So! I went to the Scottish Independence Convention’s ‘Build2: Bridges to Indy’ event at the Usher Hall on Saturday. It was a day out. I met a few friends. I drank some gloriously overpriced beer out of plastic tumblers which seemed suitably embarrassed to be the unworthy receptacles for such gloriously overpriced beer. I spent what seemed like a very long time sitting in a seat designed for some form of religious penance and I listened to people talking about stuff that sometimes seemed somewhat relevant to the independence referendum campaign that we’re supposed to be gearing up for.
Don’t get me wrong! Events such as this always have value. To the very limited extent that the mainstream media pay the slightest attention, they increase the visibility of the Yes movement. They help to normalise the idea of Scotland restoring its rightful constitutional status. There is value simply in having a couple of thousand activists gathered in the same venue feeding off each others’ enthusiasm. But I’m not sure how the independence campaign was progressed by this particular event. I’m not convinced it took us any further down the road to a new referendum. I can’t see how it went any way towards ‘Shaping skills for the road to self determination [sic]’, as was the purpose proclaimed with rather more jingoism than I’m comfortable with and a great deal less meaning than I would hope for.
What is this “road to self-determination”? Is the phrase any more meaningful when the required hyphen is inserted? If there is, or ever was, a road to self-determination then surely we’ve already travelled it. We’ve arrived. Self-determination is ours. Even the British establishment has acknowledged Scotland’s right of self-determination. That right was recognised by the Edinburgh Agreement. It is now enshrined as precedent. Our task now is, not to secure self-determination, but to defend it. More precisely, to affirm and defend our entitlement to exercise our democratic right of self-determination when we will.
We don’t need to be “shaping skills for the road”, whatever that may mean. We need to be developing and honing our defences as our right of self-determination is assailed by British Nationalists determined that Scotland should never again be permitted an exercise in democracy such as we enjoyed in 2014. For fifteen hours on Thursday 18 September 2014 the people of Scotland held in their hands total political power. We chose to hand that power back to a bunch of British politicians along with a licence to do with it, and us, whatever they pleased. But it could all have been so different. And that scares the skitters out of the British ruling elite. They know how close they came to losing Scotland. And they are absolutely determined never to take such a risk again.
If the blurb is anything to go by, this whole exercise was starting from a fallacious understanding of the situation. On the other hand, it might just have been somebody getting a bit carried away with the rhetoric. (And unable to find the hyphen key.) I went into the event prepared to give SIC the benefit of the doubt on this. Indeed, I approached the event with as open a mind as I possibly could, given my previously expressed reservation about the organisation.
Incidentally, I had intended to do a running commentary during the event on the SIC Facebook page; a thread having been started for this very purpose. But it seems that the ‘listening’ and inclusive SIC didn’t like what they were hearing, so they excluded me. Make of that what you will.
What follows may be seen by some as overly and unfairly critical of SIC and those parts of the Yes movement it may credibly claim to represent. So let me first make something very clear. I do not question the integrity or doubt the intentions of the individuals and groups involved with SIC. I greatly value the work done by Common Weal and others. But I am campaigning first and foremost for independence. And I feel compelled to wonder what SIC contributes to that campaign and what its rightful or appropriate role may be in the wider Yes movement.
The SIC is also to be congratulated on the organisation of the event – which was near perfect. That’s a big deal. And there was some great entertainment. Elaine C Smith was every inch the self-deprecating celebrity Scot. Alan Bissett was every inch the superlative performer. Alex Salmond was every inch… well… Alex Salmond. Although he may not yet have fully metamorphosed into the unleashed beast that many of us hope for and expect, there are definite indications that this is where he is headed. He’s still a formidable force in Scottish politics. He may well prove to be a key figure in the coming referendum campaign.
Then there was a terrific musical finale from Donald Shaw and Dean Owens.
In between, we had a mixed bag. There was Iain Black going over his research into voter attitudes. Research which I’m surely not alone in finding rather wishy-washy and unconvincing. And not very useful. If voters say they are weary of politics – which they would most likely say whenever you asked them and in whatever context – what are we to do? Stop campaigning? Give up and go home? Many in SIC seem to be of that opinion.Or something worryingly akin to it. But should this research not urge us to redouble our efforts to engage with people and encourage them to engage with their democracy?
Inspirational speaker Audrey Birt spoke inspirationally, which I’ve already commented on. I daresay Ms Birt is a very nice lady and good at her job. But I always get the impression that these ‘life-coaches’ start from their pet theory about human nature and shoe-horn everything into that box. At any rate, I’m always dubious about anything which reduces human behaviour to a single diagram. And my dubiety is only increased when a significant part of that diagram is ignored because it might be inconvenient to the argument.
Robin McAlpine said a lot of things very quickly. It seemed to be a prescriptive list of things the Yes campaign must and must not do all wrapped up in an insistence that the Yes campaign must not be prescriptive. But maybe I missed a bit.
Be that as it may, I’ve listened to Robin often enough and read enough of what he has written to be aware that he is one of Scotland’s great thinkers when it comes to public policy. He is the man we want in a position of great influence after we’ve brought Scotland’s government home. He is also the very last person I would want leading the campaign to bring Scotland’s government home. It is hardly surprising given his prominence in the organisation, but he seems to exemplify the prevailing ethos of SIC. Of which more in a moment.
