Without question, Cat Boyd gave one of the best speeches at the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) event last Saturday. But, invigorating as much of what she said was at a superficial level, I was very conscious as I listened to her that she is, indeed, one of the “same old faces”. And what I was hearing was more of those “grand statements”.
It’s difficult not to be roused by rhetoric urging us to “reclaim the banner of protest”. It is all to easy to accept an analysis that says the Yes movement lost because it was not radical enough. That we failed because we didn’t offer a sufficiently inspiring vision of what independence could mean. It is easy to blame the Scottish Government’s White Paper. It’s easy to claim that the SNP let the Yes campaign down by not being bold enough.
The fact that it is easy to do these things should make us hesitate. Maybe it’s too easy. Maybe we’re missing something. Maybe Cat Boyd is right when she says “next time we’ve got to be nimble and new”. It certainly sounds right. It may even make it into the category of “grand statements”. But maybe it’s not the whole story. Perhaps we need something else. Or something more.
Cat Boyd’s condemnation of the 2014 White Paper is sadly reminiscent of so much that we heard from the ‘righteous radical’ wing of the Yes movement during the first independence referendum campaign. A sweeping statement about “tax cuts” that echoes themes that were prominent in the British media. A shallow critique that recalls the narrative promoted by the British state’s propaganda machine. A symptom of the failure to properly recognise the purpose of the White Paper.
It was no part of the purpose of the White Paper to set out a rigid prospectus for an independent Scotland. It was not a manifesto. It was not a prescriptive policy agenda. It was a broad vision formulated on the basis of principled pragmatism. It was intended to balance the aspirational with the uncontroversial in order that it might be a document which the entire Yes movement could unite around.
The left woefully failed to recognise this. Relentlessly concentrating on the potential of being independent, they tended to neglect the practicalities of becoming independent. They railed against the blandness of the White Paper’s content while stubbornly unaware that the boldness lay in the idea of independence itself, and not in the plethora of stuff that was appended to this idea by diverse parties, organisations, groups and individuals. They failed to realise that, in a very real sense, it didn’t matter what the White Paper said. So long as it wasn’t littered with glaring factual errors or ludicrously fanciful notions, it would do. It would suffice. It would be enough. So long as the whole Yes movement accepted it for what it was, it was all we needed.
There was no point in any part of the Yes movement tearing into the White Paper, because it didn’t commit them to anything. It didn’t commit Scotland to anything. It didn’t even commit the Scottish Government or the SNP to anything. OTHER THAN INDEPENDENCE! Joining in the predictably hysterical reaction of the British establishment was utterly pointless and tragically counter-productive. By undermining the White Paper, large parts of the Yes movement inevitably undermined the idea of independence which was at the core of the document.
What really irks the political realists among us is that the left could so easily have supported, or just ‘gone along with’, the White Paper without in any way compromising their blessed principles. It would have cost them nothing. And it may well have won us our independence.
Cat Boyd says we need to be “nimble and new”. By which I understand her to be saying we should just do more of what the Yes movement did last time. When we lost. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from the fact that we lost while being “nimble and new” – which the original Yes movement surely was. Perhaps we should be looking to what else might work. Perhaps we should be looking at what worked for the No campaign. Because they won.
Maybe it’s not nimbleness and newness that we need so much as focus and discipline.
Maybe, before we can have our new politics, we have to beat the old politics at its own game.
We can be sure that #indyref2 will be a gun fight. Let’s not go into it armed with lots of pretty plastic scissors. Let’s turn the Yes movement into one massive gun. The biggest, scariest cannon we can make it.Views: 3000
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