2007 - 2021

An Independent Future

George Galloway is a Scottish Farage. He’s a phenomenon constructed entirely from sound-bites and photo-calls employed solely as a Rent-a-Quote. Everyone knows he’s a clown but in this world of Bored 24/7 Media and clickbait – what would previously make you unusable makes you essential. It’s all part of the madness. We have Donald Trump cleaving to the QAnon cult as if it’s an endorsement by a trusted public institution, Priti Patel acting-up as a sort of Boadicea-meets-Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, and Gavin Williamson and his whip. Among the panic and meta-psychosis the penny has apparently dropped.

Writing in the Financial Times Mure Dickie (in Arbroath) and George Parker (in London) spell out the moment this happened:

“The threat was spelt out by Michael Gove, UK cabinet office minister, on July 21 as he addressed the UK government’s first face-to-face cabinet meeting in months. Mr Gove, the adopted son of an Aberdeen fish processor, gave his colleagues a passionate exposition on the risks facing the union and why they should care. He ran through the threat, as he saw it, posed by first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National party and mapped out a series of ideas for trying to counter the separatist trend. The address by Mr Gove, backed by polling evidence presented by Isaac Levido, a key adviser, was described by an onlooker as the “penny-dropped moment”. “I think some ministers had, until that point, seen the issue as a bit of a distraction,” says one person at the cabinet meeting. “Michael made it clear that while Covid and Brexit were huge issues, the government would be unlikely to survive the break-up of the union.”

Rishi Sunak, we’re told, was among the first to speak after Mr Gove’s call to arms.

He intoned solemnly: “I now understand why this is so important”.

There’s so much that’s beautiful about this picture.

You’ve got to love the mindset that understands “the government would be unlikely to survive the break-up of the union.”  This goes to the heart of why this government in particular are in deeper doo-doo than they can possibly comprehend. Previous Conservative administrations were ideological, deeply reactionary, but at least committed to a politics and based on a worldview and a set of assumptions. Johnson’s coterie is far more opportunistic and selfish. The idea that the reason you needed to save the union was to save the government is hilarious but revealing.

The Financial Times report explains the sudden rush of visits to Scotland by senior Tories. But the quaint idea that their staycations and media moments will relieve their predicament is a sweet one.

The default response to the collapsing belief in the Union is predictable. Galloway’s call for the franchise to be altered to benefit the Unionist cause (and Gove’s response) is a sure sign of desperation, but it’s also interesting that it views the question as an ethnic issue rather than a civic and political one.  It’s a mirror of what Ben Jackson, associate professor of modern history at Oxford university, explains:

“People who are opposed to Scottish independence think it is a nativist, ephemeral, emotional creed [but] it is actually more complicated than that.” The idea that you can gerrymander the referendum has continuity with the idea that you can simply repress the vote eternally, a position that has recently been seen to be crumbling – Peter Duncan’s position outlined in the Sunday Times – has the finger-prints of Isaac Levido all over it.

But if Galloway/Gove’s tricks seem to be continuous with the idea of repressing democracy, it also represents a significant change. The Unionist camp are now talking about how to deal with a referendum vote they know is now inevitable.

This is a significant moment, but it presents problems for the Yes movement too. A door of opportunity has opened with a specific timeline.

For those who have been arguing relentlessly that a Section 30 Order is impossible – and will never ever happen under any circumstances (and that we are utterly powerless) and that anyone who suggests otherwise is a fool and a traitor – will today have to take stock. For those indulged in the wilder conspiracy theories and improbable alternative routes to independence, this is also a time to pause and think.

With a huge pro-indy majority predicted at Holyrood  the opportunity for a massively renewed mandate would put indefensible pressure on the UK government. Yesterday’s ComRes poll for Holyrood converted into seat shows the SNP on 67 (+4), Conservative’s on 26 (-5), Labour 18 (-6),  Green 10 (+4), Lib Dem 8 (+3).

That’s a 27-seat pro-indy majority.

But another issue is to examine what is causing the surge for independence?

If the drivers are Brexit and disdain for the UK government’s handling of it, then that is likely to be exacerbated in coming months, but presents issues and challenges on currency that need confronted.

If the drivers are the failure of Richard Leonard and Keir Starmer to articulate a Labour message then SLab voters are likely to decamp to a pro-indy and possibly a pro-SNP position cementing that ascendancy.