As much as Robin may not be the one you’d want running an independence campaign, Jeane Freeman is precisely the person you’d want running your welfare service; now and after independence. She has one of the most difficult and thankless jobs in any government anywhere at the moment. And she is proving to be phenomenally capable. As you may have guessed, I am an admirer. But it’s no more than Jeane deserves.
There followed a section in which we were assured that, if the independence campaign was to succeed, we need to win over older people, younger people, women and the working classes. Apparently, nobody was available to speak up for the the sorely disregarded category of middle-aged, middle-income, middle-class men. Which was odd given that there were more than a few of them in the hall and even on the stage.
Part three was about ‘answers’. And there’s apparently no shortage of them. Which is also odd as we were always assured by the anti-independence campaign that we had none. I don’t mean to imply that the bastards were lying. But there seems to be no way of avoiding it.
This, it must be said, was the most useful part of the proceedings. Although little was said that is new to seasoned independence campaigners and avid followers of alternative media, it’s all good stuff anyway and bears repetition. It’s useful because it gives us the ammunition we need to attack the disinformation, distortions and downright lies promulgated by British Nationalists with the eager complicity of the British media.
The section was topped and tailed by Katherine Trebeck – in video recording format, and the redoubtable Lesley Riddoch – very much live and amazingly energetic given that we know she isn’t enjoying the best of health. Both these speakers concerned themselves with the viability of an independent Scotland. Which, it transpires, is not in doubt. Unless you’re a British Nationalist, of course.
Sandwiched between these two ladies (stop tittering at the back!) we had George Kerevan and Dr Craig Dalzell. George, who is a great asset to the cause, talked about currency. You, and he, must forgive me if I gloss over this bit. Really! I’ve done the so-called ‘currency issue’ to death. I just get annoyed about it now. Suffice it to say that the Scottish Government’s 2014 position on currency showed Alex Salmond at his most politically artful and adroit. It showed the Yes movement at its most artless and amateurish. Argue amongst yourselves.
For me, the star turn of this section was Craig Dalzell. Again, what he was saying was not new to most of us, I’m sure. But his analysis of public finances and the economy and, particularly, his masterful debunking of the GERS mythology, constitutes some of the most powerful material the Yes campaign has as it sets about the essential task of inducing No voters to question their perceptions of and attitudes to the Union. Take a tip from me and follow Craig’s Common Green blog, if you’re not doing so already.
Part four of the programme was concerned with the practicalities of managing the Yes movement and running the Yes campaign. I have to say that, aside from the stuff about the National Yes Registry and the Indy App, which may be the single most significant development since the Yes movement first emerged from the primeval soup of Scottish politics three billion years ago – or was it really only five or six years? – it all seemed a bit vague. There was lots of stuff about local organisation – which is happening anyway, and coordination of local groups – which I’m not sure is being handled well at all. But it’s too early to pass judgement. And I hope the effort goes well. We may get a better picture after a gathering of representatives of local groups in Dunblane in December. My personal experience of communicating with the organisers inspires no confidence whatever.
Before winding up, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contribution from Anna Arqué representing Catalunya’s independence movement. It’s safe to say that Rajoy and his administration had few friends in the room. The need to defend Catalunya’s right of self-determination precisely mirrors the need to defend Scotland’s right of self-determination, even if the parallels between the independence campaigns are less clear-cut due to the very different constitutional circumstances.
And so to my conclusions.
The problem with the SIC, as I perceive it, is that it is entirely focused on the nature of a future Scottish state whilst totally disregarding the nature of the present British state. It’s as if they imagine the British ruling elites are going to politely step aside as they march towards their shining city atop a distant hill.
This is not the British state that I know. The British state that I know is not courteous. It is certainly not benign.
The British state that I know is totally unprincipled and downright vicious in defence of that which it considers to be its property and its entitlement.
Scotland is the British state’s most prized possession. Arrogant and avaricious Britannia has catch’d Scotland in her jealous grasp and is not for letting go. Economically and ideologically, Scotland is essential to the British state’s conceit of itself. There is no way the British ruling elites are going to accommodate the soft approach commended by the SIC.
The SIC is asking us to take a clipboard into a gunfight. At no time since the Union was imposed on us has Scotland been in greater danger of being engulfed by a ‘Greater England’ project which has often been in abeyance but which has never entirely been abandoned. That ‘Greater England’ project morphed into the ‘British Empire’ project and thence to the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism of today. Essentially, it is the same endeavour, which has taken on a new urgency as Scotland rediscovers its confidence, develops its distinctive political culture and finds its democratic voice. It is a project which has been quick to adopt and deploy modern methods of distraction, disinformation and manipulation in furtherance of its aim of eradicating the very idea of Scotland as a nation.
The British state is not benign. It’s purposes are not beneficent. It’s intentions are not honourable. It’s methods are not principled. If you would not see Scotland absorbed into a state which is increasingly the antithesis of what we aspire to then you need to fight to defend it. And you have to be prepared to attack those who threaten it.
If it is to serve Scotland and the campaign to restore our independence, the SIC must realise that winning that fight requires more than a glittering vision of what Scotland might be presented to obdurate opponents in politely cajoling tones. We must also counter the grinding negativity of the British Nationalist narrative; dismantle the British state’s propaganda; and expose the reality of what the Union means for Scotland.
Power is not given; it is taken. If we want our independence we will have to take it. If we are to take it, we will have to be prepared to fight for it against a formidable and desperate opponent. I saw little on Saturday to suggest that the SIC is up for that fight.Views: 7627
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