Do we need a new Yes Scotland?

If you are considering the matter of how the Yes campaign in a new independence referendum should be managed, I wouldn’t bother reading the article in today’s Sunday National which purports to address that very question. If, however, you’re wondering what a desert of imagination looks like then the responses to the question from “senior campaigners” will provide a useful illustration. I don’t profess to know what qualifies a person to be a “senior campaigner”, but if this article is anything to go by the first requirement is a distinct aversion to fresh thinking and a predilection for the trite wisishness of dusty stock phrases.

Let’s get rid of one bit of nonsense right away. The idea of a campaign organisation “not be led by political parties but from the “bottom up”” is not an idea at all but a gobbet of the finest oxymoronic idiocy. Movements can be “bottom up” because movements can be unstructured and organic and non-hierarchical. Campaigns require organisation and organisation demands all the things a movement can readily do without. The Yes movement that arose in 2012/2013 was a superb example of an unstructured, organic, non-hierarchical entity. But movements don’t get things done. Movements provide the motivation and the manpower and the money to get things done. They do not themselves get anything done.

Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon of the Yes movement was its capacity for emergent leadership. When things needed to be done, the necessary leadership and organisational structure would emerge from the amorphous mass of the movement. It was organisations such as All Under One Banner that dealt with the practicalities of campaign activity. Left to its own devices, the Yes movement was powerless.

Which brings us to the second idea that needs to be dispelled. The notion of ‘people power’. The people don’t have power. The people have strength. This is mirrored in the distinction between movements and organisations. Movements provide the strength. Organisations translate that strength into power ─ the capacity to effect change in a directed manner.

Does a new independence referendum campaign require a formal Yes campaign organisation? Obviously, it does. As Mike Russell points out, legislation exists which makes a legal requirement out of a self-evident practical necessity. Asking if we need a new Yes Scotland doesn’t really make much sense. The question is not whether we need a new official Yes campaign organisation, but what form that organisation should take. Which is also a rather pointless question. The form taken by the new Yes Scotland will be determined by the SNP. Many will object strongly to this statement. Tough shit! I deal with things as they are not as we might wish them to be. We can hope to make things as we would wish them to be only by first dealing with things the way they are. The SNP is in a position to make all the big decisions about the official Yes campaign. That is just a fact. There is no way that fact can be changed in the short term. The short term is all we have. So, bleating about the reality of the SNP’s dominant position in the independence movement is a waste of time and trying to change that situation is a waste of energy.

The question now becomes one of whether this SNP-ordered official Yes campaign is likely to be effective. That really is all that matters. If you are truly committed to Scotland’s cause then it should be a matter of no concern to you whatever who manages the Yes campaign. It should only matter that the management is effective. That it does the job. This very much depends on how you define the job. I define the job of the Yes campaign as bringing about the dissolution of the Union and effecting the restoration of Scotland’s status as an independent nation. I have to be very dubious about the SNP, or whatever formal Yes campaign organisation it spawns, being effective in doing the job thus defined because I have never heard the SNP talk of the job in these terms.

When the SNP talks about independence ─ which contrary to the complaint all too often heard, they do ─ they refer to it as something that must be sold to the people of Scotland. That was OK ten years ago when the first order of business was to normalise the idea of independence. It ceased to be valid as the way to think about the constitutional issue as soon as the first referendum was over. From that point, the campaign to ‘win’ Scotland’s independence should have become the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. The first referendum transformed Scotland’s politics. The thinking that informed that first Yes campaign ceased to be relevant the moment the votes were counted. To be honest, it probably ceased to be relevant some time before the votes were even cast. But there was no way to reframe the issue at that point. This reframing should have been the immediate consequence of that No vote. It didn’t happen. Essentially, nothing happened.

To be more accurate, lots of things happened. But none of these things were brought about by the SNP or what remained of the Yes campaign organisation. It was all stuff that was done to Scotland rather than stuff that was done by Scotland. There was squandering of opportunities on an epic scale.

The purpose here is not a recriminatory rant about the past. Easy and gratifying as it would be to go down that road, looking backwards is only justified if there may be lessons there that serve us in good stead for the future. All those lessons tell us that the Yes campaign next time has to be totally different from the Yes campaign last time. Yet the only remarkable thing about the responses from “senior campaigners” to the question “Do we need a new Yes Scotland?” is the fact that they are all talking as if the first referendum never happened. Or at least as if it changed nothing. It changed everything! Everything, that is, except these “senior campaigners”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, former Yes Scotland CEO, Blair Jenkins, comes closest to spelling out what is now required. He just doesn’t go far enough. He is not explicit enough. For example, he grabbed my attention when he was quoted as saying,

There is a growing sense in Scotland we need to get off the path we are on – that is everyday conversation with people.

