2007 - 2022

What Scotland’s big independence debate is about and should be about

Nicola Sturgeon has fired the gun on Scotland’s independence debate, standing in Bute House yesterday with Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, launching the first of several papers on independence. 

This has brought forth the usual and predictable claims and counter-claims. SNP, Green and independence supporters are excited and hopeful; Labour, Tories and Lib Dems along with pro-union advocates of no party are filled with scorn and fury that anyone would want to progress independence in such times of upheaval and instability.

All this is as predictable as you would expect and could be dialled in from Mars. But does this announcement amount to anything? Will it shift public opinion or just peter out? And will Scotland really have an independence referendum in 2023 or anytime soon?

Independence is about more than the SNP and Yes but all Scotland

Firstly, if independence is to have any traction it has to understand and respect the Scotland beyond Yes: the Scotland that still is unconvinced or antagonistic to the idea of independence. Too much time and energy has been spent by the SNP and independence supporters since 2014 in talking to their own tribe and not listening to the voters beyond them – those who are unsure, unconvinced or nervous of the prospect of independence.

Too many independence supporters put their own passions and impatience beyond an accurate reading of public opinion and want a referendum as soon as possible – thinking it right because they judge it to be the most important subject and do not look around at the wider world, its challenges and the worries and anxieties people are living with now.

Secondly, this might be an idealistic observation but it is one that has to be pushed and the case made for. There is a legitimate, rational case for independence and a legitimate, rational case for the union. Parts of each constituency – the most voluble, noisy and intense elements – consistently deny that there is a coherent argument for the other case. This denialism of our politics has to be resisted, and a case put by each perspective which recognises that there is a valid counter-case.

I know independence supporters who think there is no argument left for the union, and that pro-union opinion in Scotland are suffering from ‘Stockholm syndrome’, having become used to being held hostage in the union and other such offensive twaddle. There is even a tendency which thinks that unionist opinion down south basically ‘hates the Scots’ and only wants to keep us in the UK as ‘part of their property’ and because they believe they own it and have a right to do what they want with it.

Similarly, there are significant parts of pro-union opinion who are uncomprehending about Scottish independence. These include significant, influential voices such as Gordon Brown who thinks that Scottish independence is entirely motivated by being ‘anti-English’ and posing an essentialist either/or identity just like Brexit.

There is even worse offered in terms of caricature from the recently published The Bargain: Why the UK works so well for Scotland by former Tory councillor Tom Miers in which he writes: ‘Modern nationalists sometimes hark back to medieval Scotland as an ideal’. He is presumably talking about the romantic invoking of Bruce and Bannockburn, but personally I have failed to note any sizeable restoration of feudalism movement and opinion in today’s Scotland.

Independence has to be about change from present day Scotland

Thirdly, the 2014 independence offer is now dead and needs to be completely recast – on the economic, social, democratic and geo-political fronts. This is an argument I put forward in my forthcoming book Scotland Rising: The Case for Independence published by Pluto Press at the end of September.

Conventional economics are bust and have brought the world to this economic impasse. The case for independence has to recognise this, deal with the fiscal imbalances in the UK, and make a realistic case for a different approach. Similarly on social justice, we all know the story that many Scots like to tell but Scotland is a very unequal country and making no real progress on education and health inequalities, drug deaths, and wealth and privilege. 

Scotland is not even that democratic in the areas of public life we have devolved power over. Think of how the Scottish Parliament and Government have sucked up power away from the likes of local government, centralising public bodies like police and fire services, while elsewhere failing to hold power to account where it transgresses and fails.

Independence has to also rethink and reframe how it sits geo-politically. The assumption in 2014 was that the part of the world Scotland is situated was one of calm, stability and prosperity and hence an ideal environment to launch a new independent state. Then in 2014 along came the Russian annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas, and eight years later the situation is even more stark with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Such an environment poses major challenges to Scottish independence addressing issues such as defence, foreign policy, NATO membership and of course nuclear weapons – the UK’s so called ‘nuclear deterrent’ being based in Scotland. While the SNP leadership have been quietly thinking on these issues and even speaking privately to sections of Britain’s military, security and intelligence establishment, they throw up anxieties for many voters about the nature of independence in such a world of insecurity and threats which makes some think that is better to stick with the union for now.

Fourth, independence needs to be reframed not only its specific policy prospectus but in how it is presented and understood. This is not just a debate about the SNP and politics but about different, contested ideas of Scotland; how we view ourselves collectively, and how we shape our future. This is in many senses a debate with no end, a never-ending story if you like, irrespective of the constitutional status of Scotland. But critical here is recognising the deeper anchors beyond the usual reference points: the SNP, Scotland not voting Tory, Thatcherism and Westminster. There is a much longer, deeper set of factors concerning the decline of the UK as an idea and rise of a distinct political Scotland which can be seen with their origins in the late 1950s and early 1960s – and the limits of the UK economically and politically, and how Scotland saw itself culturally and geo-politically.

