Opponents have long painted independence as a desire to break apart the United Kingdom, rather than building something new. For many of us independence supporters, it’s actually a bit of both. But the implication is damage. Destroying, breaking, or splitting something is an accusation; such language comes with negative connotations.
In the years since 2014, exceptionally busy politically, when not in active campaign mode the indy movement has had long periods of stagnancy, reactive, rather than proactive, to whatever was put into the water around it. The unexpected British vote for Brexit most altered how we now perceive the cause of independence. Yes voters arguing for another referendum have much ammunition that the material conditions of the Union have changed drastically, and a return to the EU is possible.
But pro-EU Unionists have also evoked Brexit, pointing at the bogeyman figure of Nigel Farage, making out that indy is a similar wrecking ball project. It’s an easy way to wind up indy supporters who see themselves as progressive and European, but it should also provoke us to define our vision for what Scotland will become beyond the point of departure.
Critics, both for and against Indy, have long gestured with frustration to what can appear to be a lack of clarity around that vision. What does an independent Scotland actually look like? Our priorities and policies, our guiding political principles? Although it has never been easier to point at Boris Johnson’s Westminster as an example of what we want to get away from, we need to be able to sketch out some plan for the independent future we’re moving towards.
Those who see independence as an opportunity for real change should be strategizing now; fulfilling the promise that things will be better requires vision and graft. But also, crucially, the job of persuading the uncertain is still on every independence supporters to do list. The message must challenge the notion that independence is destruction for destruction’s sake. Rather, independence is our chance to build back better.
But there is a spanner in the works. Enter Alex Salmond’s brass neck career rehabilitation project, the Alba Party. Many laughed at the technical difficulties of the excruciating launch event, capturing how shambolic the whole thing is. A former First Minister leading a party composed of a rag tag bunch of has-beens, never-beens, anti-abortionists, anti-vaxxers, and convicted perjurers, set up back to back with an Inquiry into workplace harassment.
Two of the party’s candidates have already apologised for their behaviour, and it hasn’t even been a week.
But we should at least take seriously the potential for the Alba Party to do damage. It has huge potential to taint public perception of independence, which, since Salmond’s departure from the SNP, has never been more positive and promising. A new party is an ego-boost for someone who wants to be seen to come out on top of a difficult couple of years. Journalists, however, are already getting in the way of that by repeatedly asking Salmond if he’s going to apologise to women.
But no matter how much Salmond’s party promotes a system gaming list vote strategy, the raison d’etre of this outfit is ultimately destruction. Not only would scraping enough votes for at least one seat mean Salmond’s Alba Party could hang around a Sturgeon-led parliament like a bad smell, crucially, the pop up party’s campaign is entirely centred around denting the SNP’s ‘both votes’ push, in the run up to an election where we know an SNP majority will be presented by the party as a mandate for another referendum.
There’s something else linking supporters who’ve come out for Alba, and I don’t mean the surprising number of them making money on Russian TV stations. As yet there’s no coherent policy to critique, but in their collective form members represent stagnancy, harking back to an old-fashioned independence chapter which failed seven years ago and whose time is up.
The Alba Party has taken on the form of its shouty men with retrogressive social views, including SNP defectors who did their bit to undermine leadership from within their former party. After it became clear the anti-Sturgeon camp within the SNP was wielding hostility to the GRA against a leader with a progressive feminist image, it was inevitable the stain of ‘anti-wokeness’ would continue to spread. Those who have jumped over to the Alba Party were never content to let Sturgeon steer the ship, despite her polling best of any Scottish independence leader, ever.
Alba Party members are nostalgic for a time when paternal figurehead Salmond was still leader of the SNP and the independence campaign, a time when a man was in charge, even though that time Independence lost.
Some believe us critics should wheesht for indy, and welcome into the fold any indy supporter, no matter how odious their views. But I am confident I am not fighting for the same cause as a Yes voter who happens to also be an anti-abortionist, or a misogynist, or a sex pest. In fact it’s such authoritarianism I see independence as a chance to break away from.
Humouring gentleman's club games of revenge and ego is also politically naive in 2021. We know that women are the key demographic who need most convincing to independence. It would be foolish to let a stale image of the cause, wafting off a party certain to sit under the spotlight at any opportunity, go unchallenged. If we did, the charge that the independence movement is about destruction would then be warranted.
Those of us who envision a progressive independent Scotland need to show what we’re all about. To convince onlookers over the line. But also to show that we won’t be shouted over, period, and that when independence finally comes, we’ve got plans for it. That’s the future.