The eagle catches nae fleas*
I still wonder what went wrong. I still open my eyes in the morning wondering if I am wakening up from a nightmare. But no, it is all too real. On 18 September 2014, the Scots electorate voted No in the Referendum on Scottish Independence by 55%.
Since then there has been a lot of disillusionment, despair, allegations and recriminations. I am no different than anyone else. I have been through all of these stages. Like a wounded animal, at one point I crawled away to lick my wounds. That time has passed now, though. My wounds are healed, I am stronger for the experience, and now even more determined to see my country free.
It is how we go about gaining independence that is the big question. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, soon to be First Minister, has not ruled out a future referendum, perhaps by 2020. Others seek to get a majority of SNP MPs among the 59 Scottish members at Westminster, to either enforce another referendum sooner, or even make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Others still say that if the Westminster government renege on their “vow” of further devolved powers for Scotland, then we will have a mandate for either another referendum or UDI.
All are possibilities and we should not close our minds to any one of them. But in seeking any of them, we need to find a way forward. Never an easy thing to define, and I do not for one moment pretend to speak for the entire independence campaign. What I do intend to do here, however, is outlay some ideas which I think we need to take on board. Some of the things here will not be popular in some camps. I make absolutely no apologies for that. Independence for Scotland is bigger to me than detractors getting angry. It should likewise be that important to all of us.
Stop playing the blame game
Since the referendum result, there have been a great many angry posts on social media. This has to stop forthwith.
It has been proven that it was the elderly who swung the No vote. Canvassing beforehand proved this was always going to be a tough nut to crack. There were many reasons for this but it all came down largely to the elderly being afraid of change. This is of no fault to Yes Scotland volunteers who did their utmost to argue that the Better Together claims were wrong, and that under austerity the elderly will be in the front line of the most vulnerable to be affected. Elderly people do indeed fear change more than others, and we would do well to consider that.
Yet since the result, I have seen and heard people vilifying them and even wishing them an early death. That is a terrible thing to say, and I can assure others that any such sentiments shall never be in my name. Just how do we even intend to win the elderly over to independence if we continually point the finger and wish them death? If anything, not only will that fail but if the anti-independence biased media ever get their hands on such comments, then that could be a PR nightmare that would kill our objectives stone dead.
There is also the matter of blaming by area. Because Glasgow voted Yes, and Edinburgh voted No, I have seen Edinburgh absolutely lambasted in the social media, with a few posts even calling Edinburghers “a bunch of cunts”. Nice. Anything else apart, as an Edinburgher myself, I find that insulting; as a Yes campaigner, I find such comments not only hurtful, but divisive and make me feel like all I and every other Yes campaigner in the city, who worked very hard indeed, did was all for nothing.
Of the areas which voted overwhelmingly No, there were Eilean Siar (Western Isles) at 53.4%, Shetland Isles at 63.7% and Orkney Isles at 67.2%. Anyone could easily lay the blame there, but we don’t, so why lay the blame at Edinburgh, which had 61.1% in favour of No, and which in fact lay eighth-highest of the No regions? I suspect that far from being anything to do with the Referendum, this is nothing more than an extension of the ages-old, petty Glasgow v Edinburgh rivalry. Surely we are Scots first, and Glaswegian / Edinburgher (or any other regional difference) second? Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book, and as long as fight among each other, we do the unionists job for them.
One of the most disturbing claims I have seen come out of the result is people trying to lay the blame at the door of the English living in Scotland. This of course has been baseless and bears no relation to the facts. Of the English I know living in Scotland, the overwhelming majority voiced their intention to vote Yes. Anti-English bigotry, like all bigotry, is a poison, and one we need to shun and put down wheresoever we encounter it.
Just how do we intend to win if we are castigating the very people whom we need to be convincing and winning their hearts and minds? We cannot, and continually sniping at them can only cause them to be even more opposed to the idea of independence.
Drop the 45% name
Since the Referendum result a number of groups have sprang up under the title “45%”, representing the 45% who voted for independence. What exactly are we saying by doing this? It presents a feeling of exclusivity; that we and we alone are the important ones. Far from it, every voter in Scotland is equally important, and we need to reach out to them. By presenting a name which in itself suggests that we are excluding them, the less likely they are to come over to the idea of independence.
I do not see what is wrong just with continuing under the banner of Yes, or one which has sprung up which I like, “Yes Alliance”. That title speaks of an all-inclusive, welcoming movement, open to everyone and which suggests unity, at a very time we need to do so. It also says that anyone from any background is included, which I shall cover next.