Fifth, this is not just a debate about two nationalisms – Scottish nationalism and unionism which is an expression of British nationalism. That is a debate which does not speak to a large part of Scotland and leaves them cold about the big choices we face. Instead we need to create a space which allows for different Scotlands to find their voice: green, feminist, socialist, radical left, liberal, conservative and many more.

The power of doubt and breaking out of the politics of faith

Germane to this is allowing for doubt, and for people to change their minds including in public discourse and commentary. A large part of the independence debate is shaped by people who have boxed themselves into the logics of Yes and No and hence embrace without even understanding it a politics of faith and a closed mindset.

The dynamic of this in public debate is shaped by pro-union commentators assessing that the above is only found on the independence side. Hence Kenny Farquharson of The Times last week talking about a high-profile Brexiteer recanting on Brexit observed in relation to Scotland: ‘A brave column … Not difficult to imagine a similar column by an indy supporter after Scottish independence causes the expected fall in cross-border trade with rest of UK.’

The assumptions behind the thinking above is that the main tenets of independence are a denial of reality and that it is beholden to some magical mumbo-jumbo rooted in detestation of Westminster, othering of the British state, and romance about how Scotland can ‘go it alone’. Yet, many pro-union advocates like Farquharson fail to realise that his own logic can be used to show the limitations of his own position.

Independence does have questions to answer. But so too does the union. What scale of moral collapse does the UK have to embrace for some pro-union views to reconsider their views? In the past couple of days, the UK Government has enacted a one-way deportation scheme of refugees to Rwanda – the UK as a state reducing itself to the cesspit of trafficking in human beings. At the same time the same government is proposing to rip up the Northern Ireland Protocol: a treaty which was negotiated and designed by the UK Government and which by trashing involves the UK breaking international law.

If pro-union voices are not prepared to say enough is enough then they are willing to give an unconditional blank cheque to the UK to do anything, no matter how base, inhumane and illegal – and are in effect embracing a politics of blind faith: the exact charge they make of Scottish nationalists. We all have to do better than that and challenge such views.

Scottish independence has to be open, honest and mature about the risks inherent in as fundamental a change as independence. People know there are inevitable risks in such a proposal, and if this is not publicly acknowledged by its advocates, some think that the scale of risk is so big and gargantuan that it is being deliberately hidden from them. To aid such an approach, independence has to be more explicit about the fact that choices need to be made, some of which will be difficult, alongside trade-offs and compromises. It also needs to propose a clearer set of timescales and outcomes, and then slowly work towards these via incremental progress that makes improvements in the here and now, such as reducing child poverty or educational inequalities.

A final set of observations about Scotland and an independence referendum. This brings up great excitement in some and trepidation in others. That needs to be understood. But this is a live, contested issue and one Scotland has not come to a collective, settled view on.

This means that we will have an independence referendum. I don’t think this will be in October 2023 – the date Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson has named. This is in part because of the attitude of Westminster, but also because of the exhaustion of so many people – from Brexit to COVID-19 and Ukraine and worries over the cost of living.

Scottish public opinion believes that Scotland has a right to decide its own future – and in that sense is well-deposed to the independence argument. But people do not want an independence referendum for the next year or two and that sentiment should be respected and listened to and not run roughshod over. YouGov’s latest figures on a referendum in 2023 found 28% support, 59% opposition among Scottish respondents; whereas for an indyref in the next five years they found 42% support, 41% opposition.

This means that it is fine and well launching a campaign for independence but that the pronouncements of Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie are part of a longer campaign to move public opinion, frame the debate and put pressure on Westminster. In this there should be a degree of honesty of this and awareness that an indyref is not an end in itself but a means to an end and process politics.

The Scotland that needs to be convinced of independence, that does not see itself as part of the two tribes of Yes and No, and which does not subscribe to the claims of the two competing nationalisms, Scottish and British, has to be listened to and heard, as they are the ones who will define and decide our collective future.

This is a critical debate – both in terms of how we conduct it and what we decide – one which goes way beyond the claims of party and politicians – and it is vital we get it right. Independence if it is to be the spirit and substance of the future has to recognise that there are many Scotlands in our midst and that all of them have to be understood and respected.

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Comments (55)

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  1. John Learmonth says:

    But if Scotland votes for independence then those that disagree will neither be understood nor respected.

  2. Nomeansno says:

    A lot of wishful thinking there Gerry. I doubt much of it will ever happen never mind in time frame you suggest.

    1. He specifically challenges the official timeline laid out? (!)

      1. As above. says:

        Gerry suggests 5 years as a realistic timeline.

  3. 220615 says:

    Independence does need to be reframed, but not in what Gerry calls its ‘specific policy prospectus’. The appeal of independence lies precisely in its ability to be all things to all men; not so much in independence itself and more in what we variously imagine we might do if the Scottish government became independent of the UK government AND our particular kindred spirits could capture the power of that independent government. Yes, some Scots believe that ‘conventional economics are bust and have brought the world to this economic impasse’ and that a different economics is needed. But other Scots don’t share this belief and would rather capture the power of an independent Scottish government to do the same economics, only better or more competently. Similarly with respect to social/environmental justice and geopolitics. To reframe independence by aligning it with any ‘specific policy prospectus’ run the considerable risk of alienating Scots – and perhaps a majority of Scots – who don’t agree with all of some of the policies it contains.

