Scotland, the Supreme Court, and the law of unintended consequences - Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh
When I looked out at a white Christmas card scene first thing last Saturday morning, I had the feeling that the fates were conspiring against Scotland.
More than 400 people had registered for the Alba Special Assembly called in the wake of the Supreme Court diktat but, on the back of deep mid winter Scotland, my concerns quickly moved from wondering how to cram them all in, to a fear that only a handful would be able to battle their way through the elements to the fair city of Perth.
I need not have worried. There are few people more doughty than Yes campaigners searching for the way forward to independence and a large and lively crowd turned up to hear speakers from across the movement.
And yes it was worthwhile, very worthwhile. There is no substitute for the ingenuity and commitment that comes from the grassroots of Yes campaigns or indeed the profound good sense.
Much has been made of divisions in the independence movement, but little of that has been at grassroots level. If we overlook the inevitable party clashes and inter-organisational rivalry, the key division has been rooted in the understandable feeling that some of the political leadership have been less enthusiastic about urgency of progress to our goal than the membership.
That has been accentuated by the belief among so many women, that the Scottish Government have dissipated an ocean of good will by refusing to accept (or even acknowledge) legitimate concerns over gender recognition legislation. We now find, of course, that the same fears on women’s rights and safety are shared by a sizeable number of the SNP parliamentary group.
But the key issue of division has been on the progression to independence or more accurately, the lack of it.
Take the Supreme Court decision. Across the movement, people are revelling in the Scottish reaction to Lord Reed’s arrogant, Unionist bench. Four opinion polls running, show that the justices have “sat on a thistle” by seeming to dismiss Scotland’s Claim of Right as a nation. The people have just schooled Lord Reed on the law of unintended political consequences!
But behind that polling surge forward, lies a major strategic problem. If our route to independence is not through the Scottish Parliament as has been planned for the last quarter century, then what exactly is it? On Saturday, the meeting and the movement were not short of ideas for removing the roadblock.
Parliamentary interventions at Westminster, initiatives at Holyrood, civil disobedience, not taking No for an answer on an agreed referendum, international appeals, how to bring together the Yes campaigns, refurbishing the independence platform, plebiscite elections – they were all put forward with verve, imagination and no little humour.
If one test of the quality of floor debate is the amount of notes taken, then the meeting passed with flying colours as a torrent of ideas were scribbled down by the panel.
Last Saturday’s assembly was not a policy-making body for ALBA or anyone else, but from the chair, I took some indicative votes for guidance, as this debate moves to a programme of actions. Such was the quality of discussion that we are reconvening in Edinburgh on January 14 to further consider the next steps.
The feeling of the meeting was that the UK Government should not be allowed to shelter behind the Supreme Court and deny Scottish sovereignty and that the campaign to bend them to Scotland’s will should be immediate and ongoing.
There was strong support for parliamentary interventions to take Scotland’s anger to the heart of Westminster and strong belief for all nationalist MPs to take part.
The overwhelming view of the meeting was that any “plebiscite poll” should be on the home ground of Holyrood and forced by dissolving the Parliament in time for the promised referendum date of October 19 next year.
The arguments for preferring Holyrood are well known but can be summed up as Scottish control of the franchise and timing.
If this initiative sees the light of day either at Westminster or Holyrood, then it should be fought on a “Scotland united for independence” platform.
In a vote on Scotland’s future, all independence supporters, regardless of party allegiance, should be comfortable in voting for the nation. Oh, and such a poll only makes sense as an independence mandate, not yet another mandate for a referendum.
The meeting strongly supported an independence convention as an initiative which would win the battle for legitimacy and should start by embracing a declaration of sovereignty. Indeed, the redoubtable Lesley Riddoch was suggested as an independent chair.
The mood of the meeting was for peaceful direct action, demonstrations with a purpose, and the communication of ideas with verve and humour. A number of lively pensioners pointed out that civil disobedience was not the preserve of the young and indeed it is often the auld grey heids who are best placed to embark on it.
The urge for unity was profound, but not the silence of the campaign graveyard. The unity that was craved was around a programme of action, not inaction, and not really about party leadership. Rather, it was felt that where a united movement led, the political parties would follow – since trying it the other way round has not served us too well over these last eight years.
The desire in wintry Perth was to recapture the mood of the summer of 2014 when everything seemed possible and Scotland responded to the positivity, energy and commitment of the Yes campaign.
That took us to a high place in climbing the independence mountain and to a great extent we have been living on that energy for the last eight years. The message from Perth was to mobilise again for the assault on the final summit.
This article was featured in The National on 14/12/22