“The wizards, once they understood the urgency of a problem and then had lunch, and argued about the pudding, could actually work quite fast. Their method of finding a solution, as far as the Patrician could see, was by way of creative hubbub. If the question was, ‘What is the best spell for turning a book of poetry into a frog?’, then the one thing they would not do was look in any book with a title like Major Amphibian Spells in a Literary Environment: A Comparison.” – Terry Pratchett, The Last Hero
In Part One of this series, I laid out the reasonable options that Scotland could pursue in order to demonstrate the democratic will for independence. There have been some murmurings of a potential “Plan B” to supersede the “Plan A” of a sanctioned referendum by Section 30 order so as to circumvent the current barrier of Boris Johnson simply saying “No” everything time we ask for one.
In that article, I referenced Pete Wishart who has expressed his objection to any “Plans B” and has since written his own blog post outlining some of the same challenges as I have identified – albeit without also challenging the limitations of the “Plan A” approach. I strongly encourage folk to read his article in conjunction with my own efforts and to start discussions in earnest about which option you prefer AND how you’d like to see the challenges addressed.
To greatly summarise my own Part One, I found that all of the reasonable options bar the “Plan A” of a sanctioned referendum cannot be blocked simply by dictat from Westminster BUT in addition to individual challenges unique to each of those Plans, they all suffered the common problem of not having an automatic mechanism of bringing the UK Government to the table to accept the results and begin to negotiate independence. On the other hand, “Plan A” – which DOES have that mechanism via something like the Edinburgh Agreement – suffers from the problem that Westminster can ensure that the vote itself doesn’t take place. The effect is the same in all cases. Until Scotland can put pressure on the UK Government to accept the Plan and the results, we are not going to become an independent country.
In this article, I’m going to draw again from Common Weal’s strategy paper Within Our Grasp to look at various ways that Scotland could ramp up the pressure on the UK Government until they agree to recognise our independence.
Pleasure and Pain
The basic principle behind this pressure strategy is that Boris Johnson and the UK Government’s politics are based on the principles of Pleasure and Pain. Any decision that causes him more Pleasure than Pain is to be undertaken. Any that does the opposite, is to be avoided. Similarly, given a choice between two Painful decisions, he will choose the lesser of them.
On this basis, Johnson has no reason to sanction a referendum (as per Plan A) or to accept the existence or results of any other democratic event indicating support for independence. Doing so would cause him considerable Pain (forcing him to fight an avoidable campaign and possibly becoming the last Prime Minister of Scotland) for no real Pleasure (David Cameron could have become the PM who finally crushed Scottish Nationalism). On the contrary, “talking tough to the Scotch” causes him almost no Pain and in fact wins him votes among his base. Losing votes in Scotland isn’t particularly painful as the Scottish Tory MPs are more valuable for their symbolism and loyalty than their actual voting power – which is why one of the ministers in the Scotland Office currently sits in a Labour target seat in Milton Keynes.
Seen through this lens, Scottish independence will not happen until and unless it is more painful to hold onto an ungovernable Scotland than it is to let it go. The Scottish Independence movement should mount an escalating pressure campaign designed specifically to reduce the Pleasure and increase the Pain faced by Boris Johnson and his government until he backs down.
There are a few very important caveats to the proposals outlined below.
The first and most important is that Scotland’s independence shall be won through a non-violent campaign or it will not be worth winning. No matter what happens, even and especially if the other side wishes to dip their own hands in blood, ours must remain clean. If anyone in any of your campaign circles encourages violent action then they should be ostracised from the group immediately and without prejudice.
Second, the campaign of escalating pressure must be carefully managed and progressed in its proper stages – no-one gets to “jump ahead” to the juicy bits just because they want to see them now. This must be the case if each of the stages is to maintain its effectiveness (as one of the key pressure points is that the UK Government will see what happens to them next if they don’t drop their opposition based on what we’re doing now). This also allows us to bring the public with us – we cannot escalate past the limits of the tolerance of the Scottish public – though we can campaign with the public to bring ever greater numbers of them with us.
