As a Doctor Who
fan, 23rd November was always a very meaningful date when I was growing up (it's the anniversary of the programme's first transmission in 1963 and has frequently been used for anniversary specials). But it looks like that meaning will soon be overtaken for me: 23rd November will forevermore be the date on which the British authorities in London declared that the UK is no longer a voluntary union, and that Scotland has no democratic means of escaping its imprisonment in the British state unless given special permission by the UK Government. I use the term 'British authorities in London' advisedly, because one of the clearest signals of the way the wind is blowing was the extreme touchiness the President of the Supreme Court exhibited during his opening remarks at the October hearing, when the only supposed 'public misconception' he seemed interested in clearing up was the entirely accurate claim that he heads a British institution in London deciding Scotland's future. He tried rather implausibly to portray the court as a part-Scottish institution that has sometimes sat in Scotland (yeah, how many times would that be?) and that applies Scots Law. He would hardly have felt the need to do that if there was the remotest chance of the court actually upholding Scotland's right to democratically choose its own future.
So one week from today, everything will change for the independence movement, and for the SNP leadership in particular. Unless the court serves up a massive surprise, the "2023 referendum" that the SNP have continued to hype up over recent months will be officially off. That will leave behind a vacuum in terms of a mission and a focus for the party membership. But as long as Nicola Sturgeon sticks to what she has already promised, that vacuum should be very easily filled by a plebiscite election that we can expect within two years. Indeed, this should be a moment of liberation for the independence movement, because it will free us from the tyranny of 'once in a generation' - we will no longer need be haunted by an excessive fear of defeat, because if we are forced in future through no fault of our own to seek an independence mandate via scheduled elections instead of referendums, the only limit on how quickly we can go back and try again after a defeat will be the frequency with which scheduled elections occur.
Will Nicola Sturgeon stick to the promise, though? There have been some troubling signs, most notably Mhairi Hunter and Angus Robertson both making comments that seemed to imply that they think a plebiscite election is simply an election in which the SNP seek a mandate with which to pressurise the UK Government into granting a Section 30 order - ie. exactly what they've been doing for years and years and that has proved beyond all doubt to be a dud strategy. Additionally, Nicola Sturgeon indicated that the SNP might need to take some time to reflect after a Supreme Court defeat - why? If you've already announced that a plebiscite election will automatically follow such a defeat, why wouldn't you simply use the high-profile nature of the occasion to reiterate that plan, rather than allowing the momentum to flag by embarking on a seemingly redundant spell of humming and hawing? The only obvious reason I can think of is that you want to use the 'reflection period' as part of a pre-planned choreography for a U-turn, or at least for a watering down of the plebiscite election concept until it comes into line with Hunter's and Robertson's interpretations - in other words until it ceases to be a plebiscite election in any meaningful sense.
I strongly urge rank-and-file SNP members to be vigilant against that danger. A plebiscite election is not an election in which a mandate for a referendum is sought, nor is it merely an election in which - to use Angus Robertson's odd choice of words - "independence is the key issue". To qualify as a plebiscite election, the SNP manifesto would have to make it clear that a majority of the vote would constitute an outright mandate for independence, and that if such a mandate is achieved, the UK government would be expected to negotiate an independence settlement without any further need for a referendum. If that isn't the path the SNP stick to, the Supreme Court verdict will turn into a lose/lose outcome - we'll just carry on ineffectually seeking a Section 30 order, and the only thing that will have changed is that we'll have thrown away our only back-up plan.
That said, if the SNP's members succeed in keeping the leadership honest and a genuine plebiscite election occurs, there will then be a challenge for the smaller pro-independence parties, who will have to realise that splitting the Yes vote under a first-past-the-post system is an indulgence we simply can't afford.
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The social media pile-on directed against me by Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland has predictably continued over recent days. It's purely and simply an attempt to stop any further legitimate criticisms of Mr Campbell from being expressed, but at some point the penny will have to drop with his supporters that the bully-boy tactic isn't working. Quite the reverse, in fact: the more attacks I have to respond to, the more you'll find that I do respond to them, and all the outrage and mockery and affected "boredom" will not actually prove to be any sort of deterrent.
Craig Murray intervened the other night with a friendlier and more equal opportunities attempt at silencing, because he wanted both me and Mr Campbell to shut up. But in doing so, he unwittingly provided some highly revealing light relief. He told us to stop focusing on each other and instead to train our fire on "the real enemy". It quickly became apparent that the real enemy he was referring to was not the unionist parties or the UK Government, but instead Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP!
