United in division: Analysing the ‘Plan B’ debate in the wake of the SNP National Assembly

On January 24th, SNP members convened online for the National Assembly – a virtual discussion focusing on the party’s strategy for winning independence. The event came amidst rising tensions within the party over the best route to take should the UK government refuse its consent for Scotland to hold a legally binding referendum in the life of the next Holyrood parliament. The following article will hopefully serve as an extensive introduction to this debate, as well as a detailed examination of the events of the assembly itself and what they can tell us about the state of the independence movement as a whole.

Organisation and Accessibility, or Lack Thereof

The decision to hold this discussion now, rather than at conference, was presented as a way to prevent the debate from dominating proceedings at that event and give it fair and full consideration. However, some have argued (with varying degrees of conspiracy-mindedness) that the deferral from the official venue represented an attempt by the party leadership to extract the debate from a forum with formal decision-making power, where a resistive membership might be able to shackle the party to a strategic course they do not see as viable. The National Assembly did not, after all, have any constitutional mandate to affect policy decisions or shape the party manifesto –– it was a purely consultative exercise.

Certainly, the manner in which the event itself had (or had not) been promoted and organised raises questions about the extent to which it was being held in the spirit of democratic openness and accessibility. After the initial announcement, the only apparent notice from central office of how to register for the assembly came buried in one of party CEO Peter Murrell’s regular update emails; a far cry from the ever-present registration reminders that precede an annual conference. Nevertheless, this clearly did not present too great a hurdle for many, as the hosts reported that over 1,000 people signed up for the assembly. Secondly, the fact that there was a £6 fee to register presented a small but not insignificant accessibility barrier for those on reduced or absent incomes, especially in the midst of the economic turmoil of the pandemic. There is simply no compelling case for why, without venue and hospitality costs, the nation’s largest political party could not make such a vitally important discussion free to attend, especially considering the fact that many of us have been to several well-attended free of charge events since the world moved online and that smaller political organisations such as All Under One Banner have been able to organise relatively effective online conferences without charging attendees a penny. One does not have to ascribe any conspiratorial motives to the leadership’s planning decisions to assert that discussions which cut right to the existential core of the party should be organised in a manner that makes them accessible to as many members as possible.

The event itself unfolded over a marathon seven-hour session on the Hopin platform, which was split into three phases: learning, discussion and decision. The ‘learning’ phase consisted of a panel discussion between SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs Mike Russell and Nicola McEwen of the Centre for Constitutional Change – members were able to ask the speakers questions using the chat function during specified Q&A segments. For the ‘discussion’ phase, attendees were asked to submit questions which would form the basis for several breakout rooms that people could freely move between and make contributions over two sessions of roughly fifty minutes each. At the conclusion of the discussion phase, each breakout group was asked to select one person to make a report to the assembly as a whole, who summarised the conversation and highlighted the key questions and issues raised by contributors. This formed the basis of the final ‘decision’ phase of the National Assembly. At select intervals, attendees could make use of the ‘Turn Your Chair’ function of the Hopin platform; a kind of political speed-dating that paired random members together for ten-minute conversations similar to the popular ‘Blether’ events (jokingly referred to as ‘Nat-roulette’ by some members) that the party has put on since last year1.

The Hopin platform proved very easy to use – attendees needed only to click on the link sent out by the party and were immediately taken to the virtual event reception. The interface was relatively clear and, in theory, allowed members to take part to the degree that they felt comfortable without the pressure of turning on a camera that can sometimes exist in virtual political meetings. In addition, the organisers should be commended for offering BSL interpretation in the first and last session, as well as (and this was especially impressive) in the ‘Turn Your Chair’ function. It is regrettable that, as an understandable result of the number of rooms and the disjointed nature of the format, the ‘discussion’ phase was not interpreted and therefore excluded D/deaf members from participating.

