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Yes Scotland … No intellectual elitism – Towards Indyref2…

Yes Scotland … No intellectual elitism

yes_coloursTwo weeks ago I wrote an article giving my thoughts on any attempt to re-create Yes Scotland.  I argued that any such body would require to have input across the pro-independence political divide.

Below is a key paragraph:

“Any attempt to resurrect the Yes movement must include all of the major players from indyref1.  That includes the Scottish Greens, the socialists, the a-political and the SNP.

There must also be an open door for those within the Unionist party ranks who wish to participate.  Alan Grogan caused considerable panic within the No campaign during indyref1 when he launched Labour for Independence.

Ground rules should be agreed.  There must be no party-politicking of any description.  Everyone would have to agree to abide by a code of conduct.  A Yes movement that descended into the kind of SNP sniping we witnessed during the Scottish election would collapse before the year was out.”

The a-political for me includes groups such as Women for Independence, Business for Scotland and Common Weal.  Also fitting loosely into this category are the disparate Yes groups who were crucial in creating the public image of Yes Scotland.

But there is a group missing.  I deliberately didn’t include online sites.  Why not you might ask?  The answer is that not all of them are specifically set up as pro-Yes or pro-independence campaign sites.

Regardless of your views on Newsnet, Bella Caledonia or Common Space, none can be described as exclusively pro-independence campaign vehicles.  Each one, to a greater or lesser extent, will allot a significant proportion of its content to subjects that have little or nothing to do with Scottish independence.  This isn’t a criticism, it’s just stating a fact.

The closest to an outright pro-independence campaign site is probably Wings Over Scotland.  The site run by Stuart Campbell is almost exclusively designed to expose Unionist falsehoods, be they from the pro-Union media or the political parties supported by that media.  It is by far the most popular pro-independence site amongst grass roots activists.

Pull Together

So it was with surprise that I read the following paragraph from an article written by former Sunday Herald editor Richard Walker and published in The National.

“To pull together all those strands of the Yes campaign which still exist – Bella Caledonia, Common Weal/Space, Newsnet, Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, The Greens and, yes, even Rise and more – so that when the indyref2 campaign begins in earnest the movement doesn’t have to be rebuilt from scratch.”

Wings Over Scotland is missing from this list of ‘strands of the Yes campaign’.  The site that commands the greatest pro-indy following is not deemed worthy of mention.  The omission is all the more puzzling given that groups that didn’t even exist during the first independence referendum are included.

Why is this?  How is it that the most popular site fails to merit a single mention?  Is it, as I believe, evidence of the intellectual snobbery that has always existed within elements of the alternative media?

The omission of Wings from the list is not a new phenomenon.  It is not even restricted to Wings Over Scotland.  It’s routine when alternative media outlets are discussed by those with links to, or a profile within, the traditional media to find either Wings or Newsnet missing.

Of the three main sites during the referendum, only Bella Caledonia was consistently mentioned.  Indeed, despite lagging both Wings and Newsnet in terms of unique visitors throughout the referendum, it was almost always portrayed as the leading pro-independence site.  It still is, as can be seen from Richard Walker’s article.


There’s no doubt that since the referendum Bella Caledonia has taken the second place mantle from Newsnet.  Mike Small launched an appeal last summer which garnered over fifty thousand pounds – ten of it from me [quid, not thousand!].  The success of that appeal, due in part to goodwill across the yes divide, allowed Mike to pay himself a salary of thirty grand and with it focus full time on his site.  The rest of the cash has contributed to a wide and varied selection of articles and videos.

But despite its considerable advantage in terms of celebrity endorsements and main stream media connections, Bella Caledonia has been unable to dent the dominance of Wings Over Scotland.  A second Bella appeal is currently underway and has attracted an impressive £13,000 from 250 people in a little over nine days.  With nineteen days left to run though, the appeal may fall short of its fifty thousand pound target.

Bella Caledonia’s latest appeal found its way onto the pages of The National this week courtesy of an article from Pat Kane.  The article praised all of the alternative media outlets but the online version contained donate links to just two – Bella Caledonia and Common Space.

national donate linksTo be fair to Pat, he also published the article on his own website and included donate links for multiple pro-indy sites.  But the timing of the piece was obviously designed to coincide with, and help, the live Bella appeal.