If the drivers are the Scottish Government’s perceived competence through the covid period then that puts pressure on Sturgeon’s own personal brand.

It is likely to be all these and more. Consensus builds over time as arguments fail and fade away against real life experience. To be honest the absolute travesty of the Tory governments of the past six years – the only real surprise is that these polls didn’t emerge far far earlier. The sense of ending and failure is palpable in Britain today, a country governed with venal incompetence presiding over poverty and disease and witnessing unfolding economic catastrophe. Independence is emerging as the settled will of the Scottish people, but ironically, only the independence movement can grasp defeat from the jaws of victory now.


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  1. Donald McNicol says:

    Great stuff but why denigrate the SG COVID response by saying it’s perceived competence? Is there not a shed full of hard factual evidence that SG has performed much better than WM?
    As you do rightly say only the independence movement can lose the referendum so is it not all the more important to praise where praise is due?

    1. I do think they have handled it much better yes. My point is that its perception that matters.

  2. Axel P Kulit says:

    “ironically, only the independence movement can grasp defeat from the jaws of victory now.”

    I said something like this in 2016. Much of what I wrote is out of date but the essence of the argument remains.


    I fear that the current divisions in the yes movement will kill the prospect of independence. On a more positive note I hope the current trend for anything this government does to have exactly the opposite result to that they desire will drop it in our lap.

  3. Douglas Wilson says:

    I’m pretty fed up by now of the mantra that anyone who doesn’t agree with Mike Small and the SNP is a crazy, or a conspiracy theorist, or on the spectrum.

    It’s anti-democratic and is aimed to closing down debate – not that there is much – and is just totally hypocritical coming from a website which backed UDI in Catalonia on less than half the popular vote, even going so far as to publish a book on it… I mean, it’s just double standards.

    Dinnay fash Mike, there’s naebody else tae vote for anyway…
    You’ll get your SNP super majority…
    Maybe you’ll get your London agreed referendum, eventually for sure you will…
    And let’s hope a YES majority when the day comes…
    But I have no faith in this SNP government to negotiate anything, let alone a fully independent country, they are pretty incompetent / not very good at their jobs.
    All the indications are that this SNP govt and its bankers, special advisers, consultants, and lawyers will keep everything they can in any future negotiations such as, a) the pound, b) the queen, c) Trident…
    …and even possibly remain outside of the EU in exchange for a new role in something which has existed for three centuries, recently reinvented as “the UK single market”…
    One thing for sure, no-one is going to be writing poetry about it 100 years from now…

    1. No debate is being closed down Douglas and if you want to articulate how to proceed and what a winning strategy is feel free.

      1. Douglas Wilson says:

        Bella, what are you talking about?
        You’re constantly chiding/cajoling those of us who would like to see Sturgeon use the powers of the Scottish Parliament and call an advisory referendum for this autumn…

        When do you suppose the referendum might take place under the SNP’s master plan? In the event, I mean. … I would say at the earliest, autumn 2021, and more likely, spring 2022…

        You do realise that by then we’ll be out the EU and lots of Scottish businesses which trade with Europe will have gone bust? And that thousands of people like myself who live and work between Scotland and Europe will have to choose between the two… if you earn in euros, the uncertainties we are heading into are just too great to bear. So, you have to choose…

        …most importantly, by the time of the SNP’s referendum – which might be just as unilateral as one this autumn, we simply don’t know – the whole Scottish economy will have reconfigured to the new reality of doing business outside of Europe, because businesses will do what they can to survive.

        What makes you and Nicola Sturgeon think we have the luxury of time? You might have the luxury of time, but lots of us do not..

        What we have in Scotland is something like a national emergency. I would expect the FM to be assembling a wide-ranging movement right across Scottish civil society, from soft Unionists to Greens, to EUrophiles and reaching out to people across the political spectrum…

        Instead of something broad and inclusive, we get something narrow and sectarian…we get daggers out against Salmond, and what about Kenny MacAskill?

        What’s he done? Salmond this, Salmond that, but what about the second most senior SNP figure in the country who has been left out in the cold by Nicola Sturegon, so she can fill her cabinet with lightweights like Derek MacKay and Humza Yousaf?

