The fartmills of your mind

People don’t so much fear change as resent it. One of the myriad curiosities of human nature is that we come equipped with this truly remarkable pattern detecting and modelling machine – surely the most complex and powerful device in the known universe – the primary purpose of which is to build models of our environment which allow us to foresee possible changes in that environment, and yet we have this distinct tendency to proceed as if nothing will change. We tend to suppose – or act as if – the way things are is the way they will always be. At some level or in some part of the tangled psychology which informs and instructs our behaviour, we choose to ignore the dynamic four-dimensional model generated by the most powerful predictive algorithms churned by the most powerful computer in the universe and focus instead on that old familiar photograph.

Why do we have this tendency? Perhaps it’s because we suffer from prediction fatigue. Sometimes the dynamic model is just too dynamic for us and we take refuge in a place where things are more static and manageable. Maybe it’s one of those homeostatic feedback systems and the notion of an unchanging environment operates like a governor which prevents the dynamic model running wild. Not a perfect solution. But evolution isn’t working to a plan. Natural selection naturally selects the first thing that works and only tweaks the solution it has settled on if that solution has a statistical tendency to impair our capacity to reproduce relative to some other mutational novelty.

Explaining why we resent rather than fear change may be easier. We resent change because the ‘now’ that we’ve subconsciously chosen to cling to is the baseline for the dynamic models – the maps by which we chart a course through our physical, social and temporal environment. When the baseline changes, the model must be revised. (More precisely the ‘screen grabs’ we’ve taken from the model have to be updated. The model itself is constantly being revised. It is dynamic.) This is effortful. So we resent it. We resent change which requires us to alter our perceptions our preconceptions and/or our plans. Rather a lot of human behaviour can be explained by laziness.

Such indolence has a cost. If we too resolutely adhere to those outdated ‘screen grabs’ from the dynamic model we may be ill-equipped for, and adversely impacted by, such change as may occur. When this happens, we tend to blame the change rather than our own intellectual inertia. Another quirk of human nature. Rarely is it entirely true when an individual insists that they are no part of the problem, the problem is the entire problem. We are all actors in our own lives – even if betimes it seems we are merely bit players, extras and support acts.

It would be deceivingly simplistic to think of this tendency to refer to an unchanging snapshot of our world as absolute. It is just a tendency. That tendency can be strong or weak varying among individuals and over time. We would not survive long if we weren’t keeping an eye on the dynamic display as well as the snapshot. It may reasonably be argued that much and perhaps all human error and folly can be understood in terms of a failure to properly balance the two perceptions.

Scotland’s cause has been serious afflicted by just such a failure to give appropriate weight to the static model which is good enough for immediate and superficial purposes and the dynamic model which is essential to a more long term and profound understanding of the environment. If we are subconsciously selecting a way things are to be our ‘the way things will always be’ it stands to reason that the one selected will tend to be the one which pushes itself forward most forcefully. You might suppose it would most likely be the pleasing snapshot of a sunny reality. In fact, it can just as readily be a disturbing image of a very dark reality. Basically, when things are good, we tend to behave as if they will always be good and when things are bad we tend to be convinced they’ll never get better. Either of these states, if allowed to persist, can result in the kind of behaviour we call a lapse of judgement.

The campaign to restore Scotland’s independence has been beset by lapses of judgement. Which does not make it unusual in any way. It was ever thus.

I pressed for a referendum in September 2018 or no later than September 2018. That date wasn’t picked out of a hat. It was the product of long consideration and analysis as unfettered by assumptions and preconceptions as any individual’s might be absent specialised training. My thinking on the matter was not, for example, shackled to any notion of a ‘right time’. I considered the matter on the basis, not only of what conditions and circumstances would most closely approach some ideal, but on what circumstances were more or less likely to arise and how conditions were more or less likely to develop.

I focused on the dynamic model generated by my brain – or mind.

I do not claim to have foreseen the SNP’s present travails in any precise detail. Nor do I claim to have predicted any aspect of the British government’s frighteningly erratic and irrational behaviour. But I did take account of the ways in which circumstances and conditions could worsen as well as improve over time.

I do not claim to have foreseen the Alex Salmond affair. But I knew with something approaching certainty that something like that would happen. If the British state is determined to dig some dirt on a leading figure in a cause then eventually dirt will be dug. If a party stays in power long enough then it will eventually suffer the effects of internal tensions and external pressures. If a movement survives long enough the energy which drove it will dissipate and it will eventually succumb to factionalism as some try to renew that energy while others seek to scavenge what remains for personal or partisan advantage.

In short, I foresaw that things would start to go all to fuck at some point and knew that it was essential to move forward the fight to restore Scotland’s independence before that happened – regardless of what other circumstances prevailed. Either we got it done by September 2018, or the chances of it getting done started to diminish.

I was not wrong. Nicola Sturgeon got it wrong. I could take a stab at explaining why she got it wrong when she decided to wait in the hope the the British government would by its actions cause people to look more favourably on independence. I could probably find some explanation as to why she failed to appreciate that things could get worse as well as better and that it might be better to act before things got worse.

