Will the flockers just flock off?

Everyone who makes the journey from No to Yes is, of course, very welcome. But it is relevant to consider their reason(s) for doing so and what prompted them to start that journey. This is important for at least two reasons. Obviously, understanding what it is that makes people begin to question their attitude to independence and to Scotland will be helpful in devising a campaign aimed at encouraging more former No voters to make the journey to Yes. But it is important, too, that we understand the nature of that change. It is crucial that a cause be mindful of the character and quality of its support and not just the numbers.

Let me make it clear that, unless so stated, none of what follows relates specifically to Rhona Duffy who writes in today’s National of her own personal journey from No to Yes. I am thinking in very broad terms about those whose commitment to independence is qualitatively different from my own. No normative judgement is implied. It is simply a fact that someone who has come late to a cause will relate to it differently from someone who, like myself, is unaware of ever been other than totally committed to that cause.

It may be somewhat analogous to language. When we learn a second language later in life – after the age of about twelve – we learn by an entirely different process than when we learn language as a child. Two people having learned by different processes can be just as fluent in use of the language. But it will sit differently in their minds. It is the difference between a learned and an innate skill. As a child, we acquire languages utilising our innate capacity to absorb them. Later in life, we must rely on a largely acquired ability to learn.

It is all but certainly impossible for me to not want Scotland’s independence restored. Lifelong independence supporters such as myself are often ‘accused’ of having an emotional commitment to the idea. As if that is a bad thing! I haven’t the slightest hesitation in acknowledging that I have a very strong emotional commitment to Scotland’s cause. But there is no reason whatever why such an emotional commitment must preclude or detract from rational motivation. You will rarely if ever find me referring to the emotional aspect of my commitment to Scotland’s cause as I write and talk about it in an effort to persuade others. My emotional commitment cannot have a role in the campaign because it is entirely mine. It is personal – in the truest and most absolute sense. Nobody else can possibly feel what I feel, no matter how skilful I might be at conveying those feelings. Others can understand my reasons for wanting Scotland’s independence restored. Nobody else can feel the way I do about it.

There’s an old saying that reason is useless in persuading a person from a position they didn’t arrive at by reason. Like most such sayings, there is a kernel of truth there. Like all such simplisms, however, it fails to take due account of human complexity. What matters is not whether a position was arrived at by other than reason, but whether and to what extent the person holding that position believes they arrived at it by reason. To the truly mad person it is everyone else who is insane.

Many people genuinely believe they had/have good, rational reasons for opposing the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Rational reasons based on empirical evidence and objective assessment of the facts. These are the people I refer to as Unionists. Difficult as it may be for them, Unionists have at least the theoretical capacity to realise that what they took to be facts are actually distortions and lies and that under the influence of an insidiously powerful propaganda machine their assessment was nowhere near as objective as they imagined it to be.

Then there are the British Nationalists. For them, it’s a case of the Union at any cost. They are fanatics. They don’t care if it’s all lies. They have no interest in objectivity. In contrast to Unionists who have at least a varnish of rationality on their attitude to Scottish independence, British Nationalists take pride in having no need for rationality. There’s is an exclusively emotional commitment to the Union.

The emotional commitment to which I own is vulnerable to reason. If there was good cause to suppose that great harm would ensue from the restoration of Scotland’s independence; if I were wholly convinced that it would be seriously detrimental to Scotland and its people, I would set aside my aspirations. The British Nationalist will demand the preservation of the Union even knowing beyond doubt that this would be disastrous for Scotland. No British Nationalist has ever or shall ever make the journey from No to Yes. Only Unionists can do that. Because a Unionist is someone who has yet to question the Union while a British Nationalist is someone who insists that the Union must never be questioned.

It is this questioning of the Union which is the common factor among those who have made the journey from No to Yes. We know that Rhona Duffy is not and never was a British Nationalist. Because she was able to challenge her own assumptions and preconceptions about the nature of the Union and its ongoing effect on Scotland. Nobody who has engaged with the issue on this basis has failed to conclude that the Union must end. There are unthinking people on both sides of the constitutional question. There are no unthinking people among those who have gone from one side of that question to the other. The thinking of people who have made the journey from No to Yes is a precious resource for the campaign to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. A campaign which, if it is to succeed, must be a lot less about ‘making the case for independence’ and a great deal more about making a case against the Union which can tap into the Unionists’ thought processes.

A Unionist who has made the journey to Yes can tell you a lot more about how Unionists think than someone who, like myself, has been a nationalist all their life.

But there is a less positive side to this. We must ask ourselves how reliable is the support of those who have already switched sides at least once. If someone has succumbed to British propaganda before, might they not do so again? There may be no reliable accounts of anybody every going back having made that journey from No to Yes. On the contrary, these tend to be some of the most ardent advocates for Scotland’s cause. But I worry, nonetheless.

