A lifelong Labour supporter, I celebrated Blair’s 1997 victory, but not without misgivings. A glib Old Fettesian lawyer as Labour PM? Still, he’d won a general election convincingly, his constituency office was in a village I knew intimately – Trimdon in County Durham – and he’d been more or less discovered by Joe Mills, the North East Regional Secretary of the Transport and General Worker’s Union, a man I knew well and deeply respected. Of course, as a Glaswegian born and bred, I’d had 38 years experience of the awful thing the Glasgow Labour Party had become in the1960s and ’70s, but that could be dismissed as an aberration. And I remembered with affection and respect a much older Labour Party, the pre-NHS party, the party of the old Glasgow, a party of men and women who had fought two wars and could tell shit from Shinola in their politicians.
But far from being an aberration, it was a harbinger of what UK Labour would metamorphose into under Blair. The decline started quickly – Blair expressed his gratitude for Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million donation by exempting Formula One motor racing from the cigarette advertising ban – an act of such barefaced cynicism that some of his closest advisors found it hard to accept he had actually perpetrated it.
Then a truly world-changing event – 9/11 – and the increasingly close relationship between Blair and Bush, culminating in the profoundly misconceived Afghanistan war, a cynical, knee jerk reaction to the enormity of the Twin Towers deaths and the shock to the American psyche over a terrorist attack on US soil, the price of which we are still paying in blood as the humiliating withdrawal grinds on. And then Iraq – an illegal war, launched on a deliberately falsified premise that led to death and destruction on a massive scale and the destabilising of the Middle East.
At that moment, cognitive dissonance intensified, yet a lifetime of Labour internationalist values and the rancid residue of a lifetime of British Empire indoctrination kept me from making the leap – a huge one psychologically for me – to Scottish nationalism and the idea of Scotland’s independence. But I didn’t vote Labour in 2005, and in the 2007 Holyrood election I voted SNP for the first time and at some point thereafter joined the party.
In 2008, I started blogging, then opened my Youtube channel. In 2010, influenced by Mick Fealty’s (Slugger O’Toole) Pi-Camp, I started tweeting. In 2012, I resigned from the SNP (before the October Conference) over the leadership’s decision to join NATO. I will never join a political party again, but I am fully committed to the YES campaign, and will still support the SNP electorally.
To the lifetime Scottish nationalist, to whom independence is a no-brainer, I’m a slow learner who acquired political sense rather late in life. But perhaps I represent fairly closely the new nationalism and new nationalists (I don’t accept the false distinction being made between the terms nationalist and independence supporter) who have come so recently to the cause of independence, and those who are yet to be persuaded. I certainly represent a strong body of opinion best described as left-wing nationalism/internationalism, one that is currently central – and perhaps pivotal – in the great debate. My credentials for National Collective? I’m a musician of sorts and a writer of sorts, undistinguished at both …
So – where are we at right now, with the referendum only fourteen months away, still dazed by the rare phenomenon of a sunny Scotland, in the hottest July for decades, and in the midst of one of the world’s great arts festivals where independence is almost nowhere to be seen or heard?
Well, undoubtedly approaching a watershed in the early autumn, marked by three events – the 18th of September, a day when we can say we have one year until the fateful day in 2014, the 21st September March and Rally on Calton Hill, and the publication of the White Paper in October/November.
All three are vitally important – the first two to jolt us out of a long summer indolence and the last to fire the gun that will mark the end of the phoney war and the start of real, hard-nosed military operations. As Americans are fond of saying when they want to test the appetite for change or a new initiative “Let’s run up the flag and see if anybody salutes …”
We’re winning the online war by 3:1 and gradually reaching those who are online rarely – or not at all – by the only means possible, given a hostile or indifferent media – direct leafleting and canvassing and personal contact, and what the religious evangelist would call direct witness, i.e making our views and beliefs known to those we interact with in our daily lives. But a danger exists for those who are committed to indy but not engaged in direct canvassing, namely that they exist in a reassuring indy bubble, insulated from the harsh reality of the anti-indy majority views and the don’t knows. This danger is especially pronounced for the online campaigner, where we are in the majority. For those in this situation – as I am – it is vital to have contacts among the activists on the doorsteps and the public places to remain rooted in electoral reality and avoid complacency.
The structure of the independence debate and the implications of the key dates along the way from now to May 2016 are confusing for those not deeply involved, but struggling to understand. God knows, even the political activists get confused at times over them! We must keep a pristine clarity in our understanding and explanations of them, and reiterate the fundamentals at every opportunity.
Let me reiterate them, as I see them -
1. The YES Campaign is not a political party with policies and a manifesto – it is a movement arguing for Scotland’s independence comprising many parties and organisations – and individuals of no party affiliation. It says why Scotland can be independent, emphasising its resources both natural and human, and why it should be independent, but leaves specific policies to the parties who will attempt to form the independent government of Scotland in May 2016.
2. The SNP, the largest party committed to independence, currently forms the devolved government of Scotland. The legal agreement made by the UK with Scotland on the referendum was made between the First Minister of Scotland and the Prime Minister of the UK, and in the event of a YES vote, the SNP Government will negotiate the terms of independence with the UK Government.
3. The SNP will therefore present a negotiating agenda, with negotiating objectives and deal breakers in accordance with SNP policy and the SNP Government White Paper, and that agenda will incorporate aspects of SNP policy that are not necessarily shared with every component part of the YES Campaign – e,g, on the monarchy, on NATO membership, on oil revenues – and it will reflect the SNP’s economic view of an independent Scotland which is quite clearly not shared by all of the YES parties. This in a sense is represented by a polarity, argued by many to be between a social democratic, centre left neo-liberal view and the more socialist left view of The Common Weal. This of course, simply represents the reality of politics in UK – and indeed any democratic country – and in theory at least, is reflected in the Tory versus Labour politics of Westminster, with LibDems as uneasy and impotent bystanders.
4. Crucial dates – 18th September 2013, White Paper launch Oct/Nov 2013, Referendum 18th September 2014, UK general election May 2015, Scottish Parliamentary - independent or still devolved(!) election in May 2016.
The date that raises the most complex question in this potential constitutional earthquake is the UK general election in 2015, which will either be a conventional one after a No vote in 2014, or effectively an rUK general election as negotiations progress towards Scotland’s independence a year later in 2016. This latter scenario raises questions that are of vital constitutional importance, but have been barely addressed, never mind answered by politicians and media commentators, e.g. will Scottish opposition political parties enter candidates for a Parliament that will no longer represent Scotland, will the SNP and YES political parties enter candidates (almost certainly not, in my view) and crucially, what will be the implications of a change of UK/rUK government be, coming in the middle of the Scottish independence negotiations?
Truly, we are living in interesting times (the ancient Chinese curse!) and therefore bear a huge responsibility as Scottish citizens to contribute dynamically to them. A curse? No – a privilege rarely accorded to a generation. Let’s be worthy of it!