Swans Commentary » swans.com March 10, 2008  



Mass Petition Planned For Independence Referendum


by Joe Middleton





(Swans - March 10, 2008)  Recently I attended an international advisers meeting in Barcelona to help organise the next CONSEU (Conference of Stateless Nations in Europe) and it occurred to me that Scotland has a great many advantages in its drive towards independence.

We have an internationally recognised boundary for our territory, we can point to a past historic independent state, we know when our independence ended and we know why. We have preserved our education and law systems and we now have democratic control over these along with control over the health service.

We also have the oldest flag in Europe and one of the richest histories. We have enormous natural resources, the most important of which is oil that is projected even at current production figures to last till at least 2035.

Most importantly we have a party in charge of our devolved government, which is completely committed to independence and to achieving that objective by peaceful democratic means.

Due to our history of being dominated by a larger more powerful country, unfortunately our indigenous languages have been lowered in status and almost eliminated. While both Scots and Gaelic survive they are under threat and our new government realise this and are trying to ensure their future.

Representatives of many of the other countries at the meeting were surprised I couldn't speak Gaelic. For them their language was essential and it marked both them and their ancestors. Yet they all still had to speak in the language of their colonial oppressors (whether that was French or Spanish) to be understood.

It is obvious that in both Scotland and Wales the British state attempted to destroy the indigenous languages. However, speaking the language of England does not automatically equate to support for the British state.

By forcing English on us I believe Britain has inadvertently sown the seeds of her own eventual demise. Modern Scots living in Scotland identify with the country where we live. While we may be able to trace our bloodlines past numerous generations, we do not believe this is essential or required.

As a country which has gained from vast infusions of other peoples and welcomed them all and included them within our culture we are open to anyone. Someone asked "so if I moved to Scotland would you welcome me?" I said yes, without hesitation.

If we are like any country in this regard we are like America. Though obviously today America puts quite strict restrictions on immigration, in the past they opened their arms to everyone and became a strong nation as a result.

Someone from England who moves to Scotland can immediately appreciate our nation. They can fit into our culture with barely a ripple and while they might endure some banter they will mostly be welcomed.

This is why the English have played a large part in the Scottish National Party (SNP) and continue to do so. Once they live here they appreciate how far away London is and they often (though not always) desire to join us in helping restore our rights as a country to self determination. Those countries that put an extreme emphasis on their language put up a barrier to complete integration, which make it more difficult for incomers to identify with the host nation. It can then become a case of "them" and "us."

Once that happens and you have a divided nation then independence becomes substantially more difficult as we can see in Europe, where people divide along linguistic lines. In Catalonia and the Basque country we can see huge youth movements, extraordinary levels of organisation of political effort, but there remains a huge division between the Spanish and the Basques and Catalans which make their course more difficult.

The Basques are undergoing extreme political persecution but at the same time their movement grows at a geometric rate amongst the young.

The Spanish Government is using ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom) as an excuse to lock up every Basque left activist but they are breeding vast cadres of future opposition. The Basques run their government but they are led by a party that is not committed to independence and therefore gives no concern to Spain.

In Catalonia the independence movement is split into numerous small groups. They have huge good will, huge levels of supporters but they lack an overall umbrella organisation that can include everyone.

In Scotland we have two such organisations, Independence First (IF) and the Independence Convention (SIC). Neither are particularly large, but both are influential in their own way. The convention includes the parties, the government and is led by a former TV celebrity. Independence First has grown from grass roots, mostly non-political independence supporters and includes anyone who supports a referendum on independence.

Both of these organisations offer a democratic space to allow people to work together and they as organisations also work together when required. SIC has supported IF's last two rallies, for example.

The most important political project at the moment is the Referendum Petition, "Let Scotland Decide." Independence First already ran a petition through the Scottish parliament during the last term. Given the fact that this petition was ignored by the media it did reasonably well garnering around 1500 signatures but it was ultimately rejected by the Scottish parliament who claimed it was "the usual suspects."

This time the Convention is organising the Petition. Independence First recognised that for the petition to be a success the Scottish parties had to be fully engaged in campaigning for it and as the Convention has official support from all the major independence parties it was felt that this was the appropriate forum to organise the new petition.

We are completely committed to campaigning for this new petition, however, and for that reason we organised a working conference on March 1, 2008. This conference was supported by SIC who sent along a number of speakers.

I touched on the problem we have with a biased media in Scotland in a previous article. This is still true today, however the Internet allows Scots nationalists to make our mark on every story.

All the major newspapers have online versions with online instant comment available. These sites are flooded by pro-independence comments. YouTube contains numerous videos about Scottish independence, many of which are quite popular.

