Robin McAlpine: Winners make decisions, losers wait for things to happen

CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal director Robin McAlpine says there are three possible options for the independence movement. 

I know it will surprise many of you but I don't want to spend the rest of my life writing about constitutional politics. I've always been in this for social outcomes and constitutional politics alone does not deliver these.

So I want to write about policy and change. But it's been a difficult summer and I just thought people could do with some positive views on independence matters. Nevertheless I intended last week's column to be the last I wrote on the subject for a while.

But I think there is one last piece of confusion kicking about just now and I don't think there should be. The confusion is on what the independence movement's options are from here.

There's nothing to be confused about. There are three remaining options. Each requires a slightly different approach, though the big tasks are consistent for all of them. At least two of them require action to begin right now. One doesn't.

I write this only to seek to stress that the time to make broad decisions about this is now; postponing a decision is effectively rejecting one of the options. Best to say that out loud. It is also making one of the options less viable but not impossible.

What people are saying is that they don't want a referendum this year or next. Neither do I.

So we just need to look at this, digest it (I'm still thinking about and assessing all these options) and decide. Easy really…
 

Option 20

I suspect you'll have picked up that the unionists are determined that we listen to what people are telling us – and that they're telling us they don't want another referendum.

And the unionists are right; people do not want another referendum. Except there's a crucial distinction that the unionists are being less forthright about, which is that there is a specific timescale to this rejection of referendums.

In detailed and extensive focus group work for the Scottish Independence Convention, what people are saying is that they don't want a referendum this year or next. Neither do I. Neither should you. We always needed to wait until Brexit negotiations were completed – anything else would have been democratically unjust.

In fact, people are saying that they might not be all that keen on a referendum in the early part of 2019, or even at all in 2019. However, even the most 'No' of soft 'No' voters is saying that if they feel that Brexit is going badly or that they can be convinced independence would be better, they're not only willing but actively happy to be given the choice again.

That's almost three years from now; an age in current politics. From the impending UK debt crisis to the possible UK role in “totally destroying” North Korea to a bad Brexit, there are no shortage of things that make 2020 not only possible but seriously viable.

Another thing that is clear as a highland spring is that people not only want but are absolutely demanding a proper plan next time.

Again, Universal Spokesperson for All No Voters Ruth Davidson says they want this to go away for a generation/forever. Strangely, that's not what No voters are telling us in a controlled, academically-rigorous environment.

Holding a referendum in 2020 is a real possibility. It is miles away from a foregone conclusion we could get it, and whether we'd win it or not is still up in the air. But the reason unionists are desperate you think it’s off the table is because they're worried. They should be.

If we want to take this option there are things we should do now. I've been over some of these quite a few times. It is seriously possible that 2020 could be a real low-point for SNP support.

This will depend on how government performs between now and then (things would be more worrying if Ruth Davidson was as good as they say or if Scottish Labour had a potential leader who could go on radio and sound, well, not inept).

A little pessimism is probably warranted. So for Option 20 we'd need a way to decouple an independence campaign from any single political party's fortunes.

Whatever we do, another thing that is clear as a highland spring is that people not only want but are absolutely demanding a proper plan next time. It must explain how a new state is going to be set up and what it will be like to live in it from day one. If we don't provide this, we deserve to lose.

We need the Scottish Government to focus on delivering things which people can see, feel and really use in their own lives.

And it’s not something we can afford to knock up in a closed room over a day or two. So if we want to be in a viable position to fight in 2020, we need that work well underway very soon indeed.

We also need to shift public opinion, very slowly, very carefully, but very consistently. Westminster isn't going to give us another referendum without a gun at its head. Our only gun is public support, so we need polls to be over 50 per cent (and closer to 60) well before the dawn of 2020.

Finally, we need the Scottish Government to focus on delivering things which people can see, feel and really use in their own lives. It's difficult to overstate how useless announcements, press releases and media lines are right now.