Despite these relatively inclusive features, the virtual nature of the conference, combined with poor planning and a fractious atmosphere, resulted in a ‘discussion’ phase – ostensibly the section of the assembly designed to encourage democratic participation from members – that at times descended into farce. Firstly, as members were only given thirty minutes over lunch to submit the questions that would form the basis for breakout room discussions, there was no way for debates and speakers to be coordinated in a manner conducive to productive conversation. The rooms were complete free-for-alls, with most attendees attempting to virtually cram into the room where Joanna Cherry was trying to organise a response to the leadership’s plan, the substance of which I shall discuss in detail later. Very quickly it became clear that the technology would be an extremely limiting factor in facilitating a discussion primarily attended by older folks, who appeared to struggle with both the practical elements and etiquette of virtual conferencing. This was best illustrated by the length of time it took Cherry to bring the discussion to order and control the sequence of speakers. As the platform only allowed ten people to share their audio and video at a time, and she had no way of muting anyone, Cherry often found herself having to yell over random people and was unable to bring any new speakers in until one of the existing ten speakers dropped out; a necessity which she struggled to communicate to less technologically literate members. In fairness, this responsibility should not have fallen on her shoulders, and the chaos could have been avoided if the organisers had properly explained the process beforehand, allowed debate to be structured by participants in advance of the event and provided moderators familiar with the platform to facilitate each breakout room.

In the end, this meant that the discussions in several of the rooms I dropped into degraded into a series of lengthy contributions by those who could gain the attention of the nominal chair, either through using the sharing function before they were invited to, or (it appeared) through simple name recognition. As is always the result of such disorder, the vast majority of the debate was dominated by the contributions of older men. In all, the tone of the debate vacillated between the fractious and the anodyne – with the only real points of tension coming in an unintelligible and interminable shouting match between Angus MacNeil and Pete Wishart and in several snippy exchanges in the comment section between supporters of the pro-leadership and insurgent factions. Regrettably, I witnessed several instances of transmisogyny and anti-trans rhetoric in the chat, which were called out by some members and apparently reported to the organisers in the feedback form. It should go without saying that the ongoing ability of certain SNP members to openly traffic in hate speech without consequence, thereby creating an environment hostile to inclusive debate, should bring shame to any party with pretensions to social democracy or progressive ideals. If these virtual events are to continue, the organisers must make it their priority to institute a thorough moderation system, not to restrict forceful or honest disagreement, but to ensure such events can be open and safe for all members, as democratic norms and the rules of the party dictate.

The disagreements do not begin and end with strategic questions; they encompass intersecting debates around issues of social justice, economic policy and international affairs, amongst others.

A Brief History of a Conflict

Coverage of the assembly is unlikely to focus on questions of accessibility, however – not least while there is hay to be made over the clash between competing visions of the path to independence. It has been impossible to consume any kind of Scottish political media in the past year or so without becoming at least somewhat aware of the factional battles raging within the SNP. It feels as though every week the front page of The National is emblazoned with some new salvo in this political proxy war, usually presented in the form of a poorly disguised leak or an overhyped op-ed.

An increasingly typical front page of The National.

What this soap-opera coverage has obscured, however, is both the complexity and specificity of the factional positions in play. The disagreements do not begin and end with strategic questions; they encompass intersecting debates around issues of social justice, economic policy and international affairs, amongst others. Nor are the arguments at stake limited to a binary dispute between two competing visions. While the debate has been presented as one between the leadership and the advocates of the so-called ‘Plan B’, the reality is that there is no single settled version of what such an alternative plan would look like amongst its proponents. Instead, ‘Plan B’ has become more of a rallying cry for those who believe that the SNP leadership is vacillating or stalling on their commitment to independence in the face of impending constitutional conflict with Westminster.

Even if we restrict our scope to the range of contributions relevant to the discussion of independence strategy, the past few months have been frequently punctuated by shots fired across the bows of the leadership by members of the loosely defined ‘insurgency’, and the leadership’s attempts to return fire. Three of these stood out in terms of the concrete nature of their proposals and therefore will provide us with a structured way to think about the various positions in the debate as we take our discussion forward.

On November 24th, Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry gave the annual lecture to the Wales Governance Centre, in which she argued against the leadership’s position that a declaration of independence was contingent on the results of a (legally binding or not) referendum, contending instead that it could be negotiated after the victory of a pro-independence majority at the next Scottish Parliament elections. She promoted this line of argumentation further in comment pieces in The National and in a post on her own website in advance of the National Assembly itself.

A month later, Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny published his paper “A Roadmap to Scottish Independence”, which uses many of the same arguments advanced by Cherry in her lecture to assert that the SNP must use the upcoming elections to give democratic legitimacy to a referendum absent the consent of Westminster. McEleny diverges from Cherry by stating that the next election cannot be used as grounds for a unilateral declaration of independence, although his reticence in this regard is not grounded in strategic or legal concerns, but as a result of time constraints precipitated, according to him, by the leadership’s indecision.