Do we need new Yes Scotland? Senior campaigners weigh in on big question

I found myself urging Blair to go on. There is a point here well worth expanding on. If, as he seems to be suggesting, we need to move on from the idea of ‘selling’ independence in one-to-one face-to-face exchanges with voters, what does he reckon is the best alternative? What should we be doing? He doesn’t say! Instead, we get some boilerplate about unity and participation and activism. I desperately wanted him to continue with his first thought on the matter. I was left disappointed.

If I was disappointed by the response from Blair Jenkins then this turned to disgust when we heard from the SNP’s Toni Giugliano. Even if anything else he said made good sense it was all overshadowed by his obnoxious comment about Alba. In one breath this bollard talks of “mass-mobilisation”. In the next he’s alienating a sizable chunk of the mass he hopes to mobilise by talk of “intolerant fringe groups like Alba”. And why the f*** is he even mentioning the incident in Perth involving James Cook? Why bring that up? It soon becomes clear why as Toni Giugliano offers us some of that old SNP control-freakery.

Step up Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, founder and chief executive of Believe in Scotland and a man who claims his is a “totally independent, non-political” organisation. Independent of whom? The SNP? Presumably that’s what he means. He constantly protests his “independence” from the SNP. Some might think he protests a bit too much. It may be true that Believe in Scotland is not formally affiliated with the SNP. It may be that there are no evident connections or obvious control. But why would there need to be when his organisation is so closely aligned with the SNP as to have all the characteristics of one of the party’s front organisations? Let’s face it! If there is to be some kind of revolt against Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue it is not going to be led by Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp.

When we speak of a united Yes movement, we must surely have in mind something that is inclusive beyond those groups, organisations and individuals that are indistinguishable from the SNP. We must surely be speaking of an inclusiveness that extends to Alba. But Toni Giugliano makes it all too clear that this is not what the SNP has in mind. Having tasted his intolerance, I don’t suppose for one moment that Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s idea of a new Yes Scotland is any less an exclusive club than that envisaged by Mr Giugliano.

At least Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp recognises that unity under an SNP-led Yes Scotland organisation is so unlikely as to be not worth considering. But I suspect he imagines his own organisation or something very like it might serve as the core of a new umbrella group for the Yes campaign. Which I have to say would be barely one remove from the SNP itself and so no more acceptable to the mass of the Yes movement than an SNP club with Toni Giugliano as membership secretary.

Then Tommy Sheppard MP weighs in.

I think a Yes Scotland campaign along the lines of what it was last time is essential.

I think that’s all we need to hear from Tommy. I am increasingly persuaded ─ largely thanks to the efforts of on Pete Wishart MP ─ that being in Westminster has distorted the perspective on SNP MPs. Not all of them to the same extent, to be sure. But when Tommy Sheppard comes out with a remark like this you have to wonder what it is he sees when he turns his gaze northwards. Of course, it may be that he is just toeing the party line. Which involves going along with what we might call the ‘Sturgeon orthodoxy’. He just doesn’t want to contradict his ‘boss’.

Mike Russell turns out to be another adherent to the ‘Sturgeon orthodoxy’. The most striking thing about his response to the question about a new Yes Scotland is the planet-weight irony of the SNP President referring to “Westminster control-freak politicians and parties”. That’s not thunder you hear. It’s the sound of a million jaws dropping.

Other than that, what we find is that like other “senior campaigners” Mike Russell’s thinking on a new official Yes campaign organisation doesn’t embrace anything not withing arms-reach of the SNP. It’s the same cosy wee league of the like-minded envisaged by all the other “senior campaigners”. No dissenting voices. No fresh thinking. No new ideas. Just strict adherence to the Sturgeon orthodoxy.

It’s time to move on ─ both in relation to the Yes campaign and with this article. Not only because next up is Ross Greer and there is no way I can possibly think of him as “senior”, but because it’s time to say something about what this very senior campaigner thinks about a new Yes Scotland. I was not asked, of course. Not that I personally expected to be. But it is obvious that nobody was asked who might have rocked the boat even very gently. No dissenting voices. Isn’t it always the way?

