Now is not the time for despair – we must mobilise the passion for indy
The National, by Lesley Riddoch
Let’s be blunt. It’s feeling gey bleak right now.
The damp, cloudy summer (this side of the sunny Hebrides) is one part of the reason – the long, energy-sapping hangover after the disappointing General Election result is another. So too postponing a decision about the next referendum to a time that better fits the Brexit timetable — but feels frustratingly distant to many independence supporters.
Of course, Brexit itself is now a constant source of anxiety and uncertainty. Remain-voting Scots must look on helplessly while reasonable-sounding Europeans vent intense frustration with their unprepared, chaotic British counterparts. The longer these talks go on, the more it must occur — even to former No voters — that we are about to be separated from the wrong set of people.
And yet we must soon disown all formal connection with European leaders, and remain wedded for life to the deceitful, greedy casino politicians who gambled Britain’s future on an internal party power struggle — and lost.
It’s a sair fecht.
So much so that any smugness in SNP ranks over Labour’s Brexit chaos and Corbyn’s astonishing anti-immigrant stance is overshadowed by the looming cloud of economic and social isolation threatening to engulf us all. The offhand attitude of the UK Government towards Scottish MSPs and ministers during Brexit talks suggests Scotland is no more rated in the corridors of British power than she was in the grim days before the Scottish Parliament was re-convened. Grim days in which — as we now know — de-industrialisation, deregulation, privatisation and harsh social policies produced measurable mental harm. According to a new report by Glasgow University and NHS Scotland, hundreds of drug-related deaths among working-class Scots can be blamed on the “rising income inequality” and “erosion of hope” engineered by Margaret Thatcher and tolerated by British Governments ever since. It’s more than depressing to know their tally of premature Thatcher-related deaths is a huge under-estimate and to realise that sheer hopelessness still cuts life short in Scotland today.
Meanwhile we should be reassured by the prospect of a “very big and exciting” trade deal with Donald Trump because Michael Gove – recently called “dangerous and deranged” by a senior colleague — assures us there will be no chlorinated chicken.
It’s not a pleasant feeling.
And there’s suddenly a lot of it about.
The heady days of the indyref campaign feel very distant now. That “can do” feeling permeating the grassroots Yes campaign has gone.
That’s fast becoming the received wisdom — but it’s just not true.
Outside the introspective Holyrood bubble, independence supporters are setting up cafes, information hubs and Yes centres; rekindling the spirit of independence in defiance of the current gloom — and maybe even because of it.
And just as the lacklustre official Yes campaign prompted local groups to stop waiting for the cavalry and start organising themselves in 2014 – so the June election loses may yet provide a similar stimulus to the cause of independence today.
A small but significant change of direction will take place in early August when Nicola Sturgeon meets leaders of the Scottish Independence Convention. The SIC is the umbrella group representing every independence-supporting group and includes parties like the SNP, Greens; political groups like Labour for Independence; grassroots local Yes groups through networks like AyeScotland and activist organisations like Women for Independence and Common Weal.
The meeting was promised by the SNP leader in her “reset” speech when she announced her intention to forge better lines of communication with the wider movement over the summer.
As vice convenor of the SIC, I can’t say exactly what will be discussed. But the challenge facing the independence movement is clear for all to see and easy for opponents to mock and distort.
So it’s high time supporters fought back.
UNTIL now – it strikes me — the case for independence has been devised, funded, organised and owned by the SNP. Up to a point that’s been fine. Without their election victories in 2007 and 2011 there would have been no indyref.
But the SNP is not just a mass membership party campaigning for independence. It’s also a government in Holyrood, the third largest opposition party at Westminster, and has the lions’ share of Scottish councillors and Euro MEPs.
Can one party do all these day jobs and keep the flag flying for the cause of independence – all the time?
The last General Election seemed to suggest – not easily.
Nicola Sturgeon decided the campaign should focus on the Tories’ record at Westminster. But feckless supporters of the Union raised the “damaging and divisive” prospects of indyref2 instead — at every opportunity.
Whether that was a tactical mistake by the SNP, one thing’s certain.
Scottish independence cannot thrive with stop-start support. Like any bairn it needs constant, loving attention – hard to deliver when both parents are permanently hard at work elsewhere.
That, freens, is where we come in. The independence movement is not a political party. It isn’t a government. It isn’t spending time trying to mitigate the constitutional wreckage that will accompany the Brexit repeal bill. It isn’t responsible for reducing the attainment gap or improving the nation’s health. The independence movement only has to do one thing – keep the flame burning for independence round the clock, month after month and year after year.
A straightforward task but not a simple one. Indeed, the movement must rapidly embrace Hugh MacDiarmid’s desire to live in that contradictory place “whaur extremes meet”.
It must face inwards to galvanise supporters but also reach outwards to those currently unconvinced about independence.
It must be clever enough to use the right language and activities to appeal to both groups without seeming sleekit to either.
The movement must be spontaneous enough to avoid the stifling managerialism of party politics but structured enough to remain democratic and afloat – it would be all too easy for the little SIC dinghy to be cowped by well-meaning, desperately needed but overwhelming numerous offers of help. We must be lively and daring but canny too.
The independence movement must act with urgency before stasis and disillusionment sets in, but think long-term.
It needs passion — and a business case too.
The movement must provide leadership, but never, ever stifle the growing confidence and autonomy of Yes groups, cafes, information hubs and centres across Scotland.
It must coordinate local energies but understand the goal of having a champion for independence on every street in Scotland will be achieved by capable local groups – not a single, central, top-down bureaucracy.
The movement must conduct research and be ready to rebut every empty argument of Unionism – every day. But this is Scotland – we also need music, poetry, talk, dance, fun and song in Gaelic, Scots, English and Urdu along the way. Well done to the lasses of Common Weal East Lothian for organising the first independence disco next month – and commiserations if you didn’t get a ticket before it sold out in minutes. Let’s have more daft fun like that.
Above all, let’s not be afraid to court controversy.
The movement can float new ideas about how an iScotland can run better internally and internationally – indeed it must discuss ideas beyond the mainstream without seeking permission from any political party. But finally they must appeal to the 20 per cent of voters open to independence but thus far unconvinced.
This task – full of contradiction and tension – is not a doddle. And although it depends on volunteers — it also needs funding. But it’s a task suited to an independent self-managing movement rather than a single political party and it’s a task the Scottish Independence Convention is ready to embrace.
The good news for Murdo Fraser is that the SNP will be able to concentrate more on the business of government – not less. The good news for independence supporters should be a new strategy of activities and events ready for launch the day after the meeting with Nicola Sturgeon.
I don’t know about my fellow SIC convenors, but when I survey the massive pool of energy, skill and commitment that sits in Yes groups across Scotland, one phrase springs to mind. Use it… or lose it.
That’s the daunting scale and the heady possibility facing the Scottish independence movement today. I hope we will soon get cracking.