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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Being odd

I attended an event yesterday (Sunday 29 September) organised by Yes Edinburgh & Lothian. Called ‘The Big Grassroots Conversation’, the even took the form of a number of workshops on various aspects of the independence cause and campaign followed by a Q&A session with a panel answering – or, at least, responding to – questions arising from the earlier workshops.

The following does not purport to be a factual account of proceedings. Neither, however, is it a misleading account. None of it is untrue. Most of it concerns my impressions of and reactions to what I saw and heard. I mention no individuals by name and do not attribute any comments to anyone other than those which may be attributed to myself.

If anybody who attended the event is reading this and recognises any of the attitudes and opinions to which I refer and is overcome by the urge to defend those attitudes and opinions, that is entirely a matter for them. I would say only that they might want to have a wee think first about what it is they are claiming ownership of.

Because I often use the writing process as a way of sorting and clarifying my own thoughts, brevity is not always my first priority. Readability, however, is something I strive for. To that end, I try to limit myself lest following the meanderings should become more trouble than it’s worth. In this instance, I intend to restrict my comments to three areas – the referendum campaign; the referendum process; and what it is all for.

Campaign

I came away from the ‘Big Grassroots Conversation’ with the clear impression that the consensus within the independence movement is that the campaign should be conducted exactly as for the 2014 referendum. There is much talk of doing things differently. But probe what is being proposed and you find that it is no different from what was done previously. There is an acceptance, of a sort, that the 2014 Yes campaign was in some way defective or deficient. Not massively so. But there’s as sense that people realise it didn’t quite work. I don’t mean simply in terms of the end result, although the campaign obviously didn’t work well enough to secure a Yes vote. What I sense is more a vague unease about the strategy. Too vague and insubstantial to overcome a deep reluctance to consider the lessons that might be learned from a rigorous and honest analysis of the entire campaign – both sides.

I have previously dismissed claims that there was no ‘post mortem’ conducted on the 2014. campaign. I pointed out that there had, in fact, been interminable discussion of the way the campaign was conducted. What I came to realise, however, was that this discussion was almost entirely superficial. In many – perhaps most – cases it was more about rationalising the choices that were made rather than learning the lessons of bad choices.

I am not pointing any fingers here. The shallowness of analysis was a general trait across both the formal (political organisation) side of the Yes campaign and the informal (grassroot movement) side. No lessons were learned by anybody. I recognise that this is a generalisation, but it is one that I feel justified in making because of the evidence of my own experience at events such as ‘The Big Grassroots Conversation’ and in all my observations online and elsewhere. No lessons have been learned and the result is that the Yes campaign will be conducted precisely as previously – but maybe with a bit more polish. Nothing will be done differently in any meaningful way. So, whatever defects and deficiencies there were in the 2014 campaign, those defects and deficiencies will be replicated.

This may not lead to the same outcome. We start with support for independence at a far higher level than was the case prior to the 2014 campaign. And the political environment has changed beyond recognitions. These two facts alone suggest to me that a different approach is required. But nobody seems in the slightest bit interested in even considering a rethink. I guess rethinking is just too hard.

By way of illustrating my point, I want to recount a couple of things I observed at ‘The Big Grassroots Conversation’. I listened to people go on at length about how awful and alien the UK has become. I don’t think that comment requires any further explanation. Unless you’ve spent the last five years with your head firmly ensconced in your lower colon, you’ll know exactly what is meant.

What was curious, however, is that none of this often bitterly vehement condemnation of the British state fed into accounts of the preferred Yes campaign strategy. People would rail against everything that is happening in the UK and everything that is in prospect, but when it came to talking about the Yes campaign it was all back to ‘the positive case for independence’. It was like hearing people say, “Here is this massively powerful weapon we have! And here is how we’re going to avoid deploying it!”.

I also saw lots of people crowding around the table where reframing was being discussed. I heard, and continuously hear, Yes activists talking about the importance of reframing. Usually just before they offer some comment or ask a question which puts them at some astronomical distance from the entire concept of reframing. I hear people extoll the potential of reframing the arguments then immediate ask how we should answer the question of what currency Scotland will use. And I want to scream. Because no lessons have been learned.

But that’s because I’m odd.

I’m odd in that I analysed the 2014 campaign differently. I learned important lessons. I came to different conclusions. The very opposite conclusions, in fact. I don’t for one moment suppose that I was the only one to do so. But I can only speak for myself. If others learned the same lessons and came to similar conclusions as myself, I happily acknowledge that they too are odd. Like me, they are the exception to a very general rule. We are a tiny minority. I strongly suspect that each of us feels like a minority of one. A lone voice forlornly trying to make a dent in the armoured certainty of the masses. And increasingly wondering whether it is all worth it.

Process

The issue of the process by which we get to a new constitutional referendum and then conduct it was little discussed at ‘The Big Grassroots Conversation’. at least, not in my hearing. It didn’t come up at all in the Q&A and I was unable to engage anybody in discussion on this topic. Which is not to say they were avoiding such discussion. But it did strike me as strange that something which is such a hot topic elsewhere should be so pointedly off the agenda. As I said at the outset, this may be no more than a personal impression.

The one occasion that I did hear the Section 30 process mentioned is likely to stay with me for some time. I heard the words ‘gold standard’, and cringed just as I always do when I hear such an obviously unworthy and untenable process described in such terms. But the jaw-dropping moment was when I was offered the bland assurance that continued denial of a Section 30 order by the British political elite was ‘unsustainable’.