    Independence needs to be reframed rather in its democratic prospectus. It needs to present a prospect of a future Scotland in which our public affairs will be decided not ideologically but pragmatically, in good faith, through open and latitudinarian problem-solving rather than in accordance with any specific ‘programme’ or grand theory. It needs to be reframed to present the prospect of a plural rather than a singular ‘Scotland’, a Scotland in which our various communities of place and/or kinship negotiate public policy democratically from a position of equality rather than of power.

    As Gerry says, ‘Scotland is not even that democratic in the areas of public life we have devolved power over. Think of how the Scottish Parliament and Government have sucked up power away from the likes of local government, centralising public bodies like police and fire services, while elsewhere failing to hold power to account where it transgresses and fails.’ The concentration of power in the hands of a centralised majority in Holyrood is as inimical to democracy as a centralised minority in Westminster. The prospect of an independent Scottish government that is decentralised and plural – a confederation of minorities – would appeal to and allay the fears of many/most of the various diverse communities of place and/or kinship that comprise modern Scotland.

    Yet, the constitution of a post-independence Scotland is not on the table. The infrastructure of the post-independence Scottish state is already being developed by the Scottish government bureaucracy, with minimal democratic input The current prospect of independence is of a singular, centralised, unitary state through which a centralised majority will be able to impose its particular will on society in general. This is not much different from and certainly no improvement on what we have at present. And it’s the constitution we’ll have on Independence Day regardless of all the fine talk about after-the-event ‘constitutional conventions’ and whatever.

    Independence needs to be reframed around the matter of what the constitution of a post-independence Scotland will be, the matter of how we will govern ourselves, how we will decide our public affairs, rather than around a predecision of which specific economic, social, and geopolitical policies we will pursue. It needs to be reframed around a political rather than a policy prospectus, as well as beyond a simple ‘Yes/No’.

    And this political prospectus – ‘independence’ – also needs to reach out to other communities of place and kinship both within and furth of the current UK, to tap into and engage their aspirations towards greater democracy… But that’s another story.

  4. Jake Solo says:

    “ – there is also a legitimate, rational case for the union”

    Beyond Brit Nat UKOKism?

    Would you care to make it? Just sketch it out for us. Because I’ve never seen it.

    A legitimate, rational case implies a legitimate, rational goal. Their project is to reformat the UK into a grubby English Empire. How do you legitimately and rationally argue for that?

    You don’t. You lie. Legitimately and rationally from a liar’s perspective.

    1. Norm says:

      It’s not a case that I would countenance or vote for, but…

      The case for the Union is one of dependence. It’s saying that we (Scotland) are happy to it be responsible for all our own affairs. We’re happy for someone else to make the decisions. In return for ceding sovereignty on ‘reserved’ issues we are content that we’re also ceding any real sense of democratic control.

      That is the reality of the modern Union we live in. I’m not happy with that, I want Scotland to stand up and take responsibility for all its own affairs, with the risks and benefits that brings.

      1. Norm says:

        * It’s saying that we (Scotland) are happy to not be responsible for all our own affairs.

      2. Ali says:

        Sorry, but it’s important to actually lay out the positive case for staying in the UK, and that wasn’t it.
        I think about it like this: large countries have advantages of scale, this means that (all else being equal) they have a larger GDP, larger population, likely to have more natural resources. These have knock-on effects like bigger militaries, domestic market is large enough to support a wide range of industries (and to better weather international trading slumps), and therefore more likely to have a stable currency to trade with, etc. In short, being big has many advantages.
        However, (all else being equal) small countries are much better at governance. Given the right conditions (and these tend to be present in western Europe), small countries produce governments that are able to leverage their populations to produce a better standard of living than big countries. Why this is so is genuinely still a mystery for political scientists, but my educated guess is that smaller populations are simply easier to govern; democracy is more likely to be functional in small populations, and therefore those societies get a much better deal.
        That, I believe, is the reason why Scotland is better off independent. But we should be clear-eyed about why the UK seems like the safe choice for around half the populace.

        1. Thanks Ali – you make some good points about why people cleave to a larger political unit. In terms of ‘likely to have more natural resources’ this is just not the case in the UK with Scotland having significant more abundance of tidal and wind energy as a resource as well as water, and, previously oil.

        2. Niemand says:

          Is there also still some issues of identity, especially amongst older voters? Scottish and British? This is probably one of the hardest things to understand for some but also perhaps the hardest to change? This dual identity has undoubtedly diminished over the years, but, quietly, is it still quite a deep factor for some?

