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‘That’s a keeper!’

Some of the writing produced in the past decade is valuable because it didn’t just reflect the debate, it affected what followed.

Sunday, October 8, 2023
16 mins

Where are the best articles on the struggle for a return to full independence? 

In all the material produced over the past dozen years or so, which pieces are worth clipping out and sticking in the big scrapbook? Younger readers may be unaware that that’s what used to happen pre-internet. Very large books made of ‘sugar paper’ could be bought in any newsagent. They were cheap and satisfyingly empty, good for school projects, keeping clippings about football, pre-printed ‘scraps’ illustrating cherubim, religious figures, flora & fauna, knitting/crochet patterns and whatnot. 

So this is our scrapbook, where we’ll gather the best bits and pieces to have appeared online since, let’s say 2010 just to get us started. We can go back further of course but we need to start somewhere and the build-up to the unexpected SNP landslide victory in 2011 seems as good a place as any.

If we had to pick just one article from the past decade which has had an effect on the course of the debate generally, it is ‘The Betrayer’ by Rev. Stuart Campbell, published on Wings Over Scotland on January 31st 2020. 

It was written in response to the much-anticipated NIcola Sturgeon speech in which she outlined the way forward for Scotland’s independence movement following the official withdrawal of the UK from the EU. 

(276) Nicola Sturgeon: independence best for Scotland post-Brexit - YouTube

Despite the provocative title, there was scant mention of Nicola Sturgeon in the Wings article. Instead, the first sentence contained a hyperlink to a Twitter thread by BBC politics correspondent Philip Sim, who was at the Sturgeon presser and had live-tweeted her speech point-by-point. That stream of bullet points can no longer be gathered via threader-reader apps but his tweets can still be viewed as they originally appeared. To see them in chronological order, as scripted in real-time by a BBC journalist, reveals the structure of Sturgeon’s speech.

But viewing the footage of her speech is a disturbing experience in retrospect. Here was a long-awaited (dreaded by many) confirmation that Scotland was indeed being ‘taken out of the European Union against its will’, something which the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford had sworn would not happen, on the floor of the House of Commons, innumerable times.

Despite 62% of Scots voting to remain in the EU, here it was, about to happen, and the First Minister decided that an appropriate way to announce confirmation was to appear buoyant, defiant, resolute and so on. There was an unseemly jauntiness about the presentation which may have been intended to signal determination but for many, whether they were Yes supporters or not, added to general upset. 

Of course, personal interpretation of that press conference varies widely. For some it was unexpected and the implications would not have been obvious. Others, like Stuart Campbell, had prepared themselves for the event, had predicted the content accurately and even (as seems fair to assume) scripted the bulk of their response in advance. 

(‘The Betrayer’ seems an odd title. Why not ‘traitor’? The answer will be familiar to regular readers and commenters on the site because ‘traitor’ is one of the words Stuart Campbell does not allow on Wings. If a commenter uses ‘traitor’ it is replaced, when the comment is published below-the-line, as ‘tractor’.)

The blogpost received over 500 comments. The small selection below reveals some of the raw emotions on show that day and it is worth noting the intensity of anger directed at Campbell personally. Yes, there was plenty of support for his analysis and decision to take an extended break from blogging, but the fury demonstrated by some typified reaction across the Yes movement generally. 

People who had marched together on the huge public gatherings from 2014-2017,  all across Scotland - people who had met initially and become good friends because of a shared passion - suddenly found themselves in bitter dispute over who was really to blame. And ‘Wings’ , who had always been perceived as a divisive voice in the Yes movement thanks to his sometimes controversial takes on non-independence-related matters, became a lightning-rod of sorts.

People who had lost faith in Nicola Sturgeon referred friends to ‘The Betrayer’ and were rebuffed. Lines were drawn, positions became more entrenched. Yes, to be sure, some admitted that the whole Brexit event was an awakening and they had lost faith in the SNP government as a result. But ‘The Betrayer’ was not responsible for peeling scales away from eyes all by itself. Rather, its effect was that of the boy’s cry in The Emperor’s New Clothes - once the raw nakedness had been called out it could not be unseen and so, for those in denial, avoidance became vital, a form of self-defence. 

Wings lost regular readers/commenters, some of whom migrated to vent their anger via other blogs, most notably Wee Ginger Dug (Paul Kavanagh), who was and remains a staunch Sturgeon/SNP loyalist. Wings’ uncompromising stance may have attracted new readers - we are not privy to the site’s analytics from that period - but to what extent their presence is reflected in btl comments since then is impossible to say, especially given that such a comparatively tiny number of regular readers ever comment at all. (If memory serves, Stuart Campbell once revealed that figure to be close to 0.5%)

Here, then, is ‘The Betrayer’ in full, followed by a selection of reactions.

Wings Over Scotland | The Betrayer

Weechid says:

31 January, 2020 at 6:49 pm

Sitting reading this in tears. I feel as bad tonight as I did on 19 September 2014. Now realise I’m never going to see Indy so that’s my input finished. No more standing on street stalls freezing my arse off. SNP have played me in the same way Labour did – empty promises. So I’m disenfranchised now and nowhere to go. Stuff em all.

