Robin McAlpine: Unionists, you've had your fun with polarisation. Now it's our turn

CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal director Robin McAlpine says the independence movement is the only thing that can rid Scotland of 'Total Tory Rule' 

NONE of this is how I'd like it to be. I don't want Scotland's future decided in animosity. I want a genuine, open, considerate and positive national discussion about our hopes and dreams and all that stuff.

I want my side to recognise how we could have been better – a touch less paranoid-sounding from time to time, more willing to admit that we've still got legitimate questions to answer, accepting that some concern about SNP dominance is not unreasonable.

But I really want the other side to accept that there was an enormous amount of merit in the last independence referendum, real, big questions raised for the first time in generations, people plugged into politics with an enthusiasm we've not seen for ages, much more mutual respect than is accepted.

Unionists stopped trying to talk to independence supporters a long time ago. Their whole strategy is based around polarisation – write off the 'Hateful Nats', split off everyone else and try to drive these two groups as far apart as possible.

Alas, fear and anger have been the fuel of unionist strategy since 2011. The single-minded determination to paint the constitutional debate as poison and hatred and awfulness is unwavering.

Unionists stopped trying to talk to independence supporters a long time ago. Their whole strategy is based around polarisation – write off the 'Hateful Nats', split off everyone else and try to drive these two groups as far apart as possible.

It's not what I want. It's not how I want it. But it's where we are. And now unionists are going to find out what a campaign of polarisation looks like.

The announcement of a General Election changes things substantially. I have a feeling that Labour's collapse in this vote won't be quite as bad as some are expecting, but still we're going to end up with something we've not had since 1987.

We're going to end up with a rightwing, un-modernised, ideological Tory government with a 'fuck you' majority. The opposition won't be able to do anything. The centrists in the Tory Party won't be able to do anything. The media and campaign sectors won't be able to do anything.

It's not what I want. It's not how I want it. But it's where we are. And now unionists are going to find out what a campaign of polarisation looks like.

Unless you're hardcore Brexit, you'll soon get quite used to what a 'fuck you' majority sounds like. Especially if you're Scottish, it's going to sound a lot like 'fuck you'.

I've been mulling this over in my head for a day or two now and I'm afraid I just can't see any option for the independence movement but to return fire in the 'polarisation wars'. For the next decade at least, unionism is Total Tory.

Assuming the Daily Mail gets its way and all 'saboteurs' (anyone democratically opposed to hard Brexit) are 'crushed', the 'Britain Project' really is pretty extreme, pretty right wing and deeply ideological. Good luck persuading Scotland that that ideology is about 'pooling and sharing'.

And that seems to me to be the shape of the battle in Scotland between now and 8 June. On one hand, you've got Murdo Fraser implying Scots should vote Ukip to 'save the union'. On the other, you've got an independence movement offering to save Scotland from permanent Tory rule.

Labour is in massive trouble in Scotland anyway. Now it will have to persuade us that this isn't a binary choice (independence or Total Tory Rule) but a ternary one (independence or Total Tory Rule or another 'Labour Dawn' in five years' time).

The announcement of a General Election changes things substantially. I have a feeling that Labour's collapse in this vote won't be quite as bad as some are expecting, but still we're going to end up with something we've not had since 1987.

And the fact that I have only used the word 'ternary' a small handful of times in my life probably helps to demonstrate how well ternary strategies are regarded in political strategy circles.

Whether Labour holds its seat or even gains one is a minor subplot in this election. Whether the SNP loses a seat or two is a bigger subplot, but still a subplot. Will there be any Tories left in Scotland by the school holidays? Can Mundell cling on? That's our lead story.

As Labour watches this plot unfold, munching its popcorn in the cheap seats, who is it going to cheer for? David Mundell and Theresa May? Can it keep a straight face saying 'federalism' in a country where having a minority parliamentary opposition is seen as a step too far?

But if this election is terrible news for Scottish Labour, it's hardly a cheery prospect for Ruth Davidson, either. There was a reasonable chance the greatly over-hyped 'Tory revival' mantra would have been supported by a local election result in which a low turnout could mean some Tory gains.

That may all be forgotten by teatime if they lose their only MP and have to appoint an England-based MP as secretary of state for Scotland.

We're going to end up with a rightwing, un-modernised, ideological Tory government with a 'fuck you' majority. The opposition won't be able to do anything. The media and campaign sectors won't be able to do anything.

But more importantly, Davidson has faced a very generous media narrative on the basis of what seems to me a fairly limited skillset ('she's a bit different from normal Tories' and 'she sounds plausible').

