In-de-pen-dence re-fe-ren-dum: the tip of the tongue takes a trip of eight mad lunges around the palate, ending with a whumping close of the lips, as if one has just swallowed a fly.
Having covered Scottish politics for something like 25 years, I feel like the phrase has carved a groove in my mouth. Spin and repeat. Rewind and replay. Etiolation and diminishing returns. Perhaps this is why, when Nicola Sturgeon this week launched her latest campaign towards a referendum, there was little sense of it lighting lives or firing loins. Even pro-Yessers seemed to respond as if the SNP is merely slouching towards Bannockburn, driven more by muscle memory and the need for internal husbandry than desire or a genuine belief that the prize is in sight.
My own initial response on reading Sturgeon’s new paper, the first in a series analysing the possibilities of leaving the UK, was a mix of exhaustion and frustration. Here’s why:
- The Britain portrayed in the paper’s endless data charts is a basket case, a global laggard, a relentlessly foul hell of economic misery and social savagery, its wretched population living lives of blunted opportunity in medieval conditions. By the time I’d finished, I felt steamrollered. And bleakly resentful. I looked out the window. I thought of the local bookshop I’d been to that morning, started by two young women entrepreneurs and packed with chattering students from all over the world, each making a single coffee last for hours. The Scottish government’s highly partial, ultra-weaponised, taxpayer-funded, civil servant-authored assault on my country – for all that country’s many and obvious flaws – irritated me.
- I considered Nicola Sturgeon, a politician and person for whom I retain some admiration, launching the report from her podium in Bute House. Beside her stood wee Patrick Harvie, the leader of the Scottish Greens, a party that is explicitly against economic growth, private enterprise, Nato and Israel, and one that holds two posts in the Scottish government. I thought about how weak and misdirected the independence movement has become that the big push requires Sturgeon to have embraced, and have smirking beside her on equal terms, the leader of a radical party that has eight seats at Holyrood and that won fewer than 35,000 constituency votes at the recent Holyrood election. I wondered how middle Scotland could be persuaded to support a cause that seems to be veering ever closer to the Greens’ (to me) crazy, juvenile outlook on the world.