Wings Over Scotland appeals receive no such promotion from the ‘great and the good’.  And to be fair, Stuart Campbell’s site doesn’t need any.  A Wings Over Scotland appeal in April this year generated almost £85,000 from 2642 people.

Wings Over Scotland is the site most favoured by the ordinary punter.  They show their support by donating their cash to the site and promoting it.  Why they do this is clear.  They want to see the pro-Union media challenged and exposed.

Bella Caledonia is the site most favoured by the self-styled intellectual elite.  They show their support by promoting the site’s intellectual and cultural strengths as they see it, as this clip from a Bella promo-video from the indyref shows.

Some also portray Bella Caledonia as intellectually superior to at least one of its rivals.  Here’s Stuart Cosgrove in another Bella promo video.

Bella sits in the “ideas engine room of the Scottish alternative media” says Pat Kane, meanwhile Stuart Cosgrove says it’s “much more cerebral” than Wings Over Scotland.  Before the usual suspects start claiming I’ve attacked either Pat Kane or Stuart Cosgrove, I’d point out that I am merely using these clips to illustrate how Bella is perceived by those who promote and contribute to it.

Disparate sites

And this brings me back to Richard Walker’s article.  How exactly are disparate pro-Yes sites to be ‘pulled together’?, especially given that one of them has recently fired off insults in the general direction of its online indy ‘colleagues’.  Below is an example of how Bella views its alternative media contemporaries.

Mike Small, May 16th:

“I suppose where we differ is that some other sites focus exclusively on one party as the road map to independence and we think the issues are more complex than that.

I’d ask you to read the list of writers in the blog above and ask yourself where else has such diversity?

From our very beginnings a decade ago till the end we have independence at our very core. We think its fair enough to hold a forum for this debate. Ultimately if people just want to support the blogs and writers who support the SNP exclusively then I guess we will close down. We should know within a few weeks.”

Mike Small, May 17th:

“If you want an ‘alternative media’ that comprises largely of exclusively pro-SNP voices, who often don’t consider any critical thinking or dissent then that’s OK.”

To suggest only Bella Caledonia is capable of ‘critical thinking’ is insulting as is the suggestion that other sites aren’t diverse and are incapable of understanding that the independence road might be complex.

Kevin Williamson, May 8th:

“Difference of approaches have opened up between the likes of Common Space/Bella (who want to explore ideas and take bolder more radical approaches) and the fundamentalist axis of Wings/Newsnet who act mainly as SNP cheerleaders while critiquing the media/Unionists in showboating circular arguments.

The blogs close to the SNP are so devoid of new political thinking they’ll end up circling the wagons around an ever-decreasing readership. Such is the nature of movements when they ebb. Common Space and Bella have a future because they go beyond indyref politics.

Its what makes these websites necessary. Scotland needs radical ideas, fresh thinking and the questioning of power much more than it needs pro-Indy government cheerleaders.”

Newsnet might be many things, but part of a ‘fundamentalist axis’ of ‘SNP cheerleaders’ as claimed by Kevin Williamson, it isn’t.  Prior to and during the Holyrood election campaign Newsnet gave space to Green candidate Zara Kitson, Common Space editor Angela Haggerty and Bella Caledonia board member Peter Arnott.  As far as I am aware all three were free to say or write what they wanted to, and that included criticising the SNP.  Ask James Kelly if the same editorial freedom was afforded him by Bella Caledonia’s editor.

And as far as “critiquing the media/Unionists in showboating circular arguments”, I would hope those of us who ‘showboat’ in this fashion continue to do so.  Exposing pro-Union journalistic corruption is as important as publishing radical ideas and opinion pieces, perhaps more so.

The attacks on Newsnet and Wings mirror similar thinly veiled criticisms of Derek Bateman and Paul ‘Wee Ginger Dug’ Kavanagh during the recent Holyrood election campaign by Mike Small.  Bateman responded in his own inimitable fashion.


The opportunity to create a single cooperative pro-independence online media, as I argued back in 2015, has now gone.  Cooperation simply won’t happen.  There is though cooperation between Bella Caledonia and Common Space.  Again, for those who may portray that sentence as a criticism, it is merely a statement of fact.

