AUOB Edinburgh 2019 Speech

The following is the text of a speech delivered at the
#AUOBEdinburgh March & Rally on 5 October 2019.

What is the best thing the SNP has done?

The party has been in government now for more than 12 years. Pretty much everybody bar the bitter, blinkered, bigoted British Nationalists agree that they’ve done a reasonable job.

The voters certainly seem well enough pleased. Ask most of them and they’ll say “SNP? They’re a’ right!”

Some might even wax passionate enough to say “They’re no bad!”

But what’s the single best thing they’ve done for Scotland?

You’ll all have your own ideas about that. But I’ve got my own particular favourite.

For a long time, if you’d asked me what’s the best thing the SNP ever did in government, I’d have picked getting rid of that demeaning ‘Scottish Executive’ title and becoming a real Scottish Government!

That was important. That sent a message to the British establishment. That told them “Hey! That’s the end of the pretendy! There will be no more pretendy!”

I wouldn’t pick that now. Not because it isn’t important, but because it led to something even more important.

The SNP administration back then didn’t just say they were a real government, they acted like a real government. So much so that now, nobody doubts it. We take it for granted.

Scotland has a real government and a real parliament. A government with a real mandate from the people. A parliament with real democratic legitimacy.

The British political elite don’t like it! But that’s the way it is. Successive SNP administrations have made Holyrood the locus of Scottish politics. That’s my candidate for the most significant thing they’ve done.

The SNP has brought Scotland’s politics back to Scotland. Now they just have to bring Scotland’s government back to Scotland. All of it!

And that’s where we hit a couple of wee snags.

Having very successfully made the Scottish Parliament the main arena for politics in Scotland, our political leaders now seem intent on moving the focus back to Westminster.

Brexit! I don’t have much to say about it. There isn’t much that need be said about it. There’s only three things people in Scotland need to know about Brexit.

  1. Brexit cannot be fixed. The British political elite have screwed things up in a manner that is remarkable even for them. There is no way to fix Brexit.
  2. There is no Brexit deal that can negate Scotland’s Remain vote.
  3. Brexit is not our problem.

So why the hell are our political leaders so obsessed with it? Why are they embroiled in what’s going on at Westminster? Scotland’s politics isn’t done at Westminster! It’s done here in Edinburgh – Scotland’s capital city.

“Oh but we’ll be affected by Brexit!”, I hear people say. ”We can’t get away from it!”

Of course we’ll be affected! All the more reason our politicians should be here in Edinburgh working on solutions for Scotland instead of getting tangled up in England’s mess.

Scotland’s politics has to be done in Scotland. We won’t find solutions in Westminster. Westminster won’t act for us. Westminster won’t protect Scotland’s interests. We have to do that ourselves… here… in Scotland!

And that includes a new referendum on Scotland’s constitutional status. Why would we give Westminster an effective veto over our referendum?

Why would we let Westminster set conditions and make rules for our referendum?

Why would we accept Westminster being involved in any way in our referendum?

Yet that is precisely what the Section 30 process does. It moves vital aspects of our referendum out of Scotland and hands them over to Westminster.

Scotland’s new independence referendum must be entirely made and managed in Scotland. Our First Minister must seize control of the process. Our Government must legislate for the process. Our Parliament must have oversight of the process.

It’s our referendum!

It is our referendum and there must be no external interference!

It’s our right of self-determination, therefore it is our referendum!

It doesn’t belong to the First Minister, or to the Scottish Government, or even to the Scottish Parliament. The referendum belongs to the people of Scotland!

The legal validity of our referendum rests on a solid body of international laws and conventions.

The democratic legitimacy of our referendum derives from the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

Our referendum has nothing to do with Westminster! And Westminster should have nothing to do with our referendum!

Let’s walk away for Brexit!

Let’s walk away from Section 30!

Let’s walk away from Westminster!

Let’s walk away from the Union!

Let’s bring Scotland’s government home!

