Tommy Sheridan, a divisive figure within the movement for Scottish independence, and nationalism’s answer to Tweedledum and Tweedledee are not going to win over No voters horrified by the populism of Brexit Britain, writes Laura Waddell ahead of an All Under One Banner rally on Saturday.
It has been impossible to watch recent scenes in Westminster, returned kicking and screaming and reaching new lows in standards of conduct, without reflecting on the difference between it and the Scottish Parliament, which, even on its wildest days, is demonstrably more functional in procedural communication and manner. Westminster’s corrosive discussion style rewards smirk and smarm, sarcasm and grandiloquence. Ratings for the BBC Parliament channel have shot up. Many new viewers will find themselves nauseated by the baying.
Bolshy tub-thumping does please a select audience. Those who rejoice in Brexit chaos and spread opportunistic lines of establishment shake-up, those who scream “traitors”, and those who require Gina Miller to have security protection. This is the Union Jack-clad contingent that has dragged the ‘debate’ further right and that more moderate eurosceptics have been unable to contain.
The Scottish independence movement, in opposition to this, should find it easier this time around to offer a markedly different alternative. The drawbacks of belonging in the Union are more readily demonstrable, with logic and reason increasingly thin on the ground. In this light, Sturgeon’s reputation as level-headed, intelligent, and engaged is more than ever a massive asset to persuading former No voters over the line.
In 2014, her predecessor Alex Salmond’s palpable desire to ‘win’ a point, and the relish with which he appeared to be playing the game, was satisfying for those who already agreed with him and deeply irritating for those who didn’t. Some of those developing in Salmond’s mould have more than a little hint of that egotistical hubris, and it is unlikely to do the movement favours in the long run.
Joanna Cherry’s excellent contribution to legal challenges to prorogation of Parliament has both shown her strengths as a QC and boosted her UK-wide profile. There’s a return to the Court of Session in Edinburgh tomorrow in an attempt to compel Johnson to seek an extension to article 50, should no deal be agreed before 19 October. It could be another remarkable moment. This kind of expertise is also in stark contrast to Johnson’s circus antics and the last few years of rationality and common sense in Westminster being wilfully eroded and derided.
So it seems self-defeating, but not entirely surprising, that Cherry is billed as speaking at Saturday’s All Under One Banner rally straight after her legal triumph. The bill also includes Tommy Sheridan, notoriously convicted of perjury and who has been promoting the event on Sputnik TV. SNP women politicians and campaign group Women For Independence have spoken on several occasions about refusing to share a stage with Sheridan following the acrimonious row with a group of women in the now-split Scottish Socialist Party. We know dissuaded women voters are an important target group for the campaign.
No matter where you stand on the logistics of no-platforming, and certainly Cherry has the right to speak alongside whomever she chooses, the biggest names repeatedly appearing on these line-ups hark back to both unsavoury episodes in Scottish politics and yesterday’s has-beens, and anchors the argument with glaring lack of credibility. Responding to these events is a tricky balance for independence parties, who can’t really ignore the many decent people who have the right to demonstrate support for independence by marching and who are bolstered by having a comradely day out, but ultimately, they’ve already been won. The campaign needs to win over the more sceptical, who are likely alienated by such displays.
Also speaking at the event is Cherry’s frequent cheerleader, Chris McEleny, who has similarly engaged with wedge issues like the Gender Recognition Act while remaining reticent on abortion rights, as I wrote about back in May. Transpeople and women deeply deserve consensus and a way forward rather than a fanning of division, and everyone deserves politics demonstrating common sense right now.
As clueless as it gets
One day after celebrating Cherry’s success at the Supreme Court, McEleny replied to the tweet: “Question to all Scottish independence supporters slavering over Lady Hale. Would you be willing to break ‘the rule of law’ to achieve independence?” with the answer “Gandhi, Mandela, Dr King, Rosa Parks, Bruce, Wallace... all broke the law of the time.” With the threat of Johnson aiming to undermine the crucial judicial win, this is as clueless as it gets.
Angus MacNeil, the Tweedledum to McEleny’s Tweedledee, has joined him in campaigning to push ahead with independence through a Section 30 order. A loud, obnoxious, and not particularly bright contingent has been banging drums of discontent for some time, praising ex-leader Salmond and disparaging Sturgeon’s slow and steady leadership style. The outcome of these combined interests will undoubtedly win them some personal fans from the party fringes, and sow a few seeds of dissatisfaction with current leadership who rightly demonstrate resistance to recklessness at this crucial moment. But in its petulance, impatience, and willingness to court minority interests to dent the more widespread appeal that the leadership has, it is the exact opposite of what the Yes campaign now requires.
The landscape has been fundamentally changed. The Yes campaign needs only gesture in the direction of the calamity that has ensued to show how promises by the No campaign have been turned on their head or shown to be hollow. The focus now must be, very specifically, on the voters who opposed independence in 2014 but who are horrified at Brexit and rampant populism, and to present a sensible and credible alternative, argued strongly but calmly, looking secure and in control. This is exactly Sturgeon’s lane, and it’s exactly the opposite of taking a microphone after Sheridan has shouted into it.
People are so tired of populists. They’re tired of those who sow division, of reckless grandstanding, and of politics being spat out with fury rather than calmly negotiated. They’re tired of blunt stupidity. They’re tired of flags. Scottish voters who desire to remain in the EU are aghast at what has transpired and they don’t want more in the vein of self-serving, table-thumping bombast. Children expect immediate gratification, but slow and steady will win this race.