What we have now is two distinct groups.  The first sees itself as uniquely free-thinking and/or culturally and journalistically superior.  This first group has effectively set itself above the other group which it views as unsophisticated and simplistic.

The other group, rather surprisingly, doesn’t seem to care or notice.  Newsnet has shown a remarkable and commendable indifference to the insults thrown in its general direction.  Wings Over Scotland has responded to an online volley from Kevin Williamson with a single article.

There’s no way these alternative media outlets are going to ‘pull together’, thus there’s no way they can become part of any Yes campaign.  So what role will these online sites play in the game of indyref2?  Well that’s an interesting question and one that will depend on what path they all take.


During the last referendum, Newsnet Scotland worked very closely with Yes groups across the country.  Its ability to publish daily news stories that challenged the agenda of the main stream media was seen as a powerful weapon by many.  Newsnet also led the way in exposing the corruption at the heart of the BBC.

A Yes activist based in Dundee offered to print high-quality glossy leaflets at cost.  Newsnet printed around a million.  Individual Yes groups distributed these leaflets the length and breadth of the country on behalf of Newsnet.  It led to the site’s unique visitor numbers growing to almost 450,000 by the time September 2014 arrived.

Wings Over Scotland had a similar relationship with Yes groups.  Stuart Campbell’s Wee Blue Book was distributed by local Yes activists.  I recall my mother’s next door neighbour imploring me to hand over the copy I had obtained from the Yes Inverclyde store.  I never saw it again!  Wings Over Scotland’s unique visitor numbers were at least double that of Newsnet by the time September 2014 arrived.

The next Yes campaign will almost certainly see similar direct cooperation between Yes groups and online sites if those Yes groups deem it to be helpful to the Yes quest.  The intellectual pedigree of the site will make no difference.  Indeed the more easily understood the content and more readily digested by the public, then the more likely the desire to circulate it.

Bella and ‘the intellectuals’ [sounds like a band] will have their own role.  People like Pat Kane and Stuart Cosgrove are a considerable asset to Yes due in no small part to their media profile. But I think it would help if they stopped trying to portray one online site as the independence movement’s cultural and intellectual Mecca.

Despite my own criticisms of Bella Caledonia and its support for, and promotion of, RISE [something Mike Small denies], it remains an important cog in the Yes movement engine.  But it’s just a cog, like Wings and Newsnet.  Bella isn’t the cultural sun around which everything else orbits, it doesn’t have a monopoly on intellectual/critical thought and it isn’t the ideas engine room of the Scottish alternative media.

Yes has many colours online.  Let’s drop the intellectual and cultural superiority nonsense.

For those who value ‘critiquing the media/Unionists in showboating circular arguments’ you can donate to such a project by clicking here.

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19 thoughts on “Yes Scotland … No intellectual elitism

  1. david Holden

    Well put and not sure I would be as charitable but then again I am not an intelctuasll like some of the above. The results of the fundraisers will be interesting once they are done and dusted.I am sure all the clever buggers will dig deep and they will be a huge success but the Wee Blue Book does it for me and handed out a heap during Indy Ref with one neighbour claiming it changed his mind. If we had all managed that we would have Indy now. Have Wee Black books on order which is a far better use of my limited funds than supporting the RISE publicity wing. £30,000 for Small Mike to sneer at yes voters seems bloody expensive as I would do it for £15,000 and save the movement some cash. I will be donating to this site as you are doing a good job and it will piss off Mike which is never a bad thing in my book.

  2. Conan the Librarian™

    Always a pleasure Mr Ponsonby. I remember my surprise when you linked to my definitely non-intuleckshul wee blog.

    Oh well, back to slumming it on Wings and the Guardian.

    1. GA Ponsonby

      Hi Conan

      You can lay claim to being the first to introduce satire into the constitutional debate. I recall your mock-up Hootsmon front pages. Those were the days. If I recall correctly I suggested you turn your attention to the BBC – Namely ‘Blether with Brian’, and do a spoof blog on Newsnet.