        1. Douglas Wilson says:

          I mean, Mike, if you’re a small Scottish business owner, and say you have one or two big clients in a EU country like the Netherlands or Germany, and it’s your livelihood and your family’s livelihood, what do you think that business owner is going to do? I think he / she is going to relocate to the country where their clients are based and set up there, as opposed to hanging around waiting for a dithering government and its childish fixation for a “gold star” referendum…

          As for MacKay and Yousaf, both of them seem to me like very bright but very frivolous men who think they know better than anybody else and can get away with murder….both of them too young and too cocky and lacking the required maturity for the job, much less anything like MacAskill’s gravitas…

          Kenny MacAskill has been through the whole Al-Megrahi affair… he has invaluable experience in public office. We simply cannot afford to have a guy like MacAskill out the picture, it’s just madness…

          1. Douglas Wilson says:

            As for young people, in Scotland, the europhile Scots in their 20’s or early 30’s, well, many of them are going to leave before the end of the year as well I would say…

            Leipzig, for example, is the second best ranked German city for quality of life, it has a vibrant cultural scene and you can rent a decent apartment there for about 500 euros… 500 euros and no community charge, because they don’t have that TORY TAX anywhere I can think of in Europe, a tax which the SNP were going to abolish but didn’t bother doing in the end, thereby showing once again their notorious, stinking TARTAN TORY CREDENTIALS…

            There is no affordable housing in Scotland, young people have been abandoned by London and Edinburgh and I’m sure a significant proportion of the brightest of them will just vote with their feet and leave the country while there is still time to become a resident in another EU member state….

  4. Gerry carlin says:


  5. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    According to POLITCO’s Poll of Polls this morning, ‘Yes’ stands at 49%, ‘No’ at 42%, and ‘Undecided’ at 8%.

    Might be worth a punt. You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya?

    But no matter. It’s all shaping up nicely. No matter which way the wind blows on referendum day and on which side of the apple this time falls, about half the population will be alienated by the result, just like before.

    As the great 20th-century historian, A.J.P. Taylor, said of the class conflict between Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland, this is the sort of social contradiction that has only ever in the past been overcome through civil war.

    1. Not necessarily – if the trajectory and momentum continues for Yes – and a No Deal makes that quite possible – then you could end up with a comfortable majority. That’s where we ended up with devolution.

      1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

        Remember Mike, it was a long-smoldering fire of mistrust and discontent with Wastemonster that finally led to the Easter (Monday) Rising in Dublin in 1916. I hope not but the same sort of thing is always possible.

      2. Axel P Kulit says:

        I read we got devolution because of pressure from Europe, in particular the European Council and the all the WM parties opposed it as long as possible.

    2. Douglas Wilson says:

      Civil war? Come on, the chances of anything like that in Scotland are almost zero…
      Democracies don’t go to war usually, and Ireland was an English colony for centuries, so nothing at all like Scotland.
      Besides, the most dramatic piece of data of recent weeks is that 79% of young Scots support independence, a figure without precedent.
      Scottish independence seems to me to be inevitable, and a question of time…
      What should be exercising people’s minds, is how does progressive Scotland get some kind of control or influence on the process which follows a YES vote?
      The danger is that the SNP elite cut a deal with London without any due democratic process.
      In this respect, the question of the written Constitution becomes very relevant again, and maybe something to focus on…

      1. Douglas Wilson says:

        PS: And also the currency, because to propose keeping the pound actually amounts to embracing a whole economic model, just as much as the euro does, and the closest of relations with rUK following indie too…
        The SNP leadership seems addicted to the pound.
        It was the currency question which lost the 2014 referendum, Salmond insisting we keep the pound sterling, despite being rebuffed by Osborne.
        Flash forward a few years and the Andrew Wilson led Sustainable Growth Report advocates keeping the pound all over again, despite the fiasco that policy amounted to in 2014…
        They’re addicted to the pound, and if the pound is the SNP’s currency choice, it is very hard to imagine an indie Scotland re-joining the EU….
        Again, it’s not something the SNP should get to decide on its own…

      2. “What should be exercising people’s minds, is how does progressive Scotland get some kind of control or influence on the process which follows a YES vote?” This is where you and I can agree Douglas.

