THIS Saturday sees the Scottish Independence Convention reconvene at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow. It’s already a sell-out, but the national movement needs to do more than huddle together for warmth or pick over the embers of the 2014 referendum campaign. It’s time for some bold new thinking. What are the options?
Strategy #1 is of course that of the First Minister: namely, to pressure the Conservative government to grant Scotland’s democratic wish to stay in the single market or face a second independence referendum. This plan is premised on winning over those who voted No in 2014 thinking it would keep Scotland inside the EU. If Mrs May concedes and Scotland gets a special EU deal, including even more devolved powers for Holyrood, it will be good for the Scottish economy and leave Nicola in a strong position should the Tories win a likely UK General Election victory in 2020. Alternatively, if no single market deal is on offer, the thinking is that enough of the 2014 No voters will change their minds and come on board in an indyref2 circa 2018 or 2019.
This plan has merit. It keeps Scotland’s political options open and puts the onus on Downing Street to make the first move. It’s heads Scotland wins, tails the Tories lose. In the meantime, the First Minister’s Growth Commission, headed by Andrew Wilson, is beavering away and will likely come up with a headline-grabbing plan for a separate Scottish currency aimed at boosting productivity and employment after independence.
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On the other hand, Strategy #1 is high-risk and requires keeping rather a lot of potentially disparate forces in equilibrium. For starters, as we know, a considerable number of working-class Yes voters support Brexit. There is no polling data to suggest such pro-Brexit sympathies are increasing north of the Border, but there is always the danger that by hitching the Yes movement so completely to EU membership – and we all know the present EU structures and policies are dysfunctional – indyref2 could lose working-class voters to Brexit as fast as it gains middle-class Edinburgh pro-Remainers. Note also that the EU is in deep crisis and could conceivably lose more members during UK exit negotiations.
The independence convention on Saturday is a good place to evaluate these conflicting pressures, as Scottish ministers will be speaking. My own view is that the SNP needs to be more proactive in advocating reform of the present EU, as an antidote to the siren calls of English Brexiteers and their demonisation of all things European. Especially if we want to reboot a Yes campaign that was effectively an anti-austerity movement among its working-class supporters. The SNP government is in prime position to help mobilise pan-EU support among progressive forces to oppose such austerity. That will help negate the (erroneous) charge that the SNP is uncritical of the current EU structure, which has become increasingly dominated by its bigger member states.
Other voices are advocating other strategies for the independence movement. Strategy #2 is more “wait and see”. This is proposed by, among others, that old SNP war horse Gordon Wilson. Gordon, who was SNP leader from 1979 to 1990, argues there is no sign of any increase in support for independence and definite popular resistance to the notion of a fresh referendum in the near future. Besides, he argues, the SNP leadership has not done enough to build support for independence, especially by publicly failing to call for a separate Scottish currency. Gordon recommends a division of labour in the movement, with the SNP government concentrating on governing while the broader Yes campaign mobilises the people until such time as the polls indicate a majority in favour of pushing the indy2 button.
We can debate how much has and hasn’t been done to prepare the ground for another referendum. However, in politics we are where we are. While I agree with Gordon that we need to resolve the currency question – Andrew Wilson please note – I don’t think we can avoid the conclusion that the global tectonic political and economic plates are shifting and that Scotland simply can’t afford to be trapped inside the UK as HMS Brexit hits the economic iceberg.
We should also note that June’s pro-Brexit vote in England marked the explicit rebirth of a political English nationalism. Anyone walking the corridors at Westminster can sense this, including those formerly liberal Labour MPs who have suddenly discovered the need for immigration controls and laws to force immigrants to learn English or else. The Union of the post-war social democratic consensus is now dead. A populist, illiberal imperial parliament now rules.
Those deluded Labour Party members in Scotland trying to increase their party’s miniscule 15 per cent in the polls by deliberately conflating the Tories in power at Westminster with the social democratic SNP government in Holyrood are making a mistake of historic proportions. For selfish reasons, they are dividing the left north of the Border when they should be uniting with the anti-austerity Yes movement to free Scotland from the new populism down south. It’s not a matter of abandoning the working class in England, it is a question of creating a progressive model in Scotland that could give heart to all of Europe.
This brings me to the nub of what I think Saturday’s convention needs to address. If we are to mobilise a second Yes movement at a popular level – and do it soon – it will require a new, post-Brexit political programme. A programme that inspires folk regardless of how they voted in the EU referendum. We need to move on from being anti-austerity to spelling out what a new Scotland will look like. It’s time to stop worrying about the tabloid headlines and lay out a bold, progressive plan by which Scots – old and new – take control of their own future from Westminster, from the bankers, and from the multinationals.
Our new Scotland will boost productivity and investment but it should also create an economy that enforces higher wages and cheaper homes. We need a cooperative and state-owned banking system that works for the people and a citizens’ wage rather than the humiliation of Universal Credit. We will show that an independent Scotland can maintain a viable social democracy with toleration towards minorities and immigrants. We will love and cherish Scotland’s glorious natural heritage and environment because it’s the only one we have. And we will defend our society from the ravages of consumerism, populism, racism, and the neo-liberal imperative to turn everything valuable in our culture into a market proposition. We will care for our sick and elderly even if it means higher taxes. And we will give everyone the benefits of a free Enlightenment education, not because it boosts profitability or looks good in dubious league tables but because it makes for the good society.
Quite correctly, the SNP has always made a virtue of being a broad church grouped around a single political goal. But 10 years into government at Holyrood there is also the imperative to inspire rather than play safe, if we are to persuade folk to vote Yes next time.