      You’d have been famous by now …

  3. Jim Graham

    I agree with this fully! People want common-sense arguments and favour those that provide that.
    We don’t want to promote the (untried and extreme) far-left above all others! and we won’t support those that feel an entitlement to be top dog and who appear to be willing to harm independence to get there.
    I get all that I need from Wings, Newsnet, Ponsonby, Bateman and WGD. I know where to go for cultural and intellectual pursuits. Such are everywhere.
    If we are to have co-operation between ‘Yes’ people at IndyRef2 then some need to adjust their attitudes. But that does not apply to the five that I mention above!
    I hope lessons have been learned and that people have the grace to rebuild bridges!

  4. Angry Weegie

    As a pro-indy activist for more than two and a half years in the lead-up to the referendum (and still pro-indy) and an SNP member, I campaigned with many other pro-indy groups and supported several pro-indy sites, including Wings, Newsnet, Derek Bateman, WGD, Bella and Common Space, both financially and as a user. It perhaps speaks volumes about my lack of cerebral activity that I found the first four more interesting and informative, but I was happy to support any and all pro-indy activity in so far as finances allowed.

    After the referendum, I was very disappointed, not just that Bella and Common Space became cheerleaders for Rise, as they have every right to do, but that they seemed to be anti everyone else, including the SNP and the four sites mentioned above.

    I’m not sure why they thought that it was a good idea to describe the whole mass of SNP supporters, many of whom, like myself, would also have been contributers to Bella and Common Space, in less than complimentary terms, but presumably they felt that the purity of the Rise message was more important than the mass appeal of the SNP and the other sites.

    The most frustrating aspect of their stance is, at the same time as they’re slagging off nearly everyone else, they’re also blaming SNP supporters for the rift.

    I no longer have much interest in opinions expressed on Bella and Common Space. I no longer support them financially and, in fact, I would ask for my money back if I thought I had any chance of getting it.

    It would be very difficult to form an united indyref 2 campaign with Bella and Common Space, but I suspect any difficulty I had would be nothing compared with problems they would have campaigning with the likes of me.

  5. James Coleman

    “Exposing pro-Union journalistic corruption is as important as publishing radical ideas and opinion pieces, perhaps more so”

    In Scotland during an Independence referendum it is THE most important activity. I used to read and contributed to Bella when it was a proper YES supporting outfit. But seldom read now and won’t contribute because of the hypocrisy vav RISE. I have never read Commonspace and won’t start now because it is run and staffed by the ‘wet’ Nats who don’t know their arse from their elbow when it comes to winning an Indy Ref. Pat Kane was a power in the YES land at the beginning of the Indy campaign but faded and has never recovered from the fact that he and the rest of them think if they write enough pseudo intellectual crap WM will see the light and hand over Independence without a fight. They live in cloud cuckoo land.

    And you missed out a very important contributor to Independence, namely Peter Bell. You should have included in your piece that it is high time the Scottish Government recognised the importance to the Independence cause of the contributions from Wings et al.

    1. Kate

      Couldn’t agree with you more James Coleman, especially about Peter Bell, & the Scottish government recognising the importance Wings has played in bringing people to the Independence cause. The Wee Blue Book, changed many a NO voters mind..

      But that aside, a thoroughly good take on ALL of the blogs by Ponsonby. Worthy of a donation always is Indyref2…

  6. Paula Rose

    I just love the idea that those of us who comment regularly on Wings are not intellectual – has the definition of the word changed recently?

  7. Archie Hamilton

    Like most people who visit any of the various sites mentioned I’m a confirmed independence supporter and it seems to me that quite a few people are forgetting that a broad spectrum of political thinking is a good thing for our future nation.

    I don’t expect us all to agree 100% on the way forward but I do recognise the benefit of there being a option for all opinions to be expressed. Maybe at times there is an element of “superior” thinking from Bella Caledonia and Common Space but if it makes people examine their views are we necessarily any the worse for that?

    We need to promulgate as many pro indy sites as possible (including, if possible, some that bring across people with right of centre views) and we shouldn’t be allowing “personality politics” to get in the way of that requirement.

    We’ve got more than enough of the unionist media spouting out nonsense and it should be addressed by as many sites as possible. So I’d say to all concerned – pull in your horns and focus your thoughts on the real debate.

