Broadly then, we now have two schools of thought:
- a) steady as she goes, don’t frighten the horses, mature caution will win the day and harvest the waverers.
- b) How much more evidence do we need of Westminster duplicity and post Brexit calamity? Let’s get moving whilst so many stars are aligned.
So far as the first proposition goes, I readily concede that houses divided are houses prone to collapse. But on the second, I’d argue that Indy progress is contingent on building quickly on clearly observable momentum. We need pragmatism, but by God, we surely need passion too. You can’t tell folks to play the long game for ever, or, frankly, some will leave the pitch. By next May we’ll be four months out of Europe. Properly out.
Meanwhile, if you can’t detect the unionist drumbeats, then it’s time to think about hearing aids. The southern commentariat are discovering federalism for the third or fourth time. They’re saying everyone in the UK should have a vote in a second Indy referendum. Or that every true born Scot should. They want to change the Indy question asked and move any other handy goalpost. They’ve dusted down their greatest hits from Better Together about Scotland’s dismal prospects if severed from the big strong arms of the UK.
They’ve voted for an Internal Market Bill which will, inter alia, destroy the basis of devolved government. And the UK government has been caught bang to rights instructing the cabinet not to tell their “partners” in the devolved administrations anything about the Brexit negotiations from which they’ve been frozen out. Meanwhile in the midst of the global catastrophe of a pandemic, these big strong Westminster arms have made a complete bourach of “the easiest trade deal in history,” leaving us looking at crippling tariffs and a UK economy already downgraded by the ratings agencies.
A risky business leaving the UK? The risk now is surely remaining shackled to a dodgy PM and a clueless cabinet.
How should Scotland deal with the twin disasters of Covid and Brexit? Well maybe it’s time for a bit more Burnham. The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, may or may not be playing Russian roulette on the health front, but, he’s got one thing right: he knows that to deal with the bluster of the bully in Number Ten: you have to call his bluff. Bullies are cowards and they need called out.
Maybe it’s time for a bit more Macron. The French President told it like it is this week, when he observed it wasn’t the job of the 27 members of the EU to keep the Prime Minister of Britain happy. Correct. 27 versus 1 was always something of a catchweight contest, whatever that slippery lorry park monitor, Michael Grove, might suggest. It’s not our job to keep the blond blusterer happy either.
Maybe it’s time to take a leaf from the Ardern playbook. Just go for whatever works best for your country regardless of the bleating of the lockstep brigade. The New Zealand Prime Minister has just won a cracking majority in a PR election by doing her own thing. And telling her critics, go hang.
Quite clearly, in Nicola Sturgeon, we have a First Minister who has Ardern’s empathetic approach. One who attracts similar levels of global admiration. An undoubted asset. But, by her own daily admission, she is totally focussed on the pandemic which is arguably the greatest threat of our lifetime. Unfortunately, her opponents do not share that single minded application. They see their mission in life, not as a unified effort to combat a public health crisis, but to de-stabilise her government by any available means, however trivial. Yet there is another truism utterly daily by the FM, which is that one day, eventually, this nightmare will pass and we will emerge into some kind of normality.
My abiding fear is by that time there will be little normal about Scotland the nation to salvage. Yesterday one unionist commentator opined that the Scottish government has become a one woman administration. He is not a man with our government’s best interests at heart. But the point he raises is not entirely idle. The Scottish Government needs to have the bandwith to also deal urgently with the post Covid, post Brexit landscape. To make common cause with those who are currently trying to map out the fiscal, social, and judicial future after any successful referendum as well as planning for one. We need more minds bent to these crucial issues too. And given the necessary autonomy.
To those who think it’s fine to look at a second referendum some years down the road, I would put a couple of questions: “what kind of economic shape do you seriously expect us to be in by then? What powers do you anticipate having retained as a bulwark against a bonfire of animal welfare regulations, food standards, and human rights?”
I belong to no political party. My allegiance is tied to no factional set of interests. Except to say that I believe with every fibre of my being that Scotland will be a better nation when it becomes an independent nation state. In the normal course of events I would have bought into the argument that we must at every stage act with the maximum legal legitimacy. That we should be seen to observe every propriety in the eyes of the outer world.
But there is nothing about the course of current events which is has the smallest acquaintanceship with normal. If this last year has taught us anything at all, it’s that there are no old certainties on to which you can hold. It’s taught us that things can and do change in the most unexpected ways. And our mindset and strategy must alter accordingly.
We need to be fleet of foot. We need to be flexible. We need to set the remote to fast forward. Otherwise we may wake up, some months hence, to even fewer options than are available now.
First published in The National on October 19th