Tomorrow is Saturday 18 September 2021. At 07:00 tomorrow it will be precisely seven years since polling places across Scotland opened their doors at the start of what was surely the most significant democratic event in our nation’s history. For the subsequent fifteen hours the people of Scotland held in their hands something close to total political power. Our choice that day would literally decide the fate of nations. It is impossible to overstate the importance of that day; that event; that choice. It is fitting that the anniversary of that day should be marked. It is perfectly appropriate that the event itself should be commemorated. The choice, of course, is not something to be celebrated. Thursday 18 September 2014 was a truly historic day. It is a day to be remembered. But it is not a day to be remembered with pride.
Across Scotland tomorrow thousands of people will be participating in campaigning activities organised by local Yes groups as part of Believe in Scotland’s Day of Action for Independence. This is a promising initiative. Not because it will win any converts to Scotland’s cause from a pool of electors who voted No seven years ago but are thought of as ‘soft’, meaning that they are persuadable so long as you don’t scare them off by saying… well… anything, really. There is no such pool of voters. All the ‘soft No’ voters are now part of the ~50% the polls tell us support independence. The relentlessly positive, gentle persuasion using facts and figures strategy pursued by the Yes side in the first referendum campaign won over all those who could be won over by such a strategy. Which is why the polls haven’t moved since 2014 despite the same methods being adhered to, albeit on a massively reduced scale. Officially, reduced to nothing.
Nonetheless, many remain convinced that the methods which have failed to move the polls for seven years will somehow succeed if we persist. So we get ‘initiatives’ such as Believe in Scotland’s Day of Action for Independence which are supposed to kick-start something. What they are supposed to kick-start isn’t clear. We get the initiative. But it doesn’t lead to anything. There is nothing for it to lead to. There is no date or event to which the initiative might connect. The Day of Action will be followed by the Autumn of Action. Which is another initiative or part of the same initiative with nothing more substantial to connect to than the Day of Action.
For an initiative to be meaningful there must be the prospect of an outcome. There must be the possibility that it will have an effect. If there is no end in view then any momentum achieved by the initiative will simply dissipate. There is a limit to the number of times people will participate in initiatives that promise nothing more than another initiative, if anything at all.
The Believe in Scotland’s Day/Autumn of Action for Independence is significant not because of what it will achieve for Scotland’s cause in any direct way, but because it is an apparently successful attempt to have coordinated action on a national scale. Which is what we will need should there ever be an actual referendum to campaign for.
The Day/Season of Action is significant too in that it embarrasses Nicola Sturgeon by demonstrating in a practical and highly visible way that campaigning is possible despite Covid-19. It exposes the nonsense of her claim that the health crisis makes ‘proper’ campaigning impossible. Is there any hope that this will open a few eyes and minds among the Sturgeon/SNP faithful? We can only hope that it does.
I will be marching for independence. I’ll be attending the Scottish Independence Movement march in Dundee. I’ll be told that marching is useless. That it doesn’t persuade anybody. That it is ineffectual. I know this. The difference between me and many (most?) of those taking part in the Believe in Scotland’s Day of Action for Independence is that I know marching isn’t going to win people over to independence. I am untroubled by this as I never imagined it would. That marching doesn’t win people over is totally unsurprising as that is not the purpose. Many (most?) of those joining the Believe in Scotland initiative think they’re persuading those non-existent ‘soft No’ voters. That’s why they seize on the ‘never closer’ hyperbole from the SNP and ‘key players’ in the Yes movement. The desperately want to believe they’re progressing Scotland’s cause. So they do. They believe the ‘independence is inevitable’ hype They don’t need evidence. They have faith.
That’s where we are seven years on. Marching and leafleting like it was 2014. Reliving the experience. Which is fine. Except I remember what that experience led to the first time around. At least this time we don’t have a referendum to lose. Who says I never see the bright side?
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