, non-binding – referendum for before March 29th Brexit date?

        Imagine the question reads: Will you give Scotland’s First Minister the right to negotiate another referendum on Scottish Independence with Theresa May?

        It would certainly provide a focus for the frustrated energies of many, many Scots, a chance once again to debate and engage instead of sitting back and being driven off a Brexit cliff… we would get a national conversation going at the least.

      2. Mungo Armstrong says:

        Fuck the polls !!! We change the polls when we campaign in a live independence vote!

  10. Tartanfever says:

    ‘Put simply, most of our target voters know the plane is on fire and most of them could be persuaded that the ground is a safer place for them – but they’re still not going to jump out of the door without a parachute. That ‘parachute’ is a proper, comprehensive plan which suggests that we’ve properly prepared for the days, weeks, months and years after a Yes vote. ‘Wait and see’ or ‘it’ll be fine’ are just about the worst things we could possibly say to this audience.’

    Sure, create a parachute (ie, a comprehensive plan/movement for independence), but as Brexit day approaches, maybe you’ve missed out part of this metaphor :

    The ground rushing towards you which you can now see – ie actual Brexit itself.

    In your scenario some passengers on the plane maybe thought, ‘hey this fire isn’t too bad, the plane isn’t falling apart, it seems pretty stable, maybe there’s a relatively safe crash landing to be had on some flat ground, I’m going to hold of jumping until I really feel like I have to, let’s see what appears below us, is it a the vast ocean, a mountain range or the relative safety of an airport, a runway and emergency services’

    In other words, what kind of Brexit will we have, if we even have a Brexit (?) and how will that affect a future Scottish referendum.

    The SNP may not have done much in terms of Independence planning, but they certainly have been a steady, consistent source of calm reasoning in Brexit when compared to the May and Corbyn over the last two years. I think thats often overlooked.

    In other words, Robin, tell me with certainty what Brexit we will have and then I’ll decide whether to use that parachute or stay on board. If I see a mountain range and certain doom, then yes, I’m going to jump even if I have some doubt about the parachute.

  11. David Fee says:

    Like others I wonder what chance there is of a desire for a referendum becoming any higher than it is at this moment in time. Perhaps some of the worst post-Brexit scenarios will materialise over the next few years, but do we want to wait for that to happen? The truth, I believe, is that the previous referendum was decided by the section of the population who aren’t against independence per se, but who are afraid of change. Specifically that change which involved us not only leaving the ‘safety’ of UK at the time, but also, according to the media, the ‘safety’ of the European Union.

    People do indeed need to perceive, as Robin said, the “parachute” which will take us safely out of the burning plane of the UK. But we don’t need to know how the parachute works; only that it exists. The parachute that is going to make the difference for the undecided at this time is not an understanding of the mechanics of how a future Scotland might work, but rather a belief that we would be welcome to remain in the perceived security of Europe. In other words that we will be spared the undoubted changes and uncertainties of Brexit.

    It might not look great if Theresa May refuses the SNP a referendum, but her stock, even as a barely standing PM, is as low as it possibly could be. Surely we can overcome the perception of a “cap in hand” Scotland in these circumstances. For these reasons: the SNP has a mandate; it will have the support of many English MP’s too, even some of the rabid Tories who want their England back; it will have the support of European MP’s; people have already seen how Ireland has been treated as an equal by the EU (even if that too is only a perception); the majority of ardent pro-independence, brexiteers would prefer independence and remain I suspect; it is likely that there will be legal backing for a referendum too, if push comes to shove.

    I admire the patient intelligence behind Robin McAlpines thinking and the work he puts in, but disagree with his conclusion here. Everything is lining up as well as it ever could. The time has to be now.

    1. Lorna Campbell says:

      I agree with you about Mr McAlpine’s hard work over a long period of time, and I can agree with him on many issues, but I simply cannot see how people who are viscerally opposed to Scottish independence can be ‘persuaded’. To think that, is to believe that deep-rooted prejudices and ‘values’ can be changed to an extent, and within a timescale, that is quite impossible, in reality. That is what the Quebecois discovered when they lost their second referendum, which, I am sure, all of us who support independence wish to avoid.

      In all the recent indyrefs, the result was determined, even if narrowly, by a neo colonialism that is deep-rooted and visceral. It should not be considered ‘racist’ to tell that very evident truth. Yet, the reaction, from the independence movement, in general, is one of tutting, frozen-faced denial, very similar I have to say to that frozen-faced, tutting denial of Scottish self-determination by British and English Nationalists. It is stupidly self-defeating and simply serves to alienate those who are not prepared to wait a hundred years for independence – and, even then, the chances of returning a NO vote will still be extremely high. Why will no one grasp the thistle and entertain the possibility – strong possibility – of a second NO vote? All the runes show that to be the most likely result. The chances are, too, that another EU vote will return a second Leave vote, but, hey, that’s okay, because it the English who are being ‘racist’ there, not us, which is about as simplistic a perception for the largely English Brexit vote as the ‘we’ll persuade them’ mantra of the independence movement.

