By Ruth Wishart
Pete Wishart MP (no relation) has been setting out his views on Indyref2. The burden of his argument is that pragmatism must rule the day since to hold and lose a second referendum would be “unthinkable”. He represents the safety first tendency which believes that unless and until there is a sustained and evident mood shift which would indicate the probability of a Yes vote, the country can’t and shouldn’t risk another defeat. Many people would agree with his caution. I am not one of them.
It is not difficult to recite reasons for postponing another vote indefinitely: The polls are not shifting enough, the currency issues and other knotty condundrums have yet to be unravelled, the Brexit negotiations are at a critical point and the matter of the “power grab” not resolved. The Westminster Government cannot be relied upon to give its gracious approval. In fact, give it your best shot and you could probably talk yourself out of ever running another independence again.
Which would be, to coin a phrase, unthinkable.
Let us examine the manifold reasons why discretion is not the better part of valour. Looming ever larger are a number of Brexit deadlines and parliamentary votes. It must be clear now that the Labour Party at Westminster cannot be relied upon to vote against whatever half baked deal the Davies Fox combo rescues from the ashes of their ineptitude. Indeed the Labour Party at Westminister can’t be relied upon to have the same Brexit policy two days running. This despite the overwhelming Remain tendency in their own ranks – and probably their shadow cabinet.
So if the numbers don’t add up to stop the Brexit train in its tracks, then Scotland has to take a long, hard look at its own timetable. There is no shortage of evidence that we have friends in Europe who would not set their face against Scotland remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union if a politial formula can be finessed – even if acquiring a more formal relationship takes very much longer. The bourach being made of the Irish border issue, whilst tragic in terms of the threat to the 20 year old Good Friday agreement, may yet provide a useful precedent in terms of the constituent nations of the UK ploughing their own furrows.
We also have to be mindful of the UK government’s long hidden but truly frightening predictions on the economic impact of Brexit, hard, soft or whatever consistency. What is the merit in waiting until that diagnosis is proved painfully true and elements of our own trade and industry are damaged in ways from which elements may never recover? Another ten years of austerity may be less than the full price.
And we have to consider too other hard facts of political life. The Labour Party in Scotland may be in turmoil, the Tory support may be slipping backwards, but history tells us that all governments are destined to lose support. The voters tire of the dramatis personae, the incumbents may become complacent or suffer the middle-aged intellectual spread incompatible with radicalism. And there is a huge swathe of SNP support which did not sign on the dotted party line in order to be told that independence had ceased to be a priority. The government’s political opponents are wont to harangue them about “always banging on about another referendum.” If only!
This Autum will be the fourth anniversary of the 2014 Referendum. We risk losing all the passion, all the hope, all the ambition which that generated if our best rallying cry is NOT YET. And of course, as 2014 indicated, this should not be about any one party. There are people throughout Scotland of all political persuasions and none who believe that Scotland’s future as an economically viable, socially just, small European country can only be gained through its independence. Many of these people voted no. But they believed the Better Together mantra that doing so would guarantee their future in Europe.
And many believed the SNP mantra that if circumstances were to change materially, such as our being taken out of Europe against our wishes then all bets would be off. We would be entitled to put the question to the Scottish electorate again.
Well things have changed materially. Things are at a dangerous tipping point in terms of our ability to sieze the Brexit moment to map out a different future for Scotland. I don’t believe for a moment that we will see polls suddenly shift to 60 per cent in favour of Yes if we hold fire and hope for divine intervention. But I do believe that if we have the courage and commitment to go for another poll than there are more reasons than there were four years a go to build decisive momentum.
I am of the generation which watched the 1979 referendeum sabotaged which meant a 20 year wait before Scotland got its parliamenmt back. I don’t believe the conspiracy theorists who suggest that the 2014 poll was similarly rigged. But I do know that the media onslaught was a significant factor. This time, four years on, the media game is very different. This time social media has altered the vote garnering business beyond recognition. Not by surreptious targetting of unwary electors, but by using all the new platforms up front to put forward a positive message.
There is a window of opportunity between now and March – maybe not even as long as that. It can be used by the bold and the brave. It can be used by the many fine people who are even now working hard on honing an offer to the Scottish public which can withstand the inevitable slings and arrows fired by the naysayers. Use it or lose it. Carpe diem.