Unsustainable!? No word about what prevents it from being sustained. No indication of when the evident sustainability would end, or how. Just believe that it is ‘unsustainable’. What a remarkable rationalisation that is for political folly! The demeaning, undignified, sovereignty-denying strategy of requesting a Section 30 order hasn’t worked up until now and shows no sign whatever of working at any point in the foreseeable future, but rest assure there will come a point sometime in the future when it will become ‘unsustainable’, so just put up with being demeaned and having you dignity trashed and your sovereignty compromised until then.

What could make the refusal of a Section 30 order ‘unsustainable’? What conceivable consequences could there be for the British establishment which would force the conclusion that they could no longer persist in refusing to ‘allow’ a new constitutional referendum?

What kind of persistence on the part of the Scottish Government might wear down the resistance of the British state? Will this resistance become unsustainable after five requests? Or ten? Or fifty? Will it be a matter of time? Will the denial of a Section 30 order become ‘unsustainable’ after a further year of waiting? Or five years? Or fifty?

Why would something become unsustainable when there is no cost? It costs the British Prime Minister nothing to say “Now is not the time!”. There is no effort involved. Every British Prime Minister for the next fifty years could repeat that phrase on a daily basis and it would be no more problematic for them at the 15,000th iteration than at the first. So how the hell does it become ‘unsustainable’?

Loss of democratic credibility? Is that it? Is refusal of a Section 30 order going to become ‘unsustainable’ because the British Prime Minister loses democratic credibility as a result? If that was a concern, would it not have been so from the outset? Does the British political elite look to anyone as if it gives a shit about democratic credibility or democratic legitimacy or democratic principles? I simply do not understand how refusal of a Section 30 order could become ‘unsustainable’. Or why anybody would believe it might. Although I can all too easily comprehend why politicians might make such a facile, vacuous claim.

But that’s because I’m odd.

I’m odd because I ask all these questions. Although I’m not quite so odd as to expect sensible answers. Most people don’t ask any questions at all. The individual trying to rationalise the Scottish Government’s commitment to the abominable Section 30 process uses the word ‘unsustainable’ because they know that their audience’s instinct is to agree. To the people in that audience, refusing a Section 30 order already is ‘unsustainable’. It is ‘unsustainable’ by their standards and from their perspective. They are primed to accept that it is ‘unsustainable’, so they won’t ask awkward questions. Unless they’re odd.

Being odd, they will immediately realise that the British state’s standards are not their standards. Being odd, it will occur to them that the perspective of the British political elite is hardly likely to match their own. Being odd, they will hear the claim that denial of a Section 30 order is ‘unsustainable’ and instantly recognise it for what it is – a pile of pish!

The commitment to the Section 30 process is part of the same phenomenon by which people are immovably persuaded the 2014 campaign strategy remains valid and relevant despite the defects and deficiencies and despite the drastically altered circumstances. Everything has changed. But the campaign strategy must not change. If you don’t get the logic of that, it may mean that you are as odd as me. Rejoice!

Ends and means

I’m not sure what term to use to describe what happened after I attended ‘The Big Grassroots Conversation’. Epiphany? Revelation? Realisation? Aye. That. I think realisation is the word. I realised just how odd I am.

It wasn’t just ‘The Big Grassroots Conversation’, of course. It’s just that this was where it happened. It may be what triggered it. The things I heard may have been the prompt for a realisation that had been coming anyway. The circumstances were just right. This may be due to the fact that the Yes Edinburgh & Lothians group invited and attracted such a representative swathe of the independence movement to their event. For which the organisers are to be congratulated. Part of my perception – a very large part and a very strong impression – was that I was listening to the voice of the independence movement in the Nelson Community Halls. As you will have gathered from the foregoing, I was not entirely enamoured of what I heard that voice saying.

Sitting in that hall listening to the voice of Scotland’s independence movement, I realised that I was alone in regarding the Union as an injustice. I was alone in regarding the ending of that injustice as a worthwhile thing in its own right. I was alone in regarding independence as an end in itself because it eliminates a grotesque injustice. I am, it seems, the only person who sees Scotland’s cause in this light.

But that’s because I’m odd.

I should stress again that this was a personal impression. A feeling, if you like. There may have been others in that room who felt the same as myself. I can say only that I saw no evidence of this. There are all but certainly others in the independence movement who share my perspective. But, again, we are a tiny minority. And each one who feels as I do will also feel as alone as I do. As odd.

Is injustice a matter of social consensus? Can an injustice be said to exist if only one person identifies it as such while others simply accept it as the ‘natural order’? If consensus is required, at what point does it kick in? If two people see an injustice and feel its impact – even if others are blithely unaware of it or inured to its effects – does that make it valid as an injustice? If not two, then how many?

Or is injustice an absolute? Do injustices differ only in terms of their impact on people? Is the injustice of slavery the same, in essence, as an injustice that isn’t even noticed or identified as such by the vast majority of people?

Is the elimination of an injustice an end in itself? If it is, then eliminating a relatively trivial injustice must be as much of a moral and ethical imperative as ending an injustice such as slavery. Eliminating injustice must be worthwhile in any instance or circumstances. That is my view. But I am odd.

Of course, an objective being its own end does not preclude it being also the means to other ends. Eliminating the injustice of girls being denied education is an end, not the end. Much else can surely flow from eliminating this injustice. But we would not demand that certain specified things must flow from it as a condition of righting the wrong of denying girls an education.