While the Scottish Government and SNP leadership have been taking some steps to legislate for a second referendum, they had avoided laying out any kind of strategy for what would occur in the (likely) event the Conservative government does not give their procedural consent in the form of a so-called Section 30 order. This was true right up until the eve of the National Assembly, when Mike Russell published the discussion paper, “The road to a referendum that is beyond legal challenge”, which sketched out an eleven-point plan to achieve a binding referendum. Much of this document merely re-treads the steps already taken by the government, but, for the first time, includes confirmation of a manifesto commitment to legislate for a referendum if a pro-independence majority is achieved, a referendum which the document contends would be imbued with unimpeachable democratic legitimacy. Should such a step be challenged by the UK Government in the courts, the document commits the Scottish Government to engaging in a “vigorous opposition”.

Keeping track of what this means for the structure of the debate in substantive terms can be tricky, especially as the protagonists have, until recently, been reluctant to commit their plans to paper. Therefore, rather than simply recounting the debate chronologically, the rest of this article will attempt to outline the various argumentative threads that managed to spin themselves from this dispute with any kind of coherence and examine the points at which they intersect with and contradict one another, before attempting to come to a conclusion as to what all of this might mean for the independence movement going forward.

Professor Nicola McEwen

Plan A: The Party Line

The entirety of the ‘learning’ phase of the assembly was dedicated to a discussion of the leadership’s strategy, as outlined in Russell’s paper published the day before. Although, regrettably, there was very little in the way of in-depth explanation of the document itself, and, as a result, most of the contributions from Brown, Russell and the academic McEwen concerned themselves with general concepts and attempts to pre-emptively discredit alternative strategies.

Nevertheless, this did provide some interesting insights into the ideological stance that the leadership (and therefore, the government) will likely take going forward. Firstly, Russell and Brown made it clear that the primary policy in the manifesto for the May elections will be a second referendum on the basis of the same question asked in 2014. This was framed as providing democratic legitimacy to the government’s additional commitment to organise a referendum even if they do not receive consent from the UK Government. While not exactly radical, the plan does represent a significant, yet subtle shift in the government’s rhetoric, which, while still enmeshed in the legalist trappings I discussed in my article back in October, now fundamentally recognises that the legitimacy for a referendum derives solely from the Scottish people exercising their sovereignty in an election, not from the British state.

Another notable aspect of Russell’s presentation was the manner in which he emphasised the consensual nature of the devolution settlement, arguing that it is not simply an arrangement in which the Scottish Parliament is subordinate to Westminster, but a power-sharing agreement in which the two parties must respect each other’s democratic will. This was underlined by his assertion that a “rogue UK government” was not respecting the devolution settlement, illustrated by its railroading of the EU Withdrawal Bill and Internal Market Bill over the objections of Scotland’s parliament. Such a series of facts, he contended, would lead to any legal challenge from the UK falling apart as the “modern legal argument” prevailed over the “outdated notions of sovereignty” held by the UK government.

Professor McEwen’s contribution, presented from a dispassionate political science perspective, mostly stressed the importance of doing things ‘by the book’, which, in her own words, meant “within the constitutional order of the United Kingdom”. The only way that a country can become de jure independent, she correctly noted, is through the recognition of the international community. Additionally, perhaps in an attempt to throw cold water on the insurgent faction’s calls for a plebiscite election, she contended that only an act of the UK Parliament could grant Scotland independence in a way that would gain that international recognition, which therefore ruled out any prospect of a unilateral declaration of independence.

This was a main theme of much of the leadership’s presentations: attempting to portray the Plan B proposals as unworkable, unrealistic and divisive. On several occasions it was explicitly suggested by Brown and Russell that “constant internal disputes” were preventing the independence movement from advancing its cause and, in one instance, Brown stated that such divisions were actively aiding Boris Johnson’s position in denying a second referendum. Indeed, there was an overall impression that the leadership had already decided that theirs was the plan that would be included in the manifesto and, rather than seeing it as an opportunity for open and productive debate, viewed the assembly as a way to draw a line under the issue and move on. It was hard to come away with any other conclusion, especially considering the way in which the guiding discussion document was published in The National less than twenty-four hours before the beginning of the event, before any consultation with elected members. Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard stated during the discussion phase that he was left “gobsmacked” by this sequence of events, especially considering he claimed he had been told by several party figures that there would be no such document put to the National Assembly.

