The SIC can be good for the Yes movement … but it needs to get professional and forget about policy

The SIC can be good for the Yes movement … but it needs to get professional and forget about policy
The National, by George Kerevan
28.08.17

 

CONSIDER: the SNP lost 480,000 votes between the two General Elections of 2015 and 2017. Of those voters two years ago, around 70 per cent simply stayed at home in June. Again, there were 1.6 million Yes voters at the 2014 referendum but just shy of one million folk put an X against the SNP this year. If instead the entire Yes movement had turned out at the Westminster election, the SNP would have scooped the whole pot of 59 Scottish seats.

 

Which raises an obvious if thorny point: the Yes movement is no longer coincidental with the SNP as a party, or as a political administration at Holyrood. Of course, there have always been pro-independence forces outside the Scottish National Party. But the hegemony of the SNP over all other pro-independence groups plus the outstanding success of the SNP at the polls since 2007 has – for all operational purposes – made the party and the movement one and the same thing.

 

Until now, that is. The 2017 General Election — where the SNP lost 21 seats as well as nearly half a million votes – must sound an alarm bell regarding the ability of the party to lead the Yes movement entirely on its own. True, the June result was positive by any normal historical criterion. The SNP had its second-best General Election result ever. It won an impressive 35 seats, which would have been a mandate for independence once upon a time. More impressive still, the SNP was the only party in the UK to win a majority of the seats it contested.

 

But winning elections is not the benchmark of the SNP’s success — carving the path to national self-determination is what ultimately counts. So if over 600,000 Yes voters in 2014 were unwilling to follow the SNP’s lead in June 2017, something is wrong. Even more significant, getting a majority of Scotland to say they will vote Yes to independence has yet to be achieved. And while the SNP garnered just short of 50 per cent of the popular vote at the 2015 General Election, its poll tally in June had shrunk to only 37 per cent.

 

Certainly, the two groups need each other. For in any foreseeable political circumstances the SNP will continue to dominate the independence movement in the electoral arena. But if we conclude that there are large numbers of actual or potential Yes supporters who won’t or don’t vote for the SNP, then we need a vehicle to mobilise this vital part of the movement. And that points to the creation of a new umbrella organisation with the material wherewithal to campaign and which has political autonomy from the SNP leadership.

 

WE are talking about a different creature from the official Yes Scotland campaign group that ran the 2014 referendum. Yes Scotland had a veneer of autonomy but was dependent on the SNP’s cash. In effect, the SNP tail wagged the Yes Scotland dog. Of course, the discrepancy in power and economic muscle always meant the SNP were in the driving seat. I’m not suggesting the SNP abused this position but Yes Scotland always felt like a little brother or sister. We need an umbrella organisation for the movement that is genuinely autonomous and genuinely independent.

 

We have this in embryo with the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) now convened by Elaine C Smith. Not all parts of the movement are in tune with SIC, but somebody had to take the initiative. Currently SIC has representatives from the SNP, Greens, SSP and numerous activist groups. I know some folk are frustrated because SIC exists more in form than content and its website is modest to say the least. But that can be cured if SIC gets to a position where it can set up an office with a campaign staff – an urgent necessity.

 

Others are bothered that SIC might start making political policy or end up as a vehicle for this or that interest group. That’s precisely what SIC should not do. Besides, if it did, I expect it would shatter pretty quickly. Instead, we need a body that organises popular events, mobilises on the street, and provides generic independence literature and campaign materials. It should be a clearing house and a point of contact. And it should train local activists to be able to win arguments in Scotland’s cafes, pubs, clubs and workplaces.

 

Others are bothered that SIC might start making political policy or end up as a vehicle for this or that interest group. That’s precisely what SIC should not do. Besides, if it did, I expect it would shatter pretty quickly. Instead, we need a body that organises popular events, mobilises on the street, and provides generic independence literature and campaign materials. It should be a clearing house and a point of contact. And it should train local activists to be able to win arguments in Scotland’s cafes, pubs, clubs and workplaces.

 

I detect a hunger for this kind of initiative. Last weekend, Common Weal East Lothian held an impromptu “indepenDANCE” in Haddington. It was meant as a toe in the water, to bring indy activists of all stripes together for a bit of fun and a natter. It proved a roaring success – and there was dancing! Events like this are happening in a molecular fashion across Scotland. The mass movement is rousing again. The need is to give it direction.

 

SIC is proposing to hold its next major gathering on November 4. Everyone with an interest in re-animating the independence movement should be there.