But I’m depressed enough about it all without delving into the motives and motivations of the players. There is no satisfaction in watching events unfold as you feared they would. There is only despair in fearing things will now unfold in the way you anticipate. There is little comfort in saying, “Ah telt ye!”. That said, I must take what comfort I may. If people had listened to me (and a few others who I don’t presume to speak for) we would not be where we are. We would by now have restored Scotland’s independence and would be congratulating ourselves on having the foresight to move when we did.



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The best of reasons

I don’t see independence as a party-political issue. Apart from the fact it is a core policy of the SNP, there is no reason why other parties can’t support it. It’s not tied to any political ideology.

Morag Williamson

Some would say that yet another Yes group can only be a good thing. Some would doubtless proffer a neatly pre-packaged opinion couched in the scriptural language of repenting sinners and/or returning prodigals. The more the merrier, some might say, choosing threadbare cliche over tired Biblical quote. Neither of which is an acceptable substitute for rational, analytical thinking.

There is a very narrow sense in which it is fair to say that more is indeed cause for merriment regardless of any other consideration. In terms of votes in a referendum to determine Scotland’s constitutional status, numbers are all that matters. Nobody is required to pass an exam to be allowed to vote. There is no space on the ballot paper for a compulsory explanation of why the individual voted as they did. Nobody is under any obligation to justify the choices they make when exercising their democratic right to vote. There are no marks for style. As far as the process is concerned, reasons are of no consequence.

It may be contended that if an individual opts to make public how they voted and their reasons then they should be prepared to defend their stated choice and the thinking behind it. But they cannot be required to do so. Democracy not only means that you get a vote it also means that you can use that vote as you please. The reasoning is irrelevant. Only the vote counts. In that sense, more people making the journey from No to Yes is always a good thing.

It may just as reasonably be contended, however, that when it comes to campaigning for votes the reasoning is highly relevant. An individual’s attitude to an issue is bound to influence the manner in which they campaign. The core idea around which individuals coalesce to form a group must have a bearing on what that group brings to the campaign. As Richard Dawkins explained to his young daughter, there are both good and bad reasons for believing. What is true of religious belief is also true of political attitudes. The latter being more important due to its more immediate implications for public policy.

There are good and bad reasons for wanting to restore Scotland’s independence. I should be able to say that there are also good and bad reasons for wanting to preserve the Union. This is problematic because in a lifetime of deep interests and involvement in the constitutional debate I have never encountered or been offered a positive case for the Union. This is not mere rhetoric. To the extent that reasons may be objectively assessed, there are no good reasons for Scotland remaining in the Union. Or, if there are, Unionists themselves have yet to discover them. Or perhaps they’re keeping those good reasons secret. In which case, why?

Better, perhaps, that we say reasons lie on a spectrum of rationality. Simplistic dichotomies are seldom other than abstractions, which may be useful as thinking tools but should never inform conclusions. There are not only bad reasons reasons for wanting to preserve the Union there are also very bad reasons. By the same token, there are good reasons for wanting independence and there are better reasons. The quality of the reasoning affects the form and content of the arguments deployed in campaigning. In this context, reasons matter.

All of which explains why I am not greeting the arrival of Yes for EU with a ticker-tape parade and a pyrotechnic display. I consider it natural and essential to ask what this new group brings to the Yes movement and to Scotland’s cause. I look for clues in the public statements of the group’s spokesperson(s). It doesn’t look promising.

The words of Yes for EU executive committee member Morag Williamson quoted above this article do not inspire confidence that the group is bringing anything new or valuable to the independence campaign. I intend no offence to Ms Williamson when I observe that her statement is, in its parts and in aggregate, fallacious. She may not see independence as a party-political issue but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. In fact, she goes on to contradict herself when she observes that “it is a core policy of the SNP”. Can she not see that this makes it party-political by definition? All issues are party-political to the extent that political parties take a stance on them. That independence is a “core policy” of the SNP means that the party has taken a stance on the issue to the greatest extent possible.

Morag Williamson confuses/conflates the hypothetical attitudes of individual party members with official party policy. That individual members of the British parties in Scotland may, in theory, be persuaded of the merits of independence does not mean that the party’s stance on the matter can be changed – either as readily or at all. The one does not necessarily follow from the other. An individual cannot campaign and vote for a British party and actively pursue the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. The two things are entirely contrary to one another. In Scotland, you pick a party you choose a side in the constitutional debate. If that’s not party-political nothing is.

She goes on to say that “there is no reason why other parties can’t support it [independence]. It’s not tied to any political ideology”. This is just plain wrong. There is every reason why the British parties cannot and shall never support independence regardless of the attitudes of members. It’s because they are British parties. They are parties of the British establishment. They are parties of the Union. They cannot be other than that because the Union is critical to the structures of power, privilege and patronage with which they have a profoundly symbiotic relationship.

