Another summer of broken promises

by | 26 Jul 2023

It's not just that Humza Yousef has broken his promise about holding a 'summer of independence' campaign, it's that the failure to hold one makes clear that his overall strategy is not serious.

For some of you, this article will be superfluous. If so, you could always forward it to someone who actually believed there was going to be a serious ‘summer of independence’ campaign. I was never one of them so the second the First Minister said it I was virtually certain I’d be writing this article.

That may be obvious, but the implications of what this means may not be immediately clear, so I’ll just spell that out too. But first, it might be worth reflecting on how the current independence strategy was formed. This is the minute of the meeting:

A Spad, a First Minister and NEC member walk into a bar. The Spad says ‘how do you get an independence supporter to take their heart medication? It’s easy – the idiots will swallow anything!’. The NEC members says ‘what do you get if you cross an SNP member with a sheep? Still a sheep!’.

The First Minister says ‘how do you starve an indy activist? Tell them your playing hide and seek, start counting – then go on holiday!’. The barman says ‘look, do you three want drinks?’. They give him their order. The barman says ‘you have never been closer to getting your drinks’ then emigrates.

I do political strategy as a profession and I can assure you there is no seriousness to the SNP plan. It treats independence supporters like they’re a joke, like they have no memory of past broken promises. It is entirely predicated on the leadership’s belief that the SNP membership will just do as they are told (and do it quietly) for an indefinite period.

Assuming that you don’t actually expect a Scottish summer to drift into September, the point at which the parliament returns and everyone gets busy again, then there are four weeks left for the First Minister’s ‘promised’ summer of independence campaign. It was just another bare-faced untruth – the only mention of it anywhere on the SNP website (go and try for yourself) is in the press release when it was promised.

Announcing ‘summer of independence’ campaigns is something Sturgeon did a lot. Running ‘summer of independence’ campaigns is something she never did. The first promise of such a campaign was in 2016. The first article asking ‘what happened to this campaign that none of us saw any evidence of?’ is from later in the year.

She couldn’t announce a ‘summer of independence’ in 2017 because she just had an election disaster and had bottled it and called off the referendum she announced on Brexit morning. That means the next time she promised a ‘summer of independence’ campaign was ages later. Well, 2018. That didn’t happen either. It is public knowledge that they just make this stuff up as they go along.

If Yousef’s strategy was meaningful, if it was real, if he believed in it, we’d be in a year-long drive to do everything in our power to get ready for a big event next year

I’ve lost count of how many times the movement has been expected to believe this specific promise or how many times that promise has been broken. That seven years on from the first broken promise the same promise has been made and broken within a month just seems contemptuous to me.

Let’s now take at face value the idea that there is any more substance to Yousef’s indy strategy than there is to his ‘summer of indy’ campaign. If you believe that strategy is real (it isn’t), then we are well under 12 months to the ‘de facto referendum’ (according to widespread gossip in London). In those timescales a summer campaign isn’t just a nice idea, it is essential.

So if any of this was serious – any of it – the ‘summer of independence’ would need to be happening now. I can’t emphasise this enough; if you really think you can win a ‘de facto referendum’ on the day and with no run-up campaigning then basically you’re mad. Which means that if you think this summer was ‘disposable’ your not being serious.

If Yousef’s strategy was meaningful, if it was real, if he believed in it, we’d be in a year-long drive to do everything in our power to get ready for a big event next year. That isn’t happening. How any of you believe any of this is serious remains totally beyond me.

What we’re getting is idiot food, the stories you tell children to make them feel better about their cat dying or whatever. The Scottish Government’s ‘independence papers’ have, to my eyes, added nothing whatsoever to the case for independence. They’re just weak restatements of things we already know.

(The next one is citizenship, but honestly, when we did this with Common Weal as we wrote How to Start a New Country we looked at the provisions for citizenship contained in the 2014 White Paper and, because they’re really solid and clear, we just lifted them. Reprinting a section of that paper isn’t progress.)

I can’t see how the logjam on independence can change until one of these two things comes along – an external event or the final deflating of the ballooning delusions now required of loyalists

If you happen to be reading this and you’re thinking ‘Humza isn’t lying to me, this is happening, there is a strategy, it will work’, I really do appreciate your hope and your faith. I just can’t understand you. I don’t understand from where your faith comes. Is there no such thing as ‘too many broken promises’ for you?

I don’t want to tear your faith apart – I want to believe like you do. But I don’t think there is any option. In the flawed but still fascinating American Gods (on TV, I’ve not read the books) the gods all gain power in direct proportion to how many people are worshipping them. They draw their power from their followers. So does a political leader.

If I’m right about the fact that the SNP leadership is just saying anything it thinks you want to hear so it can maintain power, only two thinks can break the stalemate on independence – an external event (like a bad election defeat) or there no longer being enough people in the SNP willing to continue like this.

It is people who are either so deeply vested now that they actually believe what they’re being told because the alternative is unbearable, or it is people on the payroll whose income relies on them performatively believing whatever it takes to protect that income.

Outside that circle, no-one is taking this stuff seriously. I bumped into an indy-supporting businessman I know the other day and his attitude was precisely the same as a indy-supporting factory worker I was chatting to at the weekend – they’re tuned out and staying tuned out until someone in the SNP says something which isn’t quite clearly untrue or utterly pointless.

It is the lingering ability of the SNP leadership to cling to power on the basis of holding the benefit of the doubt. Not the doubt of the vast majority of people who are perfectly well aware that none of this is true, the doubt of the ‘just enough to clap at their speeches’ minority.

I can’t see how the logjam on independence can change until one of these two things comes along – an external event or the final deflating of the ballooning delusions now required of loyalists. Only one of these in in the hands of independence supporters.

It is heartbreaking but members of the SNP are no longer led, they’re farmed. They’re fed the lowest-quality feedstock available purely so they can be fattened up and consumed by a payroll which appears to have nothing but contempt for them but needs them to keep believing if the pay slips are going to keep rolling in.

This will implode. It is a voluminous surface without any interior, a form which is not possible in the real world and which would instantly collapse in on itself if it did. All the nice options are now gone, thanks to the constant corrupting of the SNP’s constitution. We only get out of the mess we’re in with one more dose of pain.

It can come now. It can come later. It can be short and sharp or it can be all-consuming. But it is definitely coming. Until it does, enjoy your summer and try not to think about any of this too much.

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