Next, while the campaign starts entirely with legal methods, at some point it may be necessary to escalate into the realms of civil disobedience (or the UK Government may respond to us by making currently legal activities illegal to try to hamper us). If this is the case then there may well be significant legal, social and personal consequences for independence supporters who take part in or even encourage these activities. Everyone involved must have a full and frank understanding of the consequences of their actions and no-one should be drawn into an illegal activity if they do not agree to do so.
Finally, this must be an ORGANISED and CO-ORDINATED campaign. While individuals or small groups are best placed to determine which particular action is appropriate to their particular time and location (I think of local activists finding and protesting outside secretive Unionist PR stunts), there must be a level of national organisation able to not just push people to the next phase of escalation but most importantly to hold people back from escalating too quickly. Our preferred model for this as detailed in Within Our Grasp is via a Committee for Scottish Democracy consisting of trusted political grandees and campaigning experts able to strike the balance between public sympathy and maximum pressure. It is very possible for this to go wrong (see the moment when Extinction Rebellion shut down public transport and disrupted commuters who where largely already doing the right thing according to XR’s objectives). In the face of an already hostile media it only takes a single activist with a single egg to push beyond the limits of public sympathy and do great or even fatal harm to the pressure campaign.
Spheres of Action
A co-ordinated pressure campaign will involve people from various fields of Scottish society acting in different ways according to how they can best apply pressure. The Scottish Government can act in ways that others cannot and the same goes for non-government elected officials, independence activists, business owners, media outlets and the general public. Every person within the independence movement should reflect on where they personally and where their group is best placed to help with the leverage effort.
Phase Zero – Awareness and Normalisation
I’ve called this Phase Zero because it’s more-or-less where we already are. Prior to the 2012 independence campaign, you could still get away with describing the independence movement as a minority view or even as “fringe”. I certainly remember the shock on my friends’ faces when I declared my support for independence for the first time (a few of them have since voiced their own support though some are still very much against). In this phase of the pressure campaign much had to be done to simply prove that support for independence was a normal and acceptable political position to hold – even if it wasn’t one that you personally agreed with. We had to drag and extend the political Overton Window to include Scottish independence. I, too, had to go on that journey. I remember well my first ever active political experience at the inaugural meeting of Yes South Lanarkshire where I was suddenly confronted by a hyperactive Robin McAlpine talking about all of these weird radical policies. Yes South Lan failed to get off the ground but its successor Yes Clydesdale resulted in my SECOND active political experience where I was again confronted by Robin but this time much more able to hear what we was actually saying.
That was the moment that talking about the politics of the not-yet-possible became “normal” for me (as well as kicking off my journey into the world of Common Weal).
For the movement as a whole, I believe that moment came during the March and Rally for Scottish Independence in Edinburgh in September 2013.
While the march the previous year had been successful – at the time getting 10,000 people marching for ANYTHING in Scotland was remarkable – getting 20-30,000 people out for this event in front of a substantial media presence did much more. This was made especially the case by the number of people there NOT waving flags or draping themselves in tartan and other cliche symbols. Scottish society saw “normal” people walking through Edinburgh for a cause they believed in. When anyone can hold a belief that you don’t hold, it’s harder to marginalise them and that view. When anyone can hold a belief that maybe, just maybe you’ve been thinking about, it becomes a lot easier to talk about it and to learn more.
We’ve continued this phase of awareness and normalisation ever since. The movement is now able (at least, was able to in pre-Covid era) to turn out numbers for a march such that 30,000 in Edinburgh would almost look like a failure. Polls have shifted such that a majority of people in Scotland now support independence and in some demographics such as the under 35’s support for the Union is now roughly as marginal and “fringe” as support for independence was across the country around the time of the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement.
This kind of normalisation has helped push the polls into sustained majority support for independence though I would caution against considering the poll numbers alone to be a miracle cure. Johnson has already shown willingness to ignore polls indicating support for extending the Brexit transition period or even those outright against Brexit and with the SNP previously pinning their flag to a target of 60% in the polls, even a sustained period in the mid-50s will not cause Johnson anywhere near enough “pain” to consider shifting his stance (indeed, all he has to do is point to previous statements from the SNP as a reason to deny us and may even pick up a couple of “pleasure” points from his supporters for doing so)
In the political sphere, Scottish independence is similarly now a matter of normal discussion and all political parties frame their politcs around their support or opposition to it – even when it is detrimental to the election campaign at hand (local councillors campaigning for or against independence might win votes but it doesn’t necessarily lead to better local politics). In the House of Commons it has now become a “normal” reflexive reaction to questions from Scottish politicians to simply dismiss them on the basis of independence – even when the politician in question doesn’t support it. Now that this particular form of lazy diversionism has become normalised, it can be leveraged as we move to later stages.
