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Why the SNP must use its mandate to call an indyref

This man does not strike me as the most obvious poster-boy for political caution

The Perth MP Pete Wishart made an intriguing suggestion recently that a scene in Braveheart, in which Mel Gibson repeatedly orders the Scottish army to “hold” as the English cavalry charge at terrifying speed to within a few feet of them, is somehow the perfect metaphor for why the SNP should allow its current mandate for an independence referendum to expire and instead wait patiently for another opportunity in the distant future that may or may not arise. It seems to me, though, that this metaphor actually has some rather severe limitations. Having tracked down the relevant clip on YouTube, I’ve been able to calculate that Gibson changes instruction from “hold” to “NOOOOOW!!!!” after approximately thirty seconds (as opposed to, say, a decade or two), at which point he ruthlessly unleashes utter carnage upon both man and beast. The historical William Wallace was of course also noted for murderous revenge attacks on towns and cities in northern England, which in modern parlance can at best be regarded as state terrorism. Whatever else can be said for him, this man does not strike me as the most obvious poster-boy for political caution. I do wonder if, just possibly, Pete Wishart is getting Wallace mixed up with Sir Alec Douglas-Home or somebody like that.

Despite the shortcomings of his analogies, Pete may at least have succeeded in turning the forthcoming SNP depute leadership election into a proxy vote on the timing of the second independence referendum, and that might prove to be no bad thing. The creative ambiguity of the Scottish government’s current stance has successfully held the line since the difficult days of last summer, but cannot do so indefinitely. Clarity, when it comes, is bound to shock and horrify one side of the debate or the other, because both sides seem to have been working on the assumption that Nicola Sturgeon and the wider leadership privately agree with them. Party unity may be somewhat easier to maintain if rank-and-file members take some ownership of this momentous decision after a free and open debate. And if that is the process we’re about to embark upon, my own sincere hope is that the depute election is won by a candidate who advocates the honouring of the SNP’s hardwon mandate for a second indyref in the event of Brexit, which means that it should be held before the current Holyrood term expires in May 2021.

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iScot Magazine
March 2018
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