The Point
Last updated: 30 July 2017.

...red sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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What YES needs is a commonly agreed plan...that actually works

It’s time to start talking about Win Day Ref 1, rather than indyref 2; not to defocus the important questions of when, how and what critical issue(s) the indyref should be fought on, but to ensure that the most intense and calibrated focus of our movement, of every YESSER, of all pro-indy parties and none, is on understanding that when we do go to the polls again, this time Yes MUST win.

Why? Because, to put it simply and bluntly, if we don’t, if we miss out again – even by the narrowest margins of a few percentage points - the dream of the Scottish people finally having full and proper sovereignty, of becoming a normal country like any other nation on the face of Planet Earth and taking our own seat at the United Nations; of being able to choose our politics, our own philosophies, our own destinies, our own future, will be gone for a generation, or perhaps even longer.

Nicola Sturgeon recently said that she believed Scotland would be an independent country by 2025, or perhaps even before. I hope she is right. In this article I want to attempt to sketch out what I think needs to be done to ensure that indyref 2 is also Win Day Ref 1 – a historic day that will set Scotland’s talents and energies free, and make independence from that day forth an irrevocable reality.

Of course, I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Some of you reading this are bound to have your own ideas and emphases on how we go from where we are now to Scotland being an independent country. But consider it a contribution to a discussion which we all need to have collectively.

As a starting point, I want to begin with a brief review of The National’s special independence case re-launch out today (Saturday 17th June, 2017)

Light beginning to dawn…or back to the future?

It was with a bit of excitement that I headed to the local Scot-Mid this morning to pick up my copy of The National. Trailed in the previous day’s paper as a virtual re-launch of the independence campaign from a range of pro-indy voices I was hopeful of a bit of a genuine reboot. After all, there have been some very good articles in The National recently that seemed to signal a move away from the wall to wall default EUphile position since last June; the constant echoing of the SNP leadership line that EU loving No voters would flock to the YES banner to stay in the EU, and that, therefore, all that needed to be repeated ad nauseam was that indyref 2 was about ‘not being dragged out of the EU against our will’ and a majority for YES was guaranteed.

Against that dismally surface and shallow analysis I and The Point have repeatedly argued that 4 out of 10 YES voters were also Leave voters and would be utterly underwhelmed by the idea that their YES vote should be purloined for the purposes of staying in a European Union they wished no part of. Further, that any idea that the 62% Remain vote in Scotland was an overwhelming vote of enthusiasm for a corporatist neo-liberal, free market institution was a fundamental error of judgement. Much of the Remain vote was a confused vote for a second indyref or a vote against the racism and xenophobia of the Boris Johnson/Nigel Farage project. Linking indyref 2 to the question of staying in the EU, we pointed out, would lose one or more working class YES/Leave voters for every middle class NO/Remain voter it gained.

The solution that both I as an individual and The Point put forward to get those NO/Remain converters and the YES/Leave voters back on the same pro-indy bus was to make it clear that indyref 2 would be about one thing and one thing only – Scottish Independence; with Scotland having its own referendum on EU membership only once independence was achieved.

To be fair to the SNP leadership, they eventually saw the headlights of the ‘lost votes’ bus that was coming at them straight down the road. In recent months language became more nuanced; indyref 2 was now about retaining our place in the single market, not the EU. Indyref 2 was to be reframed as giving Scots a choice in the context of hard Brexit.

None of these subtleties really worked, however. Because the fundamental message that was coming across to many working class people was still the same. Vote YES in indyref 2 if you wanted to stay in the EU. And if you don’t like what we are saying just now, just wait till the terrifying ApocaBrexit gets hold of you!

So, would the National Special Issue give an indication to what way the wind was now blowing both within the SNP and within the wider movement? And were they the winds of change that can really deliver a united YES vote and a majority for independence in the not-too-distant future?

Well, it was a mixed bag, to be honest – with some very important recognition and calls from those in the wider YES movement for greater radicalism, a bigger role for YES, and for more serious work and campaigning to be done on the issue of independence itself. But from some it seemed to be ‘more of the same, thank you very much. Those clever folks in the SNP can’t possibly have got anything wrong.”

Ruth Wishart called for ‘a twin track approach’ to win voters back

“…renewed endeavour on the health and education fronts in Holyrood, whilst also continuing the backstage work addressing the crucial economic questions which are likely to dominate any future independence campaign.”

Well, who would disagree with that? The SNP Government certainly needs to improve on education, and who wouldn’t argue that the case on pensions and currency needs to watertight next time the question YES or NO is asked at the polls. But there seemed little recognition that the way to bring YES Leave voters back on board was to actually take some cognisance of their anti-EU position. No, once the silly fools got a good dose of ‘Hard Brexit’ they would soon see the error of their ways!

“…the positive side of delay is that the next two years will provide more evidence of the harsh economic penalties of Brexit. SNP voting Leavers will not be immune to that.”