Thinking as I do, I would never have campaigned to give women the vote, had I been around at that time. I would have campaigned against the vote being withheld from women. I would have campaigned to end the injustice of women being excluded from the franchise. I would have demanded an end to this injustice. And I would have regarded the ending of the injustice as a worthwhile thing in itself. I would not, for example have qualified my demand by insisting on a guarantee that there would never be a Margaret Thatcher as a consequence of enfranchising women.

I was quite taken aback by the vehemence with which the idea of independence as and end in itself was rejected by the independence movement as represented at ‘The Big Grassroots Conversation’. Not that I hadn’t encountered this before. Only that circumstances conspired to bring home to me in a new and forceful way just how much of an oddball I am within the independence ‘family’. Naturally, I wondered why what seemed uncontroversial to me aroused such ire in others.

This essay was never intended to be an exercise in blame or condemnation. That’s why I have chosen to avoid names and other identifiers. But I have long been aware that ‘independence’ is regarded by some as little more than a convenient device by which to market their own ideology and policy agendas. It seems to me that those who reject the idea of independence as an end are motivated by a fear that to acknowledge this would risk their agendas being relegated.

Or it could just be that they genuinely don’t see the Union as being an injustice and, therefore, that they cannot see independence as an end in itself as well as the means to their own ends.

I hold the Union to be a grave and ongoing injustice imposed on the nation and perpetrated upon the people of Scotland. I maintain that the remedying of this injustice is Scotland’s cause, and an entirely worthy aim in its own right – just as is the righting of any wrong and the elimination of any injustice.

What I have now realised is that I am alone in perceiving Scotland’s cause in this way. Or, if not alone, then one among relatively very few. This realisation has quite drastically altered my perspective on the independence movement and my role in it. I have been in the company of people who represent the breadth of the independence movement, and I have felt that I didn’t belong.

I felt that their cause is not my cause. Their motivations are not my motivations. Our aims are only superficially similar. I am now aware of being on the outside looking in. I find that very unsettling.

I was content with being odd. I was resigned to being ineffectual. I’m not sure I can cope well with being irrelevant.



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I am not the enemy

One of the ways we recognise the “siren voices of populism” is their penchant for grossly misrepresenting any who challenge or criticise them. Andrew Wilson evidently wasn’t mindful of this when he implied that those expressing concerns about the SNP’s strategy were trying to “sell a pup to a population that deserves the best of honesty”. Or, indeed, with that line about “siren voices of populism and extremism”. Or even the repeated mentions of “populism”. I’m sure he reckons he’s done a rather fine job of tarring the SNP’s critics with the brush of “Trump, Johnson, Farage et al” but, for me, the attempt to contrive negative associations was all a bit obvious. One might even say clumsy.

As one of those who is deeply troubled by Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue I am left a little perplexed by Andrew’s attempt to discredit and diminish people such as myself. He says that the SNP is at its best when it is “front foot, ambitious, outward-facing, welcoming, positive” – and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, this is precisely what I am urging. Andrew Wilson might have done better to consider the reasons I and others find it necessary to so urge the party leadership.

Had he not been so intent on disparaging those who decline to toe the party line on the new independence referendum and the subsequent campaign, andrew might have been able to discern the fact that what I and others are seeking is no more than that the SNP should be what it is when it is at its best. We want Nicola Sturgeon to get on the front foot rather than merely reacting to to the pond-life twitchings and squirmings of the British political elite. We want her to be more ambitious than settle for whatever the British state is prepared to offer. We want her to be outward-facing towards the wider Yes movement and to welcome it as a rich resource rather than shunning it as if it might sully her political purity. We want her to be positive about Scotland and its people and its capacities rather than about her own ideas of how to proceed.

We want the SNP to remember what it is for and to at least acknowledge what it is against.

We need no lectures about the absolute necessity of backing Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. We know, at least as well as Andrew Wilson, that the SNP is the lever by which Scotland will be prised out of an injurious and demeaning political union. We know that Nicola Sturgeon and her administration represent the fulcrum on which that lever move. But we recognise that it doesn’t end there. We are aware that this lever requires a solid base on which to rest – the Scottish Parliament. and we have long been cognisant of the threat to Holyrood which Nicola Sturgeon has only lately acknowledged.

We further recognise that this lever is all but useless without the force that can only be provided by the Yes movement. So we can hardly be criticised for our anxieties about that force being diverted or dissipated as a consequence of the way Nicola Sturgeon is seen to be handling things.

I can only speak for myself when I say that I with Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP all the way to independence. But my commitment is, not to any party or personality, but to Scotland’s cause. I therefore reserve the right to do whatever I might to steer the party and its leadership on what I consider to be the course which will most surely take us to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. And to sound a warning when I think they have strayed from that course.

I am firmly persuaded that this can be done without harm to either the party or the cause. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it. I am not the enemy. Neither are any of those in the SNP or the wider Yes movement who voice concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s option-squandering and highly contentious commitment to the Section 30 process. Or about what many see as a failure to learn the lessons of the 2014 campaign.

It is disappointing, to say the least, that the SNP should feel it necessary to propagandise against those who do no more than offer alternative ideas as to how we might best proceed on Scotland’s journey to independence.



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A dangerous thought

Some time ago, and in a different context, I wrote about what I still regard as the most fundamental attribute of the Yes movement.

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.

I think this fits quite comfortably with Jason Baird’s kitten analogy while taking it into the realm of human intellect rather than animal instinct. We are not kittens. Like all analogies, Jason’s breaks down on close contact with reality.

The phenomenon of emergent leadership was, for me, brought into sharp focus at the first of Yes Registry’s Gatherings. A task had to be performed. An objective had to be achieved. And the leadership needed to accomplish this simply emerged from among the people involved, and remained for the as long as it was required. It was a remarkable thing to witness.

