The word on everyone’s lips

Everybody’s talking about it.  It’s the word on everyone’s lips.  Which is why I can’t get this Harry Nilsson song out of my head.

Because talking at, rather than about, is what’s been happening.  Ironic really, given that independence only featured in the last week of the campaign, that it is now the talking point.

Perhaps Iain Gray and Labour were on to something when they talked about distractions?!  I jest.

The margin of the SNP’s victory means that of course, independence is now front and central, or at least the process that might lead to it, is.  And in a week that needed political filling as Holyrood gears up, there’s no better topic to keep everyone chattering.  Here’s hoping that when Alex Salmond picks his Cabinet and sets out his programme for government, realpolitik will return.  There is after all, much to do to keep us occupied, though for sure, independence will never be far from people’s minds.

So far, Alex Salmond has played a blinder.  Again.  They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  The SNP might seem a sudden, late convert to the benefits of devolution max, seeing the Scotland bill as the way to accrue more powers.  But actually it isn’t.  Gradualism has always been Salmond’s meme and despite some tactical huffing and puffing by his government at the committee stages, ultimately, he led the whole Scottish Parliament in backing the committee’s proposals to increase the Parliament’s powers.

It all seems to be going according to plan.  Some of these proposals have been voted down at the bill’s early stages and Scottish Labour MPs have popped up with nonsensical amendments on abolishing regional MSPs and allowances for the very MSPs they want to abolish and in their place, create dual constituency MSPs.  Yep, really.

We either get devo max and are further down the road or Wesminster blocks it, making the case for independence compelling.  Despite us voting for a Scottish Spring, the chip is never far from our shoulder.  Wha’ daur meddle wi’ us should become the new national motto.

The other thing that people did actually vote for on 5 May was for the debate.  There might not be a majority in favour of independence – yet – but people are up for the debate and they want to be in charge of their own destiny.  They want their say and voted for the party prepared to give it to them.  MPs and MSPs of all parties should be mindful of this over the next five years.

If we have learned anything from the chatter in the last week, it is that we have far to travel.  The burd has never subscribed to the SNP commonality of independence first, then we’ll work out what to do with it.  It has been prevalent for years, and I’ve always felt it was myopic.  People will want to know what they are voting for surely.  What will independence actually mean and deliver?  We cannot be expected to hold our breath and leap.

And having – by necessity – put the consequences of independence on the backburner for a number of years, the pasting Nicola Sturgeon got from Paxman on Newsnight this week shows that the SNP has a lot of work to do.  A point our wonderful Depute First Minister made, when Paxman let her.  There are five years to sort it out and make sure that what independent Scotland might do on all those issues that currently tie us into the UK framework – foreign policy, defence, welfare etc  – is logical and credible.

Fortunately, there are some sound starting points.  Allan Macartney, whom Scottish politics misses, even now, perhaps more than ever, got the ball rolling with his treatise Citizens not Subjects.  The equally lamented, late Sir Neil MacCormick also prepared a masterful document on the constitutional niceties of the process.  There will be a number of SNP folk digging through their archives this weekend to dust both these documents off….

Moreover, there is the small matter of whether we mean independence as it was once understood.  Does the SNP need to think about the nomenclature to avoid getting bound up in semantic driven debates that ordinary folk will tune out of?  How can, in this globally intertwined world, a country be fully independent?  Especially one that exists on an island shared by other nations?  What best describes the relationship the SNP wants Scotland to choose with its neighbours here, on mainland Europe and further afield?  Freedom might still appeal to a certain proportion of the party membership but is a cry from the past.  Independence suggests isolation and yes, separation, neither of which concepts are helpful.  Whisper it, but the first thing the SNP might have to do is change the name of its key fundamental policy.

There are other risks for the SNP Government.  People did not vote for the next five years to be dominated by this issue alone.  Yes, they voted for a positive, optimistic future but the SNP’s manifesto was chockful of steady as she goes messages on key totems of devolved Scottish life.  Attention must be paid to fulfilling the compact it has established with the Scottish people and to providing the competence and assurance that people were anxious to have for the hard financial times to come.

