We can’t afford a nervous breakdown right now

by | 12 Apr 2023

The independence movement is awash with conflicting emotions and they are going to lead us into trouble. We absolutely have to slow down, think things through - and get them right.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t read what I wrote yesterday, please start with that (or if you’ve only got a little time, don’t even bother reading this). I’m doing my best to offer some positive messages during this dark time for an independence supporter.

But my belief that independence need not face a setback at all as a result of current events carries with it a condition. That condition is that we avoid a collective nervous breakdown in the movement. The signs of one are substantial, the risks associated equally so.

The cause of independence has been centrally controlled by an extremely powerful pair of figures for nearly a decade. Like a strict primary school teacher they promised all good things to those who obeyed and terrible retribution for those who did not. And now – the teacher has left the classroom. No-one knows where authority lies any more.

This is resulting in a range of perfectly understandable, perfectly valid responses. One is denial. Another is anger. Another is frustration and impatience. Yet another is to seek to gain from the vacuum. And despair and withdrawal is also a reasonable reaction. All of these are fair enough. All of these are things we all experience.

But we can’t let these short-term reactions take over. We need to take a longer view of where we are and what is happening. If we can find within ourselves some discipline and self-control we will make a total mess of things. I’m asking people to stop for a second, take a step back and think about whether they really believe in what they’re doing.

First denial. Seriously, do you really believe that MI5 waited until Scotland’s First Minister resigned office and her husband resigned as Chief Executive of the SNP before mounting an audacious smear campaign orchestrated through Police Scotland, the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service and The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland? That doesn’t make any sense.

Do you really believe that SNP membership is surging and the party is in a stronger position than it has ever been? Really? Providing misinformation about membership numbers in pursuit of advantage for one internal faction of the party is precisely how this whole thing began. And you’re falling for it again? Even while your leader and probably next leader are begging members not to leave?

The potential for the civic independence movement to burn through its credibility in a very short period is substantial

Do you really believe that serious political parties buy luxury camper vans to act as a ‘mobile campaign office’? Do you really believe (given that only one person could sleep in – this is a work environment) that this will save the party money? Based on the price of a basic hotel, they could probably pay for over 2,000 nights (or eight years of hotels every night of the working week) and still not break even.

(Sorry, this story has me bemused. Let’s say you did, you’d lease it not buy it. You’d brand it as a campaign office; the SNP brands everything. You’d sell it if it wasn’t used. You’d buy a car first and best I can tell the SNP doesn’t even have a pooled company car, literally only a luxury camper van. And under no circumstances would you park it at your mum’s, tell literally no-one it exists and then hide the receipts from your Finance Committee. Plus as an employer, what is the SNP’s position on asking employees to sleep in unsecured vehicles parked in public places overnight while away on work? The ‘this can’t be true’-ness of this stretches onwards.)

Denialists, there is a serious problem here and there are lots more serious problems on the way. Everyone up to your leader and president are clear there is a terrible mess in the party. Denying that isn’t going to help. You can’t wish this away but the longer you take to accept that, the more damage you’re going to do.

It is barely worth listing the examples that imply there is anger over what’s happened. It seems like its open season to throw around utterly unjustifiable attacks on each other. The tone of things is getting worse and worse.

And of course there is reason for anger. People who were loyal were lied to. People who were critical are demanding their ‘I told you so’ moment. The professionally angry are, well, fucking fizzing about – oh, whatever – and this is their moment to share it. Again.

I’m angry too. But I recognise that there is literally not a single productive use for my anger so it’s carefully stashed away in a little box I keep for the purposes.. I warn you this; do lots of nice things for someone and they’ll forget most of it, but insult them once and they’ll carry that to the grave with them. Do not harm our ability to get our act together by ‘getting things off your chest’.

Then frustration. At the moment there must be dozens of initiatives running around thinking they are the solution to all of this. Yesterday I pointed out that I’m working on one myself. Great, let’s discuss them. That’s what you do, you get ideas on the table and then you discuss them and agree a plan. Running off on your own and waiting for everyone else to follow is the definition of fragmentation.

There is time. Nothing will be fixed by the summer. If you really are in it for yourself then fair enough – you’re always going to be in it for yourself. But if you’re just frustrated then please try and have a little patience. We won’t make this better by rushing it.

All of this might be survivable if it wasn’t for the final issue – despair and withdrawal. There are always people who are just angry, or think things aren’t moving fast enough, or have wild ideas they think everyone should just get on board with, or absolutely believe in the next mistruth as fervently as they did the last. They are eternal.

Thankfully they are usually balanced by a wider range of less extreme voices who help to moderate the wilder impulses of social movements. But at the moment rather a lot of the less extreme people are disorientated, feeling confused, or lost, or apprehensive, or just plain depressed. They’re withdrawing.

Please, everyone, before you click send or post or before you kick off a whole new initiative or start wrestling with others so you can gain supremacy, ask yourself what is driving you – your emotions, your self-interest or your belief in Scottish independence?

This is a potentially explosive cocktail. The potential for the SNP to do itself more damage is substantial. The potential for the civic independence movement to burn through its credibility in a very short period is also substantial.

If we’re lucky we’re about to get a second chance. In the period since 2014 we had our first big chance to move on and make progress and we wasted it. If we waste our second chance we cannot bank on getting a third. We cannot go running off ill-prepared or in opposite directions. Our credibility is not high. We need to restore it, not do more damage.

I believe we need to unite as a movement and develop a single, shared strategy which we can all work to. I think we therefore need a single coalition which brings us all together. I think, through that, we should take the time to calmly negotiate what that shared strategy is.

Perhaps others think differently. That’s fine. But we still need to get together and discuss this calmly and find out where we all are. That is not something we can turn around in a few weeks or even a couple of months. We’re not going to do it in one go and we shouldn’t be doing this in public until we’ve had initial conversations.

Working through social movements is difficult, but it is the only way change happens. We spent the best part of a decade being told that we didn’t have to unite and organise if we just followed blindly. On the whole we did, or at least we didn’t organise. We can’t repeat that error.

Please, everyone, before you click send or post or before you kick off a whole new initiative or start wrestling with others so you can gain supremacy, ask yourself what is driving you – your emotions, your self-interest or your belief in Scottish independence?

Take a second everyone. Get a cup of tea and breath slowly. We will get there, but we need to take a moment to get it right this time. And we need to work together. It’s that simple.

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