The battle for Independence must begin as a matter of urgency

THERE is a apocryphal story about Barra for which I am grateful to the MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar. It concerns an American tourist searching for his ancestral roots, or perhaps a stray surviving bottle or two from the SS Politician.

Noting the leisurely Hebridean approach to life, he asks our crofting MP:

“Mr MacNeil, do you have anything in your language which equates with the Spanish word manana?”

“No sir,” replies our Angus. “We have nothing in the Gaelic which quite reflects that sense of urgency.”

And yet, within the SNP just now, it is the aforesaid MacNeil who is expressing a sense of urgency while others seek to kick the independence can down the road, yet again.

Many of us across the national movement feel that since Brexit, there has been no concerted effort to force the hand of the four successive prime ministers into respecting Scotland’s democratic rights and agreeing to a referendum.

Naturally, that would be by employing the range of political moves required to secure that outcome, an independence convention, popular demonstration, parliamentary interventions, and international appeals.

Instead, we are now presented with what once was called “plan B”. That was back in the days when delegates to SNP conference were howled down for having the temerity to even suggest it – that is, using a parliamentary election as a “de facto” referendum.

Now that it is respectable to think such once dissenting thoughts, might it be wise to listen to those who originally proposed the plebiscite move rather than those who once decried it?

These people, like Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny, are both arguing the advantages of a Holyrood poll rather than a Westminster one.
These can be summed up as franchise and legitimacy and to that can be added urgency.

For one, the Holyrood franchise is inclusive of European nationals whose uncertain rights in Scotland is one of the reasons independence is necessary.

For another, we are now in a position that no-one under the age of 25 has had the opportunity to vote for Scottish independence.

Are we really going to exclude 16 and 17-year-olds by choosing to put our eggs in the Westminster basket?

For the plebiscite poll to have any political effect and moral force, independence will have to be the issue which determines such an election.

This is clearly much easier to do in a home-grown Holyrood ballot, than an away fixture at Westminster as indeed it will be to secure both a majority of seats in the first ballot and a majority of votes on the list ballot for independence-supporting parties.

But one other thing is necessary, and that is urgency. The shivering state of Scots in energy-rich Scotland calls for action now.

Our country’s exclusion from the single marketplace imposes a serious economic penalty which is growing by the day and requires action this day.

The effective collapse of key parts of our National Health Service has a range of causes but it cannot be solved with the continuing staff shortages in the care home sector which are part and parcel of the Brexit legacy bill which is being paid right now.

All of these things point to urgency.

And that is why the Holyrood plebiscite election should not be in 2026 but this year, 2023, on October 19 in an extraordinary Holyrood poll.

Beware the naysayers who say it cannot be done. As the indefatigable MacNeil has argued, you can always dictate outcomes in a Parliament where independistas have an absolute majority as you control both the standing orders and the election process.

Even more devastatingly, as one of the contributors to Wings over Scotland pointed out over the weekend, the Scottish Parliament now actually has the power to amend Part One Section 3 of the Scotland Act.

That is, they can change the majority required to dissolve it to force an extraordinary poll from two-thirds to a majority of 65 members.

Any minister – or indeed, any MSP – could introduce such an amending bill. Real parliaments are in charge of their own procedures. MacNeil and McEleny are no longer lone voices. I chaired the second of the Alba special assemblies this last weekend and took, from an audience of some 300 from across the national movement, a series of indicative votes on Scotland’s way forward.

On this issue, the show of hands was unanimous. If there is to be a plebiscite election then it should be a Holyrood poll on October 19 this year – the date promised “no ifs no buts” for Scotland’s next date with destiny.
To make that happen all that is needed is the one essential ingredient – political will And, of course, the belief that independence is something needed now – not manana.

Article first appeared in The National Newspaper on 18 January 2023

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