Here’s the thing. I was following the online stuff about Angus Robertson’s new pro-independence think tank, “Progress” and was about to sign up and pay my few quid a month – but I still haven’t done it. Allow me to try to articulate some thoughts as to why this is so.
Firstly, if we’re being honest, few if any of us got into this for think thanks and surveys and focus groups. We got into it because we believe in an independent Scotland. End of. And by asking people, “so, what worries you about an independent Scotland?” immediately presupposes that there are things to be worried about, when really there aren’t.
What we should be worried about is the imposition of martial law, food and medicine shortages, the suspension of the Scottish Parliament by emergency post-Brexit measures and a tanking of the economy that by definition weakens our ability to be independent. Asking people about their pensions seems an absurdly timid response. When the ship is about to hit the iceberg, you don’t argue about the make and model of the lifeboat. You get on board, reach dry land and then start from there.
It reminds me of an episode of Father Ted – the one where the philandering Pat Mustard has put a bomb under Dougal’s milk float – with the glaiket Dougal at the wheel. The priests call an emergency meeting. Their response? We’d better just say Mass. I have to be honest with you. When the movement suggests a survey, information gathering, a “fresh conversation”? Something inside me dies a little. I suspect I’m not alone in that.
I think what we need to do is shift the burden of proof. By that I mean two things. Firstly, pointing out the chasm between what was promised (keeping HMRC jobs, frigate orders, renewable subsidies and EU membership) and what was delivered (the loss of the first three of those things and most probably the fourth – although that’s up to us) isn’t project fear. It’s just pointing out what has been carried out, in our name, in plain sight, by people who have long since stopped pretending that they like us. If we hang around any longer we’ll look like the abused spouse who keeps going back, thinking he’ll change, finally, this time. It will look suspiciously like acquiescence.
Secondly, by “changing the burden of proof”, what I mean is that we need to ask those who continue to support the union what on earth is so good about it. Try this – ask any No or Undecided: name me three things that Scotland currently does that it couldn’t do if it were independent? Because there are none. From there, the conversion is: “and what’s more, look at all the stuff we could do, if only we had the powers that independence automatically brings us”.
Finally, I think the whole Progress thing is predicated on a false premise – that we need a clear lead in the polls before we kick off the second and, whatever the result, final campaign. We don’t. We started last time at 27%. We were briefly at 52% before they realised that their lies and threats weren’t working and had to pretend to like us as well – hence the “vow” (which broke purdah, not that that matters if you are part of the establishment).
This time we start from a 45% base that is rock-solid. But I believe it will only rise with the oxygen of a proper campaign. It won’t go anywhere in a phoney war: indeed, we need to ask what happens if we don’t call it? Momentum will disappear like air out of a tyre. It may never return.
History shows that, when the tide is in your favour, you have to ride the wave, scary as it looks. In short then, timing is irrelevant. Independence is either a good idea or it’s not. There will never, ever be a more propitious set of circumstances to call for and to win our independence. We cannot boast then cower, fiddling while Rome burns. We don’t have time to have long meaningful conversations with people. That’s for after we become independent, when the discussion moves on from a constitutional base to a political one – what do we want this brave new world to look like? Who are we? If we don’t do this, what does this say about us? What do I tell my weans? And theirs? That I had a chance to make a difference but bottled it. That I was worried about my pension. That I genuinely couldn’t be bothered.
But we can’t do anything until we are free from the Westminster death spiral. Which is why there should be only one question worth asking:
Should Scotland be an independent country?
Answer that one correctly and everything is available to us. The rest is noise.
There is no time to lose. Let’s finish this.