The Power of the Dug

Time makes fools of us all; our only comfort is that greater shall come after us.

– Scottish mathematician and writer E.T. Bell. 

Is today’s movement for Scottish independence more divided than the forces that almost got us over the line in 2014?

Yes (!), you might say, when you see pro-indy voices at each other’s throats.

Given the disproportionate unionist bias in the mainstream media, the internet often seems the best way to understand what’s happening in Scotland.  Yet some online sources bring their own negative tendencies: differences amplified into stark contrasts; dismissal of alternatives and anyone with a divergent point of view dosed with invective.

On the other hand, some commentators manage to play the issue not the person, use measured language and focus on the essential need to fight unionism, rather than other independence supporters.

Step forward the Wee Ginger Dug, who’s been blogging since 2013.  The blog is not actually written by its canine namesake, a rescued mongrel from Spain.  And Ginger died last year.  The blogger is Paul Kavanagh who fights on, dugless, supporting pro-independence parties and not going down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories.

Kavanagh’s patiently practical bulletins are clear and accessible.  He aims especially at soft NO voters, making the detailed, nuts-and-bolts case for indy.  He examines everyday events and persuasively builds up the reasons why things happen as they do in the UK, showing how divisions between rich and poor, the entitled and the people, Westminster and Scotland, are symptoms of our constitutional set-up – and how it could all change with independence.

A linguist, he’s articulate, erudite and funny.  He uses humour to critique the true enemies of Scottish self-determination: the Conservatives and the British Government and other apologists for British nationalism.

Until recently, he also walked the walk, attending demos and giving talks to various YES groups all over Scotland.  Sadly – just as Ginger ascended to his immortal kennel – Kavanagh himself suffered a massive stroke.  This has curtailed his campaigning, but not his written combat, adding daily political analyses in The National (The REAL Scottish politics) to his blogging.

His doggedness (duggedness?) in dealing with his own immobility is matched by a resolve to stick exclusively to promoting Scottish independence. For below-the-line comments, he rules: If you want to mouth off about how much you dislike the SNP leadership, there are other forums.

So, let’s hear it for the dug – I’d say his unfailing positivity offers a better way forward than online sniping. 

There are other commentators who keep an inclusive, open-hearted attitude as they write about Scotland, like Joyce McMillan, Lesley Riddoch and – except on the gender issue – Ruth Wishart.

That said, none of us can pretend that everything in the YES garden is rosy and harmonious.  How do we disagree?  Let me count the ways…

Perhaps the biggest divergence is between the SNP and Alba, the party set up by Alex Salmond just in time for the May 2021 Holyrood election.  Salmond proposed a super-majority of pro-independence parties but, in the event, Alba got just 1.7%of the list vote.  The SNP leadership will have nothing to do with Alba, while many in the new party are at odds with some SNP policies, especially on gender reform.

Imagine Salmond and Sturgeon still together.  The brilliant strategist and the consummate tactician united, leading the drive for independence.  And more than that – all those disenchanted with SNP inertia who’ve joined Alba, or just drifted off, working alongside the loyal foot soldiers who’ve stayed, slogging away for the cause.

Dream on.  Not going to happen.  Yet don’t the SNP need a partner or partners to challenge and push them on the core aims of the movement?  It’s not just that they’ve been in power at Holyrood for years; they’ve also done it single-handed. 

Admirable in many ways, but now both these factors seem to be a disadvantage in moving forward.  So, if not Alba, who?  The Greens have priorities even more urgent than getting out of the rotten-to-the-core United Kingdom.

One piece of proposed legislation – The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill – has become not just its own blazing row, but also a proxy for other rifts.

At the heart of all this is the pace of progress towards independence.  The unionist jibe – get on with the day job – is now, for many restless indy supporters, the main problem.  The SNP leadership is consumed by managing the system.

And why wouldn’t it be?  Mitigating the worst ravages of Tory rule and coping, hands tied by the constitution, with the day-to-day running of a country.  It’s more than a full-time job.  Besides, this was always part of the plan: gentle persuasion of waverers by deeds rather than words.

What’s more, it’s worked.  Most people think Holyrood has made a better job of things than Westminster. 

We’re 8 years on from indyref 1 and fifteen since the SNP started to govern.

Nobody’s perfect. There have been a number of own goals – the ferries fiasco, Bi-Fab, Prestwick, underselling offshore wind etc.  Piecemeal public investments have been, as George Kerevan wrote, reactive rather than strategic.

Add in events like Brexit, Covid, Ukraine and inflation plus the Tory demolition mob and we can see that we’ve come as far as devolution can get us. 

For months, if not years, now, polls have shown how evenly divided the people of Scotland are.  We’re stuck unless we get to choose independence (or not).

It’s no longer enough to govern; to break out of this impasse we need to aim for the higher goal of independence and we need a target date to get things moving.

‘Mon Nicola, name the day – now!

Paul Bassett


May 2022

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