Monday – Article 50 judgement from ECJ
Tuesday – Meaningful vote on May’s deal. If it happens. It might not
Thursday – Supreme court judgement on Holyrood continuity bill which is effectively a judgement on whether Holyrood is an actual parliament or if the powers we have are given or just lent.
I run a business supplying farmers across the UK and ROI and write a regular article on the industry in The Orkney News which is available and free online. It’s called “Farming Matters” which is actually a bit of a misnomer as I can go for weeks without writing about farming at all but what I do find is that farming is a brilliant prism through which to view the unravelling permabouroch of Brexit and the ongoing discussion about our constitutional situation.
Earlier this week, Michael Gove gave an interview in which he outlined a future for British Farming in which GM cropping was fundamental. Now of course, farming is devolved and Scotland voted against GM for a number of good reasons, not least the threat to the integrity of the Scottish Brand. And this is important because it shows that Westminster is already acting as if we are in a post-Brexit, post devolution world. Which means that the power grab is real and means too that the No campaign never ended and has in fact upped its game to a point where it isn’t just defending the status quo but actively ripping up the Scotland Act and the devolution settlement. The establishment got one hell of a fright in 2014 and have been on a constant war footing ever since. When the second referendum comes they will be much better prepared than last time, and if we aren’t better prepared then we will lose. And we will need to be because I believe the next referendum will be brutal and dirty and history shows that the establishment will stop at nothing to preserve the privileges that they believe to be theirs by right.
2014 was unchartered territory for every one of us so we were essentially making it up as we went along. There’s a parallel with Brexit here in that the indyref came about through a manifesto commitment based on something – a parliamentary majority – that the SNP didn’t expect. Just like David Cameron never expected the 2015 Conservative majority that triggered the Brexit vote. Given that, and given that we started from 27%, and given that we didn’t have any support from a media that was openly hostile to us, given that they broke purdah with the infamous vow and threw everything at us including the queen, to get to 45% was arguably a remarkable result. And the good news is that the figure has been rock solid for four years. Sure, I’d loved to have seen it bigger. But it hasn’t dropped. But it won’t rise unless we get it right in the second and final referendum.
There are a number of challenges.
The first is energy. We’ve been at this for five years now. It’s draining. None of us are paid for this. We get tired. However, I believe that when it happens we’ll be good to go.
The second is division in the movement, although I suspect that will be less on an issue when have the unifying force of a campaign.
But the interesting one for me is currency, which is an issue and at the same time not an issue.
There’s a very practical reason why we need to get it right – they’ll batter us if we don’t and we’ll lose. So we need to have that watertight and ready. But actually what’s important isn’t so much the currency per se but convincing people we know what we’re talking about. I spend a lot of time with people who are selling stuff to farmers. I’ll watch as an agent makes an excellent pitch to a potential client and then loses the deal over a reasonably easy and innocuous question. It’s like a first date with a girl who is clearly into you and you blow it by saying something stupid. That’s what the currency thing felt like. I met dozens of folk who wanted to vote for us and would have done if we’d seemed more confident on an issue that was deemed as important. We need to narrow the confidence gap. So we need to nail that one, early doors.
Now this isn’t a farming article and it isn’t a Brexit article but I think it’s important to talk about Brexit because it throws up some opportunities for our cause as well as some challenges.
The first I would suggest is a demographic bonus. Scotland’s warmth towards EU nationals who voted No last time because of fears of being told to leave hasn’t gone unnoticed. They will vote for us. They could very well win us our independence. And there’s a lesson there for other groups because they weren’t the only ones being let down.
I’ll be reminding shipyard workers of the frigate orders that never arrived. I’ll be reminding folk about the lost HMRC jobs. And the fact that a Yes vote was going to see a lurch to the right, a surge in terrorism, a departure from the EU. I’ll remind folk that a No vote was going to bring shiny new powers and virtual home rule and near federalism. It wasn’t just Yes voters who were lied to, and that presents an opportunity. This time, unless last time, Yes represents continuity and the safe option.
With Brexit, and who knows what will happen this week, here’s a few possible scenarios.
♦There’s a so-called peoples vote. Last week was significant because article 50 is now totally, unequivocally reversible. There will be calls for this – remaining – to be one possible option on a second EU ballot paper. It could be that England votes to leave again and Scotland’s vote to remain again is so high that actually it keeps the UK in the EU. Not so much project fear as project hilarious. That would effectively mean that Scotland had voted to stay in Europe three times in five years and England had voted to leave twice in three years. The gap in political outlook would be immense and irreconcilable and polls already show that England would be happy enough to lose Scotland if they got their Brexit. We’d effectively just go our separate ways and might not even have to leave the house.
♦The UK, including England, is smart enough to vote to remain. In that scenario our pitch is that the Brexit process has shown that the union is a sham and Scotland’s role as an equal valued partner a lie that only is believed for as long as we go along with the charade.
♦ I do believe that the most likely outcome of a second vote is that it will be the same as the first and even if that ultimately led to leaving the EU and staying in the ESM / CU, Scotland still ends up with less than what it voted for.
In any of these scenarios, we can strengthen our argument for self-Government with leavers and remainers alike, particularly when Scotland has been a beacon of compromise, intelligence and collegiate thinking throughout this whole sorry affair. We’ve had a good war, all told.