The response is unequivocal: “Heard it before. Show us or shut up.”

These are the things we need to do for 2020.

Option 22

I wrote a book last year which outlined a strategy involving using the 2021 Scottish election as a 'trigger' for a referendum. This is the only other 'gun' we can put to Westminster's head.

The rate of decline of SNP voting intention and the general lack of forward momentum from the Greens suggests no overall independence majority.

The theory goes that through some mechanism or another you turn that Scottish Election into a kind of surrogate referendum-on-a-referendum. You could do this by making it 'SNP front and centre – but based on a primary single platform position of a 2022 referendum on independence'.

The same could be done by having a coalition of parties and independents fighting on a shared platform (you might want to maximise votes by looking region-by-region at the list and working out how best to get pro-independence candidates in).

Or you could suspend party branding for one election and get people to stand on a non-party '2022 referendum' ticket.

The last of these won't happen so probably best just to disregard it. But the other two are possible, if risky. It is time indy supporters paid more attention to the polls. Barring something entirely unexpected (and probably quite dramatic), the chances of the SNP having an overall majority all by themselves is close to zero.

But the rate of decline of SNP voting intention and the general lack of forward momentum from the Greens suggests no overall independence majority. (Poll ratings for the Greens are up at the expense of the SNP, but voter awareness doesn't seem to me to be rising, suggesting it is a function of the SNP failing to inspire rather than the Greens managing it).

And if the SNP agrees to a planned pact with others designed to 'game' the voting system, it will be a simply enormous shift in the attitude of the leadership. I'm not banking on it.

It is time the SNP stopped suggesting that tying the two inextricably together is good for independence. 

But there's a bigger problem with this strategy, which is that you can't necessarily turn an election into a referendum just because you want to.

Let's say we go down the first route ('SNP to the end'). You can say to all Yes supporters “vote wholeheartedly for the government even if you have qualms about this policy or that”. But you can't make them.

Where we stand now, if one in 20 Yes voters were sufficiently unhappy with even one thing the Scottish Government has done (perhaps over the EU, or docking doggies' tails, or Named Person, or compulsory testing of their children at school, or a general sense of complacency or whatever) and decide that they just need to express discontent, we lose.

Support for independence is solid; support for the SNP is not. It is time the SNP stopped suggesting that tying the two inextricably together is good for independence. Good for a struggling SNP possibly...

If the Option 22 is what we go for, the Scottish Government has a bit over three years to turn perceptions round. Or we need to come up with a tactical plan. Or we need to drive support and enthusiasm for independence from outside the party system and cross our fingers.

This is a perfectly possible option, but it is fraught with problems and should not be taken for granted. “Let's think about it later” is an unconvincing response.

Option 25+

If we attempt Option 22 and it fails (as the most recent polls say it would), there is no option left until the end of that parliamentary term in 2025. That leaves us squarely in the “it'll take a generation” approach of waiting until then.

However, that's so far over the horizon that there is virtually nothing meaningful that can be said about it. Just say to yourself “mibby one day” and get back on with your life.

And that's all folks…

It is a funny movement for self-determination that isn't determined to determine things for itself.

If there's a fourth option, I can't see it. Which means there could well be other options but they don't yet exist (perhaps Scottish Labour will change its constitutional position... perhaps the UK economy will entirely implode...).

So that's it. I could keep writing about the constitution forever, but where would that get us? In truth we're all hand-wringing, hoping 'someone' will do something. But 'someone' isn't. So we're starting to tell ourselves that now isn't quite the time or that patience is the key or that 'something will come up'.

All I can say is that it is a funny movement for self-determination that isn't determined to determine things for itself. I'm not that keen on macho-sounding quotes and I know we're all supposed to be good losers. But fuck that – good losers really are just losers.

At the risk of sounding like some awful motivational speaker, winners make decisions, losers wait for things to happen. And good decisions come from thinking clearly and talking together.

If there's something else to be said about this, I'm not sure what it is.

