We need a date for indyref2, wrote Kevin McKenna recently. We need an alternative currency plan, others have insisted. We must question the rightwing case for indy, says Robin McAlpine.
There’s no shortage of people ready to offer advice on how best to ensure Yes wins the next independence referendum. If only we listen to them, we’ll win the second time.
Some ‘advice’ is little more than journalists trying to fill column inches. They’ll say whatever might generate most controversy and help sell newspapers. The rest will generally come from those within the movement and who genuinely believe they offer the best way to success.
But what does this mean for the people who were the acknowledged life and soul of the last referendum? I’m talking of course about the local Yes groups. These aren’t to be confused with the official Yes Scotland campaign. Although heavily reliant on the other, each was a completely separate entity with a completely different approach to the campaign.
Where Yes Scotland was shaped by concerns over how it would be presented by a hostile media, local Yes groups had no such concerns and it was they who shaped how Yes was perceived on the ground by a curious and receptive public.
The local Yes groups were the campaign for many people who don’t live and breathe politics. It’s been said time and again, the colour, dynamic and energy they exuded was a huge advantage to the independence campaign. People approached stalls and chatted with activists they could relate to. The benefits to Yes of that face-to-face engagement should not be underestimated.
It should also be noted that these local organisations comprised people from all political parties and none. SNP activists almost certainly dominated most local Yes groups but such was the lack of party political activism that splits and rows were unheard of as they mingled with Greens, Scottish Socialists and those from nominally Unionist parties such as Labour.
The reason for this was that the Yes campaign wasn’t about pushing specific policies, but about pushing the message of choice. The campaign for Scottish independence was successful at grass-roots level because it sold the idea that Scotland would be shaped by those who live here. We, the people, could choose what the new Scotland would become.
A key message of the 2014 referendum campaign was ‘Scotland will always get the government the Scottish people vote for’. The subtext of that message was that independence will allow us to create a fairer society. The historically disenfranchised bought into that message. People who have never voted turned out to vote.
These people weren’t voting because they wanted to share the pound or they wanted to remain in NATO, they voted because they felt they actually could make a difference. Many will have bought into the idea of a new Scotland being shaped by the people who live in Scotland.
It’s vital that this continues into Indyref2. Any attempt at turning local groups into agenda driven entities will create schisms that may threaten the grass-roots movement. Yes groups need to remain above party politics. They should not be used as policy generating centres.
It’s why we have to be careful to maintain the cooperative dynamic of Indyref1. Part of that must be an acknowledgement that there will be disagreements between members of each local group over key issues.
The issue of currency is a good example. During the last independence referendum the Scottish government [the SNP] insisted that a currency union was their preferred option in the event of a Yes vote. The policy followed advice from internationally respected advisors.
As things stand, it is still the preferred policy of the SNP. Others parties, including the Scottish Greens, are open to an independent Scottish pound. But where does that leave local Yes groups?
Yes groups should not be pushing one or the other, because that isn’t their job. The job, as I see it, of local Yes groups will be to promote the menu of options an independent Scotland will be presented with. If a curious member of the public asks “What currency will we use?”, the answer should be “the currency we as a nation choose to use”.
It should be the same for every question on policy. Will taxes go up to pay for more public services? Only if we as a country vote for them to go up. Will the SNP be in power for ever? Only if we as a country vote for them to remain in power.
The beauty of grass-roots Yes is that it can be all things to all people. It isn’t about selling policy, it’s about selling choice. It won’t be pushing SNP policy, Green policy or Scottish Socialist policy – or even RISE policy if they are still an entity.
Pragmatism will though be necessary. The SNP will almost certainly be in power immediately after a successful Yes campaign. The party will lead negotiations with the rUK government.
Yes groups, although they may disagree with key policies from the nationalists, will have to be honest and acknowledge that any radical new Scotland will emerge only after these negotiations are concluded. The slate wiped clean then party rivalries in the new Scotland can commence.
The Yes groups proved they could work together towards a common cause in the years leading up to indyref1. They can do it again.
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