When I joined the SNP in 1955, I was a 15 year old school boy, about to go up to a senior secondary school to take my highers. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, no ambition to be anything special and no thought about university. In fact, being the eldest in a family of four, with a father who was a bus driver, had I not won a bursary, my parents would not have been able to afford to keep me on at school. In 1950's Perthshire, there was no such thing as grants for further education, but my parents were prepared to make the necessary sacrifice, the extra shifts, to keep a teenager, who ate like a horse and seemed to grow out of every stitch of clothing he had every month or so, in further education as far as he could go. I worked as a message boy and at every opportunity of seasonal work
like tatties and berries, that was available. Despite the determination to get an education, and despite the encouragement at home to "stick in", I still had no idea what I wanted to be or do. The one thing about which I was absolutely certain, was Scottish Independence.
I was an insatiable reader, I devoured books at an incredible rate, particularly military history books, as well as history books in general. I had read T.E Lawrence's "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" by the time I was thirteen. I could never get enough of Scottish history, an interest which in turn led me to the SNP. Perth was one of the very few parts of Scotland which had had an active SNP presence since the end of WW11, and a wee shop in Old High Street, which acted as the local HQ. The windows which fronted the shop were always full of SNP literature, booklets, pamphlets and Scottish history books. It was like an Aladdin's Cave for somebody like me, and I haunted the place. It was inevitable, that I should join the party as it was the only political party that had Scottish Independence as its main aim. Indeed, the party had been formed for that very purpose, the restoration of Scotland as an Independent Nation State. The development of my general political thought came later, although not much later. In the early days, I listened and read and questioned when I didn't understand. I cut my early political teeth in the street campaigns, delivering leaflets, listening to older Nationalists, as they debated with our opponents. Perth City is the only town in Scotland, which had a Scottish National Party candidate, at every General Election for Westminster, since 1945, although not always in the same Parliamentary Constituency as boundary changes made that inevitable.
Even as a 15 year old novice, I struggled to try to make sense of some of the arguments frequently advanced by the opponents of Independence; not because of their intricacy nor their need for a much deeper knowledge of politics, both theory and practice, than I possessed at that time. On the contrary, it was because of the superficiality or, on many occasions, the sheer bloody stupidity of many of them. On more than one occasion, I could hardly believe that anyone would advance the following as a serious argument against independence. "Where would we get our pineapples?" I was asked. Taken aback, and unsure if this was a serious question, I hesitated slightly while trying to hide my initial confusion with a grin. "Well", I began, only to be interrupted by a triumphant, "Go on then, tell us, where would we get our pineapples?" Many years later, one of our sons, getting involved in a political discussion for the first time with his future father-in-law, was asked, "Where would we get our bananas?" Obviously, Unionist concerns with the likely availability of fruit not normally native to Scotland, had never been properly addressed by the Nationalist movement. This being Scotland, religion had to play its part. "Home Rule means Rome Rule" was a favourite of the Orange Lodge while, my Catholic relatives in Royston Hill in Glasgow, assured me that Labour's claim, "Get independence and they will shut down Catholic schools" was "evidence" that Catholics wouldn't stand a chance. "Evidence?" I asked, "Aye, we got a leaflet outside Mass last Sunday". The absolute pinnacle of "nonsensical religious reasons for not voting for independence" came during a discussion I had while driving a machine on the construction site of the Turret Dam, just outside Crieff. I was informed - expletives deleted - "The Papes in Rome and the Wee Frees will carve up the country between them and then we'll aw be f..@#~." Naturally, no evidence was presented or even needed evidently. It would definitely happen.
Anyone who has ever been involved in the National Movement will be familiar with similar objections to Independence or the more sinister claims that Nationalism was the same as, or would inevitably lead to, Nazism/Fascism/Totalitarianism of some sort. These claims can still be seen among the more stupid accusations that appear daily among the general tripe we find on social media. Unfortunately, much of it comes from the ranks of the so-called National Movement. I make no apology for calling out those offenders who appear daily on Twitter or other vehicles of social media, purporting to support Scottish Independence, because the stupidity of much of their contribution to the daily exchange of views on Scottish Independence, does little to persuade those Scots who genuinely have doubts about the wisdom of Independence, to re-examine their doubts. There will be those who will never be persuaded to support Independence, anymore than I will ever be persuaded to support Union with either the rUK or the EU. However, in a blog I wrote on 14th October 2014 entitled, "What Do Yes Voters Mean By Independence. Is It Worth A Candle?" I quoted Sir Alexander Malcolm MacEwan, the first leader of the SNP 1934 to 1936, who made two observations that are just as apposite today as they were then. He said, "It is plain truth that no great National Movement was ever founded on caution and half-hearted measures..." and "the objections to Home Rule are not so much reasoned arguments as vague apprehensions, but fear is often more potent than reason and must be dealt with.." A quick trawl through the daily contributions on Twitter by the adherents of Independence in Europe, will highlight just how potent fear of Independence actually is.
The SNP has NEVER debated IF members of the EU, CAN be Independent.