      Sometimes, this self-righteousness is puke-inducing. I agree that people should be who they are, or who they believe they are, and who they are should be respected, but I am not about to deny the possibility that many of those who proffered a NO vote were, and remain, abject neo colonialists. Just because we are not ‘racist’ and hugely appreciate our rUK comrades in the YES movement, should not mean that we cannot call out ‘racism’ going in the opposite direction – which is precisely what neo colonialism and denying the Scots their self-determination is, ultimately. Sure, the Burns’ poem, ‘A Man’s A Man…’ (even when he’s a woman) must be the ultimate goal of the human race, but must it also mean that we have to commit political, social and economic suicide in order to fulfil that highest perfection, because, as far as I can see, that is what Mr McAlpine, and many others, are asking us to do – not intentionally, I hasten to add, but that is what their way will involve at the end of the day.

      We must look to ending the Union as we entered it, but with the added spice of democracy and international recognition, and that will mean putting a very powerful case before the international courts and the UN, not to mention the EU, that there is no way in which we can achieve independence because of that neo colonial (‘racist’) vote. We already have volumes of case work and legal argument by prominent jurists, which more or less covers every base; it needs to be refined and honed into an unanswerable case that is all-encompassing: that there is no way, politically, that Scotland can end the Union, because we are prevented from doing so by elements within Scotland (both within the Scottish/British Nationalist community and within the rUK, mainly English Nationalist, community) and from outwith Scotland with very much the same mindset, although the one (the ruling elite) outwith Scotland is considerably more perfidious and has other motives tacked on to that fundamental denial of human rights.

      We are probably already compliant with the relevant UN Charters, and the international courts do appear to be prepared to be neutral even when Westminster and Whitehall trumpet noisily. There is no reason why we cannot do both: continue to push for a second indyref; and petition the UN and international courts.

      1. Hi Lorna – I don’t think people who are “viscerally opposed to Scottish independence can be ‘persuaded’ ” either- but there’s an awful lot of people who voted for No in 2014 on what turns out to be a tissue of lies, a lot of people who voted No thinking it would keep them in the EU (somehow), and a lot of people (1/2 million) who did not vote at all! These people implacable diehard unionists at all but ordinary people who can and should be engaged with.

        1. Lorna Campbell says:

          Hi Ed,

          I hope you are right. Maybe you are, and I am wrong. My opinions are derived from experience of the first indyref, but also from since that time. I have not been out and about so much recently, so things may well have changed, but dog’s abuse seemed to be the way many NO voters responded even to reasonable and friendly debate; either that, or, as I say, frozen-faced non-response, as if anything other than the Union was plumbing the depths of the black realms of the Earl o Hell himself. Overheard conversations during the referendum campaign also left me in little doubt about where some NO voters were coming. However, never let it be said that I am incapable of changing my own mind, so, as I said in one post, I am happy to support both the second referendum route and the dissolution of the Union route. We all want the same thing, after all, even if we disagree on occasion how to get there and how an independent Scotland would be. A welcoming and decent place, I hope.

  12. John McLeod says:

    Something that seems to be missing from this discussion is that Robin McAlpine and others recently produced an excellent book on ‘How to Start a New Country’, that examines several initiatives that could be usefully undertaken to prepare the ground for independence, and then to complete the journey to being an independent country after the vote has taken place. I do not think that the ideas in this book have been sufficiently discussed. (If someone can direct me to a place where that discussion has taken place, I would be grateful). I would like to share a couple of my own responses to that book. I could see the sense in undertaking serious planning as far in advance of a referendum as possible (with the implication that this should have been given much more attention already). I then wondered – how is this going to happen? if the Scottish Government was set up such a planning group (in an earlier post Graeme McCormick makes such a suggestion), quite apart from a media shitstorm that would erupt, it is hard to see how the Parliament could be persuaded to approve funding for it. My other main response to the book is that it envisages a process of recruiting global experts on various areas of government functioning, so that policies and structures in the new Scotland could be built from the start on the best possible evidence. While this is a rational way to proceed, my own preference would be, as far as possible, to use citizen consultations, assemblies, etc as the basis for making these decisions. Citizens are well capable of drawing in expert evidence where it is necessary. I believe that one of the fundamental arguments for an independent Scotland is the moral basis of such an enterprise. A crucial aspect of this moral fabric is a commitment to genuine democracy.

    1. Hi John – good point – we’d be interested to see an article if you anted to lay out your responses to the book. Thanks.

    2. Graeme McCormick says:

      Hi John,

      With reference to your question re the Scottish Parliament approving finance for Independence Planning I don’t think there is anything in law which stops the Scottish government planning for anything. In the first SNP government consultation was produced on self government and also one on the Nuclear weapons’ issue. Just as the Parliament has the power to discuss anything ti chooses so our government has the right to prepare and plan for anything provided that the Parliament does not specifically vote against it. Given that there is a majority in favour of Independence it si highly unlikey such government preparations would be denied .

      In addition there are so many grey areas in the operation of reserved and devolved powers and thr interaction between both that a case can always be made for informed debate and that required prior preparation. It could be argued that that amount of work and cost which the SCottish government and its offcials have spent on Brexit options were “reserved” issues bit no one of any substance has challenged the right of the Scottish government to prepare and produce reports.

      Under existing powers there is not one reserved matter which can’t be mitigated, improved or effectively replaced by the Scottish government. Our government has already done this on a number of occasions. They need to build on this and challenge the UK government with our own legislation and process rather than try to mitigate the worst effects.

      1. John McLeod says:

        Graeme: Thanks for this additional information.

        1. Graeme McCormick says:

          My pleasure , John

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