If that competence does not materialise because of constitutional distractions, or the Scottish people feel they have been short-changed or worse, misled, then we may just find that rather than everybody talking, no one wants to talk about it all.

8 thoughts on “The word on everyone’s lips

  1. Pingback: He who pays the piper calls the tune « A Burdz Eye View

  2. You missed a trick with this post. The burd is the word surely?

  3. “Everybody’s talking about it.” No only the panic stricken unionist media is chattering about it as we for decades having been building a knowledge base to counter the inaccuracies that have been banded about. Look at what is being written and read the comments shows that the basics are not even understood by the majority defenders of the union. Sit back and watch them tripping themselves up time after time even so called academics who are relying on what they have peddled for years as being fact even though they don’t even understand the complexity of the British state. Enjoy the entertainment they are providing for now as they are on the backfoot making them all the more vulnerable to making our case for us.

    That might seem complacent but its not as the final battles will need to be won after all of the unions weaknesses have come to the fore showing there arguments to be as bare as the day they were born. Even the opium of the masses (BBC) is lost without a strong Labour party to assist.

  4. “How can, in this globally intertwined world, a country be fully independent? Especially one that exists on an island shared by other nations?”

    Exactly the same way as every other country that shares borders with other countries – ie virtually all of them. What a silly question.

  5. Burd

    The word on everyones lips is “SNP 69 seats an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament.

    Independence lite is from an article in the oh so neutral Scotsman by Jim Sillars. Another song comes to mind when I think about Sillars “Yesterdays Man” (sorry cannot remember who sang it) he is not a member of the Scottish Cabinet, nor is he an MSP, I do not know if he is even a member of the SNP now, so just why, apart from the obvious unionist blind panic and need to grab an straw that happens to be passing, would anyone be interested in what he is saying.

    A prime example from his article was that Alex Salmond would, or should, be prepared to give up the SNP objection to Trident remaining on the Clyde in return for Independence lite. What odds would you give on that happening?

    The SNP position has been crystal clear from the launch of their manifest that a referendum on independence would be held in the second half of this term of government. Alex Salmond and the rest of his cabinet have never wavered from that position.

    The ball is in the SNP court, and they have to make a strong and coherent case for independence. That they will do over the time scale that suits them, not the time scale of the increasingly hysterical media, or the increasingly desperate unionist parties. That will then be presented at a time favourable to the SNP. Another example of the desperation is the fuss about the comment we will present the bill when we think we can win. I bet generations of Prime Ministers wish that they had thought of that, just think they could have arranged the date of general elections to a time they thought they could win. Jings help ma bob how did they miss that?

    The trouble for the media and the unionists is they are still clinging to the opinion polls that show a lead at present for the No campaign. Remember the polls between April and May 2011.

  6. There is a real problem in having a nuanced debate when both sides will in some sense be in unofficial campaign mode from now on. That’s why I think the important thing is in to identify the basic principles; one of these, as Alex Salmond has said, is that it is the Scottish people who will decide the pace of change.

    What I think would be more useful than redefining independence would be some thought on how this could be enshrined in legislation. Although I want independence the Scottish people don’t seem to be at that point yet and any attempt to try to sell them independence lite seems doomed to failure. Far from helping to win the case it would weaken it, if the SNP don’t think Scotland is ready to have its own military or its own benefits system (as has been reported) then it shows a lack of confidence in the basic idea that will fatally undermine the campaign.

    Equally the public could ask, why go to so much upheaval and cost if we are going to keep things pretty much as they are. Devo max with legislation to enshrine the Scottish people’s right to be in the driving seat seems the principled position given where we are.

    • That would be an eminently sensible position to take. And think I agree with you re indepdendence lite. I can see why it might be attractive at this stage but you are right to warn how it would weaken the case. Lots to think – and chatter! – about!

  7. Salmond’s continuing to put his plan into motion, the gradualist softening up exercise has already started in the Scotsman…

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