The results of last weeks election should be a stark reminder to Independence campaigners that the campaign for Scottish independence is not the sole preserve of the SNP and that while for many years they were the driving force behind it, it was the cross party/all-party/no party Yes Scotland campaign which united almost half the country to support independence, and while the SNP were the main beneficiaries of that movement post September 2014, they have grown lazy and complacent since then. Many people have been looking to the likes of the Scottish Independence Convention to take up where Yes Scotland left off. But it hasn’t quite sparked a fire in the way Yes did; it really needs to become louder, bolder and more visible: it needs to become the new face of Yes.
The closure of Yes Scotland was the first in a series of mistakes made by the Yes movement (and I suspect the SNP were the prime movers in that regard) in which everything closed down almost overnight. With the central core gone many Yes groups followed suit and two years of hard work, contacts, networks and all the infrastructure they had created went with them. A period of reflection may have been in order rather than outright shut-down, and in the absence of Yes the movement gravitated towards the next best thing: the SNP. The SNP was not a substitute for Yes and while in the short term wins at Westminster and Holyrood were a boost to pro-independence supporters, the SNP failed to move the case forward for independence. As a political party full of people who now rely on being elected as their employment, the SNP’s prime focus is to be re-elected. The focus is always on the short term campaign, not the long term one. Since 2014 we have seen a Westminster election, a Holyrood election, the council elections and another Westminster election in close succession and independence campaigners should ask themselves this question; other than campaigning for their own personal election, what has my Councillor, my MP, my MSP done to promote independence? The honest answer is probably very little. That’s not to say it’s not something they don’t care about, but it’s not their priority anymore. The party is. So while they are tied up in the backstabbing world of internal party politics, the day to day business of attending committees, poring over minutes of meetings, the meeting and greeting, they simply aren’t making the case for independence in the way it needs to be made. The idea that by providing competent government, the SNP would make the case for independence by default is erroneous. No government has ever got everything right, all governments have failures, crises, scandals. The threat for years was that the country would collapse under an SNP government. That argument failed to hold water after one term of SNP government, but the longer the SNP remain in charge the longer they will be associated with and blamed for, all the failings which exist in the main subjects of concern: health, welfare, education, transport.
As a realist I know that no government can deliver the funding required for the NHS, for education, for a welfare state, and that there are things outside their control which will never be fixed, regardless of funding. But those failings are now being used to make the case against independence. The argument goes that if the SNP cannot run X, Y or Z, then Scotland cannot function as an independent country. That’s a ludicrous argument, but it’s gaining traction. Repeated ad nauseum by the leaders of the unionist parties, it’s repeated by their members and by the media until it gains traction in the public mind: If Davidson, Dugdale, Rennie and the BBC are all saying that education is in crisis then it must be.
So while the SNP are now involved in fire-fighting, defending and spinning in a game of self-preservation, trying to appeal to as wide a base as possible in one election campaign after another, they have lost sight of their core directive, their raison d’etre: Independence For Scotland. The three Unionist parties have been for some time saying that Nicola Sturgeon has been so obsessed with independence that she is failing to do the day job. I say the reverse: she has been so busy doing the day job she has failed to promote independence. In fact she’s not only failed to promote independence, but when asked seems to pointedly deny it’s even on the radar. Is it any wonder that the SNP lost so many votes? By denying independence, by playing it down to appeal to floating unionist voters, she demoralised and disincentivised the huge number of people who flooded to the SNP from Yes. By saying that we may vote on independence in 2019 or 2020 many people will say, ‘you know what, the SNP don’t need my vote at the moment, they have huge majorities and I’ll come back out and vote when it matters’. And hundreds of thousands of votes go down the pan. Way to go Nicola.
That’s why Yes Scotland (or another suitable high profile group)needs to be back, making the case for independence. Because independence isn’t about SNP policy, it’s about what Scotland can do if it has the chance to make it’s own decisions. It’s about pointing to Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in Scotland and saying to them “Look! Even with their best ever result in years, Labour cannot win in England, and if they cannot convince England, their policies are pipe dreams! But they are good policies that could make Scotland better. They could actually be implemented here, if you had the belief in an making a successful independent Scotland”. It’s about pointing out the benefits to all Scots of all parties why their policies needn’t be just ideas: they could be enacted. So why not work to enact them?
In the coming months people across the Yes movement will start to realise that the SNP is not the be all and end all of the independence movement. It’s time to get the team up and running again, to be active and noisy again, to start to think again about the big picture, not the party picture. Of course we need to recognise that there are times when the opposition are giving the SNP a kicking to put the boot into independence, but there are times when they will justifiably be putting the boot into poor performance and bad policy. What we can’t allow is for the latter to be used as the former. So the SNP can be part of the team, but not to the extent it calls the shots.
We are faced with the prospect of Scotland being dragged out of Europe, tied to right-wing Brexit Tory Britain, with a hint or DUP and Orange Order on the side. If you can’t make the case for independence from that, you might as well pack it in. Who’s up for independence then?