Swans Commentary » swans.com January 16, 2006  



Why Scotland Must Put Independence First


by Joe Middleton





(Swans - January 16, 2006)  In "The Case For Scottish Independence" (Swans, November 7, 2005), Joe Davison seems to want independence on certain terms only, those terms being that it is an unambiguous socialist republic.

I am also a republican socialist and I agree that in the twenty-first century it would be absurd to have an unelected monarch at the head of a newly independent Scottish state. However, at the end of the day that is a decision for the Scottish people to make, after we have achieved our independence.

Similarly, there are a lot of people who now feel that the European Union (EU) is a threat to Scotland's independence. I disagree, but again this can only be decided after we have independence. Scotland cannot leave the EU at the moment, even if we wished to, because Scotland remains locked into the British state. This union must be broken first before we can decide our international policy.

Likewise, it is up to the Scottish people whether and if they want to have a socialist society. Given the fact that all the Scottish parties are on the political left, it would seem likely that an independent Scotland would be further to the left than the current UK government, but at the end of the day it is up to the people of Scotland to decide the politics they want post independence. As a democrat I believe Scotland will get a socialist society when the people want it and not before then.

In order to pursue any political objectives whatsoever, however, the first step must be national independence. It is quite obvious that the devolved settlement is not capable of making any substantial changes in Scottish society. Economic control remains firmly with the UK government as does broadcasting, defence, etc. Most importantly, on every international body the UK government misrepresents Scotland's interests by subordinating them to the wishes of our much larger neighbour.

To gain independence we must prove that the public want it. People vote for political parties for a variety of different reasons and independence support is split over all the political parties. A substantial amount of voters for the traditional unionist parties, i.e., Labour, Tories, and Lib-Dems, are in fact independence supporters according to opinion polls.

It follows then that independence support is actually higher than that attained by the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has a specific economic and social programme that by its very nature cannot appeal to absolutely everyone at once.

How much higher is debatable but there are grounds to conclude that where the straight decision on union versus independence is asked (and it isn't asked often) that the independence argument is more popular than the current status quo.

Certainly we in Independence First believe that if a referendum on Independence versus the union were held tomorrow, that independence would win as the arguments in favour of normal powers for Scotland are substantially more persuasive than the limited potential of continued unionism.

The Scottish Parliament Elections of 2003 marked a watershed in Scottish politics. It was widely reported as a disastrous setback for the SNP in the British media and the SNP's share of the votes and number of seats did fall.

However, the more important result was that there were now three Scottish parties: the Scottish Green Party, the SNP, and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), who had gained substantial representation at Holyrood.

Since all these parties support independence, the actual amount of independence-supporting Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) had gone up.

The number of people who support independence has long been higher, according to polling evidence, than traditional SNP support and there is considerable evidence of support for independence amongst voters for the traditional unionist parties.

As a member of the SNP on the left of the party I tried after the elections to argue for a change in political direction for the party to embrace republicanism and to shift more firmly to the left to re-capture the votes the party had lost to the SSP.

I later joined the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement (SRSM) in an attempt to encourage discussions with activists from both the SNP and the SSP, an attempt which unfortunately failed when the SNP proscribed SRSM and subsequently expelled me from the party.

While I believe my political analysis was accurate in terms of maximising the SNP vote, I later realised that the bigger picture was how to motivate the majority of the population behind the concept of independence and how to capitalise on the new strength and diversity of the independence movement.

An Independence Convention modelled on the Scottish Constitutional Convention (which established the arguments for the current devolved settlement) was originally suggested by activists from the SNP and SSP at a fringe meeting at SNP conference. Eventually, all the Scottish parties would give the convention their full support.

After two years of discussions, the Independence Convention launched on St. Andrew Day last year. I was a representative on the Convention latterly from Independence First and it was an inspiring sight to see all the Scottish parties sharing a platform.

Since then, official talks have been opened between the SNP and the Scottish Green party on forming some kind of post election alliance.

The Scottish Socialist Party appears to have lost some ground electorally over the Tommy Sheridan resignation issue; however, their new leader Colin Fox is a competent individual and I'm sure they will do well again at the next Scottish elections.