But as stated, all of this has already been done and campaign pressure has pretty much plateaued since then. Even manifesto promises that “Scotland will not be taken out of the EU against its will” which have been voiced by both the First Minister and by the Leader of the SNP in the House of Commons are losing their impact. Making the promise may have increased pressure on the UK Government at the time but the prospect of breaking that promise in just a few months weakens this pressure with every passing day.
Phase One – Confrontation
Over the past few years we have seen a ramping up of the strength of language between the Scottish and UK Governments. Relations have essentially broken down to the point where the “normal” joint committees are no longer functioning and the UK Government informs the Scottish Government of policy changes only via newspaper headlines. We’ve started to see the Scottish Government get more forthright when it comes to condemning UK Government actions but there’s still room to go on this. The Political Sphere could be doing more to resist the tradition of theatre in political settings such as the House of Commons. I often see SNP MPs ask questions which either go unanswered or are answered only with “but you support independence and that’s terrible”. Instead of simply sitting down again, these MPs and their colleagues could be doing more to pull those answers out. Do not be satisfied with a non-answer – demand a real one. Call Points of Order to highlight the non-answer and insulting jibes. If the Speaker won’t let you personally ask again, have your colleagues demand one for you. Demand in writing. Demand one outside the Parliament when the MP in question appears in the media. Cultivate your media contacts to get them to go full Paxman till you get the answer they avoided.
The Scottish Government can do even more to ramp up pressure by also demanding answers to key questions (in Parliament, in Committees, in writing, in the media, in public and in every other avenue possible). Do more to confront the UK with the consequences of its policies too. When the UK Government threatens to end the Furlough scheme despite Scotland still being in lockdown, don’t just say that you think that this would be “unacceptable“, call it out as a direct threat to public health in Scotland and make sure that the public know that it is the UK Government’s deliberate intent to put us in harm’s way. The Unionist parties will almost certainly decry this as “grievance politics” and try to drag the Scottish Government through the mud in their own tame media outlets [Content Warning: This link leads to the Daily Express] but, and this is crucial, they do this already so they have already made sure that there is no negative reputation cost to making it true.
A broader coalition around the democratic principle should be built. There are more people in Scotland who want Scotland to have the right to a second referendum than there are people who would vote for independence in that referendum because there are folk who recognise that democracy is provisional and subject to re-examination or it ceases to be democracy (though there will also be a few out there who simply want a second shot at crushing the nationalists). Political coalition can and should be built with those who want to see democracy respected as well as with those who wish to see some kind of constitutional change short of referendum (my offer to speak to groups about a Federal UK remains an open one). This coalition should spread more broadly than simply within the constitutionally cleaved politics of Scotland. If groups outwith Scotland (such as in Wales, Ireland or groups in the regions of England) want to discuss the constitutional arrangements affecting them, then they should be able and willing to help Scotland set precedents that they may later rely upon. The same goes for groups trying to change constitutional arrangements across the whole of the UK.
This is the time to start building relations internationally. Confront the international community with the situation in Scotland and the UK. Convince them to confront the UK about its behaviour. Work media contacts to get the international press to talk about Scotland – remember that one of the many errors the UK has made over Brexit was to believe that it could be negotiated solely through the UK’s own domestic press whilst also simultaneously believing that ‘German car makers’ couldn’t read English. Any plan relying on the international community riding to Scotland’s aid will require them to understand what is happening in and to Scotland and some serious work needs to be done, especially in Europe, to overcome lingering though justified fears of “Nationalism”. Work will also need to be done to break down existing paradigms such as viewing the UK through the lens of the BBC which is still largely respected abroad to the point that international observers don’t always see news that isn’t reported there.
