All Under One Banner (Update)


My instincts have been to steer clear of the current stooshie around AUOB. But here I am, succumbing to the temptation to offer my thoughts. What could possibly go wrong?

The organisation problem

Yes is a diverse, open, inclusive, unstructured popular movement. It is NOT an organisation. That is as it should be. That is its strength. It is not hierarchical. It is an amorphous, informal, organic network. That is the essence of its power.
There are no leaders of the Yes movement. But there are leaders IN the Yes movement. Leadership arises as leadership is required. When that leadership ceases to be necessary, it merges back into the movement ready to be called upon if needed. The Yes movement has no need of leaders so long as it has this potential for emergent leadership.

Some of the Yes movement’s activities demand organisation. People put effort into creating the appropriate organisation within the movement. This is NOT a simple task. Creating an organisation within an organisation is relatively easy. Creating an organisation within a movement which eschews and is averse to formal structures is a hugely demanding task.

It takes a special kind of character to even attempt such a task. It takes extraordinary commitment, dedication and sheer hard work to see it through.

Have a bit of respect for those who take on this work on behalf of the Yes movement! Show some appreciation! Be just a bit grateful! And cut them some fucking slack!

The image problem

All Under One Banner (AUOB) has a serious image problem. The background to that is largely irrelevant. The image problem has to be addressed regardless of what has brought it about. It is increasingly clear that those running AUOB at the moment simply do not have the skills required to address the organisation’s image problem.

This is not to denigrate those people in any way. They have other abilities. Abilities which they have demonstrated to superb effect. But communications and media relations require a particular set of skills which AUOB have thus far failed to develop or acquire.

Rather than castigating these people for whatever mistakes may have been made or failings that have been exposed, we should be offering them the help that they need. Isn’t that what the Yes movement is about? Doesn’t our strength lie in our ability to cooperate and to find leadership where it is required?

The particular skills that AUOB needs at this time almost certainly exist within the Yes movement. The help AUOB needs should be offered. And, of course, that help must be accepted.

It’s all very well to spout fine words about how we’re all on the same side and we’re all after the same thing. But if that doesn’t mean something in practical terms, then it’s just empty rhetoric.

Let’s get this sorted!

My immediate advice, for whatever it might be worth, is that AUOB should STFU until they find somebody with the appropriate communication skills to speak for them. And everybody else should STFU unless they have a practical suggestion as to how this situation might be resolved. Preferably whilst preserving one of the most effective and important organisation that the Yes movement has given birth to.

Update – 20/10/18

Since I wrote the foregoing, a consensus appears to be emerging that AUOB is not worth saving. This is unfortunate. But it is painfully evident that neither the people running AUOB nor those pursuing various grievances against the organisation are willing to make even the smallest effort to halt the destructive course on which they have embarked.
I did not want to become embroiled in the unseemly squabbling that has engulfed AUOB. But, given the importance of the role which it has come to play in the Yes movement, I felt it was worth making a plea for some kind of ‘cooling-off’ period in the hope that this would allow an intervention by people willing and able to help turn things around.
I now see that this was a forlorn hope. AUOB needs help from people with both the necessary skills and a certain status within the Yes movement. I fear we are now at the point where those qualified to help will not want to be associated with the ugliness surrounding AUOB, And it would be unfair to ask them.
Apportioning blame for what is surely the imminent demise of AUOB would be a pointless exercise. Not least because there is enough blame to go around. Some have been the cause of problems or have aggravated the situation when there was no need. Others have failed to intervene effectively or in a timely manner. I count myself in this latter category.
There is only one Yes movement. Everyone who claims to be part of that movement bears collective responsibility. We have all gloried in the successes of AUOB. We are all diminished by its fate.

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Dumfries: What was that all about?

dumfries_english_scots_yesOthers (here and here, for example) have dealt more than adequately with the whingers and naysayers in the Yes movement who have been echoing Unionist negativity about the latest in a series of marches organised by All Under One Banner (AUOB). I have little to add. But I would like to give a personal perspective, if I may.