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#AUOBPerth March & Rally

The following is the text of a speech delivered at the
#AUOBPerth March & Rally on 7 September 2019.

Five years ago, at about daft o’clock in the morning of Friday 19 September, I walked out of that building over there feeling pretty bloody dejected. I’d been at the count for the 2014 independence referendum and, of course, by that time we all knew the outcome.

We’d lost.

The day before – Thursday 18 September – something truly extraordinary happened. What we had in Scotland on that day was democracy in its purest form. For 15 hours the people of Scotland held in their hands total political power. TOTAL political power.

By the early hours of the Friday morning we knew that, as a nation, we’d chosen to hand that power back to the British political elite. No wonder I was bloody dejected.

I don’t have to tell you. Most of you here will be well aware of how that No vote struck us down.

But we weren’t down for long! Within hours, the Yes movement was revitalised and reinvigorated. Within hours, our networks were buzzing again. Within hours, we were off our knees and on our feet!

Looking around me today I see that, five years on, we are still standing! We are standing tall! We are standing strong! We are standing and we are marching and we are working to rectify the mistake we made five years ago!

We are still Yes! We are all Yes! We are always Yes!

I was surprised at how quickly the Yes movement recovered. But not half as surprised as our opponents. They thought the independence campaign would just evaporate! They thought Scotland had been put back in its place; back in its box! They thought we’d give up!

I have a message for all those who would deny Scotland its rightful status in the world. We are NEVER giving up! NEVER!

You can disrespect us. You can decry us. You can denigrate us. But you cannot deter us and you can NEVER defeat us!

A cause whose time has come will not be denied! Democracy will not be denied! Scotland will not be denied!

Independence is inevitable. It is inevitable because any constitutional settlement which succeeds in terms of the aims, ambitions and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

Which is just a fancy way of saying that independence is inevitable because we will not settle for anything less!

I say that independence is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we should not or need not be concerned about how we get there. When I say “how we get there” I mean both the process by which we come to a referendum and the manner in which we conduct the campaign to win that referendum.

In relation to both the process being followed and the campaigning strategy, I have been somewhat critical of our First Minister and the SNP leadership. There are, I’m sure, those among you who will consider that an understatement.

I have been critical of what I regard as wasted time and squandered opportunities. I cannot help but note that, despite an insistence on the efficacy of an approach which mirrors that taken in the 2014 campaign, the polls have barely twitched in all the five years since then.

I ask the question – if this relentlessly ‘positive’ approach is effective, where is the effect?

I ask the question – if the strategy of selling independence on the doorsteps like an over-50s insurance plan is the way to succeed, why have the sales figures flat-lined?

I ask the question – why is this strategy not being scrutinised and radically different alternatives considered?

I have been critical of the lack of urgency in Nicola Sturgeon’s approach. Her calmness amidst the chaos of British politics is admirable. But Scotland’s predicament is parlous. The threat to our democratic institutions and our essential public services and our very identity as a nation is real and imminent.

When you see the sole of a boot about to come crashing down on your face, that is not the time to be passively pondering the pattern of the tread. That is the time to be taking evasive or defensive action!

I have been critical of Nicola Sturgeon’s obstinate commitment to the Section 30 process. I don’t have time to go into detail on why I consider this to be folly. I will make only one point.

Nicola Sturgeon insists she will adhere to the Section 30 process because she wants to avoid any legal challenge to the outcome of the referendum. I say we should have no fear of such challenges.

If Scotland is not prepared to face challenges – in court or anywhere else – to its constitutional claim, and the always democratic means by which that claim is pursued, then Scotland is not ready to be restored to the status of an independent nation.

Independent nations which are worthy of that designation do not seek to avoid such challenges. They stand ready to confront and defeat them.

If Scotland’s cause is worthy; as I believe it to be…

If Scotland’s cause is just; as I believe it to be…

If Scotland’s cause is righteous; as I believe it to be…

…then it is a cause that we should be prepared to fight for. And it is a cause that we should be prepared to defend against any and all challenges!