The Scottish Government has made some headway in relationship building but more needs to be done to make sure that Scottish politicians know what they’re asking for. In Pete Wishart’s own recent blog about his routemap to independence (which I’m still not clear actually said more than “we’ll ramp up pressure somehow”) he referenced approaching the EU to pre-start accession negotiations. This was a mis-step as the EU has been very firm that accession negotiations can only be held with independent states (Remember that they also have their own Pleasure/Pain metrics to work through as well). Too many more of those mis-steps can and will cost us internationally. Many countries are willing to support Scotland but only in the proper way and/or only if there’s something in it for them to do so.
Groundwork schemes could be developed such as building a Scottish Statistics Agency (this has been SNP policy since March 2019 but hasn’t yet been picked up by the Scottish Government) and tasking it with calculating the actual state of Scotland’s negotiable debts and assets – we WILL need this when we come to divvy such things up but knowing ahead of time what they are can be used as a tool in the campaign.
In the Business Sphere, we need to consider the impact of business policies and ask pointed questions of those businesses when they make political decisions. The Keep Scotland the Brand campaign has done well in this regard to promote Scottish produce. Where businesses are making choices that impact negatively on Scotland and/or independence then ask them why and what it would take for them to reconsider. At this stage it is almost certainly too early for businesses themselves to officially come out for independence as to do so risks alienating half of their customers but where appropriate, customers can let them know how their business is being negatively impacted by the Union or what opportunities could be created for them post-independence. Those businesses who do make a choice may start to think about the contracts they take on or wish to bid for. In line with moving towards an economy that considers wellbeing over GDP, a lucrative UK Government tender or government endorsement that requires one to overlook ethics or personal political alignment may start to become less attractive. If the time is right for you as a business owner to take a stand then, as with above examples, publicaly voicing your objection to UK Government policies is the right thing to do.
Activists can ramp up activities such as letter-writing or phoning-in to the media to push the consequences of UK policies to the public, to promote campaigns and to raise awareness of issues. Consider moving outwith our own media bubbles and actively target media that has so far been neutral or even hostile to independence – visibility and exposure to ideas is vital in effecting change.
There will be a role for social media in this as well though this is a notoriously poor arena for changing minds (the faceless, low consequence nature of social media lends itself to anger and trolling far too readily). Accept that you won’t always change the mind of the person you’re speaking to at this moment but realise that you’re in a public forum and speak as though an undecided voter is quietly watching the debate. Speak to them. Speak as though you ARE that undecided voter (or remember when you WERE that undecided voter) and want to learn without watching people simply shout at other. Trust me. I have direct experience of this working. Your conduct as an activist has a direct role in building public sympathy. Would you vote for a cause promoted by a group known almost solely for oppressively harassing anyone who wasn’t already on board even to the point of attacking “latecomers” who joined after they did?
In the Public Sphere, you need to continue doing what we’re doing by talking to our friends, family and work colleagues to confront them with the consequences of UK Government action (and, where appropriate, the consequences of their own votes). Always remember to not stray beyond the limits of sympathy but aim always to ratchet the limits of that sympathy upwards to help with the stages to come.
Study engagement techniques and raise your own debating game. If someone locks down from hearing your argument before they even click the link you send them, they won’t see the information you’re trying to present to them. Listen more than you speak. Discover the values that your detractors hold and use to underpin their beliefs. And consider the sources that they trust. Conversely, consider the sources that they would instinctively retract from the way you almost certainly instinctively retracted from the content warning I inserted a couple of paragraphs above. Use that information to craft your arguments so that they engage with issues that your audience actually cares about.
Phase Two – Mockery and Boycott
The previous phases were about building a solid foundation of a pressure campaign but this is where the politics of protest starts to get FUN.
The artists and creatives in Scotland are overwhelmingly on the side of independence. Which makes sense – art and creativity thrives in the space of the “not yet” and the “possible” in a way that it just can’t happen in the space of “this is as good as it gets, just live with it”. We can run rings around the Unionist campaign without even trying. I remember all of the plays, performances and other artworks that grew out of the 2014 campaign and I still have a playlist of just some of the songs that were written for or were adopted by it.
Never mind all of the other art celebrating the ideas of independence or the political stunts that shone a light on the Union. No-one who was around that campaign six years ago can forget the moment when a busload of politicians came up to Scotland to support the Unionist campaign days before the referendum and were followed around by a man in a rickshaw shouting for us all to welcome our “Imperial Masters”.