To say that nationalism need not be “tied to any political ideology” is not the same as saying that it cannot be associated with any political ideology. Indeed, nationalism as an ideology in and of itself would, if it could exist, be an arid and vacuous thing. Rather, nationalism is a component of ideology; as is social conscience and appreciation of human nature. In practice nationalism is a component of all ideologies and – contrary to Morag Williamson’s claim – is always tied to an ideology. Nationalism is politically neutral. It is merely the measure of concern with the affairs of a particular legislative area. The particular community of communities within which the holder of the ideology has direct democratic influence. It is the ideology which lends meaning to the nationalism. It is ideology which determines the form and nature of the nationalism. It is the ideology to which the nationalism is tied which makes it good or bad.

There is a shallow but regrettably widespread tendency to associate nationalism only and exclusively with extreme and/or totalitarian ideologies; and, therefore, to consider it bad. People are all too often blind to the nationalism in their own ideology precisely because it is neutral. It is benign so long as the ideology with which it is associated is not malign. The benign tends to go unnoticed.

It would appear that Yes for EU brings to Scotland’s cause fallacies which are unfortunately all too common already. An impression which intensifies as Ms Williamson continues,

A few of our group were very keen on keeping the UK together and many have come round to the view that the EU is so important that a campaign for independence is the best way to get back in.

Ultimately, it may not matter why people vote Yes in the next independence referendum just so long as they do. But, as noted earlier, the motivations of campaigners must be significant. It may be perfectly valid to argue that independence is the best way to rejoin the EU. It may even be argued that independence is necessary for the purpose of rejoining the EU. But is rejoining the EU a sufficient reason for restoring Scotland’s independence? More prosaically, to what extent is the Yes campaign helped or hindered by arguing that rejoining the EU is the only or main reason for restoring Scotland’s independence? It may be a reason. But can it be the reason? It may be necessary. But does it satisfy the other essential criterion? Is it sufficient?

There are many such secondary or ancillary arguments for restoring Scotland’s independence. There are, I suspect, always such supplemental arguments for (or against) any public policy proposal. There may be economic or cultural arguments, for example. But what is the nub of the matter? Any and all valid arguments may legitimately be deployed in pursuing reform. But there surely must be a core cause that is served by these supplementary arguments. The fundamental reason for seeking reform. The thing that must change for the cause to be realised.

Whatever other arguments may be used, a campaign must be founded on and informed by this fundamental argument. It follows, therefore, that all individuals and groups involved in the campaign should be aware of this fundamental argument in order that they may ensure that their secondary arguments actually serve the cause and neither distract nor detract from it.

The restoration of Scotland’s independence is a matter of basic justice. It is a matter of fundamental democratic principle. It is a question of righting a wrong. Of rectifying a gross and grotesque constitutional anomaly. The Union is unjust and undemocratic. And that is why it must be dissolved and Scotland’s rightful constitutional status restored. That is what lies at the heart of the constitutional issue. That is what must inform the campaign for independence.

Some may welcome new groups into the Yes fold unquestioningly, on the assumption that more is always better. Only better is always better. And it is better if campaigning groups are motivated not just by good reasons but by the best reason.



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Making a start

Only a few weeks ago I would have respectfully disagreed with George Kerevan. I would have insisted that the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon had to take a leadership role in the independence campaign in order that the latent power of the Yes movement could be harnessed. I envisaged the SNP setting out a clear, concise strategy and Yes groups taking their lead from this. I thought it necessary that the SNP should be in the vanguard because, as George notes, it all ultimately comes down to the party which is in government. The entire campaign is about enabling the Scottish Government to act through the Scottish Parliament to initiate the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

My concern was that without the SNP providing leadership the Yes movement would lack the solidarity, focus and discipline that a political campaign requires. I feared that we would once again take a pillow to a sword fight. Or, more likely, a gunfight. And I was concerned that, were the Yes movement’s energies invested in some other leadership there might be a problem transferring those energies and the momentum they’d generated to the SNP/Scottish Government when this became necessary.

Events and development over the last few weeks have forced me to rethink my position. Although I still think the ideal would be to have the party of government taking the lead role in the campaign, this unavoidably depends on said party being capable of fulfilling that role. I have reluctantly come to recognise that, despite the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon having the potential to do so, neither she nor her party looks at all like realising that potential.

Which is why I now find myself agreeing with George… mostly! We obviously need a body that will fulfil the leadership role vacated – or never taken up – by the SNP. That body must derive from the Yes movement. It must have the broad support of the movement in a way that SIC has never achieved. And it must recognise the need to defer, fully and without rancour, to the SNP administration when this becomes necessary.

The Yes movement needs to become, or give birth to, a campaigning organisation. Preferably and all but certainly the latter. I am certain nobody wants the Yes movement to change. Nobody wants it to stop being a movement – loose, organic, diverse and ungoverned. But developing and managing a political campaign demands an organisation rather than a movement. In stark contrast to the Yes movement, the Yes campaign organisation must be unified, focused and disciplined.

