After watching the First Minister’s speech yesterday, I came away feeling quite pleased with what she had said. I decided to give it some thought before commenting though, because I had the nagging feeling that there was a lot to consider in it. I think I was right.
I passed some of that time having a jolly laugh at some of the more frothy unionists on Twitter, who almost to a man were insisting (like many of the unionist newspapers and TV news outlets, including the BBC) that Sturgeon had performed a “screeching u-turn” and that “indyref 2 is dead”.
Let’s be clear about something. Those people, and those news outlets, are delusional. Their view that the FM has taken indyref off the table is nothing more than a projection that they desperately want to be true. It has no basis in anything she said yesterday.
The only thing that has been “postponed” is the introduction of the legislation to get the ball rolling, not the referendum itself. That is still on course to go ahead at the end of the Brexit negotiations. Here are the relevant quotes from her speech, abbreviated slightly for clarity, that put that beyond doubt:
Firstly, it remains my view that at the end of the Brexit process, the people of Scotland should have a choice about our future direction as a country.
So if Scotland is not simply to be at the mercy of events, but instead in control of our own future, then the ability to choose a different direction must be available.
Secondly, there is simply no doubt that the Scottish Government has a mandate within this term of parliament to offer the people of Scotland that choice.
They [those who want to wait a while and see] want greater clarity about Brexit to emerge first…Indeed, that view has even more force now that the General Election and the weakness of the UK government has re-opened the possibility, however narrow, of retaining membership of the single market. I intend to listen to those views.
We remain committed – strongly – to the principle of giving Scotland a choice at the end of this process.
So, she’s talking about the Brexit process, and then says we will get our choice at the end of that process. There’s nothing new here. That is what she said back in March. Nothing has changed.
Now the more cynical Yesser, and I have already come across a few, might be thinking that, as Ruth Davidson (or Colonel Gaddavidson as I have taken to calling her) put it, the FM is trying to “ride both horses”. In other words, that she is trying to keep both Yes and No sides happy, for party benefit. I do not accept that analysis at all. I don’t believe it because I have reason to take her at her word when she says she has been “listening” and “reflecting”. I think she has been listening to voices from the greater independence movement, and that it was fairly obvious from her speech that she has.
A couple of weeks ago, just after the election, I read a couple of articles on CommonSpace by Robin McAlpine, talking about the way forward, and how the SNP needs to change; to renew and reinvigorate both themselves and the independence movement. You can read them here and here, and I do recommend that you do. You’ll no doubt, like me, see many striking similarities between what he is suggesting, and the gist of the FM’s speech. If you take a look at point 6 in that first article, you’ll see that he talks about a great amount of work behind the scenes, being done by the Scottish Independence Convention. He says in that section:
We were planning to meet the SNP straight after the election to talk all this over and, effectively, get their permission. We still will. But I simply don’t see how the SNP could now even consider withholding that permission.
It seems to me pretty clear that meeting took place, or at least that the FM and/or other senior SNP politicians have been paying attention, and that the SNP listened. However, I’ll let readers decide for themselves. Here are a couple of the points that McAlpine makes on the way forward following the election, interspersed with quotes from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech yesterday.
1. That we must all now agree that the independence movement is, and needs to be, more than just the SNP. He argues that it should now be clear that the SNP cannot win independence on its own, without the help of the greater, grassroots movement.
We won’t do it on our own – because the independence case is bigger than us too. My party will engage openly and inclusively with, and work as part of, the wider independence movement.
2. That we should stop talking about referendums for now, and start talking about independence. He argues that it is “referendum” that is the “trigger word”, and is unpopular right now, not independence itself. He suggests that the other side know this, and that is why they constantly attack the idea of a referendum, rather than attacking the concept of independence. We need to start talking up the case for independence again.
Many of us believe that independence is the right and best answer to the many, complex challenges we face as a country – and also the best way to seize and fully realise our many opportunities as a country.
So the challenge for all of us who do believe that Scotland should be independent is to get on with the hard work of making and winning that case – on all of its merits – and in a way that is relevant to the changes, challenges and opportunities we face now and in the years ahead,
That is what my party will do.
We won’t do it on our own – because the independence case is bigger than us too.
3. That commentators don’t get to decide when things happen. That is the job of the democratically elected Government.
Opposition parties – no matter how strongly they disagree with us on independence, as is their right – should stop trying to turn the basic rules of democracy on their head.
The fact that these statements were in the FM’s speech yesterday, strongly suggests to me that she has indeed been listening and reflecting, and I see it as a very good sign. I think we are about to see the start of a new, refreshed, better thought out and organised push to win people over to independence, and I think that is exciting. I also think it is coming at just the right time, with the backdrop of Brexit economic damage starting to show, and May’s decidedly weak and shoogly government, propped up by religious bigots.
Against that backdrop, the idea of decoupling the referendum timing from the independence argument, and letting the Tories and Brexit do some of the work for us, seems like the right one. In the meantime, we drop talk of a referendum for now and focus on independence itself. Remember, we are not dropping the referendum, just talking less about it for a year or so. That removes the opposition parties’ biggest target. There are civil servants quietly working on the legislation, and it will be good to go whenever the FM decides it’s time.
Personally, I think Nicola Sturgeon’s speech yesterday was a clever piece of political maneuvering. I think she has delivered a call to arms for the yes movement while, not for the first time, catching the unionists on the back foot. They can’t even decide among themselves whether she has dropped the indyref, postponed it, done a u-turn, or changed nothing.
If you aren’t convinced, again I recommend reading the articles I referred to, particularly the second one, What the indy movement needs to do next. I for one however, am quietly optimistic.
EDIT – I’ve just come across Robin McAlpine’s own response to yesterday’s speech. He seems quite happy. Read it here.