Jason is right. It is at least as impossible to impose a fixed hierarchical order on the Yes movement as it is to herd cats. But this does not imply chaos. There is order within the Yes movement. Even, at times and in certain circumstances, something akin to a transient hierarchical structure. Whatever it takes to get the job done.

The nature of the task at hand defines the need for emergent leadership and determines the form that this leadership takes. This thought has been very much at the forefront of my mind of late as I contemplate how the different elements of the independence cause can be brought together and made to work effectively as a campaigning organisation. Which is where I present an analogy of my own.

In this analogy, the SNP is the lever by means of which Scotland will be prised out of the Union. The Scottish Government (Nicola Sturgeon) is the fulcrum on which the lever moves. The Scottish Parliament is the solid base on which the lever rests. The Yes movement is the force which must be applied to the lever. It is absolutely essential that these components work together. Otherwise, nothing much happens.

The most problematic part of all this is the relationship between the Yes movement and the SNP. Once again, I dip into my blog archive.

An accommodation must be found. Factionalism is most certainly not any kind of solution. It is, in fact, a way of avoiding the difficult task of finding that accommodation between the SNP and the Yes movement – and among all the elements of the independence cause – which will allow each and all to be effective.

The single point at which all the elements of the independence cause meet is the Union. The thing that everybody in the independence movement agrees on is that the Union must end. It cannot even be said that all agree on independence. Because there are differing ideas about what independence means. There is no ambiguity whatever about the imperative to end the Union.

What I have been pondering lately is how best we might move towards this accommodation. It occurs to me that, if the theory of emergent leadership holds, then the necessary leadership should emerge from the Yes movement. The task of opening a productive dialogue between the Yes movement and the SNP will demand a particular kind of leadership. And it may be something that many in the Yes movement will be uncomfortable with.

It may be time for the Yes movement to find from among its massive number a person or persons who can sit down with the SNP leadership and speak for the Yes movement as a whole.



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Still Yes! All Yes!

Robin Mcalpine is a very clever guy. If you follow Common Weal you will be familiar with the work of a think tank that actually earns that name The rigour of the organisation’s efforts on research and policy development has to be acknowledged as exemplary even by those who disagree with the conclusion. Much of the credit for Common Weal’s work goes to Robin Mcalpine as Director. Anyone who has heard Robin speak will know how erudite he is. Ideas flow from the man’s head like treats from a burst piñata. All of which makes it difficult to explain the monumental silliness of his latest article on the inaptly named Common Space.

‘Yes’ means a lot to me – but it’s time to move on

The headline alone is enough to furrow many an independentista brow. What follows will have Yes activist jaws thudding to the floor. After explaining how emotionally attached he is to it, he solemnly declares that “‘Yes’ can’t be shorthand for the independence campaign any more”. That’s right! The latest great idea to pop out of Robin Mcalpine’s head is that the independence movement should abandon the term which has come to define it.

He may know a lot about a great many things, but clearly Robin knows nothing whatever about marketing. That’s what a political campaign is – a marketing exercise. We are trying to sell a product – independence. The ‘brand name’ of that product is ‘Yes’. And the first rule of marketing is,

DON’T FUCK WITH THE BRAND!

The brand is crucial. It represents the product. More importantly, it represents a set of emotions and attitudes which have been purposefully associated with the brand. Everything hangs on the brand, In many ways it is more important than the product. Because an effective brand can be attached to almost any product. It is not unknown for the brand name to precede the product. The marketing team at a confectionary company will come up with a name which they realise has great potential – market appeal and the ability to take on the positive associations of the company’s brand. Only then will the product development team design a product around that name.

The company brand is more important than the product brand because the company brand represents the positive associations which sell all of the company’s products. It may even be that the company doesn’t actually manufacture anything. That production is outsourced. The company owns the brand. And that is all that matters.

I say all this in the hope of conveying just how vital branding is. It is not to be taken lightly. Organisations rarely alter their branding. If they do, it is only after a great deal of thought and research. And they must have a very good reason before they even start to think about altering the brand. So what are Robin Mcalpine’s reasons for urging us to drop the ‘Yes’ brand?

Robin gives several reasons for abandoning the established ‘Yes’ brand. The first is that “we’re unlikely to be allowed to use a ‘Yes/No’ question in the next referendum”. Many readers will recognise in that statement the meek subservience that is characteristic of the colonised mind. A mind in which is firmly planted the default assumption that the British state is superior. Or, to put it another way, that Scotland is inferior. Our political culture is inferior to the British political system. Our democratic institutions are inferior to the apparatus of the British state. Basically, if it’s Scottish, it’s inferior. The British are the boss and the colonised mind simply doesn’t question this.

On this particular occasion, Robin insists…. No! That’s wrong! He doesn’t insist, he just accepts the superiority of the British Electoral Commission and the rightfulness of its authority as the ultimate arbiter of what is permissible in a Scottish constitutional referendum This is an agency of the forces which are seeking to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination and prevent us from choosing to normalise Scotland’s constitutional status by dissolving the Union. If this isn’t the outside interference that is prohibited by international laws and conventions, nothing is. And yet Robin never for a moment doubts the Electoral Commission’s superiority. Because it’s British.

I would hazard that most people in the grassroots ‘Yes’ movement have by now recognised that there is no route to independence that adheres to the rules devised by those whose purpose is to preserve the Union at any cost to the people of these islands, and even at the cost of treating with contemptuous disregard the most fundamental principles of democracy. Those of us whose minds are freed from colonisation and who dare to question the authority that Robin so humbly accepts realised some time ago that we can only break the British Union by breaking the British rules.

