I greatly enjoy Lallands Peat Worrier’s heady brew of high sophistication and low-brow pop culture, but I also appreciate his analytical brain keeping a clearly passionate heart beating at a healthy pace. It’s rare that I find myself disagreeing with him, but even when I do, I can certainly appreciate his viewpoint.
This recent post is one of those with which I simultaneously agree with, and disagree with, in fairly strong terms – mostly because I feel he and I struggle with the same difficulties. While Scot Goes Pop and Wee Ginger Dug cover much of the ground I was planning on trekking, I figure I might as well share my own cogitations.
If you are serious about securing Scottish independence, beware of passion. Beware of the unselfcritical and the impatient. Beware projection. Beware the thought that other people think as you think. Be suspicious of your motives. Test your claims. Follow the evidence.
The socialist rebel part of me instantly bristled: who, good sir, are you to tell me whether I’m serious about Scottish independence or not based upon how I seek to secure it? Sirrah, I doth feel compelled to slap thee mightily with a moleskin glove and challenge thee to a duel! (This is me mangling Ye Olde English)
Not that the actual sentiment is wrong at all. All through the referendum campaign, we were to make sure we knew all the facts, never to state anything we did not know to be true or insupportable. We didn’t partake in the wild reveries and celebrations that were taking place in Dundee and Glasgow. The only time we did, aside from a few “shore leave” parties at the 1 Ashton or Flava, was for Yes in the Park, where a thousand Yes supporters gathered together to light up Battery Park. A clear mind and hard graft would win Inverclyde, not parties and events.
Yet Glasgow and Dundee voted yes. Inverclyde was a statistical dead heat, and if even a fraction of the rejected registrations we delivered were accepted, it’s entirely possible Inverclyde would have joined them. If we didn’t have Yes in the Park, or the infectious enthusiasm of groups like Inverclyde for Independence, would we have come close? Time and time again, I come across people who said they would have voted Yes, but they just didn’t see the reason to – they didn’t see the passion and drive to make such a big, risky decision worthwhile. Why, they said, would they vote for something with such risks, if the people supporting it were so discrete and modest? They wanted the Bravehearts, the passion, the excitement.
Do I think we had it wrong, that we should’ve done what Glasgow and Dundee did? Absolutely not. We took a constituency which headquarters thought was one of the least likely places to vote Yes, into the fifth highest Yes voting constituency in all of Scotland. That didn’t happen all by itself, and I’m certain a large part of it was due to simple door stepping and engagement. Yet at the same time, I have to wonder how much Yes in the Park contributed, too: so many people I talked to felt this is what Yes Inverclyde was missing beforehand? My Mam – beloved adopted daughter of Essex, with an English goddaughter, English aunts and great-aunts and cousins – is one of the Bravest Hearts you’d ever encounter, and it was that sort of enthusiasm which made her far and away one of the greatest ambassadors for independence I’ve ever known.
Beware those who see the defeat of the Yes campaign as entirely the fault of other people. Beware those who point an accusing finger only at Project Fear and a biased media, and who have nothing to say about where Yes Scotland and the White Paper went wrong. Beware those who can’t begin to understand why people voted No. Beware those who see the Scots as credulous, taken in, but now smarting from buyer’s remorse. Beware those who believe it was only the Vow what won it.
Fair and important points – but I’d say one should also be cautious in the opposite direction. After all, the SNP faced Project Fear, a biased media, and I’m sure plenty would cite the places they went wrong – yet they triumphed spectacularly where Yes came up short. Why? Because of the binary nature of the referendum compared to the multiple parties of an election? Because some media outlets chose to support the SNP, when not a single daily newspaper came out for Yes? Because the referendum itself changed things?
At the same time, one has to consider that Yes was gaining momentum despite the biased media and Project Fear and all the powers of the establishment, international pressures, and business browbeating. Absolutely, we need to look at where Yes Scotland and the White Paper went wrong – but we must also consider what we did right, to turn a 25-30% prediction to 45% on polling day. We have to be careful in presuming that we don’t ascribe failure to success, and success to failure.
It is not incorrect, for example, to say that the forces set against Scottish independence are larger than those fighting for it: they have greater resources, greater freedoms, and a greater struggle to present the mythical Positive Case for the Union. We even saw interventions from the leaders of other nations. Sometimes I think we forget just how powerful the forces against us actually are.