Such an organisation cannot be imposed on the Yes movement. Rather, it must arise from it. The Yes movement has proven itself adept at ‘hiving off’ chunks of itself to provide the more hierarchical organisational structures needed to accomplish particular tasks. All Under One Banner is perhaps the most notable example. We must harness this capacity for emergent leadership to create an organisation which will run the independence campaign at least as well as AUOB runs marches and rallies.

Where I part company with George Kerevan slightly is when he talks of an organisation which “works from the bottom up”. It is an unavoidable fact that running a large and complex campaign calls for a certain amount of top-down direction. Without this, it would almost certainly be impossible to achieve the kind of coordination and responsiveness that a political campaign requires.

George suggests the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) as a model. I’m sure we could do very much worse. But I am wary of such models. Too readily, we tend towards designing the organisation to conform to the model rather than fit the task and the context. What suits the Catalans may not suit the Scots. What works for them may not work for us. So long as we are mindful of this and strive to create our own distinctive organisation rather than simply emulate somebody else’s, we should be OK.

And George leaves one important question unanswered. How do we start?

One of life’s many ironies is that sometimes it takes a ‘dictator’ to kick-start even the most non-hierarchically democratic organisation. If somebody doesn’t seize hold of the thing and batter it into some kind of functional shape, nothing gets done. So, George! Suppose you are that ‘dictator’. What’s your first move?



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Stale and mouldy

I read stuff like this – Leading independence campaigners back new Yes Scotland group – and the years just fall away. I am transported back to 2012/13 and the early days of Yes Scotland and the campaign for the first independence referendum. The Yes movement is in its innocent infancy, the term ‘Project Fear’ has not yet entered the political lexicon, and the lessons of that seemingly interminable campaign have yet to be learned. Everything seems possible because we have yet to discover the true power of the forces ranged against us and to recognise our own weaknesses. Anything seems doable because the intractable issues have yet to be encountered. We are filled with evangelical fervour and sure of the power of our message and as convinced of the appropriateness of the strategy as we are of the righteousness of our cause.

Then, with the dull, damp splat of a wet blanket landing on my face, I am wrenched back to reality. It’s not 2012/13. It’s 2020 and we are days away from an event which stands as the most compelling evidence yet of just how badly Scotland fares in this ‘precious’ Union and how tragic for our nation was the failure of that first referendum campaign. And how the lessons of that failure still haven’t been learned.

Back then, new Yes groups were coming into existence on almost a daily basis. Everybody wanted to be in on the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. Everybody had their own idea of what that meant. Everybody needed their own group to push that idea. The buzz-words were diversity and openness and inclusiveness. It didn’t matter what your agenda was, if you tacked ‘for Yes’ onto it you were part of the Yes family. Such was the enthusiasm you could have started a group called Cannibals for Yes and nobody would have batted an eye.

Whatever your political philosophy, ethnic background, sexual orientation, form of employment, age, health or lifestyle choices, there was a group for you. If there wasn’t, there soon would be. Whenever the campaign encountered an issue, a group would be set up to address that issue. Setting up a group rapidly became an automatic response to any issue. It still is. Whenever there are signs of campaign fatigue, set up a new group – with or without a crowd-funder to finance it.

Not that all these groups turned out to be no more than a panacea for the moment. Some, like the Scottish Independence Foundation, continue to do valuable work. But all too often the launching of a new organisation, or the relaunching or rebranding of an existing one, is just a distraction or a way of being seen to be doing something. Or deferring something.

Establishing a commission has always been a way of punting hot potatoes into the long grass. The initial fanfare provides the instantly gratifying spectacle that the public (media) demands while the ensuing proceedings can usually be relied upon to be dull enough to kill any interest and protracted enough to allow time for something else to grab the headlines.

Does anybody have a tally of all the new initiatives that have been launched in the past five years? I’m prepared to bet you’ll have missed at least one or two.

There are other deja vu prompts, of course. The old familiar language of positive campaigning and listening to opponents and finding better answers is still in use. There’s always somebody telling us that this or that is the only way to proceed or that this or that demographic has to be persuaded or that doing it any way other than this or that will only put off potential converts. There’s always somebody keen to impart some pearl of wisdom which when stripped of the superfluous verbiage turns out to be no more than the less than stunning observation that if Yes is to win we need to get more people to vote Yes.

And, of course, there’s always somebody anxious to remind us for what certainly seems like the millionth time that the independence movement is “more than just the SNP”.

These things have been repeated so often they have become the phatic language of discourse around the constitutional question. It’s just the meaningless stuff people say to fill silences or to pad out a speech or to make the word count for the article. Having become meaningless, nobody now asks about meaning. Nobody asks if being unexceptionally positive is the most effective way of going about the task of persuading people. Nobody asks if listening rather than talking really is the best way of getting the message across. Nobody asks if constantly striving for better answers to the same questions is worth the effort.

Nobody stops to consider whether sidelining the party political arm of the independence movement is a smart move.

