An independent Yes movement

SNP/Yes video

In what looks very much like a characteristically belated, panicked and inadequate response to increasing criticism of lack of action on the constitutional issue, the SNP has released the above video with a level of fanfare that certainly isn’t warranted by the content – or lack thereof. The Tweet promoting the video opens with a statement of the obvious – “The power to build a better, independent Scotland is in your hands” – before promising instructions on “how you can help @theSNP and @YesScot get the message out there”. My reaction is mixed.

My first thought was that if I didn’t know better, this could be mistaken for the launch of an actual campaign such as might precede an actual referendum. It isn’t, of course. There is no campaign. There is no referendum. We are assured, however, that the party has started thinking about such things. If I didn’t know better, this might be reassuring despite being several years late. (Arguably several decades late.) It isn’t, of course. Because all indications are that content of this “thinking” is as shallow and flimsy as the content of the video. The latter being no more than an SNP recruitment drive. The former being limited to an attempt to replicate the first independence referendum.

The SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue – what I have termed the ‘Sturgeon doctrine’ – is centred on the Section 30 process and the conviction that a rehash of the Yes campaign for the first referendum is the best way to win. It is an approach totally uninformed by the lessons of the 2014 campaign and the dramatic changes to the political environment that have taken place over the past decade. The Sturgeon doctrine is horribly – perhaps catastrophically – misguided in a way that reflects the dearth of strategic thinking in the ranks of the current SNP leadership. However, that’s not the subject of this article. Not directly, anyway.

My considered response to the video (see above) was deepening concern about the way in which it exposes the SNP’s capture of the Yes movement. There is an attempt to present them as separate entities. But this is, for myself at least, entirely unconvincing. What comes across is Yes being a wholly owned subsidiary and brand of the SNP. Which in fact it is. We already knew this. What the video reveals is the extent to which the SNP regards the Yes movement as serving the party. With little or no sense that either is intent on serving Scotland’s cause.

In a way this linking of the party of independence and the independence movement is no more than what I had hoped would happen. One of the unfortunate errors of the first referendum campaign was the amount of effort many Yes activists put into flaunting their non-SNP credentials. This is just one of the ways in which the Yes movement allowed itself to be manipulated by the British propaganda machine. Better Together, the British parties and the British government constantly made out that the Yes movement was no more than a front for the SNP. This was done – partly, at least – in the hope that the Yes movement would react by seeking to distance itself from the party allowing the British media to proclaim divisions in the Yes camp and, more importantly, playing into the portrayal of the SNP as unworthy and untouchable.

The SNP itself also provided the No campaign with just what it wanted by largely shunning the non-SNP parts of the independence movement. Where there should have been unity of purpose, there was a disconnect which undoubtedly weakened the campaign. Although it must be said that this was compensated for to a considerable extent by the Yes movement’s phenomenal work-rate and sheer weight of numbers. This tended to conceal the underlying failure to create a functioning link between two essential parts of the Yes campaign machine. The SNP and the Yes movement did not work in harmony to anything like the extent they should.

That’s me harking back to the first referendum campaign again. But only in order to stress the point that the situation has changed since 2013/14. The Yes movement has changed. The SNP has changed. Neither has changed in ways that benefit the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. The party has become insular, autocratic and dogmatic. The movement has succumbed to the cancer of factionalism. It is not now possible to create the kind of Yes campaign we had back then. A campaign which, flawed as it was, nonetheless achieved great success. The conditions which made that possible no longer exist. And yet the SNP appears to be pinning all hope on getting the band back together. When the SNP talks of revitalising or reawakening the Yes movement they are referring to a replication of the Yes movement as it was at its peak during the latter stages of the referendum campaign and its immediate aftermath. The time to do this was six years ago. That opportunity was squandered. A now familiar story.

It is not only the fact that the SNP leadership seems to suppose they can just pull a 2013/14-style Yes army out of cold storage and put it to work on a largely unchanged campaign. It is the way they’re going about it that troubles me greatly. The way the party is seeking to absorb the Yes brand into the SNP identity is certain to alienate many potential Yes activists. It is a recipe for even more division in the Yes camp. And that is something we can well do without.

My hope was that the Yes movement would unite to form an organisation capable of devising its own campaign while reclaiming the SNP as a tool of Scotland’s cause. It is easy to understand why the party might want to resist this. It exhibits all the symptoms of an organisation which has come to serve itself rather than the purpose for which it was created. A fate that awaits all large organisations and which can only be forestalled by astute and effective management. Capture of the Yes movement in the manner evident from the video is just what we would expect of an organisation which regarded as inimical to its interests the activities and even the very existence of a campaigning organisation outwith its control. If such inconveniences cannot be crushed, the next best solution is to absorb them. To subsume and smother them.

From the perspective of Scotland’s cause, this is a seriously bad development. Unfortunately, the Sturgeon doctrine seems set in stone. The time to challenge it was prior the May election. There was a very real possibility of making it the ‘independence election’. The Yes movement squandered that chance just as surely as the SNP has squandered a catalogue of opportunities since 2014. What this means is that even if we get a referendum and get it in time to rescue Scotland from the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project, it will not be the free and fair referendum we require and the campaign strategy will be wrong in practically every way that matters. My hope was that the Yes movement would come together to create an organisation capable of running the campaign that the SNP won’t run. The SNP’s capture of the Yes brand must be seen as a move to prevent this.

The melding of the SNP and Yes brands implies a single campaign under the party’s direction and therefore informed by that Sturgeon doctrine. It makes it very difficult – perhaps impossible – to have a distinct Yes campaign which might compensate for the anticipated deficiencies and defects of a campaign designed and managed entirely by Nicola Sturgeon and her closest allies. Any attempt to create a discrete Yes campaign will necessarily mean that there are two – only one of which will be ‘official’. It is even conceivable that the SNP might resort to the courts in order to prevent any other organisation using the Yes brand. This is not as unthinkable as it should be.