Discussion about how membership of the EEC would effect Independence, was certainly a hot topic, a very hot topic in the late 1980s among the rank and file of the SNP, largely because Winnie Ewing was our only MEP at that time and certainly earned her title of Madame Ecosse, ensuring the name of not just Scotland, but the SNP, was heard loud and clear in the corridors of power there. Unfortunately, Winnie tended to take any criticism of the EEC personally, causing some senior party members to back off making any criticism at all. The Single European Act, described by its critics as the single biggest surrender of national sovereignty since the Treaty of Rome, was passed by the National Executive Committee (NEC) at its monthly meeting in April 1988, by 14 votes to 4. I was one of the four. The Single European Act, was NEVER discussed inside the SNP at ANY other level, National Assembly, National Council or Annual Conference. This meant that the party membership was NEVER given any opportunity to debate whether or not they were prepared to surrender sovereignty to the EEC. In his book, "SNP: The Turbulent Years 1960-1990" the late Gordon Wilson, who was National Chairman at that time, wrote, "the Single European Act did not threaten national sovereignty, posed no problems for existing SNP policy on the EEC and offered opportunities for the Party to avoid association with political or economic separatism." I took great exception to that, particularly the last part, and told Gordon in no uncertain terms. The adoption of the slogan "Independence in Europe" was thrust upon the party membership without discussion at any level and without prior notification, at the 1988 Annual Conference.
Thus Independence, while a member of the EEC, was given to the party as a policy, which was never discussed and never explained. Those party members like me, who objected to the surrender of sovereignty without any attempt to allow party members to debate the issue, were cast in the role of "malcontents" or members, "not prepared to accept party policy", while ignoring the fact the "policy" had been imposed without any debate or even discussion. Between 1988 and 1990, the influence of Alex Salmond and Jim Sillars grew to such an extent that it was impossible to make any criticism of the SNP's commitment to Independence in Europe and be taken seriously by the party membership, despite the fact there was continuing hostility to the notion that support for the EEC was the one policy which would continue to carry the SNP forward. Since I left the party in 1990, on the grounds that I believe the SNP no longer seeks Independence, there has still been no debate about the realities of membership of the EU. Many of those who follow me regularly on Twitter or read my occasional blogs, are just as regularly offended/irritated by my relentless criticism of the SNP's "Independence in Europe" policy stance. I am frequently categorised as, being "full of bitterness" or "hatred of the SNP" but the one thing my critics never do, and that is debate the issues involved. They assert, they pass opinions and give forecasts, as if they are evidence. Unfortunately, ask them to explain HOW, for example, Luxembourg carries the same clout as Germany or France; or HOW the 19 members of the euro zone can follow independent economic policies and what follows is generally abuse or, silence.
One of the reasons the No campaign found it so easy to ridicule many of the claims made by the Yes side, arises from the way in which the meaning of the word "Independence" has been stretched to the point where there is no circumstance, or set of circumstances, which the SNP does not include in its definition. Thus, if Scots had been permitted to have the Currency Union promoted by the SNP during the Independence Referendum Campaign, and had voted Yes, as far as the SNP was concerned, Scotland would have been independent. However, if we had voted Yes but been denied the Currency Union, as Westminster said we would be, the SNP would have still said we were Independent, despite the two positions being polar opposites. After the failure of the Yes Campaign to get a majority for Independence, suddenly the stupidities of that policy position became the main topic for debate. The plaintive, "It's our pound as well as Westminster's" despite being finally seen for what it was, a piece of childish nonsense, has still been used by Ian Blackford, in some of his regular TV appearances defending the Growth Commission report. When Alex Salmond suddenly threw in the threat that, if Westminster refused to agree to a Currency Union, as demanded by the SNP, and Scots voted Yes, a Scottish Government dominated by the SNP, would refuse to pay Scotland's share of the National Debt, some in the National Movement said, "About time". What Salmond was saying in effect, was Scotland would only pay its share of UK National Debt, IF London continued to control the Scottish economy through a Currency Union. And not a single leading member of the SNP even tried to point out the contradictions inherent in that policy position.
Independence has become a dirty word.
When the SNP published their proposals for Independence, including the Currency Union, John Kay, one of the economists who had been an adviser to Alex Salmond, was moved to say , "It makes one wonder what Independence actually means". Anyone regularly participating on the forums of social media such as Twitter is unlikely to get the answer there, particularly from the Independence in Europe fraternity of the SNP. One of The National's regular columnists, Pat Kane, in his column of February 23rd 2019 entitled, "So what does it mean to be "independent" today anyway?" wrote, "But the semantic truth is that the basic Oxford definition of "independent" (free from outside control; not subject to another's authority") more properly applies to the scorched-earth autarchists of Rees-Mogg and co, than it does to the steady Euro-pragmatism of the SNP". I am told regularly on Twitter that, "in today's interdependent world, no country is independent" My regular sparring partner Peter Bell, assures us, "there is no single definition of independence" but refuses to explain either how many there are or, what those that he claims exist actually say. When I suggested there might be as many as 3 million, he simply called me a liar. Again in "The National" of Friday June 14th 2019, Mr Les Hunter writes, "What those who advocate a referendum question offering independence outwith the EU are implying, whether they realise it or not, is that it might be preferable to remain in the UK as a glorified local authority in a remnant of empire.." In the same copy of The National, a Barry Stewart writes, "I'm beginning to wonder if some of those anti-EU pro-independence folks are a) misguided or b) MI5 plants to "divide and conquer." Again, another regular contributor to "The National", Stan Grodynski, writes on March 27, 2019, asking Jim Sillars and I, "why Scotland's trading future should not be tied to membership of the EU, nor perhaps of EFTA or the EEA?" I begin to get visions of "Where will we get our pineapples?" again.
