Indyref can’t be Nicola’s Trident

by Ken Ferguson • First Minister Sturgeon’s confirmation—amidst cheers from SNP conference delegates—of a draft Bill on Indyref 2 both ups the ante while buying time on the issue.

While there is genuine debate in the broad Yes movement on the timing of a second referendum, some of the signs coming out of the SNP conference will raise concerns among campaigners.

What for example will non-SNP Yes supporters make of the newly minted “moderate” SNP deputy Angus Robertson’s call to put aside “ideology” on the drive to convince No voters to switch?

Will Greens be expected to park pro-environmental policies or socialists there criticisms of a deeply unequal society spawned by 30 years of neoliberal economics?

Ideology is not a term of abuse but the basis on which political activists from left to right understand the society the live in and come to conclusions that form policies to deal with the issues they face.

In 2014 it was the very diversity of the Yes movement which saw nationalists work with greens, socialists, single issue campaigners and key non-party groups such as Women for Independence and Radical Independence, which was instrumental in boosting support for a Yes vote from around 28 per cent to the eventual 45 per cent won on 18 September two years ago.

Recreating such a diverse movement for a new campaign is already complicated by the fact that huge swathes of Yes supporters joined the SNP transforming much of that campaign from a broad social movement to a party political one.

Of course this has scored considerable gains in terms of wiping out Scottish Labour from Westminster and returning a further SNP Holyrood government last May.

However, it has also reinforced the identification of independence as the possession of the SNP and increasingly runs the risk of tying the fortunes of the Yes movement to those of the SNP government.

Such a situation is fraught with danger for the task of winning a second referendum and in turn places a heavy responsibility on all to ensure that all pro-Yes voices play there full part in shaping what has to be a renewed, broad pluralist campaign to win.

In this context, the remarks by John Swinney at an SNP conference fringe meeting that he would favour basing the currency options for an independent Scotland being a repeat of the 2014 option of using the pound sterling must ring loud alarm bells.

At least this option, widely seen as a negative factor in 2014, must surely be tested in debate in the wider Yes movement and alternatives discussed.

Nor can it just be taken as granted that the campaign can centre on a Scottish Government White Paper as in 2014, a paper now widely criticised as unambitious and painting a safety-first “UK lite” vision. Again diversity of ideas and visions on what independence can achieve can only strengthen the offer.

But at the heart of the dilemma on how to win is this—where exactly does the option of independence fit into the complex post-Brexit politics of Scotland?

The reality is that the leave vote was not factored in to SNP plans at the May polls and the period since has seen the Scottish Government place heavy priority on remaining in the EU and its single market with many frankly fanciful statements of how Scotland might stay in the EU and the UK.

As the Westminster Tories led by the unelected Prime Minister May veers right and stress “Britishness” it is increasingly clear that such an option will be very hard to deliver.

Yet the announcement by Nicola Sturgeon of consultation—which will last a year—on a second independence referendum which was a real crowd pleaser at her conference—is placed firmly in the context of a weapon in the Brexit battle not as a central objective necessary for a renewed, just Scotland.

Leaving aside the fact that polls show that the EU issue is not one that moves people from No to Yes in great numbers, and that 38 per cent of 2014 Yes voters voted leave, the real danger in this approach is that it reduces independence to a tactic in a wider Westminster war.

The reality of this was underlined by the line feeding after the SNP conference from SNP ‘insiders” that the aim was to project the First Minister as the main UK anti-hard Brexit figure, going all out to defend the EU single market.

This is reminiscent of the much hyped but stillborn UK ‘progressive alliance’ which blazed meteor-like across the UK general election sky, only to disappear without trace. The real danger is that the Tories and the Westminster machine can play that same game while the wider case for independence goes unmade.

Independence is not a tap to be turned off and on as Brexit demands but a demand opening the way to a more democratic, socially-just sustainable Scotland.

Defenders of renewed Trident missiles assure us that they are simply a “deterrent” that is so awesome that it will never be used. The broad Yes movement has to guard against the danger that the demand for independence is not seen in the same light.

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