“Scottish independence is a progressive movement, not an apology nor a distraction”
Movements don’t stand still. It’s in the name. It will undoubtedly be some time before we see massive shoulder to shoulder AOUB marches and rallies, saltires flying in the wind, or even drooping in the rain. Many will rejoice at that thought, but it is in no-one’s power to wish away the drive for independence, a viable and normal position for any country. The Yes movement is no different from other movements across the planet, where democratic deficit needs to be remedied. The urgency, nature and forms differ but the need will not go away.
The independence movement is so much more than the SNP. However, the Sottish Government is the interface with the voting public. The decisions made by the government’s SNP leadership during the current pandemic will be a major part of the broader framework for the continuation, and quite probably the outcome of the Yes movement and campaign.
Around mid to end February Yes stalls shut up shop, signalling the end of the pre-Covid era. From there on in we were citizens of a fragile, borderless world as we watched the horrors unfold in Italy, and charted graphs signalling our own encroaching tragedy.
Throughout the UK, a quiet contemplation, or a rabbit in the headlights transfixion with the changes ahead became a roar: We cannot and must not go back to the recognised “Normal.” While the wonders of nature reclaiming the earth entranced us, the devastation of inequality grasped us by the throat. Privilege has been re-calibrated to mean having a steady income and a home to isolate from the virus. For far too many, income and security of tenure is very far from assured. Prince Charles and PM Johnson seeing out their virus in safer and more assured ways remind us of real privilege on our doorstep.
Eventually, Covid related anxieties, infection and death reached Scotland. Notwithstanding the many restraints and grey areas around devolved and reserved issues, the Scottish government embraced the Four Nations approach, and we slipped seamlessly into a UK mindset, with relatively minor variations. Nicola Sturgeon tirelessly reminded us that she is First Minister for all, and that the pandemic must not be politicised. Tones became hushed in both parliaments. A tone at odds with the mounting anger and frustration of the population.
We could have been a region again, but for the dignity and leadership of the three woman who represented us each day to update us the ominous spread of infection, and death rates. But for the eventual “mistake” or “indiscretion” of Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood, and the gratingly cumbersome presence of National Clinical Director Jason Leitch, Scotland could still cut a dash at the podium.
For a while, there was an almost tangible sense of stifling indecency in the prospect of raised voices, and actual opposition in Holyrood, even as the virus turned lives upside down, and left so many floundering through the hastily assembled safety nets. The actual indecency was, and continues to be the Tories, led by the “Got Brexit done, now take one for your country” PM Boris Johnson as he flirted with herd immunity, and later “fought” the virus, and won! In Scotland, as elsewhere in the UK testing essentially evaporated to the toxic ether, as we entered the Delay stage “As One”.
If this was a weakness, it was soon to be exploited by Jackson Carlaw, whose indignation and frustration began to leach out: To the BBC, who, he feels have not given him his rightful place in a parliament that he does not recognise. And in his uncontrollable digs and jibes around the Salmond case. The jury is still out on the extent to which the four nations approach has compromised the integrity of the Scottish Govt approach. With juries in mind, also, it was surely incumbent on opposition parties to challenge hastily arranged emergency issues, such as the proposed, then scrapped trial without jury. The pandemic is a political issue. We are not all in this together, and everyone knows it.
Was there a touch of Brexit diplomacy by the First Minister? A habitual choosing of the long game approach? This may afford her the respect and national/international recognition that the leader of an aspiring independent Scotland requires. Internationalism is no little consideration at times of crisis, when an ugly side of nationalism can erupt into conflict. When Trump’s blatant racism towards China is a potential threat to global stability, and as we prepare to slide into a no Deal Brexit. Nor should diplomacy be lightly dismissed on an international platform. Cue Trump yet again.
Judgements will be, are being, made from within and outside the movement. Favourable, or possibly deeply critical, as the ongoing human tragedy unfolds. They will impact on leanings for or against independence. Before we judge, be sure that the media will not be kind, and try to imagine a daily onslaught of pressure to save lives, or save the economy.
Undoubtedly a Scottish Government with full fiscal powers could implement Universal Basic Income, for starters. Things could have been very different in an independent Scotland. They still can be to some extent, such as devolved powers will allow. As each day passes, a public, already becoming at least as politicised as during the 2014 independence campaign, does not wish to be dragged along in the slipstream of British Nationalism, already familiar from that surrounding Brexit. The apolitical, “all in it together” approach is long past its sell-by date, and at odds with the public mood.
If the management and leadership of the pandemic is an unfolding story, it’s not the only area of unfinished business yet to impact the Independence Movement. The chasm between the grassroots and the SNP leadership is not necessarily visible to many a loyal SNP supporter, or indeed an undecided voter. However, there is a possibility that unresolved issues at mainstream SNP and Scottish governmental level will continue to obscure much of the productive work being undertaken on the ground, by Source/Common Weal and others. Work that could truly reshape the nation, if we allow this to happen.
The Salmond and Sturgeon factions will take centre stage for some time, aided and abetted by a salivating media. Shelved issues, such as the fierce debate around the Gender Recognition Act have to be resolved somehow. With the 2021 Scottish Government elections looming, will these issues, and the reckoning over the Scottish government’s handling of the pandemic crisis culminate in a leadership crisis? With the section 30 issue already in cold storage, how urgent is the result of the 2021 election in terms of advancement for the independence cause? Is there even a possibility that the recent emergency legislation somehow demands the postponement of the election?
The grassroots mantra of “A fairer, more equal society” takes on a whole new, unfathomably urgent meaning in the shadow of the human and economic crisis we are our living through. It must never be a possibility that homeless people should be returned to the streets from temporary accommodation, that pre-existing levels of poverty and unemployment should multiply. We cannot allow the UK government to drag us further into despair, to satisfy the call of British/English Nationalism, literally Hell bent on surging ahead with Brexit.
We have to think and act differently, not just more efficiently. Scottish independence is a progressive movement, not an apology nor a distraction at this time. It always has been, and groups and individuals on the ground have not stopped thinking, lobbying, sharing ideas. A physical rest can benefit too, and time to reflect on new and socially responsible tactics will be the likely outcome.
We can’t pick up on the Growth Commission trajectory as a blueprint for independence. With new economic urgencies, and even less fallback on North sea oil, we have to engage with every fibre in our being to ensure that our vision of independence does not involve any deals over Trident, HS2, or any major concessions to big business. Climate change won’t resolve itself as a result of a period of global lockdown. That was just an early covid dream that surfaced as part of the unreality of our situation. In this brutal acceptance stage, the eye of the storm, the bitter truth is that the firing up of the planet’s dirty industries, and its greediest owners will take us back to where we were in no time.
If there’s anything that the independence movement could learn from the Four nations approach to the pandemic, it’s to turn it on its head. Consider the view from the standpoint of a dignified independent nation. Consider the equal partnership opportunities that could arise with our nearest neighbours in tackling future global crises. We now have a wealth of information about other countries that could lead to international co-operation in many ways. Consider also the tribalism that still abounds in the Scottish independence movement, and dismiss it. Most of all, and this is not in any way an exclusively Scottish experience, consider the power and initiative that we are seeing daily, of individuals who make up communities, and who could lay the steady foundations of our new nation state.
We can all help by contributing and sharing ideas via our independent media;