This week, we will be publishing a series of perspectives on the future of the independence movement after the Scottish Parliament inquiry, and in the context of the apparent deadlock in the national question. Conter editor David Jamieson introduces the series, with thoughts on a young movement, with a capacity for necessary internal transformations.
It is difficult to see September 2014 clearly from the vantage of March 2021.
What seems to the memory two clear-cut camps around the constitutional question may never really have been so distinct. But the force of events did draw a line between the Scottish independence movement and the British establishment.
The huge coalition established then, and which would broaden and increase in scale through the 2015 General Election, is now in decomposition. Some of the signs of that decomposition are obvious, such as the vicious infighting in the SNP and adjacent national movement (tens of thousands of former members have probably quit the party in recent years). Other schisms are probably quieter – such as people who simply feel dispirited by the failure of action around the housing crisis, social care and education. A slight flagging in poll support for independence presumably reflects a growing recognition on the part of many middle class Remainers that Brexit is not the social and economic catastrophe it was billed to be.
It is testimony to the importance of ideas, platform, and strategy that this politico-organisational decomposition takes place even as independence achieves a consistently higher poll rating than at any other time in modern Scottish history. By ‘decomposition’ I do not mean ‘morbid’ or even ‘terminal’. 2014 was only six and a half years ago. Scottish independence is a young movement. This is a reality consistently dismissed by detractors and movement activists alike, in the latter case from the misguided notion that ‘old’ means ‘authentic’ or ‘legitimate’ and young means temporary or precarious. National independence movements are rarely six and half, or seven, or ten years old when they achieve their goal.
But national movements are often crucibles of fierce, internal factional dispute. Houses are always rising and falling within them. Schools of thought are ruthlessly exposed and replaced upon contact with power. Salmond and Sturgeon are not two such houses. At least where regards substantive politics, they are one house.
This week, in a series of articles and podcasts on various aspects of the independence movement’s current condition, we will ask what might emerge with the decline of the historic leadership of Scottish nationalism.
The first article will seek to understand the rise of the Salmond-Sturgeon duo as a result of the specific formulations of capitalism in this country and around the world. Sturgeonism is a product of Salmondism, as well as the consequence of the prevailing national and international conditions of economic and social power.
The ‘culture shock’ which allegedly splits these two factions is a myth promoted, in part, by Scotland’s professional classes. The traditional materialist interpretation of the intelligentsia as a creative, critical and violently unstable layer in capitalist society has found a stumbling block in Scotland, where the middle strata have had little of meaning to say about the tawdry affair in high-politics. Part of the reason for this lies in the crisis of Scottish institutional life, from the media and education systems to the parliament itself. We must understand this failure if what we seek is the democratisation of society.
Sadly the position of women in Scottish society, of the LGBT community, of racial and religious minorities and many others, has become fodder in a faction fight as the nationalist bloc slides into confusion. Criticisms of ‘identity politics’ often fail to appreciate that its practices work to obscure and instrumentalise social inequalities and power imbalances – not resolve them. The SNP, which has long exploited such practices, has proven a failure in addressing real inequalities, and we will seek to address this failure also.
Finally, the series will address the acute strategic questions confronting the independence movement which have been left unanswered by the negligent and elitist approach of nationalist leadership. The continuation of the constitutional deadlock would likely see a further mutation in the independence movement – some elements rallying around the leadership, others splintering away or falling into demoralisation. The continued atrophy of political and moral authority at the top of Scottish politics will not automatically result in healthier dynamics or leaderships. This process requires a strong, critical and independent intervention from socialists.
Though the impasse is a time of enormous frustration for many supporters of independence, it does create a crucial window to re-organise our arguments, alliances and perspectives. Everyone would agree that in 2014, we just weren’t ready. It’s a little harder to confess we aren’t ready today in the early months of 2021. But the coming period could be a decisive phase in the internal transformations needed for eventual success.