Picture courtesy of Maria Navarro Sorolla

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Comments

MauriceBishop

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 14:46

"But the reason unionists are desperate you think it’s off the table is because they're worried. They should be."

Wrong. The separatist movement still can't answer even the most basic questions about the post-independence economy, meaning a referendum in 2020 will turn out just like the one in 2014.

So it is an expensive waste of time.

It is an insult to democracy, given that we voted in 2014 with the assurance that we were settling the matter for a generation.

Holding it will ensure more years of Holyrood not doing its job, as it consumes all the political oxygen.

The only thing it accomplishes is that the grifters who think they can make a living by telling the separatists what they want to hear will have one last lucrative opportunity.

RadioJammor

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 18:12

"The separatist movement still can't answer even the most basic questions about the post-independence economy"

What is particularly laughable about this is that such matters have been discussed on this site. Whilst Maurice likes to come along and poo-poo anything pro-indy, he seems to generally stay out of posts on the very subject he claims there are no answers to.

I think he does this so he can do his Nelson impression, of bringing his telescope up to his blind eye so that he can say, "I see no ships."

"Support for independence is solid; support for the SNP is not."

Absolutely right. The 2017 General Election said that in spades, whilst the most recent of reports indicates support for independence is about the same as 2014, possibly higher.

"But the rate of decline of SNP voting intention and the general lack of forward momentum from the Greens suggests no overall independence majority. (Poll ratings for the Greens are up at the expense of the SNP, but voter awareness doesn't seem to me to be rising, suggesting it is a function of the SNP failing to inspire rather than the Greens managing it).

And if the SNP agrees to a planned pact with others designed to 'game' the voting system, it will be a simply enormous shift in the attitude of the leadership. I'm not banking on it."

If the SNP is serious about independence for Scotland in the short-term, it needs to accept that it is unlikely to achieve this by acting on its own and needs to reach out across party lines to other independence supporters to achieve this aim.

If it doesn't do this, then we can only assume that the SNP is more interested in staying in power in Scotland than achieving independence, and act accordingly - even if this means postponing our ideas in the short-term and looking beyond the SNP.

rosspriory

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 18:22

I am afraid to say Maurice is right. There will be no independence until a Scottish government can prove that we will be in a better place within an independent Scotland.

Its the economy, stupid. Always will be. Everything else is totally irrelevant. NHS, Education, Social welfare. All for nothing if we do not convince the population that we will be better off in an independent country.

And Maurice, I am still looking for the UK Government's sovereign wealth fund of over £1 trillion. Can you advise?

MauriceBishop

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 19:04

"such matters have been discussed on this site"
Yes, and the answers provided are risible.

Meanwhile, let's look at what the head of the independence movement is doing:

"SR: So what currency then would an independent Scotland have?

NICOLA STURGEON: We are doing a piece of work looking at this just now. Obviously in 2014 we proposed using the pound within a currency union, the starting point of our consideration is that Scotland would use the pound, it’s our currency, it’s a fully tradable international currency but as I’m sure you know, I have a Growth Commission right now looking for a plan for the economic future of Scotland but also looking in detail at currency options for Scotland.

SR: So you don’t know then, you’re not sure what currency you’d use?

NICOLA STURGEON: Well that Commission hasn’t concluded its work yet, I’m being perfectly frank. Look, a referendum at the earliest is going to be 18 months from now, I absolutely accept well in advance of that not just on currency but on the economic plan, on some of the questions you are asking me on Europe, we will set out a very clear proposition but I think it’s right, given the changed circumstances of Brexit, that we do very serious work before we come to putting that proposition forward. So that work hasn’t concluded yet."

Scott Egner

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 20:39

"Its the economy, stupid. Always will be. Everything else is totally irrelevant. NHS, Education, Social welfare. All for nothing if we do not convince the population that we will be better off in an independent country."