Beware of those who behave like a drowning man, scrabbling for something — anything — to justify a second referendum. Beware of those who think they speak for a pro-indy majority which marches only in their imaginations. Beware of those who still refuse to recognise that only a single poll in the entire campaign ever put Yes – very marginally – ahead. Beware those who will not see that no poll has shown a sustained or substantial majority for independence since.
It is indeed true that few (not quite only one, as Scot Goes Pop points out) polls from recent years have shown a majority in favour of independence. It is also, however, true that several polls which put forward the idea of independence – that the Scottish parliament should have control over all Scottish affairs – show that the public does have majority support for it, even if they don’t consider it “independence” by name. Even though the establishment tried to taint the cause with the use of the negative “separation” compared to “independence,” the evidence I can see from polls is that Scots would be perfectly fine with independence… as long as you don’t call it independence.
This does not, of course, translate to a “pro-indy majority” – but it does show that a No vote being reduced to effectively “we’re fine with the status quo” is a grave misrepresentation of No voters’ wishes and beliefs. And as it becomes clearer and clearer that this magical mystical Devo-Super-Max is not happening, how many people are going to realise that while they wanted the referendum to be between independence and devo-max, the reality was between independence and a worsening of the status quo?
Beware the activists who told you the Yes vote in their constituencies was all sewn up, and who stood, crestfallen, when dawn rose on the 19th of September, with their local campaign trailing miles behind. Beware those living in areas which voted Yes, who seem indifferent to the fact that the majority of the country did not. Beware those whose enthusiasm for a second indyref seems unconnected to any evidence that the campaign is actually winnable.
I’m sorry, “crestfallen” on the 19th of September? “Crestfallen“?!? I was devastated. You really think those in Dundee and Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire are “indifferent” to the fact they were not independent? Seriously, Peat Worrier, who are these people you’re talking about?
This one particularly stings, for I was one of those activists. I never for a minute considered Inverclyde “sewn up”: that suggests a natural majority, for which it’s barely worth bothering canvassing, leafleting or engaging. I believed that Inverclyde would be Yes because we were putting in the work. Every day we were out knocking doors, delivering papers and leaflets, holding stalls, handing out leaflets on street corners, manning the Yes Inverclyde shop. The No Inverclyde campaign was practically non-existent in comparison. They didn’t have a shop. They didn’t have regular leafleteers and campaigners until the final few weeks, no personalised No Inverclyde badges, no creative Union in the Park, no torch-bearing or flag-waving of any kind.
But more relevant to me were the canvassing results. We did daily canvasses for a year. Every single one of them showed Yes in the lead. Several by substantial margins of two-to-one, three-to-one, five-to-one. Surely they were reflective of the general feeling of the constituency? Yet of course, they were not: Inverclyde’s official result was a dead heat, the final count having 86 more No than Yes. Not trailing behind by a long shot, and far more than headquarters predicted – but not the landslide Yes I predicted. I was wrong.
So for the 2015 campaign, I went by a more critical approach, that which the Worrier is proposing: don’t believe anything. Even when every canvassing return we did showed SNP winning by a landslide, in proportions just like the referendum, we weren’t to get ahead of ourselves. Even when the SNP campaigners were greater in number than the other parties combined, we kept schtum. Even when Stewart Hosie and Nicola Sturgeon came down to greet crowds of hundreds and thousands, we still thought the election was too close to call between Mr Cowan and Mr McKenzie. All the polls were showing upwards of 40, 45, 50 seats, and we thought they had to be wrong.
And guess what? I was wrong again. It wasn’t close: Ronnie left the competition in the dust, to the point where even if every other party lent their votes to one other candidate, he still had a majority of 4,563. I did the optimistic “we’ll win by thousands” and was wrong. Then I did the cynical “it’s going to be close,” and was still wrong. What can I make of it? I did everything I did with the referendum, just for the SNP rather than Yes. The only thing that was different is treating it as a close call. Is that the X-factor? But how can we treat everything as a close call in the face of evidence to the contrary?
Beware those who see the 2015 election result as firing another starter’s gun. Beware those who see the election of 56 SNP MPs as a referendum proxy. Beware those indifferent to the 160,000 lost votes separating the 2014 and 2015 results. Beware the self-deceptive logic of “one last heave”. Beware those who want another referendum to recall a feeling, to recall hope, to recall purpose, but with no analysis of what went wrong, or what has changed. Beware old men in a hurry.
