This week saw the most post-election independence activity ever from Nicola Sturgeon, perhaps pushed into it by the enormous success of the Wee Alba Book, with crowded venues at every event organised to discuss it. However, several important questions, such as the date, the currency and the borders, were either not addressed or were glossed over. In particular, there was one very important aspect of any campaign that Sturgeon refused to address, even when directly questioned.
One thing that all Independistas agree on is the need for a united campaign. Without unity, there won’t be a campaign, there will be several different campaigns. Without unity, there will be disagreements between the campaigns, there will be arguments about the correct way forward, there will be different points of view on all of the questions that damaged Yes in the 2014 referendum. Without unity, voters will think that independence is all about arguments and confusion. Without unity, independence will not happen.
Despite the obvious disadvantages, Nicola Sturgeon has consistently refused to allow the SNP to have any contact with Alba and ISP and the other independence supporting groups and parties. In fact, the opposite is true as she has encouraged her followers to describe the other independence supporting parties in the most unflattering of terms, describing them as enemies, not friends, as if trying to ensure that pro-independence voters have only one realistic option, rather than trying to maximise the independence vote.
A recent reply from an MSP to a query from one of his constituents pretty much confirms that there is no possibility of a collaborative relationship between the SNP and Alba. Typically, the SNP puts the whole blame on Alba.
Sturgeon gives the impression that she believes the SNP owns the Yes movement and there’s no need to discuss policy options with other groups. Recent events have shown how true that is. Last Tuesday, following the presentation of the first in a series of papers highlighting the advantages of independence (a bit of a damp squib considering how it was announced), Sturgeon was asked if she saw a role for Alba in the independence campaign. She refused to give a direct answer.
What then could be the reason for Nicola Sturgeon to rule out SNP collaboration with any other independence group? What could be the reason for her to do the one thing that all independistas agree will assure a No vote?
Two possible explanations occur to me, neither great, but one worse than the other.
First, it could be that Sturgeon believes that she knows all the answers and that independence can only happen if she calls all the shots. Based on her behaviour as First Minister and leader of the SNP, it is obvious that Sturgeon needs to be in charge. She allows no dissenting opinions. Nothing happens in the Scottish Government or in the SNP without her say-so so it wouldn’t be a shock if she acts the same way about independence. Her policy of my way or the highway can be seen from the swift action she takes to sideline any party members with their own opinions. Those promoted are those who agree with her every statement. Whether that leads to better government and whether it would lead to a winning independence campaign is in some doubt.
Second, and much worse, it could be that Sturgeon is making decisions to sabotage the independence movement, and she could be doing it deliberately (© George Foulkes). Could that be the explanation for her strange and counter-productive infatuation with GRA reform and Hate Crimes legislation which are obviously creating division in the Yes movement. Could that be the explanation for the otherwise astonishing decision to sell off Scotland’s wind energy future for buttons. Could that be the explanation for her ignoring all the earlier opportunities to advance the cause of Scottish independence, particularly in 2016 with the Brexit vote.
If Nicola Sturgeon is serious about independence, she will have to accept that any campaign is not just about the SNP. There are other parties with other opinions whose views will have to be discussed and accommodated within any campaign strategy. Can she do this? Will she do this?