How might we unite the Yes movement?

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.

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11 thoughts on “How might we unite the Yes movement?

  1. An interesting POV and you may well be right, tactically at least. The only downside is that it’s entirely negative, we unite over what we don’t want. Can a negative focus really inspire people? Maybe if the thing we want rid of is bad enough? Still the negativity makes me a little uneasy, to say the least …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We were all but prohibited from doing or saying even marginally negative in the 2014 campaign. We lost. Some of us learned lessons from that. Not that it was a lesson that took a lot of study. It is fairly obvious that if you exclude the negative then you only have half a campaign. Or certainly an incomplete campaign.

      As I was wont to respond at the time to the self-appointed guardians of Yes purity, forbidding negative campaigning because you are afraid it might upset some people is like ordering a general not to use the artillery before an attack because the neighbours will complain about the noise.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with negative campaigning. So long as you are honest and so long as you also have a positive tale to tell. Negative campaigning is about encouraging people to question the status quo or to properly scrutinise the alternative offer to what you’re campaigning for. How can that be wrong? Why should it make you “uneasy”.

      Think about the 2014 campaign. Think about how ‘independence’ was scrutinised. Now ask yourself to what extent the Union was subjected to similar scrutiny. We missed a huge trick.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. A negative case won the last referendum.

    The independence movement wills settle back down.

    Right now we are reeling from the shock of discovering that the SNP is led by careerist politicians who fight dirty in their own interests instead of sainted freedom fighters.

    Nonetheless, we have to get behind them because that’s our only hope for now.

    I think the SNP would be blindly stupid if they can’t see that that if they don’t deliver independence as a result of the next election, then they’ll go the way of the other parties who have promised it, and new grass will grow in the shape of competition from a new more radical independence party.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But if you want competent professional politicians, then it’s hard to see how they can not be ‘careerist’ given the sustained dedication involved?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. A negative case did not win the last referendum, it was on the point of losing the referendum When the leaders of Better Together realised they had to change their message to one of positivity. Remember the vow, remember Douglas Alexander telling us change would be faster, better and safer if we voted No, remember Gordon Brown telling us that we would have the most powerful devolved parliament in the world if we would just vote No. These last minute positive statements, were the reason that our opponents just managed to pinch victory out of the jaws of defeat.
      So we must never go down the road of negativity, my goal is not to break up the UK, my goal is Scottish independence, I want an independent Scotland for all the benefits it will bring to the people here, if that means the Union disintegrated, then so be it, but it will just be the collateral damage of Scottish independence.


  3. “Right now we are reeling from the shock of discovering that the SNP is led by careerist politicians who fight dirty in their own interests instead of sainted freedom fighters.”

    What you may not grasp, is that many “No” voters thought the same in 2014.

    The wheels have come off the cart a bit too soon though.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There will still be a Union without Scotland, as England, Wales and Ireland will still be in a union. Just as there is still a European Union though the UK has left it.


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