The entire referendum process must be created and controlled in Scotland by Scotland’s democratic institutions. Nothing else is acceptable! And if this assertiveness discomfits colonised minds then it is for owners of those minds to make the choice. Either they maintain the sovereignty of Scotland’s people or they submit to the authority of the British state. It is not possible to do both, To choose the latter is to reject popular sovereignty with the necessary implication that the individual making such a choice cannot, by definition, be considered as serving Scotland’s cause.

Robin states that “it is now generally felt that yes/no questions are inherently unfair”. Well, maybe they are. But it is for Scotland to decide. Because it’s our referendum! We, the people of Scotland, own any constitutional referendum held in Scotland because it derives from our inalienable right of self-determination. Robin allows that he is not entirely persuaded by the “inherently unfair” argument. But, by his own argument, his opinion doesn’t matter. He has relinquished the right to choose by accepting the superiority of the British state. His preferences in regard to the referendum process count for no more than Scotland’s Remain vote in the EU referendum.

Bowing to the British Electoral Commission is a shameful thing on principle and not that clever in purely practical terms. It is surely evident to all but those who are hampered by BritNat blinkers or having their head up their arse that the British political elite want to ‘influence’ the referendum question in the hope of gaining some advantage. They know they will need all the help they can get. Also, it comes as part of them controlling the whole referendum process and helps to establish that arrangement.

We have to wonder if it is even possible to formulate a question that is absolutely free of potential bias. Because people see the question in different ways and from different perspectives, there is no way to rule out the possibility of them being marginally swayed one way or the other by the formulation. My own preference is that the question be a response to a clear and unambiguous proposal. Such as,

The Scottish Parliament has passed a proposal that the political union between Scotland and England be dissolved. Do you agree with this proposal? YES/NO

The certainty is that, whatever question is proposed, somebody will complain. I trust the Scottish Government to listen to those complaints and act on them appropriately. It has been proved beyond all doubt that the UK Government won’t listen at all and will act entirely in the interests of England-as-Britain.

But I digress…

If Robin’s first reason for abandoning the established ‘Yes’ brand is ill-thought his second reason can only be described as inane. He maintains that we should drop ‘Yes’ because “most of the power and most of the media is against us”. I have news for him. Most of the power and most of the media will always be against us regardless of what we call ourselves. They will seek to undermine and destroy whatever brand we use to market independence. They will inevitably do this because Scotland’s independence movement – along with an SNP administration and a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament – stands as a threat to the structures of power,. privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. British Nationalists don’t fear and hate ‘Yes’; they fear and hate what ‘Yes’ represents. They fear mass democratic dissent. They hate those who presume to challenge the superiority of the British state. You can change your name every month; they’ll still fear and hate you.

Robin should be OK, though. Because, by his own account, he has no desire to question or intention of challenging the superiority of the British state. So it should come as no surprise to find that he also embraces the narrative of the British state’s propaganda machine.

Credit where it’s due; Robin does urge failed newspaper editor, Neil Mackay, to desist from doing the independence cause the ‘favour’ he imagines he does by pursuing his “vendetta against ‘cybernats'”. Presumably this extends to all the pompous, sanctimonious, self-appointed gatekeepers of the independence’ movement. The Yes movement dominates social media due to sheer weight of numbers. But it is effective because it is people talking to people in the way people talk to people outside the bubble of Scotland’s intellectual elite. Many voices! One message!

But, having just berated Neil Mackay for his parroting of British propaganda smearing the Yes movement, Robin then joins him in trying to dictate the terms of debate and the manner of online conduct. Or, rather, he acts as a message-boy for the anti-independence mob, passing on the constraints that they want to impose on the way online Yes activists campaign. He doesn’t seem to realise that, once you accept the British Nationalists’ ‘right’ to impose the reasonable-sounding constraints you’re grabbing the thin end of a wedge which is intended to reduce the effectiveness of those of us who are happy to be labelled the ‘keyboard warriors’ of the Yes movement.

It seems, however, that Robin Mcalpine doesn’t think much of the Yes movement. He reckons the Yes campaign “is seen as backwards-looking, a tiresome rerun of 2014”. And he seems to agree with whoever made that assessment.

Look more closely, however, and it can be seen that it is he who is harking back to the 2014 referendum campaign with the now exceedingly tiresome insistence that we must all walk on eggshells around former No voters. That we must treat them like the most delicate of hothouse flowers That we must avoid the vaguest hint of negativity and never, ever refer to the fact that it was the No vote in 2014 which put us where we are now. Here’s his wee lecture.

A much more effective approach is to be forward-looking, to say ‘in 2014 you made the decision you did for the reasons you did and you were right to follow your instincts – but a lot has changed and there is a new decision to make…’. That is best facilitated by drawing a line under the 2014 campaign.

I’m not sure what makes Robin Mcalpine imagine that the Yes movement isn’t already aware of this and acting accordingly. Most, if not all of us ‘ordinary’ activists drew a line under the 2014 campaign long ago. If Robin had any contact with our campaigning on social media then he would surely be aware of how often we berate British Nationalists for constantly going on about stuff from way back then. The largest part of online comment from so-called ‘cybernats’ is, I venture to suggest, concerning the things that have happened since 2014 and things that are happening now. I further venture to suggest that, when it comes to the activities of online Yes campaigners, Robin is speaking from ignorance.