I read stuff like this and I think “here we go again”. I read, for example, Kevin Pringle talking about “the best chance of breaking the [Boris] Johnson veto” and wonder how it is possible that, with all that has happened over the last seven or eight years, such an experienced observer of the political scene in Scotland and beyond could have failed to realise that there is no way to overcome the British Prime Minister’s veto on our right of self-determination. Not when Scotland’s First Minister has accepted the legitimacy of the PM’s authority for such a veto.

How is it possible for anybody to believe that the British political elite might relent under the pressure of a moral argument or references to democratic principles? How can anybody imagine that to be the nature of the British state?

How is it possible for leading figures in the independence movement to recognise that we still need the same things – such as “cross party cooperation” – that we have failed to achieve in all those years of campaigning and acknowledge that we have yet to get support for independence consistently above 50% while simultaneous commending an approach to campaigning which is identical in all meaningful respects to the one that was taken for the 2014 campaign? The one which has become a fixture (fixation?) in the minds of those who make the decisions about campaign strategy.

How is it possible that so vanishingly little can have been learned from past experience?

I read stuff like this and I despair.



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Who cares?

Andrew Learmonth says it’s going to be hard for the “middle ground of voters” not to have a strong opinion on the constitutional issue. One might have thought events of the last ten years would have made it well nigh impossible for anybody but the terminally apathetic and disengaged to avoid developing a very strong opinion on the matter. To whatever extent they haven’t, this needs to be explained.

The forces acting on public opinion can be distilled down to just two – mass media and campaigns. Mass media includes advertising and peer pressure – because the vast majority of the peers doing the pressuring will have defaulted to the mass media version in the absence of a campaign. Campaigns include anything that is intended to alter the default version of public opinion.

Most people don’t care very much about most things. The people who try to care about everything are in institutions right beside the people who care about absolutely nothing. Pick any single topic and you’ll find that only a relatively small part of the populace has a strong view on it one way or another. It looms large in the worldview of the people at either end of the interest gradient and leaves the rest in various degrees of apathy.

Apathy is not too strong a term. Not if we include those who aren’t even aware of the issue on the grounds that they are too apathetic to make themselves aware. The interest gradient is not a regular graduation in either direction from moderate interest. The middle of the spectrum is alienation. Interest only begins to rise towards the extremes. Or, to put it another way, interest drops off very rapidly. Most of the spectrum is apathy.

The crucial thing is the point of engagement. On one side of the point of engagement, there is potentially increasing interest. On the other is a precipitous plunge into apathy.

Mass media caters to that vast middle range either side of alienation and up to the point of engagement. That’s why it’s called ‘mass’ media. It stands to reason, therefore, that mass media has a vested interest in making and keeping that middle range as large as possible. The purpose of mass media is not, as some might suppose, to deliver the client’s message to the audience, but to deliver the audience to the client so that it can be given whatever message is deemed to serve the client’s present purpose and/or objectives. This is not only true in respect of commercial messages. It is just as true with regard to political messages – using the term ‘political’ in its widest sense.

(For grammar mavens concerned about number agreement, ‘mass media’ is one of those terms which can be either singular or plural. Like ‘sheep’, ironically.)

The purpose of a campaign is to drag people to the point of engagement – then hold their interest long enough to effect some change. In this, the campaign is in direct competition with mass media which is all about keeping the audience in that zone where they are most susceptible to manipulation. Mass media manipulates public perceptions so as to make people manipulable so that mass media can… You get the picture. This being so, campaigns must also manipulate perceptions in order to get the audience – or a large enough part of it – to the point of engagement.

If people are not engaged and do not have strong(ish) opinions about an issue it is because there has been no campaign that sufficiently engages them.

Mass media serves established power. The British media are part of the British establishment. To the extent that they are discrete entities, both have the same interest in a malleable mass audience. If the British mass media is doing its job – which it must or it wouldn’t be mass media – then most people in Scotland won’t have a strong opinion about the constitutional issue. Or, to put it another way, if people don’t have strong views on the constitutional issue it’s because the independence movement has failed to mount a sufficiently effective campaign.

It’s no good complaining that the British media are too strong. Few, if any, campaigns can affect the mass media. You can’t make the British media weaker. You can only make your campaign stronger – more effective.

The question, then, is how. How can the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence be made more effective? Answers on a postcard – which should be sent straight to the recycling bin. Because the most influential parts of the independence movement won’t even consider the question, never mind the answers. The ‘thinking’ is that they don’t have to make the effort to get people to engage with the constitutional issue, that will happen because of what the British political elite does. Because of the appalling contempt with which the British political elite treats Scotland. Eventually, people will get angry enough to do something about it.

No! They won’t! People will only get angry if somebody makes them get angry. Their fallback state is not anger. It’s some degree of apathy. Listing outrages while insisting we all remain ‘calm and reasonable in the face of them is not going to make people angry. Unless it’s anger directed at those listing the outrages and insisting we must adhere to an etiquette defined by those who are committing the outrages.

The behaviour of the British government and British media and British political parties during and since the 2014 independence referendum should have been more than enough to provoke the ire of a big chunk of that middle ground. But it hasn’t. It hasn’t because the independence campaign has been woefully ineffective at weaponising that behaviour.