Graeme says:

31 January, 2020 at 7:53 pm

Just tried watching the interview with Joanna Cherry and the moment I heard the phrase “Once in a generation” I had to switch off, I can’t fucking stand it anymore.

Seriously the SNP should instruct every member being interviewed the moment they hear that term leveled at them they cut the interview there and then no explanations just fucking end it, and the next time it’s used in the HOC they should walk out and never return.

Clive Scott says:

31 January, 2020 at 8:57 pm

Stu has surpassed himself with this utter shite post. Just back from an uplifting demo outside Holyrood with true believers in Scotland’s independent future in Europe. Nicola gave a very pragmatic and measured statement earlier today. A two month holiday from Stu’s negativity is to be welcomed.

McBoxheid says:

1 February, 2020 at 11:30 am

This site has turned into an anti SNP rantfest.
@Stu, have you been using your website to try and build your own party all along? Good luck with that then.

It is fair enough, it is your website after all. Just a wee bit sleekit. You have turned into the one thing you used despise.

Think about every time you have shoved a shiv into the SNP’s kidneys.How has that helped the independence cause exactly? You seem to step up just before elections too! How successful have you been incidentally.

According to you in is Nicola Sturgeon’s fault that polls haven’t showed a soaring majority. So, its nothing to to with the MSM you are becoming. You known damned well how polls work.

We still need a majority that we are only just reaching now that brexit became inevitable.

I will now fuck off and glean my independence info from other sites that are not as twisted or devious.

Chris Kilby says:

22 February, 2020 at 5:43 pm


Breeks says:

31 January, 2020 at 9:51 am

Aye. I’ve not much to add myself.

My heart is broken too.

William Wallace says:

31 January, 2020 at 10:41 am

I feel so angry at and let down by NS and the SNP today.

As much as I’d love to disagree with your commentary I know deep in my heart that you are right. You have consistently been right about how things would play out and the passage of time has stood testament to that.

30 years I have held my SNP membership. Almost my entire adult life. Today I can honestly say that if I act in the next few hours or even days, I will no longer be a member of the SNP nor contribute financially to the party machine.

I am completely and utterly wounded. I think I need a wee lie doon.

Enjoy your holiday Stu.

Stoker says:

31 January, 2020 at 10:38 am

Rev wrote: “. But any victory would have very little to do with the efforts of the SNP, and indeed would in large part have happened despite it.”

Correct! I despair when folk say Salmond got us here or Nicola got us here etc etc. NO THEY DID NOT! They may have been a part of it but it was us folks who put them in position and us folk who have been going door-to-door in pishing rain and howling gales, with every spare minute we have, that got us where we are.

I’ve had enough of her (NS). In 5 years she’s went from having me prepared to die for her (and i’m not being over-dramatic,i’m 100% serious) to losing all faith in her. But not just that, i actually detest her.

I’ve not been fighting for 35-years for this greatest of opportunities with the greatest of pro-indy support for these self-serving bastards to fill their own pockets and continue having Scotland humiliated whilst driving their own wee private agendas. If i wanted that i’d support Patrick Harvey.

She has to go. She apparently failed as a lawyer so she needn’t think she’ll play at being Petrocelli with our futures. Away and build yer hoose and mixed bogs elsewhere. We need someone with a strong backbone not someone who’s repeatedly made to look weak by inept morons at No10. And if we are “Sovereign” then prove it. Either we are or we are not.

I’ll never stop fighting for Scotland’s right to self-determination but the current “leadership” has lost any respect i had for them. She has to go or a stronger indy-party has to be formed ASAP. If UKIP and all those twats can do it then so can we.

Thanks for all your efforts and commitment Stu. J

Fergus Denoon says:

31 January, 2020 at 10:52 am

I can’t see this from your perspective, considering you have no better plan yourself, it just seems you’re throwing stones at something because you’re not getting your own way, even though your own way isn’t tangible, and doesn’t deliver anything any sooner, and has absolutely no backing.

the way I see this the SNP have stood clear on the fact that Scotland’s Independence will be won on a mandate of democratic vote, it hasn’t changed on that narrative from Salmond to Sturgeon, It will all be driven by the people of Scotland’s decisions, and as the people chose to stay with the UK and give the UK their power, it IS up to the UK to give us another go first as they have that power by the will of the people of Scotland. it might not be your view, but that IS the reality, some people have to live in reality rather than their pipe dreams and confirmation bias.

Whilst you blame the SNP for all your woes and not getting another referendum as soon as they say, which will not be their fault, where the “not being allowed” and “Westminster isn’t what’s best for us” is being forced more and more into the electorate… what have you decided to do? place blame where it is not deserved? place blame on something that specifically does not have the power by the choice of the Scottish electorate.

what happened to you? when did you start blaming the SNP for things that are obviously Westminster’s decisions?

