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Monday, 27 October 2014

Nicola Will Take Advice - But From Whom?

Even before assuming office as First Minister and leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon has not been short of advice on how she should proceed. Fears have been expressed, mainly by the Unionist press and others who voted No, that the "fundamentalist" wing of the SNP will now hold sway, as disappointment at the Referendum result bites deep. There will be more of that below, but in the main, fear of the "fundamentalists" has been expressed by those who haven't a clue what a "fundamentalist" is. I reacted with incredulity when I first saw Jim Sillars described as "the darling of the fundamentalist wing of the party". Whatever term is used to describe Jim's political philosophy in the context of the SNP, the least accurate is "fundamentalist" but the label has been allowed to stick, which merely reinforces my point.

The Scotsman leader earlier this month said, "Ms Sturgeon is about to become the gradualist leader of a party of nationalist fundamentalists" and "Her natural instinct is to take a pragmatic approach...but this clashes with the more fundamentalist view held by tens of thousands of new party members" and "let her lead by example, finding solutions that suit the majority (those who voted No) rather than play to the unrealistic demands of her new allies." There has been much more of this type of grossly superficial analysis from the Unionist media in general, all of it geared to dampening the enthusiasm and determination of those who voted Yes, to continue to campaign for independence. With the total disarray of the Unionists, both in Westminster and Holyrood, the last thing they want is to see is an organised, determined and growing section of the Scottish people, committed to independence; not the ersatz concoction with which we were presented in September, but the real thing.

Whether we will get that from Nicola is still a moot point and it will depend largely on the advice she both receives and accepts. A useful starting point would be to stop the re-writing of the history of the SNP which has gone almost unchallenged since 1990, the year Alex Salmond was elected leader. The media would also do well to take note. "Fundamentalist" was a term of abuse, used by the '79 Group to describe those members of the SNP who argued that the pursuit of independence was more important than the pursuit of socialism or branding the SNP with a pseudo left-wing image, in order to attract the working class vote. They also claimed "fundies" were not interested in anything other than independence. As one of the "original" so-called fundamentalists, I never knew anyone from the "traditional" wing of the SNP who was disinterested in the social problems created by decades of neglect and mismanagement of the Scottish economy, by successive Westminster governments. As we had all suffered to some extent from them, why on earth would we not want to change them?

The views of the '79 Group prevailed and under the leadership of Alex Salmond, the pursuit of independence was set aside, in favour of a strategy of making the SNP electable by appealing to the working class, hence the visceral hatred of Labour and Labour of the SNP. The reality is that neither the Labour Party nor the SNP is a socialist party, their appeal is based on class consciousness rather than political principle. After twenty-five years of Salmond's strategy, the SNP has become electable - for Holyrood - but the middle classes have been almost totally alienated, something the traditional wing of the party always warned against, and the majority of Scots have rejected independence. On her endorsement as leader of the SNP, Nicola said, "let us build a better country". That cannot be done without the support of the majority of Scottish society and an appeal to only one section of that society, will do little to encourage that support, as the referendum showed. Independence must also come off the back burner and Scots encouraged to embrace it as the only means by which that "better country" will be achieved.

Early reports of branch meetings of the SNP, suggest that many of the new members see themselves as the "class warriors" that made up a substantial part of the foot soldiers of the Yes campaign. They are angry, feel let down by Westminster, even conned but what they are not, are "fundamentalists". Many of them are demanding independence, while denying they are Nationalists, therefore it has to be asked exactly what they mean by independence? How long will their current anger sustain them, will they still be there a year from now, are they prepared for the kind of long haul the SNP's recent strategy makes inevitable? Are they prepared for the machinations of the Westminster parties, as they seek to kick Scottish unrest into the longest grass they can find, hoping to bury the promises that were made until the unrest dissipates? It would be criminal if this was allowed to happen and if it is not, I am convinced a change of strategy will be necessary.

