It has been two and a half long years since the Brexit vote radically changed the political environment in the UK and put a second independence referendum back on the agenda. And the long wait for a second and decisive independence campaign to begin is almost over.
There have been a few false starts along the way in terms of announcing an official campaign. Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to set the timing agenda was gazumped by Theresa May’s snap General Election– once bitten, twice shy seems to have become the mantra for Scotland’s First Minister.
There have been a few frustrations within the independence movement, egged on by a set of self-proclaimed keyboard generals whose mission in life is to get the Yes side whooping and hollering.
They have a role to play in keeping the movement’s spirits up when the campaign begins but thankfully they don’t have the job of picking the date for a referendum.
The person who will decide knows that to go too soon in the midst of Brexit chaos would be the Union’s best chance of winning and that to go too late would mean losing the mandate to go at all.
It’s a hell of a job and an easy call for unstrategic thinkers that don’t feel the weight of the fate of their nation on their shoulders. As I see it Nicola Sturgeon is waiting for all the potential roadblocks to be taken off the table and when she judges the path is clear she will go.
Theresa May’s brinkmanship in running down the clock so that there is no time for a second EU referendum is aimed at leaving the stark choice of her deal or no deal. This means the path is not yet clear.
She expects to survive a vote of no confidence just as she did in her leadership within her own party. She thinks Labour will not want a no deal Brexit so she can force a plan B deal through potentially with a customs union agreement (see my thoughts on that here). In the unlikely event of Labour’s no confidence vote flys and forces a General Election Labour will run on the false promise of negotiating a better result in the trade agreement stage of the Brexit process.
Anyway – The Scottish Government can’t run an independence referendum and a General Election at the same time or even a Europen Election if Brexit hasn’t happened. So, expect a call soonish from the FM to start campaigning for a pre-Holyrood election poll whilst the independence referendum bill restarts its progress through Holyrood but with no named date just yet.
And the state of the independence movement? The SIC has reformed, stopped talking themselves dizzy and has raised the funds to hire people to start helping local groups coordinate and campaign. this is a big step forward.
The Scottish Independence Foundation has donated tens of thousands to grassroots projects aimed at getting the independence campaign infrastructure in place. Several very active local groups have been drawing big audiences for talks, BfS itself has three new staff and around 600 people are going through our Independence Ambassador programme in events around Scotland and through our online learning portal.
In other words, the Scottish independence movement is in comparatively good shape, champing at the bit, and the Unionist camp is about to enter a protracted period of political civil war.
Unionism has no grassroots movement and Westminster as a whole is proving a case study of a Parliamentary system that is unfit to govern. This year will witness the death of the Westminster credibility myth, upon which all the scaremongering claims and promises of 2014 were founded. How can anyone believe a word they say this time?
The UK overruling Scotland and voting for Brexit isn’t just a democratic tragedy, it has exposed the UK’s diseased soul. The hidden face of old fashioned Brittish nationalism and exceptionalism has been exposed to the world.
The true nature of Britishness as a backwards-looking, unreconstructed nationalism with desire for separation and isolation is what the UK is now offering. Whereas the Scottish independence movement is internationally focused, with a cooperative approach to Europe, trade and welcoming of the EU migrant workers we need to prosper. This is what true connected European nationhood looks like in a modern world.
Even cancelling Brexit would only delay the inevitable because it would place the UK at the mercy of the EU27: no power, allies or credibility and no threat to leave. We won’t need to convince former No voters to leave Britain, just to welcome them as more and more realise that the Britain they believed in is leaving them.
So what weapons will the No Camp have this time? They can’t say independence means leaving the EU. They can argue against but can’t say no to our currency plan. They can’t promise more powers whilst simultaneously going to court to strip the Scottish Parliament of powers that were promised to come straight back to Scotland after Brexit.
Effectively the only weapons they have left have the potential to backfire on them. They will play up Britain the Brand: Union flags and documentaries about royalty and empire will be everywhere. There will be a call for a resurgence of the blitz-spirit which will only demonstrate that the UK is now and will forever be a pale imitation of the country British nationalists like Johnson, Gove, Reese-Mogg and Farage idolise.
They will claim that the Brexit omnishambles “proves” breaking a Union is hard but all that will prove is the UK’s own incompetence and will compare badly to how quickly Scotland can access the benefits of the single market through an EFTA approach. The SNP will set the economic and political agenda for the campaign with EFTA, to begin with (or it has to change its currency policy). Stating that if the people of Scotland want it a referendum on joining the EU at some point in the future would bring enough Yes/Leave voters back into the fold for the campaign to start at 53% Yes.
It is going to be a big year for Scotland. We just need to see what type of Brexit we are getting (if at all), gird our loins and prepare for an independence campaign that will be radically different to 2014 – because this time it is ours to lose.