By Alec Ross
That was the phrase employed by Byron to describe the genius of Robert Burns in viewing things from the opposite perspective, of looking through the glass from the other side. From there, a deeper truth emerges.
Something has been bothering me and perhaps some antithetical thinking is required.
Pete Wishart MP recently wrote of piece in which he called for a gradual approach to securing Scotland’s self-determination. “Gentle persuasion”, he called it. We have to keep “making the case” for independence.
Let me tell you something. We really don’t. And here’s why.
Firstly, we’ve been making the case, on the whole fairly well, for eight years. Some have been making it for much longer. It’s fundamentally wrong that we should continually be asked to make the case and justify our support for something that is self-evident and an inalienable right. The burden of proof sits on the wrong shoulders. If there’s a case that needs defending, and there is, it’s the continuing and indefensible outsourcing of Scotland’s democratic process to an alien political culture run by people that we cannot ever vote out.
So Nicola Sturgeon is quite correct. The onus in 2020 must shift from the mandate for a new vote (there are several) to the justification for denying one (and there is none). And, by the way, “we fought Hitler together” doesn’t count. Neither does the NHS, which Boris et al want to sell on the cheap. And neither, frankly, does “you’ll have had your vote”. The mandate for continuing “union” was on a shoogly nail within hours of the first vote when David Cameron announced EVEL. It was on life support after the failure to deliver the “vow”. Brexit, mercifully, put it out of its misery.
So. A broken vow. EVEL. A power grab. A Brexit Scotland rejects but which is now unequivocally happening.
And yet it’s not absolutely certain that Scotland would win its independence in a fresh vote. Despite everything, it’s still a 50/50 call. It’s disingenuous to believe that the polls in favour of Yes will definitely rise when the super-charged Brexit austerity kicks in, that folk will make the Damascene conversion and cross the Rubicon. Because the Brexit vote, and he recent election, show that often when things get bad the opposite happens – and people double down of their views. Plus, given time, everything becomes normal. The danger is that if we leave it too long we simply acquiesce.
And, secondly, a large proportion of Scots – for reasons of history, religion, class, wealth, land ownership, culture, loyalty to the crown and even football allegiance – will always vote for London rule. It’s a shibboleth, an article of faith, and we simply have to acknowledge that it exists.
Sometimes, it’s paradoxically those with least to lose who are most immune to forecasts of food and medicine shortages. If your life is without hope, a government impact report is hardly going to frighten you. Not when you’re already queuing at the local foodbank.
Equally fallacious, I think, is the notion that there is an army of undecided people out there desperate to be persuaded. There really isn’t. I’ll be honest with you – I’ve yet to meet a single person who’s said: “boy, we were sold a pup last time. I’m up for independence, where do I sign?”
So who am I supposed to be persuading? Is there genuinely anybody who has followed Scottish politics in this be last decade and still cannot make up their mind? There is nothing else we can say and continuing to make the case and gently persuading people feels utterly pointless. Mike Russell was writing last week about independence “by the end of the decade”. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about last night’s Hogmanay.
Talk of a long game tires me and I fear that we are in danger of losing all our carefully built up momentum if we delay a second longer.
We’ve invested a lot in this. We’ve emptied the tank and left nothing on the park. It’s caused strains in my friendships and tensions at home. I’ve committed time to a project that I didn’t really have. But I did it anyway. And I just want to know that I haven’t been wasting my time, that it wasn’t in vain.
But we won’t win by appealing to the morality and fairness of politicians who possess neither virtue and who consider us a nuisance on the rare occasions they think about us at all. They won’t be persuaded, gently or otherwise.
In the end, the primary responsibility of any leader is to the well-being of her people. Brexit presents an existential threat to Scotland and therefore the First Minister must with immediate effect remove us from this bouroch at the earliest possible opportunity by whatever means available. Not by the end of the decade. But now.
A new year brings fresh opportunities and new hope. We can choose to become a newly modern, median-sized normal independent country. Or we can be part of isolationist, disaster-capitalist, Empire 2.0 Brexit Britain.
Eight years. I’m done in, scunnered with making the case for something that should never have to be made. With begging for what’s already ours. Defending a position that shouldn’t need defending. With apologising for wanting the normality that everyone else takes as a given. And I’m done with gentle persuasion.
We can’t win without the oxygen of a campaign. Let’s call this. Because, whatever else happens, it’s always better to be yourself.
Happy New Year everyone.