The next few years of Total Tory Britain means Ruth may wish she could get back to the good old days when she only had to justify the 'rape clause'. Soon she's going to have to justify everything.

And make no mistake, even if the Tories don't choose to do anything really provocative in the first few years of real majority government, it won't make any difference. I've been doing a series of meetings with people on trade issues and Brexit technicalities inevitably come up.

Let me put it like this – May isn't rushing this election out because what is going to happen in 2018-2020 is going to look smooth, effective or possibly even sane. She's trying to buy a couple of years so that the worst of the madness might settle down a bit.

Unfortunately for the Scottish Tories, the constitutional question will probably be at is peak when confidence in Tory Brexit is deep in a trough. How are they going to deal with that? I'm not sure Davidson has enough kickboxing in her to distract the media that much.

Unless you're hardcore Brexit, you'll soon get quite used to what a 'fuck you' majority sounds like. Especially if you're Scottish, it's going to sound a lot like 'fuck you'.

Perhaps there is some way to sell this Tory future to Scotland in a way that progressives can swallow. All I can say is that I've been thinking about it for 48 hours now and I don't know what it is.

My guess is that of the overall Scottish population there simply isn't more than one in five people who will vote for Tories. Given the traditional higher likelihood of Tories turning out to vote and Scotland's lower election turnouts, it might not be that high. Anecdotally, fear of the Tories is the one thing that might move enough over-65s to a pro-independence vote.

At a UK level, May sees this as the moment to capture the benefits of a current Tory majority. I rather expect that she's going to expose just how far the opposite is true in Scotland. Then May will capitalise on her power, and Scotland isn't going to like it.

Now this election isn't all good news for indy supporters. We could do without the 'voter fatigue' to be honest and unfortunately it's likely that the Greens will stand against the SNP in some seats and both sides will start acting intemperately.

(A desperate plea from me – zero friendly fire. Anyone who thinks that internal conflict in the indy movement doesn't matter is foolish and I suspect knows little about the reality of the collaboration needed in the years to come.)

Theresa May took a chance this week. She decided that it was in her best interests to define Britishness as Brexit and Conservatism.

In fact, it would be a dream outcome if the SNP would offer to put a unity, non-party, anti-Tory candidate up against Mundell backed by both Greens and the SNP (and perhaps against Murray and Carmichael as well) and in turn the Greens didn't stand candidates. But I'm always the optimist...

But overwhelmingly, this election is good news for supporters of Scottish independence. It is going to throw into sharp contrast the reality of the immediate future of life in the UK, going to squeeze Labour out of a friendly coalition with the Tories and going to saddle Ruth Davidson with the job of answering for Theresa May in Scotland.

(Plus is it only me or does May seem increasingly nuts to you? Earlier this week she actually had to answer a question on whether she accepted the principle of parliamentary opposition. Strange days indeed.)

I shall repeat that I don't really like polarisation campaigns as a matter of principle – I'll be fighting to keep the indy campaign positive. Polarisation may win wars but it screws up peacetime.

The 'anti-Nats' strategy has been both nasty and may have been temporarily effective – but it has been absolutely nothing in comparison to Scotland's track record of anti-Tory campaigns. That's a much more powerful weapon – and it now belongs to the independence movement.

It may well work for her, in the short term. But when the history of the demise of the United Kingdom is written, this General Election may be as significant as Brexit.

Indeed, Kezia Dugdale is barely two elections short of her P45. That's only 50 days in 'British Politics Time'. If whomever replaces her decides enough is enough and softens or reverses the party's position on independence, it's all over for unionism.

Theresa May took a chance this week. She decided that it was in her best interests to define Britishness as Brexit and Conservatism. It may well work for her, in the short term. But when the history of the demise of the United Kingdom is written, this General Election may be as significant as Brexit.

So Tories, could you get back on with the day job of demonising the weak, hurting ordinary people, sucking up to Trump and dictators, hating foreigners, pandering to the rich and prioritising London at all times? Then we can get on with the day job of saving Scotland from you.

Or words to that effect. From now on. Forever.

Picture courtesy of Documenting Yes

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Comments

MauriceBishop

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 13:47

But I really want the other side to accept that there was an enormous amount of merit in the last independence referendum

It was based on the twin fantasies of oil and forcing the Union into a currency union against its will, and the lie that anyone who called out these huge errors was not really Scottish, and was a weakling gripped by fear.