Likewise, one should look at the 2015 election result as proof that the mood has changed; that the election of 56 SNP MPs represents one of the most profound political shifts in modern political history; that while we lost 150,000 votes between 2014 and 2015, we’ve gained 504,000 between 2010 and 2015; that “one last heave” will never come unless we make it; that we need to keep the feeling, hope and purpose going as long as we can; that the way this country is going, the number of people who are suffering and dying, it’s a lot more than old men in a hurry.
If you are serious about securing Scottish independence, you must beware all these things. If you are serious about accomplishing this task, you must beware squandering our best, last chance to realise it. You must have patience. A second referendum cannot be held to make people feel better. Too many generations of my family, and many families in this country, have campaigned for this old idea for it to be consigned under the sod forever in a doomed spasm of feeling unsupported by any analysis.
Once again, I clutcheth my moleskin glove, and pray thee: if you are serious about securing Scottish independence, then don’t talk about how we mustn’t appeal to people’s emotions by then appealing to people’s emotions with stories of how generations of your family have campaigned for it. It doesn’t matter whether you are the heir to a dynasty of nationalism or whether you voted No in September: if you are serious about securing Scottish independence now, then you are serious about securing Scottish independence. We didn’t win despite our best efforts. Neither did you.
Patience is fine. Analysis is fine. But at the end of the day, children are starving. Old people are freezing. People are dying. They don’t have the luxury of patience. “Making people feel better?” I didn’t campaign for independence because it’d make me feel better. I campaigned to get out of the monstrous Westminster establishment, only to find I and 1.7 million others were dragged back in by 2 million who wanted to give the Union one last chance – and they have a renewed, emboldened establishment as thanks for their trust. This isn’t about No voters being stupid for being duped or having buyer’s remorse – it’s about the British Establishment imploring the No voters to keep Scotland in the Union, and treating them abominably for their favour. Don’t forget who the enemy are in all this – it’s not the No voters. It never was.
Yet even now, I realise another serious problem about the fallout of the referendum: that of schisms within the camp. We have those who want a second referendum now, and those who want to wait until it’s almost certain we will win. We have those who want to cut all ties to the rest of the UK – no pound, no EU, no NATO, no monarchy – and those who want to retain those institutions, at least for a while. We even have those who want to bypass a referendum entirely and go for a unilateral declaration of independence. These disparate groups all held together for two years because the goal was in sight. With no referendum for the foreseeable future, we have people who once held common cause disagreeing with each other in how best to achieve the goal – but no path to lead them easily seen.
There’s no point in igniting a false hope – only to extinguish it forever. There is nothing noble about destroying the cause you care about through soft-headedness. I can understand your anger. I can understand your frustrations. I can understand the mounting despair you feel at this majority Tory government and its plans for the country. But sentimentality is self-indulgence. A second referendum cannot be for the true believers who are already on side, but must speak to those whose minds have changed, for those who can be persuaded. It cannot be an act of sheer frustration — however understandable that feeling may be.
This is all predicated on the idea that you consider that hope false at all. There is nothing noble about destroying the cause – but neither is there anything intelligent about failing to act with boldness and determination when to do so could cost it all anyway. “Sentimentality”? Realism. The establishment will never stop trying to destroy the cause of Scottish independence, and if we let up for even a moment, they will rush in for the killing blow. Despite their cries about the SNP’s “promise” that a referendum would be “once in a generation,” once the SNP even suggest the possibility -be it 2016, 2020, or beyond – it is the establishment who will campaign to have the referendum as soon as possible. It’s what they did last time, after all – after they tried to prevent it from happening in the first place.
A second referendum will be entirely different because we’re starting from a base of 45%, not 30%. We haven’t seen significant rises in support for independence because there is no Yes campaign. The SNP have carefully, and rightly, placed the focus on greater devolution and powers, and were adamant that the 2015 election was not a mandate for independence. New Labour, the Conservatives, and the Lib Dems responded with cloth ears, their entire campaign based on the idea that a vote for the SNP was a vote for independence “through the back door.” The SNP and independence have been inextricable to the media by their own design. Yes Scotland has been dormant, but Project Fear is still going strong. Yet while support for independence has not risen substantially, neither has it fallen.
Nobody has even begun to explain to me what has changed since the autumn of last year to transform disaster into triumph. Nobody has explained how the generational gap has or could be addressed. Nobody has explained to me how the sceptical people of Clackmannanshire and Aberdeenshire and Inverness and Argyll have been won over. Nobody has produced, or can produce, any evidence of any kind that there has been a decisive shift in constitutional opinion.