Perhaps the most salient takeaway from this discussion came from Professor McEwen, when she stated that “law must follow politics”. It is difficult to imagine a more concise explanation of why the strategies for obtaining a binding independence appear so much in flux. As no nation has ever left the Union without a military conflict, there is no legal precedent for what the process should look like, or what rights and restrictions are imposed on the parties. Therefore, it is likely that the political situation – where and how each side chooses to exert its sovereignty or deny the existence of the other’s – will dictate the facts and outcome of any legal dispute. All the legal advice in the world can be rendered useless if the UK Government decides to act in a way that is unforeseen, and the Scottish Government will have to gain an equally flexible political notion of sovereignty if they seek to match them. Perhaps, in that sense, the roadmap document represents somewhat of a step forward.

Pictured: Joanna Cherry QC MP (Credit: Friends of Europe, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Plan B Pt. 1: Cherry Bomb

The most striking aspect of Joanna Cherry’s contribution to the debate was the way in which it made her position in the discussion entirely impossible to nail down. Cherry, a supremely savvy operator, is no stranger to acting the chameleon in her political manoeuvring, but the concrete nature of her previous proposals implied that she would be vigorously contesting the relatively gradualist nature of the leadership’s approach. Instead, her initial objections to the document mostly focused on the fact that she had not been consulted prior to its release and that the Plan B proponents had not been permitted to present their side of the debate during the ‘learning’ phase. She appeared somewhat taken aback by the leadership’s newfound muscular definition of sovereignty and stated that she was “pleasantly surprised” that so many of her arguments were now being pursued as policy.

Indeed, even when Cherry offered criticism of the leadership’s strategy, they were often couched in terms of procedure. First, she expressed concern about whether or not legal advice had been sought prior to the document’s publication, and, if it had, why the Lord Advocate had seemingly contradicted this position in his representations in the Keatings case2, despite him emphasising in his representations that he was enjoined as an independent party to the case, and that his determinations were not representative of the government or the SNP. Indeed, had Cherry or another parliamentarian joined the suit as a pursuer, it is possible that the court would have reached a different conclusion on the key issue of standing. Like so many other issues, the nuance of the facts in the Keatings case have been completely stripped away under the pressure of the totalising narratives which define the SNP’s present conflict and become little more than cudgels for one side to beat the other over the head with.

That is not to say that most of Cherry’s legalistic and procedural concerns were invalid. She correctly raised the fact that the leadership’s plan only presented the outline of a legal argument in the event that such a challenge was brought by the UK Government, not unionists acting as private citizens. This could fundamentally shift the area of legal contest from constitutional grounds to matters of human rights or commerce which would require completely different counterarguments. Additionally, she (along with Chris McEleny) disputed the leadership’s plan to ask for a Section 30 order after the May elections, rather than having the refusal come beforehand, which would allow the election to be explicitly fought on the issue of giving legitimacy to an unsanctioned referendum. As McEleny correctly pointed out, there is precedent in the UK government’s own actions for this position: they held the 2016 referendum on EU membership on the basis of it being in their winning manifesto for the 2015 general election. There are no reasonable arguments for why this should not be the preferred sequence of events, especially considering the leadership’s plan’s reliance on linking legitimacy to achieving a majority at the election on a manifesto promising a referendum. Surely it would be in the government’s interests to be able to go into court with no doubt surrounding the accuracy of their contention that such a vote represents the informed will of the Scottish people?

It is difficult to see a path forward for the plebiscite strategy now that both Cherry and McEleny have begun to distance themselves from it.

However, perhaps the most interesting portion of Cherry’s contribution was not an offensive against the leadership, but a retreat. During the discussion room that she led, she walked back her previous support for treating the outcome of the May elections as a plebiscite in favor of negotiating independence (more on what that proposal would entail later). She argued that, while she still supported the plan in principle, it was not workable without the economic and political case for independence being made, which there was not enough time to do in the period remaining before the vote. It is difficult to see a path forward for the plebiscite strategy now that both Cherry and McEleny have begun to distance themselves from it.

In all, the contrast between Cherry/McEleny and the leadership’s plans is quickly becoming a distinction without a difference. Both now agree on three key points: the SNP must fight the next election on a platform of holding a second referendum, the legitimacy for such a referendum derives solely from the Scottish people voting for it in that election, and that this sovereignty must form the basis of any legal argument in its defence. They share the same fundamental conception of sovereignty and the same legalist strategy for asserting it. Despite the surface tensions over procedure and personality which will continue to bubble up and boil over, there is little reason to suggest that the leadership’s plan will not pass at the Spring Conference and be adopted into the manifesto for the May election. Perhaps the only faction who remain capable of agitating a majority of members to support an alternative, are those still clinging to the bold strategy of a plebiscitary Scottish Parliament election.