The choice now confronting everybody who calls Scotland their country is between the Scotland we know, the Scotland we aspire to, the Scotland we hope to bequeath to future generations; and a Scotland conscripted into the service of those forces which put Boris Johnson in power!

We must recognise and convey to others that it is the Union which gives Boris Johnson power over Scotland.

It is the Union which allows the British political elite to impose austerity on Scotland.

It is the Union which allows them to treat the democratic will of Scotland’s people with cold, callous contempt.

Brexit isn’t the problem – the Union is the problem!

Tory austerity isn’t the problem – the Union is the problem!

Boris Johnson isn’t the problem – the Union is the problem!

We have a way out. It is a way which may not be simple, but is certainly uncomplicated. We must dissolve the Union.

We must persuade the people of Scotland of the urgent need to dissolve the Union by informing them in an honest and forthright manner about what the Union means for our nation and our democracy and our dignity.

We must then hold a referendum in which we ask them the question, do you want to dissolve the Union?

And we must fervently hope that, having learned the harsh lessons of the mistake we made in 2014 and for the sake of all Scotland’s future generations, the people answer YES! YES! YES!

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Why are we marching?

Today, the Yes movement marches in Glasgow. As many as 100,000 people from every corner of Scotland will converge on the city for what will be one of the biggest political demonstrations our nation has ever seen.

If past events are any guide, it will be a joyous occasion attended by people of all ages and from all walks of life. There will be bands. There will be flags. There will be speeches. There will be people from other parts of the world – individuals and groups who have travelled many hundreds or even thousands of kilometres to lend their support to Scotland’s Yes movement. There will be songs. There will be chants. There will be smiles and laughter.

There will be the energy of people motivated by a great cause. A worthy cause. A just cause.

There will be the excitement of knowing the time is at hand when gatherings such as that today in Glasgow will seem like mere rehearsals for Scotland’s Independence Day celebrations.

But why are we marching? What is the purpose of today’s event and the many more which All Under One Banner has planned for the months ahead?

Are we marching to tell Theresa May that we’ve had enough? Are we marching to tell the British parties that they have failed Scotland’s people? Are we marching to send a message to the British Government in London?

What would be the point of that? They’re not listening! They never listened before. They’re not listening now. And there is no possibility that they ever will listen.

They’re not listening because they don’t care. The British political elite cares less than nothing for Scotland’s needs and priorities; our hopes and aspirations. The whole point of the Union is that they don’t have to care. They don’t have to care because nothing we say or do can have any meaningful impact.

As Brexit has demonstrated so vividly, the Union ensures that the people of Scotland cannot be politically effective within the British state. Therefore, we can safely be ignored by British politicians.

We may be tossed a few crumbs from time to time. The British ruling elite may consider it expedient to experiment with devolution, secure in the knowledge that they retain the power to strip it all away with a stroke of a pen. The power which rightfully belongs to the people of Scotland has been taken from them by the Union. We may insist that the people are sovereign. But as long as we accept the Union, we will never be allowed to properly exercise that sovereignty.

Marching to send a message to the British government is futile. Petitioning the British government for our democratic right of self-determination is both futile and demeaning. It is not the British government we need to be addressing.

The Yes movement marches in Glasgow today, not to send an angry message to the British Prime Minister, but to send a hopeful message to Scotland’s First Minister.

There is no point hoping that the British government will respond to our democratic demands. That’s not how the British state works. That not what the Union is for. Only the Scottish Government has the power to act on our behalf. Only the Scottish Government has the mandate to do what is required. Only the Scottish Parliament has democratic legitimacy and the rightful authority to speak for Scotland.

We march in Glasgow today to tell Nicola Sturgeon that now is the time to act. To assure her that she has our full backing. To insist that she join with the Yes movement in order that, together, we may restore the powers of Scotland’s Parliament, the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and the pride of our nation by ending the Union.

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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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