There is a part of the independence movement – or collection of cliques which associate themselves with the independence cause – that looks down on the footsoldiers and keyboard warriors of the Yes campaign. You won’t see them at Yes gatherings, unless they’re on the platform. You’re unlikely to bump into any of them on a Yes march. But you’ll be able read them pontificating about these activities – generally in a highly pejorative manner.

Yes! There are individuals and groups among Yes activists who take a different approach. It’s a massive and massively diverse movement. Of course there are a variety of campaigning styles. The intellectuals and righteous radicals tend to celebrate this diversity. But they do so while trying to make everybody conform to a single ‘approved’ model of campaigning. If diversity in a movement is good, then conformity must be bad. Yet everywhere we turn we find intellectuals and righteous radicals laying down the ‘One True Way’ that must be followed by all, lest they be condemned for the heinous crime of ‘not helping’.

I go back to what I said before. One message! Many voices! There is no ‘One True Way’. There can’t be. Because the electorate is not a homogeneous mass. Different people will respond in different ways to the same message. If you ever do find a message so bland as to offend nobody, it’ll be too weak and insipid to be effective. It’s a fucking political campaign! Given what’s at stake, we are entitled to press our case in as assertive a manner as possible without crossing that line into aggressiveness. And if we occasionally tread on that line as we push the envelope than that too is all part of hard-headed political campaigning.

I am not going to tell No voters that they were right. I am going to treat them like mature, rational adults and tell them that they were wrong. There is no disputing the fact that they were wrong with hindsight. But they were also wrong because they chose to ignore warnings given before polling day about the consequences of a No vote which, in many cases, have turned out to be over-cautious.

I have drawn a line under the 2014 campaign. But not before learning the lessons of that campaign. Including the valuable lessons that were to be learned from looking at the things that worked for the winners of that campaign.

It is those who insist we must follow the same procedure as before, and stick to the same methods, who are refusing to let go of 2014. They are the ones refusing to recognise that the entire constitutional ‘battleground’ has changed. They are the ones who castigate anyone who suggests that the changed circumstances demand a different and more robust campaign strategy. Robin Mcalpine and I are never going to agree on how the Yes campaign should be fought because we are talking about two entirely different campaigns. He’s talking about the campaign as he thinks it should be. I’m talking about the campaign as it actually is.

But Robin has not finished denigrating ‘Yes’. He denounces it as ‘tribal’. Get a load of this,

The polarisation of politics and the culture of social media means we are more likely to define ourselves as part of a tribe, or at least as not part of another tribe. We listen to our own tribe members much more clearly.

All he’s talking about here are the perfectly normal and ‘natural’ divisions that are bound to occur in a society where people are free to form and express their own views. Democracy is the way we deal with those divisions without fracturing society. Which is why anti-democratic British Nationalism is so dangerous. Because once the democratic routes to resolving differences are closed down, only one thing remains. And that is something no sane person wants.

To paraphrase the great philosopher, Homer Simpson, you can make anything seem bad by sticking a label on it saying ‘BAD’. The term ‘tribal’ is used as a pejorative label, not to describe something, but to manipulate our perceptions of it. For ‘tribal’ just read ‘political differences’. And I dread the day those are eradicated.

The rest of the article continues in the same depressing vein. Give up on ‘Yes’ because it’s ‘tribal’. And because the British state won’t allow us to use ‘Yes’. in the referendum ballot. It doesn’t even occur to him that this should be a matter for Scotland alone and not the British state or its agencies.

Give up on a referendum before 2021 because the British state won’t give us permission. And, even if they did, the conditions attached would be crippling for the independence campaign. It doesn’t even occur to him that this is a conclusive argument for not following the Section 30 route used in the 2014 referendum.

Give up on moving the campaign away from the ground of economics and onto the ground of the constitution, where it belongs. It doesn’t even occur to him that this suits the British state. It’s what they want. An economic debate favours the side which can churn out the most and scariest stories of doom and disaster. And those of us who remember Project Fear know how good the British propaganda machine is at scaremongering.

Give up on turning the campaign around so that we are asking the questions instead of answering them. Stay always on the back foot. Always on the defensive. It doesn’t even occur to him that all those questions about currency and the rest aren’t about getting facts, they’re about creating doubt. And by constantly attempting to answer them all you are doing is helping to feed those doubts. Nor does it occur to him that the anti-independence campaign wants us on the defensive. Not least because they know that the Union can’t stand up to scrutiny. So they avoid that scrutiny by throwing questions that intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals catch like circus seals catching fish.

I don’t speak for the Yes movement. Nobody does. (A situation we may have to address.) But I do speak from first hand knowledge of the Yes movement. And from some relevant experience in both marketing and political campaigning. I reject pretty much every word of Robin Mcalpine’s article. Initially, I rejected it in anger. Now I do so in despair.

Robin Mcalpine is ‘yes, but’. I’m still Yes. I’m all Yes. And that isn’t changing any time soon.



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No more Septembers

There were a number of reasons I campaigned for a new independence referendum in September 2018. It was an available date four years on from the first referendum; a perfectly adequate interval for those who consider such things important. It allowed for a summer campaign, which give advantage to the campaign which can put boots on the ground. The Yes movement was strong and becoming more mature, And, of course, a September 2018 referendum was intended to preempt Brexit; avoiding the economic fallout and constitutional consequences of that greatest of British follies – so far.

As it turned out, Brexit was deferred for a year. This gave the Scottish Government a year’s grace in which to advance the independence cause. That year has been squandered in a manner which rather justifies my concerns. And it allowed more time for signs of wear to appear in the independence movement.

