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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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 response to David Pratt

David Pratt marches at the head of an army of straw men to do battle with windmills. For want of a “clamour of voices and rumbling of dissent” he invents it. The yells of “Unionist apologist” and “England-supporting quisling” exist nowhere but in his self-righteously hectoring prose.

Far more prevalent than the “negativism” David Pratt rails against is the form of negativism in which he indulges. The nagging, niggling negativism of those who place themselves above and apart from the Yes movement the better to cast a condescending eye over all its doings and tell us it’s doing it all wrong. The negativism which holds that diversity is great, so long as it is limited to attitudes and perspectives approved by some self-appointed elite. The negativism which celebrates inclusiveness, so long as it doesn’t include those who express their passion for independence or their detestation of the Union in terms as robust as they are honest.

I have the utmost respect for David Pratt as a journalist. I greatly admire his work as a foreign correspondent. But I wonder what in his wide experience has brought him to the belief that Scotland’s voters are such delicate blooms that even to raise ones voice in their vicinity is to cause them to shrink and wither. I wonder, too, what it is in his observations of various political cultures that leads him to conclude that politics is improved by making it the exclusive province of an educated elite possessed of a certain erudition and eloquence.

My experience may not be as broad and wide-ranging as David Pratt’s, but I can, think, claim intimate acquaintance with the extraordinary – some might say unprecedented – grass roots democratic movement which emerged in Scotland in the early days of the 2014 independence referendum campaign. I know that the strength and power of the Yes movement is attributed to a diversity that recognises no limits and an inclusiveness that allows no exceptions. There is no “Yes, but…”.

There is a view, to which David Pratt would appear to subscribe, that the independence campaign must be conducted in a manner calculated to avoid offending anybody who might possibly claim to be offended; instantly disowning any voice which is reported as having ruffled the dubiously fragile sensibilities of those who stand to gain from being allowed to dictate the terms of debate. The inevitable result is a campaign which is weak, insipid, vacuous and endlessly apologetic.

Then there is the view that the independence campaign needs to be assured, assertive, uncompromising and most definitely unapologetic. I subscribe to this view and will promote and defend it in every way I can using whatever language I deem appropriate.

Many voices! One message! This is the Yes movement that I know. And if some of those voices are coarse enough to make even me wince, I welcome them nonetheless; because even the coarsest of voices is better than the silence of disengagement, alienation and apathy. Even the most vulgar voice raised in righteous anger is preferable to the silence that allows injustice to persist.



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