Conversely, what does the art and culture world have to say about the Union? This is a genuine and serious question. Even setting aside the scenes of white supremacists “defending” the icons of Empire I genuinely can’t think of much. You get the odd historian waxing lyrical about the Highland Clearances and a few celebrity endorsements but in all honesty, I really can’t think of much in the way of new art and culture coming from Unionist campaigners other than hanging a few flags at arts festivals and one example of the most cringeworthy game shows ever invented.
That’s it. That’s the best they have.
But we can use art to do more than promote independence. We can get creative about our mockery and boycotts in a way that the other side can never match. When Unionist politicians try to speak in public, make sure that it is a “painful” experience for them. Set up counter-demonstrations, follow them around with cow-bells, use social media to satirise them (though never, ever stray into hurtful abuse), buy adverts, set up satirical youtube channels and generally make it impossible for the UK Government to make any policy on Scotland without being laughed at (which really shouldn’t be hard given the calibre of their policies).
The Scottish Government could do more to commission arts and cultural activities specifically designed around independence (subvertly or overtly) and could work with sympathetic local authorities to start doing things like re-naming symbols of the Union and British Imperialism or in providing better education about the history of those symbols. The Unionists are already demanding more funding for Scottish arts so they can’t rightly complain just because they don’t like the particular kinds of art that get funded.
In the Activist Sphere, we need to do much more to find out where our potential activists actually are – especially the ones outside of our own bubbles. One of the least appreciated facts of the recent rise in pro-independence sentiment is that there are now almost certainly more supporters of all of the political parties in Scotland who are also pro-independence than there are paying members of those parties (never mind the politically active members). This includes the Scottish Conservatives. This means that pro-independence groups can and should be intensively canvassing their local areas to specifically find these people and gather them. Once a critical mass is reached in a particular area, have these people join their local party branches and start to push their parties to change their stance against independence. Note what is happening here. This is not “Entryism” in the classical sense. I am not suggesting that voters and members of pro-independence parties should leave their party to join the Tories. I want to see pro-independence Conservatives outvote pro-Union Conservatives in their own branch meetings. Then I want to see them move motions at party conference and win that vote too. They have the numbers to do it. If these members stay within the rules, there is little that the pro-Union members can do without locking down and becoming anti-democratic in the worst way possible.
When the Unionist campaign tries to hold their rallies in secret (as they so often did in 2014), our activists can easily infiltrate them – especially if we’ve done the ground work of recuiting sympathetic members of pro-Union parties. Again, this is a sphere in which we can ask the difficult questions they’ve been avoiding and force politicians to embarass themselves in front of their own supporters.
The Business Sphere can start to ramp up the boycott campaign here. Perhaps the public can actively boycott businesses that fund or support Unionist campaigns. This has been done already in some cases but without great effect and even to mockery from the Unionist campaign and general public. The caveat about bringing the public with you is always important. It is possible that pro-independence business owners will have the space here to start to speak out as increased public support means there are fewer pro-Union customers to potentially alienate. They may stop taking UK Government contracts or may move their supply chains to better support Scottish businesses (or at least the pro-independence ones). Whilst Better Together certainly lost the public and creative campaign in 2014 (the hearts, if not the minds) one thing they did have was a lot of the big business players (as well as the media contacts to make the most of them). That probably won’t change in the next campaign (despite Brexit) but Scotland stands on the cusp of being able to radically transform its economy to directly benefit our small businesses. Groups like Business for Scotland did well to bring together a coalition of such organisations during the last campaign and their efforts could be magnified many times in the next one.
The Political Sphere has it easier than the public in this Phase as they already have a media audience. We’re starting to see hints of the Scottish Government losing patience with the UK Government’s game-playing and is starting to ramp up the language it uses but we’re mostly still in the Confrontation stage rather than the Mockery stage. Politicians should be careful here. Simply standing up in the House of Commons to make a cheap joke and have your colleagues behind you bray like donkeys is precisely how the Commons works – don’t fall into the trap of becoming that. Instead, do more of what Mhari Black did not long ago. Show the public what the Commons is really like and how it functions.
