Reflecting on what might have been

One year ago

Alex Salmond’s The Dream Will Never Die is an excellent, enjoyable read, providing a moving and detailed account of the last 100 days of the referendum campaign. Salmond blames the infamous ‘vow’ ultimately for the loss.

There is no doubt ‘yes’ fought a superb campaign from intensive grassroots campaigning through to extensive use of social media. I thought we had done enough to win. I thought we would. I was shocked and dismayed to see the result.

Now that time has passed, I think it appropriate to look back and consider whether there were tactical mistakes which can be avoided in the future. There are a number of areas of concern which require addressing.

The main reason for achieving independence would be that it would give Scotland the chance to set out its own stall internationally. It would also be able to control all tax and spending decisions and be able to set our own welfare and defence policy. The point we could cancel Trident and spend the money better elsewhere was made. The point that we could not prevent future Tory governments was also made and we pointed out that a squeeze on spending on the NHS in England could adversely affect our block grant in Scotland.

I’m not sure however that any distinctive international policy was articulated. What we did say was that we would remain in NATO and contribute to its efforts around the world. This raises problems not least the fact that recent NATO actions have been unpopular in Scotland and one of the reasons for becoming independent would be presumably to avoid the quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Simultaneously the idea we could join an international organisation under a nuclear umbrella while at the same time taking a unilateral position on nuclear defence was a mixed one at best. It may be that this is technically possible but the political reality is that it is extremely unlikely. It also meant our policy internationally in terms of military intervention would probably be roughly similar to the current one pursued by the British Government. In which case, why become independent?

I have noticed a disturbing tendency amongst senior pro-independence politicians when international questions come up they seem to slip into ‘British MP mode’ – saying things like ‘this country’ when they mean the UK and talk as if the imperialist position is the only game in town.

The UK is not a country and we need to point it out at every opportunity. The policy of world imperialism is not in Scotland’s interests and it never has been yet it seems that people think it might be impolite to raise such an objection on Question Time and that it might not go down too well in England.

The problem is that it doesn’t help us in Scotland. When Alan Cumming and Alex Neil at different times said that they were comfortable with Britishness and the British flag, they inadvertently handed the moral high ground to the likes of Michael Forsyth who had to point out that independence would actually end the British state. Cumming is a fine actor but his intervention made us look quite absurd as did Alex Neil’s claim to be proud to be British. I suspect both efforts were intended to try and position the Yes campaign to gather No supporters to our ranks but I don’t think it helped our credibility one iota.

As Britain’s third party, the SNP will be constantly appearing on Question Time. While it might be nice to be highly regarded in England, it is not the purpose of the party. No-one joined the SNP because they liked Britishness.

At every Holyrood and Westminster debate, independence supporters need to point out Scotland is a separate country with separate political objectives. If we don’t do that then people will simply not see a requirement for independence even if the economic arguments are in our favour.

We should always mention the United Nations but more importantly we need to craft a defence policy and international policy which suits our status as a small country in the north of Europe.

While I understand that Alex Salmond is a supporter of the monarchy, I feel the rigidity of the ‘yes’ campaign on this and the EU potentially lost us more votes than it gained. My problem isn’t with the personages of the royal family. It is with the fact republicanism is constitutionally barred from representation – it’s morally wrong to start of any MP or MSP’s career on a lie.

I’ve never been overly concerned about the EU but it quite obviously represents some level of threat to states’ sovereignty. Is it worth sacrificing some power to gain influence in the EU? It may be but there is a legitimate argument to be had about it. Simply imagining all of Scotland is happy to join the EU doesn’t recognise the diversity of opinion though. We need to make grown up choices on the EU and the monarchy, and we could only make them if we have a referendum on them post-independence. Not seriously considering these points will have a bearing on whether a future referendum can be won.

Joe Middleton has been political active since 1987. He is a current SNP member, and formerly a member of the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement and the Press Officer of Independence First, the non-party Scottish independence referendum campaign. This is an abridged version of an article from his blog,