Rhona Duffy’s penultimate paragraph nicely encapsulates the issue.

It’s also crucial to have coherent plans for the currency, economy, and public services. We can’t be on the defensive. We need to be positive and confident, backed up with facts. No matter what you think about Brexit, we can learn lessons from the Leave campaign. “Get Brexit done” will be imprinted on the minds of many forever.

What she says about the sloganeering of Brexiteers demonstrates an awareness of the power of the British state’s propaganda apparatus. The apparatus which keeps Unionists onside. Awareness is the best defence against manipulative media. But the stuff about it being “crucial to have coherent plans for the currency, economy, and public services” makes me more than a little uncomfortable.

Not, I stress, that I am casting aspersions on Rhona’s stated support for independence. I do not doubt that she has made that journey from No to Yes in good faith. What concerns me is a phenomenon that I am aware exists, but which need not exist in the case of any particular individual. I am aware that there are those who latch onto economic arguments. not as rational reasons for taking a position, but as the means to rationalise a position already committed to for what are mainly or entirely emotional reasons.

I also worry about support for Scotland’s cause which is conditional – either on being provided with an ‘economic case’ or on being assured of special consideration for a particular policy agenda. That is support which, by definition, cannot be relied upon. It is support which could vanish like snaw aff a dyke when decision time comes. It is support which may not be resilient enough even to take us to a point of decision.

It’s not that it’s wrong to state that “coherent plans for the currency, economy, and public services” are important. It’s just that feeling the need to say this betrays a certain mindset. It speaks to me of a commitment to Scotland’s cause which is undermined by doubt. Why would someone need an ‘economic case for independence’ unless they were looking for a get-out clause in their support for independence? There can be no economic case against independence. The right to independence is not conditional on passing any test other than the electoral one. So why would anybody want such a case to be made?

If you genuinely think Scotland should be independent, why would you not take as your starting assumption that Scotland is perfectly capable of managing its “currency, economy, and public services”? Why would you need to be convinced of this after coming to the conclusion that Scotland’s affairs are not well managed while mired in the Union?

When I hear of people flocking to the cause of independence on account of Brexit or Boris or Dom Cummings or differential handling of the coronavirus crisis, I cannot help but wonder whether that support might not just flock off again at the drop of a British Nationalist smear story against some senior SNP politician. Or in view of some action on the part of the Scottish Government – real or invented by the British media. Or because they are not given the kind of certainty on matters economic which doesn’t exist.

I look at polls showing support for independence increasing as a reaction to current scandals and crises and I wonder what kind of basis this is for a decision on major constitutional reform.

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Enemy? What enemy?

Thought I’d visit the Voices for Scotland website to find out who this Alyn White character is and maybe find some clues as to where he gets his half-baked ideas from. I knew right away that I was on a Scottish Independence Convention site because the first thing I saw was a demand for money. This is before I’m even offered any information about what Voices for Scotland is or what their ideas are. Having read Alyn White’s column I’m now thinking that getting the demand for money in first was probably a good idea.

Turns out Alyn White is the Campaign Organiser for Voices for Scotland. Which may be a good career move for him. Voices for Scotland evidently consider him the man for the job. Ah hae ma doots! Looking at his ideas for the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence I kept thinking a was getting the opening spiel from one of those eager, hungry-looking young people who accost you in the street for some reason anxious to know whether you’re satisfied with your current electricity and gas supplier. I don’t even know who my electricity and gas supplier is. Which could be taken for apathy. But which could also be evidence of quiet satisfaction.

Having lived through the Winter of Discontent – which lasted for seven years between 1978 and 1979 – I am inured to power cuts – which are, in any case, rare enough and brief enough not to wear out their nostalgic value. Having had a mobile phone for about 25 years, I am well aware of the futility of tariff-chasing. The hunt for the perfect call, text and data plan can become as damaging a preoccupation as addiction to gambling, but without the rewards. At least with gambling, you get the thrill of the occasional win. With tariff-chasing, you get no more than the fleeting illusion of the ideal tariff before some spotty wee nyaff sneeringly and/or gleefully informs you that the perfect tariff is still eluding and you’re being ripped off.

My point is, young Alyn here doesn’t sound like he’s organising a political campaign at all. And certainly not a campaign such as the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. There is no sense that he appreciates the reality of Scotland’s predicament. There is nothing to indicate that he has the slightest appreciation of what we’re up against. My distinct impression is that he hasn’t got a clue.

“We’re the “Yes campaign” you’ve been looking for, just with a wee bit less “Yes”.”

