It cannot be credibly be claimed that “the pro-Indy movement share the same common goal” as asserted by someone commenting on David Pratt’s insightful column in The National. It never did. It never could. Because that common goal was never identified far less placed front and centre of the campaign.
An effective single-issue political campaign cannot be built around a contested idea. Independence is a contested idea. There is no single definitive idea of independence. Even if such a thing were possible – which I seriously doubt – no attempt was ever made to create that single definitive idea of independence. We were all too busy congratulating ourselves on the diversity of the Yes movement.
So carried away were we with unquestioning belief in the wonderfulness of our diversity that nobody wanted to hear the voices warning how easily diversity can turn to division. Or the voices pointing out that presenting myriad vague options in a binary referendum might not be the smartest strategy. Especially when our opponents were allowed to adopt the immeasurably more efficacious tactic of not defining any option at all but, rather, so arranging things that their option could be whatever they wanted it to be and whatever was most politically expedient at any given time.
Nobody wanted to hear that the diversity which could exist, however precariously, in a movement and might even be said to enrich it had no place in a campaign. Nobody wanted to hear that inserting diversity into a single-issue campaign was akin to giving it a lethal injection.
Everybody convinced themselves that the public likes diversity. They don’t! The public like clarity! They like things they can understand without expending any mental effort. They like simple choices. They prefer that the hard choices are made by someone else or not made at all. Mostly, they like what they’re told to like – and what they should hate – by whoever has managed to capture their attention long enough to convey a very simple message.
None of which is to say that people as individuals are generally stupid. Many are. Most are some of the time. Some are most of the time. And I do not exclude myself from this observation.
The public is not the same as the people. The term “the people” refers to the meta-set of individual actors within a polity. Actors who have an absolute right to their political choices even if the choices they make cannot be either accepted or respected. The term “the public” refers to a homogeneous mass of self-interest and base urges ripe for manipulation. The public is the dumb beast held on a leash by established power. The public is the clunking puppet made to perform a grotesque dance by the mass media.
And after the vote; when we had lost, the analysis never got much beyond “we didn’t do enough”. Nobody wanted to hear that what we did was ill-thought in its fundamentals. There was much talk of “needing a better message”. Nobody wanted to hear that what was needed was a totally different message. There was much talk of “making a bigger effort”. Nobody wanted to hear that a misguided effort remained a misguided effort no matter how energy was poured into it.
After the vote; when we had lost, everybody was talking about how we needed a frank and open discussion about what we did wrong and how we could do better. But no such discussion ever took place. Or, to the very limited extent that it did, it was anything but frank and open. Everybody said they wanted to look at where we went wrong. But nobody was prepared to undertake the necessary scrutiny lest they find something they’d be uncomfortable recognising. There was great reluctance to even suggest a possible mistake or misstep lest it sound like apportioning blame. Or worse still taking responsibility.
There was general agreement on the glaringly obvious point that we needed to do better if we were to win. And general horror at the suggestion we look for pointers on how to win in the glaringly obvious place – the campaign that actually did win.
In short, no lessons were learned. Diversity impregnated the campaign and after the required gestation period has given birth to division. It’s too late now to think of prophylactic measures. This division cannot now be prevented. Nor can it be repaired. There is no external entity which can heal the divisions. There is no shepherd so skilled as to be able to gather the strays into a single flock moving as one.
That which is divided in this sense cannot be pressed together. It can only be drawn together. The independence movement can only be drawn together by the magnetic attraction of a common goal. The common goal it never had. The common goal it never could have. Because that common goal was never identified far less being charged with the power needed to prevent diversity becoming division.
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