Sunday, 31 July 2016


Yesterday, up to 5000 people marched through Glasgow waving flags in support of Scottish Independence. Which is of course not about flags.

Still, no harm to them, what people get up to in their spare time is a matter for them. Personally, I had a barbecue.

And I am in no doubt that there are many other people who were more inclined to my own sort of Summer recreation who, nonetheless, asked the question again, would vote in a referendum for Independence. Very many more.

The problem is that even very many more still isn't enough.

I did actually think that the Brexit vote might shift Scottish public opinion a bit, at least for a time. At least until it became obvious what "Scotland in/England out" would mean in practice: a devalued "independent" currency and a hard border. Actually, I think that underlying opinion has moved a bit. Some europhile No voters have given Independence a second look. Equally however, some Nats motivated by hatred of the English appear (surprise, surprise) to be no more friendly to any other sort of "foreigner".  Indeed, faced with a binary choice in that regard they would apparently opt to keep the devil they know.

But despite that (wee) bit underlying moving about the baseline figure remains about the same as it has since September 2014. A significant and consistent majority for maintaining the British union.

Now, what hasn't perhaps been given enough thought is what this means for the future of Scottish politics.

It has become accepted wisdom that the SNP would not risk another referendum unless they thought they would win. What if that is never?

There is a kind of assumption that the Nats could nonetheless remain a "competent" government and continue to enjoy an electoral advantage from being both that and "Scotland's Party".

But, actually, "Scotland", at least without the prospect of Independence, is not a political philosophy.

So far the belief that that dream is not dead has managed to obscure this. It is that as much as any underlying objective that requires Nicola to flag up the possibility of another vote at every possible opportunity. But that strategy only has so much mileage. If, as it appears, the Nats hope that Brexit would be a gamechanger, or that Trident renewal would be a gamechanger, or at least that something would be a gamechanger proves to be illusory, what happens next?

Well, to paraphrase Harold McMillan, events will happen.

We were promised at the election that closing the attainment gap in education was to be the number one priority of Nicola's renewed (of sorts) mandate. The problem is that it is one thing to recognise change is needed, it is another altogether to actually decide what that change should be, let alone bring it about. At some point change requires somebody to be offended, for any status quo has its beneficiaries. And change in Education will require quite a lot of those with an interest in the status quo to suffer that offence: the teaching unions, Local Authorities, who knows possibly even some parents.

So far, since 2007, as they attempted to hold their fragile "Yes Coalition" together, the SNP have been anxious to avoid any offence to anybody. The price of that has been complete stasis in public policy making. You would genuinely struggle to think of any bold initiatives in any of the devolved areas of responsibility. And these devolved areas of responsibility are about to get much much wider.

I give but one current example, the rail strike. For the last month, members of the RMT have been engaged in industrial action over plans to remove guards from many commuter services. The travelling public are increasingly furious about the disruption to their daily lives while the unions are increasingly furious over management's unwillingness to negotiate. But this is not a nil sum game. If the unions win, fares will go up. If they lose then ultimately fewer people will work on the railways and, as they would have it at least, the travelling public will be less safe. So, what is the view of the Scottish Government? No idea. The silence from the transport minister has been deafening. For to express a view would offend somebody. Except that, slowly, that silence is actually beginning to offend everybody. Or at least everybody paying attention. As a lot more will be once the holiday season ends.

And that's the problem with current SNP strategy. It is not just nature that abhors a vacuum, so does politics. We have already seen this to a degree in the way that, in an attempt to install a proper opposition, May past, the electorate pushed Labour aside in favour of the Ruth Davidson Party.

At a certain point even those who might still wish for Independence will conclude that, if it's not, however regrettably, going to happen, Government has to be about more than just sitting about doing as little as possible in the hope that one day opinion on the National question might actually experience the hoped for gamechanger.

And yet if something, anything, is to be done by the SNP Government? Just consider the current SNP deputy leadership contest. Do the candidates agree with each other about just about anything other than independence? Yet each seems to have their own discreet group of supporters believing that the view of their candidate alone represent the "true" opinion of the SNP. It'll take more than the talents of, even, Nicola to maintain the unity of this heterogeneous group while driving it in in any particular policy direction. Don't hold your breath for the attainment gap to be closed any time soon.

And with that I'm off on holiday. Actually I am flying out from Prestwick. Currently, in an attempt to avoid another decision bound to give offence, my departure place is being subsidised by the Scottish Government to the extent of £17 million per annum. That's another area where a decision is going, one day, to be need to be made. Just so long as it's not before next Saturday. I would be offended.


  1. Slight overestimation there ? 5000 ? The report I saw was 2000 Adults, 300 children and 2765 Flags. Which brings me to some good thoughts on Flags.

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  2. Principle is true of all the parties that win out of playing identity politics, across the UK and beyond.

  3. Aye weel.

    I follow you because I saw that people who I respect followed you.

    Good post for me, apart from your snippy reference to the 'Ruth Davidson Party'. Ruth is the Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party which I chose to join when I was 14 and from which I have never felt the need to leave.

    She speaks for the One Nation Conservative Party to which I chose to adhere.

    Does not make me a bad person, in my opinion, and should, I hope, give you pause to consider the possibility that those of us on the other side of an argument care just as much as you, and have equivalent moral beliefs.

    I could, of course, be wrong.

  4. It's not meant to be nippy. I am a great admirer of Ruth. It is simply a reference to the (successful) tactic she employed to get Tory ideas (which had never gone away) a fair hearing in a climate where the brand had become the problem.

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