When considering such matters as the Yes campaign in a new referendum my preferred approach is to think first of what would be ideal and then, assuming this ideal to be unachievable, what might come closest to it or serve as an acceptable substitute. The ideal as I identified it would have been a Yes campaign led by the party of independence and backed by the entire Yes movement. I could explain why this is ideal, but given that it is clearly not going to happen, what would be the point? As stated earlier, the official Yes Scotland campaign organisation will be whatever the SNP wants it to be. That’s a given. What is left to be decided is how we can make the best of what for maybe as much as half of the Yes activist base is a situation which is at best hard to accept and at worst totally unacceptable. We might think of this as the dissenting half of the Yes activist base. It may not be as much as half and not all will dissent to the same extent. But a simplification is helpful at this juncture and shouldn’t mislead anyone who doesn’t want to misunderstand.

The dissenters can, in turn, be divided into two groups ─ those who find the SNP-led Yes Scotland impossible to work with. And those who might be able to work with the SNP-led campaign with a bit of teeth-grinding and nose-holding. The latter has a choice to make. The former has no choice. Both need a choice. Assuming, as a we must, that all of the dissenters are committed to Scotland’s cause and that Scotland’s cause needs all the activists that can be mustered, there has to be a Yes Scotland campaign organisation to which they can turn. This seems no more than the inevitable and unavoidable logic of the situation. Not the ideal, perhaps. Maybe not even the perfect substitute for the ideal. But there seems no other viable option if the Yes campaign as a whole is not to be deprived of a large body of activists.

We need not one but two Yes Scotland’s. The one that we’re getting whether we like it or not. And the one that dissenters can turn to in order to do their bit for the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. The one that dissenters must create for ourselves. A separate but not competing campaign to the on being managed by the official Yes Scotland organisation. A campaign that augments the official one. Says the thing the official Yes Scotland campaign can’t or won’t say. A campaign that reaches the people the official Yes Scotland campaign doesn’t.

We need to build this organisation and we are already late. We have to find a way of bringing together all the groups and organisations that aren’t included in the Yes Scotland envisaged by those “senior campaigners”. And we need to do this as a matter of urgency. In a subsequent piece I will set out my own thoughts on how we go about creating ‘Yes Scotland Unofficial’ in the hope of kick-starting a discussion.

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24 thoughts on “Do we need a new Yes Scotland?

  1. I won’t add my twa penneth worth on the ‘senior campaigners’ as you seem to have made an expert assessment of the various flaws in all their statements.

    I would only add this:

    With all the ‘mandates’ garnered by the SNP and their 8 election victories in 8 years (votes and seats) plus all the ‘material changes’ since 2014 why has taken so long for them to even consider getting organised?

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Two YES Scotlands? They’d need different names but as long as their objectives are the same I don’t see why that would not work. It does solve the big problem we have right now of division in the movement.


      1. I disagree. There is an iron law of marketing ─ you do not fuck with the brand! The brand is ‘Yes Scotland’. The SNP has taken ownership of that. But we should stay as close to it as possible. I’m just not sure ‘Aye Scotland’ does that.


    1. That’s the whole point of it, Bill. Everybody is talking about unity. But they all want unity on their own terms. I’m realistic enough to recognise that this unity is not going to be achieved. The best we can do is two campaigns united in their ultimate purpose while taking quite distinct approaches to achieving it.

      I had hoped that Alba/Salmond would fill this need. But the party leadership fucked things up big style in the early days and set the membership on a course of conflict with the SNP which cannot now be reversed. So, we need yet another new organisation. But it would be good if we could get it right this time.

      I know what’s needed. But I’m not able. I’m not leader material. So, some other egotistical bastard is going to have to step up.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The second Yes movement is already stirring in response to the rise of inflation and the decline of the United Kingdom. Events in the coming months will only accelerate that process. Unfortunately for the SNP it’s unlikely to be based on a centre-right belief in market forces. The SNP have already lost the initiative but there’s still time to capitalise on it. Uttering phrases like “mass mobilisation” is unlikely to do it. Let’s see if they can swallow their pride and demonstrate some leadership, for once.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. First point….we can and must have two at least YES Scotland campaigns and Peters point about not changing your corporate identity is crucial….it would cost millions to get that through advertising. But we have two already ….Alba can lead and organise the alternative to the SNP. If we can’t have unity….and we can’t….then maximise the Indy support. Just face it….the SNP has moved Right with Nicola….Alba is Left as its policy of Republican Indy Scotland in an EFTA Europe shows. That’s fine….and if Labour for Indy can’t join then why not another organisation….as long as all votes cast in a plebicite GE are counted for Indy.
    I would be vastly encouraged by this outcome rather than a forced and fractious one under a controlling SNP.
    Money? Well the snp is skint and will have to appeal to members… not likely to be enthusiastically supported given the missing 600k. I think an Alba YES Scotland could reap at least as much….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was not asked, of course.