Nicola's "better country" should also embrace an appreciation of Scotland's culture. I cringed every time Humza Yousaf, or some other leading member of the Yes campaign asserted, "this is not about identity" or "this is not about the kilt or haggis..." as if this was the totality of Scottish culture, those things which identify us as Scots. For some strange reason people like Pete Wishart MP, who made his name with the Celtic band Runrig, or Elaine C Smith, a highly successful actress, did not have a word in their ears, pointing out that The Proclaimers, Deacon Blue and more recently Twin Atlantic, have international reputations. We have world renowned artists in film and theatre, art, music and literature, all of them dismissed as "kilt and haggis". Is it any wonder the No side were so disdainful of us when we portray ourselves in such a dismissive manner?

During ten years as Alex Salmond's deputy, Nicola did not break ranks once, but neither did the party in general. Arguments about currency and the EU, neither of which could be sustained, were allowed to dominate, such was the internal discipline of the SNP. Others in the Yes campaign were not, or should not have allowed themselves to be, constrained by SNP membership, but unfortunately did little to counter the more nonsensical arguments on the currency and EU. That will have to change. Nicola is starting with a high public approval rating and, as the only candidate for the leadership, obviously has the support of the vast majority of SNP members. The sell out for her tours is testimony to just how popular she is. Hopefully she will use that personal popularity to good effect, as she pursues her aim of "building a better country". As a true "fundamentalist", I just hope it includes independence.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

What Do Yes Voters Mean By Independence. Is it Worth A Candle?

After the Union of 1707 was signed, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, known to Scottish history as "The Patriot", was in the act of mounting his horse to leave Edinburgh - and politics - when he was asked, "Will you forsake your country?" He responded, "It is fit only for the slaves who sold it." There has been a bit of that attitude in the aftermath of the Referendum, as fingers have been pointed at "the over 55's" or "Edinburgh" or more generally, "the haves". The truth is even more unpalatable for anyone who has spent years campaigning for independence, because a map of the voting patterns shows in stark detail just how widespread, was the opposition to what was presented as independence. Even in parts of the country which have produced a solid vote for the SNP for many years, the size of the No vote came as a surprise. We were not asked to vote for the SNP but the association of that party with independence, albeit it has hardly been the party's priority since Alex Salmond was elected leader in 1990, led most people, commentators included, to assume that a vote for Yes and a vote for the SNP were one and the same. In Aberdeenshire, Perth & Kinross, Angus and Moray for example, the No vote was either very close to, or in excess of 60% of the votes cast.

It is now generally accepted by the Yes side, that "Project Fear" triumphed and there is no doubt there was a strong element of fear - over pensions, currency, jobs - in many of the stated reasons for voting No. Sir Alexander Malcolm MacEwan, the first leader of the SNP 1934-36, made two observations that are just as apposite today as they were then. He said, "It is plain truth that no great national movement was ever founded on caution and half-hearted measures..." and "The objections to Home Rule are not so much reasoned arguments as vague apprehensions, but fear is often more potent than reason, and must be dealt with...". There has been no shortage of comment since the referendum, much of it made in anger, but there is little sign of any great analysis of either the campaign or the way forward. Candidates for the deputy leadership of the SNP are reported to be split, with Angela Constance claiming her campaign will concentrate on "Independence", while Stewart Hosie and Keith Brown are both reported as being in favour of accepting that independence is lost for a generation.

Some on the Yes side, along with a few on the No side, argue that the majority of Scots really want "Devo-Max" which is apparently different from "Devo-Plus", although quite what the differences are is not explained. Others, including Nicola Sturgeon who wants "control of everything except defence and foreign policy", claim that what is wanted is "fiscal autonomy". It has still not registered there is no such thing as fiscal autonomy because without control of monetary policy, there can be no control of taxation, unless we are prepared to have the same kind of debacle that has been created in the Euro zone. We are still being bludgeoned with assertions of how important membership of the EU is to Scotland, how many jobs depend on that membership. Again there is no discussion of the fears being expressed, that the EU is heading for a "lost decade", as the largest economies enter their third recession in six years. Many of the problems have been created as a consequence of the rigidity of the euro, a currency union not a million miles away from the currency union with the rest of the UK, defended to the death - literally - by the Yes side. As yet, the contradictions in demanding the end of one Union with England while cementing "ever closer Union" with the EU, have been either ignored or glossed over, a stance which UKIP will exploit with a vengeance. There is still little if any understanding of the difference between internationalism and supranationalism, but it is something those who demand "independence" are going to have to engage.

