Political analysts like Professor James Mitchell and John Curtice, together with political journalists, several years ago used to say the battle between "gradualists" and "fundamentalists" in the SNP, had ended. The terminology, barely accurate when it was first coined, is hardly ever used now but the arguments which it was supposed to represent look as if they are about to be resurrected. As someone who was dubbed "the Godfather of fundamentalism" by Ian Macwhirter, I have a personal interest in making sure that the terminology, if it is to get a new lease of life, is at least half accurate.
Jim Sillars once said that the most useful tactic used by political activists, is to hang a label round an opponent's neck, then everything that is said can be ignored, or the label attacked, rather than the political arguments addressed. I never referred to myself as a "fundamentalist", I was quite happy being a Nationalist but opponents inside the SNP liked to claim that Nationalists who took my particlar stance in the debates on devolution, which bedevilled the party at the time, stood for "Independence or nothing". That was never the case, but that was much easier to attack than "Independence nothing less", which was a much more accurate description of the political stance we adopted. Then, it was claimed "Fundamentalists" were right wing, particularly if they also opposed the EU and the euro (they were invariably said to be anti-European and narrow Nationalists) as opposed to the "left-wing" (and therefore more righteous and "internationalist") "gradualists" and pro-EU and euro, members of the party. Lazy journalists lapped it up and so the myths were born.
The debates, were catagorised as arguments between those who would accept nothing but independence, which had to be achieved in one step by a unilateral declaration of independence (fundamentalists) and those who wanted to take a step-by-step or gradualist approach. A devolved parliament or assembly would be set up, followed after a period of time in which Scots would "prove themselves" to be capable of looking after their own affairs, by a stronger parliament with more power until one day, in 100 years perhaps, Scotland would be an independent nation state once again. In fact, the debates were about strategy and tactics, not the final destination, which was agreed as being "independence" by the vast majority of the SNP membership at that time. There were always a few who were prepared to settle for less but they were in the minority, although the impression given now, is that there is a far greater proportion of the party membership, including some of the current leaders, who would be prepared to settle for a great deal less than independence. The difficulty the party has in actually defining what it means by independence, its readiness to call every position "independence", no matter how diluted, suggests the final destination is no longer the "restoration of sovereignty" or the establishment of an independent Scottish nation state.
The so-called fundamentalists argued that a Scottish assembly or parliament with limited powers, would never be set up by Westminster, if that was what was campaigned for. Whatever demands were made by the SNP, would be diluted by Westminster, which would grant only as little as they could get away with. It made more sense for those who were prepared to settle for devolution, or who saw devolution as a first step, to campaign hard for independence because if the pressure on Westminster could be maintained and, more importantly, if the Scottish people looked as if they were prepared to vote for independence, Westminster would offer something less, something the devolutionists would find acceptable, as a first step. The rest is history, as they say. Now, it looks as if the debates about the final destination, are a bit more important than they were the last time and that what is being portrayed as a debate about strategy and tactics, is actualy a debate about rather more; in fact a debate about independence itself.
Elsewhere in this blog, I have argued that using sterling after a "Yes" vote in the referendum on independence, would be a mistake. I have also given the reasons why it would be a mistake, reasons which have been amplified by other economic commentators, some who are sympathetic to the cause of independence. I have criticised the SNP's use of "Fiscal autonomy" as a substitute for independence and fortunately, the crisis in the eurozone has highlighted the problems such a policy would create. Elements inside the SNP are very concerned to emphasise that even if Scotland voted "Yes" in the referendum, we would still be British, because we "would share defence bases and the monarchy". Alex Salmond himself, has gone to great lengths to argue there would still be a United Kingdom, of which an "independent Scotland" would remain a part. In fact, a non-SNP member of the electorate might be forgiven for asking, "Why are we having a referendum if so little is to change and independence means so little?"
As fiscal autonomy began to fall out of favour, Devo-Max became the next favourite, although it had to be defined. Now, Devo-Plus, which has been defined to a greater degree, seems to be the next favourite and is depicted as being less than both fiscal autonomy or Devo-Max, but more than the current range of powers enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament. None of this augurs well for what will finally appear on the referendum ballot paper. Both Jim Sillars and Gordon Wilson have made known their opposition to the inclusion of Devo-Plus on the referendum ballot paper, Sillars arguing that it could kill the prospect for independence completely. It is hard to argue against that point of view and we have come full circle with debates within the SNP about the strategy and tactics to be employed in the pursuit of - well what exactly?
Salmond and the SNP leadership is doing its best to promote the idea that the party is in favour of independence and only independence while, at the same time, it is promoting the inclusion of some kind of second question on the ballot paper, but trying to lay the blame on somebody else. However keen Salmond might be to include a second question on the ballot paper, does it make tactical sense for the SNP to argue for its inclusion? An alleged "source" has told The Scotsman the SNP would settle for Devo-Plus if the people of Scotland voted "No". Party activists have attacked "the Hootsman" as usual but no official denial has emanated from the SNP leadership and until it does, we have to assume the "source" is correct. This kind of selective leaking to and use of, the media, is such a well known tactic of the well oiled SNP press office, I have absolutely no doubt it is true. In fact, I have held the opinion for some years that the current leadership of the SNP would be only too happy to settle for a great deal less than the restoration of sovereignty to the Scottish people and an independent Scottish nation state.
That is a personal point of view but I have provided the reasons for holding it on a number of web sites and in a number of newspaper articles. Unfortunately, the closer we get to the time when the referendum will have to be held, the more convinced I become that my fears are well-founded. Cameron has already promised, for what it is worth, greater powers for the Scottish Parliament if Scots vote "No" in the referendum. Since he has declined to say what the powers will be, we have no idea if they would be greater or less than Devo-Plus, therefore, is there any good reason why Scots should believe him? There is only one way we will ever find out and that is to give Scots the opportunity to vote for independence. If Scots genuinely want independence, they will vote for it. If, on the other hand, they want something less than independence, if they still need the comfort blanket, they will vote "No", on the understanding that Cameron will produce more powers for the Scottish parliament. What possible reason can there be therefore, for including any kind of second question on the ballot paper? Why is Salmond and the leadership of the SNP being so coy about the second question?
It is argued that it would be a denial of democracy to deny Scots a choice of alternatives to independence. To my mind, that argument carries little weight in light of the fact that the SNP was elected on a platform of providing an opportunity to vote in a referendum on independence, NOT 57 different varieties of something, anything, less than independence. The raison d'etre of the SNP is supposed to be the restoration of independence and this referendum gives the party an opportunity, as well as the electorate, to fulfil that aim. Scots do not need to have the agreement or the permission of the rest of the UK, to decide whether or not Scotland should be independent; that is a choice for the Scots and only the Scots. However, if the present Devolution Settlement is to be changed in any substantial way, we cannot have a unilateral declaration of increased powers for the Scottish Parliament, that is the preserve of Westminster.
For Salmond to introduce any kind of second question on the ballot paper, must call into question his sincerity in the pusuit of independence, for the simple reason the tactic is wrong and there is no good reason to have a second question. The Scots need to be asked the straightforward question, however it is worded, "Do you want an independent Scotland?" If the answer is "Yes" we can move on from there, if the answer is "No", we then have to discuss the question of more powers. The discipline in the party in the last few years has been quite extraordinary BUT there is a limit to how far the membership will allow itself to be pushed, particularly on an issue as important as this. Salmond really is playing with fire if he tries to pull a fast one.