I attend these marches because I think it is important, not just to campaign for something, but to be seen to campaign for it. Like justice, democracy has to be visible. It has to be perceived to be working. Marches, rallies and demonstrations are as much a part of engaged, participative democracy as being a member of a political party. They are as much a sign of a healthy democracy as high voter turnout. They are an affirmation of people power.

And that, it seems, is what troubles those who denigrate events such the AUOB march and rally in Dumfries. Whether the criticism comes from within the Yes movement or from British Nationalists, the common denominator seems to be an aversion to overt expressions of popular political sentiment.

Whenever possible, I like to travel to these events a day early and stay overnight afterwards. (That’s what your donations are spent on.) In part, this is because I really don’t like being under any kind of pressure. I’m rather obsessive about punctuality and can be unduly stressed by deadlines and appointments. I much prefer to avoid such stress – not least for health-related reasons that I won’t go into.

Quite apart from this, I use these trips as an opportunity to meet with and talk to people all over Scotland. And not only Yes activists. Typically, I’ll visit a few pubs and I’ll chat with locals about this and that. The fact that I always wear a Yes badge means that the conversation invariably turns to the constitutional issue.

One of the positive by-products of the Yes campaign is that talking about politics in the pub is now regarded as perfectly normal in Scotland. It is only rarely that someone shies away from discussing independence. And those that do invariably turn out to be hard-line Unionists. Most people are happy to give their opinion and ask questions and generally take an interest.

This too is a sign of a healthy political culture.

Over many months of undertaking these excursions, one of the things that I have found most noticeable of late is that almost nobody outright rejects the idea of independence. As recently as a few months ago, in any group of half a dozen people sitting in a pub chatting about independence at least one would be quite vocally, if not vehemently, opposed. Now, it is extremely uncommon to find such an attitude. Even among those who are not Yes yet, there is an acceptance that independence is an option. They are prepared to talk about it. They are prepared to listen.

I would contend that the normalising effect of the Yes movement’s high public visibility has played a large part in this attitudinal shift. There are other factors, of course. But, unless your mind is barricaded by bigotry, it is difficult to dismiss the independence cause when tens of thousands of people just like you are taking it seriously enough to march through the streets of Glasgow and Dumfries and elsewhere.

It all comes down to a matter of trust. Everything that I have found while participating in these marches and engaging with others in their vicinity confirms my absolute confidence in the people of Scotland. I am supremely content that the people should be politically active. I am totally content that the people should be  the ultimate political authority. The people are sovereign. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not so those who criticise and condemn massive public displays of popular political engagement. Their discomfort seems to be occasioned by a distinct lack of trust in the people. The whingers and naysayers are elitists. On the Yes side we have those whose support for independence is conditional on political power being reserved to their particular clique. On the British Nationalist side we have those whose opposition to independence is motivated by a desire to keep political power in the hands of a British political elite.

Whatever else the AUOB marches may be about, they certainly represent an explicit rejection of this elitism. I’ll keep going to these events as often as I can and for as long as it’s necessary. Because that’s where the people are.

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YES! Open to all!

180505_marchI’ll be heading for Dumfries tomorrow (Friday 1 June) to take part in the All Under One Banner march on Saturday 2 June. I want to be there in plenty of time to fully enjoy what I know will be a wonderful atmosphere. But the main reason for travelling on Friday and staying overnight is that , for health reasons, I don’t like being under any kind of pressure. I want to join the march at the start fresh after a good night’s sleep and be at the end in plenty time for my speaking slot at 14:55. And I’ll be staying over on Saturday night as well so I can do a bit of socialising after the event.

This is an important event. (The march, I mean. Not my wee speech.) The Yes movement needs to show that it is strong, not just in Glasgow and Edinburgh and across the central belt, but the length and breadth of Scotland. It is up to us, as individuals, to make the effort to be there. There will be some who genuinely cannot attend. That simply puts more of an onus on those who might, if they just roused themselves a bit.

The Dumfries march is also important because it takes the Yes movement right into the heart of Tory territory – where Unionism holds sway, but where Mundell’s brand of rampant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is ripe for attack. An odious ideology which should be abhorrent to ‘old-time’ Tory voters who still cling to a Scottish Conservative tradition of standing up for Scotland’s identity and values.