Justin Kenrick

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 14:20

The debate moves on, as this article describes. Meanwhile the No side ups its fear campaign not realising that this time the fear is all pointing the other way: real deep fear among sane former No voters as they see the social, political, economic madness of the Tories becoming Ukip

RadioJammor

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 15:10

It must be tiring for Maurice to be constantly trawling Common Space in order to respond first with any criticism he can muster. Never can he begrudge anything to the independence side of the argument.

He evidently didn't think through the "forcing the Union into a currency union against its will" line - you know, a currency union based on what we currently have in place and would have made smoother any transition to independence - for both the UK and indy Scotland - and would have happened had there been a "Yes" vote, at least in the short-term.

Political campaign rhetoric being exposed as a nonsense after the vote is not exactly unheard of, but has it any ever been so spectacularly exposed as so much nonsense as the "No" campaign's has been?

Anyway, as to Robin's piece, the one aspect of it I wish to address is the possibility of a GE17 pact or understanding between The Greens and the SNP.

I think we should think ahead and regard having as many pro-indy Scottish MPs as possible as an important stepping stone to Scotland's independence. The real prize is making the Scottish Parliament the Parliament that fully controls Scotland, thus rendering Scottish MPs redundant, hopefully before another general election.

To do this in the here and now I believe will need a little bit of self-sacrifice from The Scottish Greens - but not really much of such, as there are no Scottish Green MPs.

I call on Scottish Greens to vote SNP at GE17. Whilst some believe that the SNP may incur losses - and they may, we shall see - Mundell is highly vulnerable, and Carmichael not much less so. Greens supporting an SNP candidate in Edinburgh South against Ian Murray could also really help to displace him.

I believe it is possible to make all 59 Scottish Westminster MPs independence supporting MPs, with co-operation.

I think, where possible, we can make the positive case for independence, can call out the lack of a case for staying in Tory Brexit Britain.

If there is to be negativity, it should be in rightly showing the full effects of Brexit, which are yet to hit. As Robin points out, this is a reason for calling this election: To change the date of the next due election to be not so soon after the UK leaves the EU.

It has become clear that the UK will leave the EU in 2019 without anything more than the bare-bones or a framework for a trade deal with the EU, which will take years more to finalise. The EU wants significant progress on the divorce settlement first, before it even considers a future relationship.

I believe the number of Indy supporters who want to leave the EU, or at least be opposed to any form of European trade group (EFTA) will fall, once they realise the full implications of Brexit, which I think will be plain to them by 2019, if not sooner. But this is an aside to my point.

May is going to run out of time and excuses over the existing request for a referendum. The UK Government cannot continue to put off or oppose indefinitely this call, whilst hoping Scots will get fed-up with a war of wills and attrition. We have the UN Charter, Chapter 1, Article 1 on our side. She can't really ignore the democratically expressed will of a Scottish Parliament, that the UK Parliament agreed to having. A section 30 request is really a technical requirement for the sake of oversight. And to fair - as the First Minister has acknowledged - Brexit is an issue, so the timing of a referendum can and should be talked about. But it should not be denied or unnecessarily delayed. IMO we would then be into UN Charter fail territory.

We need to maintain as many pro-Indy MPs as possible, if not improve upon that number, otherwise the Tories and the RW Press - including #RapeClauseRuth - will frame any losses as a sign that support for Indy is faltering, when if anything, Brexit is far more likely to increase it, when Brexit hits the fan, within the next two years.

This, as well as pruning Labour MPs, is precisely why this election has been called - in the hope of delaying Indy and reducing the number of pro-Indy MPs.

May has been cornered but can see a narrow path to a possible victory. We need to block that route.

I say leave them to slug it out in England & rUK and see where the chips fall there, but in Scotland, the Greens and the SNP need to unite for GE17 in order to keep the pressure up over the call for ScotRef/Indyref2.

Mike Fenwick

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 16:31

Some thoughts ... the percentages of votes cast seems to me to be equally as important as the number of MPs, and I am not dismissing that factor as important, it is. However ...

The current Government is only in power due to a first past the post system - and gained that position with just under 37% of the votes cast across the whole of the UK.

In comparison still based on the same system of first past the post, the SNP gained the 56 seats - on around 50% of the votes cast in Scotland.

How will those percentages turn out on June the 8th?

Who knows, but I don't envisage the Tories getting to 50% across the UK, in effect meaning that more people in the UK voted against them, and for another party or candidate, than voted for them.

It may be the system we have to accept - but even with that being as it is - it leaves this central question imho - does having the majority of UK citzens voting against you provide you with a mandate, that is not open to challenge when it comes to whether there is to be another Referendum or not?

