I attended only the Friday panel session of the 3-day Scottish Sovereignty Research Group (SSRG) Conference which comes to an end today (Sunday). I did so reluctantly. In part, this was for personal reasons. I am distinctly uncomfortable with the thought of crowds these days, partly as a hangover from Covid precautions and partly just an age thing, I suspect. Also, I am quite determined not to get involved in any projects. I don’t want to take on any roles. I do not want any responsibility because I know I cannot be relied on. That is definitely an age thing. I can’t cope with stress and I don’t work well with others because other people are the single greatest cause of stress.
I only agreed to be on that panel because I know the people behind SSRG and have more time for them than I do for most folk. I know SSRG is doing important, valuable and novel work. I know how committed these people are to Scotland’s cause. And, let’s face it, having complained so much for so long that the voice of dissent in the Yes movement isn’t heard, it would hardly have been fitting that I refuse this opportunity to speak.
Much as I dreaded the event in prospect, the reality was surprisingly undaunting. On arriving, I immediately felt that I was among friends. I recognised lots of faces and even remembered a few names. Although I didn’t always pair the two correctly, people make allowances. For which I am duly grateful. The social side of things was still stressful for me in a way it didn’t when I relished going to real SNP conferences back in the day when they had real conferences. But I coped – with a bit of help from prescribed pharmaceuticals.
I fully expected that my address to the capacity audience would not be well-received. Two or three years ago when I first broached the matter of UDI the reaction was very negative. And that is putting it mildly. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I saw most of the audience nodding along as I spoke of the need to step outside the British legal system and heard them applaud as I spoke of the necessity of taking the powers needed to restore Scotland’s independence. I had gone to the SSRG Conference expecting to be the lone – or at least a lonely – voice of dissent from SNP orthodoxy only to find that as far as this gathering was concerned I was part of the mainstream.
This perception solidified into a conviction as the afternoon progressed and other speakers made points that aligned well with my own views. There was a quite remarkable degree of consensus across the range of positions offered for consideration. It is my hope and expectation that SSRG will be able to stitch together these points of consensus to form a formulation which works for everybody as the basis of our approach to the constitutional issue. I saw a flicker of life in the unity of purpose that I had thought was dead in the Yes movement. For the first time in many years, I saw the possibility of drawing the Yes movement together behind a campaign that all could support. A campaign to end the Union.
I came away from the SSRG Conference inspired and invigorated in a way I haven’t been for most of the past eight years. I’ve forgotten what hope feels like so can’t testify that this is the sensation I’m experiencing now. It may be no more than a defect in my cynicism.
As ever, the question is what happens next? We have grown depressingly accustomed to those SNP ‘initiatives’ that get hyped to the heavens only to end up evaporating into the ether. My hope is that the SSRG Conference will be different. I don’t know what is intended, but I would like to think SSRG would produce a report which offers a synthesis of everything that comes out of the panel discussions and working groups. It would be good if this report could then inform a new Yes Campaign to run in parallel with whatever the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government chooses to do if and when it gets around to holding even a mock independence referendum. We know that campaign will be pretty much a rehash of the first Yes campaign. We also know that it will be inadequate.
It was always my view that the SNP should be the spear-point of the Yes campaign. I saw little point in some separate campaign building support in its own name only to then have to transfer that support to the party of government (SNP) for action requiring effective political power. Back that was when I supposed the SNP could be persuaded to move away from the Sturgeon approach. An approach which is definitively misguided because it is founded on the delusion of a ‘legal’ route to independence and the forlorn hope of eliciting the honest cooperation of the British political elite in a process which is intended to end the Union. The 2021 Scottish Parliament was our last chance to get the SNP back on the independence track. But that gets added to the dismaying list of missed opportunities that litter the fight to restore Scotland’s independence.
Acknowledging the reality that the SNP is going to go its own way regardless, all that is left is to ensure that those who despair of the Sturgeon orthodoxy have somewhere to put their campaigning energies and resources. The SNP seems determined to make Yes Scotland an exclusive organisation entirely under its control. Furthermore, they appear intent on extending that control into every part of the Yes movement. There are a lot of people who simply will not submit to this control freakery. The SNP would have them sidelined and subjected to the kind of abuse that Pete Wishart has made his speciality. Taking lessons from the ugly tribalism that has been allowed to arise between the SNP and ALBA, we would be wise to offer Yes activists an alternative campaign organisation that sees itself as augmenting the ‘official’ campaign rather than opposing it just because it’s led by the SNP.
There are things that need to be said in the name of Scotland’s cause that the SNP as the party of government can’t say. There are truths about the Union that must be told but which the SNP won’t say because it fears the media and any adverse impact on its electoral fortunes. We need a campaign which can say what must be said. We need a campaign that will tell the truths that need to be told. But for the sake of Scotland’s cause, this must be done in a way that involves no antipathy or antagonism towards the SNP. I am firmly persuaded that this can be done.
Today, I registered the domain name yescampaign.scot. I felt I had to do something. It’s not entirely clear to me where this might go. But sometimes it takes a small step to kick off a mass movement. This might be it. It might not. I shall probably make a start on building something around this domain and the ‘brand’ Yes Campaign. But I want to make it very clear that I have absolutely no interest in being a leader or figurehead. I consider myself entirely unsuited to such a role. I do, however, have some ideas about the form that this alternative (unofficial?) Yes Campaign should take. But that is for another day.
For the moment, I just put out for your consideration the thought that a genuinely new Yes Campaign is both necessary and achievable. The Yes movement must give rise to a Yes Campaign. A political campaign is a very different creature from a political movement. Almost the opposite of what the Yes movement has traditionally been. But if we are to achieve the unity of purpose that is essential then there cannot be just one way of pursuing that purpose.
Over to you.
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