The veteran activist Isobel Lindsay disagreed:

“A referendum campaign predicated on Brexit being nasty is unlikely to succeed. We need a strong ‘pull’ campaign. What happens with Brexit is largely out of our hands.”

She goes on to make the point:

“How can we transform the quality of life here, how would we create a high participation democracy, and what are the practical nuts and bolts for a new independent state? Some of this work has and is being done, for example by Common Weal, but it needs to be greatly expanded”.

That seems to be one up for both enhancing the radical case for indy and for being prepared to take our time to develop the case.

Colin Fox of the SSP is also clear that we can’t hide our indy light behind a ‘don’t scare the horses’ bushel, and that the overemphasis on the EU has been a mistake.

“…what lessons can be learned? First, that the case for independence cannot be advanced by disowning it. Secondly, the First Minister’s announcement of indyref2 in April was…a huge mistake

It made Scotland’s EU membership the priority and reduced independence to a Brexit bargaining chip.”

Now, I actually disagree that the essence of the error lay in the timing of Nicola’s announcement, rather it lay in the whole thrust of SNP strategy post June 2016 – to make a second indyref not about independence per se, but about independence in the EU.

From the SNP leadership themselves – represented in the person of Minister for Brexit (what else?) Mike Russell, there was little recognition that anything needed to change much in the wake of the loss of 21 seats, including many to the hated Tories, or the fact that the polling on independence after some brief rises immediately post the Brexit referendum has more or less averaged out at the 45% mark now for months – a sure fire indication that those waves of NO voters desperate to stay in the EU have not, as a matter of fact, swelled the YES voting cohorts to where we can be confident – as yet – of getting over the finishing line.

In fact, Mike repeated the rather unclear/and or misleading formulation that has been at the heart of most SNP pronouncements on the subject for some months now. In fact he seemed at pains to point out:

“The proposal for an independence referendum at some stage after the conclusion of the Brexit talks is a commitment about Brexit. In other words, what the SNP were and are saying is that the people of Scotland have a right to be consulted about being dragged out of Europe against their will.”

I would put to Mike and other SNP Ministers and strategists what seems to me and many others to be a very obvious point. How on Earth can a referendum on Scottish Independence with the wording ‘Scotland should be an independent country: YES or NO’ possibly be a consultation on being dragged out of the EU, or membership of the EU, or anything else to do with the EU?

Nobody denies that Scots should have the right to choose their own future, to choose whether an independent Scotland should be in the EU or not, but the only way that can be done is by having an indyref2 first (and foremost) that is about the case for Scottish Independence.  Once independence is a reality then a newly free Scottish people could have their own referendum on whether their newly independent country should be a member of the EU or not.

Anything else is a democratic outrage and the SNP leadership’s continuing myopia on this question puts the whole future of independence at risk.

(NB Please remember that a majority of Scots did not vote personally to stay in the EU in June 2016, nor that an independent Scotland should be in the EU, but that the UK should remain in the UK. And that these are entirely DIFFERENT questions!)

So, to sum up today’s Independence Special in The National, some clarion calls from Yesser’s for the movement  in general to be more radical and progressive and for the SNP to recognise the wider role YES plays, and to be more bold and left wing in Government themselves. Good.

A more mixed position on the EU, with recognition from some quarters that the independence debate has to find a way of moving on from Brexit, and get back to indy and big vision fundamentals, but with others still blithely repeating the same old ApocaBrexit slogans. Work still in progress on that one, then.

The Elephants in the Room

And strangely enough, at the end of the week when 21 SNP MPs were lost and the Tories won a dozen seats, significantly increasing the Panda breeding population at a stroke, no-one questioned the disastrous Both Votes SNP strategy so stoutly defended by their ever reliable cadre in the run up to the Holyrood 2016 vote, and which saw 750, 000 mainly pro-indy votes wasted on the list, allowing the Tories to win big on the second vote, and kicking off their undeserved renewed momentum in Scotland.

Imagine, if instead, the SNP had put movement before party and called for a vote for pro-indy candidates on the list? The Greens would have won more seats, and Solidarity and Rise a few each – all at the expense of the Tories. I’ll argue right now that that ‘Max the YES’ strategy wouldn’t just have been better for the YES movement as a whole, it would have been better for the SNP in the longer term.

So, in relation to my – admittedly brief and focused - overview of the National’s post GE 2017 YES special, I’ve been developing a few themes and arguments (you probably noticed).

Now is the time, however. for me to lay out clearly my own view on what we need to do turn indyref 2 into a Win Day referendum …and make sure that when we all crawl into bed after the next referendum night results, it’s with a joyous exhaustion, because we’ve done it, we’ve persuaded our country to vote for its own sovereignty and freedom

So, putting the key points of my own argument succinctly:

 *    If there is an indyref 2 in 2019 we have to go all out to win it. That there is a mandate for it is absolutely clear. But having a mandate for it DOES NOT MEAN we should necessarily be thirled to that timescale. The timing of a Win Day ref needs to first and foremost have a strategic element. We have to go to the country with an independence prospectus again when we think and believe - not just that we CAN win - but that we WILL win.