Is it possible in this General Election, for the SNP to match, or preferably cross the 50% level of positive votes in Scotland?

For me either, but preferably the latter, namely above 50%, does provide a very credible mandate to seek and obtain another Referendum, and not least based on the further mandate given, and voted for, by a majority of duly elected MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

rosspriory

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 18:18

Robin, can you do anything with the following with the SNP government? We aint gonna win nuthin unless..

"Its the economy , stupid"

Dear SNP, to fight the battles ahead can I please have an Industrial Policy, a Fiscal policy, a Monetary policy with a non GERS statement of accounts. Then and only then will we win the war.

Its the Economy Stupid

Alisdair McKay

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 23:11

Is it just my problem to have an active imagination 'May is going to run out of time and excuses over the existing request for a referendum' RadioJammor. Surely the thorn in the flesh of the UK government is not Labour, who have not caused her any problems, but the SNP in the Scottish 'Assembly' with their 'game playing', who are putting some of her assets and mandate for negotiations with the EU in doubt? An example; a golf club is run by a committee, the youth branch want to run their bit and get permission for a sub committee(called Holyrood) and they get a vote from the youth members to paint the greens pink and blast them with loud music. Because they have a 'mandate' from the youth they demand to be listened to. Bad experiment decides the main committee disbanding the youth committee (Holyrood), or neuter it, though they are obliged by the rules to allow a delegation to continue to attend the main meetings where their vote is safely outnumbered and the 'mandate' gained by their subcommittee can be ignored. If you were TM would you fail to take the opportunity to neuter Holyrood, and then Scotland as well, once you have an overriding 'UK' mandate. Your electorate in England would sing your praises and supporters in Scotland cheer, what's to loose? Stuff the resultant grumpy Scots. For this reason whilst TM has chosen the battle ground it is imperative that the SNP choose how to fight and need to come out with MP's (who's position as the elected representatives of the people of Scotland she cannot touch because they, unlike Holyrood, are not subordinate to Westminster being a constituent part of it) mandated by their constituents to negotiate Scotland's withdrawal form the UK parliament at Westminster. Holyrood is a distraction it is our MPs who are the key to us taking back control. How would we do it if Holyrood didn't exist? MPs with an election manifesto mandate from their constituents do not have to ask permission they are obliged to fulfil their commitments and are the internationally recognisable people to do so. Whilst Holyrood is subordinate to the Westminster, Scotland and our elected MPs are not, the only barrier to us leaving is making our minds up to do so. Minimal requirement 30 MPs, it has never been more possible and Westminster will ensure that it becomes increasingly impossible from June the 9th onwards.

inverschnecky

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 23:13

Completely agree Alisdair,

It would be grand if they ginger up there manifesto's with summat like :- "In the event that our request for a legally binding referendum is refused or delayed - we will form a national assembly and negotiate our withdrawal from the UK".

Otherwise - this is a pretty pointless election, we already have a mandate for #scotref and to paraphrase Lesley Riddoch - our current elected representatives are being ignored - why would new ones be any different?

It's gony be tough to get the punters out to vote - mebbe that's what Mayhem is hoping for.

Sceptical Scot

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 12:34

This article made a promising start, before quickly descending into an acute example of the bifurcation it initially seemed to be challenging. It appears still, that so many who support independence are misdiagnosing the situation. There are many social, cultural and political reasons to support iScotland, 'independence', 'self reliance' 'empowerment' all that stuff is attractive and an easy sell, but beyond the optimistic and uplifting discourse so many people are uneasy with the evangelism of elements of the Yes support. Not everyone is 'electrified' by demonstrations and painted faces, indeed a lot of people are sceptical about those whose ego's fetishise their own 'activism', as an element of a wider and egregious virtue signalling........ stir in the usual accompanying dispensation of withering contempt towards anyone with the temerity to disagree and therein is a significant fault line now afflicting this debate. I have lost count of the number of times any challenge to the Yes narrative is instantly dismissed by Yes supporters as 'Unionist lies' or 'myths of the MSM'. This charmless response brands anyone who disagrees as either a dupe, or a nefarious liar and simultaneously sets up the advocates of indy as a seers of truth and a paragons of honest virtue...... this is happens everywhere.... in the pubs, offices, staff rooms and is writ largest of all on social media. It is nauseating beyond belief for people who see though the emotions and are perfectly capable of assessing the political/economic situation of our times and voting accordingly.

