Another day, another exercise in Scotland being patronised by columnists in the Guardian. This time it’s Zoe Williams’ turn, opining that Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for a referendum has a fundamental weakness. Because, according to Zoe, the only hope that Scotland has got of getting a referendum is if there is a Labour Prime Minister willing to authorise one, but then if there is a Labour Prime Minister Scotland wouldn’t want independence. To which the only Scottish response can be: Aye. Right. Uh-huh.
The article runs the predictable gamut of British nationalist bingo. The referendum was divisive and bitter. Scots living in England didn’t have voting rights. The whole thing was an excerise in narrow and reactionary nationalism. It is quite remarkable that even now, after Brexit has dominated British politics for years and will dominate it for years to come, that there are still those who cling to the religious belief that support for the British state magically protects you from accusations of nationalism.
If we’re going to talk of fundamentals, the fundamental truth about the Scottish independence debate that commentators south of the border wilfully refuse to understand is that this is not a debate between nationalism and non-nationalism. There are nationalists and non-nationalists on both sides, and the toxic xenophobic nationalism, characterised by hatred of foreigners and the nostalgic harking back to a glorious empire, entirely belongs to opponents of independence. While I have no doubt whatsoever that Zoe Williams is a left of centre politically moderate person who is appalled by the excesses of nationalism, I’m not going to take any lectures in nationalism from someone who has the Orange Order, the Brexit party, and the far right on their side of the independence debate. Check out the beam in your own eye before criticising the mote in mine.
The article writes about the supposed fundamental weakness in the plan for another independence referendum, but itself is characterised by a fundamental weakness. Zoe assumes, like so many I’m-not-a-nationalist-because-I-support-the-UKs before her, that an independence referendum is the gift of a British Prime Minister to grant, and Scotland is merely a supplicant begging on its knees at the doors of Number 10. That is not true, even though it’s a comfort blanket that so many opponents of independence cling onto in the dark nightmare of Brexit Britain. There are, as this blog has argued frequently in the past, other routes to bringing about a lawful and legitimate vote on Scottish independence, routes which do not require the permission of a British Prime Minister. We are not yet in the political space where those alternative routes need to be activated, but that most certainly does not mean that they do not exist. The Scottish Government, even at this stage, is still prepared to give a British Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt to prove their democratic credentials. Anti-independence commentators confuse that with the belief that Westminster holds all the cards.
The entire article is riddled with flaws, as is entirely typical of pieces penned by the London metrocommentariat who seek to explain Scotland to those of us who actually live here, deprived as we are of the benefit of the view from within the M25. The patronising quasi-colonialist mentality that it is based on, that Scotland must seek permission from its masters in order to be allowed to decide its own future, is merely the most egregious. It’s all very bow down before your imperial masters.
However the other big flaw is the assertion that a Labour government would stop people in Scotland from wanting independence. Given that after the next General Election, and indeed right now, the Labour party will receive less support within Scotland than the Conservatives, why exactly should voters in Scotland go off the idea of independence because England has chosen – for once – to elect a party that Scotland has rejected in dismay? We didn’t fall out of love with Labour for no reason. We didn’t lose faith in the Labour party without experiencing a long history of the betrayal of its promises. Labour in Scotland is a toxic remnant. All too often Labour can only get itself elected in England by aping the Conservatives. We saw that with Tony Blair. Independence isn’t just necessary because of Tory governments, but because of Labour ones too. But most of all Scotland has long since learned the painful lesson that even if England does decide to elect a Labour government, there will be a Conservative one along sooner or later. It is no longer enough to hope that things will get better for a short time in Westminster. Scotland can’t build a future on that.
The other flaw is the categorical rejection of any notion that a Conservative government would authorise an independence referendum. This overlooks the fundamental truth about the Conservative party. The only interest for the Conservative party is the narrow party interest of the Conservative party. If the Conservatives believe it is in their party interests to authorise an independence referendum in Scotland, that’s exactly what they’ll do. It was, after all, a Conservative Prime Minister who agreed to a Section 30 order the last time. He did so because he made the calculation, wrongly as it turned out, that opponents of independence would absolutely crush the dream of independence, and then David Cameron could pose as the Saviour of the Union and boost Conservative chances in Scotland.
We currently have a Conservative Prime Minister whose sole political principle is what is good for his own career. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson leads a political party where a majority of members would be happy to see the back of Scotland in order to pursue Brexit. He would be prepared to countenance an independence referendum if getting rid of Scotland would assure him of Brexit and a secure majority in the Commons.
As I write this, Nicola Sturgeon is giving her keynote speech to the SNP Conference. She demanded that Westminster respect the mandate that the Scottish Government already possesses for a referendum. It is time for British Prime Ministers to prove that they understand and respect the concept of democracy. Scotland will demand an independence referendum next year, and that demand will be front and centre in the General Election campaign which is about to commence.
More and more people who voted No in 2014 are coming over to support for independence. They’re changing their minds because they can see that the promises and commitments that successive Westminster governments, and all the main UK parties, have made to Scotland have been hollow and worthless. They’re changing their minds because the UK that Scotland was told it could be a part of doesn’t exist. They’re changing their minds because they don’t want to be a part of a right wing xenophobic Brexit characterised by a nostalgia for a Britannia that used to rule the waves.
There’s only one fundamental that need concern us. That’s the fundamental truth that it is time to place Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands. It is time for independence. One way or another, Scotland is on a path to returning to its rightful place amongst the independent nations of the world. It’s comin yet.
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