          1. Ali says:

            Yes, I think that’s right. I just wrote a reply that was swallowed by internet gremlins, but the upshot is that older voters are much more likely to consider their identity as ‘British’, and much less likely to vote Yes in 2014 (polls ranged from 29-34% for 65+).
            This is a big problem for indy2, as these voters have not gone away, and are much less likely to change their mind compared to younger voters, as well as being much more likely to vote in the first place. This means that the indy2 campaign will most likely have to ignore the largest and most important voting contingent, and concentrate its resources on swaying female voters, and affluent voters. Any Yes vote is therefore almost guaranteed to be a close vote, which is not great. Starting a new country requires a lot of public good will, and Brexit-style division would be a disaster for this.

  5. Observer says:

    Russia did not invade the Donbas in 2014. It fomented and supported a local uprising in response to the coup in Kiev. These uprisings also took place in the likes of Odessa. Even now a huge amount of the street fighting is being done by the LPR/DPR militias.

    We are fortunate in Scotland not to have any significant territorial disputes or ethnic groups who identify with another nation (Yes, even Larkhall doesn’t count). If we did, the SNP would be even more slavishly pro NATO to try to keep key players on board.

    Those who still see Indy as a route to socialist or pacifist/ neutral Scotland are going to be disappointed.

  6. Niemand says:

    Excellent article Gerry., thanks for saying these things. Most very obvious but somehow have little traction. Such is the way when things are so divisive and polarised. It may sound odd but I think one of the keys to gaining autonomy is to recognise that not wanting it is also legitimate, as you then have better chance of changing minds because you build respect. Call me naive but this simple idea is what is needed across most political debate these days more than ever.

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Many thanks for your response.

      I 100% agree with sentiments and think it needs to be said and resaid for the reasons you pose.

      To argue that there is a rational and legitimate case for the union is not to agree with it but to do a number of positive things:

      1. It aids the wider debate and aids the indy case to recognise it is not the only argument with a rationale; 2. It forces indy to improve how it makes its case; 3. It is a challenge to those on the indy side who say there is no case for the union – which can lead to self-delusion and then bad politics such as why is an indyref not happening now/immediately; 4. It contributes to a better chance that voters might make the right choice abt Scotland’s future by a debate which is more informed and connected to reality.

      I do get it that this is tough for some folk who want to deny the above. But completely believing the mantras of the most passionate parts of your own side as analysis and strategy is usually never good politics. As I say throughout the piece – the indy movement needs to think and speak to the many different Scotlands – and how it convinces the Scotland beyond Yes.

  7. Colin Kirkwood says:

    Gerry’s paper is very good and nuanced, as is the reply by 220615. I have always regarded myself as a scottish nationalist who is simultaneously a scottish internationalist. That’s why I argue for self-government, decentralisation and fundamental democratisation. I hold that there is no such thing as independence. If the question is still put as “independence” I will vote for it but with feelings of being manipulated by a narrow SNP/ALBA elite. The aspirations of the plurality of “peoples” of England and Wales and Ireland North and South are equally important to me. What is distinctive and important for us as Scottish “peoples” is that if we vote for a sensible reconstruction prospectus that is sane and doable without bloodshed, then our brothers and sisters in England, Wales and Ireland will increasingly feel: we want that too. This is, therefore, an opportunity for inter-national and intra-national dialogue, as distinct from what is going on in Russia and Ukraine right now. It must not be an anti-English or anti-England movement. So for me the central question, the central task is: formulating the question sensibly. I want a transformation that is ethical and dialogical, inviting a plurality of voices to talk to each other. Surely that is doable? Could bellacaledonia lead a pluralist movement to formulate the question constructively, and model a rational and dialogical referendum?

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      I agree with the general gist of your analysis and nearly all of the specifics as well.

      I am not the greatest fan of ‘independence’ on some levels preferring interindependent, self-government and self-determination. But independence is how the issue is understood and framed in Scotland, the UK and internationally. And within that term we can explore different interpretations and traditions.

      1. ST says:

        Gerry I think everyone in this forum agrees there should be change. What form that takes is the debate that is and will take place. If the ” status quo ” can no longer exist,and even No voters want that change, then what is on offer to those who would vote No. ? You refer to interdependence and this is likely the final destination for an ” Indy ” Scotland. Close links to England/ Ruk but still autonomy.
        However to negotiate to that place, as with any negotiation, we need to start from a position of ” strength ” . That means persuading soft No voters that post Indy they will contribute to a final Independence settlement and their voices will be heard

        1. 220616 says:

          ‘However to negotiate to that place, as with any negotiation, we need to start from a position of ” strength ” . That means persuading soft No voters that post Indy they will contribute to a final Independence settlement and their voices will be heard.’

          And that requires offering some prospectus on what the democratic mechanism through which their contribution will be made and their voices heard in defining a post-independence Scotland will be. That’s what’s entirely lacking; that’s the position of ‘weakness’ from which the negotiation is starting.

          But it’s good to see some independentistas starting to reframe independence as a negotiation among Scots rather than a ‘winner-takes-all’ tribal battle between binary opposites.