I can see that as the strapline for a bank. It’s twee enough to be rendered in cross-stitch, framed and hung on the wall above the display cabinet with the glass animals and the seashell crinoline ladies and the unidentifiable holiday souvenirs from Tyrol. (There were a lot more expletives in that sentence when I first wrote it. Almost every second * word.) What I don’t see is an approach to the campaign that is in keeping with the nature of the endeavour. And certainly not appropriate to the kind of vicious, malicious, unprincipled, fanatical opposition we face.

The impression of a total lack of awareness is hardly lessened on reading the following willie-dribble.

“Yes/No labelling can be divisive and implies that someone who voted No in 2014 was wrong and that they are different to Yes voters.”

If I had hair I’d be tearing it out by now. There is no way to express, without resort to those expletives, how much I detest this sort of pretentious, vacuous, corporate guru-speak that has more to do with sounding wise-ish than with designing a campaign which addresses the realpolitik. It is wrong in every way. Yes/No labelling isn’t divisive. It’s merely labelling a division which is already there and which isn’t going to go away just because you stop calling it what it is. Those who voted No in 2014 were wrong. Many now know and happily admit just how wrong they were. And they were different. That’s why they voted differently. They were different in all or most of the ways that it was necessary to be different in order to come to a different conclusion.

This is not Disney! It’s Tarantino! This is not a corporate ‘bonding’ and team-building and box-ticking away-day at some country house hotel, FFS! It’s a campaign to save Scotland! Literally, to save this country! It is not some horribly stilted ice-breaking game or embarrassing and pointless role-playing exercise. It is an existential battle between diametrically and irreconcilably opposed positions. In the blue corner, the idea of Scotland as a nation with a distinct identity and a distinctive political culture and aspirations informed by democratic principles such as popular sovereignty and progressive ideals. Something like what Alyn White refers to; but considerably less saccharine.

In the red corner, the ancient structures of power, privilege and patronage which define a British state that has grasping ambition instead of laudable aspirations and no more scruples than social conscience. The British political elite is not merely being awkward about a new referendum. They are intent on eradicating the Scotland we know and eliminating any possibility of the Scotland to which we aspire.

Alyn Whyte is probably a decent enough chap. If you were running a charity dedicated to rescuing maltreated llamas, I’m sure he’d do fine. But that’s not the Yes campaign. And, by the way, it is and shall remain the YES campaign no matter what some marketing whiz-kid wants to do to prove his radical credentials. This is not a sales exercise at all. The usual parallels between political campaigns and product/service marketing have been left behind. The metaphors which may have been useful are now misleading. Very misleading.

Generally speaking, the people who pester you in the pedestrian precinct to give them just a minute of your time so that they can persuade you to give them as many minutes of your time as it takes to get you to sign something don’t face a barrage of lies and disinformation and smears and people with megaphones yelling at potential sign-ups that if the pen so much as touches the paper the sky will fall and Scotland will be reduced to a film set for post-apocalyptic action dramas made by Netflix.

In any circumstances, a political campaign must be designed mindful not only of the objective it seeks to achieve but also of the impediments that will be thrown in its path by those determined that the objective will never be reached. Quite simply, it is necessary to know the enemy. I get no sense that Alyn White is even aware there is an enemy.

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Not so easy

yesIt is easy to mark Siol nan Gaidheal as an out-group. It is easy to justify intolerance of their ideology. It is easy to rationalise excluding them from the Yes movement. In matters of politics, I have learned to be wary of easy choices. In matters of ethics and morality, I find even more cause to be mistrustful of anything presented as an easy answer.

I have not made a study of Siol nan Gaidheal. I know enough about their ideology to be certain that I have no interest in knowing more. As someone who self-identifies politically as a civic nationalist, I find ethno-nationalism totally alien and profoundly objectionable. Racism is, quite apart from any other consideration, intellectually offensive. The ‘blood and soil’ nationalism espoused by Siol nan Gaidheal is, from my personal perspective, an affront to science and logic. It is an ugly ideology. It is ugly because it is facile. It is ugly because it arrives at significant conclusions about the character of individuals and groups on the basis of ‘evidence’ which is wholly inadequate and/or totally misleading.

You cannot know a person by the colour of their skin, or by any other aspect of their physical being bestowed by nature. You cannot know a person by their ancestry or their geographic origins. You can only know anything meaningful about a person from the conscious, considered choices that they make.

To my mind, the stuff peddled by Siol nan Gaidheal is rather too ludicrous to be considered dangerous. It would be easy to dismiss. So I don’t dismiss it from anything other than my own mind. Because I’ve learned to be wary of things that seem easy.

It is easy to condemn Siol nan Gaidheal. So easy that we might do so without thinking. We might just go along with the condemnation and the intolerance and the exclusion without questioning the process and without considering the implications. It is seldom a good idea to do anything thoughtlessly. It is always a good idea to consider the implications of any action. It is only sensible to examine what is actually going on with an apparently easy process. It’s good to question everything. The more obvious and easy it seems – or is made to seem – the more is likely to be revealed by questioning.

