Where Now for the Scottish Independence Movement?

This article by Stuart Crawford was first published in the Scottish Daily Express on February16th 2022. Reproduction here does not mean endorsement of all content; it appears in the interests of widening debate on the matter.

It is now quite clear to most objective commentators that the campaign for Scottish independence has stalled. The polls are stubbornly stuck on average around 48% for independence and 52% against, and until they reach a consistent 60% in favour, if they ever do, there is no chance of a second independence referendum being up for discussion – and that’s from the nationalist point of view. They are only too aware that losing the second referendum did for the Quebecois independence movement.

Why is it then that the “people of Scotland” for whom nationalist politicians claim they speak are so reluctant to vote for Scottish independence? There may be numerous reasons. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that losing the 2014 independence referendum (in which I voted yes, if you happen to be wondering) had on the movement. Outside my polling station independence supporters were absolutely convinced they had won, and absolutely devastated when they found out they had not.

Plans and demands for a second referendum are stymied because there is no route currently available to obtain one. Despite First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s serial promises that the next one is just around the corner, she cannot hold a legally and constitutionally binding one without a Section 30 order from Westminster, and with the Conservative and Unionist party holding an 80 seat majority there is no reason for one to be granted.  The oft-mooted alternatives of a “consultatory” referendum or indeed UDI are just non-starters. The former would most likely be boycotted by unionists and therefore be meaningless, whilst the latter would bring widespread condemnation, sanctions, and eventually ruin.

So it has come to pass, in the fullness of time, that George Robertson’s oft quoted declaration that “devolution will kill nationalism stone dead” was entirely accurate, although perhaps not in the way he may have imagined at the time.

It doesn’t help the movement that the SNP has changed from being a campaigning organisation with an USP – independence – to become a managerial concern, sidetracked by the temptations of staying in power and by the day to day humdrum of being in government. In sacrificing the cause in favour of full-time, well-paid jobs and the opportunity to grandstand on the national, and occasionally international stage (forging relations with China and Ukraine being merely two of the more egregious examples), SNP politicians have prioritised process over purpose, and in doing so have lost their way.

Most important of all, perhaps, is the fact that the Scottish independence movement in general, and the SNP in particular, have failed to make an intellectually coherent argument for Scotland leaving the UK. The 2014 White Paper was long on rhetoric but short on detail, and since then no new clear thinking has emerged. Others better qualified than me have pointed out the fallacies of the it’ll-be-all-right-on-the-night economic arguments and the vagueness of plans for a currency option.

More recently we have the nonsense, nay disinformation, over state pension responsibilities. It’s quite clear that state pensions would be the responsibility of an independent Scottish government*, no matter how the “poor crofter” Ian Blackford huffs and puffs. Nor will the state pension double; to do so would take up three quarters of the entire national budget. It is the stuff of fantasy and hardly inspires confidence.

There is also the whiff of corruption. Rumours of financial mismanagement abound, with successive SNP National Treasurers resigning after being denied sight of full party accounts without explanation. The question of what has happened to the £600k contributed by the party faithful and supposedly ring-fenced to fund the next independence referendum campaign still has not been answered. The response that it was “woven into the accounts” smacks of obfuscation and smoke and mirrors. My bet is that it has been used to pay off the party’s overdraft accrued during the 2014 referendum and subsequent elections. Perhaps we will find out someday?

But it is not just about finance; there is more than a suspicion of moral and ethical corruption too, tainting many other aspects and activities. Others have pointed out the all too clear dangers of having a party leader and First Minister married to the chief executive of her party. This speaks loudly of less benign administrations in parts of the globe where corruption is rife. As Oscar Wilde once observed; “The truth is neither here nor there, it’s the look of the thing that matters”. Did none of their close colleagues point out the dangers here, and if not, why not?

It does not help, of course, that the SNP’s performance in government has been appallingly poor. Everywhere you look there is disaster; education standards have spiralled rapidly downwards, the NHS struggles despite its grossly bloated and overpaid management structure, and drug deaths are the highest in all of Europe. Its economic initiatives have been abject failures without exception – think Ferguson Marine and the ferries fiasco, Prestwick Airport, Bi-Fab and on and on. The list is endless. And on the positive side? Well, perhaps the infamous baby boxes, arguably, but even that idea was pinched from the Finns.

Against that sort of dismal background it’s hardly surprising that the Scottish independence movement has stuttered to a halt. It lacks the intellectual rigour, and indeed the intellectuals, to address the problems and guide the way forward. It is a truism that those who are most vociferous in their support for independence are those who have the least to lose, as a glance at the participants at any independence rally will confirm. Middle Scotland, however you might want to define it, is not convinced.

Only ten years ago I was informing my friends south of the Border that Scotland was likely to be independent by 2020. Now I doubt very much that we will be an independent country before 2050, if at all. The current position of independence campaigners is analogous to that of the MacDonalds on the right wing of the Jacobite army at Culloden. Too weak to break the Hanoverian lines yet too proud to retreat, they stood mere yards away from the Redcoats, snarling and throwing stones.

And, as we all know, they lost.

Stuart Crawford is a political commentator, retired Lt. Colonel and former SNP defence spokesman. He is now a member of the Liberal Democrat party and intends to stand for East Lothian Council in May’s elections.

  • See previous blog “Whau Peys Siller-Heids Their Siller?” for a counter-argument on pensions.

#1007—1,059 words

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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