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Finding unity

Andrew Wilson is almost entirely correct when he says that “the SNP has to unify the independence case and cause and then unify the country behind it“. That is, indeed, the task facing the party. The part of his argument which gives cause for concern is when he refers to “making a comprehensive case for “why independence””. He is wrong because it simply can’t be done.

The Yes movement is famously diverse. Which is a large part of its strength. But while diversity may be advantageous in a political movement, it is likely to be a weakness in a political campaign. Because a political campaign demands unity, focus and discipline, diversity almost inevitably degenerates into division.

There are countless definitions, versions and visions of independence. They cover a broad range of political perspectives from the small ‘c’ conservative right to the radical left. There is just no way these divergent perspectives can be brought together. They are all too often contradictory and mutually exclusive.

It’s easy to say that we all are united by the conviction that Scotland’s independence must be restored. But there is never going to be any substantial agreement on what independence means. There cannot be a single set of policies and positions that satisfies even a significant portion of the independence movement. Andrew Wilson and Robin McAlpine may both live in Indyburgh, but they don’t live on the same street, far less share a political bed.

Alex Salmond made a brave attempt to produce a unified case for independence with ‘Scotland’s Future’. It was intended as a ‘blueprint’ that the whole Yes movement could support, however grudgingly, without seriously compromising their principles or their ideology. It was probably as close as anyone is ever going to get to the kind unified case that Andrew refers to. And it failed!

The ‘White Paper’ for the 2014 didn’t work as intended, in part because many failed to understand its purpose, but mainly because there were too many entrenched positions – and no readiness to compromise.

‘Scotland’s Future’ ended up being a gift to the anti-independence campaign. It provided them with a plethora of targets to attack and countless opportunities to aggravate and exploit divisions in the independence movement. The currency issue is illustrative. There was no rational reason why the entire movement could not support the position set out in the ‘White Paper’. At the very least, even the far left could have just settled for the general fallback position that monetary policy would be decided by a democratically elected Scottish Government after independence was restored. Instead, they attacked the position viciously and incessantly. In so doing, they undermined the Yes campaign.

Better Together / Project Fear exposed and emphasised existing differences by asking the “What currency?” question. It was a trap. And the largest part of the Yes movement walked right into it. They came up with numerous different answer. Then started arguing amongst themselves about which was ‘correct’. None of them were ‘correct’! There is no correct answer to the question because monetary policy cannot be stipulated in advance. All public policy must respond to developments and be shaped by circumstances. Monetary policy is no exception – even if, by the nature of things, it is less responsive and less malleable than, say, fiscal policy.

In a political campaign, when your opponents throw questions at you, your first response should not be to scurry around trying to find an answer which will satisfy both your opponents and your own side. Your opponents will never admit to being satisfied and, if it is a contentious issue, there will be those on your own side who may be genuinely and vociferously dissatisfied. Your opponents, if they are any good, will always ask questions about contentious issues. Your first reaction should be to ask yourself why they are asking a given question.

There are three reasons. Questions generate doubt. The fact that a question is being asked makes the thing it’s being asked about questionable. The more questions that are asked, and the more effort there is to answer them, the more dubious the thing becomes in the minds of those attending to the debate.

Also, your opponents will ask question that they know will bring out the disagreement within your side. That’s pretty much a constant and true of any question.

They might also ask a particular question in order to divert the debate from the question they don’t want asked of them. In the case of the currency issue, the question they didn’t want to have to answer was “Do you believe Scotland is capable of managing its own monetary policy?”. If, instead of the knee-jerk response the Yes movement indulged in, we had thrown that question at British Nationalist politicians, it would have turned things around.

Why have no lessons been learned from the 2014 campaign? That is a question the SNP and the Yes movement do need to answer. Andrew notes that our opponents “won’t even make the positive case for the Union”. Of course they won’t! they have never been required to. We were too busy frantically scabbling around trying to find more and better answers to ever ask them awkward questions. They new better than get into debate about the detail of their case. We obsessed about the detail of ours. There could never be even broad agreement about such detail. The more detail there is, the more scope for disagreement.

Division will always undermine a campaign. Discussion of policy will always create division. The solution? Don’t discuss policy!

A unified, focused and disciplined political campaign cannot be built around a contested concept. As we have learned, ‘independence’ is a highly contested concept. It didn’t help that the framing of the 2014 referendum question made ‘independence’ the contentious issue. Independence is normal. It is the Union which is anomalous. And there is the key to unifying the cause. There can be no unified case for independence. So it is all the more important to bring together the whole independence movement with a unified case against the Union.

Unifying the cause – bringing together all the diverse parts of the independence movement – requires that we find the single factor which is common to all those parts. I call it the point of accommodation. The point at which even the most divergent elements of the Yes movement can reach agreement. The point of accommodation is encapsulated in the hashtag #DissolveTheUnion. That is the thing that every single person in the Yes movement holds in common. We all want independence. But we cannot all agree on what independence is or should be. We can, however, all agree that restoring independence requires that we dissolve the political union between Scotland and England.