Stop pushing SNP membership so hard
There has been a move since the Referendum to get ever-increasing numbers of SNP members. This has led to the SNP, after the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, becoming the third largest party in UK politics. As I write this, 26 September 2014, the SNP had soared to in excess of 65,000 members, which considering they had less than a third of that pre-referendum, really is quite astonishing. Indeed, given that ‘Scottish’ Labour have not released membership figures since 2010, it is suspected that the SNP may now well be the largest party in Scotland.
That is wonderful for the SNP, and I am very happy for them. It needs to be remembered however that not everyone is an SNP member, nor wishes to be a member.
Do not get me wrong here. I have long admired Alex Salmond, long before he was even an MSP, and I strongly felt his loss as First Minister was a sad day for us all, as I believe he was the most capable one the Scottish Parliament had to date. I have voted SNP for a number of years, and I fully congratulate the SNP administration in Holyrood for all they have achieved, and are continuing to achieve, for the benefit of us all. Likewise, I really admire Nicola Sturgeon, who has held her past posts consummately, whom I have no doubt is every bit as capable as Alex Salmond, and who will make an excellent successor to him, and I could think of no better person to be Scotland’s first woman First Minister. In fact, I also congratulate both Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP on achieving that accolade.
Whilst seeking new members for the SNP is absolutely valid, it is at times however becoming far too pressurised. I have personally had it suggested to me that if you are not an SNP member or do not join, then you are not “really interested independence”. I would like to say to the person who made that comment that not only is that view nonsense, it is totally wrong, and if anything makes me all the more determined not to join the party. People strongly dislike emotional blackmail, and it is well known we Scots hate being told what to do. Keep pushing the party so hard, you will only alienate people from it.
Many people are not SNP members for various reasons. Some are already members of the Scottish Green Party or the Scottish Socialist Party, both of whom already endorse independence, some fear job repercussions, some need to stay impartial, and then there are some, myself included, who swear allegiance to no party, and have absolutely no intention of doing so.
I discovered a long time ago that where party politics are concerned, and policy differences occur, I am neither the sort of person to tow the party line, nor stay silent about it. Trust me, you do not want me in the SNP, as I would be a constant thorn in the side over policies I disagree with. And I know of quite a number who feel likewise. There is even an organisation which I belong to who voted to voice their support for Yes, but most members likewise are not and do not wish to be SNP members. I also know of someone who writes for a journal and as such needs to stay wholly impartial and offer criticism where it is valid. Such people need to be considered as well.
One argument I was given that if we are all SNP then we have a solid volunteer base. Well, that is untrue and the experience of Yes Scotland, where grass-roots members campaigned towards a common goal, proves it to be wrong. Even if we are not members does not mean we cannot contribute our time and effort to achieving independence. The SNP may be the ones who will deliver independence, but that does not stop non-members from urging people to vote for them.
Another argument is that membership brings the financial resources needed for campaigning. Again, a very valid point, and to that end some have suggested that Yes stalls could recruit new SNP members. Indeed, they could. But if the SNP are to be the driving force behind Yes this time round, do people really need to actually join? Donations taken at stalls could easily be passed on to the SNP for campaigning. Indeed, apart from a few noticeable business people, the SNP has long prided itself on being a party funded by public donations. Myself I have paid into a local SNP branch tote every week for the best part of 20 years now, as have many of my neighbours, most of whom are likewise not members. So it is that stalls could indeed recruit for the SNP, but at the same time take public donations to be passed to the SNP coffers; best of both worlds.
If the campaign however keeps insisting that people must join the SNP, then that can only ever serve to turn people away, and far from uniting us as a force, would in fact be divisive in the extreme.
An end to the claims of voting irregularities
I have absolutely no doubt that there were indeed voting irregularities in the Scottish Independence Referendum. I do not buy into any claims of a large-scale or concerted effort of vote rigging. I do believe however that it did indeed happen in some places, and that, along with errors which occurred, may have indeed disenfranchised many people.
On the morning of the Referendum I heard a news story of a number of people who turned up at the same polling place in Argyll, only to be told that their votes had been registered as postal. They actually complained, an error was discovered, and they were allowed to vote. I have since heard of similar stories occurring across Scotland and even witnessed it when I went to vote. On that occasion the man concerned was told his vote was registered as postal. I stopped him as he was leaving and asked him to contest it, but he just walked away. Similarly, I have heard stories of people not appearing on the electoral register, and being refused to vote without voting cards. Now, some in the Yes camp could argue that this could have swayed the vote in our favour. By equal measure however, we do not know how these people intended to vote, and it may have given No an even larger majority.
Since the Referendum there have been a plethora of claims of vote-rigging and various pictures put up. These include the table in Dundee marked “No”, on which a pile of votes, with the top one clearly crossed as a “Yes” on the top. Shortly after this appeared, Dundee SNP put out a Tweet stating that these papers were merely resting on that table, prior to being counted. There have been various other posts, including a video of apparent stuffing of votes into a ballot box. Not only are the papers too large to be Referendum ballot papers, the transparent box concerned is not even a UK ballot box, and it is thought the video originated in another country.
