Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'll be voting for independence on May 5th

The debate over Bella Caledonia's idea to turn next year's AV referendum into an unofficial vote on independence flared up again yesterday at Better Nation, with Jeff Breslin confirming that he will not be supporting the campaign, and will instead be voting Yes to AV. He put forward two arguments that hadn't previously occurred to me - firstly, that if the SNP endorsed the campaign they'd be playing with fire by turning it into "the" independence referendum, and secondly that it would harm the party in the Holyrood elections if they were seen to be sabotaging the vote. I think the latter concern is probably unfounded - doubtless such a course of action for the SNP would attract scathing criticism from opponents, but I'm not sure the electorate really care enough about AV for it to occur to them to punish a party for 'sabotaging' it. However, having reflected on the other point I think it has considerable validity. If the 'write-in independence' campaign was sufficiently high-profile and officially sanctioned by the SNP, it would be very easy for the unionist parties to say for years afterwards "you had your referendum, and it failed". And why am I so sure it would fail, if 'failure' is defined as not achieving majority backing? Simply because it's so much tougher to persuade people to vote for something that isn't on the ballot paper (especially when what actually is on the ballot paper bears absolutely no relation to the topic you want them to express a view on).

So, as Simon Cowell might say, here's the dilemma. As I've noted before, without the SNP's endorsement, the Bella campaign is doomed to make little or no impact. But with the SNP's endorsement, the campaign could easily end up harming the prospects for a genuine independence referendum in the years to come. Bearing all that in mind, I'm becoming ever more confident that I'll be doing the right thing by answering the question that's actually in front of me when I vote in the AV referendum.

A little while ago, I had another look at the original post at Bella announcing the campaign, and I spotted a rather pointed editorial comment that I hadn't noticed earlier -

"It’s disappointing that some of these bloggers aren’t supporting this but hundreds are. Some of these people can’t decide whether to sit on the fence, to paraphrase Cameron."

Now, call me paranoid, but I think that might just have been aimed at the likes of me. That being the case, I couldn't help but raise a smile at this riposte from Jeff -

"By all means try to bring some dynamism to whatever it is you’re doing but don't have a go at people who don't join in with your specific endeavours. I hope you can see that it’s mildly offensive to suggest that any of us here don’t believe in a 'Better Nation' just because we plan on voting Yes (or No) in an AV referendum rather than scrawl 'INDEPENDENCE' over the ballot slip, as you would have us do instead."

Quite. It was the suddenness and relative randomness of the Bella announcement that struck me, and to criticise anyone who didn't instantly and dutifully fall into line behind it for not being able to "decide whether to sit on the fence" seems a touch bemusing, not to say ironic. From my own perspective, devoting a great deal of time to concocting the most improbable way to spoil your ballot paper in an electoral reform referendum seems like the very definition of struggling to make up your mind how to be undecided on an issue. I can see how such an approach might just be rational for those who genuinely don't give a monkey's about the difference between FPTP and AV (and admittedly there seem to be a lot of people who fall into that category), but for the rest of us it's a somewhat different matter.

For my part, I'll be voting full-bloodedly for independence on 5th May, and I'll be doing it in the way that actually promises to be effective - by voting SNP in the Scottish Parliament elections.


  1. I'm with BellaCaledonia. I'll spare you my opinion of the 'riposte'. In a comment on BC's post Jeff asks what a 2% showing would do to further the independence movement, and I think the answer is wake it up!
    The SNP is a political party, it is and has been the vessel of hope for the independence movement in Scotland for so long, and so successfully that the independence movement as a separate collective needs to gather and flex itself.
    I think the SNP has so many other groups and individuals seeking to influence and steer it, from the maintenance of gradualism (or glacialism) to specific policy areas, forgetting that it exists to bring independence to Scotland.
    Yet while the political navel gazers in politics or in the blogosphere may have deemed these the right or pragmatic or savvy things to do, the independence movement needs to remind everyone (including itself) that the the independence movement is not the SNP, some bloggers and political commentators.

    To 'scrawl INDEPENDENCE' on the AV ballot is a potential channel which could be used, if sufficient signal can be pushed through the noise, by people to express -
    a) their desire for direct movement towards independence to be respected as part of the political agenda by politicians and commentators
    b) that they are not alone in this.

    Should the SNP get involved? Absolutely not.
    Is it likely to wind up being fairly small scale? Probably, but I hope not.
    Is it worth doing? If you're more interested in promoting independence that the AV vote, I think so.

  2. "Is it worth doing? If you're more interested in promoting independence than the AV vote, I think so."

