Dubious plotting

I think we have to be very cautious about this story of a new Yes organisation. On the surface, it looks very like Jim Sillars and Robin McAlpine trying to seize ownership of the Yes movement and bring it under the control of factions whose support for independence is conditional on a narrow policy agenda. But there is good reason to wonder precisely how real this effort is. In reports elsewhere it was claimed that Women for Independence (WfI) was involved in what Robin McAlpine referred to as “talks” about this new Yes campaign management structure. WfI subsequently denied this claim. So we should, perhaps, be wary about taking any of this too seriously.

But let us suppose for a moment that Messrs McAlpine and Sillars are seriously trying to appoint themselves leaders of a movement whose organically networked nature made the very concept leadership redundant. Suppose it was actually possible for the disparate groups that made up the Yes campaign to be corralled under the direction of some committee. Would Jim Sillars and Robin McAlpine be the people we’d choose to take a lead role in this management structure? I’m dubious.

I have always maintained that it would be useful if some organisation or group emerged as the entity around which the wider Yes movement could coalesce. But I never envisaged this as resulting in a top-down organisation. What I felt would be useful is a body able to represent the Yes movement at a national level. Something akin to what we had with the official Yes Scotland. It is important to understand that Yes Scotland had a very limited role in the first referendum campaign. It set broad strategy parameters, coordinated speakers, and dealt with the media at a national and international level. But it was merely the tip of a huge iceberg made up of hundreds of almost totally autonomous groups based on localities or special interests.

If I understand the ambitions of Robin McAlpine and Jim Sillars correctly, they are seeking something much more akin to a formal nationwide campaign organisation. And I don’t think it will work.

I don’t think it will work in part because the format is inappropriate to a mass popular movement. And in part because I think anybody who wants to control this movement is automatically disqualified from doing so.

While I have great respect for Jim Sillars and Robin McAlpine, I simply cannot see them as representing a unifying force for the independence movement. Quite the contrary. I regard them as regrettably divisive. I listen to Jim Sillars and what I hear is pointless sniping at the SNP. It is not clear what role he wants for the SNP. But he seems to be in denial of the fact that the independence movement needs an effective political force able to operate within the British political system. A force powerful enough to mount a serious challenge to the British establishment. And he appears desperately unwilling to admit that this force must be the SNP. For the simple reason that there is nobody else anywhere near being in a position to fulfil that role.

To the extent that the SNP did “dominate” the first referendum campaign this was only because the British media chose to sideline Yes Scotland. The SNP took a lead in setting up Yes Scotland precisely because it wanted to avoid being the focus of the campaign. Unfortunately, many in the wider Yes movement opted to play the British media’s game by going along with the idea that it was “all about Alex Salmond/the SNP”.

Until Jim Sillars gets over his “issues” with the SNP, he can never be a unifying influence in the independence movement. Because, however much he may resent it, the SNP is the de facto political arm of that movement.

And Robin McAlpine is almost as guilty of compounding the anti-SNP propaganda of the British establishment. He criticises the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence as if it represented a policy prescription for post-independence Scotland instead of the broad depiction of potential that it was intended to be. In other words, he adopts the anti-independence campaign’s rhetoric.

He also embraces the unionist narrative of “unanswered questions” on things like currency, when he should be pointing out how badly the Scottish Government’s position was misrepresented by the British media. And how the British media utterly failed to scrutinise the British establishment’s threat to abolish the currency union in the event of a Yes vote.

Coming up to date, Robin McAlpine has opted for a needlessly antagonistic attitude to the SNP’s stance on a second referendum. For whatever reason, he chooses to focus obsessively on talk of potential “triggers” and totally ignore Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence that demand for a second referendum must be led by the people and not the politicians. One might have thought that this championing of people-power was something Robin McAlpine would welcome. But apparently not if it comes from the SNP.

I know Robin acknowledges the need for the SNP as part of the independence campaign. It would be good if this awareness informed his rhetoric. Nobody is saying that the SNP should be above criticism. But those who are making common cause with the SNP in the campaign to bring Scotland’s government home surely have a responsibility to criticise responsibly.

Taken as a whole, this would seem to imply that we should be giving a big thumbs-down to this latest bit of plotting by those whose sole purpose seems to be to ride the independence bandwagon into Holyrood. It may well be that the Yes movement needs to come together as a “coherent whole”. But that entity can only work if it has at its core a commitment to independence which is unconditionally founded on the principle of constitutional justice. Independence is about rectifying an ancient constitutional anomaly. It is not about parties or personalities – or post-independence policies.


About Peter A Bell

Thinker. Listener. Talker. Reader. Writer. None of my attitudes are immutable. None of my conclusions are final. None of my opinions are humble.
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6 Responses to Dubious plotting

  1. BampotsUtd.wordpress.com says:

    Reblogged this on Bampots Utd and commented:
    SNP both votes anything else is weaking the indy cause splinter groups are career activists that love attention and being a face Nicole and the 56 are doing well and fighting our corner well ignore break away groups they are milking things for personal gain to snp all the way !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. BampotsUtd.wordpress.com says:

    from what a see is all the other groups making noise seem to be career activists with donate buttons the more power we give the snp the stronger they are in dealing indy for us rise is a con they mean well but to me its like throwing a spanner in the works the momentum is with snp so why try and ruin it !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agree with what you have written. This to me sounds like a Holyrood election wheeze to gain votes for Rise. In the coming months the focus must be on Holyrood, then after that, if any energy is available, the Euro referendum. That is going to be portrayed by the media as an England only campaign so our focus must be the Scotland only campaign of Holyrood. Once that’s sorted and we know where we stand – in or out of the EU – we then have time to consider a yes campaign. If the Scottish government isn’t keen on indyref2 based on a knee-jerk reaction on the back of an EU referendum result, then there will be plenty time as the post EU debacle unfolds to think of organising a Yes campaign. But, like you, I would not envisage either of the above mentioned to be central to it. Both may rail against the SNP but they are in government and have more right to determine strategies than any other Party/group.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I Clark says:

    “But that entity can only work if it has at its core a commitment to independence which is unconditionally founded on the principle of constitutional justice. Independence is about rectifying an ancient constitutional anomaly. It is not about parties or personalities – or post-independence policies.”