As above, the change is that Yes Scotland as an entity is in hibernation, yet Project Fear is still going on as if the referendum is still to come. The change is that the SNP campaign was explicit in not being a vote for independence, while the other major parties insisted that it was, treating a vote for the SNP as a vote for separation. The people of Clackmannanshire and Aberdeenshire and Inverness and Argyll are not won won over because, for the official Yes campaign, the battle stopped in September. There is not a change in support for independence – there’s a change in the fight for independence.
I haven’t stopped supporting independence, the Peat Worrier obviously hasn’t, and certainly the SNP hasn’t either. But Yes no longer has an established, centralised base of operations, while the No campaign are still on about “Salmond’s dreams” and “Sturgeon’s threats.” All the focus has been on getting SNP MPs in Westminster, and next year’s focus will be on returning a majority SNP government once again. Support for independence is dormant because the SNP – long equated with the cause of independence – is not fighting an immediate battle for it.
My only operating principle here is this: if another independence referendum is to held, it must be won. A second referendum must not be held unless it is clear that it is winnable. By all means – let’s have a reasoned argument about strategy. About what to be about in the meanwhile. Through the encircling political gloom – there are reasons to be cheerful. The idea of Scottish independence is mainstream for the first time since 1707. The 2014 referendum campaign has not stabilised the Union. It has not provided a decisive answer to Scotland’s separatists. The Smith Commission compromise and Mundell’s Scotland Bill look incapable of doing so. The No campaign has not persuaded Scots that we are “better together” for the next ten years, or the next twenty or thirty years.But cool your jets. It is time for hard heads. Time for reflection on what went right and what went wrong last September. My plea to you is this. Always demand evidence. Hold even the most sincere, the most touching and deeply-held emotional appeals in suspicion. Be critical. And always, always — have patience.
I’ve often remarked that 10 months on from the referendum, I would’ve thought I would have come to peace with the result. I thought time would heal wounds, make things better. But they haven’t. If anything, I’m angrier now than I ever was at any point since the 19th of September last year. I knew the Unionist parties would renege on their promises, but seeing it unfold before my eyes…. I knew the Smith Commission would be worthless, but reading the pittance… I knew every single Scotland Bill amendment would be voted down if the Tories felt like it, yet I still wasn’t prepared for my emotion in seeing a nation’s democratic mandate ignored and cast to the wind.
It is not the hot, passionate fury of immediate reaction: it is the cold, searing, terrible resolve of seeing everything you feared would come to pass be enacted precisely, and you could do nothing to stop it. It is an emotion fostered by clear, analytical assessment of the facts – and the facts are that the Westminster establishment betrayed the No voters of Scotland. They offered us King Solomon’s treasure in exchange for a No vote, and offered us baubles as they cut our purses. They promised that Scotland would “lead” the UK, and howled in petulant outrage as our elected representatives dared to take them up on that. Now tell me: how much more patience must we suffer?
Patience is why we’ve wasted a century waiting for the Labour party to abolish the House of Lords. Patience is why we gave the Liberals and Liberal Democrats chance after chance to deliver proportional representation. Patience is why we’re still even having conversations about more powers and devolution when it’s entirely in the gift of the blasted Conservative Party.
I suspect Peat Worrier may be talking to himself as much as anyone else in the movement: that he is so strict and severe in language because he is trying to convince himself to have discipline and scientific rigour, not to let his emotions cloud his judgement. On the 19th of September I could imagine myself writing exactly the same sort of thing: don’t rush into a new referendum, don’t relax your critical eye, always scrutinise. Yet the 8th of May suggested that this approach was inadequate too. So just what in blazes is the right way to go if you’re “serious about Scottish independence”?
I wish I knew. I tried it both ways, and found both wanting. Perhaps the only way to be serious about Scottish independence is to put your money where your mouth is. Canvass, leaflet, volunteer, donate, research, connect, engage. The only way I can see to prove how serious you are is how far you are willing to push yourself to see it through. Not how you do it, or why you do it: but how much of your life you are willing to pour into making it happen. And if you’re anything like me, the hope, the confidence, the belief will return despite itself.
Nonetheless, there is one very good argument for patience: it allows recuperation, reflection, and the sort of discussions we can have amongst ourselves, like Peat Worrier’s. I’ve been campaigning for the better part of two years, with a referendum and election within six months of each other. I could do with a break. I’ll need it for the next battle. We all will.