The good news is that the exit lanes are rapidly closing. When the leader of the European movement of Norway describes the UK as an abusive partner spiking your drinks at the Christmas party, as happened yesterday, you really are clean out of friends. The pitch to voters in indyref2 is therefore that independence gives you options – EU membership, EFTA, nothing at all – that are denied for as long as we remain in the UK. It’s all good news – if we do it right.
But the argument for independence cannot and must not be predicated on Brexit. Here are a few things to ask No folk and undecideds.
♦Do you want a Scottish Parliament? Most Scots do and the argument is that if we vote No again then we are essentially handing power over to people who want devolution reversed. If powers are removed, the ability to even mitigate is lessened, Barnett is scrapped, funding is cut and ultimately we can’t deliver as a parliament. The media blames Nicola Sturgeon and begin to campaign for Holyrood’s closure. It’s a short leap from that to direct rule. The argument from us must be that independence keeps a parliament that, though imperfect , works for Scotland.
So what else have we learned?
♦The Yes movement cannot just be about Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP. We know it’s diverse – which is why the attacks on Alex Salmond had precisely zero effect on support for independence – but I’m not sure we maximised that diversity enough. I definitely feel that there was an army of folk out there from all walks of life who would have had a lot to bring to the debate – but who weren’t asked. Whoever is leading the next campaign needs an XL database of people we need to stand up to the plate and make the case.
♦We don’t have time to speak to the 30% who will never, ever, vote for Scotland – the “I’m British, proudscotbut, end of” brigade. Utter waste of our time, energy and talents. Dinnae bother.
♦Keep it simple. What we’re trying to achieve is normal. The guy fae WOS describes a thing called the Buckaroo Principle. It means if you keep putting things on the horse then it eventually bucks and throws them off. So, in campaigning terms, we don’t ask people to vote for an independent Scottish republic – because some potential Yessers like the Queen. And don’t bang on about a “Tory free Scotland” because a) that’s impossible and b) some Tories will vote for us. Same goes for a Trident free Scotland, because it’s possible to want both independence and things to destroy the universe with. Same goes for Brexit voters in Scotland. My hunch is that we alienated a whole bunch of people by talking about ending things that were articles of faith to potential converts, things that were of secondary importance to the key message – that Scotland should be independent.
♦Don’t take the Yes vote for granted. There’s EU remain voters out there who would vote Leave in a second vote because they think the will of the people should be respected. There’s also Yes voters who would vote No next time because they truly believe that 2014 really was a generation long mandate for London rule. So the 46% aren’t the same people and we need to identify these folk and get them onside, whilst being totally warm and welcoming to new recruits to our cause. Some people who opposed us last time will join us. We need to wipe the slate clean. Welcome, welcome again. We’re glad you’ve changed your mind.
♦Shift the battleground. We got duped into a war of attrition of pensions and currency and plan bs and dog licenses. We need to answer these while emphasising that the debate is academic without the powers to implement the policies – and only independence enables these powers.
♦Be positive and radical. The 2014 White Paper wasn’t so much Brave New World as Don’t Scare the Horses. Yes we’ll use the pound. Yes we keep the Queen. Your driver’s license will still be made in Swansea. All worthy stuff, but “I have a dream” it wasn’t. How we articulate the case is important. Be positive. Walt Disney trained his staff to answer when asked “when do you close”? To answer “we are open until 11”. Similarly, rather than saying “we can dodge Brexit”, say “just think what we could achieve. Imagine the stuff we could do!” And don’t apologise. In the end, it’s always better to be yourself.
♦That goes for our leaders too, whom I feel rather tone down the Indy rhetoric lest they be accused of neglecting the day job by people who ceased to do the day job two and a half years ago. Make independence your day job because look what happens when you don’t. One party made gains in 2017 by talking about independence, and it wasn’t the SNP. The Tories did that. Never apologise for what you believe in.
♦ There is no sweet spot, no optimum moment. It is either a good idea or it is not. What I do know however is that it’s what the Americans call “the big mo” – momentum. When that comes you just ride the rapids. Because if we don’t start paddling the momentum is lost like air from a slow puncture. That would be unforgivable.
♦What if WM says No? There are other ways. Plenty of countries achieved independence without a referendum – referendums are a relatively unusual way to bring about self-governance. We could hold one anyway. It would be advisory but then so was Brexit, so once a vote has happened it becomes a political imperative and cannot be ignored. It has to be dealt with.
♦Or we could have a general election soon – and we could make that the de facto indyref2. We write the shortest manifesto in history which states that if we win 51% of the Scottish seats in WM (which we would) then that itself is a mandate for independence. Thatcher herself believed the same.
But, as my good wife said as the grandfather clock landed on my son Magnus, time is on the wean so let’s wrap this up.
Independence is inevitable. Brexit shows that whatever England wants – even if it’s right wing politics, insularity, xenophobia and demonisation – England gets. But it also shows that it means a Scotland that wants nothing to do with these things gets grabbed into its death spiral, such is the structure of this most unequal of unions.
The message is that Scotland can either choose its own future or it can vote No. That’s it. It really is that simple.
In my articles I often use a line from Burns. Facts are chiels that winna ding. The truth is your friend and will not let you down.
Let’s be truthful about what we did well. Let’s be honest about where we can improve.
However it happens – a referendum, an election, something else – we will be ready. London will say we are the state and we say no. We say we are the people and we say yes.
We have the people. We have the numbers. We have the momentum. We have the arguments. All we have to do is hold our nerve.
We’re close, people. Let’s finish it. Let’s get it done.