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Fighting fit? – Towards Indyref2…

Fighting fit?

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.

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24 thoughts on “Fighting fit?

  1. Flower of Scotland

    Watched it on Indylive. Missed some as the feed was bad.

    Have to agree with you Peter. The benefit is getting everyone together.

    Craig has done a lot of work but annoyingly does not want to use any of the oil money even in transition to a fully fledged country relying only on renewables. He wants to leave all the oil in the ground right from the beginning of a newly Independent Scotland. I think that’s a stupid concept and not one for a policy.
    Scotland has to get some benefits from OUR oil!

  2. Dan Huil

    Agree about Iain Black’s survey. I don’t know how the responders were picked but they seemed to be an especially uniformed lot. I think I’m right in saying none of them could correctly say what powers are devolved to Holyrood and what are not.

    I think I’m also right in saying there will be a bigger survey in the future. Hopefully it will be more detailed and, as it seemed to be, less dependent on reactions to media headlines.

    If I am wrong in one or both opinions I apologize to all concerned.

    Otherwise I applaud the SIC for holding the conference and hope for more in the future. A bit more fire-in-the-belly would be welcomed the closer we get to brexit’s disasterous conclusion.

  3. m buyd

    Tharoor’s book on the British Empire in India is worth reading to see how the British will play out Scotland’s struggle for independence and the divisions, including sectarian, that they will stoke.

  4. Gerry parker

    Perfectly put Peter. A useful exercise in morale boosting, but to get anywhere near it we have to overcome the power of the State and it’s media.

  5. Robert Graham

    Well i have to disagree , it wasnt just a Jolly day out folk were being asked what their opinion was on how to interact and get useful knowledge to pass on ,and bring together like minded people

    The Indy-App that was being promoted as well as asking for support for the gang at Livestream in order to obtain better broadcasting equipment for our only means of getting to a wider audience .

    Above all it made sure folk knew we are not alone , they have friends out there ,ok it was a start who knows what benefits will flow from this . As Tony once said things can only get better .

  6. Bill McDermott

    Peter, while I agree with much of what you say, there is a germ within the establishment (Tony Blair, Peter Henessey etc.) that Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU changes the goalposts. There is now an expectation that Scotland has every right to chart a different course from our London masters.

    That together with the sheer incompetence of the Tories in power surely gives us the open door to exercise our right to walk through. The CIC event was a necessary start, but it is only a start. I would like to see so much more from Iain Blackford and co to do the sorts of disruptive things that Alex Salmond used to do at Westminster.

    PS you have 2018 rather than 2014 as the year of Indyref 1.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      I accept that SIC has a role to play in the independence campaign. I merely question what that role is. And I’m absolutely certain that it’s not the prime leadership role that the SIC leadership has assumed.

      People will have to come to their own conclusions about SIC. They will have to decide for themselves what part it is to play in the coming referendum campaign. But they should not lazily accept that it is the official voice of the Yes movement just because some important-sounding experts have said some important-sounding things.

      My feeling is that the Yes movement needs no leadership. It works well as a distributed, organic network. Improved communication and coordination using technology, such as IndyApp, will make that distributed network even more efficient as a campaigning machine.

      That campaigning machine must channel all its efforts and energies through the SNP as the political arm of the Yes movement. It is the SNP which gives the Yes movement the effective political power that is needed if we are to lever Scotland out of the British state against determined and unprincipled resistance from the British establishment.

      What, I ask myself, is the point of the Yes movement channelling its energies into the likes of the SIC when that organisation must ultimately defer to the SNP? The SIC has no mandate. It can’t actually do anything in terms of the practicalities of bringing about a new referendum and petitioning for independence following a Yes vote and then negotiating with the British government. All of that will be down to the SNP. That’s where our energies must go.

      I see the SIC and its component organisations, not as the ‘official’ Yes campaign body, but as a parallel process providing analysis and information for the actual Yes campaign. That campaign must be focused on the constitutional question. It must be kept as simple as possible. It must not become bogged down in a mire of policy options, every one of which will be subject to a barrage of ‘questions’. the purpose of which will be, not to seek clarification, but to generate confusion and doubt. The more policy options there are, the more ‘questions’ there will be. And the more doubt will be generated.

      There is only one question that matters. Should Scotland be an independent nation? Insulting as that question is, it is the only thing we are actually going to be asked. So it’s the only one we should be answering.

      Thanks for the heads-up on the careless error.

