It’s not easy for me to write this. I have supported virtually every single pro-indy event or initiative since it became clear we were in a serious battle for Scotland’s future in 2011. Even when I thought an initiative was a mistake (like some of the protests outside the BBC) I basically kept my mouth shut. I believe in solidarity.
That isn’t a universal approach though. There is an entire sub-genre of independence literature which can be described as ‘SNP payroll explaining why they won’t participate in anyone else’s event’. This usually takes the form ‘I had something more important to do that was also pro-indy’ or ‘I only like inclusive events if they exclude who I want them to exclude’. Here’s a good example.
And that makes it easy. I’m not going on this weekend’s march because [makes up fake reasons that sound plausible but aren’t honest]. Except I don’t tell lies, so here’s the real reason I won’t take part.
But, before I explain my reasons, that shouldn’t be taken to mean that I am criticising everyone involved or that I’m seeking to ‘divide the independence movement’ or something. That isn’t true; I’ve been religiously ecumenical in my support for pro-indy initiatives and I don’t think anyone could accuse me of not engaging positively and enthusiastically with any part of the movement which has ever tried to engage with me (and many that didn’t…).
No, I’m not refusing to go because my desire is to make things worse. I’m refusing to go because it is this march which is making things worse. It is specifically, explicitly about splitting and dividing the movement. They’re telling you that. They’re saying openly that this is about ‘regaining the movement for progressive people only’.
It’s what they mean by ‘progressive’ that bothers me. Because what they mean by ‘progressive’ is ‘ideologically aligned to Sturgeon-SNPism’. It certainly doesn’t mean you need to demonstrate any hint of evidence of giving a monkeys about poor people or the need to reform the economy, or to make housing policy fairer. It means you are reliably on-message with various wedge issues.
Who needs a movement at all if a professional political party can look at the vibrant movement that was, co-opt a couple of bits and knock up cheap fibreglass approximations of the other bits?
And those wedge issues are all about the SNP’s ongoing paranoia that it’s decline might lead to someone else’s rise. In particular, the SNP payroll spend all their time telling everyone what a failure Alba has been – and yet seem permanently obsessed that Alba might come along and take their ball away. Everything the SNP does in relation to independence seems to derive from its obsession with a minor political party which hasn’t really managed to get anyone elected yet.
If Alba says we should have a ‘convention’, the SNP payroll renames their rally (in Dundee) a ‘convention’. If Alba-orientated Wings Over Scotland does a good job on rebuttal of mainstream media misinformation, the SNP payroll promises to set up a rebuttal unit (for the sixteenth time). If Alba gets invited to talk at an event, the SNP payroll refuses and then tries to clone the event.
Of course this isn’t really about Alba at all. Alba is a proxy for ‘people who have noticed we’re not wearing a cool new coat, we’re actually bollock naked’. Because they are. The SNP leadership doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing – other than transitioning from NicolaWorld to the Humza Cinematic Universe. It’s a self-contained movement run by people on the payroll with anyone not working to payroll instructions excluded.
Who needs Common Weal if you can get away with saying ‘wellbeing economy’ and pass that off for economic reform, or if you can say ‘carbon capture and storage’ and pretend that’s the same thing as a Green New Deal? Who needs All Under One Banner if you can replace actual grassroots activism with professionally-organised astroturf (the term used in activism for ‘fake grass roots’)?
And who needs genuinely independent local groups across the country if they can be assembled into a kind of corporate structure and managed on behalf of the SNP? I mean, who needs a movement at all if a professional political party can look at the vibrant movement that was, co-opt a couple of bits and knock up cheap fibreglass approximations of the other bits?
This is deeply, deeply unhealthy. It is all about maintaining the pipeline of funding into the SNP by ensuring that anyone who doubts them, anyone who won’t take the shilling and say daft stuff like “the independence fever is spreading again like it did in 2013/14” (really?) is excluded and making clear that only people who agree with them, who will never criticise them in public, are ‘legitimate’.
It’s deeply unhealthy because that was the culture of the last decade and that culture failed us miserably. I have explained in detail why and how I knew there was no credible plan for independence and people were being sold a lie. But I was in a vanishingly small minority. The ideology of Sturgeonism was based on the fact that she was so brilliant she must have a plan.
She didn’t. She didn’t have a clue what she was doing. If it had been possible to have an honest, open discussion about the flaws in the assumption that this one woman was so brilliant that she alone would deliver independence then we might have avoided the crisis we’re in.
But it was’t possible to have that discussion. I tried, and I was absolutely monstered by the Murrell Social Media Hate Machine again and again until I too was ‘expelled from the movement’. And that’s what they want – they want a movement that will be pliant and won’t criticise them or ask questions.
I won’t be going on the weekend’s astroturf march because I won’t be turned into a puppet for a bunch of thin-skinned politicians who care more about themselves than they seem to care about the cause of independence
Such a thing is not a movement; that describes a customer base or livestock farming, not a healthy, diverse social campaign which unites under a cause bigger and more important than any one political party, any one politician, any one ideology.
For example, is there going to be room for anyone at this march who is going to ask when the people who go on and on about Scotland rejoining the EU put their cards on the table and explain the process and costs properly and clearly? I’m not against an independent Scotland rejoining the EU eventually, but I’ve done the arithmetic around what it would mean to do it quickly and it would be utterly devastating.
We’d be joining the EU as a former region of the UK, a nation state which emaciates all its regions and leaves them financially beholden. That’s fine if you’re joining the EU like a developing nation getting policy support and handouts (as the former Soviet countries did). Scotland would not get that deal. So if people who aren’t panglossian about rapid EU membership are excluded from the movement, where does that conversation take place?
Very early on in my adult life I realised that the best way to not make mistakes is to listen to the criticisms that are being made of your plans. In fact, if you ask anyone who has ever worked for me you will find that I always told them early on ‘always, always speak out if you think I’m getting it wrong, because if you won’t tell me, no-one else will’.
But this brittle, fragile, failing SNP can’t take it. It can’t take criticism. It never, ever behaves as if criticism from inside the independence movement is legitimate, never mind welcome. It is so delicate it must exist in a glass case with oxygen pumped in.
And that’s what this weekend is about. It is about manipulating people to bring oxygen into a party which is suffocating itself. It is taking activists I care about very deeply and using them. I know some good people will make a different decision about the weekend than I have. So I ask them, how are you going to avoid being paraded like puppets of the SNP leadership? They are to be paraded down the street to send out the message that the SNP isn’t out of touch.
In reality, the healthiest message the SNP could get this weekend would most certainly be that it is badly out of touch and needs to give itself a shake if it is to play its part. And its part is not to act like colonial overlords, dividing up the independence movements into parcels it can either exploit or villainise according to its vested interests.
The independence movement has a body which acts evenly, organises marches and invites everyone. It’s called All Under One Banner. It’s not perfect (26 speakers folks?), but it is a genuine, meaningful grassroots initiative which was meant to bring us together. The SNP and the Scottish Greens have decided they want to turn it into a culture war for factional reasons.
So it is with a little shame that I join the ranks of those who have penned an article explaining why they won’t support an indy initiative. Shame because of who they are. Shame because of the factionalism it represents. Shame because of the damage it has done. But not too much, because attending on Saturday will make the damage worse, not better.
Therefore I write it nonetheless. I won’t be going on the weekend’s astroturf march because I won’t be turned into a puppet for a bunch of thin-skinned politicians who care more about themselves than they seem to care about the cause of independence.