  8. Ali says:

    Very sensible post. It is troubling to those of us who have scottish independence as a goal that we may waste another chance on a tired, distracted electorate. I’m afraid that the hard core independistas are a danger to the cause. Having said that, Johnson visibly denying the will of the scottish parliament might convince some dont knows…

  9. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    I am up for this – as Gerry is clear – the most important conversation of our present times.

    I attended the webinar earlier this week (Yes for Europe) in which Anthony Barnett presented the case for involving Europe in this discussion, and that is a question that comes under Gerry’s ‘geopolitics’ heading, I think. Barnett was making the point that a decision made by Scots in 2023 (or whenever) will determine the future shape and direction of the whole of the existing ‘United Kingdom’, and therefore, arguably, play a part in global politics as we go forward into the aspect that Gerry omitted in this short piece – the larger climate crisis which, I would argue, is the context for a kind of general ‘madness’ in the affairs of humankind.

    I look forward to the book, Gerry!

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Thanks for those comments Mary; the argument put forward by Anthony Barnett is one I generally support and have respect for.

  10. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    Another consideration to be addressed in this conversation is the need for what Alastair McIntosh calls ‘cultural psychotherapy’ (Hell & High Water, 2008). The ‘madness’ that is evident in the world of the human currently – in its lemming-like stampede towards ecological catastrophe, with all the attendant political shenanigans and criminal military aggression that entails – requires just such an exercise as we try to find an alternative, responsible, ‘adult’ way forward that will ensure the ongoing existence – and eventual flourishing – of the whole biosphere.

  11. Squigglypen says:

    Interesting how other nations seem to have no problem deciding their own futures and obtaining independence while Scotland is beset by folk like you Mr Hassan jibbering on about..’critical here is recognising the deeper anchors beyond the usual reference points’….eh?
    Dreadful that our present government should be grabbing powers!…..yes grab them before Westminister finds a way to take them.No political party is honest..just look at the Conservatives…who wants to ‘be better together’ with that shower.

    We are a nation locked in a toxic union and must find a way to extricate ourselves from this mess. …the sooner the better. It’s not yes or no..it’s survival.

    1. 220616 says:

      ‘We… must find a way to extricate ourselves from this mess…’

      Agreed. Everyman and his dog agrees with this. But why are you so agin our discussing as a nation what this mess is and how we might extricate ourselves from it? You clearly have your own convictions on the matter, but why should we accept your convictions as authoritative?

      1. Gerry Hassan says:

        Every man and his dog does not agree that ‘we need to extricate ourselves from this mess’.

        That is point number one. There is no widespread consensus across Scotland for that view. You can make that case and push that argument; but do not misjudge your views as being that of wider Scottish public opinion. It is a FACT that the case for independence has not been won, nor the case for an indyref in the immediate future.

        And no one’s views – including my own – should be beyond challenge or treated as the gospel. That goes for the SNP, Greens, pro-union parties. The views I have expressed above are grounded in analysis, academic research, evidence and facts – and are more fully explored in m y forthcoming book: Scotland Rising: The Case for Independence.

        I do understand the passions and emotions on part of the indy side which cause folk to think things which are actually counter-productuve to the indy side – but they have to be resisted if Scotland is to achieve a sizeable enough majority to become independent, unite as a society and then mobilise our collective resources to make a success of it.

        1. 220616 says:

          I was speaking more generally, Gerry. I can’t think of anyone – right, left, or centre – who thinks we’re ‘existentially’ in a good place at the moment. There’s no consensus on how we get ourselves into a better place (e.g. by making Scottish government independent of UK government or working for reform within the current union) or even what that better place might be (a social democracy or a liberal democracy or some or other form of non-democratic, authoritarian regime), but even if there is no consensus about what sort of future we should be working towards, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the present.

          I’m actually agreeing with you: ‘we need to create a space which allows for different Scotlands to find their voice: green, feminist, socialist, radical left, liberal, conservative and many more’; independence needs to be reframed as the creation of such a space rather than in terms of any specific (and partisan) policy prospectus.

          1. Gerry Hassan says:

            We are then 100% in agreement.

            We need to be imaginative, innovative and daring in aspiring to create those different spaces you identify. And a key element of this is the plural: not looking at one solution or one type of space. Rather it is critical we dare to imagine a plethora and eco-system of places, platforms and spaces.

            One obstacle in this is the conformist, controlling mindset of the SNP which has not shown any propensity to aid or allow such initiatives; and indeed even more has such down the potential of public institutions to support and enable such interventions. One question abt such activities is how do the SNP and Scot Govt shift to having a more creative, generous attitude to such activities? And how can a culture of this be aided – which is not captured by the system and not oppositionalist but allows a thousand flowers to bloom?

            If the SNP were to even understand the nature of this it would be a small start and step in the right direction …

          2. 220616 says:

            Thanks, Gerry. I eagerly anticipate the publication of Scotland Rising and its contribution to the reframing of independence.