In another guise, I am a sceptical paranormal investigator who specialises in folk-tales, urban myths and conspiracy theories. I have dealt in this for over 20 years now, and I know a conspiracy theory growing up when I see one. Sure, there may have been some irregularities, but for some to claim that it was widescale, and even claims that MI5 were involved, whilst posting pictures not even to do with Scotland or the Referendum is stretching credulity to the limit and and that can only ever have an adverse effect upon the entire independence campaign.
Indeed, there is one video claiming MI5 involvement being touted about, which comes from Enigma TV. It just so happens that the people behind Enigma TV believe every conspiracy theory going, as well as believing in space aliens among us, and that the world is ran by the Illuminati.
I am not in the least sorry for these harsh words. Scotland is too important to me for to placate conspiracy theorists who could do irreparable damage to all of us. Throughout the Yes campaign, truth was our greatest ally, and it must continue to be so in the future. Naomi Mitchison said it best;
When a thing is put in print,
it needs to be ten times true;
it needs to be steel and flint;
it becomes the voice of Scotland;
it stops being me and you.
(Naomi Mitchison, “The Cleansing of the Knife”)
Both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon accepted the vote, and hard as it may well be to accept, we must do the same. We only risk making ourselves look foolish if we do not. We have already been subjected to media bias. Continue with the conspiracy theories and we will get widescale media coverage, including ending up in the Fortean Times, but for all the wrong reasons.
Engage the people, not each other
Okay, we did do this, to a great extent. But at the same time, we have had a great deal of contact among ourselves online. We kept patting each other on the back, sending messages, posting memes, etc. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. At the same time, however, after Yes taking a lead in the polls (which cannot be relied upon), it is all too possible we were lulled into a false sense of security and became complacent.
A letter in The Metro recently stated that if Yes had lifted their heads from Facebook for five minutes, we may have learned about the feeling in the country. As much as the writer was a smug No voter, he unfortunately has a valid point. Yes, we were proactive. Yes, we were out canvassing, leafleting and on stalls, Yes, we talked to friends and family. The one thing we failed to do was get the message across strongly enough. That means we have to be even more active, to engage the people more. That is the only way we are going to win.
Don’t waste our time on lost causes
This is allied to the above point and it is vitally important. Far too many people online went arguing with Better Together, Labour, the Lib-Dems, the Tories, and other diehard Unionists. That is a futile waste of energy which could be better spent. Added to which, the media pounced upon it and made the term cybernat a dirty word and gave them another excuse to attack us.
What is the point in arguing with out and out Unionists? Do those concerned think they are ever going to change their minds? Put it another way, when Unionists have attacked and argued with us, did it change the mind of even one independence campaigner? Or is it more likely it made us all the more determined? Well, the same goes for them.
The energy spent on arguing with Unionists on Facebook, Twitter, etc., is an exercise in futility, and could be much better spent on engaging the public.
Do not protest Unionist public speakers
I have no doubt this one is going to down like a lead balloon, but I am deadly serious about it.
The concerted protesting of Labour MP Jim Murphy may have seemed fun, but it became a total gift to Labour, Better Together, the government and their media mouthpieces. It essentially put Yes in a bad light, and with the country watching the scenes on TV and online media, may very well have turned off a lot of people, particularly elderly voters, who might otherwise have voted Yes.
I was never more pleased with what happened on Saturday, 13 September, the day the Orange walk for No took place in Edinburgh. A great number of Yes campaigners, myself included, urged others to stay away from it and not to confront any of the marchers or their followers. The same day an enormous rally took place in Glasgow, which had a carnival atmosphere. Even here in Edinburgh, we had a day full of events. The stall I worked on actually had it’s best day ever, with us running out of some items of stock, many well-wishers stopping, and a great number of motorists sounding their horns in support. People did indeed stay away from the Orange walk, and peace ensued.
That is what we need to achieve in the future. Never forget that the media are watching us at every turn, and we need to appear squeaky clean because of that. Let the Unionist speakers have their say. Ignore them, then engage the same public they were speaking to later – when the unionists have disappeared – and point out where the are wrong.
Bottom line, do not go looking for trouble, it will find us soon enough, and we have to be big enough to walk away from it. With the world’s media watching we cannot afford to put a foot wrong.
These are just some ideas which I feel that whatever Yes evolves into, we need to endorse. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If I did, I’d be in politics myself. I do believe however that they are commonsense ideas which will win the hearts and minds we need to reach, and which can only help us to achieve the common goal which is right for all Scotland – independence.
*The eagle catches nae fleas; old Scots proverbs meaning we should not concern ourselves with trifling matters when there are much more important things to be doing.