 *    The YES movement and the main party of independence, the SNP, remain in a good position…but not in as good a position as they might have been if not for the three critical strategic errors by the SNP leadership 1) the Both Votes SNP strategy which allowed the Tories unnecessary momentum at the Scottish 2016 Holyrood elections and de-mobilised a section of YES activism  2) the slow slip into steady as we go managerialism, and the handing over of the banner of left progressive radicalism to the Corbynite left  3) Making indyref 2 about our position in the EU for so long, wholly overestimating the degree of real support for the EU in the Scottish electorate, and thus effectively alienating and de-mobilising huge layers of working class YES voters who also voted to Leave the EU.

 *    A huge party like the SNP - like an ocean liner – has a huge turning circle. It will take time to come to terms with these errors and correct them, ensuring that the current steady support for independence at 45% becomes a future steady support for independence at 50%, 55% or above. Consequently –although we are all desperate for indy as soon as possible – I now believe that it is better to bide our time, to wait and win, rather than go to early to the polls when the necessary work has not yet been done – and that also includes vital work on things like pensions and currency.

 *    There should be a clear option of a second indyref during the Parliament to be elected in 2021 – not based on ‘changed circumstances’ or ‘ensuring our position in the EU’ - but simply on a straightforward manifesto commitment from all pro-indy parties to hold a referendum in the lifetime of that Parliament, with the emphasis on winning a vote for independence sometime between 2022 and 2024, with the aim of Scotland becoming fully independent after a short period of negotiations in 2024 or 2025.

 *    Ideally that would mean the SNP putting movement before party at the Holyrood elections in 2021, agreeing to stand only in the constituencies (unopposed, and supported by all other pro-indy parties and the YES movement), while a Team Scotland or All Under One Banner slate of the other pro-indy parties – Greens, Solidarity, SSP, Rise – and prominent non-aligned independence individuals stood only on the list, (unopposed and supported by the SNP). With a bold, mobilising and radical pro-independence call for a mandate for indyref 2 (or Win Day Ref 1) a pro-indy majority of MSPs could once again be assured, the date for a referendum set, and the endgame of the battle for Scottish Independence could truly begin.

Of course, politics is a faster moving thing these days; it throws up surprises (good and bad) at a rate of volatile change we haven’t been used to in the past, and it just may be the case that we can fight and win in 2019. But even the best army and cause can founder if it sticks to too inflexible a timetable, and doesn’t have a good alternative plan at the ready.

I think I have outlined here what should be our plan A, but the very least I hope you’ll ponder on the issues and points I’ve raised and consider them a good alternative plan B.

I look forward to hearing you feedback and opinions fellow YESSER’s.

Whatever our small differences may be they are as nothing to our differences with those naysayers who would trap Scotland in a Union that it never voted for and has served us spectacularly ill for the last four decades.

So let’s have the discussion and the debate; let’s come to a common plan we all can get behind and agree upon, and go forward together, to finally and irreversibly fulfil the heady promise of 18th September 2014.

Steve Arnott.

 

 

Other articles by Steve Arnott in The Point include:

 

Arthur C Clarke: A Very Modern Odyssey

 

A Tribute to Neil Armstrong... or 'Where's that f*****g space elevator?

 

The European stem cell research ban – why and how we should fight it

 

Enriching Scotland’s Common Weal through Scottish Inventions and Innovations

 

(science and ideas)

 

 

 

The Conspiracy of Doves I – Darwin, Marx and The Conspiracy of Doves

 

The Conspiracy of Doves II - Socialism and the selfish gene: A tale of quiz shows, game theory and natural selection

 

The Conspiracy of Doves III - The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection, part one

 

Postcapitalism: An Overview – Part One

 

(Darwinist-Marxism, evolution/revolution, post-capitalism)

 

 

 

In Praise of Beethoven

 

Teaching Tom…and Dick and Harry and Jane: A Personal Reply to Tom Hunter on Scottish Education

 

The Culture: Iain Banks’ Greatest Creation

 

(culture, education, The Culture)

 

 

 

Reversing privatisation and PFI using a ‘windfall’ financing model

 

2013, A Year to Go: Independence and Raising the Game in Phase 2

 

Achieving gender balance in an Independent Scottish Parliament (co-authored with Liz Walker)

 

Taking back what’s ours: Why we need a Public Commission on Public Ownership

 

Max the YES: Tactical Voting for Holyrood 2016, Yes or No.

 

(independence, socialism, progressive policy ideas)

 

On seeing Orcas in Burra Sound

 

(poetry, verse, fiction)

 

Steve’s novel, Pilot of the Storm, First of ‘The Star King’s Proxy’ trilogy, is also available to buy or rent at…

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pilot-Storm-Book-StarKings-Proxy-ebook/dp/B00JGF0P6Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1483670725&sr=1-1&keywords=Stevie+Arnott+-+Pilot+of+The+Storm

 

 

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books