  12. Gerry Hassan says:

    Thanks for your wishes. We can but hope. At the same time it will take a collective effort from lots of us to reframe the debate.

  13. Paddy Farrington says:

    “One obstacle in this is the conformist, controlling mindset of the SNP which has not shown any propensity to aid or allow such initiatives”, writes Gerry in a reply. I fear this view is borne of the same mindset that he rightly castigates elsewhere. (Similar complaints originate from the hardline wing of the pro-independence movement.) How does this sit with recent experience? For example, the fact that the Scottish Greens now front the independence project alongside the SNP, and the occasional collaboration of the SNP with Believe in Scotland (BiS), the most effective umbrella organisation of the Yes movement?

  14. florian albert says:

    In a letter to the Herald, Jim Sillars writes of the need for a document that addresses the main issues, ‘trade and borders, debt and currency, the use and importance of all energy resources and the geography and geopolitics that places us within the NATO sphere of influence.’

    Not for the first time, he has written the must succinct analysis of where we are now and how far this is from the Scotland which the progressive left would like to see created.

    Two things stand out; first how little has been done – particularly by the SNP – to address these topics in the eight years since the 2014 referendum. Second, the sharpest mind on the pro-independence side is well into his ninth decade.

    1. 220617 says:

      What we need is a document that addresses the main constitutional issue of how and by whom these substantive economic, social, and geopolitical issues of economics will be decided. It’s the settlement of this prior constitutional issue that will shape our future independence.

      We often talk of ‘independence’ as if it was an event. But it’s not an event; it’s a process. And what we lack is any prospectus from the Scottish government of what and how democratic that process will be. I won’t be voting for (or against) independence until I know (and am happy with) its proposed process.

  15. Liz Gardiner says:

    Brilliantly observed as always Dr Hassan

  16. Norm says:

    I take issue with opinion polling being cited as an accurate measure of public opinion.

    Opinion polling is a blunt instrument, it brings people down binary (or limited) choices and in doing so strips out the complexities of each of us as individuals. It can take a pulse, but it’s only that. Not a full diagnosis.

    In a similar way that the best time for Scotland to actually be independent is always yesterday (so we can get to work building a new Scotland), I can see how the best time for a referendum is never tomorrow.

    I’d suggest that the YouGov polling suggests that people accept that we need to have a referendum relatively soon. But ask people if they want to pin that down to next year? Well how are we to know? E.g. You might support Yes, but are unsure if 2023 is strategically the best chance we can win.

    The fact is that opinion polling can’t capture the nuance of thinking WHY people selected those options. Again, it’s a blunt tool.

    That’s we elect politicians to lead governments, that take decisions on our behalf. They have to weigh up all the aspects, and make the decisions.

    Watching Debate Night (not a usual watch for me), I was struck that generally the audience weren’t clambering to say “oh it’s too soon”. So while the opinion polling might suggest otherwise, I think the public will be ready for a referendum in 2023 and to settle the type of democracy we want Scotland to be.

    1. 220617 says:

      I like your optimism that ‘we’ will be any more involved in building a new Scotland than we are at present simply in virtue of Scottish government becoming independent of UK government. That all rather depends on what will be the constitution of an independent Scottish government (who decides what and how) and, more importantly, how THIS is to be decided and the precedent that the process by which THIS is decided will set for our future governance. The Scottish government is suspiciously silent on the latter prospect.

      1. 220617 says:

        Basically, my fear is that just making Scottish government independent of UK government won’t in itself change the Scottish establishment – the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised in Scotland – nor will it advance the prospect of such change. To advance the prospect of such change, we need to make regime change a condition of that independence rather than (mis)place our faith in its being a consequence; in particular, we need to make the political process of independence itself more democratic than the political processes we have a present.

        1. Ali says:

          Yes, I agree with this. But I don’t think it’s as simple as saying we should set out a new framework for governance in an independent scotland. We can try to do so, but whatever we come up with will need to change as and when conditions inevitably change in iScotland. As for me, improving the scottish parliament’s committees is vital to the health of our governance…holyrood was ‘designed’ to have a strong committee system, but it has been overwhelmed by Party politics, especially where one party (the SNP) is able to dominate so thoroughly.

          1. 220617 says:

            Indeed! And, for myself, I’m thinking of a framework of governance that will be agile enough to accommodate and adapt to diversity and change; a framework of liquid democracy that involves constant collaboration among everyone who has a stake in the decision being made and the continuous review and incremental improvement of the decision-making process at every stage of that process; a framework that values individuals and interactions (people) over processes and tools (bureaucracy), solutions over customary practice, collaboration and negotiation over conflict, competition, and power, and problem-solving over the implementation of ideological programmes.

            I specifically have in mind a much more decentralised state, in which decision-making power is devolved or localised to stakeholder communities (as opposed to its nationalisation in a centralised state), with that power being upwardly delegated on the principle of strict subsidiarity.