      1. stewartb

        Peter, as an attendee at the SIC conference, there is much in your article that I agree with. Candidly, I remain a bit ambivalent about the day’s value. However, I’d pick out two things from your comment on Bill McDermott’s post immediately above:

        1) “My feeling is that the Yes movement needs no leadership. ……. IndyApp, will make that distributed network even more efficient as a campaigning machine.”

        But then you add:

        2) “That campaigning machine must channel all its efforts and energies through the SNP as the political arm of the Yes movement. It is the SNP which gives the Yes movement the effective political power that is needed …..”

        My reading of this is that ‘leadership’ is indeed required and, by implication, that this leadership needs to come from the ‘political arm’ i.e. the SNP. After all, would the SNP be willing to be ‘led’ by any other organisation?

        You conclude by writing: “There is only one question that matters. Should Scotland be an independent nation? …… it is the only thing we are actually going to be asked. So it’s the only one we should be answering.”

        Is it your view that the SNP is currently leading, explicitly, on publicly and forcefully answering your final question?

        And given all the other things the SNP in government must do, can it/does it wish to lead on answering this question directly and robustly in advance of its own formal launch of a campaign for an indyref2 or Holyrood election?

        1. Peter A Bell Post author

          You make a very important point when you ask if the SNP would be willing to be led by some other organisation. But the question really should be whether the SNP can possibly allow itself to be led by another organisation. After all, the SNP has a mandate from the people of Scotland granted on the basis of a policy platform developed and approved by the party’s membership. How can the party possibly defer to the policy agenda of some organisation which has no such mandate or authority?

          It will be the SNP administration which enters into negotiations with the British government following a Yes vote. How can it do so from any position which it does not fully own and support? It would be neither reasonable nor democratically legitimate to expect Nicola Sturgeon to go into those negotiations with a set of terms and demands dictated by some external organisation that nobody every voted for.

          This is what I mean when I say that the SIC, or any other ‘external organisation’, must ultimately defer to the SNP. Independence can only be negotiated on the SNP’s terms for the simple reason that only the SNP can be doing the negotiating.

          Which is not to say that the party should exclude input from as wide a cross-section of Scottish society as possible. But the final word must rest with the democratically elected government.

          Is the SNP providing adequate leadership at the moment? Perhaps not. Certainly, there are many who would say that the party isn’t doing enough to take forward the cause of independence. That is true of certain party members as well as non-members.

          It’s a tricky one. The SNP has to fill two roles. It has to be both the party of government and the political arm of the independence movement. That’s a delicate balancing act. Much of it has to do with timing. And all of it is a matter of judgement for Nicola Sturgeon and her team. To a very great extent, we just have to trust her. We gave her the job. Now we must let her get on with it. And that includes allowing her the space to get some things wrong. She can’t get everything right all of the time.

          I’m somewhat taken by the notion of the tipping point. A point at which there is a sufficient accumulation of factors to both permit and precipitate a ‘sea change’. At present, the balance between party of government and party of independence is tilted in favour of the former. When circumstances are suitable, that balance will tip to the latter.

          Whether and when that tipping point comes is very much up to us. To achieve the momentous task that we have asked of Nicola Sturgeon, she needs the assurance of massive support. Listen carefully and you will realise that everything she has been saying about a new referendum and independence over the last few months has been a plea for that support. Our First Minister is asking us to give her the tools to do the job we appointed her to. It would be perverse of us to decline.

          1. stewartb

            Many thanks for the considered reply, Peter.

            To press you a little more: will your tipping point be reached without now the explicit application of political ‘leadership’ (by senior figures in the SNP)?

            Can the Yes movement, an organisation that you described earlier as needing no leadership, make a key difference in getting to this tipping point by (just) being an ‘organic network’?

            I do agree with your statement: “At present, the balance between party of government and party of independence is tilted in favour of the former.”

            However, the question I still have is about the feasibility of the Yes movement – without overt, complementary political leadership – influencing ‘circumstances’ enough to tip the balance to the ‘latter’ i.e. to catalysing a shift in the SNP’s leadership towards actively campaigning and leading as the ‘party of independence’.

            These are both strategically and tactically really important issues, in my view. It may be interesting to have this ‘leadership’ factor discussed at the meeting of local Yes groups convening in Dunblane (not a forum I’ll be involved with.)