True because the population are brainwashed into believing the household analogy to describe govt finances.
It's 4 decades of political framing to unravel courtesy of media anchored around the city of london.

Neoliberal economics is what science must have been like before copernicus. People would probably be imprisoned for picking flaws in the mainstream narrative.

It's incredible. 10 years on from a GFC. 1 trillion on the national debt. Little inflation and zero interest rates - all an 'aberration' because it doesn't fit in with the mainstream models of how a national economy works.

Of course the faithful like maurice will plough on believing the broken analogies ignoring the obvious that aggregate economies behave differently to households.

The fact is the jewel in the uk crown, the finances sector is a net liability, scotland's energy was and is a net financial asset. Theres a world of difference.

Of course it's true perhaps too many people are unquestioning and will bow to the 'exoerts' who can't differentiate the fact that at the national level Spending actually IS income.

Scott Egner

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 21:08

For folk who want to learn about macroeconomics..
https://www.google.de/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/stevekeen/2015/01/14/be...

MauriceBishop

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 21:31

@Scott Egner - I hope you enjoy thrashing your straw man.

The problems with the economic case for independence are all simple macroeconomic issues that have absolutely nothing to do with abuse of a "household analogy to describe govt finances".

That is why I keep asking you to look at Denmark, not at the Browns's next door.

Centurious

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 10:41

I always love a MauriceBishop comment! It sounds so full of warmth and loathing.

Thy-Robocop

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 12:56

@MauriceBishop: When you say, 'look at Denmark', would that be your argument that Scotland has to accumulate £50 billion worth of foreign currency using the £15 billion of the 'divorce settlement' with rUK, thereby incurring in a very large debt that it has to repay via crippling austerity? I'm going to assume so, since that seems to be the only argument that you come up with here on CommonSpace when you mention Denmark in your replies, as far as I can see.

In that case, I believe I made the case in a previous exchange we had a while ago that this is not the way a nation accumulates foreign currency. To be fair, though, I didn't see you reply to that comment, so you may have missed it. In which case, here's a brief summary of it.

-A currency is defined as being foreign with respect to a nation's national currency. If Scotland adopts a Scottish pound as it's national currency, then every other currency, including pound sterling, is considered a foreign currency with respect to it.

-There are three ways a central bank accumulates foreign currency reserves: 1) it borrows foreign currency directly off the market, 2) It buys foreign currency with the national currency (which, I remind you, would be the ScotPound, not pound sterling), 3) It enters agreements with other central banks to swap a certain amount of national currency for foreign currencies for a limited amount of time.

-None of these methods involve using a foreign currency (such as the money obtained from the divorce settlement, which will obviously be in pound sterling) to accumulate other foreign currency. Doing so would at best trade one readily available foreign currency reserve for an equivalent amount in another foreign currency, and at at worse deplete these reserves during the transactions to acquire other foreign currency, plus it would reduce the amount of £ sterling that Scotland would need to pay civil servants and others until the new currency is in place.

-Accumulating foreign currency can only be done AFTER a central bank and a national currency has already been set up, and not as part of the initial set-up costs

-The set-up costs of estabilishing a central bank and new currency are thus only limited to the costs needed to hire staff, buy IT equipment, and printing off physical notes and coins of the national currency, which would be of the order of perhaps £100 million at most, which is well within the 'divorce settlement' budget.

-Once the central bank and national currency have been estabilished, the macroeconomic problems it will likely face will have nothing to do with the problem you've outlined (as the Scottish central bank can simply issue new notes as needed), and a lot more to do with the abuse of "household analogy to describe government finances" mentioned by Scott Egner here in this thread.

If that's not your argument anymore, then please do enlighten us on how else Scotland fails to be like Denmark.

MauriceBishop

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 17:39

1) A central bank filled with borrowed reserves would be a catastrophe waiting to happen.

2) To "buy" foreign currency you have to have something that the seller will accept in exchange. Indy Scotland can force its residents to use the new currency, but that power stops at is borders.

