Sunday, 27 May 2012

Was The Launch of The "Yes" Campaign a Success?

Whether or not the launch was a success, is dependent on one's expectations. Did those present, particularly the main speakers, represent a fair cross-section of Scottish society. The answer to that is "No" because of the almost total absence of Scotland's business community. With the exception of Peter de Vink, there was little evidence of support from those of a "right-of-centre" political persuasion, although George Mathewson did send a message and Brian Soutar's non-appearance should not be taken as an indication that his enthusiasm for independence has waned. Significantly, there was also an absence of those of the "left-of-centre" persuasion, with the exception of Dennis Canavan and Tommy Brennan, both of whom were well known for their commitment to the Labour Movement of the past. Colin Fox of the SSP is certainly left wing but there has always been a commitment to independence, while Patrick Harvie of the leftist Green Party, eschews Nationalism but recognises that independence is more likely to deliver the kind of Scotland the Greens want. One also has to consider the participation of people like Brian Cox and Elain C Smith, both of whom have supported Labour in the past but who now see independence as the only way to achieve the kind of Scottish society to which they aspire.

During my years in the SNP I frequently argued that the purpose of the party was to create Nationalists, which to my mind is a perfectly respectable political position to take. I am completely comfortable to be described as a Nationalist, as someone who desires the independence of his country, not to be confused with chauvinist, imperialist or colonialist, all of which have been used as synonyms by opponents of Scottish independence, in their efforts to discredit the legitimate aspirations of the Scottish people. I have always taken the view that the pursuit of independence was more important than the pursuit of socialism or any other kind of "ism" and the purpose of the SNP was to persuade others to see independence as the first and by far, the most important goal. Those who were prepared to support independence but only "if Scotland was left-wing" or "Scotland was business friendly" or "Scotland was nuclear-free" had to be persuaded to set aside their "conditions", to accept that the Scottish people would determine the kind of society Scotland would be, but in order to have the freedom to do that, Scotland had to be independent first. Those in the party who agreed with that approach were dubbed "fundamentalists" and later condemned as standing in the way of the more "gradualist" approach, which saw independence as a more long-term goal.

I have been highly critical of the SNP's approach under Salmond's leadership, much to the annoyance of the new breed of cybernats and supporters who see any criticism of the party as undermining the cause of independence. The more perceptive among them have realised that almost without exception, my condemnation of the SNP, has been when they compromised the pursuit of independence and were not above dishonesty in order to further their arguments. The most obvious disagreement and the longest running sore, has been the party's total commitment to the EU and the euro and their willingness to lie and deliberately mislead the Scottish electorate. The more recent commitment to retaining the pound sterling, together with Alex Salmond's attempt to argue that monetary policy is unimportant, is simply an extension of the original argument over the EU. My critics will be hard pushed to find any other criticisms of SNP policy and the recent spat over minimum pricing of alcohol was about the spurious claims being made, not about increasing the price of booze. Over-blown claims and assertions based on untested theories should never be used as the basis for government policy as the inability to differentiate between a statistical correlation and a causal connection has had tragic consequences in the past.

Significantly, despite twenty years of gradualism in the SNP and assertions that it has been successful, the latest YouGov poll has shown that the numbers who support independence now, are no higher than they were twenty years ago. Support for independence has fluctuated since the first major breakthrough of the SNP in the local elections in 1967, when the party took 100 seats from Labour, but the hard core support for independence has been stable at around a third of the Scottish electorate. I first came into contact with Dennis Canavan in the 1970s when he fought West Stirlingshire for Labour, against the late and greatly missed Janette Jones of the SNP. It was only in later years that he first came across as a staunch supporter of devolution and much later, of independence. My first contact with Tommy Brennan was slightly later when the SNP supported the campaign to save Ravenscraig and I was Vice-Chairman for Policy. At that time he was a hard-line Labour supporter, as was the vast majority of trade unionists in Scotland and independence was dismissed as an irrelevance. That both men have completed the journey from staunch Labour supporters to advocates of independence and open recognition that if there is to be any hope of achieving the kind of Scotland they hope for, independence is not only relevant, it is mandatory.

The platform speakers left the audience in no doubt that the actions of a certain Margaret Thatcher had more than a little to do with their shift towards independence, that and the Blair/Brown regime which was a mere continuation of the Thatcher years. Mrs Thatcher has probably been one of the best recruiting officers the cause of independence has ever had and, there is no doubt her name will crop up regularly in the door-step conversations that will take place during the referendum campaign. Whatever persuaded the likes of Canavan, Brennan, Cox and Smith to make common cause for independence with de Vink, the fact that they did, makes the launch a success. When the leaders of other political parties, however small and insignificant they may be to the electorate, which have serious disagreements over policies which are fundamental to their own members, can also make common cause for independence, it is definitely worthy of note and some celebration. That has been the hope of "fundamentalists" like me for many years and it may just be beginning to happen.

It has certainly confused the media and the Unionist commentators who make their living penning scare stories on its behalf. Eddie Barnes, under the headline, "Divided they stand" notes the incongruity of it all and raises the usual objections of the Unionist camp to a "Yes" vote, "But Yes to what?" Colin Fox is quite open about the differences that divide Peter de Vink and the SSP. He is also critical of Alex Salmond's conservatism, as is Patrick Harvie. Scotland on Sunday claims the SNP is now "making a virtue of uncertainty" as it abandons its previouslu tight grip on the direction of the debate and opens the door to disagreement on just about everything. It is certainly a new departure for the SNP and will cramp the style of the cybernats some of whom simply parrot Alex Salmond, claiming monetary policy is unimportant. I was encouraged by the way in which the campaign was launched, by the willingness of the SNP to encourage a wider contribution and by the willingness of the Greens and the SSP to make independence the unconditional goal. Hopefully, that willingness to make independence the first priority will be continued

I interrupted the completion of this to listen to the debate on BBC where Nicola Sturgeon represented the SNP. Her comments on the currency were total nonsense and if the SNP continues with this line of argument, it will be difficult for the Greens and the SSP to continue to give their support without calling into question the SNP's arguments. Nicola Sturgeon's defence of the use of sterling was based on the claim that the economies of the different parts of the UK are broadly similar and productivity levels are "the same", as if that was the determining factor in choosing to use sterling. Not only are the claims questionable, the whole message of independence is that Scotland will do much better and, as Patrick Harvie was forced to point out, the economies will diverge. When, not if, that happens, and the Bank of England is setting interest rates for the benefit of the rest of the UK, Scotland will be at a disadvantage. Sturgeon's claim Scotland will have a member on the Monetary Policy Committee is nonsense and, even if it were to happen, does she seriously believe that a single Scottish member will alter the voting intentions of the rest of the Committee to suit Scotland? It is this kind of total dishonesty that will create internal tensions which will make cooperation difficult. If the SNP is serious about encouraging the support of those outwith the party, they must take this on board.

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