David Jamieson

David Jamieson

Nationalism Inc Knows it is Killing Independence

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Humza Yousaf’s latest independence speech exhibited his establishment politics, but failed to outline any way forward for independence. The SNP strategy is to slow the party’s decline at the expense of the independence cause, argues David Jamieson.

It would be easy to ignore the pitiable spectacle of the ‘Independence Convention’ in Dundee. Really an SNP party rally, without debates (except for some heckles from the floor), and a launchpad for the party’s last, desperate bid to weather the coming General Election.

First, because I worry I’m feeding the monster of a phony independence ‘debate’. Second, because, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, we are all Conter now. Even many former SNP leadership loyalists agree that the Scottish Government is a dysfunctional mess. Most now understand that claims of an independence referendum are just a cynical mobilising tool. Scotland’s commentariat are even coming round to the idea that something is rotten in the entire Scottish political scene. You don’t hear quite so many peans for the devolution era today. The new dawn promised in 1999 – a modern politics without stuffy old traditions, macho conflict and so forth – looks bleak.

Nonetheless, we must continue to follow these events, because the SNP leadership and the rest of ‘Nationalism Incorporated’ are now actively harming the independence cause for short term survival. They are doing so automatically, by reflex, but fully aware of the harm they are doing.

As mentioned, the party rally featured no member input. It’s worth mentioning that this event replaced Nicola Sturgeon’s planned party-wide debate on independence strategy, from which all non-members, including the press, were to be barred. That has somehow been whittled down to a speech for applause. The journey begun years ago, and accelerated by Sturgeon from 2018, of stripping back all the SNP’s internal democracy, is approaching its destination. In the last five years, the party’s National Council has been scrapped, constituency associations have lost their influence, and party conference divested of its policy setting role. This year, spring conferences were scrapped altogether, and Caid Hall is its replacement.

The ideas emanating from leading nationalist circles are also clearly deteriorating to a very low level. The rally witnessed some quite miserable scenes, including one pro-independence journalist repeating the squalid meme that we will win independence by attrition – through the deaths of elderly No voters. Another suggested that independence activists start litter-picking.

But what of the main course – the leaders’ speech? We are finally starting to see the fruits of the ‘left’ candidate’s victory in the SNP leadership election. Yousaf repeated his calls for a written constitution to save us from “erratic” Westminster “populists”. We’ll re-join the EU single market too. The Tories, Yousaf claimed, are pathologically opposed to foreign investment into Scotland, and have set out to bat-away capital. Basically, the politics of being not Boris Johnson remains at the top of the SNP, even as the object of obsession himself departs the Westminster scene.

Keeping the shrivelling cohort of activists busy is clearly becoming a preoccupation. To this end, we will see yet another summer of campaigning, culminating in a pro-EU march through Edinburgh on 2 September.

The ‘revelation’ of the speech, stated twice, is that Yousaf will treat a simple SNP victory as a vote for independence. He will do so alone, as this naturally will not be agreed to by the UK Prime Minister, whoever that its. But Yousaf also re-iterated that only a process agreed by the UK state will lead to independence, as this will secure ‘European’ recognition. As if we hadn’t heard enough about the EU, he then promised he would send an envoy to Brussels after the General Election to negotiate Scottish member-statehood (without any permission from the Scottish people, it should be noted). EU officials rebuffed this suggestion within 24 hours, saying they would not meet such an envoy, according to The Times. This tells much about the EU – a deeply conservative and anti-democratic institution that does not like the disruption that comes with national independence movements. In summary, this ‘new’ approach to independence is another non-starter, in large measure because it depends on legitimacy conferred by external actors hostile to the whole project. Yousaf knows it won’t work, and practically said so in the speech. But he needs to marshal as many of the faithful as possible to stave-off Labour’s resurgence in the General Election. This is now about damage limitation for the SNP, and nothing else.

In coming years, it’s going to be difficult to convince people that Scottish independence was in a morbid state even before Operation Branchform. But it was. The weakening of foundations was achieved by active frustration of the independence movement by the SNP leadership, by a turn to the right and towards systemic forces like the EU, Nato and the Bank of England, and by a dreadful record of failure in government. Through it all, the SNP used independence time and again to protect and extend their power.

Nationalism Incorporated knows that it is now damaging independence every day. Its inane pronouncements, elitist psycho-dramas, re-heated slogans and fantasy world of unreal constitutional dispute will stigmatise the cause.

After the defeat of 2014, many signed up to follow Sturgeon to the end. She came to represent their anguish at the defeat experienced at the hands of the British establishment – the bludgeoning by project fear and the combined forces of the Westminster parties. Now everyone who wants to preserve a future for independence needs to dissociate themselves from this farce, which will only worsen in coming months.

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