The confusion in the ranks of the National Movement over what constitutes "Independence", is such that the SNP and many of its supporters are in danger of killing the whole idea of returning independence and sovereignty to the Scottish people, the aim for which the party was created. When I read the headline in the Sunday Herald of 18th September; - First Minister: "Independence transcends Brexit, oil and the economy", I almost cheered, as it was the first time I had read any statement by Nicola Sturgeon which suggested she was a Nationalist. Oh, there have been any number of mentions of independence; the word trips off her tongue just as easily as any other word (s) in the SNP mantra. But what does she mean by it? In fact, what does the National Movement mean by "Independence", or is it just a word many proclaim without giving too much thought to what they mean by it? When I listen to the enthusiasm with which the SNP and its supporters embrace the EU, hear how many times the party's leaders, spokespeople and leading activists can contradict themselves in a single discussion or statement, I seriously wonder.
This is not the first time I have raised the issue and asked the question. In a previous Blog on 14 October 2014, entitled, "What do YES voters mean by Independence? Is it worth a candle"? I raised it in the aftermath of the Independence Referendum of September 18th, during which the debate over the currency an "independent" Scotland should use proved to be a turning point and is now widely accepted as the real Achilles heel of the YES argument. Unfortunately, there are still those, among the SNP leadership as well as ordinary voters, who still do not appreciate the nature of a currency union and what it would mean for "independence". But before looking at the conditions the UN requires to recognise an "independent" nation state, together with an academic, unbiased assessment of "independence" in the EU, It would be useful to look at a few examples of the confusion that exists in the ranks of those who claim to pursue Scottish independence.
In April 2013, under the auspices of Options for Scotland, I produced an article advocating a Scottish currency as the best option for an independent Scotland. The SNP were pushing the idea of a full blown Currency Union with the rUK, keeping the £ sterling and using the Bank of England as the Lender of Last Resort. My criticisms of the SNP policy were based on the lack of control Scotland would have over monetary policy and therefore, over the Scottish economy. A number of leading members of the YES Campaign, including Dennis Canavan the Chairman, publicly supported my arguments. Dennis was interviewed on TV and argued at some length, how important it would be for an independent Scotland to have control of its own currency and, therefore the economy. The interview went well until Dennis decided to elaborate, by stating the importance of having our own currency meant we would have the freedom to join the euro at a later date. Did he really understand the nature of a currency union?
Mr Canavan is not the only leading campaigner for independence who has trouble with the euro. On Thursday 13th, the first day of the SNP Annual Conference, the party will announce who will be the new Depute Leader of the party. Hustings have been held up and down the country for the past four weeks, as the four candidates have done their best to speak to as many party members as possible - out of the total of 120,000. Each is standing on a different platform, which they hope will impress the membership enough to see them elected. For the first time ever, all four candidates - Angus Robertson MP, current SNP leader in the House of Commons, Tommy Shepherd MP, Alyn Smith MEP and Councillor Chris McEleny - were interviewed together on TV, by Bernard Ponsonby. There was a remarkable degree of agreement on a variety of issues, with no major disagreements on anything, including the best currency option for an independent Scotland. All were agreed that independence had to come but membership of the EU was vital for Scotland, despite the UK, as a whole, having voted to come out. On the currency issue, all were agreed it had posed major difficulties in the Independence Referendum and all were agreed to say nothing more, not a squeak, not a cheep. Pushed by Bernard Ponsonby on the euro, all were agreed it was an option the party had to consider. None was prepared to say if he had a personal preference, not even to dismiss the idea of the euro. Thus, while they all agreed currency was the "big issue" at the last Referendum, that allowing the Scottish economy to be controlled by the Westminster Treasury and the Bank of England was a "big turn-off" for Scots who wanted independence, they were all prepared to see monetary policy and the Scottish economy controlled by the European Central Bank, the £ sterling replaced by the euro, as an "option", while still claiming it was independence.
Peter A Bell, writing as Berthan Pete, is one of the SNP's most active supporters, writing and blogging at length on every issue. On 10th August 2014, one of his critics, responding to one of Pete's posts, said the SNP was guilty of "dishonesty" attempting to pass off "fiscal autonomy" as independence. Mr Bell responded as follows, "By what authority do you seek to impose a rigid definition of independence? Where is it written that your absolute notion of independence is the only valid one?" He continued, "In an interconnected world, a much more reasonable and realistic definition of independence would be the capacity to freely negotiate the terms on which a nation engages with the rest of the world. Under such a pragmatic definition, a freely negotiated currency union would not impinge on "true" independence at all." As soon as it is accepted that we can each define our own version of independence, the concept is rendered meaningless. Bell's definition totally ignores the fact that membership of the EU, which he strongly supports, expressly forbids member states to negotiate any kind of trade deal with any country which is not a member. It also ignores that once the "freely negotiated" currency union is established, all "freedom" to manage currency and the economy is ended, along with "true" independence.
