They should just give up. Theresa May and her trusted lieutenants, Ruth Davidson and David Mundell, should simply abandon the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. Davidson should tell her faithful allies, Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie, the game’s a bogey. If, as she shovels stinking fish-guts of prevarication and obfuscation over the stern of Brexit-bound Britain, May had caught a glimpse of The Gathering, she’d have turned to the other ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists and mumbled, “We’re gonna need a bigger lie!”.
On Sunday 27 May, around 500 activists from Scotland’s Yes movement assembled at the Albert Halls in Stirling to discuss matters such as organising and funding the movement; currency and national debt; voting systems; the economy; a written constitution and several topics relating to campaigning in a new independence referendum – which pretty much everybody seemed to agree is imminent.
The event was organised and run by the National Yes Registry, a group dedicated to developing networks connecting the baffling number and range of groups which make up what must be one of the biggest grass-roots democratic movements ever known. A movement with absolutely no formal hierarchy but which, nonetheless, manages to be coordinated without being directed and to find leadership where it is required without having any recognised or recognisable leaders.
The sheer ambition of The Gathering would have made a seasoned professional event organiser blanch. To say that the agenda for the full-day event was packed would be a risible understatement. The complexity involved in some of the activities and the need to marshal so many people meant that the potential for the thing to collapse into chaos was ever-present. And yet the whole event went off without a hitch. Other than some minor timetable slippage such is inevitable, The Gathering worked like a precision machine building itself out of a confusing array of disparate bits gathered from across the geographic and social length and breadth of Scotland.
It was an impressive sight to behold. But this was very much more than a happy-clappy group-bonding experience. There was serious business being attended to. There was a purpose to it all. Beneath the informal atmosphere and amicable discussion there was an intensity and earnestness that spoke of people with a common purpose. For all the banter and bonhomie, there was no mistaking the strand of steely resolve running through proceedings. This is about rescuing Scotland from an anachronistic, anomalous, dysfunctional political Union which is increasingly deleterious to our nation’s interests and a ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project which represents a growing threat to Scotland’s democracy.
By way of illustrating the serious business of The Gathering, one of the five topics chosen from the original list of 21 for more detailed discussion was the concept of reframing and how it might be useful to the Yes campaign.
A frame, or frame of reference, is a complex schema of ingrained and unquestioned beliefs, values and attitudes by which we infer meaning from words and actions. By changing any part of that frame – or reframing – meaning can be altered.
The process of reframing involves distancing from the actual words and actions in order to consider the construct of assumptions, preconceptions and prejudices which bestows meaning to them. It is then possible to envisage and formulate alternative constructs which give a different meaning to those words and actions. Selected attributes of the existing frames can be disregarded or downplayed while other other aspects are emphasised so as to create a new frame, and new meaning.
Something seen as a problem can be reframed as an opportunity. A weakness can be reframed as a strength. Negatives can be reframed as positives. Understand the frame within which something is interpreted and it becomes possible to devise a frame which prompts a different interpretation.
The work-group which elected to deal with reframing came up with some ideas relating directly to the Yes campaign. It was suggested that the ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!’ narrative of Project Fear could be reframed as ‘Big enough! Clever enough! Rich enough!’.
The group proposed that the always contentious ‘currency issue’ should be reframed by ignoring the ‘What currency?’ question and asking instead ‘Is Scotland capable of managing its own currency affairs?’. Thus, a frame of challenged entitlement and uncertain resolution is replaced with a frame of straightforward competence.
More broadly, it was put to the plenary session of The Gathering that the entire independence cause could be reorientated by taking the question asked in the 2014 referendum, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’, and reframing it as, ‘Should the Union be dissolved?’.
Although it’s obviously not simply a matter of changing the question, but of imbuing a whole new mindset, it can readily be seen how this reframing alters the whole tenor of the constitutional debate. It takes it from a frame in which Scotland is the presumptuous supplicant petitioning a superior British state for some favour, to a frame in which Scotland is merely asserting its right to restore its normal constitutional status by withdrawing from an outmoded and untenable political union to which it has been nominally an equal party.
It is this kind of thinking and planning which intimates that the Yes movement has matured and evolved. It has developed into an extraordinary democratic phenomenon which, while retaining its original diversity, openness and informality, has become a force which, when applied to a unified, focused and disciplined political campaign, now seems irresistible.
This article was written for the June issue of iScot Magazine. As you will have noted, it gives away some of the secrets of the Yes movement’s clandestine plans to restore Scotland to constitutional normality. The magazine has already gone to print. So the only way to prevent this material falling into the wrong hands is for Yes supporters to buy up all copies as soon as they become available.
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