Certainly the SSP and the SNP and the Greens have all been enthusiastic participants in the Convention Process and all parties have also given substantial support to the new non-party political organisation Independence First.

Independence First came about from an Internet-based think tank that was established to consider new tactics to achieve independence. This group was deliberately drawn from diverse sources of political opinion and it was eventually decided after much discussion that the most obvious way of establishing support for independence was through a referendum.

Secondary constitutional changes such as the ultimate decision on constitutional arrangements and the membership of international bodies would be left to the people after the first objective was achieved, i.e., the breakup of the British Union.

It was felt that the demand for a referendum on independence was a simple democratic decision for the people of Scotland and it would be possible for all independence supporters to sign up to this without having to compromise on any political principle.

We also felt that this demand, if supported by all the existing supporters of independence, would be capable of motivating other members of the public behind the cause of independence and it is Independence First's objective to take the independence message out of the political parties and into the public domain to create a massive mass movement for independence.

Independence First launched as a campaign in March last year. Since launch, its potential was realised and it has gained substantial political support from right across the independence movement.

Every single independence-supporting party or group has given some level of support to Independence First. MSP's from all the major Scottish political parties have given messages of support and the Scottish Green Party has given the campaign its official endorsement as a party.

The new political parties, the Scottish Independence Party and the Free Scotland Party, have also given written support to the campaign, as have the Celtic League and prominent individuals like David R. Ross, the Scottish historian.

We believe, therefore, that Independence First has the potential to gain mass support from the public at large. At this stage we are attempting to create branch structures across the country and we are currently in the process of setting up groups in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and Inverness and it is our intention to have a local group in every town in Scotland.

Independence First has no political policy objectives outside independence. Our members are free to continue to argue for whatever they currently believe in but as an organisation we are determined to argue for a referendum on independence and nothing else and not to be divided by any political policy.

The independent Scottish parties (ie those who are not run from London) do have some similar political objectives and all are unquestionably on the political left however it is up to these parties to decide how or if or to what extent they wish to work together.

The Independence Convention is the perfect vehicle for these groups and civic Scotland to meet together and thrash out a vision of what an independent Scotland might be like. Independence First has enthusiastically participated in the meetings to establish the Convention and we wish the organisation every success.

The people of Scotland cannot wait however for the political parties to reach eventual agreement. We the people need our national freedom to decide for ourselves what our future political destiny is going to be and this can only be achieved by winning a democratic referendum which states unequivocally that we as a nation want our independence.

All Scotland's independent parties agree on the mechanism for proving this support -- through a simple and democratic referendum. If the unionists are confident of their case for the continuation of the British union they should be willing to put that case to the people of Scotland.

Scotland has never had a clear choice whether we wish to remain in the union or not. While the British union has been historically portrayed as an equal union between partners in reality it happened against the will of the ordinary people of Scotland (who showed their feelings at the time by rioting against it!) and the corrupt "Noble" representatives were not only bribed but were pressurised by the threat of military force.

The British union has always been an unequal partnership. While Scots provided cannon fodder in numerous imperial wars our general standard of living didn't substantially improve until after the second world war!

Despite massive evidence of support for Home Rule it took at least a 100 years to bring it grudgingly into reality and with a substantially weaker parliament than was demanded by the devolution convention!

Independence First see our role as building up pressure from the outside for a democratic referendum on whether we wish to continue with the current political union or take up the democratic demand of normal national powers for Scotland.

Anyone who is interested in joining our movement is invited to visit our website, independence1st.com, or, if they would like to send us a message of support, to contact me at media@independence1st.com.


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Internal Resources

The Case For Scottish Independence, Joe Davison, November 7, 2005

Activism under the Radar Screen


About the Author

Joe Middleton was in the Scottish National Party from 1987 to 2004 and held various positions at constituency level. He is currently a member of the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement and is the Press Officer for Independence First and is IF's representative on the Interim Forum for an Independence Convention (IFIC).



Please, feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, please DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Joe Middleton 2006. All rights reserved.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/joemid01.html
Published January 16, 2006