The following is perhaps an even better example of his utter confusion on the EU and independence. In The National of Saturday, October 1st 2016, he wrote, "How long will we tolerate the British state continuing to withhold from the Scottish Parliament the powers that any other parliament would possess as a matter of right? How do Unionists justify this? How do they explain their preference for having immigration policy controlled by Westminster? If Scotland was independent, would they be urging us to take authority over immigration away from the parliament that the people of Scotland elect and hand it to a parliament in another country elected by the people of that country? Why should we remain in a union that no rational person would ever vote to join?" Why indeed? Has Mr Bell overlooked, forgotten, failed to understand the conditions of membership of the Single Market in his and the SNP's beloved European Union? Has he overlooked, forgotten, misunderstood or just failed to understand, Free Movement of Labour in the EU? If he thinks Scottish control of immigration is so important, why is he so fervent in his support for the EU where members have no control over their borders and must permit free movement of people from other EU member states? Perhaps he is not a rational person?
One of the reasons I raise the issue again is the SNP annual conference meets on Thursday 13th and the First Minister is under pressure to a) hold a second independence referendum b) postpone holding a second independence referendum (kick it into the long, long grass c) at least say when she is likely to consider holding a second independence referendum. Party leaders are said to be split with some like Tommy Shepherd MP urging postponement and ex-Minister Alex Neil advocating grasping the new powers offered as it would be "neo independence". There are others who fear Nicola Sturgeon's natural caution will cause her to miss the boat and fail to capitalise on the alleged "mood" in Scotland that favours independence, particularly in light of the decision of the people of England and Wales to vote to leave the EU and the perceived xenophobic tone of Tory Ministers at their recent conference. Sturgeon's problems however, are not confined to deciding when to call for a second independence referendum; her biggest problem is there is no settled notion of what the SNP's version of independence would mean. Her first major mistake was to tie holding a second independence referendum to the result of the EU referendum stating that IF Scotland voted to stay in the EU while the rest of the UK voted to leave, a second independence referendum would be inevitable. Why should there be an "IF" to holding a second independence referendum? Why tie the "IF" to membership of the EU, which now means Scots are not being given a choice of independence, but rather a choice between two unions, in neither of which would Scotland be independent.
Despite the warnings that have been given about the dangers of tying independence to EU membership, the SNP is to debate independence at its conference this month - tied to membership of the EU. The wording of the resolution is, "If no viable solution to safeguard our membership as part of the UK exists, Scotland should prepare for a second independence referendum and seek to remain in Europe as an independent country." Of course the party means the EU and not Europe and is obviously quite prepared to ignore the one million, eighteen thousand, three hundred and twenty two (1,018,322) Scots who voted to Leave the EU. How many will be prepared to stand logic on its head, as the SNP is doing, and vote Yes, is anyone's guess but the party is making the wrong choice again and, if it pursues this course will run the risk of dividing the National Movement and kill the vote for independence.
When Mhairi Black MP made her maiden speech in Westminster she said, "the demand for independence in Scotland has nothing to do with Nationalism, it is based on a rejection of the neo-liberal, Thatcherite policies of this Tory government." She condemns the current Tory government, stating its mask has slipped "to reveal the xenophobic, often racist, nationalist, ugly face beneath." Like many others in the SNP, Ms Black goes out of her way to eschew Nationalism and in her regular column in The National on Saturday October 8th, she said, "I have never identified with the word "nationalist"..and what irritates me most is I am automatically labelled as such because I am in the SNP. I believe in independence for purely practical reasons...I want Scotland to have total control and power over its own policies, government and direction of travel" Although she absolves the SNP of displaying any of the nastier traits the self-styled Left tend to equate with Nationalism, as a political scientist she should know that Nationalism is not a synonym for racism, chauvinism, imperialism or xenophobia but her confusion does not stop there, she is also an ardent supporter of the EU where the one thing Scotland will not have is "total control and power over its own policies" and her socialism will be sacrificed on the altar of "neo-liberal", international capitalism.
Ms Black is not the only prominent member of the SNP who puts the pursuit of class politics before the pursuit of the re-establishment of the Scottish nation state and one wonders if the kind of society which she hopes to see in Scotland could be established in the UK, would she still favour Scottish independence? Listening to the rhetoric, it would seem to be unlikely and there are a great many of the newer members of the SNP fall into the same category. The mystery is why they are prepared to write off the entire population of the rest of the UK as beyond redemption but are falling over themselves to embrace the people of the EU as fellow travellers, when the entire history of the member states of the EU shows a far greater tendency to embrace right wing politics, than has ever been shown by the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. One also wonders what would happen if there was any possibility of a pact with Corbyn's Labour Party. Unless the SNP can show why independence is in Scotland's best interests, including the 400,000 Scots who tend to vote Tory, how many of the current advocates of independence will still be there if Labour can work some kind of miracle and become an attractive prospect again?
It is said that if a politician can't ride two horses at the same time, they shouldn't be in the circus. At the moment the SNP is a circus, with its members running in more than two opposite directions. Nicola Sturgeon has her work cut out.