3) Swap facilities do exist, but not for the purposes you claim. They are crisis management tools, not funding mechanisms. And the same problem as (2) exists: no country will weaken its own reserve position by exchanging something of known value for something of questionable value.

Back in 2014 it was said that Scotland could accumulate reserves by running a balance of payments surplus, via oil. Two problems: (1) there is no longer any such surplus; and (2) it was always a fantasy, because even with oil, Scotland was running a deficit.

But note that even when the general public was more gullible about such things, Salmond STILL ran away from the independent currency and went all-in on the "force the the UK into a currency union against its will" route.

That tells you all you need to know about how wrong you are when you claim that it would be easy to start an independent currency.

It would be incredibly hard and painful, and it would require a severe austerity policy designed to create a primary budget surplus. Angus Armstrong ran down the various scenarios here: https://scotfes.com/2013/06/05/angus-armstrongs-speech-at-scotsman-confe...

"This will depress domestic demand and imports and so lead to current account and balance of payments surpluses. Even Europe’s weakest economies are now running current account surpluses. This was broadly speaking Ireland’s strategy after gaining independence. The sole aim of economic policy was to maintain external surpluses and confidence in the currency. Yet this comes at a considerable cost to the domestic economy. In Ireland the cost in terms of economic development was also high...If what I have said so far all sounds quite difficult, then I have made my point. If a fixed or heavily managed exchange rate is a pre-requisite for a new small open economy to develop a domestic bond market and borrow substantial funds, then there are some difficult choices ahead. Hard currencies are prized possessions."

And yet people like you, and like the amateur economists here at Common Weal, keep saying it is easy, and any new country can have one. Why? Because you realise that the currency issue is the major obstacle to independence and you'll say anything - even things you know aren't true - because you are frustrated and you want to make it go away.

This is AKA "independence at any cost", a position that the majority of Scots will never embrace.

Brotyboy

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 15:20

Does TM's 'transition period' bring the later dates into play?

IIA.Scot's picture

IIA.Scot

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 21:05

Just a point for consideration. In Palestine the guardians of their independence aspirations are the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). Whilst the running of what country they have left is down to the political parties, in this case Fatah and Hamas. It is a model we should consider.

Sceptical Scot

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 22:49

I do admire your tenacity and devotion to the cause Robin, but it is painfully clear that it is becoming ever more challenging to keep this campaign afloat. You now appear to be relying on a catastrophic Brexit or even an unpopular military campaign in North Korea.....short of that a fading SNP who have isolated 'the wider independence movement' in a cul-de-sac of irrelevance (this was always going to happen) and left the Greens with their credibility among their target electorate in ashes. You talk a lot about the soft end of the No vote and appear oblivious to even the possibility of a soft end of the yes vote....this is a huge mistake. Whilst nothing is guaranteed absolutely, it would appear no good will come from the Brexit process, a situation that will leave an iScotland with nowhere to go, and therefore it's increasingly likely that the union is secure for a generation.

peterabell

Sat, 09/23/2017 - 10:38

What do we want?

Whatever the focus group says we want!

When do we want it?

Whenever the focus groups says we want it!

What the hell kind of campaigning is this? The point of campaigning is to change people's minds, not pander to their prejudices, preconceptions and fallacies. If people really are saying is that they don't want a referendum this year or next then the task of the Yes movement is to explain to them why postponing the referendum beyond September 2018 is a very, very bad idea.

Our job is to challenge the propaganda that misinforms and misleads. Our job is to persuade people. Otherwise, what is the point of us? What people are telling us is what has been put in their minds by the British state's propaganda machine. If we allow ourselves to be instructed by this rather than try to rectify it, what is the point of the Yes movement?

If the Yes movement is no more than whatever the most recent focus group says it is, what use is it? Where are its foundation? Do we stand on the solid ground of a just cause? Or are we perched on the precarious sands of manipulated public perception?