Angus Brendan MacNeil MP. (Credit: UK Parliament, CC BY 3.0)

Plan B Pt. 2: Plebiscite!

For the populist wing of the independence movement, there was probably no plan that the leadership could have realistically put forward that would have satisfied their desire for immediate and sweeping action. The ideological divisions are too great and the rhetorical positions too deeply entrenched to allow for such a capitulation. Instead, a new clarion call has arisen from this particular faction – passed around in feverish blog posts and avalanches of tweets and slowly entering doctrine by sheer force of its omnipresence: The Plebiscite.

As we discussed earlier, the institutional support for treating a pro-independence majority at the May Scottish Parliament elections as a mandate to begin negotiations for separation has begun to wane somewhat. Yet, one elected official remains a staunch tribune of the strategy: Angus MacNeil. The Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP held court in a discussion room of his own, which he used to advance arguments he had previously outlined in a blog post for Scotland Speaks.

Much of MacNeil’s thinking is derived from McEleny, who has been his collaborator in the push for a ‘Plan B’ since after the 2019 UK General Election. Throughout the discussion period, MacNeil repeated the line that the SNP leadership were passing up an “open goal tap in” by not adopting the plebiscite strategy, asserting that delaying the movement until a referendum could be secured and the pandemic had receded risked throwing the game away at the moment when support for independence is reaching its apogee. He framed the issue as a kind of ad-hoc war of position, where the British state, in all of its hegemonic power, would be forced to accept the inevitability of independence as a result of it becoming the institutional consensus amongst the Scottish citizenry and civil society. International recognition, he argued, would naturally follow as a result of this popular support, and Scotland could be free by ’23.

The idea that ‘everyone’ recognises the democratic legitimacy of elections would likely come as somewhat of a surprise to the formerly deposed government of Bolivia, the Catalan politicians forced into exile, or to the citizens of the countless other nations who have had their democracy usurped at the hands of American, British or European imperialism.

Aside from the concern raised by MacNeil’s own allies that there is not enough time to construct any cogent case for independence before May, his arguments appear to rely on some quite shaky intellectual premises. First amongst these is his contention that tying a vote for independence to the parliamentary election would place its result beyond reasonable dispute. He states: “elections are of course the most democratic and internationally legitimate act that can happen in a country, everyone recognises democratic results when the people are asked.  No one has said either in London or internationally that they will not respect democracy in Scotland.” This is, of course, completely absurd on its face. The idea that ‘everyone’ recognises the democratic legitimacy of elections would likely come as somewhat of a surprise to the formerly deposed government of Bolivia, the Catalan politicians forced into exile, or to the citizens of the countless other nations who have had their democracy usurped at the hands of American, British or European imperialism. In reality, elections are often the first institution of democracy to fall in the face of authoritarian reaction, rather than being its strongest bulwark. Also, the assertion that “no one” has stated that they would seek to disrespect democracy in Scotland has been completely refuted by the rhetoric of several prominent Tories in recent weeks. In a since-deleted section of his op-ed (link to the archived original) in The Evening Standard, former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, a man about as ensconced in the British establishment as is possible, offered a grim warning. “There’s a risk that the Scottish government holds its own plebiscite — but that won’t be legal,” he writes, adding, “Ask the jailed Catalonian leaders how their illegal poll worked out.” This sentiment was echoed by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who confirmed that the Tories would boycott any unsanctioned vote – either in a referendum or a plebiscite.

The inevitable result of all of this, despite MacNeil’s claims otherwise, is that a plebiscite is likely to lead to the same legal morass that all of the other plans anticipate, although it will enter that contest on significantly shakier ground. This emphasises the fact that all of these plans are contending with the same unanswered question – what happens after Boris says ‘no’? – within essentially the same set of institutional prescriptions: the courts, the ballot box, the international community. Even the supposedly radically populist Action For Independence party, currently little more than a spectral formation of fringe movement personalities (including Mr Keatings), put forward a plan that was essentially identical to the plebiscite concept with the stated goal of pushing the SNP to adopt a stance rather similar to one that they have now taken. My fellow SNP member, Tejas Mukerji, has noted that MacNeil is the closest thing that the independence movement has to a prominent republican voice. This is less an observation to his credit than it is to the parlous state of the entire discussion, and to the hegemonic nature of the liberal conception of the state, which precludes imagining any other direction of travel. It is an argument being held in a glass cage of constitutionalism, while the masses, those with the most at stake in the conclusion, look on in demoralising confusion at the disorganisation and rancour unfolding before them.