That is how we unite the cause. We create a unified case against the Union. We make the Union the contentious issue. We force our opponents to defend the Union. We ask questions about the Union. We exploit already growing doubts about the Union and plant new doubts about the Union in people’s minds.

We explain to people, in a frank, forthright and honest manner, what the Union means for Scotland; and what it promises to mean in the future. We tap into people’s sense of justice and spark their anger at the injustice of the Union.

We do all this while offering the people of Scotland a straightforward solution to the problem of an anomalous, archaic and grotesquely asymmetric, Union. We offer them the option to dissolve the Union. We offer them the chance to restore constitutional normality. We offer them independence.



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Harvie’s havers!

Well! That was disappointing! I read the headline and supposed we might be in for some serious, hard-headed thinking about the strategy for the new referendum campaign. I wasn’t long in being disabused of that notion.

It all started so well, with talk of the fundamental constitutional argument for independence. This gave the impression that Patrick Harvie was about to put that fundamental constitutional argument right where it belongs, at the very heart of the campaign.

Then he wrote of “…the need for the campaign to draw strength from its diversity…” and instantly dispelled any notion I’d had that Patrick Harvie might be about to contribute some significant insight. And, as if to confirm that this wasn’t just a momentary lapse, he comes out with this,

“…rather than expecting every Yes voter to bury the rest of their politics. There will never be a majority if independence appeals only to those who feel motivated by flags and patriotism…”

Our Patrick seems to have a bit of a thing about flags. Were I in a more light-hearted frame of mind after reading his article, I might have asked if his mummy had been frightened by a banner when she was expecting him. He certainly seems to suppose that they carry some dark meaning. I look at a Saltire and see only an emblem of Scotland and its people. Goodness knows what ghastly horrors poor Patrick sees.

What is perplexing is that, having correctly identified the essence of the constitutional argument – that the people of Scotland are sovereign and they alone should decide the nation’s future – he seems to forget it completely. Having paid lip service to this fundamental idea, he goes on to imply that, when you “bury” the rest of politics, all that’s left is “flags and patriotism”. What happened to that core idea that the people are the legitimate source of legitimate political authority? What happened to the “basic democratic argument, that it’s the people who live in Scotland who should decide the country’s future”?

The point that Patrick Harvie so tragically misses is that this is precisely what is left when you strip away all the various policy agendas. It all comes down to the question of who decides. To say that “flags and patriotism” is all you have left when these policy agendas are taken out of the equation is to put “flags and patriotism” where the fundamental constitutional argument should be. I don’t suppose, given his pathological aversion to such things, that this was Patrick Harvie’s intention. Which kinda makes it worse. Because one might have hoped that he would have put some thought into and article which is purports to be advising us on how to fight the next referendum campaign.

I sincerely trust nobody is listening to his advice. Because he clearly hasn’t a clue. After identifying the fundamental issue of the campaign, he woefully fails to follow the thought. If it’s the fundamental issue, then it’s what the campaign has to be all about. You don’t identify that core issue and then just drop it to and go off on a speculation spree about stuff that is not and cannot be part of your campaign strategy. You cannot sensibly base a campaign strategy on what your opponents might do or what might happen if something else doesn’t.

You can campaign for a thing. Or you can campaign against a thing. But in all cases it must be absolutely clear what the thing is. You cannot campaign either for or against a disputed concept. It has to be something on which there is general agreement within your campaign. Otherwise, your campaign spends all its time disputing the concept concept instead of campaigning for it.

The undisputed concept of the independence campaign is not independence. Because independence is a disputed concept. There are myriad definitions and explanations of independence. It means different things to different people. The one thing they all have in common is the desire to #DissolveTheUnion.

Patrick Harvie doesn’t understand the basics of a political, as opposed to and electoral, campaign. A single issue campaign must focus on that single issue. So, totally contrary to what Patrick Harvie commends, it is absolutely essential that Yes campaigners to “bury the rest of their politics” for the duration of the campaign and to try and persuade voters to do the same. To set aside those policy agendas until after independence is restored. To get voters to focus on the fundamental constitutional issue.

I realised as soon as he wrote of “the need for the campaign to draw strength from its diversity” that Patrick Harvie was making a tragic error. He is confusing the movement with the campaign. The Yes movement draws its strength from its diversity. But what is diversity in a movement is division and diffusion in a campaign.

Ignore Patrick Harvie. There are three key words you should remember when considering the shape and form of the new referendum campaign – SOLIDARITY! FOCUS! DISCIPLINE!



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A strategy for penetrating No territory

200,000 people signing a petition does not, of course, signify increased support for independence. Impressive as the figure may be, it’s only about 10% of the existing support for independence. To put it in context, the Yes movement can put that number of feet on the streets.

Maintaining an appeal to the base is unquestionably essential. A political campaign which wins converts while losing its core vote is almost certainly doomed to fail. But, equally, if the entire effort is devoted to holding on to existing support then where is the winning surge going to come from?

