Jim O’Neill considers the purpose and basis of the constant pro-independence marches around the country, and ponders the impact of changes in Westminster.
I remember the days of the seventies. We would march at a drop of a hat. Thatcher the milk snatcher, Stop the 70 Tour, against the Springboks. I was even one of the leaders of two teacher strikes against Labour, in 1975 and 1979. Where were the SNP then? Nowhere to be seen.
We can’t deny that All Under One Banner (AUOB) have revitalised the art of the public march, publicising their belief in independence. But what did our marches achieve in the 70s? Precisely nothing until trade union involvement in the teacher disputes. Even the People’s March for Jobs, a recreation of the Jarrow marchers, achieved, like them, nothing.
But who is organising the AUOB marchers? Who is drawing out the doughty people of Ayr this Saturday to march in support of independence? Among others it’s Sìol nan Gàidheal, Seed of the Gaels, an extremist group that even the SNP have banned. So why are so many SNP activists going to be on that march? Why is my SNP MP, Philappa Whiteford, promoting on her website that she has gone proudly on these marches?
The SNP are using SnG and their ilk as useful idiots in whipping up such marches. As the Scottish Government they cannot be seen to be contemptuous of the law, as the organisers have shown time and again in their running of these events. But they serve the SNP agenda of independence well by keeping the issue in the media and on the pages of the Sunday papers. So there is no ban on members taking part in marches organised by a banned organisation and there is no sanction against elected members profiling their attendance at them.
So where are we on the referendum that would not happen for a generation? First there is a concerted attempt to disavow Salmond and Sturgeon’s repeated statement that it was a once in a generation decision. All of a sudden this has become nothing more than their own opinion and not the position of the SNP. But they are still faced with the problem of the Scotland Act. Salmond was politically astute and very able in convincing Cameron that this was the right thing to do to clear the air. There is no indication that Sturgeon has the level of political smarts to be able to do the same, and there is even less indication that either Johnson or Hunt would agree to such a thing in the early days of a Brexit premiership.
Sturgeon’s best chance, ironically, is a Corbyn government. Jeremy has already considered this. But he needs Scottish Labour seats to secure a government. So an all-out attack on Scottish Labour seats by the SNP could undermine their hopes for a pro-referendum government. What a dilemma. But it is not ours.
We must look to the appalling Tory leadership contest, where the idiotic Mr Johnson of the Scotland to Ireland bridge and the island airport in the Thames, is competing with Mr (H)unt who totally failed the English NHS and has proved inept as Foreign Secretary. Both are trying to outbid each other with spending promises using money that is not there (remember £350m per week for the NHS?). Even the current Chancellor has told them that their plans are fantasy, but he won’t be in Number 11 by the end of this month. And both say they have the ability to convince the EU to negotiate further with them, even though the 27 states have already said that there is no chance of renegotiating the current deal, which was created to accommodate May’s red lines.
We need a change in the law to require a new Prime Minister to call a General Election to confirm their position. Yes I know that Labour took advantage of this too, but both the most recent lost the subsequent election, Callaghan and Brown. But we have now had both the most recent Tory PMs changed through the votes of a tiny proportion of the electorate. It is no longer sustainable. The law must be changed!