A recent event for public relations professionals heard from three political journalists covering a tabloid, a quality broadsheet and the BBC. Their personal details are unimportant: we focus too much on personality and forget to listen to what others are actually saying, whether their argument is grounded or contestable.
After 90 minutes of question and analysis, a realisation struck on how Holyrood-centric the discussion was focused. A London metropolitan-centric viewpoint has become easy to identify, label and rail against; but are we in danger of being caught in a bubble of tartan proportions? Scant mention of the asymmetric devolution mess that the UK created under Blair and continued with the second and third Scotland Acts. No reference whatsoever to the unfolding Irish dimension to politics on “These Islands”.
Some of the audience wondered if the recent actions of male SNP politicians would prick that bubble and lead to the downfall of the First Minister before the year is out. Will Nicola Sturgeon’s failure to deliver a second independence referendum in 2020 as ‘promised’, divide the movement and rupture the cause?
In all of this, wishful-thinking was all too apparent. In summary, the SNP and pro-independence parliamentary majority is likely to continue beyond the 2021 Scottish election for a number of reasons: voters believe the SNP is doing its best – not perfect but better than other options. They are not ready to commit to independence but as Brexit impacts on livelihoods, the mood music is increasingly towards ‘this time’.
Fundamentally, the perception that politics is all about the personality is a false truth. Leaders come and go; they make mistakes, occasional grave errors of judgement, but they are human. Charisma has its place in the chemistry of political leadership. However, it is but one element. Who knows what is in store for us on a personal level but the independence movement will survive regardless of who leads us.
The suggestion that a political party’s electoral success is predicated on the favourability of its leader is not sound. The voting allegiances of the past are weakening. The 2019 General Election was the lowest ever-recorded in terms of voting on the basis of party preference i.e. identification with a political party based on shared values. The electorate is more motivated by constitutional fault lines such as leaving the EU and Scottish independence, than party association with ideology.
As the Conservatives continue to say no to Scotland (for that is how it is perceived), resentment will build towards them. Thankfully Jackson Carlaw has none of the appeal of Ruth Davidson and all of the likeability of a Tory zealot. The federalists-in- chief under Willie Rennie have decided that we have enough devolution. The Labour party collapse in Scotland is unlikely to be re-built in 12 months under new UK leadership or indeed a new Scottish Deputy: particularly if the level of understanding and solutions for Scotland remain missing.
That Edinburgh audience, discussing genteel politics over a glass of wine, had no cognisance of the seismic shift in our political landscape; preferring to proffer polemics over reality.
A hallmark of the Scottish independence movement is resilience. Emanating from the radical reformation of land, constitution and social justice of the late 19th century, through formation and evolution of what has become the Scottish National Party and the more recent emergence of the. Scottish Independence Convention, the autonomous Yes movement and commitment of the Greens, Scottish Socialist and Solidarity parties, the Scottish independence movement has never been more broader and deeper than it is today.