The politics of Independence don't even come into it. One contributor to Twitter posted, "It is impossible to even have a conversation with an SNP clone as they refuse to attribute meaning to words, ensuring all attempts to engage with the SNP results in absurdity and contradiction." The SNP has narrowed down the alternatives for Scotland to either a) part of the UK or b) part of the EU, which it calls Independence in Europe. Each and every arguments it puts forward concerns "threat to 100,000 jobs" - that figure was originally set at over 300,000. Forecasts of how much the Scottish economy will lose, presented as "evidence" are based on figures which assume ceteris paribus, over periods stretching from ten years to thirty years. Every one of those arguments will be thrown back at them by Better Together or whatever Unionist organisation is cobbled together to fight the next Independence Referendum, if there is ever a next time. My critic from The National, Mr Turner writes, "The problem is that he (that is me) has not received the response he wants because there are people at all levels of the SNP who simply do not agree with his views"...and..."there will never be a right answer for him, because he is not prepared to consider that his opinions might just possibly be wrong." What Mr Turner and others who take exception to the arguments I extend ignore, is that much of my criticism of the SNP is not based on my opinions but on the SNP's attempts to re-write the laws of economics.
I couldn't care less if SNP members believe the earth is flat or the moon is made of green cheese (although some of their beliefs are pretty close parallels) neither of those beliefs is likely to effect the cause of Independence. What will, and does effect the cause of Independence, is the SNP's attempts to re-write the laws of economics and their crass refusals to brook any deviation, not just by party members but by the Scottish people. Despite the farce of the Currency Union with rUK equals Independence, monetary policy is not important "in the modern world where fiscal autonomy is now more important" sinking the Independence Referendum in 2014, we are going to get a repeat for the next attempt. The Growth Commission laboured long and hard and produced a squeak called "sterlingisation". The SNP has now saddled the Independence Movement with an economic policy which is followed by no other advanced economy in the "modern world", the world my critics love to remind me we now inhabit. I have asked repeatedly for someone, anyone in the SNP, to explain how that is Independence or helps the cause of Independence. I have not had a single response. Robin MacAlpine posed 10 similar questions and received no reply, Common Weal has had the same response, as has George Kerevan. We are all supporters of Independence but I for one, have no intention of presenting that nonsense as a rational argument for Independence.
The following statement from Derek Mackay, the current Secretary for Finance sums up the SNP beautifully. In The National, April 6th 2019 (Timing must be right for our new currency) he writes; "We will move to a Scottish pound - but there is no need to set an arbitrary timetable" Does that mean we could have the pound sterling indefinitely? Did the SNP not decide at their Conference that we would have a Scottish currency within the first term of an Independent Parliament, ie with in five years? "The case for Independence is simple. Decisions about Scotland should be made by the people of Scotland". Agreed, but how can that be done inside the EU? "Independence empowers us, gives us choices and allows us to tailor economic policy to suit Scotland's needs" Agreed, but, How can we do that inside the EU, even outside the euro, or under sterlingisation? "Independence...decisions being made for our interests in Scotland, not against our interests by governments we didn't vote for" Agreed. which government will we be voting for inside the EU? As MEPs vote in groupings based on ideological lines and not country and with a potential 13 MEPs out of approx 751, split among various ideological groups, how will Scotland's interests be promoted, let alone protected? Mr Mackay's statement is only a small example of the kind of platitudinous, contradictory nonsense that litters SNP statements on Independence in Europe. If they cannot explain them, how are they going to persuade Scots to vote for them?
The Independence Movement has a decision to make.
Does it allow the SNP to continue to ignore those who want Independence out of the EU and the UK, completely ignoring the tremendous efforts being made by AUOB to keep the cause of Independence to the fore. Or do they tell the SNP to COMMIT to a referendum on the EU, thereby ceasing to CONFLATE Independence and membership of the EU or WITHDRAW SUPPORT? The Independence in Europe fraternity, desperate to remind opponents like me, that we live in a modern, interdependent, world need to be reminded - daily and often - that in this "modern, interdependent world", as a supranational, institution that demands the surrender of sovereignty as a prerequisite for membership, the EU is UNIQUE. There are over 200 independent, sovereign nations which exist and function very happily OUTSIDE the EU. That is where we can get our pineapples and our bananas. It is normal. It is our choice.