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Indy-tribalism: 'My Scotland is better than yours'

They say it’s always darkest before the dawn.

Well for supporters of Scottish independence, this must feel like a pitch-black night indeed.

Just last year, the Yes movement was priming itself to fight, once again, on the political battlefield at the very heart of Scottish politics.

There was certainly a buzz of excitement amongst activists who, in anticipation of a verdict on Holyrood’s ability to legislate for indyref2, felt that the Supreme Court could do nothing but propel the movement towards independence.

A ruling in favour would have paved the way for a referendum in October of this year. A ruling against would be taken as further confirmation that Scotland’s political will was being denied - in turn, adding fuel to the fire that burns deep within the hearts of many independence supporters.

As we know, the court ruled against it and, for a while at least, it seemed as though independence supporters were beginning to mobilise… as was to be expected.

Marches and rallies were the go-tos for the grassroots, whilst those at the top of the SNP began preparing for a ‘special’ party conference. ‘De-facto’ became the political buzzword on everybody’s mind, as that age-old constitutional fault line began to pierce its way across Scotland’s political landscape.

At that point, nobody could have predicted that a political resignation, and a police investigation, would quickly plunge the movement back into the darkness.

What’s happened since draws striking similarities to that one episode of ‘Still Game’, where a truck ploughs into an electricity substation and causes a power cut in Craiglang. As night descended on the town, violence and crime began to wreak havoc on the local pensioners.

Now, I’m not saying that infighting within the movement has spiralled into burglarising homes or physical assault... but it does seem that the divergent factions within the independence movement have turned on one another under the cover of darkness, whilst the SNP leadership desperately struggles to find ways of getting the lights back on.

Given the chaos of the current independence infighting, I think it’s worth getting to the roots of exactly how the movement has become so deeply fractured and ever more volatile towards one another.

Back in 2014, independence supporters were able to work collectively towards an end goal which, in fairness, they were certainly within shooting range of.

Albeit polling at the time indicated that it was always going to take something special for the Yes campaign to win - but that wasn’t to rule out the possibility of a long-range ‘worldie’ flying straight into the top corner of the Unionist’s goal.

In the end, though, it wasn’t to be. The shot whizzed inches over the bar, the Yes campaign suffered a narrow defeat and their head coach Alex Salmond saw no other option than to resign.

Truth be told, the 2014 result fundamentally came down to the Yes campaign being unable to convince, undecided, ‘indy-curious’ voters that there was a concrete plan in place to address the concerns that shrouded the unknown world of an independent Scotland.

That’s not to say that they didn’t try.

I’m sure many would point to the ‘Scotland’s Future’ white paper on independence, the movement’s sacred scripture of sorts, as being a detailed plan for the beginnings of a new nation.

However, the content of the paper often found itself stranded in the middle of the battlefield and was exposed to repeated attacks from the Better Together campaign.

Adding to this, the document came in at around 600 pages long - meaning the information within it barely ever transcended the confines of the very book it was written in, never mind into the homes of the wider public.

Arguably, what’s happened since is exactly what should have been done to address the uncertainty that kept so many from supporting independence back in 2014.

From the bottom-up, organisations like Business for Scotland, Common Weal and Reform Scotland, who were all relatively new to the scene last time around, have spent a great deal of time trying to solidify the economic case for independence. In the process, they have each created their own, relatively distinct, visions for an independent Scotland.

The long and short of it all is that people on both the political left and right of the movement have a far greater variety of ‘resource material’ on which they can base their ideas for what an independent nation looks like.

Now, more than ever before, each nationalist better understands exactly what type of Scotland they want to see.

Meanwhile, the SNP have spent the last 8 years governing Scotland and trying to prove to the wider population that they are the ones who can steer the nation away from the Brexit iceberg… an obstacle that already seems to have crashed its way through the starboard side of HMS Great Britain.

But in proving their competence, the SNP have also made clear their vision for independence. It is important to mention that the SNP’s vision has been prone to being shaped, and constrained, by political forces - such as the party politics involved with the Bute House Agreement… and you only have to look as far as Fergus Ewing’s animated outbursts in the Holyrood chamber to understand the gist of what I’m about to say next.

Now, I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty, right or wrong minefield of specific policy issues. I think that you can work out many of them for yourself.

But the harsh reality for the SNP is that decisions on a select few policy areas have massively dealigned their vision for Scotland from that of other groups within the movement.

And with so many different factions working to solidify the foundations of an independent Scotland, those within the movement have become far more aware of what they want and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t want to see.

With the SNP at the helm of this movement, they’ve found themselves in a sticky situation whereby many independence supporters have begun questioning whether their own vision is reflected within party policy.

At the same time, hard-line SNP supporters have grappled with trying to understand how there are people who have become disillusioned by the party.

The problem is that they each have a vision of what they believe an independent Scotland should look like, but not all of these visions are compatible with one another. This incompatibility has spectacularly managed to manifest itself into tribalist politics.

It’s now become a split separation between the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ versions of independence… the birth of ‘indytribalism’.

Now, I’m not going to say that competing visions are solely accountable for today’s infighting, but I do fear that they are responsible for fuelling many of the tribalist attitudes that we see today within an ever more divided movement.

Indeed, they may be what has caused the independence melting pot to boil over on several occasions in recent times.

Take the creation of the Alba party, a move which served to fragment Scottish nationalism’s political arm and shift a chunk of voters away from the SNP. Both parties want independence but, often, they each seem to deeply despise the other’s very existence.

This issue was also a prominent driver of the ‘indytribalism’ seen during the fiercely contested SNP leadership election. The ever so slight differences in the candidates’ visions for Scotland, gave way to mudslinging that would have had many believing that each individual was operating as some sort of undercover operative.

Agent Yousaf, the establishment’s inside man with little desire for independence.

Agent Forbes, the undercover Tory looking to implement a right-wing economic agenda.

And Agent Reagan, the Alba operative spying from behind enemy lines.

All three share equally firm beliefs that Scotland would be better off going it alone. But what recent times have shown is that internal scepticism has gripped the nationalist movement, with many ‘indytribalists’ going as far as to question one another’s commitment to the cause.

Yet, whilst it was easy to get lost in the chaos of it all, this issue boils down to the differing views that have emerged on how a future Scotland should look… the ‘my Scotland is better than yours’ attitude.

What’s certain, is that these attitudes will have to be dropped if the movement is to have a hope of achieving Scottish independence any time soon.

The de-escalation of this internal conflict will not be an easy task and will require engagement across factions. As drivers at the wheel of the movement’s largest political vehicle, the SNP leadership are now tasked with restoring order and trying to get the movement pulling in the same direction… or as close to the same direction as is feasibly possible.

The appointment of a Minister for Independence may represent a positive step towards achieving greater unity. However, the success or failure on this matter will be largely reliant on Jamie Hepburn being able to hold constructive talks with the wider movement over a collectively agreed-upon vision for Scotland, policies that are reflective of this and how the hell they go about making independence happen.

The stakes have never been higher.

But, if Humza Yousaf is successful in his mission to reach across the divide, then perhaps dawn may finally emerge over the horizon… putting an end to what has been a long, dark night for Scotland’s independence movement.

This article was posted as a guest entry by Cameron Coyne. Untribal Politics is a political commentary platform by regular people, for regular people. If you've got plenty to say about Scottish politics and want to make a contribution, email us at:


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