There are huge amounts of blogs, forums, and Web sites devoted to independence. If future politics are being waged through the Web it is clear that the independence movement is winning this modern war.

Also it has to be said while press coverage is biased, it is a hell of a lot better than it used to be. The Sunday Herald is within an inch of support for independence. There are even substantial rumours that the English owned Express is about to have a "Scottish Sun" moment and convert to independence (how long that would last we don't know but the Express group has become quite supportive to the new government even though they have not yet declared support for independence).

Every news story has comment by the SNP Government. Every day First Minister Alex Salmond or the other SNP ministers are meeting with some group within civil society. The party has moved from being an irrelevance in British elections to being the most important political party in Scotland. The ramifications of that cannot be underestimated.

It would of course be wonderful if the SNP Government could push some of the 30-billion-pound budget into campaigning for a referendum or to publicise our petition. Unfortunately this does not appear to be possible and therefore it is the grass roots part of the independence movement that will have to ensure that the petition is a success.

Elaine C Smith is the Convenor of the Independence Convention. She is perhaps best known for her acting as Rab C Nesbitt's wife in the popular Scots language TV programme. She is also a familiar figure on Scotland's panto circuit and is a well established comedian. She is also a member of the influential new Scottish broadcasting commission set up by the SNP and since being elected as Convenor of the Independence Convention has thrown herself into her work with gusto.

At the March 1 meeting she talked of how things have changed with the new SNP government, of the new enthusiasm for independence that has been generated, and of the sea change in political opinions. "People are now beginning to think we can do it, we can be independent," she said.

Lloyd Quinan, the former TV weatherman, broadcaster, journalist, and SNP Member of Scottish Parliament spoke for Independence First. He explained that the Edinburgh branch has a loose, local, friendly structure which was effective in drawing together diverse interests.

He has secured a deal with the owner of the Bean Scene coffee chain (who helped fund our last political rally/concert) to promote the petition and he has also lined up the legendary Dick Gaughan who headlined the last Edinburgh event to do a number of concerts for the new referendum campaign.

He also said that fellow IF Edinburgh member Kevin Williamson was in the course of discussions with various writers and artists to make some kind of "artists for independence" contribution to the campaign.

He further announced that Independence First were planning a future demonstration in Glasgow. Mr. Quinan said that he believed that most young people were ready and willing to take the responsibility for independence and that he believed "the international community would much prefer to see Scotland represented at the UN than the UK."

Isobel Lindsay, who is a well respected member of the peace movement and a leading figure in the Scottish Independence Convention, said that while there remained a problem with support for independence amongst older people and woman that if the independence cause could be linked to important political issues such as the need to have control over Trident or the deployment of troops she felt that the message would become more effective.

Both Isobel Lindsay and Eric Canning, Independence First's national convenor, spoke of their support for the first constitutional convention which had eventually led to devolution.

Eric Canning said that it was important that the independence movement remain united and work together. He said he was confident that the petition would be a success and he pledged that Independence First would devote all our efforts to ensuring that it achieved its objectives.

The political imperative behind the petition is to pile significant pressure on the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democratic parties to agree to a referendum on independence in 2010 when the SNP put their referendum bill to parliament.

It is of course expected that the unionists will refuse to support a vote as this is their avowed position. If the petition is substantial enough and yet is still refused we hope that this will show once and for all that the unionists don't want Scots to decide their own destiny.

It will then be clear that they no longer support the principles of the Claim of Right or of the ultimate right to self determination of the Scottish people. This is a principle that is sacrosanct in Scotland but that Labour and the Liberals have conveniently forgot.

Independence First already know this is a fact because we have it in writing from the British government! The Scottish Office in London replied (to our demand for a democratic referendum): "It is worth noting that in the UK political system the UK parliament is sovereign and it is for Parliament to decide whether or not to hold a referendum on any particular issue -- and what the terms of any referendum should be."

We believe, however, this exercise will confirm this fact to the Scottish people. At that point Labour and the illiberal Democrats having joined the Conservatives in the Red White and Blue corner and lined up against their own people will gain the same reward the Tories get at every UK election!


More Information

YouTube video from the CONSEU meeting:

Freedom for the Stateless Nations of Europe: CONSEU

YouTube video of Independence First March 1 Meeting:

Let Scotland Decide -- Independence Referendum Now!

Scottish Independence Guide: http://www.scottishindependence.com


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Internal Resources

Why Scotland Must Put Independence First, Joe Middleton, January 2006

The Only Road To Scottish Socialism Is Independence, Joe Middleton, April 2006

Why Scotland Needs A Referendum On Independence, Joe Middleton, September 2006

Unity Of The Scottish Independence Movement, Joe Middleton, January 2007

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).



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published March 10, 2008