    3. Paddy Farrington says:

      One big difference is that support for indy among young people is overwhelming (72% for people aged 16 to 34, I’ve seen quoted). Somehow I don’t see pensioners waging this civil war you mention. On a more serious note: in those parts of the Yes movement I know (and they may well be unrepresentative) I see mainly older people (I include myself in that group). This could make me despondent about the Yes movement, in which I detect signs of sclerosis. But strangely it does not: it gives me hope that there are untapped resources of youthful creativity, imagination and new thinking, with new agendas for independence, that are about to be unleashed if the conditions are right. I hope that, if this occurs, the Yes movement will be big enough to step aside and let these new forces set these new agendas. One of the things I like about Bella is that, unlike some other pro-indy sites, it gives out strong signals that it would be only too happy to do so.

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        Yes, as I’ve written elsewhere:

        ‘Generation Z is at least potentially much better adapted than we ‘has beens’ will ever be to what the current historical situation requires of them. For members of this cohort, digital communications technology and the dissensual culture to which it has given rise are no longer ‘new’ but have been with them all their lives. For them, unlike us, there are no ‘better’ times to which they can nostalgically harp back, no simpler pre-digital days that we imagine existed before fact and value went to hell in a handcart. Generation Z already accept, far more ‘naturally’ than we do, the virtues required of a 21st-century democracy: legitimate diversity, restrained dissonance, acquiescence in difference, and respect for the autonomy of others.’

        I’m hopeful that, in Generation Z, we’ll see a break with the old nationalist/unionist tropes from another time. Let’s not saddle them with a written constitution.

        1. Axel P Kulit says:

          “digital communications technology and the dissensual culture to which it has given rise are no longer ‘new’ but have been with them all their lives.”

          we had that sort of culture in the 60s. It was called the counter culture. Digitall technology has simply done more to enable it.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            The digital revolution has been far more profound than the desire of 1960s youth to cast off the older generation’s social mores. The counterculture movement of half a century ago was still idealistic; it still had ‘a dream’ and a faith in the ‘truth’ of that dream. It was in this respect the last gasp of a deconstructing modernity, a rebellion rather than a revolution. By contrast, Generation Z is ideologically more multi-perspectival than consensual in its evaluations, more pragmatic than idealistic in its decision-making, and more performative than prescriptive in its justice; wherein the ideological ‘break’ of such virtues from the past my social hopes lie.

        2. Arboreal Agenda says:

          This is simply untrue. I have taught digital natives for years and many of them, and increasingly so, express ‘nostalgia’ for pre-digital times. They never experienced it personally but they are very aware of some its products in art and music say and revere them and understand how they differ from post-digital material and kind of long for the qualities absent from the digital world whilst also being even more appreciative of the ease of facility digital tools bring. They are also increasingly cynical about the social digital world and feel trapped and enslaved by it and recognise it is making them depressed yet are powerless to free themselves from it, as are we all pretty much. We have discussed at length smart phone addiction and again and again they talk, for example, of their (failed) efforts not to look at their phone every ten minutes or less.

          How much they are bothered about all of this varies enormously of course and some reject the past, but they are conscious of ‘better times’ before they were born and it is patronising to suggest they don’t. Anybody can look back at the past and imagine and research what it was like and recognise the good and the bad and move forward. The non-virtual and ‘analogue’ world is actually on the rise again, though of course the digital will always now predominate by a long way, but that push back is coming from young people who are seeking something different and more tangible.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            How can you express nostalgia for times you have never experienced and can have no personal associations, happy or otherwise? Perhaps your students’ wistfulness is not a longing for a mythologised past but to be free from the cares of their lived present. I couldn’t say; I don’t know them.

            And I’m glad your students have culturally appropriated some of the products of those times. I hope some of them at least will go on as creatives to transform and combine them into expressions of their own lives.

            I would counsel them to resist the guilt and anxieties through which they are governed. They are not powerless to free themselves from the network of fear in which government and its advertising departments perpetually work to enmesh them. Digital technology offers powerful tools by which they can break this hegemony; cleaving to their own alternative social networks, refusing to be distracted, every ten minutes or less, by the public spectacle, from the interactions that take place within those networks. Their depression at being disengaged from the standard network isn’t a natural ‘disorder’; it’s a social ‘disordering’, the function of which is to keep them in their place.

  6. David Tam McDonald says:

    That quote about the government surviving is telling, but not surprising. It also shows that it’s about time the English left got on board with us, instead of passive aggressive whimpering about solidarity. Once Starmer sees the inevitability of this, his job becomes making sure the Tories get the blame, so it needs done before the next election.

  7. tartanfever says:

    As I pointed out yesterday, next May’s vote is an election, not a referendum. If you are perfectly happy and have no concerns on SNP policy proposals then go ahead and vote for them.

