I attended the AUOB Assembly yesterday. I was there the whole day. Bit of a marathon session which may have rendered my political anorak credentials ineradicable. It’s not just that I do this sort of stuff but the fact that I actually enjoy spending seven hours sitting in front of a big monitor pretending I’m at a real event in a real place. I like listening to people talking about politics. I may not like what they say. Correction! I probably won’t like what they say. But I like to hear people engaging with politics. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it warms my heart, but it certainly takes the chill off a wee bit.
On the whole, I enjoyed the online event. Not even Ian Blackford’s dire performance managed to spoil it for me. The Hopin platform works reasonably well. There were no more than the customary glitches that one would expect when several hundred people are using a facility for the first time. Especially when that includes those responsible for organising and managing the event. The folks at All Under One Banner (AUOB) have my unbounded admiration. They deserve a huge vote of thanks for the remarkable work they are doing. And they excelled themselves with yesterday’s event.
Whether the day’s activities actually achieved anything is another matter. Nothing should detract from the great job AUOB did in putting on the assembly. But neither should we be under any illusions about the immensity of what was being attempted – nothing less than uniting the Yes movement in order that it might speak with one powerful voice. Only time will tell how successful the effort has been. Unfortunately, we don’t have huge amounts of that precious commodity. Let there be no doubt, however, that the effort was necessary. And it’s doubtful if anyone other than AUOB could have done it.
AUOB is probably the best example of what I have called emergent leadership. This is a phenomenon which while certainly not unique to the Yes movement is perhaps uncommonly characteristic of it. When something needs to be done, the leadership necessary to get it done emerges from the movement. If it does not do so spontaneously than it certainly manages to appear that way. One day we’re wishing we could organise mass street demonstrations. Next day there’s an entire organisation set up for that very purpose with an entire calendar of events already planned. That’s not how it happens, of course. But it’s often how it seems.
The point is that while political movements are good and essential things that drive worthy causes, they tend not to be good at organising stuff. The bigger and more diverse and, ironically, more successful the movement the more difficult it becomes for any sort of order to be imposed on it such as is required to get stuff done. That is where the property of emergent leadership comes in. The necessary organisation emerges from the movement led by one individual or a small group.
We need that emergent leadership now as perhaps never before. And the Yes movement’s capacity for emergent leadership faces its greatest challenge. Disregarding – as we must for the sake of our mental well-being – the shrill voices telling us we’ve never been closer to independence and it’s now inevitable and blah! blah! blah! it is clear that the independence campaign is stalled. It’s stuck. Various dilemmas and deadlocks have kept the fight to restore Scotland’s independence at a standstill for six years. The SNP has to take much of the blame for this. But recriminations are not much help. And they work for us. So we too bear a share of the blame. SNP members own the party. If it’s not working as thay want it to work it’s up to them to fix it. Clearly, we haven’t. So let’s not be too smug or quick to point fingers.
We are where we are. How do we get things moving again? How do we resolve the impasse? How do we break the inertia?
It seems to me – and I am far from alone – that a new force is needed in Scotland’s politics. Or to be more precise, the Yes movement must become a more effective force in Scotland’s politics. Some insist we need a new pro-independence party; either to replace the SNP or to put it under pressure to act as is required by Scotland’s predicament. That is nonsense. We just don’t have time for that. We need that new force two years ago – at least. That being impossible, we must settle for now. But it must be now. The big ominous clock is ticking.
The hope is that a new leadership will emerge from the Yes movement in this our time of need. Turning the Yes movement into a membership organisation is a tall order. But we can realistically hope that a substantial membership organisation might emerge from the Yes movement to meet our need to be able to speak with one voice just as AUOB emerged when the need was for a body that could organise marches and rallies. That’s what yesterday’s assembly was meant to be about. It was an exercise in sowing seeds. Now we wait anxiously to see if one of them germinates.
Some people just don’t get it. Far too much of the discussion yesterday was about stuff that is not relevant to the purpose of uniting the Yes movement. A lot of it was, frankly, counter-productive. What happened was what always happens when more than three independistas gather. Everybody has their own agenda. Everybody has their own pet topic. This is not to minimise the concerns or disparage the concerned. They are genuine concerns about issues that should concern us all. But a campaign cannot possibly deal effectively with such a proliferation of issues. Without focus, the campaign is doomed.
The Yes movement has become home to many causes that find a comfortable fit between the general mood of movement and their agenda. It is only natural that these various causes should each and all push their particular agenda. Everybody puts in a colour in the hope of creating a rainbow, but instead what we end up with is a grey sludge. An ineffectual grey sludge. That has to change. There must be focus on a common cause. Scotland’s cause. The cause of restoring Scotland’s independence.
Listening to discussions at the AUOB Assembly and watching the comments in the chat facility what I saw was a fat catalogue listing every conceivable “key” topic that the Yes campaign must deal with and every imaginable “key” group the Yes campaign must bring on board. It seemed that every single participant had their own “key” to unlocking a referendum and a Yes result. Each and every one of them totally and quite genuinely convinced that theirs is the crucial “key”. It’s a recipe for ineffectual grey sludge.
Next Sunday (22 November), a smaller online gathering of Yes activists drawn from yesterday’s AUOB Assembly will be tasked with making a solid rock of that grey sludge. A rock big enough and heavy enough to nudge the SNP into action. The aim will be to form an interim committee that will initiate the process of creating a united Yes membership organisation. We must fervently hope that emergent leadership puts in an appearance.
I don’t know whether I will be involved in this second assembly. I’m not sure I want to be. I dread the frustration I am likely to experience. I already have more frustration than I can easily handle. In large part because I have a clear idea of what must be done. Which is not the same as have the correct idea of what must be done. But we’re at the point where something must be done even if it isn’t the 100% certain solution that the SNP leadership seems to be hoping for. And waiting for. There are situations where any decision is better than no decision. I reckon Scotland’s cause has encountered just such a situation.
If I am invited to participate in the follow-up assembly I know exactly what I will be urging. I would not expect to be successful. What I anticipate is a compromise between what needs to be done and what people want to do. Sludge that is a different shade of grey. But we have to try, Don’t we?