  8. Thomas Potter

    The Establishment strategy is quite clear,divide and disrupt the YES structure by any and all means available.That’s where the Rise/Bella/2nd vote agenda came from,co-ordinated through Corpmedia synchronised to attack the gullible through the airwaves as per usual.
    YES seriously need their own TV and radio stations like every other country on the planet.
    That’s essential to the next referendum.
    Also Electoral fraud now seems to be the norm for Westminster manipulated election results,not so surprising is it?
    Totally agree with this blog and I think you’re bang on about Richard Walker(under instruction?)writing Wings out of their narrative,that’s very obviously the plan as they are totally aware of how much that site has done and continues to influence all things Indy.
    Please keep doing your thing as this site along with WGD,Derek Bateman,Munguins,LPW and others are keeping the fire burning and thanks very much for that.
    Best regards

  9. Taranaich

    There’s always a danger in the pursuit of intellectualism that you run the risk of falling prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect (i.e. you think you’re cleverer than you actually are). To seek to enrich your mind and engage in new ideas is a worthy and glorious pursuit which I heartily endorse. I am the sort of nutter that enjoys impenetrable foreign films and reads obscure weird fiction, after all!

    However, I think it is a mistake to suggest that those who do not think or act the way you do are necessarily “less” or even “anti-” intellectual, much less accuse them of a lack of critical thinking or open minds. The road to enlightenment is a personal journey unique to every individual, with no shortcuts or readily identifiable paths.

    I’m of the opinion that “cerebral,” “intellectual,” and other such terms are ultimately unsatisfactory: we humans use our brains for thinking, so any action involving our brains must be “cerebral” or “intellectual” to some degree. Who decides what is or isn’t “intellectual”? It’s like calling a book “literary,” or a film “cinematic” – a tautology, a description bound by consensus and opinion than any factual or measurable means.

    I think the great power of the Scottish Independence movement is that it embraced the idea that political debate is for everyone: age, gender, ethnicity, religion, occupation, it didn’t matter. The market of ideas was open to all. So it must remain.

  10. david Holden

    The Bella fundraiser is interesting in its approach. Call potential donors thick then ask them for a donation does not seem to be winner in my book but then again I may be too thick to see the master plan. As both CS and Bella are trying to raise funds at the same time social media is fun with a small circle of largely site contributors or even direct employees telling each other how great they are then re tweeting it to death. I would suggest if a tweet praising you crops up don’t retweet it yourself as it makes you look foolish and a bit big headed . All the blogs and pro indy sites will find their own level as the punters will vote with their feet and credit cards so time will tell. The Wings fundraiser didn’t require a push as it is very popular site and whatever your thoughts on Rev Stu no one can deny he is very effective in what he does. Success breeds success.

    1. Archie Hamilton

      Success? Is that measured in egoistic terms or as a measure of progress towards independence?

      1. david Holden

        I was talking about the success of his site but now that you mention it I think he is helping towards independence which makes the attitude of some alledged Indy supporters all the more strange. Do you think it could be an ego thing ?

  11. Donald Smith

    Can you all just look at yourselves for a minute, please !

    I don’t care whether you believe that one party is more or less ‘intellectual’ than another. I don’t care if one is perceived more ‘popular’ than another. I don’t even care if one is ripping the p….. of the other.

    We have 10% of the Scottish voting population to convince/persuade/encourage that we are capable of being an ‘independent nation’.

    Nothing else matters.

    Lest you forget…. http://youtu.be/dbW_AT64m8E

    Thank You


    1. Brian Fleming

      A fair point, Donald, but I think that 10% is actually something of a red herring. What is really needed is a way to ensure the indyref cannot be rigged, via postal votes of any other way. I believe the percentages are there already., but as Stalin is said to have averred: “It counts not who votes, but who counts the votes.”

  12. ronnie anderson

    I have no time for the pseudo inteligencia making absurd claims that their way is best. I’ve campained to long & to hard solely in the cause of Independence ( im of no political party) & supported every grouping in the Indy movement, dispencing WBBooks up & donwn Scotland to all groups that wanted them (yes I am a Winger.). Your saying that the Indy movement cant get back together Scottish Independence Movement is doing just that ( without the Egos) Independence First Foremost Always.

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