    I personally think you’re an ego-bloated boorish / boarish / borish blellum, but you’ve given enough to the Indy movement that yes, you should be consulted, and far more than the newcomer Giugliano who few have heard of or indeed, heard from. Same goes for the Rev who’s given far more than Giugliano who is clearly a divisive ignoramus. Someone tell him now is not the time to slag off or be intolerant of “intolerant fringe groups”, when he’d be better off volunteering some work at the fringe in Edinburgh like sweeping out or emptying dog poo bins. He might learn something.

    Ironically Jenkins of whom I had a low opinion probably does have the right calm approach. But one thing’s for sure – no £100,000 a year directors (11 of them?) running around the expensive office wondering why they’re not getting their £23 million warchest donated to pay their wages for doing, well, nothing frankly. Even the bland useless YES Scotland website wasn’t updated after the Ref to say at least “Thanks to all of you for your hard work”, whereas Better Together did that very quickly. And it was up to Clydebank YES to provide a list of YES groups so that indeed, Indy didn’t die.


  6. I think two distinct Yes alliances is a good idea. At first sight, it may appear unnecessarily divisive. However, the split is already there, and a large number of indy supporters could not and will not work for anything led by the SNP. The SNP needs a group to lead and the SNP-haters need somewhere to go. Bottom line.
    I’m not blaming the current SNP leadership entirely for this. They could have done things better for sure. Splits are inevitable. It’s eight years since the first indy ref – that’s a long time for any movement to stay united, humans bring human. Think of all the disparate groups that formed the first Yes Alliance. Is anyone really surprised that, with no battle to engage, no common enemy to fight, that groups of like-minded people start to go their own ways? Historic struggles can unite people in the short term, as alliances of convenience are formed and reformed. Many examples in history.
    The SNP leadership have handled things badly. Thanks to an apparent “settling in” at WM and an eagerness to placate the unionist media and “Whessht for Indy” they have distanced themselves and become alienated from a large number of active indy supporters.
    We are not at the stage where SNP politicians are afraid to face members of their own side at public events, or even walk down the street without personal body guards, buy I fear this is coming. An alternative Yes grouping unsoiled (as some would see) by the SNP would at least help channel the anger and frustration in a positive way.
    I enjoyed reading your article Peter but it did start me thinking way ahead of myself and imagining what could happen in the not-so-distant (hopefully) future when the people vote in favour of independence and the real hard work (negotiations) begin. Almost every successful independence struggle in history has been followed by serious division and often civil war, as the alliances held together fall apart. Colonial GB has form I’m this and we have to expect further interference and division.
    Imagine, for example, following an overwhelming Yes vote, WM forced to negotiate grudgingly offered: “OK you can have your indy but Dumfries & Galloway voted No so they stay with us. Oh and by the way, we want 50% of the oil resources and we are keeping Faslane for another 20 years”. This may sound ridiculous to most but it won’t to everyone. Result? Instant division as some think it’s a start – take it whilst others see it as a complete sell-out. I know it’s way off in the future, but we need to anticipate this and have a plan. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I’m looking forward to your ideas on how 2 Yes campaigns can be set up, I think it is a really good one , and I agree that the brand needs to be the same, or at least contain the word “YES” – the “Scotland” bit is maybe a bit redundant given the already well defined geographic and political context, or you about the “YES Campaign”


    1. The starting point would be expressions of interest. The initiative would have to be widely enough publicised so as to be sure of getting enough interested groups and organisations. Then a meeting of representatives of those groups. Everything after that would depend on what is decided at that meeting. In my experience, things take on a life of their own once you get by that initial stage. Think of Yes Perth City, for example. We talked about it for long enough. Then one person took the bull by the horns, hired a room and spread the word. Everything mushroomed from that. It’s getting that initial interest that is critical.