There is a significant demographic who may even have happily voted SNP over the past decade but voted No in 2014. Typically they have average to above average salaries, are politically aware, have a mortgage, a pension, men and women who work hard week to week to provide for their families...the new (and expanding) middle class. The SNP, have carefully nurtured this group (very Blairite.....just sayin! ;) ) with major policy commitments designed to appeal to the rational self interest of this cohort; the absence of tuition fees and Council Tax freeze amounting to many thousands over a decade and then picking the low hanging fruit of prescription charges and bothersome bridge tolls, as tangible dividends for backing the SNP. This cohort will not be impressed with the way the argument has flipped, and they will not easily suspend the rational self interest that has been such a significant driver thus far. The vociferous advocates of an iScotland armed with Wee Blue Books, Scotland Future and a thousand internet memes all grounded in GERS data, are now looking more than a little foolish as the GERS methodology is relentlessly trashed by those who previously had sparkled with enthusiasm in there're promotion, added to relentless bad news from our public services there is much work to be done convincing a majority that the Yes side have the answers to carry us forward.....and still no coherent plan......just another article complaining about 'Unionists' who stubbornly refuse to see the light. Not withstanding the ever present possibility of a game changer in these times of tumultuous political changes, the political manoeuvring to engineer a 2nd referendum, may or may not be successful, but success for the Yes side in any such ref is questionable, it is going to be a far harder sell than it was in 2014.

MauriceBishop

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 14:51

""In the event that our request for a legally binding referendum is refused or delayed - we will form a national assembly and negotiate our withdrawal from the UK"."

This is so silly.

Firstly, in 2014 over 2 million Scots voted to stay in the Union, having been told by Nicola Sturgeon that it would settle the matter for a generation. Now people like you are casting around for any excuse for declaring that a smaller number of votes cast in a completely different circumstance sets it aside.

Secondly, the Westminster government would simply not turn up for these "negotiations" - on the grounds that the 2014 referendum is legally binding referendum.

My_Opinion

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 19:59

I have to say that I struggled to get through this article.

I want my side to recognise how we could have been better – a touch less paranoid-sounding from time to time, more willing to admit that we've still got legitimate questions to answer, accepting that some concern about SNP dominance is not unreasonable.

But I really want the other side to accept that there was an enormous amount of merit in the last independence referendum, real, big questions raised for the first time in generations, people plugged into politics with an enthusiasm we've not seen for ages, much more mutual respect than is accepted.

Once I'd read that I suspected that the rest would be one sided at best - and was proven right.

For the writer to then go on to repeat the same old claims about 'project fear', the nasty No campaign, and to claim that the

Unionists stopped trying to talk to independence supporters a long time ago. Their whole strategy is based around polarisation – write off the 'Hateful Nats', split off everyone else and try to drive these two groups as far apart as possible.

is simply awe inspiringly nonsensical!
Try replying to any pro independence post on Facebook with a reasonable but critical reply and you will soon see that the NATS have their fair share of polarisers.

The 2014 referendum produced the biggest turnout of voters in the UK since women were first allowed to vote. The debate beforehand covered the issue from every conceivable angle and there was huge participation in that debate.
I believe that most people thought long and hard about which way to cast their vote though both sides would have had a core of 'tribal' supporters who could never be swayed in their belief. Fair enough.

What has polarised most No supporters and many who were undecided is the way the SNP have behaved since the referendum.
They ran a general election campaign in 2015 claiming that a vote for SNP was not a vote for independence and then talked about nothing else.

If you want to de-polarise the independence debate then take IndyRef2 off the table. There will be another opportunity in the future when enough Scots believe that the question should be asked again but Theresa May is absolutely right that now is not the time.
We voted in 2014 in the belief that our votes counted for something. Nationalists claim that we Scots should have the right to self determination. I believe that too, and I believe that we exercised that right in 2014 when we decided NOT to split with our 'family' of nations.

Nelson

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 09:17

This is a bit removed from reality. If the Greens increased their vote by around 380% and had enough candidates to stand they might get to keep their deposits. The Greens and the SNP are diametrically different parties.

I have a feeling that a lot of conservative pro-indy brexiters could well cast fuck-off votes for Ukip out of spite for being unrepresented by politicians who have told them to fuck-off. And in case people haven't noticed, the GE is about brexit.

Watty

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 21:44

I've gotta say I completely disagree with the article. After the referendum in 2014 most on the No side wanted to move on while many Nationalists were angry at the outcome and were looking to vent and for people to blame. This took various forms including blaming pensioners, telling people they were stupid for falling for MSM lies etc etc. When you've got elected members of parliament referring to a large portion of the population as 'Yoons' you know something is wrong.

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