Boycott becomes an important tool in this stage as well as Mockery. Pete Wishart’s recent routemap to independence references the possibility of Scotland pulling out of cross-national and UK institutions – for the Political Sphere this will be effective when those boycotts can impair the functioning of those institutions. However, if SNP MPs pull out of a parliamentary session and doing so does nothing to affect the government’s majority decision then it won’t substantially increase the “pain” factor intended. If they withdraw from a committee and that committee cannot meet minimum membership quorom therefore legislation cannot be approved by the committee and cannot be passed, that’s a different story – if critical pieces of Johnson’s manifesto can be blocked because of SNP boycott then that certainly will increase the “pain” of refusing to let them pack in their jobs. On the flip side, it may be that even more “pain” can be applied by remaining in those committees and passing meddlesome amendments, or by remaining in the Commons and interfering with Parliamentary proceedings. In that case avenues for the next stage of the pressure campaign can start to be applied.
Phase Three – Civil Obedience
I’ve long believed that when it comes to industrial action, one of the tools that proves to be even more effective than a Strike is Work to Rule. Work to Rule is the principle that rather than workers walking away from their job, they instead follow every rule and every order precisely to the letter. So many jobs actively rely on workers routinely breaking, bending or ignoring finicky or contradictory rules or who work in places that simply take for granted that everyone on the job will work unpaid overtime to get things done. Under Work to Rule, you clock out the moment your shift ends even if it leaves work hanging, you take the extra time to make all the checks required before turning on a piece of machinery even though everyone “knows” it’s safe. Sometimes badly made rules are followed maliciously to specifically disrupt work. A strike is very effective at telling management that something is wrong and the withdrawal of labour is undoubtably a powerful tool for negotiations but if you want to tell management that something specific is going wrong and needs to be fixed then Work to Rule can demonstrate it quite dramatically.
The MPs in the House of Commons can start to use this principle to seriously disrupt the proceedings of the Parliament. In the video above, Mhari Black discusses tactics used by the Tories to disrupt debates such as filibustering Private Member Bills, using the fact that votes can take up to an hour to cast and count by calling superfluous divisions (such as debating whether a packed Chamber contains the minimum 40 people required to meet quroum) or even hiding in the voting lobby toilets until chased out by the sword-wielding Serjeant-At-Arms. If the maximum pressure campaign reaches this Phase then the SNP MPs should start doing all of these things and more. The Standing Orders of the House should be scrutinised for other avenues of attack and all of them should be used for maximum impact.
One trick I’d be intrigued to see used is Standing Order 163 (once known as the “I Spy Strangers” rule) which states that any MP can call at any time for the Parliament to be held in private – ejecting all members of the public from the Chamber as well as turning off all TV cameras. Imagine calling for it every week during PMQs and every time the PM starts to make a speech. Even if you don’t have the votes to pass the resulting division, the MPs can make sure a divison takes place. Again, under current circumstances it takes up to an hour to vote…
Further disruption can be found through calling constantly for Points of Order or Interventions in debate, disrupting Committee proceedings by insisting that every niggly rule is followed, or perhaps disrupting things like the Opening of Parliament by creative and arcane application of long unfollowed “traditions”. The MPs should be scrutinising every aspect of the rules of behaviour for maximum effect. Crucially though, at this Phase of escalation, every action taken should be entirely within the rules as written (even if not as applied). If the UK has built a system that makes it impossible to govern Scotland, then that’s their fault and one that they can easily rectify by sanctioning a referendum or accepting the results of another democratic event.
Here in Scotland, the Scottish Government can use its direct control over the rules to apply them more creatively or create them more maliciously to make it as difficult as possible for the UK Government to rule Scotland. They could be doing things such as passing policies to deliberately de-power and annoy pro-Union party donors (Landlords and housebuilding lobbies will hate rent controls and social housing, Land owners will lose a lot of power if we reform land ownership). We need these policies anyway and the opposition already cries that we’re “doing it deliberately” so make it so, make it seen to be so and do it to increase the “pain” as much as possible. The Scottish Government could also ramp up the administrative burden on UK Governance and make it as impractical as possible for UK Government officials to come up to Scotland to visit or work or for Reserved UK functions to occur.
