During the long referendum campaign, online commentators such as myself had to think hard about the potential negative impact on YES of raising certain questions, offering certain opinions, addressing certain topics, voicing certain criticisms, and the wisdom of giving them “the oxygen of publicity”.
The campaign inevitably polarised opinion, and given the tsunami of abuse and misinformation thrown at YES by the Better Together campaign, the might of the UK unionist media and the Whitehall and the Treasury machines, I was reluctant, like many others, to risk giving ammunition to the other side.
But this instinct had to be rationally balanced against to need to correct perceived inaccuracies and damaging beliefs (I mean as perceived by me) that, if not countered, would have pernicious effects on our struggle for the independence vote. This led me into difficult waters over, for example, the BBC and NATO, where I felt I was serving the cause more effectively by speaking out than maintaining a silence. The question of BBC bias – where I took the position that, although there were many specific examples of blatant bias, the BBC was not the devil incarnate, and much of its output was not only objective, but absolutely vital to informing the electorate – was a long running war with other YES supporters, many of whom I had, and still have the highest respect for.
NATO was a much more difficult one – it was a fundamental point of principle for me (and a few others) and it produced some very bitter attacks on me by email and online. It divided the Party at Conference, and it led to my resignation from the SNP. Post referendum, I’ve bitten that bullet and rejoined, not because I’m reconciled to NATO membership, but because post-indyref politics have shifted its significance – for the moment.
On the monarchy, as a republican by conviction I was prepared to accept the FM’s position of constitutional monarchy, believing it was a realpolitik price worth paying to get a YES. Now, after the putative Queen of Scots’ unwise indyref intervention, I’m not sure it was – or is.
THE NEW INDY POLITICS
A few months before the 18th September, I offered an algorithm to a highly-respected media contact – one I now regard as a friend – setting out what I saw as the possible results of various indyref outcomes. I won’t reproduce it here – suffice it to say, outcomes I didn’t forecast were
First Minister’s resignation after a NO vote
the unprecedented surge in SNP membership
High YES supporter morale
inexorable SNP poll gains
the launch of a new Scottish newspaper, The National, supporting independence.
Neither did anybody else!
The new post-indyref politics are normal party politics resumed, but in a highly volatile and unpredictable UK political context, with the immediate focus on the general election 2015 (GE2015) and the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections.
I think it’s fair to say that not all YES supporters are entirely comfortable in the new political climate. Having flocked to the SNP banner, and had the adrenalin rush of Nicola’s triumphal tour, indulged understandable schadenfreude at the uncomprehending splutters of indignation from the “winners” of the referendum, relaxed in a kind of post-coital phase, they’re now looking for action of the kind they grew accustomed to in the campaign.
Most have adjusted, thrown themselves into the new politics enthusiastically, battle-hardened, tempered in the indyref fires and ready to work for independence in a dazzling variety of new ways. But some are pining for the old binary certainties – clearly identifiable villains and heroes, and simple characterisations and choices – and are a bit lost. One dedicated indyref campaigner described himself to me as feeling ‘bereft’ at the void in his life since September.
And so to thinking the unthinkable …
Throughout the campaign, there was a strand of independence thought from supporters (never from politicians or party animals to my knowledge. and little from media commentators) on a taboo subject, UDI – a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
Most of this, at least as I experienced it, as I carried out the tedious and sometimes depressing task of pre-moderating blog and YouTube comments and my email inbox, was adolescent nonsense, whatever the age of those articulating it. But some of it was rooted in deeper thinking about possible reactions to scenarios that could, at least in theory unfold.
I have some limited vicarious experience of historical UDI, though a Rhodesian connection and from those who were part of the Slovenian velvet revolution. And there was the very real situation and stark choices facing our staunch friends of Scotland in Galicia and Catalonia over their own referendum.
All of this came back to me in the last few days when a Danish friend, political contact and invaluable information source asked what kind of situation could give rise to a UDI in Scotland, even if I fundamentally rejected such a course of action – which I do.
Here is the answer I gave -
The only sequence of events that would provoke UDI I could foresee would be -
UK refusal to legitimise a referendum request
such a referendum then being held without a UK legal basis
a significant majority resulting, in the order of, say, 65%/35%.
For such a scenario to unfold at all, it would probably have been preceded by a majority of Scottish Westminster seats having previously fallen to SNP and other Scottish indy-supporting parties - a possibility in the general election of May 2015.
However, it could not be a velvet revolution like, say, Slovenia's because of the massive disentanglement of institutions required - and the fundamental question of control of the Clyde nuclear base.
It would of course potentially provoke an immediate crisis of loyalty in the armed forces in Scotland, and the possible emergence of powerful anti-democratic forces, perhaps through the military establishment.
These conditions are unlikely to arise, in my view, and I hope they never do - in my lifetime or anyone else’s – but they are conceivable.
The much more likely scenario for GE2015 is significant Westminster seat gains, and a confidence and supply arrangement with Labour, either to permit them to form a minority Labour government a la Salmond 2007 in Holyrood, or to support them against a Tory/LibDem/UKIP coalition.
And on that note, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!