Time and Tide Wait For No Government

The boy Will put it well. "There is a tide in the affairs of man, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” That’s the daud of Shakespeare we can all quote. Less often used is the end of Brutus’ call to arms:

“Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."

 It is now five long, tumultuous years since those of us campaigning for a Yes vote failed to get our collective cause over the line. And three years since Cameron’s ill advised referendum caused a political earthquake from which the aftershocks are still being felt. Since when our First Minister, not unreasonably, has promised Scots, anxious to see Scotland get her journey to statehood underway, that her government would act when the fog of Brexit lifted.

Instead that fog has swirled around the UK government and all who dwell under it. And, this week, it parted only to reveal a new Prime Minister even less well disposed to Scottish statehood than his predecessor. If the chances of a Section 30 order for a legally binding Indyref2 were slim under May, they are positively anorexic under the Great Pretender.Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon suggested she would now see “if the timetable we have set out…. is still the right one or whether we should accelerate that.” For myself I would rather have heard something like: “in the light of the fiscal disaster poised to engulf the UK, we are firing the starting gun for an independence referendum now. Time and tide cannot wait for Boris Johnson to sink us all.”

This is not to minimise the legal and constitutional impediments; merely to recognise an urgent new reality. It’s not just that our situation has “materially changed” but that we are 100 days away from a comprehensive disaster.Two weeks ago Michael Russell warned that he couldn’t guarantee even essential medical supplies if there is a no deal Brexit. Nobody can. Having stockpiled for a March exit, few suppliers can do that again. To say nothing of the likely chaos on the supply routes.

So for me there is no longer time for “consideration of acceleration.” If the option of a Referendum without Westminster agreement is thought not robust enough -and liable to a high level of abstention - then making the next election essentially a binding vote on Independence is surely a better option than letting the Scottish economy go down the tubes without a fight. It is admirable that the Scottish Government has put its shoulder to the wheel of a People’s Vote on Brexit. But its partners in that venture hardly present a united front. The Labour Party hierarchy is still arm wrestling with itself on the fence, and many erstwhile Tory Remainers are already fawning on Johnson in naked gie’s a job mode.

Meanwhile, in the midst of a series of crises at home and abroad the Commons has gone off on its hols.

At Holyrood the main opposition parties will continue to recite their mantra that the government is obsessed with independence. Though, in truth, it is they who are continually mentioning the I word. In any event, do they expect an administration formed by a party devised to seek independence to suddenly discover latent unionist tendencies?The opposition parties must plough their own furrow; though the shrewder Labour analysts now concede that their opposition to Independence has been a major factor in haemorrhaging members.

Nevertheless they will doubtless re-iterate their insistence that the Scottish government get on with the day job. Well, right now, the day job is surely to protect Scottish livelihoods by redoubling efforts to gain full powers over our future, and keeping open the door to European membership in our own right.

There is a second, equally potent reason, for accelerating the current timetable. By general agreement the road to independence is contingent on getting out the convinced Yes vote, and by hard work and rigorous research, bringing on board the doubters. The first cohort needs, is desperate for, a clear and solid sign that a new campaign is under way and will be pursued with vigour and full commitment. The second will not be convinced overnight. They deserve the time, the respect and the persuasion to make the journey to conviction. A formal campaign will help that cause.

In 2012, with the possible yes vote at 28%, I stood with many other speakers at a rally in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens. Two years later, after everything but the kitchen sink had been thrown against the proposition, 45% said yes. Today our starting point is around 47%. One poll suggested that a Johnson premiership would push that up to 53%. The First Minister, a cautious soul, has often said she wants the polls regularly at 60% before she pushes the button. I would contend that starting with that goal is unrealistic. Getting to that with months of formal campaigning is not.

In the three years since the leave vote’s narrow victory, built on deliberation deception and dodgy finances, the United Kingdom itself is not just less united, but a considerably nastier place. Racism and bigotry is on the rise. The execrable Tommy Robinson is being treated like a latter day rock star by the hard of thinking.We can do better than that in Scotland. We must not allow the forces of darkness, rampant self interest, kneejerk prejudice, and social injustice to seep into the Scottish body politic. We have many faults; sectarianism still thrives in some quarters, and we still house our own brand of bigots and brigands.

But we do have a government which has set its face against the worst of the policies pursued by Tory governments instinctively seeking power for the few not the many. Now our government’s most urgent job is to take this current tide at the flood before it ebbs away.

Published in The National 25.7.2019