I greet news of the imminent launch of a new membership organisation grown out of the Yes movement with a mixture of delight and concern. I am delighted, as we all should be, that Now Scotland has succeeded in getting to this stage – with a name chosen, logo designed and an online presence built and, hopefully, ready to accept a flood of members. I am concerned, as we all should be, about what happens next.
My concerns do not relate to the concept. Hardly that, given that it is something I have been urging for a while now; an entity which unites the Yes movement giving it a distinct voice and some political clout. Therein lie my concerns.
It is self-evidently beneficial that the Yes movement might speak with one voice. Diversity in a movement is generally a good thing. But to succeed, movements must connect with the democratic process. They must engage not just with their own followers but with political leaders and administrators. To exert influence over public policy they must have a clear and consistent message as well as the means to deliver it effectively. I am confident that the people steering Now Scotland in its early days are well able to develop the means to deliver the message. I am less confident that the message itself will be as clear and consistent as it needs to be.
My doubts on this score stem from my involvement in the assemblies which led to the formation of Now Scotland. I have long been persuaded that the unity of purpose being sought could only be achieved if the purpose was such as the entire Yes movement might unite around. This necessarily implies the stripping away of anything which is part of any agenda narrower than the restoration of Scotland’s independence by ending the Union. Solely that! Nothing more! A group as large and diverse as the Yes movement will never agree on matters of policy. This should be obvious. It’s what diverse means. If the movement is as diverse as it purports to be – and it is! – then every shade of political ideology will be encompassed. (Excepting the extremes, of course, as by definition they abhor diversity and so could never be part of such a movement.)
I am not convinced that this idea of a single, rigidly defined purpose was clearly understood or wholeheartedly embraced by those participating in the assemblies. I heard too much talk that rightly belonged within the forums of a political party or an entirely different single-issue organisation campaigning for an entirely different issue. I fully understand how this can happen. If you care enough to be part of something like the Yes movement then it is likely that you care about a range of issue. It takes a degree of self-discipline to set aside all bar one. I can’t help but wonder whether this is widely enough realised or accepted for Now Scotland to be effective. I have seen how individuals and groups can – even without malicious intent – hijack campaigning organisations for their own purposes. I know how those with a particular agenda seek to hitch a ride on any successful movement or organisation or political party. I know how easily Now Scotland might lose the focus it requires.
It hardly needs said that this loss of focus would lead to a concomitant diminishing of political clout. If you want the politicians to do something then you have to be specific about what it is you want them to do. Any vagueness or ambiguity instantly becomes the rationalisation for doing nothing. Scotland’s cause is beset by two problems – opposition to our aims from the British government and the inertia of our own. Whatever force can be mustered must not be squandered on ‘side-projects’ or ‘related issues’. Every gram of that force will be required if it is to overcome first the inertia and then the opposition.
I fervently hope that my concerns in this regard prove to be unfounded. They may, if those taking the lead in the launch of Now Scotland provide an example for others to follow.
Which brings me to my second and not unrelated concern. Assuming Now Scotland matches my hopes and so develops a measure of political clout this raises the question of how this clout should be used and what should be its target. Again, my experience of the AUOB-sponsored assemblies gives me cause to worry. Unsurprisingly, a great many of those participating saw the target as being Boris Johnson or the Tories or Westminster or some combination of all these and numerous other things. Again, this is understandable. These things represent harm and the threat of harm to Scotland. It is natural that people should see them as the ‘enemy’. It is understandable that they would wish to use Now Scotland as a weapon against these things. But this would be a serious, perhaps fatal mistake. I’ll come back to this.
If you want something done then you go to the people who can do it or the people who can force the people who can do it to do it. There is nothing that aids Scotland’s cause which will be done by Boris Johnson or the Tories or Westminster or any combination of these. This is Scotland’s affair. Nobody else’s. Obviously there will have to be some kind of negotiation with the British state. But not before Scotland is in the position of negotiating as a nation with equal standing. Until then there is no legitimate role for the British state or any of its agencies. There is no legitimate role for the British state or any of its agencies in the exercise by the people of Scotland of our right of self-determination.
The corollary to this is that Now Scotland must target, not Boris Johnson but Nicola Sturgeon (both as First Minister and as leader of the SNP); not the Tories but the SNP; not Westminster but Holyrood. It is Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP and the government formed by the SNP after May that Now Scotland must hit with all the clout it can muster. Because this is Scotland’s affair. It can only be dealt with by the Scottish Government in and through the Scottish Parliament. Which necessarily implies that it can only be dealt with by the SNP because only they are in a position to form a government sympathetic to the aims of the Yes movement.
I said I would return to Boris Johnson and the Tories etc. I repeat, they are not the target. We are not trying to get them to do anything because there is nothing they can do which can ever be anything other than detrimental to our cause and our country. And, incidentally, there is nothing they already are doing where desisting would help our cause. On the contrary, we are assured by those who presume to know, that everything the British do benefits Scotland’s cause. Even if we did have the political clout to get them to stop it wouldn’t help. But it is difficult to simply ignore what they are doing. Impossible, in fact. So the people affected and/or offended by what the British are doing inevitably want to target them.
Don’t! Target the Union instead. After all, the Union encompasses all of it. So target the Union. Campaign against the Union and for the establishment of the Scottish Parliament as the sole democratically legitimate agent of Scotland’s people. There you have the basics of a single-issue campaign. The thing you want people to move from. And the thing you want them to move to.
It is too early to tell whether Now Scotland can be the single-issue campaigning organisation that develops enough clout to first overcome the inertia of our own political leaders and then play a part in overcoming the opposition to restoring Scotland’s independence. Only time will tell. And we don’t have a lot of that! I do know that it is a worthwhile effort and an effort worthy of the Yes movement. I urge all of you to support this effort.
What now Scotland? It’s entirely up to you.