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2022 in review, and whats coming up next year...
I want to start this edition, the last of 2022, with a big thank you. For subscribing, for reading, for sharing and for giving me the encouragement to keep this project going. Regardless of where you stand on all things independence, I hope you have enjoyed the content thus far. A lot of ground has been covered since we began earlier this year, so let’s take a step back to look at the range of issues we have explored together.
We began with an introduction to the newsletter, outlining the key motivations and the essential mission of Independence Captured. In the first full edition, Referendum Olympics, we laid out the compelling reasons why a referendum in 2023 was not to be expected.
Alongside a set of essays examining the possible consequences of war in Europe on the national question, we detailed the contradictions inherent in advocating for NATO membership on the one hand, and Trident disarmament on the other. We also offered a critique of the comments made by the First Minister in relation to support for a No Fly Zone over Ukraine.
We mapped out a number of key policy areas in the domestic agenda where the SNP leadership failed to match rhetoric with reality. We opposed the sale of national renewable assets through ScotWind. We brought to the fore a relatively unknown plan code-named “Project Neptune” geared towards the eventual privatisation of CalMac Ferries. And, we took a look at the cost of living crisis in the Scottish dimension.
Allied with this, we produced a response to the Scottish Government’s Spending Review, which advocated a drastic shrinking of the public sector. This represented an economic liberalism of a different order to the kind of managerialism the SNP have been known for. We interwove this with wider questions of trust in the First Minister. Was there really a viable plan for independence so that Scotland might have the full powers required to make transformational economic decisions?
That question led us to one of the most important catalysts behind Independence Captured in the first place: the Growth Commission. Within this ruinous policy platform lay the proposal for Sterlingisation, which persists to this day. This means monetary policy would be governed by the Bank of England for an indefinite period, even after independence was declared. We broke this down as meticulously as possible in As the World Changes - the SNP Stand Still, and later in The Currency Capitulation.
In the days following the first of the new White Papers and the apparent rebooting of the independence campaign, this newsletter did not join the cheerleading. Instead, I sounded a note of caution. In what became a landmark article for the project, Independence Captured argued simply: Something Doesn’t Add Up. Much of this commentary came to pass after the predictable ruling of the Supreme Court extinguished the idea of a “gold standard” referendum without the consent of the UK Government, and as the supposedly “new” case for independence failed to materialise.
Rather than an independence strategy, we speculated that the SNP was instead following an electoral one. As the crisis in the Tory party accelerated, we examined the key divisions involved, beyond the proximate scandals which came to engulf Boris Johnson. Despite the carnage at the heart of the UK Government, the SNP leadership’s orientation on events amounted to mere Box Ticking. Where is the Independence Case? we asked.
Breaking up the British state aside, even the modest proposals being made by the SNP Trade Union Group around the use of existing tax powers, were excluded from the party’s conference agenda. This followed a pattern in which party members were often subordinate to overarching corporate interests. To evidence this, we took a detailed look at the links between the SNP and the Corporate Lobby.
In the aftermath of the passing of the Queen, we considered the myth-making around the British royal family and the impact on Scottish political and social life. If this ever was a moment of “national unity,” it was quickly obliterated by Liz Truss. Her fleeting time in office represented the most acute phase of the Tory crisis thus far. Chaos reigned, I argued. Yet the weakness of the UK Government and the sense of calamity around the British state also served to highlight the weaknesses of the independence strategy.
It came as no surprise that the SNP conference ended up so moribund. As we reported, it did not feel like the lead-up to a referendum campaign. In Giving up the Initiative we argued that key moments to press the independence cause forward were being missed. After the Supreme Court ruling, the central arguments around the failure of strategy and politics that had driven the independence movement into such a cul-de-sac were bound together, as we judged the record of the SNP leadership.
In addition, there were several more theoretical editions. For example, we assessed the nature of social movements and postulated that independence campaigners could only find reinvigorated purpose once the defeat of 2014 had been fully registered. We also published some provocations in relation to the changing character of the national question. After Brexit, had Scottish independence become an extension of a bruised British liberalism rather than a challenge to it?
We also conducted a number of interviews. These included the authors of Scotland After Britain: The Two Souls of Scottish Independence, care expert Nick Kempe on the National Care Service (which we then followed up with a piece on the privatisation of the Scottish NHS), and education specialist James McEnaney.
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Moving into 2023
This year has been about establishing an analytical framework around the SNP leadership and the national question. It sought to solidify a body of work which could consider a number of points: the use of independence as an electoral device; the absence of independence strategy; the incoherence of the official prospectus; the consequences of constitutional paralysis on domestic politics.
It is true arguing “there will be no referendum in 2023” was not always popular, especially in the heat of the manufactured hype around the setting of an October date. But it was accurate, accounted for and needed to be said.
Now, with an independence referendum off the agenda, a new period is opening up. Next year, the content will reflect this. We will appraise alternative strategies, alongside a full critique of the so-called “de facto referendum.” As conveyed to The Guardian, this is in my view a losing strategy. It was conceived as no more than a soundbite, without the required explanation and planning. In addition, there are substantial internal divisions over how - or if - it should be conducted.
In 2022, much of the analysis has focussed on the SNP leadership. That will continue, given their ongoing dominance of Scottish politics. But we will also take a closer look at the Scottish Greens, examining the political trajectory of the party as it becomes a settled component of the Scottish governing class.
I also want to bring you more interviews and features. Here, you can look forward to expert insight, fresh ideas and real debate. Not just within the existing independence movement, but well beyond it too. Indeed, an important strand of the work next year will be dedicated to making the case for an entirely new approach, drawing a line under 2014 and the remnants of its organisational forms and slogans.
You might not always agree with what is said. Thoughtful discussion and disagreement are to be welcomed. To that end, I am planning to initiate a letters page. If you have read a newsletter you take issue with, you will be able to write to Independence Captured. More details about this will be released in 2023.
I am also looking to add on some other bits of infrastructure, including audio and video. The podcast has been delayed, largely due to time pressures. But also because the concept needs a little more work. There are now well over a thousand subscribers. The National has a circulation of around ten thousand, so this has been set as an objective, to give you a sense of the ambition going forward. While becoming a paid subscriber helps to support the newsletter, the content will remain free to all.
With all of that said, may I wish you a peaceful Christmas and a happy new year when it comes.
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