    I do not believe the statement that “Independence is about rectifying an ancient constitutional anomaly.” is one which would be accepted by large numbers of people in the Yes movement. Personally, I don’t accept it. My life, and that of others, is too short to to be concerned about righting a 300 year old ‘wrong’. In the big scheme of things – including all the suffering that has been and is being inflicted on people all over the world by wealthy and powerful elites – 1707 doesn’t even show up on the radar.

    I want to contribute towards the break up the UK state, which has been and is the cause of so much suffering throughout the world and here in the British Isles. Independence for me – and many others – is also about having a realistic chance to create a better society i.e. it is about politics now. If there was no chance of a better society in an independent Scotland, then many people would not be interested in independence.

    Although rectifying the constitutional anomaly is important to you, I think you should be content – on pragmatic grounds – that you have the support of others who do not hold this position. In a similar way, I would rather people were motivated primarily by the desire to separate themselves from the abomination that is the UK state and to, amongst other things, create a better, more egalitarian society. I accept that this is not necessarily the case for many SNP members, who are perhaps motivated more by righting constitutional wrongs. But – on pragmatic grounds – I am grateful to get the chance to make common cause with them.

    Obsession about doctrinal purity has been the cause of so much division amongst the radical Left. This lack of unity has been a significant reason why it has been so ineffective. Yes supporters have different reasons for wanting Independence. We don’t need a confession of faith. Let’s focus on what we share in common i.e. a desire to win independence (and the related need – at least for the foreseeable future – to keep the SNP in power at Holyrood).


    • Peter A Bell says:

      There is a huge flaw in your argument. The ancient constitutional anomaly to which I refer is not something that is in the past. It is ongoing. Moreover, it is inextricably bound up with the very things that you say you want to put right. It is part of what makes the things you want to end what they are.

      Quite where you get this nonsense about ‘doctrinal purity’ from is a complete mystery given that what I am talking about is the precise opposite. I am talking about setting aside completely concerns with ideology; partisan loyalties/petty rivalries; and narrow policy agendas in favour of a principled but pragmatic approach to our politics.

      My commendation of #BothVotesSNP has absolutely bugger all to do with ‘doctrinal purity’, or ‘blind allegiance’ or any of that shite. If you imagine that then you simply haven’t been paying attention. I commend #BothVotesSNP for the glaringly obvious reason that it is both the best way to take forward the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status and the best way of securing the gains that we have made in the past few decades. And, not at all incidentally, the best way to ensure competent government for the next few years.

      The notion that it might be possible to embark on the project to “create a better, more egalitarian society” without independence is an insidious nonsense. As is the notion that there is something realistically achievable in the coming election which justifies jeopardising the SNP majority – without which the entire progressive project will be set back so far it might as well be 300 years.


      • I Clark says:

        Peter there is not a huge flaw in my argument. Please read my response again carefully. You have misunderstood it.

        Firstly, I suggest you do not use phrases like “ancient constitutional anomaly” if you are not referring to a significant past event. I did not understand this phrase to be referring to an “ongoing” injustice. I agree with you about the ongoing nature of the injustice. Even here, though, I still do not feel as strongly as you do about the historical nature of the injustice.

        Secondly, The ”doctrinal purity” reference is nothing to do with the SNP. It is, as I said, a reference to the radical left (e.g. Stalinists, Trotskyists, RISE?). I made that really clear. I was using the radical left as an example of what can go wrong if people insist on uniformity of belief i.e. they fight amongst themselves and rarely get into power.

        Thirdly, I totally agree with you about the importance of the SNP getting back into and staying in power and clearly stated that in the final sentence of my reply. Almost certainly both of my votes are going to the SNP in May, even though my inclination was to vote Green or SSP (RISE) on the list.

        Fourthly, when you say “But that entity can only work if it has at its core a commitment to independence which is UNCONDITIONALLY founded on the principle of constitutional justice.” how else can this be understood other than you asserting the primacy of constitutional justice over social justice? That’s fine, but I disagree. For me social justice now is more important than righting the historical injustice. And that was why I replied to your article. Even though we disagree about this, I was making a plea for tolerance in pursuit of a common goal i.e. independence.

        Fifthly, your comment that “to embark on the project to “create a better, more egalitarian society” without independence is an insidious nonsense”. is correct. My statement about creating “a better, more egalitarian society” was a statement of what ideally I would hope would motivate people to want to live in an independent Scotland. Do I think “a better, more egalitarian society” could be achieved within the current UK? Absolutely not and I never suggested it could. I am committed to the idea that in practice the SNP is (as you have suggested elsewhere) the political wing of the Independence movement. From my viewpoint, it must be supported for us even to have a chance of creating that better society.

        Lastly, as I said earlier, read my response again. Perhaps I could have phrased it a bit better (but not much!). Keep up the good work. Your Politics Scotland digest and that of Munguin’s Republic are the first two places I go to in the morning for information.


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