Many commenters expressed open grief, saying they felt worse than they did on the morning after the referendum was lost. But that grieving process, painful and divisive as it would surely have been, did not happen. Instead, only 2 months later, the first covid lockdown in Scotland was confirmed. From then, until her resignation on Feb 15th this year, Nicola Sturgeon delivered one speech about Brexit and 266 about coronavirus (*). The only time she dedicated what could be classified as a ‘speech’ about Brexit was on Christmas Eve of the same year when it became clear that Brexit would be of the ‘hard’ variety and there was no going back.

Aside from the significance of ‘The Betrayer’ as a comprehensive reaction to an important event with grave constitutional implications for democratic representation in Scotland, the piece also exemplifies the dangers inherent in political blogging. As owner, chief writer and editor, Stuart Campbell had to call it as he saw it. Many journalists understand that they are expected to adhere, tacitly or otherwise, to an editorial slant on this or that political issue. Campbell, as owner, editor and chief writer, does not. But he knew that his interpretation of events was not going to be well received by many. That it happened to result in severe criticism of Nicola Sturgeon may have been unwelcome by those who viewed party solidarity as paramount, but Wings never was an SNP fanzine, as even occasional readers knew long before Brexit had become inevitable following the 2015 General Election. If anything, Wings had insisted, right up until the torturous Westminster debates concluded, that the huge 2015 SNP cohort had no business trying to affect the progress of the Brexit Bill. This was a simple matter of democratic principle and process - the people of England and Wales had voted for Brexit after being promised the opportunity to vote for it. They were entitled to see that promise fulfilled and the SNP/Sturgeon ‘Stop Brexit’ campaign to thwart them was every bit as objectionable (in 'democratic' terms) as WM’s high-handed dismissal of another independence referendum. 

At the time of writing (June 23rd 2023) Nicola Sturgeon’s anointed successor is following the same script as laid out in her speech of Jan 31st 2020. There has been a series of ‘papers’ published, much-criticised as content-light. Tomorrow sees a special ‘convention’ in Dundee to try and find a way forward but the event has already been slated as a stunt to placate restless SNP members who have been abandoning the party in their tens of thousands over the past couple of years. The announced line-up of speakers has only exacerbated concerns that little of substance is expected. First Minister Humza Yousaf has already admitted,  via national news, that he has no rabbits to pull from the proverbial hat. The AUOB march/gathering at Stirling, confirmed long before this ‘convention’, promises to be the main event on the same day. And all the while, Nicola Sturgeon makes sporadic, increasingly bizarre appearances, keeping herself in the public eye whilst fending off a hungry press-pack in the wake of her arrest. 

In ‘The Betrayer’, Campbell hinted at troubles to come: 

‘This article has avoided repeating some exceptionally troubling allegations that were made to us by several high-ranking figures in the independence movement while we were writing it, because we currently have no documentary evidence to verify them. That may or may not remain the case.’ 

Hard proof of criminality, over three years later, remains stubbornly out of view despite mounting circumstantial evidence emerging from the ‘Harassment’ Inquiry and the ongoing Operation Branchform. The SNP is now in existential crisis: Nicola Sturgeon is refusing to exit the stage despite a negative popularity rating; the polls show party support haemorrhaging whilst Alba continues to make steady progress; the calamitous alliance with the Greens is on the verge of collapse along with the Deposit Return Scheme; Humza Yousaf is widely perceived as a Sturgeon puppet with no vision.

Circumstances were grim enough when Wings published ‘The Betrayer’. It is difficult to express how much worse they are now, not only for the main players in this political tragedy/farce but ordinary Scots now enjoying fine weather while it lasts because it means they don’t need the heating on for a few weeks. The cost of living continues to escalate, the poorest are paying the most for whatever energy they do consume while watching the Scottish government jettison hundreds of millions of pounds on virtue-signalling vanity schemes; the sinister promotion of a broadly-despised ‘woke’ ideology continues apace, and embarrassing episodes such as the ill-fated ferries saga damage whatever passes for ‘national morale’.

The death of Winnie Ewing, coming on the same day that Humza Yousaf refused to deny that he is about to ‘sack’ her son for insubordination, marks a fresh chapter in the demise of the party. No-one is sure what will happen next and the convention in Dundee is not expected to provide much in the way of clarification for an increasingly restive membership. 

However, putting all the drama and political theatre aside, we are reminded of a fundamental measure which helps ground such discussion. Nicola Sturgeon alluded to it in her resignation speech of Feb 15th :

'Scotland is a changed country since 2014 and in so, so many ways it is changed for the better. Young people from deprived backgrounds have never had a better chance of going to university than now. Our investment to double early learning and childcare is transforming opportunities for the youngest children.'

Be that as it may, the official figures for child poverty in Scotland paint a less rosy picture.

In 2015, Nicola Sturgeon’s first full year as First Minister, the child poverty rate was 24%

Now, 8 years later, the child poverty rate? 24%, with 20% living in 'absolute poverty'.

(*) First Minister's speeches - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

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