The Union is a comfort zone for most small ‘c’ conservatives. But it’s not as comfortable as it once was. Many are already questioning whether the Union that has emerged since 2014 is the Union that they signed up to. Many are beginning to wonder if ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is compatible with either their Unionism or their conservatism/Conservatism.

The Yes campaign must exploit these doubts. We must miss no opportunity to aggravate discomfort with the Union and increase unease about where this new breed of ultra-Unionism threatens to take Scotland. We must tell the true story of what the Union now means for Scotland and what it will mean if the British Nationalist project isn’t stopped. We must shatter comfortable illusions and undermine complacent attitudes.

But we also must make it clear that these traditional Tories and small ‘c’ conservatives have an alternative. It is pointless trying to deter people from a harmful course of action without offering them somewhere else to go. They need to know, not only that independence will be better for Scotland, but that it will be better for them. They need to know that there is a place for them in the Scotland that the Yes movement aspires to. They need to realise that nobody is trying to take anything from them.

They need to be made aware that, while we reject the Union, the Yes movement reaches out to them. They are as much part of Scotland’s enriching diversity as anyone else. It is their Scotland as much as it is ours. They must want to rescue their Scotland from the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism every bit as much as we do – even if for different reasons.

Let’s go to Dumfries with our minds, hearts and arms open. Let’s make it clear that, while you may not march with us, you are welcome to join us on the journey to a better, fairer, more prosperous Scotland.

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Will you stand?

When I took to the stage at Glasgow Green after the magnificent All Under One Banner march from Kelvingrove Park on Saturday, I spoke without notes. The following is partly a transcript of my address based on Martin Hannan’s report in The National, and partly the speech I would like to have made. Little of it is based on personal recollection, as I confess to having been quite overcome by the immensity of the occasion.

auob_stageI have supported independence all my life. I joined the SNP as soon as I was eligible. That was in 1962, when I was aged 12. A lot has happened in the fifty odd years between then and now.

I remember Winnie Ewing’s stunning Hamilton by-election victory in 1967.

I well recall the hard graft of the two UK general elections of 1974 – both winter campaigns.

I remember the British Labour betrayal of Scotland in 1979 and the ugliness of the Thatcher years which ensued.

But we got past all that. We got over it. We survived it. And here we are, 50-odd years on, in May 2018.

May is a significant month. It was on 12 May 1999 that the Scottish Parliament was reconvened by Winnie Ewing – three decades after her historic victory.

At last, Scotland had a real Parliament again!

On 3 May 2007 there was an election which shocked the British parties and broke their stranglehold on Holyrood. On 11 May, SNP administration was sworn in and Alex Salmond became First Minister.

Somewhat inconveniently for my rhetoric, it was 3 September 2007 before we were finally rid of the derisory ‘Scottish Executive’.

At last, Scotland had a real Government again!

In the years since then, Scotland has developed an increasing distinctive political culture. As far as the limits of devolution allow, Scotland has been doing things its own way.

At last, Scotland was acting like a real nation again!

And the British political elite doesn’t like it!

Friends! Over the years of campaigning to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status there were times when I felt great elation. There were times when I felt bitter disappointment. But always I felt quietly confident that our cause would prevail.

Lately, however, I have felt something else. I have felt anger. And I have felt fear.

I have felt anger at the British state and its utter contempt for our Parliament and its disrespect for our Government and its disdain for our people.

I have felt fear for what British Nationalists will do if we fail to stop them. They will emasculate our parliament. They will dismantle our democratic institutions. They will eradicate our distinctive political culture. They will sacrifice our public services on the altar of private profit.

Friends! I will not let my anger turn to impotent rage or misdirected hate. I will not let my fear turn to tremulous hesitancy or paralysed inaction.

I will hold fast to my fear. I will be motivated by it. I will raise aloft my anger. I will be energised by it. And I will make a stand against the rolling juggernaut of anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which is threatening this country.

Will you stand with me?

Will you stand in defence of Scotland’s Parliament?

Will you stand in defence of Scotland’s Government?

Will you stand in defence of Scotland’s public services?

Will you stand in defence of Scotland?

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