Monday 22 July 2019

Having spoken about refashioning case for Scottish independence, Sturgeon now has her chance

Nicola Sturgeon reacts as leaves after voting at a polling station at Broomhouse Community Hall in east Glasgow. Photo: Getty
Nicola Sturgeon reacts as leaves after voting at a polling station at Broomhouse Community Hall in east Glasgow. Photo: Getty

David Torrance

Yeats is handy for occasions such as this, if a little hackneyed. "Things fall apart," he didn't write of the European Union, "the centre cannot hold". "The best lack all conviction," he could have written of the 'Remain' and 'Leave' campaigns, "the worst are full of passionate intensity".

The events of yesterday morning unfolded in an almost comical fashion. UKIP's Nigel Farage conceded, then un-conceded, while one Scottish government minister I encountered reminisced about Billy Joel.

Political commentators are required to find the right words when something like this happens, but we're rarely in a fit state to do so, sleep-deprived and only able to form snap, and inevitably incorrect, impressions as to what's actually going on. Emotionally I feel surprisingly little, either as a Scot, Brit or European - perhaps it'll take a while to sink in.

I know what I don't like, however, and that's nationalism, be it Scottish, British or even the 'banal' sort propagated by virtually every country in the world. Statements like 'make America great again', 'take back control' or appeals to superior 'Scottish values' make me flinch.

And just because Brexit has been fuelled by a resurgent English nationalism doesn't mean I find the relatively 'civic' Scottish variety any more attractive.

To provide some context, I grew up in a nationalist household; my father joined the SNP half a century ago, long before it became, well, a thing. My earliest memories comprise SNP jumble sales, obviously committed but slightly scary activists and anti-Poll Tax marches. So I'm of the party but far from impressed by it, indeed mention my name to any media-literature Scottish nationalist and it'll most likely provoke a pejorative response.

This misunderstands, to a degree, my position. I have little quarrel, for example, with the principle of independence, rather it's the specific proposition - placed before voters back in 2014 - I find hard to take seriously, for it was fundamentally dishonest. I also dislike political utopianism, be it from 'Yes Scotland' or 'Vote Leave'; I prefer my politics to be resolutely utilitarian in nature.

Nicola Sturgeon has often presented herself as a 'utilitarian' rather than an 'existential' nationalist (my dad's firmly in the latter camp), not a bad description for my unionism. This is, in part, emotional, for I have a sentimental attachment to London (where I've lived, on and off, for more than a decade) and Cardiff (where I first trained as a journalist), but it's predominantly instrumental. Although an unlovely thing in many ways, any cost-benefit analysis came down in favour of the status quo.

But all that has changed, to invoke Yeats once again, changed utterly, and therefore any pragmatic unionist has to rethink their position. I've long argued for a federal UK, and were one to emerge soon (Boris Johnson used the 'f' word just last year) I'd still believe it the best, most realistic option.

But it seems unlikely, for there's clearly little life left in the old, asymmetric and perhaps now fatally damaged union. There are caveats. Before Thursday's vote, Ms Sturgeon had spoken of refashioning the case for independence in a more 'realistic' way, and now she has her chance. If the next 'Yes' campaign claims that all will be well in the best of all possible worlds, then once again I'll struggle to take it seriously. But if the SNP secures a credible deal from Brussels for continuing Scottish membership of the EU and, crucially, concedes fiscal reality, then I'm all ears. Who knows, perhaps some revelation is at hand.

'David Torrance is a freelance journalist, broadcaster and author of 'Nicola Sturgeon: A Political Life' (Birlinn, 2016)

Irish Independent

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