If we are motivated solely by dumb obedience to the dictates of the 'latest independent research', then what unites us? What is our common purpose? Is the Yes campaign guided by fundamental principles of democracy? Or is it led by clipboard-wielding, box-ticking technocrats?

MauriceBishop

Sat, 09/23/2017 - 13:38

"Is the Yes campaign guided by fundamental principles of democracy?"

I don't know, so lets examine that question.

Test #1: The 2014 referendum was legally binding, and we were told, repeatedly, by Nicola Sturgeon and the Yes campaign, that it would settle the matter for a generation. So do you agree that the next indy ref should not be before 2040?

Test #2: When the next indy ref is held, do you agree that heavily unionist areas of Scotland should be enabled to stay in the Union, rather than face being dragged out of it against their will by virtue of a big Yes turnout in Glasgow (should that ever happen)?

Sceptical Scot

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 08:47

http://scottishreview.net/JohnScott309a.html

Interesting article. 'The indy campaign was a disaster for the left in Scotland' the left nationalists who pen so much of Common Space, now find themselves separate from the Labour movement (in its broadest sense) relying on political nationalists for a space in their ailing campaign of border building. They were deployed as boots on the ground in 2014, but have been given nothing from the snp......Nothing! The Greens are now the only Green Party on the planet who never talk about the environment. The snp have shafted them on a whole range of issues from Queensferry to Heathrow, and still they sat out of the last election in an unedifying display of meekness. Just as well for the snp, or they may have lost another 15-20 seats.

Thy-Robocop

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 10:20

@MauriceBishop: To answer your latest comment (I'll reply to your previous one later)

1) I do not recall that the Edinburgh Agreement included a provision that legally bound either Holyrood or Westminster to not have a second referendum on independence before 2040. If there were, the unionist parties would be resting a lot easier than they are now, safe in the knowledge that the SNP or any future party campaigning for independence won't legally be able to get their wish until that time (or until both parliament legislate to repeal that provision, whichever comes sooner, given the principle here in the UK that parliaments cannot be bound by the decisions of their predecessors)

Without that in place, the timing really comes down to what politicians decide and put in their manifestos, what the population of Scotland thinks, and which parties they vote for in the elections. The most recent Panelbase poll shows that 42.2% of respondents, weighted to reflect the what the entire population of Scotland might think, want a referendum within the next TWO years. Plus, both the SNP and the Greens campaigned on manifestos that said they wouldn't campaign for independence unless there is a clear majority support for it, OR a change in material circumstances happens, such as Brexit in a scenario where Scotland voted to Remain (I can't recall whether the Greens had the exact wording in place, or whether they'd just support the SNP on independence whenever they decide that now's the time to campaign for it), and got enough votes to get a pro-independence majority in Holyrood.

So clearly a sizeable proportion of the population in Scotland is rejecting the opinion of both Sturgeon and the Yes campaign that the matter of independence is settled for however long a time a "generation" is (or they believe that politics operates on an accelerated timescale than a human life span. If a week is a long time in politics, as the saying goes, then clearly a generation in politics is measured on the scale of years, not decades). But I guess unionists will keep bringing up what Sturgeon said in the past until her words get explicitly and democratically rejected, like getting a motion passed at the SNP party conferences to run a referendum within two years, or electing a new SNP leader who explicitly rejects previous SNP leader's opinions.

2) I agrees with this point in principle. It would be hypocritical of us to argue that Scotland should stay in the EU given the overwhelming Remain vote in the Brexit referendum, if we don't allow unionists to use the same argument against us if Yes is successful due to turnout in Glasgow.

Though I expect that this point would be a pain to apply in practice, depending on how the vote goes, and which regions do turn out to still be unionist strongholds after the vote. It will be much easier to give a region to rUK if it's closer to the border than it would be if the region was right in the middle of Scotland, for example.

Nelson

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 09:13

Try writing a whole article that doesn't mention independence/nationalism once. There are lots of more important things.

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