These words were used by Nicola Sturgeon last weekend at an SNP conference. I say ‘an’ rather than ‘the’ because these things, once annual, seem to come around with increasing frequency and with more and more razzmatazz and less real content than hitherto. The SNP versions at the moment are particularly obnoxious to the outside observer. They are tastelessly triumphant, from sundry grinning political groupies dressed in pink or yellow as Angry or Sexy Salmond (these are ‘real’ online persona) surrounding some hapless junior minister or MP, to panoramic shots of the delegates proving, if nothing else, that someone has managed to master the ‘pan’ function on their mobile phone camera.
The first minister’s speech to the conference was widely spoken of as ‘reaching out’ to those who do not want separation. It’s worth quoting more fully.
We will not achieve our dream of independence just by wishing that the outcome of the referendum had been different … We will achieve independence only when we persuade a majority of our fellow citizens that it is the best future for our country. Our success will depend on the strength of our arguments and the clarity of our vision … That is why this summer the SNP will embark on a new initiative to build support for independence. It will not be an attempt to browbeat anyone. I know that many across Scotland support the union as strongly as we do independence – I respect that. But I also know that many wanted to be persuaded in 2014 – but ultimately didn’t find our arguments compelling enough. So we will listen to what you have to say. We will hear your concerns and address your questions – and in the process, we will be prepared to challenge some of our own answers. And, patiently and respectfully, we will seek to convince you that independence really does offer the best future for Scotland.
I’ve quoted selectively because I only intend to analyse selectively. Professionals like Peter MacMahon, ITV’s excellent Borders political editor, have examined wider aspects of the speech.
First, for the avoidance of doubt let’s clear the decks of one misunderstanding I was taxed with online – that Sturgeon was addressing her ‘patiently and respectfully’ to those in her party who, unbelievably to me, just want to go ahead and declare UDI. Of course, there are messages for the faithful in there, especially the new faithful (does that make sense?) who joined the party after the referendum. But ‘patiently and respectfully’ is definitely directed at the majority who voted No.
Rather more starkly than the speech, the party subsequently tweeted the key words like this:
But let’s work our way systematically through the longer text.
We will not achieve our dream of independence just by wishing that the outcome of the referendum had been different. Correct, although I note the word dream and repeat my own recent comment on its use – ‘Dreams can be pleasant enough, exciting even while they last. But in the cold light of day, and in this case harsh economic reality, they’re more likely to make you wake in a cold sweat grateful that you’ve had a narrow escape.’ In short, dreams are not enough. In fact they’re irrelevant to most of us.
We will achieve independence only when we persuade a majority of our fellow citizens that it is the best future for our country. Also arithmetically correct, although I haven’t seen much sign of attempts to persuade since the referendum. I return to this point when I look at the word ‘respectfully’ later.
Our success will depend on the strength of our arguments and the clarity of our vision. I’m not sure ‘clarity’ of vision is relevant. The SNP’s core vision is expressed with utmost clarity in their constitution (‘The aims of the party shall be … (a) independence for Scotland’) and many of us just don’t want that. As for ‘strength of our arguments’ they will have to be strong indeed because none of the unanswered questions from 2014 (for example as listed here) has been addressed.
This summer the SNP will embark on a new initiative to build support for independence. If this is dog whistle politics for nationalists meaning ‘not for a long time’ I can buy it. But if it means anything earlier than the ‘once in a generation opportunity’ the Scottish Government/SNP promised in the referendum many of us will regard a second bite at the cherry as a betrayal.
It will not be an attempt to browbeat anyone. I know that many across Scotland support the union as strongly as we do independence – I respect that. So strongly does the first minister respect the majority who support the union that less than 18 months after that once in a generation opportunity she is willing to overthrow the nation’s decisive democratic decision. That is not respect.
I … know that many wanted to be persuaded in 2014 – but ultimately didn’t find our arguments compelling enough. Here we have the repetition of the nationalist myth that ‘many wanted [my emphasis] to be persuaded in 2014.’ I have seen no evidence of this claim. Until the SNP dispose of their myths about their opponents’ motivation they haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of meaningful communication with us. Others include, of course, the belief that fear motivated ‘No’ voters and it was mainly the old who were against separation. She is of course right that the majority did not find the SNP’s arguments compelling enough.
We will listen to what you have to say. Ah yes, the old listening bit. She may wish to have a quiet word with her MPs and MSPs who block or mute those of us on Twitter with different views or, more seriously, don’t answer requests from constituents they regard as hostile.
We will hear your concerns and address your questions. Good, I’m waiting. Meantime I refer you to some of my other comments above.
We will be prepared to challenge some of our own answers. Absolutely essential. I wish her luck with something the SNP have clearly been unable to do so far, with all their electoral success. But here’s a helpful suggestion. Why don’t they drop the hopeless demand for separation and just settle down as a party of UK regional government? They could do some great stuff that way with the unrealistic distractions removed.
Patiently and respectfully, we will seek to convince you that independence really does offer the best future for Scotland … so here we come to the nub of the matter for me.
How could anyone not welcome a promise of patience and respect?
Perhaps because the track record on independence/separation promises has not been good so far (see above)?
Perhaps because the tweeted version of the promise includes that gratuitous ‘#snp16’? If the first online manifestation of the respect has to include a crude, in effect, ‘Vote SNP’ tag it shows the message hasn’t got even from conference podium to presumably immediately adjacent media guru.
Perhaps because it’s more than a tad patronising, suggesting the bad child who needs to be dealt with patiently until it understands?
And perhaps because the patience and respect seems to extend only as far as trying to convince me that independence offers the best future for Scotland. It would be good to know it was a more general prescription on communication, for example, for one of their MPs who habitually refers to unionists as ‘yoons’ and is currently urging people to ‘#annoyaunionist.’
Good luck Nicola, you’ll need it.