Perhaps the greatest problem faced by the Yes side, and the most obvious problem, is how to get Scotland's middle classes to support independence. I have already said I believe the Yes campaign was a class campaign, from the constant repetition of "we want to create a fairer and more just society" to the concentration on "poverty" to the appeals to "the Labour vote". The rallies which have taken place since the Referendum have continued with the theme, with Tommy Sheridan continuing to play a leading role. Let me get this straight, before I am accused of being anti-working class or of ignoring the social problems in Scotland. I have always been on the "left" of Scottish politics and been recognised as such, but if independence is the priority, and it should be, a successful campaign for independence MAY result in a socialist or social democratic government in an independent Scottish state. A class campaign where socialism is the priority, is unlikely to lead to independence. From what has been said both prior to the referendum and since, many Scots feared the type of government an independent Scotland would produce, as much as feared independence per se. That is not to say the problems of poverty, unemployment, poor housing, health and all the other social ills of Scotland should be ignored but the message has to be tempered in such a way, that the middle classes are not excluded, that they are shown they will have an important part to play in an independent Scotland.

Another Referendum is not just around the corner, unless Scots react with sufficient anger to the "increased powers" Westminster deigns to hand down to us. We now have the time to decide what we mean by independence. There will be any number among us who will claim, "Independence does not mean what it used to mean", without ever explaining what their version does mean, as they settle for some form of devolution. But for those who believe that to be independent, means to have control of our own affairs without interference from outside organisations, the question of membership of the EU must be an issue. In an increasingly interdependent world, sovereign states have accepted specific treaty limitations to their law-making rights but continue to determine their own priorities within the constraints imposed by their external environment. However, at any level of integration or interdependence, a community of people must ask itself how important it is to retain the right to make its own choices between the options with which they are faced. Membership of the EU denies us that right.

Despite the issue of the currency union being raised right at the outset of the Referendum campaign, and warnings being given of the fact that such a union would deny us independence, the leadership of the SNP refused to discuss the possibility of a Scottish currency, without ever explaining why. The Yes campaign fell into line but there is no excuse now, not to have it discussed and papers prepared to explain why it would not only be a possible option, but would be the best long term option for an independent Scotland. I have grave doubts that there will ever be another Edinburgh Agreement, which means independence may have to be won by winning a majority of seats in parliament, the original policy of the SNP. Whatever method is used, we have to be better prepared for the type of onslaught we experienced during the last campaign. The starting point however, has to be what we mean by independence and whether it is worth having.

There was hardly a statement from any of the leaders of the No side, which did not include the words, "I am a proud Scot but..." or "I am very proud to be a Scot but..." None of them ever explained exactly what it was about Scotland or about being Scots, that made them proud. Given the catalogue of inevitable failures that they claimed would befall an independent Scotland, from failure to sell our products abroad, to failure to support our banks, to failure at just about everything, it is difficult to see what there was in which to have any pride. Real pride was reserved for British nationalism and British identity while Scottish nationalism was narrow, isolationist, even racist, while Scottish culture and those things which make up our distinct identity, ware demeaned or mocked. Too many leaders of the SNP and the Yes campaign were only too ready to deny both nationalism and identity, adding to the lack of confidence in the desire to be "just Scottish". Just as devolution and independence are not different degrees of the same thing, Scottish nationalism and a recognition of our distinct identity, have nothing to do with racism, chauvinism or imperialism. If Scotland is ever to be independent, Scots must learn to want independence for its own sake.