Reading between the lines
A lot of very unhappy people on social media who were expecting the First Minister to announce a date on Friday. They are annoyed and lashing out, cancelling SNP subscriptions and calling for Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation. Edinburgh Yes Hub which organised the event outside Holyrood received 35 messages from people who had intended to take part but decided against after the speech. A few folk mentioned themselves or family members cancelling SNP subscriptions. Another mentioned that after the speech three LibDem friends had joined the SNP. So not all bad.
So is the response of many justified, given the possibility of their reactions severly damaging the independence cause? Royal assent for the Referendums Bill coincided with the passage, in the Scottish Parliament, of the motion for a second independence referendum. The first had been scheduled for royal assent at this time for almost a year. The second was presumably to coincide with Brexit to remind Westminster and the EU that Scotland voted against leaving the EU and wanted the right to decide its own future instead of having that dictated to us by a Tory government we didn’t vote for.
Added to this was the fact the First Minister’s update was held at Dynamic Earth and not in Bute House, probably because of the small size of the usual venue and the number of foreign journalists in Edinburgh to record the Scottish reaction to leaving the EU. But all three events coming together looked like deliberate tactics in the run-up to a major announcement. Because so many are desperate for the referendum to take place, this alignment raised sky-high hopes and expectations that a date would be announced.
Achieving independence was never going to be easy and was always going to be a long haul, so perhaps we need to be more measured in our anticipation of what such announcements will bring, become more accomplished at interpreting the political runes and more adept at reading between the lines.
Honesty is a rarity in politics in these days of misinformation, news manipulation and downright lies. Yet when our First Minister gives her honest appraisal of where we are on the indy road, and what still needs to be achieved, the reaction was horror, fury, gnashing of teeth, stomping off in disgust and calling for the resignation of a leader widely acclaimed and highly regarded across Europe and beyond because many believe they know better.
Many are grumping that there was nothing new in the First Minister’s speech, that it was basically the same as the last few speeches she had given at conferences and other events. This might be true but there is probably much that needs repeating. However, on listening again the speech on Friday appeared to have five aims:
Aim number 1
Firstly, the First Minister spoke to Yessers, reiterating that, despite all the courses of action postulated on social media and in numerous discussions wherever Yessers gather, there was no easy route to independence. It had to be the legal route and for that, however much we might dislike it, the agreement of Westminster was required to hold a referendum and for the result to be accepted. We can believe the Scottish people are sovereign, believe we have the right to determine our own future, believe we can just walk away from Westminster and declare UDI, but at the end of the day Scotland has a devolved parliament controlled by Westminster.
The thinking behind this is covered in a recent paper by Chris McCorkindale, Senior Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Strathclyde, and Aileen McHarg, Professor of Public Law and Human Rights, at the University of Durham. – ‘Constitutional Pathways to a Second Scottish Independence Referendum’ Presumably it is advice similar to this that the First Minister has received from her legal and constitutional advisors. So her message to Yessers was stay the course, have patience, independence will come.
Aim number 2
Secondly, part of the First Minister’s speech appeared to be aimed at European politicians, reminding them as the UK left the EU that Scotland voted to remain, and that we want to return after independence. In the run-up to 2014 vote, Spain was seen as a hindrance to Scotland rejoining the EU, but since then Spanish politicians have made very clear that, providing independence is obtained legally and within the UK constitution, it has no problem with Scotland’s membership. This is, of course the stance of all 27 other EU members. The positive coverage in Europe of the First Minister’s speech was referred to in a brief video by Pilar Fernandez here.
The speech contained a reassurance that Scotland sought independence by those very means. Attitudes in the EU to Scottish independence are said to have changed quite radically since 2014, due no doubt to the shambolic Brexit process and cabinet ministers who gave every impression of being inept and not on top of their briefs. But the change in attitude is undoubtedly also down to the work the Scottish Government has done in Europe and elsewhere, setting up trade hubs, engaging positively in talks with politicians and others, and wholeheartedly playing a part in major initiatives such as responses to climate change. An understanding of Scotland’s position, and backing from a wide range of senior European politicians and officials could help significantly with our speedy EU membership, and perhaps also with gaining independence. Obvious support from many of these people will carry some weight in Westminster which has the rocky rapids of trade talks to navigate.
Aim number 3
Thirdly, the independence referendum question is to be submitted to the Electoral Commission. This was determined by opposition parties when consideration was being given to the Referendums Bill, so this is a move determined by an act of the Scottish Parliament. Now that the bill has received royal assented the stipulation is being acted on. This indicates another step forward on the road to an independence referendum and sends a message to Boris Johnson that an indref remains on the table.
