Jim Sillars, Let’s Finish What We Started

by Jeggit

Over the past couple of years there has been a perceptible temperature change around Jim Sillars, and his remarks published today appear to have put him, as far as the independence movement is concerned, under a layer of permafrost. All day long I have agonised over writing this article. Since what I think I have to say will not please everyone and as it does not reflect the opinion of everyone in the Butterfly Rebellion, I felt it would be better published on my own blog – others disagreed. Jim’s decision to abstain in a future independence referendum if that means Scotland returning to the European Union has devastated me.

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Perhaps “@NaeFear” – that’s Sillars’ Twitter handle for the uninitiated – was just seen as auld by many of the younger voters in 2014 and maybe too many in the mainstream of pro-independence Scotland find his old school socialism foreign to their political experience, but I am and have always been a fan – a devotee, a disciple. I don’t know about the SNP, but I was “dealt a major blow” when I read his attitude to independence with regard to EU membership. Only twice in recent years did I have the feeling reading that gave me in the pit of my stomach, and one of those was when I heard we had lost the referendum.

Please don’t get me wrong here, this is not an attempt to rationalise his position. He has crossed the Rubicon, and I simply cannot be his apologist. Where he is going I cannot follow, and boy does that sting. I do hope he takes the time to read this, as there are a few things I truly believe he needs to hear. Only, who am I to darken his counsel?

Yes Scotland was such a polished affair. It was colourful and vibrant and put our aspirations for the Scotland we have always wanted into a beautiful and sophisticated package of language and positive action. We were being led by educated and clever people who always – even if it wasn’t always true – knew what they were doing. It was the same thing from the forces of the new media that kept us going; from Bella Caledonia, from Wee Ginger Dug, from National Collective, and the rest. They were polished, articulate, and suave. They were everything I felt I could never be – educated and middle class.

Aye, that might sound a bit chippy. Coming from a working class background in Kilmarnock will do that. This doesn’t mean I have a problem with these folk. Actually, quite the opposite is true. I love Paul Kavanagh. We’d be up the river without him. The thought that Bella would shut down terrified me. My beef isn’t with them, it is with the fact that there are damn few leading us who sound like me – even though almost all of the activism of the Yes movement was and continues to be done by working class people. Jim Sillars says things, and in words I get, that make me feel at home. It would seem that class still matters – at least to me.

His socialism – always mindful of what is best for ordinary working people – is rooted in the historical long game. We don’t yet live in a classless utopia, and while we live in the reality that we do things are different for working class people. Rather than that becoming a bone of contention to divide us, let’s just accept that that is true. We work longer for less, we are more vulnerable to unemployment and dependence on a punitive welfare system, we are sicker, we die younger, we don’t always get to university, and on and on.

Of course there are plenty who have come from comfortable and reasonably affluent families who suffer the same and there is no shortage of working class kids who ‘come good,’ but in the main these are the conditions that constitute my class. Jim Sillars, like so many who came from the old socialist movement, knows that overcoming this injustice involves playing the long game. He knows that independence will not automatically end inequality, and that self-determination may even result in the transfer of power from one dominant class to another. This wouldn’t really be independence for someone immersed in the philosophy of rising with one’s own class.

Ireland gained its independence from Britain in 1922. Republicans and socialists fought shoulder to shoulder at the GPO in 1916, through the War of Independence it was the same, and even in the Civil War nationalists and socialists were on both sides. Socialists like Jim Larkin and James Connolly would turn in their graves to see what the Republic of Ireland has become. Centre-right neo-aristocrats in Leinster House conspire in the same crony capitalism as their counterparts in Westminster do to keep the land and the money and all the wealth of the nation in the hands of the privileged and the few. Do I want this for Scotland? Damn sure I don’t. Do I believe that we can have a fairer Scotland free of London rule? Yes, yes I do.

Here is where I see Jim Sillars and his long view. He is willing to do without jam today if that means safeguarding Scotland from falling into the same trap of passing power from one set of wealthy and power mad psychopaths to another. Jim looks at the EU and sees just another system that operates on the enslavement of the working class; a political and economic structure – not altogether unlike Westminster – that scientifically erodes the rights of workers, generating a promethean precariat and a vicious underclass, to its own profit. I don’t think he is wrong either.

Where we do disagree is on the question of independence within or to-be-in this European Union. Last time we voted, leaving the EU – so far as we knew at the time – wasn’t even on the horizon. We were voting for independence as part of the European Union. It is clear that the sort of socialism and justice that Sillars wants, that I want, can now only happen outside of the UK. The English working class has damned itself in its decades-long refusal to shift from the right, and while we are bound to Britain it is damning us too. Scotland can’t save the English working class. It will have to save itself.

If we manage to get another independence referendum in the near future, what perhaps Sillars fails to see is that, as a nation, we will all be crossing the Rubicon. Our failure to secure independence then – what Jim is threatening us with – will result in reprisals by the British government that will put Scotland back in the Stone Age as far as independence is concerned. Everything of devolution, of civic and cultural Scotland that inspires this hope within us will be subjected to a rigorous scorched earth policy. It will be a century before we are able to think these thoughts again.


The EU is not the same union as the UK. I will admit that I have my reservations of what Europe will become and how that will affect our country, but for the now it offers us an Out. For God’s sake, let’s play the long game. Let’s finish what we started four and a half years ago and get Scotland the hell out of this mess. And if Europe becomes the monster of Jim’s nightmares then we can leave it too. If the likes of UKIP’s clowns managed to get Britain out of Europe then we can be bloody sure the Scottish people can do the same.

Mr. Sillars, if you’re reading this I want to say thank you for everything that you have done. You inspired the people of Ayrshire from before I was born, and it has been your name that has been spoken as everyone around me began following you from Labour to the SNP. Where I grew up you were the revolution before devolution. I’m not going to forget that Jim. That’s also why your talk of abstention is like a death. Few in this movement are a tenth of what you are, and we have followed you. Trust us, Jim, and just this once think about following us.


The Butterfly Rebellion
Jason Michael
Ayrshire, Scotland

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4 thoughts on “Jim Sillars, Let’s Finish What We Started

  1. Gutted when jim said that he wouldn’t vote for independence because of the EU issue, if that what it takes jim to get out of tory rule for the next generation then so be it, your being stupid mate, and playing into the no camps media , please think again jim, we can always vote out of the EU, but our country is always first.

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  2. We are stuck with the 2014 result unless there is some kind of major change. Brexit is that major change, with Scots voting almost 2:1 to remain. There is no other way to make a case for a second referendum.

    Indyref2 has to be about EU membership, or at the very least something very close to full membership. There are no other options on the table. We have a stark, binary choice for our future between a post-Brexit, Poundland UK or independence and the EU.

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