INDEPENDENCE STRATEGY PAPER TO ALBA SPECIAL ASSEMBLY on 14th January 2023
This paper takes forward the debate from the ALBA Perth Assembly of 10th December and is intended to help structure discussion at the reconvened meeting in Edinburgh on January 14th.
The Perth meeting heard the ALBA response and also offered a platform to a range of independence supporting groups with some vigorous contributions from the floor.
The meeting was hugely well attended despite adverse weather conditions leading to the suggestion of a reconvened meeting in Edinburgh. Neither meeting is in itself a matter of policy determination. They are designed to share ideas on the Way Forward after the Supreme Court blind alley.
For ALBA’s part, we shall crystallise the best of the proposals and they will form part of our policy agenda to be voted on at our National Council in Ayr on February 11th. It is for others to decide which aspects of the discussions will assist in their own organisations. It was generally accepted at the Perth meeting that the decision to refer to a hostile Supreme Court with no serious expectation of success, was a strategic mistake of great magnitude - at a stroke potentially undoing 25 years of highly productive national movement progress on the route to independence.
However, as is evident from the Scottish reaction to the extremity of the Court diktat, there are opportunities to progress the independence cause if applied with determination.
If a referral to the Supreme Court was a tactical move designed by its refusal to increase support for independence, then the obvious route was to pass the referendum Act first, with the much greater impact of a London based court striking down democratically agreed Scottish legislation. There were, of course, a number of highly qualified candidates for Lord Advocate who could have in good faith facilitated the referendum legislation through the Scottish Parliament. But the extent of the Supreme Court arrogant repudiation of Scotland’s national rights has indeed elicited a reaction and an increase in independence support, but without a sustained campaign, that may not be permanent.
There is little sign as yet, of the Scottish Government being focussed on such a campaign with, for example, the leisurely approach to the SNP Special Conference timed for March. Thus the first meeting of the ALBA Special Assembly looked at the range of options and held indicative votes to ascertain the feeling of the meeting on how they should be pursued. These are not mutually exclusive options.
1. CONVENING OF INDEPENDENCE CONVENTION
A policy consistently supported by ALBA would see Scotland’s parliamentarians meet with civic Scotland to direct the independence campaign and to galvanise support domestically and internationally. This initiative was supported by the current First Minster in early 2020 and was backed by the Perth meeting. The Perth meeting saw the Convention as a key move in underpinning the legitimacy of the independence campaign as it moves into direct confrontation with Westminster.
2. RECOMMENCE CAMPAIGN FOR A SECTION 30 ORDER
The Supreme Court ruling has no impact on the ability to establish the section 30 route to independence. There are a minimum of four parliamentary mandates for a referendum and the majority feeling of the meeting was that Westminster should not be let off this hook. It was stated that if the SNP are not able or willing to take the actions required to enforce a mandate for a referendum, then why should there be confidence in their ability to enforce a direct mandate for independence through a plebiscite election? ALBA have specified a three pronged strategy of popular demonstration, parliamentary interventions and the Independence Convention to move through the independence gears.
3. POPULAR DEMONSTRATION
The meeting expressed the view that the movement should heat up for substantial street demonstrations in the spring/early summer, chaired on an all-party and non-party basis, as indeed were the Time for Scotland rallies following the Supreme Court judgement.
A suggestion at the Assembly was that the multifarious YES campaigns should all carry the name “united for independence” after their title. It was considered that effective demonstration did not always have to feature mass mobilisation but that symbolic and humorous initiatives could sustain the publicity of the campaign, with examples such as the First Minister and Lord Advocate refusing to authorise the transportation of the Stone of Destiny to the Coronation as a means of highlighting Scottish Sovereignty and the utility of further acts of peaceful civil disobedience such as a carefully crafted campaign of non-payment of the BBC licence fee suggested.
4. PARLIAMENTARY INTERVENTION AT WESTMINSTER AND ACTION AT HOLYROOD
The Perth meeting very strongly supported the idea of “playing Parnell” with the Westminster agenda but disappointingly, the new SNP Westminster leadership seem to have set their face against this tactic. Refusing to play the game at Westminster in support of a principled demand for Scottish democracy to be respected, offers a host of opportunities for near 50 nationalist MPs.
There appears to be limited knowledge and even less determination to use the ample opportunities of the Westminster proceedings to have the Scottish issue dominate the last year of the London Parliament.
Meanwhile the independence majority in the Scottish Parliament should be mobilised through regular debates and motions challenging Westminster rule in Scotland, establishing the Scottish Independence Convention or perhaps threatening to move ahead with legislation which would be within competence e.g. a Referendum Bill on asking the people their view on whether the Scottish Parliament should be able to hold an independence ballot. Such an initiative would have to dovetail the other agreed areas of strategy.
5. PLEBISCITE ELECTIONS
There was support in principle at the meeting to the use of another ballot as a “de facto” referendum but an awareness that such a tactic brings with it attendant difficulties.
There was a strong preference at the Perth meeting for forcing a Holyrood plebiscite election on the promised date of the referendum on 19th October this year rather than waiting until the next Westminster poll. The arguments are in terms of franchise, timing and legitimacy.
The firm view of the meeting was such a plebiscite poll would be much more likely to be won as a home fixture rather than an away one.
There was also the view that any such plebiscite election should best be fought under a “Scotland United for Independence’’ banner. The key to winning is to attract to the independence vote the substantial cadre of Labour independence supporters who would be unlikely to switch to the SNP in a straight party contest. This would especially be the case in a Westminster election.
Finally the Perth meeting was unanimous and insistent that any such ballot has to be a mandate to begin independence negotiation not yet another mandate for a referendum. The referendum boat sails if the Westminster Government continue to refuse a section 30 order and the decision on independence transferred to an election.
Thus key preparations should be on what to do when election is won which is how the Westminster Government can be forced into independence negotiations. As we have seen from the last seven years, winning elections does not guarantee independence progress without the political strategy to enforce the peoples’ mandate.
6. INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION
The meeting accepted that the struggle for independence was a political one to be fought and won in Scotland but the meeting also saw the importance of a sustained campaign to enlist international sympathy and support, paving the way for when recognition would be sought for an independent country. Following the Perth meeting ALBA have commissioned legal opinions from international authorities on the prospects of getting Scotland’s case before international tribunals as part of this process.
7. REFURBISHING OF INDEPENDENCE CASE
The Perth Assembly endorsed all moves by independence supporting organisations to refurbish and update the independence case and heard speakers on currency and sovereignty. There was enthusiasm for the recently published SORTED handbook from Commonweal and the Wee ALBA Book. It was recognised that, particularly at a time when the SNP record in Government was coming under sustained and unfavourable examination, presenting an inspiring independence vision of the “why” of independence was of paramount importance.
The above seven headings illustrate the range of discussion at the initial Assembly and the indicative votes which were taken at that meeting.
The meeting captured the wish for organisations and parties to work together to achieve our overriding goal. The proviso was that the meeting sought unity around a campaign for action not the inaction of the last eight years.
It was recognised that these initiatives were not mutually exclusive but should all be considered to further the independence cause.
However, the Perth meeting understood that the achievement of independence depends on political will and determination, whatever the chosen route.
No doubt the ideas generated at the two meetings will be taken forward for discussion by the various groups represented. As far as ALBA are concerned the conclusions of the discussion in Edinburgh will be taken forward to our National Council in February for policy formulation and implementation, so far as is within ALBA’s influence