    With respect, that simply doesn't stack up. It's worth doing if a) you think it's going to make a real difference to the cause of independence, or b) you accept it isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference but you want to make a show of defiance as a point of principle. I don't think there's anything wrong with people taking the latter course of action, indeed for those who don't care at all about FPTP v AV it may well be the rational thing to do, although it does seem somewhat at variance with the bold declaration in Bella's original call-to-arms that the aim was for spoilt ballots to exceed the number of Yes votes and No votes. What troubles me is not people choosing to go down that road themselves, but rather the slight whiff of "you're not a real nationalist" or "you're a do-nothing nationalist" if you don't instantly fall into line behind someone else's rather offbeat plan.

    What would a 2% showing achieve? It would demonstrate that there is a hardcore of nationalists for whom an independence referendum is the highest political priority. So what? The media, the unionist parties, and the dogs on the street already knew that. Unless this campaign can claim broader support than that, few will even raise an eyebrow.

    By voting Yes in the AV referendum, I'm not for one second indicating that I think AV is more important than independence - I'm simply accepting the blindingly obvious that this actually is a referendum on AV, and that there's no realistic way of turning it into something more to our liking.

  3. The bulk of what i was saying was about the need to support independence as a movement rather than simply as supporters of a political party. Given that context rather than taking the quoted part in isolation, what I'm saying is that if you agree that there is a need to promote independence to the agenda regardless of the agendas set by political parties, and you think that need is more important than the AV vote, then I think it is worth doing.
    Subjective? Certainly, it is the nature of all value judgments.
    So when you say it doesn't stack up, you make it sound as though there is some logical flaw behind it. There isn't, we simply disagree subjectively over the relative merits of it as an idea, over the value of the AV ref, and various other factors.

    The thing that you find troubling seems faint and underspecified IMO. You say there's a whiff of people questioning your authenticity or drive as a nationalist, but I haven't seen any such thing said. So whatever 'digs' you perceive yourself to be receiving must be fairly subtle; you call the plan 'offbeat', and Jeff refers elsewhere to BC's pomposity of presentation while you make your criticism of the plan as effective in reality, perhaps people reading those sort of comments might see that as taking to task of their motivation to take the initiative in promoting independence outside of the standard political channel.

    As an example, perhaps this 'hardcore' of nationalists who think that an independence referendum should be the highest priority of nationalists feel that they are the ones who are and have been made to 'fall into line behind' the idea that gradualism is the only way to go, and that whenever they seek to motivate themselves and others to do a bit more those who subjectively disagree with their 'independence first' strategy are made to feel that somehow they're not in touch with political reality.

    Not so different from another subjective view where nationalists of a more gradual bent and with their priorities spread across a number of issues might feel that they don't deserve their authenticity to be questioned.

    Both subjective, self-centred (non-pejoratively) views of the world though. I think that difference simply strengthens what i suggested in my first post, that the independence movement would be better if it could reinvigorate itself as a broad and deep collective of *all* those seeking independence for Scotland, which could maintain and promote itself independently of political parties, the political/electoral calendar, the news cycle, tactical and strategic differences.

    FWIW, if your 'whiff of' stuff was related to anything I have written, please be reassured that it would have been as a function of my inability to express my views clearly enough, rather than it being a belief I hold - i do not.

  4. I tried posting a response a minute or two ago.
    Google didn't like something and complained the url was too long, then on continuing the page said that the comment had been published. It doesn't appear to have been.

    A summary of what I tried to post -
    I don't think it's fair to say it doesn't stack up. Within the context of the broader point I was seeking to make, our different opinions of the merits of doing it is just subjective.
    I think that feeling your authenticity called into question is unfortunate, but mirrors similar questioning of the savviness or pragmatism of more direct supporters of nationalism, also unfortunate. Both, again subjective.
    I think that reinvigoration of the independence movement free of political parties & electoral timetables, and the news cycle, would help *all* supporters of independence regardless of their strategic inclinations.
    If you got a 'whiff of' questioning your authenticity from anything I had written, it was simply a failure to be clear, I do not question your authenticity or motivation.

    (if my original post pops up, feel free to delete this one, ta)

  5. Apologies, I've only just realised your longer comment was caught in the spam filter all along.

    "The thing that you find troubling seems faint and underspecified IMO. You say there's a whiff of people questioning your authenticity or drive as a nationalist, but I haven't seen any such thing said. So whatever 'digs' you perceive yourself to be receiving must be fairly subtle"

    In that case, I'd refer you back to the editorial comment at BC I referred to in my post, which with respect, I'd suggest wasn't particularly 'subtle'. It's deeply troubling, not to mention bizarre, to be accused of indecisiveness or 'fence-sitting' simply for not wanting to abstain in a referendum, particuarly as I made my decision well before BC made their announcement (which was seemingly done in full anticipation that the likes of Better Nation would obediently fall into line).

  6. Oh, and to clarify further - I fully accept what you say about there being no digs intended on your part. My concern is about the attitude of BC. As I pointed out to Mike at the Better Nation thread - if a campaign is anticipating support from certain quarters, it might be an idea as a matter of courtesy to check if that support is actually there first.