All of these things I wrote about in some detail and spoke about with some passion at the time. But there were also reasons I was more reluctant to talk about. I discerned potential weaknesses in the SNP, both as a party and as an administration, and developing vulnerabilities in the Yes movement. I was concerned that the SNP administration might become tired and the leadership complacent.

I was aware that the longer a party remains in office the more susceptible it is to accusations of having ‘run out of steam’, And how susceptible to ‘scandals’ – real or maliciously contrived.

I feared the party might suffer problems as it sought to adjust and adapt to its rapid growth after initial enthusiasm stopped distracting folk from the daunting task the SNP faced in reforming itself.

I worried that the Yes movement might fall foul of the factionalism which seems always to attend grass-roots progressive movements. (Is there any other kind?) I worried to that, lacking structures and leadership and being battered by disappointments and anti-climaxes, the Yes movement might succumb to ennui and frustration and just begin to fade away.

In short, I saw the possibility of the independence movement as a whole deteriorating. Not massively. But from a very a very high base to a more sustainable level. I reckoned the independence movement would be at its peak around September 2018. After that, I wasn’t so sure.

Let me be clear! I am not suggesting that the independence movement has broken down or that the SNP has lost its way or that the Yes movement has grown stale and fragile. Merely that things have changed. And the independence campaign must change accordingly. We are none of us what we were even as recently as five years ago. This is reflected in the organisation we form to fight our campaign, and so must also be taken due account of in the campaign itself.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the integrity of any political party or movement is factionalism. By which I mean, not the ordinary discussions and debates and differences of opinion that are inevitable when a number of individuals band together for a common purpose. That is usually healthy and helps the grouping to develop its ideas and arguments. What I am referring to is the kind of factionalism which involves small, or relatively small, cliques forming within the main grouping to pursue, under the ‘flag’; of the grouping, an agenda not agreed by the group as a whole. The key thing here being that the faction seeks to pursue this agenda while retaining and exploiting its identity as part of the larger grouping.

The faction is like a parasite, drawing on the facilities and influence of the organisation for its own ends. Like many parasites elsewhere in nature, the faction can be quite harmless. Its activities need not impact on the ‘parent’ grouping significantly. The organisation may be able to accommodate the faction’s agenda. In principle, at least, it is even possible that the faction might provide some benefit to the organisation.That they may have a symbiotic relationship. Although, by the time that happens it will probably have ceased to be thought of as a faction and will have been reabsorbed into the main grouping.

But factions can also be a powerfully disruptive and even destructive force. If the faction’s agenda, or the methods and rhetoric by which it pursues its aims, are sufficiently at odds with the agreed purpose of the main grouping, conflict will almost inevitably ensue. It is not uncommon that both (or all) sides in this conflict will claim rightful ownership of the organisation and its identity – as well as its assets. It can get nasty.

Another thing about factions is that they tend to proliferate. I won’t get into the whole business of prevailing and countervailing forces here. Suffice it to say that the more powerful the prevailing force, the more it will define the countervailing force. If an organisation develops one faction this implies that it is the kind of organisation (prevailing force) that is prone to developing factions (countervailing forces) and so it is likely that it will develop more factions. It’s very much like playground ‘gangs’ or the way cliques form in the workplace. The same processes are in play. The consequences can be trivial, or not.

The reason I wanted the new referendum in 2018 was that I wanted to get it done before the Yes movement succumbed to the factionalism which I saw in its future. I am surprised and delighted to realise that I may have been overly pessimistic about this. Apart from the usual self-righteous radical factions that nobody takes too seriously, the Yes movement has not developed anything like the proliferation of factions that might have been expected of such a huge and diverse grouping. This is a testament to the power of the common objective which binds the entire grass-roots independence movement.

We would be wise, however, never to lose sight of the fact that our movement is vulnerable to ‘splits’. The fact that it hasn’t done so to any consequent degree up until now is something to celebrate. But we should remain vigilant. The tendency to factionalism is still there within the Yes movement. And, even where the factions themselves are harmless or helpful, their tendency to proliferate may be problematic.

Groups! We’ve all seen the proliferation of Yes groups over the last seven years or so. We have tended to think of this as a good thing. And, mostly, it is. But it often happens that groups are competing for the same constituency. And this can frequently be for no better reason than that somebody has thought of a better name for the group. So they set up their own.

We see it also with things like hashtags. No sooner does someone come up with a hashtag pertinent to the independence cause than somebody else decides they can ‘improve’ it. A seemingly trivial thing. But it is a symptom of a much bigger issue. One of the major weaknesses in the 2014 Yes campaign was the lack of a single, coherent message. In a single-issue political campaign, it is essential that everybody involved should have the same objective. And that they should be able to describe that that objective in a consistent manner. There was never an undisputed concept of independence. And a campaign cannot be effective if it is based on a disputed concept. Bear this in mind when you hear talk of finding or concocting a ‘better’ independence message. The 2014 campaign was badly weakened by so many people trying to find that magical form of words that would convey the wonders of being just an ordinary nation.

The Yes movement is excellent because it makes us all activists. But there is a pervasive notion that it has made us all experts. Nobody can come up with any suggestion without a chorus of people saying, “I’ll just polish that for you.” With the result that we never have a settled campaign message, or voice, or strategy. We have a proliferation of the things. Which, in campaigning terms, is effectively the same as having none.

