Pete Wishart: The Worst Type of Defeat

by Jeggit

Having read Peter Bell’s thoughts on it in his article “The ‘Sweet Spot’ of Catastrophe” on Sunday, I was aware Pete Wishart had written more on his preference for a strategy of waiting for the “optimum conditions” for another independence referendum. Last night, while I should have been preparing for today’s geometry lesson, I read what Mr Wishart had to say. Once again the drama around my desk became like that scene in Downfall where Adolf removes his specs with a trembling left hand before throwing a complete man-child tantrum in the Führerbunker. I was livid.

Now before turning to what the MP for Perth and North Perthshire says I have to make something clear. The last time myself and other pro-independence bloggers criticised Pete Wishart our words were widely taken as an endorsement of the belief Wishart no longer supports independence, that life in London has made him “too comfortable.” Let me be clear: This is not the case. Everyone in this movement is entitled to their own opinions, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with enjoying life in London. It’s a wonderful city. I have no reason to believe Pete is any less an independentista than anyone else in the movement, but – like everyone else – he is not beyond criticism.

I have no reason to believe Pete is any less an independentista than anyone else in the movement, but – like everyone else – he is not beyond criticism.

As he wrote before, his basic premise for stalling the diggers for the ideal conditions to come about is that “we simply can not [sic] countenance losing again.” This, he insists, would be the “worst type of defeat.” Now, of course, there is sound logic to his position; to push ahead in adverse conditions would be inviting certain defeat, and a defeat of this nature would be crushing. This is sound tactical thinking, and – if his assumptions were correct – I would agree with him. But he is wrong – both in his assumptions of the present conditions and in his conclusions.

In his opening paragraph he falsely frames this “debate” in terms of whether “we should proceed with a referendum simply because we currently possess a mandate or whether we hold one when there is good evidence it can be won.” While both of these conditions are important, they are not exclusive of one another. This is not a case of having a mandate or knowing whether or not we can win. Given that we can’t win without a mandate, this must always be a case of having one and assessing our chances of victory. The logical end of Wishart’s proposal is waiting until we don’t have a mandate.

Peter Bell rightly points out that Wishart’s only favourable wind is dictated by the polls; a school of politicking that can only ever have the cart before the horse. Polls are not made more favourable during ordinary time. While the union is the default setting of traditional Scottish politics, the opinion polls – considering that independence is the challenge to this status quo – will always be subject to the law of social and political inertia during periods of inactivity.

Change happens when force is exerted on an inert mass, and – typically – this happens in politics only during active political campaigns. It follows then that social and political movements, when left unmoved by such a campaign, succumb gradually to the destructive forces of inertia and atrophy; over time they lose steam, their inner dynamism weakens, and ultimately they die.

Momentum (as p=mv), continuing with this Newtonian analogy, demands both mass and velocity. We have a mass. We have somewhere between 45 and 52 per cent of Scotland either prepared to vote for independence or easily won over. It lacks velocity. This movement has not moved in over three years and already it is showing signs here and there of inertia and atrophy. Momentum is the life blood of every movement, and what Mr Wishart is asking is that we wait longer until the polls are perfect.

Waiting will only further damage the cohesion of the movement and allow other Westminster-managed political changes to make future re-energisation more difficult.

These polls will not shift significantly – excepting for any changes in public opinion arising from the Brexit negotiations (which will be limited by the British government and the media) – until we are in another campaign. Waiting will only further damage the cohesion of the movement and allow other Westminster-managed political changes to make future re-energisation more difficult. We have moved, we have gained momentum, and so now we must move or perish.

What if we lose? This is Pete Wishart’s conclusion; that another defeat will be “the worst type of defeat,” that it will be fatal. This is misguided in the extreme. Movements do not die because of defeat. Had this be the case few revolutions would have ever succeeded. The civil rights movement in the United States would have amounted to little more than a few lynchings and some broken bones. We’d hear nothing of pro-democracy activism in China. Movements do not die as a result of defeat. They die from a lack of momentum.

We may suspect that Pete Wishart is confusing the cause for independence in Scotland with a mere political ambition. Political causes drop like flies. Left on its own, seeking independence as a mere political goal, the SNP would be worse than useless. Yet, for good or for ill, the Scottish National Party has become the political vehicle of a mass social movement. Elected members of the SNP – people like Pete Wishart – must learn that their party is no longer a political party with political objectives; it is the flagship of a movement that will not stop moving unless they hit the brakes – and that would be the worst type of defeat.


The Butterfly Rebellion
Jason Michael
Ayrshire, Scotland


2 thoughts on “Pete Wishart: The Worst Type of Defeat

  1. “Movements do not die because of defeat … they die from a lack of momentum.”
    A Gaelic proverb comes to mind :
    Is beò duine an déidh a shàrachadh : cha beò e idir a nàrachadh.
    “A person can survive being overcome, but not being shamed”.
    Surely nothing could shame the independence movement more than simply putting off the challenge of a second referendum until it is too late?

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  2. I suspect events such as the Scottish Government being forced to accept an unsatisfactory settlement with UK government on the UK Withdrawal Bill may hasten a decision on indyref2. I don’t see the SG giving in and accepting a deal that would harm devolution and the Scottish Parliament as well as folk who live here, but if there is a take-it-or-leave-it choice that may well be the final straw. What would we then have to lose, even if the runes aren’t seen as totally favourable. With the Brexit shambles, the intransigence of the UK government and devolution under threat when the SG is valued by the majority of Scots well above Westminster, then it’s difficult to think of a more opportune time for another referendum.

    My one worry, though, is that we are not ready for it, not fighting fit. and fully geared up. Some areas may be, but with no SNP campaigns for a year the electorate haven’t seen us on the ground while the Tories have never stopped campaigning and are ramping up the ant-SNP, anti-Nicola rhetoric online. The lack of activity is causing frustration and that is leading to squabbles amongst ourselves. The SNP spring conference is late this year for whatever reason, so no big event to enthuse the troops. I think the message needs to go out that we need to ensure we are prepared for the next couple of years. That means strenuous efforts by the SNP, Greens and Yes to ensure training is available and organisation is spruced up and given an MOT. Some appropriate literature should be available to get us back onto the streets to make ourselves visible to the public and engage with them.

    We need to ensure that once the date is called, whenever that might be (and it looks as if it could be sooner rather than later) that we are fully charged and ready to go in sixth gear.

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