Writer and academic Siobhan Tolland warns that an uncompromising element of the Yes movement could be damaging
OVER the last few weeks I have been witnessing a certain sect occurring within the independence movement.
This is centring the political philosophy that sees independence as the first, foremost and only political belief that matters.
Many people are expressing this and forming a very select club that communicates only with those who meet a strict criteria of pro-independence belief. I have come to call this ‘independence purism’.
Politics is set on a simple enemy/friend basis: enemy is any unionist or ‘unionist sympathiser’, friend is those deemed sufficiently pro-independence.
It is a peculiar breed of political strategy, something akin to the ultra-left in socialist circles. People, politics and situations are judged only by their direct, unabashed and absolute commitment to the cause of independence.
Indeed, politics is set on a simple enemy/friend basis: enemy is any unionist or ‘unionist sympathiser’, friend is those deemed sufficiently pro-independence.
In the aftermath of an independence referendum defeat, we are under a government so right wing that the Thatcher period is almost halcyon days. We are seeing the aggressive destruction of our welfare state, the stripping of public assets for private profit and a sustained persecution of the poor, vulnerable and disabled.
As Yes campaigners, we have to come to terms with three hard facts: we are experiencing a right wing attack of unprecedented proportions; we are experiencing this as part of the UK; and, within this UK context, we have the main Labour opposition adopting an anaemic strategy of abstention and absence.
Remaining part of the United Kingdom means we now live in a nation where right wing policies reign relatively unhindered.
But then along comes Jeremy Corbyn who is mixing it up. Active in the anti-war and CND movements, he is clear in his anti-Trident stance and anti-imperialist foreign policy.
A winner of the Ghandi International Peace Prize for social justice, he is staunch in his commitment against the austerity agenda. Corbyn is fast articulating a need to oppose, not abstain from, the right wing austerity agenda.
In the post-referendum world, then, we have a progressive movement within Scotland articulated through the discourse of independence. And in England, we have the seeds of a progressive movement spearheaded by Corbyn.
Combined, this could make a potentially very powerful opposition against the right wing agenda sweeping across the UK.
Corbyn is dismissed because ‘he is a unionist’. Despite strong political shared ground, independence purists refuse to dirty their hands on such a unionist. Independence first, foremost and always.
This is not the desired strategy of the independence purists up here, however. Corbyn is dismissed because ‘he is a unionist’. Despite strong political shared ground, independence purists refuse to dirty their hands on such a unionist. Independence first, foremost and always.
I can understand the bitterness of betrayal felt against Labour: arm in arm with the Tories vilifying Yes supporters. And I also understand that Corbyn’s position on Scottish independence is disappointing and shows a lack of understanding of our new political culture.
However, against the most optimistic prospect of independence being about five years away, and against an attack by the right so terrifying that it gives me nightmares, what do we do? What are our political choices here?
Do we find common ground with a new movement that also wants to stop the right wing onslaught? Or do we refuse play with them because they are unionists? To paraphrase Monty Python, there is only one thing worse than a unionist and that’s a unionist we may have common ground with.
It raises the question of why we bothered sending down a cohort of 56 SNP MPs to Westminster – did we vote them to sit all petted lipped, arms crossed and affronted that no one else wants an independent Scotland?
Go forth to Westminster, SNP, and be all huffy and righteous in your belief in independence.
Perhaps the SNP MPs should just hover majestically, all morally righteous and bathed in a golden light of theoretical purity where they could not possibly taint themselves or us, over any political struggle that does not include a 100 per cent commitment to independence.
Thou shalt not fight with us against the Tories unless you are a Yes supporter.
To paraphrase Monty Python, there is only one thing worse than a unionist and that’s a unionist we may have common ground with.
It’s a shame really. It is a political strategy so insular and single-minded in its approach that it defies the political reality we face. It is the strategic equivalent of sending all your troops to defend the castle door, forgetting your enemy prefers to come in through the windows or the hole in the roof.
I can predict the future path of the ‘independence purists’. You only have to look at the ultra-left to see how they will end up. They will break away from the mass movement because those in the mass movement weren’t true believers.
This break away group will splinter further, probably because of an argument over who believes in independence more. Are you the Scotland People’s Front? No, we are the People’s Front of Scotland!
What will be left will be various groups of around two to three people all agreeing how politically righteous they are for never compromising on independence.
Meanwhile, the movement will be outside, getting on with things, fighting the hard but necessary political battles and being criticised for not being politically ‘pure’ enough, and saying the word ‘compromise’ once.