“A group, further, is subject to the truly magical power of words;” remarked Freud in his Group Psychology, “they can evoke the most formidable tempests in the group mind, and are also capable of stilling them”. In order to understand the real essence of the debate around the debate around independence strategies, it helps to think of talk of ‘Plan B’s, ‘Plebiscites’ and ‘UDI’ as an exercise in magical words. Rather than pointing to any specific substantive ideological differences, they act as shibboleths in the ever-escalating factional war at the heart of the independence movement – codewords that signify one’s position with respect to the current SNP leadership. That recent developments mean that there is now very little substantive difference between these strategic visions is unlikely to result in a cessation of hostilities – at least so long as other, more acute, political tensions remain bubbling underneath.

In many ways, the current non-divide-divide reflects, on the constitutional level, a phenomenon described by historian Rory Scothorne, where, in the era of devolution, “real nationhood has been replaced by a fiction of ‘choice’”. While I would argue that this is a feature common to most of contemporary western politics, it is a situation particularly heightened by the hegemonic position that the SNP enjoys at the head of the independence movement. Those who support independence are destined to follow their lead, no matter how many breakaway parties or sects they may loudly announce. The likely outcome of this strategic dispute illustrates this – despite all of the years of acrimony spent arguing the various positions and the existential nature of the question, the leadership’s plan is likely to pass largely unaltered at the Spring conference. It will be a performance of choice, while the reality of nationhood remains at an uncertain distance.

This reveals a stark contradiction in the independence movement between the mass character of the base and the centralist institution of the SNP at its head, one that David Jamieson alluded to in his recent article for Conter. What Jamieson gets wrong, however, is in locating the source of that contradiction in the “ideological derangement” of the SNP leadership, rather than in the nature of the base itself. Since the 2014 referendum, the independence movement has moved from being a relatively marginal force to mainstream political dominance, and the make-up of its base has shifted accordingly. The price of this hegemony is that its contradictions have now become those of society more broadly, and so it follows that its fault lines would be drawn along similar lines to those of that society, and indeed those of western society as a whole. It is easy to name them: the class divide expressed through the Growth Commission discussion, contests in the area of sexual politics expressed through the controversy around the Alex Salmond trial, debates around identity expressed through the GRA reform furore and its attendant trans panic, and so on.

Photo credit: Scottish Government (CC BY 2.0)

Without the independence movement, such divides could be fought out in the open political landscape, but with coalitions currently defined along the lines of the national question, they instead result in an endless series of proxy wars which elide the reality of how much they actually conform to the contemporary norm. The distinct political situation of Scotland and its national movement does not grant it independence from the broader forces of history; as the left communist political theorist Paul Mattick noted, as soon as a movement gains organisation, it becomes subject to the logic of capitalism, and only the end of capitalism itself can hope to resolve the resulting litany of contradictions. Until then, our future looks to be one of incessant madness.

As strange as it may sound, this should be a source of encouragement for leftists. It means that the terrain we must fight on has not fundamentally changed, even if it may seem at times altered by the looming shadow of the national question. The causes in dispute are the same we have been fighting since the beginning – sovereignty, liberation, resistance – and the heightening contradictions in our society bear testament to the fertile nature of this time for agitation around them. To do so will require radically new thinking which makes its appeal to a new base: those rightfully alienated by endless political debates that produce no political change, those excluded from any political expression unmediated by a ballot box and those who seek liberation in their lives as well as for their country.

1 As the event started at 5:30am in his time zone and his appearance reflected this fact, the author chose not make use of this function.

2 Keatings v Advocate General, a case brought to the High Court of the Justiciary by independence supporter Martin Keatings, which attempts to assert the right of the Scottish Government to hold a referendum without a Section 30 order. The Lord Advocate has argued that, since there were no existing plans for a referendum at the time, Mr Keatings had no standing to raise the suit. For more on the case, see this summary from the Scottish Law Reports.


Section 30 order: A provision of the Scotland Act which allows the Scottish Government temporary permission to legislate in policy areas normally reserved to Westminster.

Plebiscite: A direct vote of all the members of an electorate on an important public question, such as a change to the constitution. (via Oxford English Dictionary)

War of Position: A concept first articulated by Italian communist theorist Antonio Gramcsci, in which the hegemonic power of the state is countered, not by physical force, but through the process of “slowly building up the strength of the social foundations of a new state” by “creating alternative institutions and alternative intellectual resources within existing society” (Cox, R. 1983. “Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations: An Essay in Method” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 12(2))

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