One example I’ve seen as an illustration (though I don’t know if it would be possible) would be to insist that if the Home Office is going to deport people from Scotland then the Scottish Government shall ensure that the health and human rights of deportees are respected throughout the process. This means that all deportations shall occur through (publicly owned) Prestwick airport, shall not occur unless this huge pile of paperwork is completed for each deportee and has been submitted via the office in Secure Area C with all fees paid in full. Parking for Home Office vehicles in Secure Area C is set at £10,000 per five minutes.
That precise example might be a flight (sic) of fancy but you get the idea. Similar laws could be passed to make it an offence to transport nuclear weapons on Scottish roadways or to move a vehicle which cannot prove that it is free from nuclear weapons (this is also already SNP policy and has been since October 2018 but hasn’t yet been implemented by the Scottish Government). If the Scottish Government are as annoyed as the rest of us at hearing about UK Government policy via newspaper headlines then perhaps they have to state that regulations will only be followed if they are passed through proper channels and will be ignored otherwise (Oops…was the phone left off the hook again…?)
At this stage, the Activists who have joined currently pro-Union parties should have built up the critical mass required to start “flipping” individual branches and to start bringing motions to conferences. Any push-back from the leadership should be countered through the same mechanisms as noted above. If they cannot get the numbers in certain areas to join and “flip” an existing branch or if one does not exist in their area, then they can look at forming new ones and forming internal party pressure groups to lobby and influence members. Again, the principle of Civil Obedience should be applied – no actual rules should be broken, merely that they should be followed in exactly the way required to create the desired effect.
The independence marches that we’ve all enjoyed so far have been an amazing tool for the normalisation of Scottish independence as well as for boosting activist morale but if we escalate to this Phase then the marches need to be used for so much more than this. We need to excercise our right to protest to maximally disrupt UK governance. It’s one thing for a handful of protestors to find out about a secret PR meeting, it’d be another for 10,000 people to turn up in rallies like we have seen against Donald Trump. Stunts like this do take more in the way of intelligence to be able to plan in time but if we’ve done our job in previous stages then we should have seeded the officies of pro-Union MPs with at least a few pro-independence party members who can provide it (or their pub landlords, or taxi drivers or any other person able to do a bit of innocent eavesdropping). Other forms of protest like Trade Union strikes, “Go slows” and pickets designed to disrupt UK Government activities should also be explored but remember the caveats above – this kind of activity should be carefully targeted, carefully planned and carefully policed. The pro-Union side are absolutely desperate for a pro-indy march to turn as nasty as those of their supporters often do and will happily respond disproportionately to anything that goes beyond control. If they can and will turn a typo into a smear they’ll do a lot worse to a protest that even hints at turning violent.
Phase Four – Civil Disobedience
This is a stage of the pressure campaign that I hope things do not need to escalate to. Remember that we only go exactly as far as we have to go to make Johnson’s “pain” outweigh his “pleasure” and to accept Scottish independence. However, it cannot be denied that many independence and civil rights movements have won their causes through peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience, even in the face of violent repression. It may be that Scotland needs to find its Salt March moment, or its Tea Party, or its Singing Revolution. At the very least, the threat of the campaign escalating from Civil Obedience to Civil Disobedience may be enough to increase Johnson’s pain above the critical threshold. In Conservative politics especially, social justice happens only when the alternative is pitchforks.
As stated in the caveats above those who embark on activities at this level will be breaking the law and may be subject to significant sanction for doing so. They must be aware of this and willing to do it anyway. The public must be willing to support them. The campaign must be willing to continue the campaign if key figures are imprisoned, exiled or otherwise withdrawn. We need to be careful even just discussing things like this as incitment to commit an illegal act can itself be illegal. Detractors will already be scrambling to denounce this blog as encouraging the most extreme acts when, in fact, I intend to do the opposite. Many forms of civil disobedience are possible and should be studied by the movement in the time prior to escalating to this stage so that it can identify the proper actions to take in the proper times and places.
It is even more important that this Phase is not pre-empted by individuals acting before time or without co-ordination – doing so will likely be counter-productive and damaging to the movement. In any case, it is probably more likely to be successful if it is a co-ordinated act rather than an individual one.
