The worst of times

As you watch events unfold over the coming days and weeks please remember this. It is not the diagnosis that kills the patient. It’s the disease. It is not the people who warn of impending failure who bring about that failure. It’s the people who ignore those warnings. Before you start shooting messengers, bear in mind that everyone who speaks out sends a message. Even silence is a message. We are all messengers. Start shooting messengers and you better save a bullet for yourself.

The disease that has struck down the Yes movement, depriving Scotland’s cause of it’s breath and muscle, is time. It was no single act of human folly but the accumulation of many such acts. There certainly was no conspiracy to destroy the Yes movement. Even if such a thing we’re feasible it would be redundant. Time could be relied on to do the job.

No one person, group, organisation or party is to blame. All bear some form and burden of responsibility. There is no necessary malign intent. Merely the aggregate of good intentions which, often only with hindsight, can be seen to be misguided. In political movements 2+2 has countless ways of make shit and precious few ways of making 4. Looking back over the last ten years it appears as if Scotland’s independence movement was set upon exploring all the ways of making 2+2 add up to shit. That’s not how it was, of course. It’s just how it seems

It’s human nature to ask where and when it all went wrong every bit as much as it’s in our nature to ask who is to blame. Recorded history is an attempt to satisfy this need for explanation. But it’s like sticking pins in a river to mark the cause of a flood. No event or development occurs in isolation. Everything is connected to everything else. Everything is affected by everything else in ways that depend at least as much on perspective as on any identifiable action or actor.

This is not to say that all is random. We can give an account which selects certain points as being of significance. But even something as significant as a tipping point tends to defy the kind of precise definition that might satisfy the human need for pattern and predictability. There is vanishingly seldom general agreement on where the crux of the tipping point lies. Serious and prolonged conflict can arise from disagreement about just such matters.

All of this would matter if there were useful lessons to be learned from a dispassionate analysis the last decade in the history of Scotland’s independence movement. There are interesting lessons to be learned, for sure. Lessons of academic interest. But it’s extremely doubtful that they might be useful, for the simple reason that they would only be useful in circumstances that now no longer exist and cannot be recreated because the circumstances that might have allowed their recreation have also ceased to exist.

The Yes movement of a decade ago no longer exists. It almost certainly cannot be rebuilt. Attempts to do so are very probably futile and quite possibly counterproductive. Which doesn’t mean that the “beautiful dream” is dead. Only that the popular campaign against the Union will have to take a different form. What that form might be is not yet clear.

What is abundantly clear is that the constitutional issue cannot be left to the politicians. And by this I mean all the politicians. I could do chapter and verse on the poor choices and bad decisions made by all the parties and all the main players. But to do so would be to indulge and encourage the tribalism which has seeped into ever part of our political culture and every corner of our democratic infrastructure. There is now no way to remove the tribalism. We can only choose to remove ourselves from it.

I’m not even sure what that last sentence means. I have no clear idea of what is implied by the idea of removing ourselves from the toxic broth of polarised, dogmatic factionalism which now seethes where once stood a magnificent popular democratic movement. I don’t know how we go about building something that is both different from the Yes movement of old and a viable alternative for it. I only know that I am now firmly persuaded that this is the only way to keep the “beautiful dream” alive.