Exactly three months ago, in the early hours of 1st June, I warned independence supporters that they'd better pace themselves during the "summer of independence" that Humza Yousaf had promised them, because the packed programme of seminars, festivities and cultural events threatened to leave them utterly exhausted. I was being sarcastic, of course, because we were all fairly confident that the summer of independence was a total sham and that nothing of any substance had been planned. That's pretty much how it's panned out, but if we're sarcastic when big events are absent, I suppose we have to give the SNP leadership some credit when a big event does come along and they give it their wholehearted backing. And, in fairness, the march planned for Saturday is the sort of thing our minds might conjure up if we were trying to imagine what a genuine 'summer of independence' would look like. Just a couple of snags - it's a one day thing, not a three month thing, and it's taking place on what in the UK is traditionally regarded as the second day of autumn, not in summer. But it's better than nothing.
And, come to think of it, there's more than one definition of when the seasons begin and end - in the US, summer is regarded as starting with the Solstice on 21st June and ending with the autumn Equinox on 23rd September. Even in Scotland, average temperatures in September are only marginally cooler than average temperatures in June, which leads me to suspect that if you drew a circle around the warmest three month period of the year and called it "summer", it would incorporate at least the first few days of September - maybe the first five, maybe even the first ten or twelve. So if you stretch the point, you could perhaps regard Saturday's march as our promised summer of independence, condensed into one intense late summer's day.
The other sense in which it's fair to give the SNP leadership some credit is that we've always criticised them in the past for not turning up at independence marches, but being perfectly happy to endorse identity politics rallies with their presence. OK, it's naturally vexing that they're only going to Saturday's march because it's a top-down, tightly-controlled, carefully-scripted affair, and that equivalent grass-roots marches are still routinely cold-shouldered. But logically we have to acknowledge that the leadership organising their own sanitised indy marches to go to is a hell of a lot better than them not going to any indy marches at all.
Having doled out the credit where it's due, I now feel compelled to point out some of the oddities of Saturday's event. The designated presenters of the rally, Alistair Heather and Kelly Given, presumably selected because they combine youthful trendiness with cast-iron political loyalty to the ruling faction, have made some downright peculiar statements in recent days.
"The stars are finally aligning...the independence fever is spreading again like it did in 2013/14...it feels like we're moving into a space now where we've cultivated this new movement that is kind of reminiscent of the campaign in 2014"
Does that describe the Scotland of 2023 that you recognise? We're actually in a mixed situation at best. It's true that support for independence is holding up admirably, and may even have increased a touch in recent weeks. But the Yes vote is still lower than it was during the period between mid-2020 and early 2021, which is when the stars really aligned but when the opportunity was entirely squandered. (That was the height of the Covid emergency, but it didn't stop planning going ahead for a major sporting event in Glasgow in the summer of 2021, or for a massive international climate summit in Glasgow in the autumn of 2021.)
The real problem we face now, though, is not that the Yes vote isn't high enough but that the SNP vote isn't high enough. A huge Yes vote is devoid of all value if there aren't going to be enough pro-independence elected politicians to put the people's wishes into action. Strictly in terms of party political voting intentions we're in a weaker position than we've been at any time for around a decade. Rather than everything suddenly going from wrong to right, as Given and Heather would have you believe, the events of 2023 have at dizzying speed taken the SNP from being in a commanding position to being on the ropes and trying to find a way of fighting back.
Worse still, the independence movement is not starting to resemble the healthy state it was in back in 2014, as Given and Heather claim, but in fact is more demoralised than it's been since 2014 due to Nicola Sturgeon suddenly nipping away without having kept her promises, the lies about SNP membership numbers, the poor leadership of Humza Yousaf, and the essentially rigged election process which installed him.
The positive interpretation of Given's and Heather's strange comments would be the same as the one I recently attributed to the Alba Party's actions, ie. that they're trying to "fake it until it's real". If so, I don't disapprove of that, because sometimes grand optimistic gestures can prove to be a turning point. But there's a fine line between faking it until it's real and slipping into a world of total delusion, and what troubles me is that I can't quite work out which side of that line Given and Heather are on.
Also, what do they mean when they say the rally "feels like a changing of the guard"? Do they mean between unionists and Yessers? If so, I don't really get what their point is, but the only alternative meaning would be a changing of the guard within the independence movement, which given how the rally is being organised would point to a transition from grass-roots control to establishment/SNP leadership control. Few people would see that as a step forward, so it's an odd thing to be openly celebrating or boasting about.
Lastly, there's the strange specificity of the rally being about independence within the EU, thus excluding Yessers who are anti-EU or who prefer EFTA to full EU membership. I don't necessarily disagree with that in principle, but it hopelessly lacks congruity with the Yousaf strategy of "let's take our time, Rome wasn't built in a day". Almost by definition, the 'delay' faction of the SNP have rejected Brexit as a central argument for independence, because if that card was going to be played, you really needed to have a referendum or equivalent democratic vote before Brexit or before leaving the single market and customs union. You'd have had to say "Brexit is an emergency which independence can avert". It's much harder to do that now, because the SNP have been sending the message that Brexit is perfectly tolerable and must (like Covid) be "lived with" for an indefinite period.
But certainly if you ever want to use the unpopularity of Brexit to win independence, you can't delay any further. If you wait as long as Yousaf apparently wants to, people will quite reasonably say "if Brexit was tolerable to the SNP for every single year between 2021 and 2034, why is it suddenly intolerable in 2035?" It just won't wash. Delaying means finding a case for independence which doesn't feature Europe particularly strongly - which, yes, renders nonsensical pretty much everything the SNP said and did in the years after the EU referendum.
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My blogpost last Thursday, about the difficulty of keeping Scot Goes Pop going for much longer due to lack of funds, produced a substantial response. Not all of it is visible on the fundraiser page itself because around half the donations were made directly via Paypal, but over £700 has been raised since I posted. The fundraiser remains well short of its target, but I'll certainly keep going for as long as I possibly can, and there's still some sort of chance I may be able to keep going indefinitely, depending on what happens over the next few weeks. Many thanks to everyone who has donated, and if anyone else would like to contribute, the fundraiser page can be found HERE. Alternatively, direct payments can be made via Paypal - my Paypal email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org