Monday, August 8, 2022

Our goal has to be to achieve independence by the earliest possible date - not to embark on a new 40 year project to do it the slow way

I'd always hoped this didn't need to be said, but I now realise it probably does.  Notwithstanding my involvement in the Alba Party, this blog continues to represent my own independent thoughts and analysis.  What I say here might be right or it might be wrong, or in some cases there may not even be any clear-cut right or wrong, but you can at least rely on me to be authentic.  If I was to constantly parrot the exact party line at all times, irrespective of whether I agree with it or think it's well-founded, it wouldn't actually do anyone any good, because people would quickly see through it and and no-one would have any reason to pay the slightest heed to what I say from that moment on.  If they want to read the exact party line, they know they can find it on the official website or Twitter page.  An echo adds nothing.

And I can only guess, but I would assume that when people were kind enough to vote me on to the Alba NEC last year, they did so because they wanted me to represent my distinct perspective on the NEC, rather than passively take home the central Alba perspective from the NEC and represent it on my blog.  There would be very little point in the party having a multi-member governing body unless multiple points of view were being contributed to it.  In any case, blogging is something wholly separate and I have always jealously guarded my independence as a blogger.  This is a pro-indy blog written by someone who happens to be an Alba member - it's not an "Alba blog".  So if sometimes my honest analysis isn't in total conformity with Alba messaging, that's a feature not a bug.

Over the past few weeks, I've been very straightforward and direct in saying that the Supreme Court is highly likely to strike down the plan for an October 2023 independence referendum and that the operative part of Nicola Sturgeon's recent statement is therefore the back-up plan of a plebiscite election, which is what we should be preparing ourselves for.  I wouldn't be treating readers as adults if I said anything else.  Nevertheless, the current preoccupation of Alba's messaging (as I understand it) is to continue to relentlessly hold the SNP to their promise of an October 2023 referendum.  That particular bird has flown in my view, because no such promise really exists anymore. The moment to blast the SNP for breaking their word was when the announcement of a reference to the Supreme Court was made and when the plebiscite election back-up was unveiled - if, that is, we really felt that the promise was being broken in a fundamental enough way to warrant cries of betrayal.  For my own part, I was just relieved that there was finally a hard commitment to hold an independence vote one way or the other, and I wasn't going to quibble about a few months' potential deviation from the originally promised date.  (The most likely date for the next general election is May 2024, and in the real world it's almost inconceivable that it'll be any later than October 2024.)

For a very long time, those of us who had moved on from the SNP criticised the Sturgeon leadership for a silly pretence that there was definitely going to be a referendum in 2023.  There's a very severe danger now that the only people keeping up that pretence will be ourselves!  The SNP certainly aren't singing the old tune anymore - they're explicit that a referendum is contingent on Supreme Court approval, and that a plebiscite election will follow if the ruling goes the wrong way.  Instead of flogging a dead horse by trying to keep the SNP to a referendum promise that is no longer a promise, I think we'd be far better advised to turn our attention to the plebiscite election (which really is the only game in town, whether people want to admit that to themselves or not) and start setting some red lines.  I'm not naive enough to think that the SNP leadership are incapable of backtracking on what they've pledged - after what happened in 2017, we know they can backtrack on almost anything.  So let's set out what would and would not qualify as a plebiscite election, so that we can recognise one when we see it, or indeed recognise the absence of one when it's not there. The key to it really is whether the SNP's manifesto is specific enough that a majority vote would constitute an outright mandate for independence and that negotiations on independence with the UK Government would be expected to follow, without any need for a further referendum.  It's also obviously vital that the SNP reflect any manifesto declaration in their actual campaigning - if they instead spend the run-up to polling day saying "independence would be lovely, wouldn't it, but let's talk about the minor mitigations we want the UK Government to make to the cost of living crisis", we'll know we're being fleeced.

