Sunday, October 17, 2010

'Independence is not everything'

A sentiment which many of the fundamentalists within his own party have of course long suspected Alex Salmond of treacherously harbouring, so it's somewhat ironic that his uttering of those words at the SNP conference heralded a reorienting of the party's strategy towards making a full-blooded case for independence. It's a paradox that in order to do that you really have to start off by declaring that independence is not the be-all-and-end-all, but as the First Minister acknowledged in his speech, it's quite possible that many people are under the false impression that nationalists do merely hanker after the sterile trappings of statehood, such as flags and anthems. In fact, I'd go further - I'd suggest that impression is so deeply entrenched for some voters that they will be extremely resistant when they hear Salmond make a passionate case for independence in economic and social justice terms. They'll instinctively suspect that this is a phoney after-the-fact rationalisation for the nationalist impulse.

So what can the party do in the face of such scepticism? The successful 2007 strategy was to essentially opt-out of the problem - using the prospect of the referendum to 'quarantine' the issue of independence, and instead making the election about what could be achieved within the devolved powers of the parliament as they stood, or possibly as they would be under 'devo plus'. Make no mistake, if today's speech was a declaration of intent, that strategy is now defunct, and the SNP's mission will in future be to tackle head-on the cynicism and apathy encountered in various segments of the electorate about the cause of independence. It's a mammoth task, and perhaps even one that is not wholly achievable in the space between now and the election - but making a start now could pay long-term dividends, regardless of who wins power in May. I'm sure the SNP leadership have been acutely aware for some time that a strategy designed to secure a referendum on independence could be spectacularly counter-productive if the groundwork to win that referendum has not been done in time.

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps one thing we can be grateful to Labour for is that in their foolishness of replacing Wendy Alexander's (admittedly chaotic) imagination on the subject of a referendum with Iain "the Snarl" Gray's knee-jerk rejectionism, they may well have bought the SNP more time to make their case. Due to the economic climate, winning a referendum on the planned date this year would have been a long-shot - it looks like Salmond, shrewd gambler that he is, is resolved to ensure that the odds are firmly in the SNP's favour whenever the referendum does finally come.


  1. Good piece James.

    Clearly I'd like independence tomorrow, but I suspect that a softly softly approach is much more likely to gain results.

    We've proved now that we can govern; we proved that the world didn't stop turning because the SNP was in charge. I think that Labour has shown itslef to be petty minded and self serving in voting against SNP legislation for the sake of denying them a success.

    They most certainly haven't been acting in the interests of the country and only the stupidest would fail to see that.

    You are right. The argument that Scotland is better off with Britain may have had some economic basis a few years ago, but with Britain being broke, more broke than most, it's a laughable proposition now.

  2. Agreed, Tris. And it's a very good point you make about Scottish Labour's opposition for opposition's sake - the pettiness of which has been brought into sharper relief by the fact that London Labour now agrees with the SNP on some of those issues!