      One thing that has to be made clear from the outset is that this would not be a democratic venture. The intention is to form an organisation to do a very particular job. It’s more akin to a business than a movement. Decisions are not made on the basis of a vote. They are made on the basis of a rational assessment by people with the appropriate skills of what is needed to get the job done.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “The form taken by the new Yes Scotland will be determined by the SNP”

    I’m not saying you’re wrong here Peter but if you’re right we may as well all pack up and go home Independence aint happening until the SNP in it’s current form is completely destroyed and I don’t see that happening anytime soon

    “Many will object strongly to this statement. Tough shit! I deal with things as they are not as we might wish them to be”

    You’re the one whose wishing and you’re not dealing with the fact the SNP have been irreparably compromised by the British establishment and no longer stand for independence

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Keeping this brief, Indy Ref 1 we all had to defend golf courses being built on SSSIs, overtures to a repellent lizard who owned a newspaper deemed to read the result before the vote, defend policies we didn’t agree with, and yeah, for that Ref it was probably right as it got Indy from 23-28% depending on who you believe, to 45%, AND broke Labour’s hegemony.

    Indy Ref 2 or whatever will be different, and while it’s probably a bad move for the majority to criticise the SNP there’s a definite need for a strong minority to work to do so – in a way that does not damage Indy. For instance, they can say:

    “Ferries were a shambles and the SvotGov could get away with it because Indy supporters had no real choice but vote SNP. Vote YES to Independence and you can get rid of the SNP and vote in whoever you want – and in any case the SNP wouldn’t be able to get away with such incompetenece in an Indy Scotland”.

    Just need to make sure it doesn’t damage the SNP themselves in their campaign for Indy – not an easy task.

    Count me out, I’m neither SNP nor any other party, my vote is my own.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “No dissenting voices. Isn’t it always the way?”

    Everyone you mention in the article is a chancer, Peter. This suggests the only people that matter is dissenting voices.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Robin McAlpine expresses some thinking along similar lines in his recent Opinion piece:

    “The indy movement simply has to be better than this

    by Robin McAlpine | 17 Aug 2022
    The grassroots of the independence movement have every right in the world to be angry and frustrated, but those emotions must be used wisely if we are to win.”

    I had missed this from last week until today, but thought it worth consideration.

    It is a fair read, so I will just quote this part from the end.

    “I called for a ‘Council of Elders’, a committee of respected elder figures from the churches, the trade unions, the peace movement, the arts sector, people unafraid to run a vigorous, challenging campaign but wise enough to understand the boundaries of what is acceptable and effective. They would offer wise advice to the movement (and incidentally give a sheen of respectability to our rebellion.)

    I think an initiative of that sort is more needed than ever. But since it is pretty clear that the current leader of the SNP wouldn’t countenance anyone listening to wisdom which is not her own it is pretty clear it won’t happen until there is a change at the top.

    So until the movement comes together again, finds a way to work collectively and begins a grown up conversation about how to proceed, our hopes will continue to exist in this awful void, a void that those with the loudest, angriest and most extreme voices will make their own. And we will suffer as a result.

    These days are filled with real political opportunity for effective social movements who have the wisdom to know how and when to grab them. If you are a loyal footsoldier in the independence movement you have every right to be frustrated and angry that this opportunity is being fumbled yet again.”

    Liked by 3 people

        1. As you are ex-meritius super-pension upper middle class, and I am Top Class, I invite you to lick my sea boots and tug your opus. I also wish to colonise your house and your car.


  12. It would be more honest to say that in 2022 there isn’t a Scottish independence campaign.

    Instead, there would appear to be some zany cliques in a nebulous richeousness compo amoungst themselves with an audience of themselves. And an SNP campaign that as far as I can make out consisted an ex-education minister sent out towing a horse box with some posters on it in 2020.

    A dribble of wankers, really. Uninterested in grasping the idea of Scotland in 2022. That goes along nicely with an SNP government that looks like it’s a very good measure of just how gullible their voters are and how much an appetite they have for mindless, pointless repitition of make-believe.

    Quite amazing how fast the ‘Yes!’ thing fizzled out into a gimmick. Face it: It gone. It’s a thing of the past. It looks like a minor corporate PR undertone of a leading political party that doesn’t have much of a philosophy other than votesm, targeting peope who can’t walk very far or stand up for long.


  13. Does anyone thing that the current independence thing is in any way capable of moving on from twelve years of Salmond / Sturgeon demagougery? Both of them invole totalitarian adulation to the eclipse of all else, and that’s plain wierd.

    Seriously: Some Scots believed a government dentist smarming about comic rules about virology in Glaswegian happy-pater. He got Covid. He was compoletely fine. I couldn’t leave home for six months because of him, and worse.


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