It's not immediately clear to me why we would want to defer that discussion so that we can hype up a referendum that we all think isn't going to happen.  I don't know a single person in Alba who thinks the Supreme Court will allow a referendum - and crucially, that belief has been openly shared in public.  Alex Salmond, for example, memorably said that the reference to the Supreme Court was a "Hail Mary pass" with very little prospect of success.  Spending the next two months hypothesising on the success of a Hail Mary pass seems a curious focus for our energies, especially as that contradiction is unlikely to pass unnoticed by the people who the messaging is aimed at.  It's not something I plan to do on this blog.  The window of opportunity for talking up the fiction of an October 2023 referendum will be exceedingly brief in any case - the Supreme Court verdict isn't far off and will create new facts on the ground that all of us will have to swiftly adjust to.  

Could it be that there's a desire to delay confronting the prospect of a plebiscite election, because that will raise uncomfortable questions for Alba itself?  It may well do, but if the prize of independence is everything, the inevitability of experiencing discomfort along the way isn't something we should shy away from.  I joined Alba for one reason and one reason alone - to achieve independence by the earliest possible date.  I certainly didn't do it to slow things down even further by embarking on a new 40 year project to replace the SNP as the largest party and only then strive for independence.  People need to realise that when a plebiscite election is denounced as a sham and when we're urged to instead look towards the 2026 Holyrood vote as a chance to dislodge the SNP, a very long-term project is exactly what we're being urged to resign ourselves to.  Yes, if a plebiscite election fails or if it never even materialises, we'll just have to pick up the pieces as best we can, but that will be a sub-optimal outcome to put it mildly.  It's not something we should be impatiently waiting to get on with, not least because we're not passive observers and doom-mongering about a plebiscite election actually increases its chances of failing.  A much better idea is to seize the opportunity that is actually before us.  Let the drudgery of a post-defeat 2026 election take care of itself if it happens - for now, we have our national independence to win.  And even if you think a plebiscite election is somehow designed by the SNP to bury independence, the rational response is to thwart their dastardly plan by helping them win in spite of themselves.  That'll show 'em.

And let's be absolutely clear - the claims that a plebiscite election is a sham, and the eagerness for it to fail so we can get on with fighting the SNP in 2026, have been made firmly in the public domain by one or two people who hold senior positions.  There can be no double standard about this - if I'm going to be criticised for choosing the topics of analysis on this blog, it's entirely legitimate for me to express my own deep concerns about people who are going way, way 'off message' by publicly talking up a project of effectively sabotaging a plebiscite election.  We all know what's been going on - expectations have been raised sky high that Alba will be standing candidates against the SNP across the board at the general election, and there have been repeated spurious claims that this would somehow help us win an independence mandate, even though no serious person believes that to be actually true.  The real agenda is to settle old scores against the SNP's members of parliament at the least appropriate moment imaginable.

This is coming from individuals (albeit prominent individuals), let me stress, not from Alba itself as a party.  There's much in Alba's official analysis of the current situation that I wholeheartedly agree with - for example, I share the view that Nicola Sturgeon's negligence in selecting a Lord Advocate who was unwilling to certify a Referendum Bill as within Holyrood's powers has needlessly weakened the independence movement's position.  Every time I make that point, someone pops up in the comments section to claim that the Lord Advocate's stance is merely a tactic to facilitate the reference to the Supreme Court.  That's astoundingly naive.  There's ample evidence that it's the other way around, and that the reference to the court is being made out of necessity because the Lord Advocate would have refused to make the certification.

But while we can criticise the SNP's missteps and identify how their strategy could be better, Craig Murray was undoubtedly right a few weeks ago when he stated that we have to live in a world where the SNP gets to set the strategy as the pro-independence party which is actually in government.  It's for the rest of us to do our utmost to ensure the strategy succeeds.  And, actually, not all of the criticisms of the SNP are fully justified.  It's been suggested to me that Nicola Sturgeon is letting Westminster off the hook by not campaigning hard enough for a Section 30 order - and while I have no doubt that a Salmond-led government would be far better at keeping the heat on the London Tories, I think we have to be honest enough to say that the identity of the First Minister isn't the only variable that has changed over the last ten years.  It's now an article of faith in the Tory party that a Section 30 must be rejected under all circumstances - that simply wasn't the case prior to 2014.  I really struggle to imagine what a successful campaign to persuade the UK government to change its mind would look like, or how it would even begin to gain any traction.

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