There is a whiff of desperation about Mike Russell’s continuing efforts to provoke the elusive “Brexit Bounce” which was supposed to push the polls high enough to perhaps overcome the inertia which has left the independence campaign in a parlous state and Scotland’s predicament more precarious than ever. Mr Russell does a pretty good job of describing that predicament. But I see nothing here that suggests a plan for rescuing Scotland from the looming threat of British Nationalism, not to mention the latest and most ominous incarnation of the ‘Greater England Project’.
The Scottish Government, it appears, is still pinning all its hopes for the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence on anger at a catastrophic Brexit being imposed on Scotland. The impact of this public outrage on the polls is always just around the corner – except when it’s just over the horizon. It’s been imminent for long enough to have necessitated repeated revision of the time-scale to which the term applies. That time-scale has been expanded from months to years and could well be further stretched to decades.
If there was to be a “Brexit Bounce” then it should have started to be apparent within days of the EU referendum as it became evident that Scotland’s democratic will would be treated with customary contempt by the British political elite. Yet here we are, approaching four years later and those polls have barely twitched out of margin of error territory. Taking account of the fact that the entire Brexit debacle has been considerably worse than foretold by all but the most woeful Jeremiads, it would not be unreasonable to expect that the polls would be favouring Yes by around ten points more than they are.
But still Mike Russell clings to the hope that the “Brexit Bounce” is just waiting in the wings ready to make an appearance calculated for greatest dramatic effect. It seems that this “Brexit Bounce” was a crucial element of the administration’s strategy. Without it, the strategy stalls.
We are entitled to wonder why the Scottish Government chose to be so totally reliant on something that is so much out of its control. Public perception of Brexit was always going to be more important than the reality. And the machinery for manipulating public perception is almost entirely in the hands of the British establishment. Thus, despite all the doom-laden rhetoric from Mike Russell and Ian Blackford and the rest what the public has perceived is, not an unfolding disaster, but an ongoing farce. Brexit is seen more as a tediously unfunny comedy than as an alarmingly developing catastrophe.
The SNP has been trying to keep Brexit in the exclamation marked headlines while the British propaganda machine has been deployed to relegate it to the ‘meanwhile’ section. We know which is the most effective.
There are a perhaps surprising and certainly disturbing number of people ‘out there’ who fail to realise the importance of understanding the problem in order to develop a solution. How often do we see criticism of the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue met, not with a considered response to the critique, but with vitriolic condemnation of the critic’s ‘disloyalty’ and diversionary demands for their alternative? How often do we see people insisting that no criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy can possibly be valid unless it is accompanied by a suggested alternative strategy? How often do we see that alternative itself declared invalid so as to avoid the need to respond meaningfully to the concerns being expressed?
How might it be possible to develop an effective strategy while the attitude prevails that only the existing strategy can possibly be effective? Even in the face of the increasingly evident failure of that strategy?
Instead of obdurately depending on the phantom “Brexit Bounce” and persistently promising its appearance Mike Russell and his colleagues should be asking why it has not happened. And they should be prepared to entertain posited explanations – from whatever source – rather than ignoring or dismissing them.
My own explanation would be that the SNP has made the same mistake as the party made in the 2014 referendum campaign. It has let the Brexit issue be taken into the realm of economics rather than constitutional politics. The crucial point about Brexit was (is?) the fact that its imposition on Scotland in contemptuous disregard of the will of Scotland’s people represented a particularly egregious manifestation of the constitutional injustice of the Union. Rarely has there been a clearer demonstration of the inherently anti-democratic nature of the Union.
That is what the SNP should have focused on while encouraging the Yes movement to do likewise. The imposition of Brexit on Scotland by the British state should have prompted an immediate all-out attack on the Union. The economic stuff could have been left to the Scottish Government.
Instead of a short, sharp, focused onslaught against the Union, we’ve had a prolonged ‘poor us’ moan-fest about Boris Johnson and the Tories accompanied by a litany of economic doom-mongering of the very sort that was deployed by Project Fear and which we had urged people to ignore.
Instead of an assault on the cause of the problems we’ve had a repetitive recounting of the symptoms and accounts of the prognosis which are no less monotonous for being ever more horrific.
All of which is grist to the mill of the portentous rhetoric that has become Ian Blackford’s favoured schtick in the British parliament and excellent material for Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s presentations. But it bores the skitters out of your average punter. It fails to engage the disengaged. It fails to inspire the apathetic.
If there was to be a “Brexit Bounce” it would be driven by righteous and justified anger at a constitutional outrage. It was never going to be provoked by cold calculation of economic consequences.
The opportunity to boost the independence campaign offered by Brexit has been squandered. The moment is gone. And there is nothing Mike Russell can do to bring it back.
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