2 August 2012
So we're being asked
to vote 'Yes'. But to
One day, when I was eight years old, growing up in Largs, I was playing in our local swing park with my friends when some guys in suits turned up in a car covered in black and yellow posters with a loudspeaker on the roof. I went over to see what they were doing, because I'm nosey, and found myself involved in my first political event.
The Largs and Millport Weekly News reported it as 'SNP candidate meets local children – wins support for the future', and published a photograph of me smiling (with hands out of pockets) beside the admirable John Murphy, whose job it was to take on Sir Fitzroy Maclean. When I was 14 I joined the Scottish National Party. I was tall and got away with it, revelling in a new life jam-packed with important and meaningful political activity. Surely it would only be a matter of time…?
Despite being party-less and politically inactive for over 20 years, I believe that if Scottish independence happens in my lifetime I will be a lucky man. Many people have not lived to see it so close. Friends of mine and people that I have only heard about, people who worked hard in difficult political circumstances to make the case fairly to the people of Scotland, didn't make it.
One such is William Wolfe, who in 1974 drafted the finest party manifesto that I have read, full of hope, passion and a deep understanding of what it is to be Scottish. He created the template for what a free Scottish society can be and he should always be remembered for that vision. I know there are some who remember mistakes that he made in his early career but the wise man I knew in the late 1980s had learned many lessons from life. Donald Dewar well deserves his statue in Glasgow. William Wolfe should have one in Edinburgh.
Others such as the truly great Donald Stewart, the staunch Margaret Ewing and many others haven't made it. The SNP has been lucky to have the services of so many committed, intelligent and imaginative characters over the years, including the human volcano that was Willie MacRae who paid the ultimate price for reasons that we may understand one day. I met Willie in the front room of someone's house in Largs and it was obvious that any room was far too small for him as he expanded on his themes, answered questions and put everyone straight.
The SNP was a party at the head of a movement pressing on with a great cause. There are signs that the golden age has come to an end.
Today's SNP leadership has made it known that the party will debate membership of NATO at its conference in October, Mr Salmond will support joining, or remaining in, NATO. This is a major shift in policy. Even more so when it is understood that membership of NATO certainly requires the long-term acceptance of the Faslane submarine base – what else does Scotland have to offer an international military alliance?
Non-membership of NATO and the expulsion of nuclear weapons from Scottish soil are set in stone for many SNP members and this will be a tough and passionate debate. I'm pretty sure the party will lose some people over this and the Greens will accept them with open arms.
Mr Salmond recently announced that the Scottish Government will increase its sponsorship of the Scottish League Communities Cup to 70% of the total. This at a time when the financial black hole that is Scottish football looks like the worst investment in the world, and there is a lot of competition for the title these days. After the Scottish Open golf sponsorship earlier in the year, we find ourselves asking if Scottish Government funding should be going to struggling sports events when so many other things need attention.
It has been decided that the campaign for a 'Yes' vote in the 2014 referendum should be less political than it initially seemed. Mr Salmond has taken a step back and the campaign itself is now being headed by a chief executive. Of course the campaign will be directed by the SNP in Edinburgh and the chief executive will do as he is told; only the perception is intended to change. But since when did a campaign focused on the democratic decision to create a new state suddenly need to appear non-political? What could possibly be more political?
Presumably the same highly-paid consultants who figure that people react negatively to overt politics also advised the SNP leadership and the 'Yes' campaign's chief executive that the word 'independence' was too controversial and had it removed from the lexicon of political discourse. If those in favour of a 'Yes' vote can't use the word 'independence' then what is it they must tell the Scottish people they are for? Furthermore, can there be anything more absurd than an independence referendum in which only the 'No' campaign can use the word 'independence', inevitably in a negative context?
It seems that Mr Salmond and his strategists have decided to exhibit a level of political maturity in government that removes straight talking and persuasion from the discussion. Instead, Mr Salmond will tell people what his consultants insist they want to hear. No more scary talk of independence, no more leaving the NATO and western nuclear umbrella, no more of the troubling vision that William Wolfe had back in 1974. And we keep the British royal family and the British pound underwritten by the Bank of England, and we get the EU, with more money for popular sporting events and more of Mr Salmond sewing himself into the fabric of Scottish society on TV.
And what kind of deals are being done on new oil exploration and production licences as we sit back and enjoy the drama of the Scottish Communities League Cup?
However, there is a problem and it is this:
Good evening sir, I hope it's okay to disturb you to talk a wee bit about the Yes' campaign in the referendum?
Aye sure, come in. I've got some questions. What exactly is it that you'd like me to vote Yes to?
The SNP actually seems to be working towards offering us devo-max by the back door with Mr Salmond turning himself into a populist national leader to make up for all the freedoms we are not going to have. Reinventing himself as Mr John McPeron perhaps. Imagine what Willie MacRae would have said about that.
Ronnie Smith was born in Largs and now lives in Romania, working as a professional training business consultant and communication coach. He is also a teacher of political science, a political and social commentator and a writer of fiction