Language is important. Especially, perhaps, in politics. And certainly when politicians are dealing with sensitive matters. Bumbling gaffe-monger, Boris Johnson, nicely and frequently illustrates the importance of choosing words carefully. Nicola Sturgeon is NOT Boris Johnson. She is a particularly astute politician. She is fully aware that the right of self-determination is fully vested in the people of Scotland, to be exercised at their discretion. She knows that, while she has the responsibility for implementing the will of the electorate and is required to use her political judgement in relation to the finer details of scheduling a constitutional referendum, neither she nor any other politician has the authority to deny the people of Scotland the opportunity to exercise their right to choose the form of government which suits their needs.
It is simply wrong to say that, in January 2017, Nicola Sturgeon “directly ruled out a new referendum for the following 12 months”. Read her words. Attend to them. The words matter.
“There is not going to be an independence referendum in 2017 – I don’t think there is anybody who thinks that is the case.”
What she said was that the referendum wasn’t going to happen. Not that she was presuming to disallow it or refuse to facilitate it. Note the passive voice. And to emphasise the point that it is political circumstances and forces external to her office that mean there is “not going to be” a new referendum in 2017, she adds the generalising comment suggesting a lack of the requisite public demand.
It is true, however, that the First Minister’s language has changed. Political anoraks like myself, who attend to the niceties and subtleties of such statements, will have noticed a distinct shift in tone over the last few months. Those with ears and minds suitably attuned listened to Nicola Sturgeon’s speech at SNP National Council last December and detected the sub-text in her reference to the imminent publication of the Growth Commission report and that it would be “a catalyst for relaunching the arguments for independence”.
Standing back from specific statements by Nicola Sturgeon and listening to the ‘mood music’ of Scotland’s politics, we find prominent figures in the SNP such as Tommy Sheppard and Pete Wishart rethinking their earlier positions on the timing of a new independence referendum and Angus Robertson proclaiming with a certain theatricality that “There will be a referendum!” and myriad other hints and suggestions which, when taken as a whole, speak to us of moves afoot. Of ground being prepared. Of something building.
Some may also have noticed a new assertiveness from SNP politicians. A greater readiness to take on the media and a more forthright manner in challenging political opponents. It has been a constant complaint of many in the Yes movement that the SNP didn’t stand up for themselves strongly enough. That they let the British media get away with lies and distortions. That they failed to fully capitalise on the confusion and ineptitude of the British parties at Holyrood. That they weren’t doing enough to highlight the contradictions and inconsistencies of British Nationalist propaganda. That they weren’t sufficiently aggressive in denouncing the impositions and iniquities and incompetencies and insults of the British government. Follow the Twitter timelines of SNP MPs and MSPs and you will see that, to whatever extent such complaints may have been justified in the past, they are less and less so now. The language has changed. Not massively. But noticeably. And in very significant ways.
Those with a finger on the relevant pulse may also have noticed a stirring in the Yes movement. There is a distinct sense of forces rallying and loins being girded ready for the fray. I would suggest that this is both cause and effect of the change in the SNP’s public voice. There’s a positive feedback effect as the party is empowered by support from the Yes movement and Yes activists are enthused by the new assertiveness of the SNP. Significantly, this puts the SNP in the vanguard of the independence campaign – which is precisely where it needs to be. And it puts the power of Yes movement behind the SNP – which is exactly what is required.
Of course, there is more to politics than just the stuff politicians say in interviews and on social media, There’s also what they do. There are events and developments. It all has to be taken together. It all forms the context which lends meaning to words and actions. Listening to the language used by Nicola Sturgeon and other SNP politicians in the context of the observable actions and known intent of the British establishment, we cannot but conclude that we are in the early stages of a process that will lead to a new independence referendum in September 2018. We would certainly be foolish not to proceed as if this was the case. We have to assume that we’re heading for #Referendum2018.
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