So. I’m heading for Shetland. Heading for the airport this afternoon, I listened to the FM’s speech.
I thought it was excellent on so many levels. And I particularly thought that the stuff about “I know some of you will never vote Yes and I respect that, but you’re welcome anyway” was really politically savvy (and seems to have largely neutralised a lot of unionist frothing over “detest-gate”, and the moral whatabootery from unionists is getting little traction. Probably because loads of folk actually do detest the Tories. And I’m roughly the same age as Nicola Sturgeon, and Scottish. You’d think at least some commentators would recognise that the line didn’t come from nowhere. If you grew up in Scotland in the 1980s, you’d know exactly where she was coming from. To paraphrase Churchill, a little empathy and research on their behalf would be greatly appreciated.
I enjoyed the line on Labour and Brexit (“at least the Tories actually believe in it”) which rightly painted Starmer et al as the opportunistic lackeys and charlatans that they undoubtedly are), and her acceptance that big questions over the economy need to be addressed shows that some of – if not all – the lessons from 2014 have been learned. That was, I think, a really good reading of the room. People are, I believe, fairly comfortable with a competent leader who’s not patronising them with glib soundbites about it all being easy and is confident enough to admit that she doesn’t have all the answers.
And the section I enjoyed most was the argument that the nations of the uk having full autonomy actually brings us closer in many ways, because we’re truly equal countries – which is more in keeping with what the original union was supposed to be about. Ok, that’s a pretty charitable historical take on what was essentially a carve-up by toffs bribed for their collusion, but I kind of get what she means – and I can see the irony in the things that Westminster tells us bind us in this “precious union” – like the NHS – being destroyed by the very same people who champion those while selling off the family jewels to their fellow disaster capitalist city pals. Remember to clap.
One gripe – and it’s a minor one – is Nicola Sturgeon saying she intends to be FM for a long time to come. It feels like it was a bone thrown to the party faithful, and it was the only time during the speech that she spoke to the folk in the hall rather than the rest of Scotland (and elsewhere), like me, listening on the radio. You could almost hear unionists thinking: ten more years? No Thanks. But then again, the clue is in the title – it’s an SNP conference and I suppose if she’d said any different the narrative then becomes “Sturgeon signals exit strategy” or similar. If she’d just said “for as long as I am First Minister”, that would have been perfect. “I’m going to be around for ages” actually pisses people off – from all sides.
Because the most exciting part of independence, for me, is what the post-referendum shakedown looks like. The SNP could rebrand, split or cease to be. Unionist parties, having lost their raison d’etre, have equally no reason to exist. Yes, you’ll probably have a Scottish Labour Party and a Conservative equivalent, but they’d actually, finally, be independent from the dead hand of Westminster that has neutered them for a generation, and they might actually finally come up with their own policies. Which is what parties in normally democracies do. And we’d be spared the cringing embarrassment of Douglas Ross demanding that Nicola Sturgeon follow the kind of tax policies that tanked the pound and cost the Bank of England £65bn, before having to backtrack the next day when the unprecedented outrage caused Kwarteng into a screeching u-turn. After he’d allegedly partied with the city hedge fund pals who’d made a killing out of the misery and chaos that he’d wantonly brought about.
But we are where we are.
In the next few days, the Supreme Court will deliberate over whether or not Scotland may choose to hold another plebiscite on self-determination. The First Minister pointedly said she’d respect the decision, either way. That was I think both mature and statesmanlike, but the unspoken message was of course that respect for due process shouldn’t be taken for granted in, er, other available governments on these islands. I thought of a line from the Suella Braverman speech last week when she gave both barrels to climate change activists, “woke” police taking the knee (?), Extinction Rebellion and even ordinary protesters. “And don’t even start me on lawyers!”, she said to anyone who was still awake. And you think – seriously? what? Mate, you were yer actual Attorney General. What sort of a sociopath trashes their own colleagues and peers for perceived political advantage? Who throws their reputation under a bus to curry favour with the kind of people who, given different circumstances, would happily deport you? And as for Rwanda, what is it about children of immigrants that hate immigrants? What even is that? Where to begin?
So I’m delighted that Scotland has a First Minister – a trained lawyer – who respects due process. Facts are chiels that winna ding.
There’s been some chatter about the options available if the Supreme Court rules agin Holyrood. Some folk think that the FM saying “we’d decide our right to choose in an election” – rather than specifically saying “a general election” was her buying a little wiggle room as that would potentially extend the mandate to 2026, but I’m maybe reading too much into it. In any case, there’s a process, a plan, and a date. A roadmap. With every passing day of this clusterbouroch the FM’s decision to refer Scotland’s right to choose to the Supreme Court looks increasingly adroit. Even the “detest-gate” fluff has gained no traction. Today showed a true political leader on the very top of her game. She’s playing a blinder.
The final point I’d make is this.
Beware echo chambers. Nicola Sturgeon made the point well. The folk in the conference hall, the guys in your Yes group, the people who follow you on Twitter. In terms of the conversation? Forget them. They’re (pretty much) onboard. And forget – but still be respectful to – the 25% or so who will never vote for independence. Like yer First Minister says, they are Scotland, too. We all are. What’s that old Gaelic greeting? “Our house is your house. And you are welcome”.
They are Scotland. Every bit as much as those of for whom Scottish independence has been a lifelong goal. Speak to your Granny who remembers a time when maybe there was a genuine consensus and needs reassurance that voting for a better future for her grandweans is the right thing to do. Tell her that it’s ok to do so, even with a heavy heart. Be there for people . Speak to genuinely undecided folk – like the woman Nicola mentioned today, the woman who asked: “but is it essential?”. Explain, gently, why it is. And that there will be no sides. That we are all Jock Tamson’s Bairns.
Tak tent o’ sma’ things. Tak tent o’ ither.
Because it’s later than you think.
I’ll meet you further on up the road.