Should this deter us? As you might expect from the individual who coined the phrase ” Less compliance! More defiance! “, I say no! We should not be deterred by the SNPs attempt to usurp the Yes movement. The battle-cry of “Less compliance! More defiance!” was intended to urge the SNP/Scottish Government to be less respectful of the authority asserted by Westminster and more ready to assert the authority of the Parliament actually elected by the people of Scotland. It is a measure of how much the situation has changed that we must now contemplate demanding less respect for the SNP leadership and greater readiness to defy its edicts.

I do not doubt that there are many thousands of Yes activists out there who are eager to be less compliant and more defiant. I know there is a significant part of the Yes movement which rejects the Sturgeon doctrine and demands greater urgency, guarantees of a free and fair referendum and a campaign strategy formulated with the lessons of the 2014 referendum firmly in mind. The problem, as ever, is unifying all the factions and re-engaging all the disaffected individuals. If anybody has ideas on that score, I’d love to hear them.

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5 thoughts on “An independent Yes movement

  1. I agree with you on this Peter. I had not considered that the Yes campaign had been subsumed into the SNP and this would prevent me being supportive of any campaign with the SNP in charge. Such is the ill-feeling towards Nicola Sturgeon, amongst many in the Independence movement, that I know many others would also resist. I have no faith that a campaign by the SNP will even get off the ground but moves are obviously being made to stop any other groups trying to take the lead. It is very dispiriting and strategic thinking is required for taking Independence forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The movement has succumbed to the cancer of factionalism.”

    It always pulls me up from reading even the most eloquent prose and most crisply argued logic when I see cancer used as a metaphor for something that is irreparably negative and ultimately destructive. It can be, but many cancers are these days at least manageable if not curable, while many are indeed now curable. Living with one that is not, is made no easier by having its image repeated in metaphors.

    The “factionalism” of the independence movement is already to look negatively at something that can also be regarded as ordinary diversity. The “cancer” is the tendency to pick fights in empty rooms with imaginary enemies and to see every other, not to mention diversity itself, as some sort of threat. The “cure” in this case might simply be listening with great attention to the many voices within the diversity of the movement, without fear or prejudice. Although who knows, perhaps the peculiarly Scottish variety of the tendency to “factionalise” might be incurable. History will tell and I will not be here.

    The unfortunate conflation by the SNP leadership with the whole party, with the entire yes movement and with everybody who otherwise believes in the cause of independence was indeed founded on the rise in SNP membership in the aftermath of 2014, but it was always going fail as a general strategy, unless employed only as a temporary arrangement, which it was not. The effort to create any unified organisational structure on any intrinsic diversity can also be seen in itself as an attack on that diversity. This is not to promote some wishy washy Pomo relativism; within the independence movement we must at the very least accept that the cause of independence is the only thing that unites us, while everything else is open to discussion, and we regard our difference only as strength. One of power’s favourite counter-reactions is to present difference and diversity only as weakness.

    I genuinely do not see a way through for the movement either, but with a limited prognosis, I can afford to take no further stake in these proceedings, so to speak, and watch history flow on by. But it would be nice if the SNP actually listened, rather than simply pretended to listen, and made some sort of conspicuous effort to further the cause of independence, rather than to make fatuous videos for infantilised zealots.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I really do not believe that w are all united, Duncan, in independence. A good number of those who joined the SNP after 2014 did so when they realized that the SNP was going to be in power, that Labour was on the skids, that the Tories were too toxic to regain traction and the Lib Dems were irrelevant. These were the pseudo ‘wokerati’ for whom independence was never a priority, but always the means to an end – that is, to power, in Scotland. They saw the SNP as the vehicle they required to advance their pseudo ‘woke’ agenda. Contrary to popular belief, it was independence that was the distraction and not the pseudo ‘woke’ agenda which had to stave off independence in order to have that agenda front and centre.

    That is why I keep saying that the whole issue of GRA reform (self-ID without restriction for all) and the other part of the equation, the Hate Crime legislation (they were always intended to be a pair, the one enabling the other) is inextricably linked to independence. We will not get independence or any moves towards independence if these people continue to infest the party because they, and the foot-draggers from before 2007, have no wish for independence. It is so obvious that it is a mystery why it is not obvious.

    The foot-draggers are, by inclination, devolutionists and the pseudo ‘wokerati’ are, by inclination, destructive of anything they think might be beneficial to society, and they are the same ones who will tell you that they are internationalist (meaning, that they have reservations about nationalism – translation: they don’t actually support independence). Pure far left Labour, and Labour has never supported independence in recent times. The two groups comprise the leadership and the leadership’s coterie, with one or two honourable exceptions.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. A very interesting point with which I do not disagree. My remark about what unites the movement was more definitional than historical. I am sure you are right though; many joined the bandwagon to further their personal ambitions or favoured agenda rather than out of any genuine commitment to independence. Which only makes the sense of betrayal more intense.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If you take the 2014 result, when born-Scots voted by a majority for independence, and couple that with the influx of self-serving anti independence people mainly from the Labour far left ‘woke’ faction, then add to the mix, the foot-dragging devolutionists already in the party, it is entirely possible to see how our present situation came about, Duncan. We can only hope that the coterie at the top are displaced and then the cling-ons who rely on the coterie for their places. They all need to go, and the whole independence movement – parties and non-party YES groups – must come together to bring us to the goal we all seek. It can be done, but it will take a new Bruce to do it., probably preceded by a new Wallace and a new de Moray. An amorphous movement cannot do it by itself; it can lend only the impetus.

    Liked by 3 people

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