    Personally, I’m not happy handing a large majority to the SNP so they can push through legislation that so far, has fallen far short on open and honest public consultation.

    Maybe in the interests of compromise, you should take a hard look at your position and consider what I suggested yesterday. Drop the GRA and Hate Crime Bill for the entire duration of the next Parliament and promise a new Referendum within a year .

    That will bring many back to the SNP fold.

    What is most striking and slightly dishonest of the whole Yes movement and the SNP, is that for years we castigated the unionist parties at every election because their single issue was ‘No to Indyref 2’ – even if it was local election. No economic or social policies were presented on their election materials.

    Now thats us – we have no policy, it’s all about a new referendum. How times change.

  8. john burrows says:

    Good take. Witnessing their desperation is telling.

    I would like to add though that I believe the consensus in Scotland for choosing independence is moving beyond both the SNP and the Yes movement. We are all in the hands of fate now.

    I sense a profound sea change is upon us. The Tory front for the British establishment is on the cusp of another of their periodic implosions.

    Saying this, I am still utterly staggered at the ineptitude of Johnson’s woeful administration. He seem’s strangely bent on tearing apart the very fabric of his “nation.” The outright corruption, cronyism and contempt for political norms of his government is a shining example of all that is wrong with the British State. It is irredeemable.

    Even the most ardent supporters of union in Scotland must surely be deeply demoralized at the current state of governance in Johnson’s UK. A state were negligent homicide and entrenched privilege is blatantly raised to the status of national policy.

    Policies devised by Britain’s very own Rasputin. A sociopathic egomaniac, who has done more to forge consensus for independence than any contribution made by either the SNP or the Yes movement combined, over the past five years. Long may he reign!

  9. Alisdair McKay says:

    Whilst I won’t dream of being as analytical as most of your contributors it does concern me that a lot of time is spent analysing and speculating an not enough on the people who matter most, the electorate in Scotland at ground level . What was apparent post the 2014 vote was that a great many lies were able to be presented as facts. Something which can only be got away with when an audience is uneducated, therefore it seems sensible to use the time before the quagmire of serious campaigning for votes gets underway, to prepare the ground (opening minds) by ensuring that the audience is as well informed as possible and gets accustomed to trusting information from recognisable sources. It needs more than blank YESs, which are as much of a turn of for the target audience as they are reassuring for the already committed. A hundred thousand people can march on a Saturday yet unless it is reported by Monday it didn’t happen. So why are all car windows being left to ‘Arnold Clark’? Why when we’re waiting in the (not so) supermarket queue, am I not seeing shopping bags telling me how great Scotland’s exports are? There are no shortage of messages which can be presented by any group, using very simple technology, to get people thinking. Even getting people to doubt a statement will do it’s job when they do their research to prove it wrong, only to find that it is correct. Making the movement visible daily on things such as lapel badges, car stickers, and shopping bags, can only add to the impression that independence is as inevitable as it needs to be.

    1. “it seems sensible to use the time before the quagmire of serious campaigning for votes gets underway, to prepare the ground (opening minds) by ensuring that the audience is as well informed as possible and gets accustomed to trusting information from recognisable sources” – very much agree with this Alisdair …

      1. Douglas Wilson says:

        What, for the next TWO YEARS Bella? Sorry, that’s too long and life is too short….

        Like the millions of Europeans in the UK and Brits in Europe, I am sick of living in a state of uncertainty about what my rights are. It’s been going on for five years, five years we ex-pats have been dangling in the air, totally ignored and slighted by government….

        Nicola Zzzzzzzzturgeon proposes we wait another two years, possibly ten or twenty, for her gold star referendum…well, I am not hanging about for that.

        It’s a total joke that while Johnson leads us into a car crash no deal Brexit, our FM is fussing and fretting over constitutional niceities….

        If the Scottish gov won’t stand up for the European rights of its citizens, then we must take matters into our own hands….

        1. Douglas Wilson says:

          And when you get your gold star, Bella, stick it into your jotter and get John Swinney tae gie ye three ticks for being a clever wee boy at the schuil….

          …though knowing that harsh taskmaster Swinney, he’d probably downgrade you to a silver star and one tick…

          1. This is just turning into abuse Douglas

          2. Douglas Wilson says:

            Where is the abuse???

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