            As I’m never done pontificating, simply making Scottish government independent of UK government will leave the Scottish establishment – the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercise in Scotland and all the injustices that flow from the structure of those relations – intact. It will essentially change nothing except the colour of the current status quo.

        2. Stan Reeves says:

          Will you do this? Or should someone else? Who will it be I wonder?

          1. 220617 says:

            Do what? Reframe the independence debate as a debate about wider democracy rather than (just) about narrow national sovereignty?

            That will be up to those of us who are so minded to do as part of the ongoing national discussion of independence.

  17. Stan Reeves says:

    I am sorry to say there is nothing new here for me. Both sides are as bad as each other and don’t have Gerry’s profound , complex and nuaunced grasp of the situation. ??
    The debate needs reframed? Is there something else I have missed in the article
    What of course is missing is any proposals for a way forward. One commentator suggest making a constitution, and moans about the SNP not having made one. Why has he not made one? Its not hard, get a load of people together and ask how should Scotland be run? Write it up and go. we did loads of these political dialogues in the 1990’sRemember “Towards a Scottish parliament”
    I have dispared of so called progressive, leftist voices in Scotland since I returned from the radical hotbed of change in London in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
    There I was involved in joyful collective direct action . Adventure Playgrounds, Street theatre, Arts lab, squatting, taking down railing in private parks, Independent left publications.
    Return to Scotland “thats just hippies tinkering son! We are working to replace capital with a proletarian revolution.” Go on then! I’m waiting!
    What I have struggled with is the negative oppositionalism of the Left. We need to move from Opposition to Proposition.
    Practical methods of how to organise collective direct action.
    I have plenty of these after 40 years of doing so, while being looked on sceptically by a left movement fearful of taking any action less it be laughed at. That for me is the core of inaction in Scotland. A presbyterian fear of being thought a balloon!
    Now I know I am generalising here, but some few specific positive actions, does not refute the generality that everyone is waiting for a slightly left of centre SNP to deliver independence, while they sit on there arses moaning about them. Read some history. Where are the Eastonian choirs opposing the Russians. Where are the 4 brave suffragettes who in a single night travelled from the central belt, burned down 3 Perthshire mansions, marched 20 miles or so over wintery mountains to train out to escape detection. Need I go on?
    I have been on the marches critiqued by the left commentators from the comfort of the keyboard. Half a dozen working class men with the minimum of infrastructure just messily getting on with it.
    I am in my 70’s now I just wish someone would do something I could join in with! Any suggestions.

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Have you tried the University of the Third Age? You did ask for something you could join in your 70s.

      1. Stan Reeves says:

        Aye very good Gerry!! Make me a list of propositions and I’ll take them to my tutor!

    2. 220617 says:

      My moan wasn’t that the Scottish government hasn’t made a constitution, but that it hasn’t produced a prospectus on how such a constitution would be made as part of the process of independence; i.e. on what an independent Scottish government would actually look like.

      And I did produce such a prospectus myself – ‘Devolution and the Constitution of a Free Country’ – which I submitted under the pseudonym ‘Scallywag’ to the Smith Commission of Devolution in 2014.

      1. Stan Reeves says:

        Now that sounds interesting!! How do I get a copy!??

        1. 220617 says:

          I’ve no idea. It was a piece of ephemera; after eight years, it will long since have disappeared into the aether. If the Smith Commission held on to the 18,381 submissions it received from members of the public, it might be in the National Archives somewhere. I can’t imagine where else you might access it.

  18. Gerry Hassan says:

    The last comment by 220617 is an illuminatiing one – the process of doing mattering as much as what is formally done; this is understood around the world in relatioon to constitution building.

    One thread running through this discussion is an impatience with critique and in particular, the endless talk of the commentariat. That is pretty understandable. But we do need informed critique, debate and challenge of the SNP’s groupthink, absence of strategy, and its pale, defensive social democracy.

    We do in any critique need to offer alternatives and in the piece above I have suggested numerous ways of how independence and politics can be done differently. Specifics also include developing a policy prospectus which does not get captured by thinking a defence of the status quo within Scotland is somehow going to be enough to change Scotland or win independence.

    The SNP’s 15 years has been built on the exact opposite: of appearing to be all things to all men and women, while deliberately forsaking any fundamental or structural reforms within Scotland for fear of annoying any powerful interest group. That might be successful in the short to medium term in shoring up the SNP’s electoral dominance, but its shortcomings are obvious for all to see from the unhappy state of Scotland on any public policy measurement, to our public realm crumbing, and the health of independence.

    1. Paddy Farrington says:

      I am one of those profoundly frustrated by “the endless talk of the commentariat”. I completely agree that informed critique and constructive challenge, including of the SNP, are needed (indeed I have my own criticisms of the SNP leadership). Certainly, I value what you write, Gerry. But I also think that focusing entirely on the limitations of the SNP misses something far more important about Scottish politics. I’ll be direct: there is a laziness about it that irks me.