This is where I think Craig and any of the other more well-meaning of Mr Campbell's defenders need to show a touch of humility and perspective. To them, it may honestly seem impossible for anyone to criticise Mr Campbell in even the tiniest way without being "divisive" or "obsessive" or "not altogether sensible" to use Craig's own words. But for years Craig has churned out article after article attacking Nicola Sturgeon, Angus Robertson and other leading SNP figures as enemies to the independence cause who must be ruthlessly defeated. To at least 80% of the independence movement, and to 99% of pro-independence voters, he must look as if he's taken leave of his senses. They'll be quietly screaming at him to stop causing "division", and to stop being "obsessional", and certainly to stop saying things that are "not altogether sensible", and instead to turn his attention back to "the real enemy" in the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Now, that actually is not the position I take - although I don't share Craig's view that Nicola Sturgeon is an out-and-out enemy of independence (I just think she's overly timid and cautious), I nevertheless don't doubt his sincerity in believing that she is. But given the extreme extent to which he is pushing against the tide of mainstream opinion in the movement about Nicola Sturgeon, I think it would do him some credit to acknowledge that even though he or one particular group of people hold a view that Stuart Campbell remains an ally of the independence cause, others may sincerely reach the opposite conclusion without in any way being misguided or 'cranks' or 'missing the bigger picture' - especially since the evidence that Mr Campbell has turned against independence is considerably stronger than the equivalent evidence for Ms Sturgeon.
Last year, Mr Campbell chose polling day of all times
to post a disgraceful piece urging his readers not to vote for the pro-independence candidates on the Holyrood constituency ballot in a significant number of seats. If he had got his way and unionist parties had won those seats, it could have cost us the pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, which would have set the cause back years, if not decades. For quite some time, he has joined with the unionist media in pushing false propaganda about polling to leave his readers with the bogus impression that Yes support has flatlined since 2014 (and because many readers are sufficiently under his spell to abandon all critical thinking, they just take his false claims as read and honestly think they "know" that Yes support has been static since 2014 - or even more ludicrously that Yes support among women has "dropped 17%" because of the GRA issue). And he's taken a scorched earth approach to the pro-independence New Media by peddling bogus statistics to give the impression that the Yes blogosphere has essentially withered to nothing, because his so-called "closed" website (which in fact he's currently blogging full-time on!) is, he'd like us to believe, the only site that anyone is interested in looking at.
It is far from obvious that the above are the actions of an independence supporter. When he's not actively trying to defeat independence at the ballot box, he's indirectly willing the destruction of our movement by means of self-fulfilling prophecies. Can anyone doubt that he wants his claims about a stagnant Yes vote to be true? Can anyone doubt that he would love his claims that there is no thriving pro-independence New Media without Wings to be correct?
It may be that if the Supreme Court surprise us by allowing a referendum, Mr Campbell will just about be on the Yes side once again, perhaps by running his own dedicated "Yes to independence, No to a Scotland where women have beards" campaign. But in the more likely scenario of a plebiscite election, I have no doubt whatever that he would attempt to sabotage the vote. What he did at last year's election is a very clear precedent for that.
Incidentally, Craig tried to portray the differences I have with Stuart as purely personal, on the basis that you couldn't put a cigarette paper between our political views and that I'm even closer politically to Stuart than Craig is (presumably he's referring to the fact that I broadly share Stuart's views on the gender identity issue). Even leaving aside the fact that I remain in favour of independence while Stuart appears to have become ambivalent about it at best, I can actually think of at least three fundamental political differences between us, just off the top of my head:
1) Stuart wants to concede that Trident can remain in an independent Scotland in return for massive financial compensation, whereas for me the removal of inhuman weapons of mass destruction from our shores is an absolutely non-negotiable red line.
2) Stuart is opposed to the continued existence of the Gaelic language, whereas I want it to be protected and if at all possible revived (and indeed on a nightly basis I plug away on Duolingo trying to learn Gaelic myself). As a Welsh commenter on this blog pointed out the other day, Stuart even went so far as offensively equating the speaking of Gaelic with "the burning of witches", ie. something society used to do but should have grown out of by now. Although an irrational hatred of Gaelic isn't necessarily incompatible with support for independence, it's hard to see the point of having an independent Scotland that simply seeks to replicate English culture as much as humanly possible.
3) Judging from his Twitter activity, Stuart gives the very strong impression of supporting the SNP's official policy of a so-called "Scottish Model" on prostitution law, which is essentially a carbon copy of the Nordic Model with a saltire slapped on it. I believe the Nordic Model infantilises women and deprives them of agency, stops men and women from being equal in the eyes of the law, and is based on an ideology every bit as nonsensically metaphysical ("all sex work is literal violence against women") as the gender identity ideology. This isn't an issue on most people's radars, but you can hear more about it in a podcast I did with Maggie McNeill
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