Somebody has to ask the awkward questions. As others eagerly jump on the bandwagon with the flashy Yes paint-job, somebody has to be the one asking who’s driving the thing and where they’re taking it. While others are beguiled by the slick marketing, somebody really needs to be taking a less starry-eyed look at this project.
We’ve been here before. This is not the first time the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) has attempted to assume a role at the head of the Yes movement. And it’s not the first time I have expressed reservations about its suitability, as well as doubts about the need for such an umbrella group. As far back as February 2016 I was voicing concerns about what appeared to me to be an attempt to “seize ownership of the Yes movement and bring it under the control of factions whose support for independence is conditional on a narrow policy agenda”.
At that time I wrote,
I have always maintained that it would be useful if some organisation or group emerged as the entity around which the wider Yes movement could coalesce. But I never envisaged this as resulting in a top-down organisation. What I felt would be useful is a body able to represent the Yes movement at a national level. Something akin to what we had with the official Yes Scotland. It is important to understand that Yes Scotland had a very limited role in the first referendum campaign. It set broad strategy parameters, coordinated speakers, and dealt with the media at a national and international level. But it was merely the tip of a huge iceberg made up of hundreds of almost totally autonomous groups.
My thinking on this has changed considerably in the intervening two and a half years. As the Yes movement has developed and matured over that time, I have come to be firmly persuaded that it would be fatally altered by the imposition of a formal management structure. This would inevitably (and irrevocably?) transform the Yes movement from an amorphous network of autonomous grassroots groups, to a regimented hierarchical organisation under centralised control. And, for all the protestations to the contrary, this is what the people pulling the strings at SIC intend.
Who are those people? Just over a year ago I referred to a “clique of passionless technocrats, supercilious intellectuals and dogma-bound radicals which has recently sought to claim ownership of the Yes movement to the exclusion of any and all who decline to embrace their narrow agenda”. Despite the lick of fresh paint applied to the facade, nothing has changed. The sales pitch may be new, but the product is the same as it has always been.
Is it a product the independence cause needs, or would benefit from having? I am sceptical. Somebody has to be. The purported aim is to set up a “campaign body [which] will provide the Yes movement with media handling, strategic support, resources, messaging and the administrative capacity”. This “campaign body” is being presented as if it is merely a tool to be used by the Yes movement. But there is no visible means by which the autonomous grassroots groups can access this “campaign body”. The SIC has very adroitly acquired the endorsement of major groups and prominent individuals. But I’m left wondering if any of them have seriously considered the implications.
When SIC talks about media handling, does this mean a facility by which Yes groups can access the mainstream media? If so, how would that work in practice given the size and diversity of the Yes movement? If not, then are we to assume that SIC proposes to ‘handle’ the media on behalf of the Yes movement? In which case, how would that work in practice given the size and diversity of the Yes movement?
When SIC talks about messaging, what message are they referring to? Whose message> Who decides what that message is? How do they propose to reconcile the differences and/or represent the nuances within the Yes movement? The independence campaign certainly requires a clear, concise and consistent message, as well as the means to focus on that message. But is the SIC the appropriate body to formulate and promulgate that message?
When SIC talks about administrative capacity, who exactly is going to be doing the administering? And what do they intend to administer? Is SIC to have administrative control over the entire Yes movement? How would that work? What of the Yes groups which decline to be administered by SIC? Which is the ‘real’ Yes movement – the bit that’s administered by SIC, or the rest? Can it possibly be healthy to have a situation which gives rise to such questions?
I will be accused of being cynical in my attitude to SIC. I make no apologies. I am cynical for a reason. I am cynical because I recognise the realities of politics. And because I am am acutely conscious of the potential cost of being naive. The Yes movement is a massively powerful political force. We should be constantly wary of those who seek to harness that power for their own purposes.
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