  7. Brian Powell

    There is a massively powerful group in the SNP MPs and MSPs, and rallying speakers are needed to take the move forward to Ind.
    Mhairi Black gets right to the spot: articulate, informed and driving. I would want to see them all co-ordinate in the coming months.

  8. Bob

    I to was at The Convention & after coming away from it & having time to digest it all i came to the conclusion that not a lot was gained from it. Sure it was great to have a gathering of like minded ppl, but what actually was gained from it ?
    Those in the Hall are totally in agreement with the ppl of Catalonia in it’s right for self determination ?
    Those in the Hall are in agreement that we need our own currency & National Bank ? , although there was a few who expressed a wish to keep the £ or even have the Euro. Neither realistically a prospect imo.
    A great deal was made of accepting previous NO voters into the fold & in accepting that we failed to convince them on the merits of voting YES. That those same NO voters just need convinced that everything is not Milk & Honey (Whoever said it was) or a New Utopia (ppl listening to BT). Everyone w/i YES movement knows & knew Independence was never going to be the above ,but that independence gave us the distinct advantage of working towards the goals of a better society for all & not the few.
    The best, i think & most important thing to come out of this Convention was the Indy App. This gives each group the ability to connect with each other and to co-ordinate & organise at a national level rather than at local level ( As i finish writing i will be sending my £20 donation to help, hope you do to.)
    While i’m here, why, oh why do those in R.I.C. think it is ok to criticise others criticising them.
    So ppl had a go at the pricing( i was one), big deal !
    No use you making excuses because Usher Hall charges more than Radisson. Or that you gave out freebies ( i didn’t see that advertised).
    Accept the criticism, sort it out for next time & move on..don’t alienate ppl cos thats what you do by criticising them.
    Last time it was Richard Walker having a go at Yessers criticising Journalists (You know those nice ones, me neither) Just stop it,will you ? It does neither party any good.
    Research is great but People want FACTS. Statistics are great for number crunchers & can always be disputed..FACTS cannot be manipulated especially as all can be sourced from one place or another. So keep to facts whenever possible, if in doubt, seek clarity.
    By the way Peter, nice blog.

    1. Jason Baird (NYR)

      Hi Bob, many thanks for your kind words re the IndyApp (and your donation 🙂 My experience is that the grass-root movement is chock full of eloquent intelligent thinkers on exactly how to win our independence (and very few are ever heard on the national stage). NYR IndyApp is there as a platform to give them, their communities and their community campaigning ideas that national traction, whither they ever manage to get on a stage or not.

  9. Bill McDermott

    I agree with you Peter that the viable route to Independence is through the SNP. My emphasis above was on :

    1) The weakness of the Establishment, now admitting that Scotland proved itself a different polity through the European Referendum

    2) The absolute need for our MPs to be much less cooperative within the Westminster system. In other words they need to be awkward beggars from now on and the whole Brexit farrago gives them every opportunity.

  10. LC (Lorna Campbell)

    “…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…”

    Says it all. Why we will not win a second referendum either, not if we go on the way we are. The Union needs to be challenged at every step and few are doing that, yourself excepted. There were red warning lights after 18 September, 2014, which were ignored. They have continued to be ignored. Until we are out of the EU and inside the post-Brexit British state. I may well be wrong, and I really, really hope that I am, but the signs are that we will not have a second referendum, but, if by some miracle we do, we will not win it – not with the prevailing attitude. It is naive and childlike and totally ignores the reality of 2014. Forget the elections that came after; forget the elections that came before. Only the lessons of 2014 matter. Well, well, so be it.

    1. Jason Baird (NYR)

      Hi Lorna, what do you think the main lessons of 2014 were. I would be very interested in your analysis as I totally agree with your premise.


  11. Jason Baird (NYR)

    Really enjoyed the article Peter and many thanks for your kind words re ‘the primeval soup of Scottish politics’. However, it still feels like we are very much up to our necks in it rather than emerging… Can but hope though 🙂

  12. Clydebuilt

    Just heard on the BBC’s radio station in Scotland, the new Scotland strip is , Blue top, White shorts and . . . . . RED socks.

  13. ScotsCanuck

    I usually agree with your thoughts, but even when I don’t … I find your analysis compelling & thought provoking, making me question my position on the subject at hand.

    This case being a perfect example, your article on SIC for me typifies the perfect “Curates Egg” …. good in parts, not so good in others.

    You may be viewed by some as rather acerbic but for my own part, I relish your candour.

    Keep doing what you do.

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