I’m seeing suggestions that the SNP intend to start a ‘National Conversation’ on independence/a possible second independence referendum. I haven’t seen this confirmed but let’s assume it’s correct for the sake of this article and pre-empt some of the nonsense it will involve.
It’s not clear if or how a National Conversation would fit with the once-upon-a-time much trumpeted summer of wooing to review why the first referendum didn’t work (do they really need that?) and convince No voters that they were wrong. That seemed to crash to the ground with the political demise of depute leader Stewart Hosie in his crisp white Y-fronts.
Meantime and notwithstanding the summer holidays, the grievance machine has been in its usual febrile overdrive, the moan a minute school of nationalism, from the alleged lack of an instantly available tug to pull an oil rig off the West coast of Lewis, through the constant niggling at the media by SNP politicians, to this month’s biggie, how Scotland’s been done down by Brexit.
A National Conversation would provide some respite from all this, wouldn’t it? After all the dictionary definition of a conversation, and surely our own everyday experience of them, is
a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged (Oxford Dictionaries).
Sounds reasonable. That’s how most of my conversations go, sometimes with a glass of something in hand, sometimes not – informal, usually congenial, and unstructured to the extent that when the participants start them they don’t know where they’re going to end.
The problem is, we all know where a National Conversation with the SNP is going to end. You might enter into it with an open mind; they won’t. The agenda and the outcome of the conversation is already fixed for them (check clause 2 (a) of their constitution – ‘The aims of the party shall be independence for Scotland …’). It might be a conversation if the informality extended to meetings, websites or whatever where opponents were invited to set out their case on an equal basis, but it won’t, and why should those opponents take part when the outcome is pre-determined?
In short, a National Conversation and every other similar gambit attempted by politicians is phoney, as this one will be.
Here’s a prediction. If the National Conversation involves meetings, they will be dominated both on the platform and in the body of the kirk by convinced nationalists. If it involves online forums or consultations they will also be dominated by nationalists. The result will be a self-fulfilling prophecy: the people want independence/separation.
Finding out what your fellow-citizens unconvinced by separation feel and believe doesn’t need a one-sided National Conversation with a pre-determined result. Opinion polls, the media, economic and academic commentators and researchers, political opponents, even the daily traffic on social media, can all provide a bucket-load of clues.
If you think I’m overly cynical about a National Conversation try what I always find a useful exercise – reverse the situation and see how that plays out. Let’s say the UK government held a National Conversation on how to improve the union of England and Scotland, with Theresa May and Scottish Secretary David Mundell leading the discussion. What odds would you put on the SNP taking part? The question, as they say, is rhetorical.