The new ‘campaign for independence’ is really just another SNP election campaign in the preparatory stage, argues David Jamieson.
‘Now is the time’. This was the front-page rallying call of the Sunday National (22 May). Sound familiar?
A lead news item is titled: ‘First Minister Nicola Sturgeon fires starting gun on independence debate’. Is that starting pistol an Uzi? We’ve heard it firing a lot.
Jottings from the edition highlight more items of the phantom independence campaign. Each one is designed to evoke a Pavlovian saliva response from the pro-independence base.
One reads: ‘Scottish Tories lash out at Nicola Sturgeon after National essay on indyref2 urgency’. This milks the anti-Tory gland. If the Tories are against the new independence drive, it must be real? Right?
The SNP’s corporate lobbyist and chief economics guru Andrew Wilson argues: ‘Doomsayers’ talk of a decade of economic pain are wrong’. This one presses the ‘Project Fear’ button. Remember project fear? How angry it made you? Stop thinking and get angry again.
Another reflex is triggered by claims from a former French ambassador that Scotland will be welcomed with opened arms into the EU. So forget for a moment that Scotland can’t even join the EU while in Wilson’s favoured Sterling zone. We’ve found an unaccountable, unelected member of the public who thinks it’ll be fine – relax!
Is this the third or fourth fake campaign we’ve now been through since 2014? We know it all off by heart: every talking point, rebuttal and stilted factoid.
What’s missing? Everything.
There’s no campaigning organisation, not even the skeleton of one. No equivalent to the Yes campaign launched in 2012 (more than two years ahead of the 2014 vote).
There’s no legislation moving through parliament (even if it were initiated this very second, it’s too late for a referendum in 2023). There are no negotiations with Westminster, necessary for the vaunted ‘2014 route’ Sturgeon insists upon.
There’s no case. All of the SNP’s answers to questions like currency, trade, fiscal policy and foreign affairs are mutually contradictory, and taken on their individual merits about as appealing as leprosy.
Wilson’s Sunday National pitch for independence, so vital to the prospects of a future break away nation-state, informs us that he lives in the plushest part of Edinburgh – just “a short walk” from the First Minister’s residence. What he doesn’t tell us is how a state with no central bank, no independent currency and no access to monetary policy might deploy a furlough scheme, as proved necessary in the last two years. Nor how such a state might possibly navigate inflation of 10 percent, nor a crisis like 2008, nor the recession whose likelihood hangs over the world economy like a curse.
No, this is not an independence campaign. What it may be is a campaign for future SNP election victories. The formula should be obvious by now: demand the powers to hold a referendum, get turned down by a venal Westminster, scream about the injustice of it all and ride the wave of anger to another barnstorming parliamentary coup. It’s worked so well and so often that even the total lack of preparation for a vote on the SNP’s part needn’t dull the effect.
Meanwhile, what remains of the national movement, of once historic proportions? The street movement is scattered and demoralised.
The SNP hasn’t held an in-person conference in years – refusing even to explain the cancellation of its 2022 spring gathering, much to the chagrin of remaining veteran activists who remember a younger, more democratic and pluralist outfit.
The recent Young Scots for Independence (YSI) conference, which voted to enthusiastically back the Nato military alliance, offers a rare glimpse into the increasingly skewed internal culture of the party. The right-wing student politics of figures like defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald and Europhile Alyn Smith have finally migrated to its youth wing, where they have been adopted with the evangelism of those who will never fight in the gruesome wars they find so romantic.
However, the Scottish Government’s bigger problems may be on the domestic front. Sturgeon made much, in her vanity column in the Sunday National, of how the experience of a devolved Scotland made the case for independence. That experience includes the Scottish Government ditching its pledge to abolish the educational ‘attainment gap’ between the social classes by 2026.
It includes the continued failure to address child poverty – still growing well over two decades into devolution. The failure to overturn the scourge of PFI. The disgrace of Covid care home deaths. The wholesale auction of our natural assets to big capital. The endless draconian attacks on public sector workers. Need I continue the litany?
The Scottish Government will continue. On the same day that the new Scottish independence campaign was launched, Scottish Government employment minister Richard Lochhead called on workers in the public sector to accept pay cuts, lest their (sub-inflation) pay demands tip the country into a “recession” that may arrive anyway.
This is a government increasingly distanced from reality, with no answers for today or a putative independent tomorrow, trading in a fake referendum campaign which is its final but tested retreat.