There is in the Yes movement a small and I expect rapidly shrinking minority who are quite persuaded that everything in the independence campaign garden is lovely. They will be quite unable to comprehend when I say that as a lifelong advocate of the restoration of Scotland’s independence and long-time observer of the political scene, I spend my days swinging erratically between ever more desperate hope and increasingly profound despair. I anticipate that most of those reading this will understand exactly what I mean. Everything in the independence campaign garden is very far from rosy.
Hope is inspired, not by favourable fluctuations in the polls. I know only too well that the polls are fickle because they reflect public opinion which is fickle. I realise that the reasons for any increase in support for Yes are at least as significant as the headline figures. I am painfully aware that however real and substantial that increased public support may be, without something to connect it to the democratic process it means nothing. It is people who most inspire hope for Scotland’s cause. Equally, it is people who prompt the bleakest despondency.
To the extent that it is possible under prevailing circumstances, I take any opportunity to engage with people in the Yes movement. Not just ‘ordinary’ people. I am quite happy also to engage with politicians and others who are considered – or consider themselves – leading figures in the independence movement. For some reason, however, the politicians and leading figures seem to actively shun engagement with me. Fuck knows what’s wrong with the bastards. So it tends to be mostly ‘ordinary’ people with whom I engage. Generally, these will be ‘ordinary’ people who have organised themselves into a Yes group. Only on the very odd occasion will they be representatives of some ‘official’ Yes organisation. The distinction between groups and organisations being that the former organise themselves while the latter seek to organise others. There is a place for both in the Yes movement.
I never come away from engagement with ‘ordinary’ people and the groups they form without having found something hopeful. Even if I’m not persuaded such groups will win, I am never in any doubt that they deserve to.
I rarely come away from engagement with politicians and ‘leading figures’ without serious doubts as to their ability to advance Scotland’s cause and almost invariably a sneaking suspicion that success as they define it is not something I’d wish for them – or Scotland.
I don’t want to over-generalise here. There are ‘ordinary people’ who piss me off every bit as much as any SNP politician or ‘leading figure’ in the Yes movement. Equally, there are politicians and ‘leading figures’ I respect – albeit warily. I may not agree with them. I may not entirely approve of them. I may wish that the elected office or leading role were filled by some other individual. I may grow frustrated that the holder of that elected office or incumbent in that leading role declines to take a different approach to the constitutional issue. There will always be things I wish they’d do, and things I wish they’d stop doing. But over the piece I grant that they are doing good work for Scotland’s cause. Or maybe just not doing as much harm as they might. I’ll settle for that.
Much the same can be said of groups and organisations. And what may be termed ‘sub-campaigns’. By which I mean campaigning efforts not directly concerned with securing the restoration of Scotland’s independence but with what is claimed – occasionally with adequate justification – to be an aspect of that effort or a related matter. Some I regard as promising. Others I see as counter-productive or just a waste of resources. There’s a lot of grey area between the good and the bad, is what I’m saying. Whatever else may be said about that grey area, it is large enough that it must hold resources which the independence campaign cannot afford to reject. Sometimes, the people and groups and organisation that Scotland’s cause might have need to call on will not be all that we might wish they’d be.
In an age of absolutism driven by a polarisation of politics that puts principled pragmatism in the middle of no-man’s land and the ‘democratisation’ of mass communication that affords the idiotic and the inane similar status to the intelligent and the insightful, any suggestion that we put the past behind us and set aside our prejudices is not likely to be met with universal approbation. Consensus and compromise are things most ardently celebrated by those who seek to defer, deflect, divert, deny, delay and dissemble. Insistence on the merits of conversation and a quest for ‘middle ground’ too often means dictating the terms of debate and moving that debate onto advantageous ground. The ‘them and us’ mentality prevails. Who’s not with us is against us! If your credentials are not pristine then the blemish must always outweigh the rest. Motes are magnified, beams are minimised.
I had one of those hopeful moments yesterday when I read in the Sunday National that All Under One Banner (AUOB) was taking the lead in a project to unify the Yes movement. As regular readers of this blog will be aware, this is something I have been urging for rather a long time. My contention is that while it hardly needs stated that Scotland’s cause requires an SNP Scottish Government armed with a massive mandate for a new and more forceful approach to the constitutional issue, the only way to get the party to make the necessary manifesto commitment prior to the 2021 Holyrood election is an intervention by the Yes movement speaking with one voice. News that this was being attempted by an organisation with a proven track record in bringing together very large numbers of Yes supporters naturally gladdened my heart. Briefly!
The spark of good cheer lit by this news did not long survive the sodden blankets of social media commentators determined that no fire should ensue from a torch they consider ‘tainted’. The prevalent reaction to this crucial project has been, as far as I can tell, a frantic search for reasons not to let it work. All manner of objections were raised. The impression I gained was of people agreeing that this unification was essential or at least beneficial while stipulation conditions for their own participation which no entity contrived by fallible humans could ever satisfy.
I grant that some of the objections raised to AUOB as the entity around which the Yes movement might coalesce were non-trivial. But none, in my view were anything other than trivial when set against the urgent necessity of bringing the Yes movement together. It has to be done. It has to happen. How can it possibly happen if there are always people who prioritise their objections over Scotland’s predicament?
And there will always be such people. There will always be those who will demur no matter what. There can be no organisation or group which is universally acceptable as the core around which the Yes movement might rally. But acceptable or not something must be accepted as that core. Whatever is to be the core it won’t be selected because there are no objections. It will be selected despite objections. It will be chosen because people have made a conscious decision to set aside their objections. Because they have elected to assess the weight of their objections against the jeopardy facing this nation and found them to be as nothing.
When I look at AUOB I do not see something which meets my ideal of what the unifying core of the Yes movement should be. I see what may be the best we can hope for.
There’s that word again! Hope! What a fragile thing it is. How vital it is that we cherish and nourish whatever hope we have.