Now, we have a proposal for a tactical voting plot which is supposed to defeat the d’Hondt system and ensure a pro-independence majority. I have expressed concerns about this proposal in the face of levels of enthusiasm which are tending to overwhelm reasoned evaluation of the plan. An additional worry is that it may prompt the kind of proliferation that is a common feature of factionalism. Once one person or group has a great idea for ‘gaming’ the voting system, what’s the betting others will think they can improve on it.

The ‘Wings Party’ proposal is critically dependent on a number of factors. Not the least of these is that it it be ‘the only game in town’. But, given our experience in other areas, what are the chances of that? And it’s no good pleading that it would be stupid to have two or more independence-only list parties.That would only prompt a dispute about which of the ‘factions’ was most stupid.

I don’t know this would happen. Not in the same way as I know that the sun will rise in the east, But I do know that what the independence movement needs most urgently is a coming together. We must resist factionalism. We must halt the proliferation of individual mini-campaigns and pull the whole movement together behind a single, concentrated effort.

That effort has to start long before the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. By encouraging the idea that it is okay to leave things until the 2021 election, the ‘Wings Party’ proposal, and all the little cousins it may engender, risks blinding people to the more immediate and lethal threat to the very elections on which they want us to depend. The threat to all of Scotland’s democratic institutions.

I won’t be discussing the ‘Wings Party’ again if I can possibly avoid it. I won’t be thinking on a time-scale that stretches all the way to 2021. I want to get back to matters which are pertinent right now – such as the effort to persuade the Scottish Government of the need for bold, decisive, urgent action and the folly of going down the Section 30 route. There’s time enough to think about the 2021 election when we can be sure there will still be a Scottish Parliament in 2021.

A great opportunity was missed in September 2018. We look like missing the opportunity of September 2019. There may be no more Septembers.



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The formula

There’s a distinct note of desperation in the way senior SNP figures can’t speak of the Ashcroft poll without using terms such as “phenomenal”. Like those people at major celebratory events who are trying just that wee bit too hard to look like they’re having the most fun anyone has ever had. Who are they trying to convince?

In Keith Brown’s case, that would be us – party members and the rest of the Yes movement. The SNP leadership has seized on the Ashcroft poll with the eagerness of someone accused of a serious crime who has suddenly been offered an alibi. At last! Something they can represent as vindicating the relentless waiting that has become their only discernible strategy.

But all the purple prose and rhetorical superlatives cannot long divert from the fact that, approaching five years after the first referendum, the independence cause has not been advanced one millimetre by anything attributable to the SNP. It will be protested that they are doing stuff now, such as Citizens’ Assemblies and the Referendums Bill. But that merely prompts questions about why these things weren’t done two or even three years ago.

By their reaction to the Ashcroft poll, if nothing else, the SNP demonstrates the importance it attaches to such indicators of the public mood. So the fact that the polls have barely twitched while the British political elite has been behaving like a troupe of demented clowns must say something about the SNP’s ‘strategy’. And nothing very complimentary. If there was a ‘secret’ plan to take advantage of the disarray among British Nationalist politicians then it has been so secret as to leave no impression either on the polls or on the consciousness of observers.

And before the idiot SNP-haters get their smug faces on, this also demonstrates that the Yes movement can’t do it alone. Because nothing the Yes movement has done in the last few years has had a significant impact on the polls either. If anything, this simply proves the need for the SNP and the Yes movement to work together.

But even if all the parts of the independence movement were working well together, they would still require some kind of strategy. And ultimate responsibility for setting that strategy must rest with the SNP. The Yes movement has a vital role to play in developing the strategy. Having no hierarchical structures of its own, however, the Yes movement has to rely on leadership provided by the SNP. The SNP has not done nearly enough to connect with and draw on the people power and campaigning resources of the Yes movement. The Yes movement has to do better at utilising the political power and organisational resources of the SNP.

Kenny MacAskill’s criticisms of the First Minister may be largely, if not wholly, justified. But this is not a time for recriminations. Opportunities have missed. Time has been squandered – in particular the extra year’s grace afforded by the Article 50 extension. Rather than making us bitter or despondent, this should goad us into efforts to make up for the time that has been lost and create new opportunities to replace those that have been missed.

Developing an effective campaign strategy requires that the SNP and the Yes movement work together. As I wrote three months ago – evidently to no avail,

An accommodation must be found. Factionalism is most certainly not any kind of solution. It is, in fact, a way of avoiding the difficult task of finding that accommodation between the SNP and the Yes movement – and among all the elements of the independence cause – which will allow each and all to be effective.

In the Yes movement, we have come almost to worship diversity as the greatest of virtues. For a movement, this may be true, But for a campaign, the greatest virtue is solidarity. In celebrating our diversity, we have fallen into the habit of talking about our differences, rather than that which we hold in common. Recognition that “we all want the same thing” tends to come as an afterthought to lengthy discussion of distinctive policy platforms – if it comes at all. We talk about our respective visions for Scotland’s future, relegating consideration of the key to that future to somewhere lower down the agenda.

The single point at which all the elements of the independence cause meet is the Union. The thing that everybody in the independence movement agrees on is that the Union must end. It cannot even be said that all agree on independence. Because there are differing ideas about what independence means. There is no ambiguity whatever about the imperative to end the Union.

It is a happy coincidence that the point at which all the elements of the independence campaign come together also happens to be the British state’s weakest point. So, let’s not talk of factions. No faction is going to prise Scotland out of its entanglement in the British state. This will only be achieved by the four constituent parts of the independence campaign acting in accord. The SNP as the lever. The Scottish Government (Nicola Sturgeon) as the fulcrum. The Scottish Parliament as the base. The Yes movement as the force.

And let us all agree that the object we are acting against is the Union.



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