Martin Hannan has an interesting comment piece in The National today under the headline Now the time has come for an organised Yes movement with real leadership. I have been saying for some time now that the Yes movement has to find a way to speak with one voice. But that won’t happen under the guidance of people like Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp. I have great respect for what Gordon does. But what he does is part of the problem for the Yes movement- not the solution.
We celebrate the diversity of the Yes family. As we should. Mostly. But while diversity tends to be great for a movement it is death to a campaign. Movements thrive on diversity and organic growth and an environment in which a welter of ideas can exist together and feed off one another. A campaign must have unity, focus and discipline. The two things – movements and campaigns – are almost opposites.
Movements hit the rocks when diversity degrades into factionalism. Which is what has happened with the Yes movement. Factions are groups with a distinct identity which have coalesced around a particular agenda or ideology or, less commonly, a charismatic individual – usually with an ego to match. The Yes movement has historically encouraged the very process which leads to factionalism. So it’s hardly surprising that this has happened.
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is an example of someone with a particular agenda. He knows about business and economics and statistics and the like. So he sees the ‘solution’ as lying within the sphere of his expertise. That’s just something people do. Those on the left maintain adamantly that the ‘solution’ lies in pushing a radical policy agenda. Common Weal specialises in detailed ‘visions’ for Scotland being independent while largely leaving the becoming independent to sort itself out. The theory being that if you have a wondrous enough vision people will flock to the cause. Except they don’t.
People don’t buy radical and they don’t buy vision and they don’t buy spreadsheets. And they won’t buy independence so long as we are trying to sell them all of these things at once. Because the people aren’t buying in sufficient numbers, the groups selling each of these things become ever more determined and more defensive and more jealous and more exclusive. They become factions. A rather simplistic explanation. But it will suffice for present purposes.
So, how do we unify a factionalised movement so as to turn it into a campaigning organisation? We don’t! The best that we can hope for is that a campaigning organisation will emerge from the movement. But we still need to unify support for that campaigning organisation as much as possible given the corrosive effect of factionalism working against us. We have to find the thing that all the different factions agree on. The thing around which they can coalesce. The thing which will unite them. The one thing on which the entire Yes movement can speak with one voice – the Union! Or, rather, ending the Union.
No shining visions. No radical agendas. No messianic leaders. Just the one clear objective. The one purpose. End the Union. Isn’t that what we all want?
An effective campaign cannot be constructed around a contested idea. The idea of independence is contested. Ask 100 different people in the Yes movement what independence means and you’ll get 101 different answers. Because that’s what we set out to do. The Yes movement set out to find answers for everybody. Answers tailored to specific groups and even individuals. Movements can embrace a million answers and function as movements. Campaigns can’t embrace more than one answer and function as campaigns.
The Yes movement can only unite enough to be effective as a campaign if it coalesces around the idea of ending the Union. The Yes movement can only speak with one voice if that one voice speaks only of the one thing the entire Yes movement can agree on. Independent Scotland will be whatever it will be. We cannot promise it will be anything. We can’t be certain of what it will be. We can be certain it won’t be anything unless and until we end the Union.
Make the campaign a campaign against the Union and you will unite the Yes movement.