The task ahead

On Monday the First Minister addressed delegates on the last day of the SNP’s virtual conference and gave us all some much needed certainty about the timing of the second Scottish independence referendum, or at least as much certainty as is possible when the world is dealing with an inherently unpredictable global pandemic which has taken millions of lives already, and which continues to pose a grave danger.

Given the constraints imposed by the uncertainties of the pandemic, the Scottish Government intends to ramp up campaigning for independence in spring of the coming year, and later in the year will set the process in motion for the referendum to be held in 2023. The idea is that the early part of next year should be spent laying out a renewed case for independence in order to go into the inevitable political battle with a Conservative Government which knows that it is bereft of a compelling case for a union that it itself is destroying with the support of as broad a range of Scottish public opinion as possible, and to enter the referendum campaign proper with a solid platform of independence support which will carry Scotland to assert its desire for independence in the subsequent vote.

The BBC and the rest of Scotland’s overwhelmingly anti-independence media is very fond of telling us that support for independence has slipped back since last year when Yes was consistently ahead in the polls and at one point support for independence reached 58%. However what the British media is less keen to point out is that even if support for independence has slipped back, this also means that support in Scotland for staying with the not so tender mercies of the Westminster system is extremely fragile.

While there is a significant and highly vocal minority in Scotland, validated by the media, which is opposed to independence under any circumstances, at least 58% of the population of Scotland – indeed probably more – is not only open to the idea of independence, but is already on the verge of committing to it. They have already toyed with the idea of independence to the extent of thinking about voting yes in a future referendum. The task before us in the coming year is to reach out to this vital segment of the population and to assuage any fears or doubts that they may have in order to turn their wavering support for independence into a solid determination to vote yes. That is a job which ought to be considerably less challenging than attempting to covert a confirmed No voter to Yes.

The questions and issues which face us as we go into this second referendum are different in some key aspects from the issues which dominated the campaign of 2014. Economic discussions will not be dominated by Scotland’s oil and gas resources but rather by the country’s immense potential for the production of energy from renewable and clean sources. Possessing a quarter of the entire European potential for wind energy production, as well as a massive potential for tidal and wave energy production, independence could unlock for Scotland a future as an energy rich nation, Europe’s green powerhouse. And unlike the oil and gas, no one can claim that the wind and tides are going to run out.

Another significant difference is that the experience of the pandemic has proven that Scotland does not require the Westminster Parliament in order to deal with threats and challenges, even those of a global magnitude. Indeed we learned with Johnson’s shambolic, incompetent and chaotic response to the pandemic that Westminster actually endangers Scotland and puts us at greater risk. Furthermore we learned that the priority of this British Government was not the public good but private interests and the corrupt and sleazy handing out of lucrative contracts to the friends and associates of senior Government figures.

The argument that Scotland required Westminster in order to fund furlough payments is a specious one as Westminster had reserved to itself the necessary borrowing powers. It’s a bit like being told that you can’t leave your controlling partner because you need them to pay the household bills after they have refused to give you access to the bank account and refuse to allow you to get a credit card. There is absolutely no reason why an independent Scotland couldn’t do as every other independent nation has done and make its own borrowing arrangements.

However perhaps the biggest difference of all will be the discussion around Scotland’s relationships with Europe and the rest of the world. Brexit has destroyed the British nationalist claim that support for Scottish independence is inward looking and parochial. It has also destroyed the pretensions of British nationalists that British nationalism is inherently non-nationalist and laid bare the ugly reality of British nationalism as reactionary, xenophobic, and founded upon an unshakeable belief in British exceptionalism.

Brexit and the lies, deceit and untrustworthiness of Brexit Britain in its dealings with the EU has ensured that the British state will find it far less easy than it did in 2014 to produce a succession of foreign politicians willing to make statements which are helpful to the anti-independence campaign. Furthermore it has generated considerable international sympathy for an independent Scotland and a much greater understanding in other countries about why Scottish independence is desirable.

It is now unarguable that the quickest and easiest route for Scotland to get back into the European single market and customs area and to restore the rights of freedom of movement that Brexit stripped from Scots, along with everyone else in the UK, is with independence. This of course raises questions about the Scottish-English border for which we need answers. We must act decisively to put to rest any British nationalist claims that there will be passport checks at Gretna. Scotland will remain a part of the passport-free Common Travel Area along with Ireland. Any border checks will apply solely to commercial traffic and can be carried out away from the border itself.

The coming year will be crucial for the future of Scotland. For too long the independence movement has been obsessed with process and what to do if Boris Johnson refuses to consent to a referendum. It seems that the strategy of the Scottish Government is to press ahead with a referendum and to dare Johnson to challenge it. The best way to tackle that eventuality is to work to ensure that there is such a groundswell of support in Scotland for independence and for Scotland’s inalienable right to determine its own future in another referendum that Johnson and the Tories realise that any attempt by Downing Street to veto Scottish democracy will catastrophically backfire on them and will guarantee the political destruction of Scottish unionism. That’s what intend to devote my time and energies to in the weeks and months ahead. 2022 arrives in a few short weeks and Scotland’s time is coming.

Just to let you know, I am currently going through a phase of what my physiotherapist calls neurological hypersensitivity. Nerves and sensation are starting to reawaken on the left side of my body, however because my brain has had no input from the left for many months and because the relevant parts of the brain suffered damage in the stroke, the brain is interpreting these signals as pain.  It’s uncomfortable and exhausting but it is a sign of progress and therefore is good news.  Hopefully my brain will relearn what these signals really mean and the pain will diminish and I will have meaningful sensation.  However in the meantime it’s causing a lot of fatigue and exhaustion as well as pain, so I will be blogging less frequently until symptoms settle down.

albarevisedMy Gaelic maps of Scotland are still available, a perfect gift for any Gaelic learner or just for anyone who likes maps. The maps cost £15 each plus £7 P&P within the UK. You can order by sending a PayPal payment of £22 to (Please remember to include the postal address where you want the map sent to).

I am now writing the daily newsletter for The National, published every day from Monday to Friday in the late afternoon.  So if you’d like a daily dose of dug you can subscribe to The National, Scotland’s only pro-independence newspaper, here: Subscriptions from The National

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