      Why is it, for example, that the radical campaigning experience of RIC was not sustained post-2014? Why did RISE completely fail to gain any traction? Or any other left group since (NOW Scotland seems to have disappeared entirely)? Why did the post-2014 mobilisations of AUOB, despite their size, fail to shift opinion outside the Yes movement? Why has no effective campaigning group on the left (other than increasingly successful Scottish Greens, now in alliance with the SNP) emerged since 2014? To me these questions raise deep issues about what the left has to say, how it presents its case, and how it engages with the Scottish people. It is not a story of success, in spite of the extraordinary launch-pad of 2014, and I’d like to see a proper analysis as to why this is the case. And I’ll say it straight off: blaming the SNP for the left’s failure to develop any lasting traction is simply not credible. (It’s the kind of argument that Alba deploy to explain away their own entirely predictable failure.)

      And yet all we get are lectures about how unimaginative and lacking in ideas the SNP is. Yet, objectively, it also is Europe’s most successful left-of-centre party (with the Portuguese socialists a close second). This was never guaranteed: the norm, after mass displays of people power like we had in 2014, is for the status quo to reassert itself pretty fast (think France May 1968-9, Portugal 1974-5). The fact that the SNP has actually increased its vote share over an 8-year period also needs proper analysis, rather than being taken for granted, and disparaged. The truth is that majority opinion in Scotland rather seems to likes the left-centrist safety of the SNP. And, for us Yessers, that is what, after all, gives us the chance of having a second go at the prize.

      My own view of the matter – very undeveloped – is that it is strategically naive to attack the SNP for being centrist. We need the political centre to be occupied by a pro-independence party: if it were occupied by a Unionist party, all hope of self-determination would be lost. So shifting the SNP to the left is not the point. Our aim, rather, should be to help shift the political centre of society to the left. If we are to succeed in our aim of independence, the ideas of progressive self-determination need to become near-hegemonic in Scottish society. This is an entirely different proposition from ‘shifting the SNP the the left’, as it requires changing the balance of forces in wider society. The left (at least its non-entryist components) used to be about doing just that. Where has that ambition gone?

      1. stan reeves says:

        Paddy is right. The task of the left should aways be to engage openly and directly with working people to persuade them that centreism will not deliver any change for the better for them, and to demand more of those in power. So campaigns of direct action as per RIC were inspiring and effective. Actually stepping away from the keyboard and engaging in local issues and campaigns in collaboration with folk gives the left some credibility.

        1. 220618 says:

          I agree, Stan (and Paddy); community development is just as important as critique in challenging the status quo.

          It’s not an ‘either/or’, however. Neither has to be pursued at the exclusion of the other.

      2. Gerry Hassan says:

        Thanks for that Paddy and you raise a lot of penetrating questions.

        I understand your point abt the seemingly endless commentariat criticism of the SNP. One point is that the SNP are in govt and hence subject to legitimate criticism and scrutiny; but much of is scattergun. In my writing I have over the piece tried to locate any criticism of the SNP in a wider understanding of the arc of the nationalist movement, devolution, politics and society. The point being the rise and dominance of the SNP did not happen in isolation – and nor have its weaknesses.

        We have to understand the bigger context of this: the changing experiences and views of the people of Scotland which has shifted how they see the idea(s) of Scotland. And critical to answering your last question is who makes up that shifting set of ideas and how we collectively do agency (and do so beyond party). That is a terrain in which some of the disappointments post-2014 have to be seen in that longer arc: the legacy of conservative Scotland, institutional inertia and a propensity to groupthink in mainstream Scotland. And all of this affects our politics and how we conceive of social and political change and even independence. The first step is understanding this; and then aiding initiatives and a politics which challenges this.

    2. florian albert says:

      Gerry Hassan writes of the SNP avoiding reforms for fear of alienating ‘any powerful interest group’.

      The most powerful interest group that the SNP backs away from is the prosperous middle class. This class is mostly content with the economic status quo. It favours a slightly different status quo to the Westminister model but it is dead set against any change that affects its material prosperity. Put crudely, it is against redistribution of its wealth to create a more equal and fairer society.

      When RISE, in 2016 and Alba, in 2019, offered a more left wing alternative both failed miserably. It was no surprize that these two parties failed to win middle class support. The real failure was to win support from those whom radical change promised to benefit.
      There were several failures here; there was no credible policy to attract such voters – in the way that housing has proved the basis for a surge in support for Sinn Fein in the Irish Republlc. Scotland’s progressive left is overwhelmingly middle class – an unrepresentative minority of that class – and detached from the post-industrial working class. The Scottish left has no leaders. They do matter in presenting your case to the voters.

      1. 220618 says:

        Not even the ‘prosperous middle class’; the centre ground in Scottish politics is the constituency of ‘Middle Scotland’, the vast majority of mortgaged Scots who are ‘doing just alright’, enjoy modest lifestyles, and who swing votes. If the SNP frightens those horses and loses the centre ground, it loses all hope of delivering independent Scottish government democratically.

        1. 220618 says:

          ‘doing alright… just’ would be a better locution.

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