Civil Disobedience should probably start from the Political Sphere. This is the stage that SNP MPs (and any other sympathetic MPs who have been brought into the coalition at this point) could start actively disrupting parliament and government activities using tools outwith the rules. Targeted walkouts, disruptive protests, refusing to allow Government to speak and refusing to withdraw when the Speaker tells them to, nicking the Mace of Office and running away with it, disrupting Committee proceedings or anything else that seems appropriate, proportionate and maximally effective at the time. There have been calls for the MPs to simply withdraw from the Commons and “come home” and that might have a place if civil disobedience escalates to the point of Scotland refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the UK Government but until things get to that point it may also be possible that they can cause more “pain” by being there than by not.
The Scottish Government can similarly start the process of disengaging from the Union (especially if we’re looking at a UDI scenario though as stated in Part One I’m personally a very long way off supporting that) and start withdrawing from joint committees and other cross-UK institutions. It would be wise to start up shadow versions of said committees so that sympathies and lines of communications can be maintained with the other devolved administrations – Scotland’s fight is not with them but with the UK Government.
Actively disobeying unjust laws is a core tenent of civil disobedience and there will be many in the Political, Activist and, by now, Public spheres willing to start boycotting such laws or boycotting UK taxes – the Poll Tax protests were a formative experience for many in Scotland’s political world. Protests can widen to include other areas of UK injustice such as the treatment of immigrants and other vulnerable groups. Wildcat strikes, blockades of UK Government activities, or even seizure of UK assets may be possible at the far end of this Phase of the pressure campaign but we do hit the limits around here – again, this is a non-violent campaign so further action is out of bounds for us.
It should also be said that the UK Government may respond to this by passing laws against currently legal protests. There are already voices in the pro-Union sphere who have discussed making secession illegal or functionally impossible so there’s no reason to believe that they are not capable of doing unto Scotland as China has done unto Hong Kong. One advantage Scotland has over Hong Kong or Catalonia is that the UK does not have a pan-UK police force that could step in if Police Scotland refused to crack down on independence supporters. Sending in the army is an option, but one that could escalate rapidly beyond even the UK Government’s control. If they do decide to go this far then we must be as Ghandi. The ultimate consequence of non-violent protest against an actor willing to use violence against you is that you must be willing to take a baton to the face without striking back. And you must be willing to stand up and take it again. This is not a helpless act, nor is it a passive one even as it is pacifist. Witnessing the state enact violence on its own peaceful citizens is one of the most powerful acts of undermining the state’s own authority. But only if the public is with you and not with the authorities. There are severe consequences to protest escalating to this scale. It’s easy for anyone to say that they are willing to go that far – especially from behind a keyboard and in a comfortable house. It’s harder to take that baton to the face and then stand up to take it again.
I don’t know if our cause will go that far. I hope it doesn’t have to. But it is the logical extrapolation of where things might go unless the UK Government backs down first.
I hope it is now clear why I believe that we should place less weight on which “Plan” we eventually decide to use to demonstrate democratic support for independence. It’s a worthy and nessessary debate to be had as it will have significant impact on the tone and flavour of the campaign strategy (as well as the timing). But as all of the Plans rely on overcoming an effective veto from Boris Johnson, they all need to come up with a strategy to do that. Folk are more than free to debate the effectiveness of individual pressure actions within this article (and I certainly encourage folk to come up with their own and to discuss where and when they would be best applied) but I would really like the debate – especially in the Political Sphere – to catch up to where we have been since the start of the year.
The most concrete step that the independence movement could take right now is to demand that a Committee for Scottish Democracy is set up to start to define the routemap I’ve laid out in this piece. That group should contain an element of exploring the various actions that could be taken in order to ramp up the pressure on the UK Government and should communicate these ideas with the relevant spheres of action. This communication should be two-way with the various spheres (particularly the Political sphere) considering what they can do from where they are.
The Scottish Government needs to rediscover an element of bravery here. Playing things safe for fear of annoying newspapers that never supported you anyway is not going to win independence, nor is it a strategy for increasing Johnson’s “pain”. “Softly, softly” for fear of the public is a reactive strategy that allows one to drift on political winds with nice soundbites but it doesn’t proactively bring the public along with your ideals and goals.
Scotland now has a solid majority for independence and, as John Curtice has put it, the foundations of the Union have never looked so weak. Independence is within our grasp but it is up to Scotland to reach out and take it. No-one, least of all Boris Johnson, is going to give it to us until he has to.
[Edit: 0830 07/07/20 – Fixed a few typos]