Aim number 4
The fourth point was again aimed at the converted. Many people on social media are berating the repetition of the ‘wait, wait, wait’ strategy being pursued by the Scottish Government. The rise of support for independence in the recent YouGov poll to 51% is welcome, but still within margin of error. Yes, in 2014 the vote was 45%, having started in the mid twenties. But at that time we gathered in the low hanging fruit, the votes that were easiest to get, from those whom it was easiest to persuade. This time we start from a higher baseline, but those we need to persuade are more difficult to turn. Old rhetoric won’t wash. We need an updated approach to win over these voters. Brexit has undoubtedly helped, especially amongst those who want to remain in the EU. But we have lost folk who believe in independence but don’t want to be in the EU. So we need to find ways to reach those Yessers as well as those who are still No or are swithering.
Numerous frustrated indy supporters have tweeted that 50% plus one vote is fine, it’s a majority, that the EU referendum wasn’t won by a large margin and that, despite it being a consultative referendum, now has legality and legitimacy in spades. But can the EU referendum actually be compared with a Scottish independence referendum? Brexit has been simmering since the UK joined the EU 47 years ago. Even before that there was vociferous hostility to joining.
It has been kept on the boil by an enormously influential right-wing media, with candidates and referendum enjoying an endless flow of finance from numerous quarters (including it is averred monies from the US, Russia and elsewhere), and the backing of some large businesses, a well financed campaign, dirty tricks and lies, and of course the input of Cambridge Analytica. An indyref in comparison will be financed by the small donations of grassroots members, with the support of one newspaper. The Tory Government and those pro-Brexit unionist forces would never allow an indyref with a very small majority to be seen as legitimate, and every effort to crush a fledging new nation before it even took its first breath would be employed. So work still to be done to raise that percentage.
Aim number 5
Fifthly, the constitutional convention – something for those who are still against independence and those swithering. They have been told they will have a say, unlike Scotland in the Brexit negotiations. Yet there were moans about yet another useless talking shop, if opposition parties even agree to take part. Unlike the confrontational, divisive and threatening thrust of Westminster politics, the SNP believes in working through persuasion, something it has had to do when a minority government. This is the way the EU works. Indeed Heather Anderson (former MEP for four days) commented on this recently on The Nine, impressed by the way MEPs worked cross-party, inputting ideas and reaching compromises to achieve results. This is the way the SNP wants to move forward. Having a percentage larger than 50% plus one makes a convention more likely, with opposition parties aware of rising majority support for independence.
Nicola Sturgeon has always said that independence was not an end on its own. Independence was only the first step to achieve a more caring, progressive country. To achieve this, others need taken along that road. By asking members of other parties and civic Scotland to come forward with visions of the type of country they want to live in brings people together, feeling they have a stake in forming the new Scotland, that it isn’t merely an SNP project to be shunned. With at least some of these people contributing it widens the debate from an SNP debate to a general Scotland-wide discussion about what kind of country we want, giving snapshots of what is possible with independence, how lives can be made better for all, allaying fears and providing reassurance. With this buy-in independence becomes more likely. It also might provide a basis for a new constitution for Scotland.
UNISON is Scotland’s largest trade union. The news that its Scottish Council has overwhelmingly backed Scotland’s right to choose its future in a referendum, at a time to be determined, not by Westminster but by the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, is a significant step towards building the consensus our First Minister sees as essential.
To create the new progressive Scotland we envisage we must have as many people on board as possible, otherwise we will face an uphill battle to make it happen, and what then will our years of struggle have been worth? Unlike the sad video clips of so many Brexiters in the last couple of days who spoke airily of laws and infrastructure being returned from Europe (and Germany in particular), of freedom, trade with the rest of the world, blue passports – all showing they were without any vision for the future except a return to what they’ve been sold as the halcyon days of empire, where skins were white and only English was spoken. A new Scotland needs flesh added to fine words, ideas to take us forward, widely accepted aims to ensure we play our part in the twenty first century world.
So, reading between the lines, the First Minister’s speech contained quite a bit to think about. More folk still to convert, images of what we want in our new Scotland need drawn and coloured in, and the pressure on Johnson and the Tory Westminster government must be ramped up. Many think Johnson will never agree to a section 30 order or a second indyref, yet the Scottish Government has not ruled that out. Possibly, just possibly, they may know some things that we in the grassroots don’t.