In principle, it is possible that the same campaign strategy might serve both to retain and increase support. The evidence suggests, however, that this is not so in the case of Scotland’s independence campaign. The basic strategy of pounding out a positive case for independence focused on social and economic benefits hasn’t changed since the 2014 campaign. It has developed. The arguments have improved. But they are still the same arguments. And they are still arguments about policy. The kind of arguments used in an election campaign.

That these arguments are effective in retaining support is clear. Despite there being no let-up in British Nationalist propaganda over the period since the first vote, there has been no measurable reduction in support for independence. Significantly, however, neither has there been any marked increase. The evidence is all but conclusive. The old strategy was very successful in taking support to the 50% level, and has been remarkably effective in holding it there against a relentless onslaught of propaganda and all the disadvantages the Yes campaign has in terms of communicating its message. But it has not won any new support.

There is no great mystery to this. The people who have already been won over to Yes are those who have gained access to information beyond that which is provided by the mainstream media. They are educated. They are easy to retain because education is not easily lost. You can’t ‘unknow’ something. And once someone has been made aware of the lies and distortions peddled by the British media, the propaganda ceases to have any effect.

Many have made the journey from No to Yes. Whatever the claims of social media trolls, nobody goes from Yes to No.

It follows, therefore, that the people who have not yet made the journey from No to Yes are those who have not yet gained access to the same information as those who have made that journey. The question is why. Without understanding why they have not accessed the information, there is no possibility of devising ways to ensure that they do.

What we know for certain is that the strategy of broadcasting a ‘positive case for independence’ won’t do it. We know it won’t do it because it hasn’t done it. That has been the strategy for at least seven years now. And the polls remain stubbornly stuck at 50%. It’s not working because the message simply isn’t reaching into that other 50%. Which is just another way of saying the people who make up that 50% don’t have access to the information.

It doesn’t matter whether this lack of access to information is due to the obstacles created by the British media or the inadequacy of the signal or simply a refusal to listen on the part of No voters. The result is the same. People are not making the journey from No to Yes because they are not even aware that such a journey is possible.

What must the Yes campaign do to address the issue of information starvation? How might the Yes campaign ensure that its signal penetrates deeper into that 50% on the No side of the constitutional divide?

The task is made simpler by first eliminating the things that can’t be done, or can’t be done in time – as well as the things that have been tried without success. There is not much that can be done about the obstacles created by the British media. The lies must be rebutted and the disinformation corrected. But, if the Yes signal isn’t getting through then neither are the rebuttals and corrections. A careful calculation must be made as to what resources should be committed to setting the record straight – bearing in mind that this comes at some cost to the strength of what we are calling the Yes signal.

People can’t be obliged to receive that signal. They can’t be required to tune in to it. They can’t be forced to open their minds. The further the Yes signal travels into No territory, the less chance there is that it will be received. Obviously, there comes a point at which the effort just isn’t worth it. Ultimately, there is a point at which it doesn’t matter how strong the Yes signal is, there is nothing there that is capable of picking it up.

But that still leaves a lot of No territory which can be reached if the Yes signal is strong enough and if people can be induced to tune in. There is more than enough potential support within range to ensure a decisive Yes vote. It is this reachable No territory that the Yes campaign strategy must target. The aim of the strategy must be to strengthen the Yes signal and prompt people to receive it.

There are two ways to strengthen the Yes signal. It can be strengthened by adding to it. And it can be made more powerful by being more focused. The thing that is added must be new. It must be something which is not already part of the ‘positive case for independence’. It must also be dramatic. It is the combination of novelty and drama which will seize attention and induce people in No territory to tune in.

Focus is achieved by making the message contained in the Yes signal comprehensible, coherent and consistent. Short, sharp and simple. Never drifting from the core message. Always ensuring that the signal is directed at, and the message framed for, the reachable population in No territory.

This population is not inclined to listen to that ‘positive case for independence’. Many become less inclined to tune in the more this ‘positive case’ impinges on their consciousness. Encouraged by the British media, they have grown resistant to it. What else is the ‘vile cybernats’ propaganda about if not to discourage and dissuade people from accessing information carried by the only channels that are readily available to the Yes campaign?

A significant number of those disinclined to tune in to the ‘positive case for independence’ are, however, increasingly ready to question the status quo. They are daily more disenchanted with the British political elite and the British political system. They are beginning to wonder about the Union.

These are the people who must be targeted by a revised Yes campaign strategy. Alongside the ‘positive case for independence’, and at least matching it in all respects, there must be a ‘negative case against the Union’.

This has the added advantage of uniting the entire Yes movement, including the SNP. It facilitates the solidarity which the Yes campaign requires by distilling the message down to the one fundamental on which all can agree. While they all might hope for – or demand! – different things out of independence, all know that without ending the Union nobody gets anything.

If 200,000 people will sign a petition for independence, how many more might sign a petition against the Union? The cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will take a mighty leap forward the day the SNP decides to ask the one question that really matters. Should we #DissolveTheUnion?
The day they, and the rest of the Yes movement launch a campaign strategy designed to ensure that the answer is a resounding YES!


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