I had originally planned to write a proper blog piece on Sunday about my experience being on a panel with Lesley Riddoch and Gordon Macintyre Kemp at the SNP independence convention in Dundee on Saturday 24 June but the day wiped me out and I needed time to rest and recuperate hence this piece is being published on Monday instead. First things first. I would like to give my enormous and heartfelt thanks to Paige Paterson of the SNP Maybole and North Carrick branch who very kindly gave me a lift to Dundee and then got me home afterwards. Without her door to door service I would never have been able to get there. As regular readers know, I can no longer drive or walk any distance and public transport is very challenging. There is absolutely no way I could have got to the venue without Paige’s kind offer of a lift.
This was the first big speaking event I’ve done since I had the stroke, and truth be told I found it difficult and physically and mentally challenging in a way I never used to experience before. Although I am told no one else noticed, I was very aware that the muscles in my mouth and tongue no longer work as well as they used to and articulating speech clearly for an audience was a lot more difficult and took more effort. Additionally I no longer have the same breath support and cannot project my voice like I once did. I also find that I am no longer as quick mentally as I used to be. However the biggest problem was a lack of stamina, and by the time that the panel session drew to an end I was running on empty. I was completely wiped out by the time I got home, and was still very fatigued the following day.
However I am very pleased that I managed to get there and was able to participate. On a human level, irrespective of any of the politics, it was a huge personal achievement and an important milestone on the road to recovering key aspects of my pre-stroke life. I would certainly be prepared to do other events in future, as long as door to door transportation can be organised, and I can do the event while sitting down. The next year will be critical for building support for independence, and I am determined to do all I can to help that and to help bring about an SNP victory in the next General Election.
Anyway, the most important thing to come out of Saturday is not my personal challenges post-stroke, but the First Minister’s announcement that independence will be front and foremost in the SNP campaign for the next UK General Election. If the SNP win the next General Election in Scotland, that will be taken as a mandate to open independence negotiations with the Westminster Government. Winning that election will be judged by the normal metric for winning elections, taking the largest number of seats and the largest share of the votes. Humza Yousaf declared that it is for the Labour and Conservative parties to prove that the United Kingdom is the voluntary union that they keep insisting it is. The First Minister said: “Everybody knows the rules of a General Election. The party that wins the most seats wins the General Election.” The British nationalists do not get to invent a special set of rules that only apply in Scotland.
Crucially, there will be no more asking for a Section 30 order, the anti-independence parties had their chance. They blew it when they trashed Scottish democracy and denied the outcome of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, in the process blowing up the years long understanding that it was up to the people of Scotland to decide whether Scotland should have another independence referendum and the democratic mechanism for doing so was to elect a Scottish Parliament with a majority of MSPs in favour of holding an independence referendum. Yet as we saw, when that condition was fulfilled, the Westminster parties moved the goalposts and are now refusing to say what the democratic route to another independence referendum actually might be, even as they insist that such a route exists.
A legally binding referendum on independence remains the Scottish Government’s preferred option, but we must recognise reality, the Westminster parties know that they made a big mistake by consenting to the 2014 referendum, and agreed to a Section 30 order because they mistakenly believed that support for independence would struggle to win more than 30% of the vote and that a victory for No was nailed on. They won’t make that mistake again. Scotland has repeatedly voted for another referendum only for the anti-independence parties to Britsplain it away. The First Minister pointed this out during a hostile interview with Trevor Phillips on Sky News. Phillips was formerly a Labour candidate for Mayor of London and remains closely aligned to the Blairite right of the Labour party. Humza Yousaf said: “It’s worth reminding people that, of course, our preferred option, the option for which we have multiple mandates for is of course for that legally binding referendum and that has been denied time and time again by the UK Government.”
There’s no point continuing to bang our heads against the brick wall of Westminster intransigence. Another route is necessary. The truth is that we were naive in 2014, running an independence campaign on the basis that our opponents are operating in good faith. It is now abundantly clear, with the benefit of the hindsight of the past nine years, that they are not. In fact we can no longer have any confidence that Westminster would have respected the result of the 2014 referendum had the outcome been reversed and it was the Yes campaign which had won 55% of the vote.
What the First Minister put forward is a multi-pronged strategy. As well as demanding that Westminster should open independence negotiations with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Government would send an envoy to Brussels and begin drafting a withdrawal agreement to end this so-called Union. Work would also start on drafting a new interim constitution.
The opening statement in the manifesto will make it absolutely crystal clear that a majority of Seats will give the Scottish Government a cast iron mandate to open negotiations with Westminster. This is radically new. There has never been such a definitive, unarguable position from the SNP before.
Further details on how the plan will be implemented will be thrashed out in the series of regional independence conventions that the SNP is organising over the coming months, but at the moment we have the outlines of the way ahead, a way that does not involve going cap in hand for a Section 30 order and being rebuffed, and that is to be welcomed.
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