Why exclude Siol nan Gaidheal from the Yes movement? It can hardly be because they support the cause of restoring Scotland’s status as an independent nation. That, after all, is the primary aim of the Yes movement. What is proposed is that Siol nan Gaidheal be excluded on account of their motives for supporting independence. Which necessarily implies that their motives have been scrutinised and judged to be unacceptable. By whom? Who, in the Yes movement has the authority to conduct such scrutiny? Who has the right to pass judgement?

Who decides which groups and individuals are to be subjected to such scrutiny? Who decides which individuals and groups are exempt from any examination of their motives?

What criteria are applied in assessing whether an individual or group is fit to be part of the Yes movement? Who selects these criteria? Who ensures that the criteria are fairly applied? Who oversees the process by which individuals and groups are approved or rejected?

How does one apply for accreditation as an approved part of the Yes movement? To whom must one apply? Who has to apply? If not everybody, who decides which individuals and groups need not apply?

What seemed like an easy choice to exclude Siol nan Gaidheal from the Yes movement turns out to be rather more fraught when one takes the trouble to ask the awkward questions. It turns out to be more problematic than we’ve been led to suppose because asking those awkward questions brings the realisation that excluding Siol nan Gaidheal has implications, not only for them, but for the Yes movement. The process of excluding any individual or group necessarily and unavoidably says something about the character and nature of the entity which is doing the excluding.

The Yes movement that I have known and cherished is open and inclusive. It is totally open and inclusive. It is open and inclusive, not because those who are part of the Yes movement choose that it should be so, but because it is incapable of being anything else. By it’s very nature, the Yes movement cannot be other than open and inclusive. It is devoid of the capacity to be exclusive. It lacks the structures, the hierarchies, the regulations and the apparatus required in order to formally include or exclude anyone.

It is this that has made the Yes movement special – perhaps unique. Excluding Siol nan Gaidheal destroys this essential quality. Instituting a process by which any group or individual may be excluded necessarily transforms the Yes movement into an organisation. I would strongly urge that those who suppose casting out Siol nan Gaidheal is an easy choice think long and hard about the unintended consequences.

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Scotland’s paper

the_nationalThere is an increasing sense that The National is, not just the only newspaper in Scotland to reflect that half of the population which aspires to independence, but also that it is the only part of the media which is actively engaging with Scotland’s politics.

I have long maintained that The National’s real value lay, not in its support for independence, but in the way it demonstrates that a different perspective is possible. There is an alternative to the cosy consensus of the British establishment media. The National has proved that. The National provides it.

The launch of YES DIY is a further step in this process. With its Roadshow events, The National has already established a reputation for reaching out to the public in a manner and to an extent which is, I think, unique in our time. The paper has also gone further than most to allow access to its pages. It devotes an exceptional amount of space to readers letters and comments reprinted from its website. There is already a ‘what’s On’ feature for Yes  events in the print version as well as a very useful online calendar that can be used to create personalised reminders of upcoming events.

This remarkable two-way engagement is now to be enhanced with a twice-weekly feature about Yes groups throughout Scotland. And that is a damned fine thing!

One of the things that inevitably comes up in every discussion of independence campaign strategy is the problem of media access. Well, here it is! Not everything we might wish for. But wishes rarely come true. Not in the way we hope. It’s a start. It’s a foot in the door. The National is a small wedge inserted in a tiny crack in the British establishment’s media armour. It is up to us to drive that wedge home. It is we who must open up that crack until the armour is broken.

I hear criticism of The Nation. Most of it ill-informed. Much of it petty and prejudiced. All of this criticism misses the point that, whatever the paper’s provenance, it is what we make it. Some say The National was only launched to cash in on the demand for a pro-independence newspaper. Well, duh! If the Yes movement has the power to bring about the launch of a new newspaper in a time when the traditional print media is in serious decline, then it has the power to shape that newspaper. Especially when Callum Baird and his team are so evidently amenable.

The National is by no means safe. We cannot afford to take it for granted. There are a lot of very influential people who would like to see it fail. If we make it viable, we make it more secure. If we make it profitable, we effectively own it. It seems obvious to me that the entire Yes movement must get behind The National. Why would we not? Why would we decline this opportunity? That would be madness.

But it’s not only the Yes movement that stands to gain from making The National a success. The National should be respected by all who value media diversity. It should be embraced for the contribution it makes to creating media which serve society and democracy rather than established power and corporate interests.

Buy it! Read it! Share it! Promote it! Make The National work for the Yes movement, for Scotland and for democracy.

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