These times are hard, and we know that many in the independence movement are feeling frustrated because it’s difficult to engage in activities we want to do. However, like most situations, we will find the light we need but only if we are willing to look honestly at ourselves and the movement as a whole. This crisis gives the greater Yes Movement some breathing space. I say this because we are seeing some activists use the time indoors to reflect. From that reflection comes a renewal. Two questions we can ask ourselves are can I be a better campaigner? And as a movement, are we really doing things that help or hinder? These are hard questions for anyone to ask, and some might not like it. This is understandable, as not everyone will respond to actions being questioned. However, this is how we learn and grow as individuals. As a movement, our actions and things we do should come under scrutiny. It’s not a simple case of what you might like and enjoy. We need to look at what is required and what can be executed reasonably when we are running a campaign to change minds. The Yes Movement is not a movement in its infancy. It has been years in the making therefore, we should be able to look objectively at the activities we do and then respond openly and respectfully to critics or scrutiny.
I think it’s essential that if I am calling on the movement to ask hard questions, I must ask these same questions of myself. I’m aware I could do so much better. I far to regularly get into needless online spats with Unionists. I know it is pointless, but I still do it. I also know I can be condescending towards people on the same side and far too often I have taken my frustrations out on others. No one is perfect, and we can all be better. The question is, do we want to be better or is it a case of I’ll carry on as I were and to hell with what anyone says?
We now don’t have any possibility of a referendum soon, and it would be no shock if the 2021 Holyrood election is pushed back until 2022 due to the health crisis. This suggests that the earliest date for a referendum is 2023. This gives us about 18 months to get our house in order and get ready. We have seen many from the grassroots shout for a 2020 referendum. However, if we are honest with ourselves, how many groups can honestly say they would have been ready to play a significant and constructive part in a 2020 campaign? I look at the Aberdeen Independence Movement and honestly, 2020 would have been a struggle for us to play the role that we would have liked. I say that with the knowledge that we are a group that has spent much time making sure we have campaign structures and training in place. Yet Autumn 2020 would have been a test and a half. How many groups have even sat down to discuss the equipment they would need? How many have looked at training and embraced that training? How many groups have in place liability insurance? How many are just stuck in the last campaign?
It is my view that somewhere along the way, the grassroots have -with some notable exceptions- stood still and are still fighting the last campaign. It is also my view that the grassroots have never really found themselves. Now most members in AIM are also involved in party politics and we strive to keep our party politics out of the group. We don’t allow party political comments on our Facebook page. Our reason for this is simple, we are reaching out to people who might not like or vote for a certain political party and there is zero point in a Yes group if it can’t distinguish between party politics and what is in the interest of the country no matter your political affiliations. We maintain that there is still an opportunity to vote for a left-wing Labour in an independent just as much as a right-wing Conservative party. Surely the only job of a Yes group is to reach out beyond people’s party politics and attract people who do not currently vote SNP, Greens or any other pro-independence party. Leave party politics to the political parties. Get involved with your branch, volunteer, and campaign for your party through the right channels. However, when it comes to the Yes Movement, we can work to leave the party politics out. Winning an election and a referendum are two very different things and require very different messages. We need a Yes movement capable of recognizing this very thing. The SNP can win an election on around 40% of the vote, but we can’t gain independence on 40%. Therefore, we need to persuade a percentage of voters for other parties including yes people who would be described as Conservative voters, or conservative in outlook.
A large portion of people in the North East would be classed as politically small c conservative in outlook, and many will vote SNP, Lib Dems, Labour or Conservative. It is this large section of the community that the language of party politics and often of the Yes Movement is often unhelpful. Using the word Tories like a swear word pushes anyone of a small c conservative mindset further away and makes independence less likely. The fact is when speaking about the UK Government and political system, sticking a party rosette on the system is really not needed as it’s the system that is rotten to its core. It does not matter what colour of rosette the party in power has. The system is archaic and not fit for Scotland’s needs. Pushing a line that it’s the “dam Tories” does not push the unconvinced towards independence. It only forces people to think that all that needs to be done is change the UK government instead of understanding that it’s the system that’s rotten and needs to be changed. Constant use of the word Tory like it’s a swear word pushes a large portion of the population away from ever backing independence, as they see it as an attack on them and their outlook. Who will vote for something if they feel it threatens them?
Now for a line that some really won’t like. Independence is not owned by any political faction, it is not a right- or left-wing thing. But a what’s right for Scotland movement. There will be a Conservative party in an independent Scotland as well as Lib Dems. There is a centre-right, centre, centre left and left case for independence. One of the hard questions that the Yes groups must ask themselves is can they can play a decisive role in convincing the none SNP and Green voters that independence is for them. If we can’t do that, we must then ask what the grassroots yes Movement is for.
Let’s use this time and ask the questions. Let’s look at everything that we do as a movement. The grassroots have a huge job if it really wants to be relevant. 18 months is not long. It’s time we got our act together and got our messaging, our skills and campaign structures up to date.
Let’s not waste the next 18 months.
By Alan Petrie