Occasionally I’ve been asked why it is that I remain so positive about the chances of the independence campaign to achieve its goal of a self-determined Scotland in the face of the constant barrage of negativity, scare-mongering, and British nationalist astroturfing from the media and the anti-independence parties. It’s quite simple. It’s because we’re going to win. In 2014 the question facing Scotland was, “Should Scotland become an independent country?” In 2018 the question facing Scotland is, “When should Scotland become an independent country?”
Yesterday on Twitter the video maker Phantom Power, who is responsible for the fantastic Journey to Yes series, published a list of 10 reasons why he believes that Scotland is going to vote Yes in the next independence referendum. The list was republished by The National here. I had already been musing on writing a blog post on a similar theme, so here are my 10 reasons why Scotland is poised to become an independent nation.
1. 45% start
Back when the first independence referendum was called, the polls showed that somewhat less than 30% of the population supported independence. More than that, independence wasn’t really taken seriously as a mainstream idea in Scottish politics. The British nationalist parties did their damnedest to paint it as a purely SNP project, and equally did their damnedest to marginalise and sideline the SNP. The great achievement of 2014 was that in the teeth of the concerted opposition of the anti-independence parties and virtually the entire Scottish and British media, a grassroots campaign took that minority level of support for independence and came within a bawhair of turning it into a majority.
Not only that, but we took the idea of independence from the margins of Scottish politics and didn’t just drag it right into the mainstream, we made it the single most important question around which all of Scottish politics revolve. We’re starting a second referendum from a much higher baseline than we did the first. Opinion polls consistly show support for independence in the high 40s, and that’s before there’s a proper campaign running and while most people who aren’t interested in politics remain disengaged from the arguments. That’s is the real reason why the likes of Ruth Davidson are so terrified of a re-run.
2. New digital media
In 2011 when Scotland voted for a majority SNP government and a referendum became a certainty, the digital Scottish media was very much in its infancy. I should know, because I was one of “those bastards from Newsnet”, in the words of BBC Scotland director Ken McQuarrie. Back then, Newsnet was pretty much it. Now we’re spoiled for choice. As well as ranty wee blogs like this one, there’s the behemoth that is Wings Over Scotland taking a rapier to the output of the traditional media, the intellectual musings of Bella Caledonia, the socialist radicalism of Common Space, the polling expertise of Scot Goes Pop, the wit and wisdom of the estimable Derek Bateman, and many more sites specialising in the written word.
There’s the meme factory that is Indyposterboy, producing an enormous output of posters, flyers, leaflets, and cards, available for download or printing. Then there’s the extremely professional and high quality videos produced by Phantom Power, the live streaming and interviewing of IndependenceLive, Broadcasting Scotland, and new initiatives which are constantly appearing. And of course we shouldn’t forget that we’ve also made inroads into the traditional media. We now have a real daily newspaper of our own in The National and a Sunday newspaper in the Sunday Herald. Ordinary people in Scotland felt that our concerns and views were not being reflected in the traditional media, so we’ve become the media. The expertise and skills that we’ve developed and built up will serve us well in the coming referendum.
3. Grassroots and green shoots
The Yes movement possesses a network of grassroots organisations and local groups which never went away after 2014. There are groups in almost every town and district in the country, and those groups contain seasoned activists who have experience of campaigning and persuasion. The anti-independence campaign has nothing like that at all, all they have are the traditional political parties and a couple of organisations which claim to be grassroots, but which seem to do all their fundraising amongst people with titles who own vast landed estates, although to be fair owning acres of farmland is one definition of grassroots. That grassroots organisational strength means that the independence movement has the people to put the cause of independence into every street and every town and village. It means that we can tailor the arguments for independence to individuals and to local communities while the anti-independence movement must rely on a one size fits all argument broadcast from the traditional media.
4. No positive arguments from No
Last time round, the argument for No was extremely negative, focussing on scare stories and threats, but Better Together did manage to season its negativity with a little bit of love and promises. There was the infamous Vow, the promise that only a No vote could secure Scotland’s place in the EU, the promise of extra powers for a Scottish parliament whose existence was going to be made permanent and entrenched in such a way that no Westminster government could abolish it or reduce its powers without its consent. There were the promises that jobs in the tax offices would be safe, that ships would be built on the Clyde ensuring the employment of shipyard workers. There were promises of extra funding for Scottish renewable industries.
The promises made by the yes campaign in 2014 were and will always remain hypothetical, because Scotland voted No, but we can test the promises of the No campaign against what actually happened in reality, in this universe. They promised us that Scotland would lead within the UK, that we were loved and respected, that our voice and opinions would count. And in very single case except one their promises have not been fulfilled. The only promise that they made which has been kept was Michelle Mone’s threat to leave the country, for which small mercy we should all be thankful. The next time round, when the anti-independence campaign makes some promise to the people of Scotland if only we vote No, all we have to do is to reply – but you said that the last time and it turned out to be a lie. Any future promises made by the anti-independence campaign will have all the credibility of a Donald Trump tweet.
But the chances are they won’t want to make any positive pitch to Scotland to stay. Conservative Brexiteers in England, and a majority of Labour voters who backed Brexit, are happy to see Scotland become independent if a Scotland remaining in the UK were to put the hems on their vision of Brexit. They’re going to campaign half-heartedly at best, and will certainly put pressure on the British government not to make any positive offers to the people of Scotland to get us to stay a part of the UK. It’s also going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible for them to make a convincing pitch because their campaign will be riven in two from the start. Labour in Scotland might not be the brightest bunch on the planet, but they’re not so foolish as to mount a joint campaign with the Tories again like they did last time.
Whenever you point out that the older a person is the more likely they are to vote against independence, the comments below the article are filled with irate 70 year olds pointing out that they’ve campaigned for independence all their lives. However it is true that older people are less likely to support independence, whereas younger people support it by increasingly large margins the younger they get. That means that even if we do absolutely nothing in the independence campaign, at some point in the not too distant future there will be a majority for independence in Scotland. But we don’t intend to do nothing, we intend to ensure that young people are actively engaged with the campaign, that they are registered to vote, and that they turn out to vote.
But we have another demographic advantage which we didn’t have last time. Last time a majority of EU citizens resident in Scotland voted No as they were worried about their status. Next time round those communities are far more likely to vote Yes for an outward looking internationalist Scotland which rejects the xenophobia of a British nationalist Brexit. We will also find it easier to attract the votes of English Scots opposed to Brexit, the largest by far of the communities in this country born outwith Scotland.
Brexit changes everything. As long as Scotland and England were on the same page politically, Scots could kid themselves on that we were really a partner nation in a family of nations, that we were an equal country in a union of countries. Brexit, driven as it is by a narrow and specifically English nationalism, has blown that out of the water. Brexit means that we can no longer pretend that Scotland is going to get what it votes for within the UK. But worse than that, Brexit has proven that the British establishment has not the slightest interest in listening to what Scotland wants, in taking Scotland’s views into account, or in accommodating Scotland’s needs. Scotland will be subordinated to the political interests of the British parties, even if that is damaging to Scotland’s economy and future. Our employment and human rights are at risk like never before, about to be sacrificed on the altar of a right wing Conservative fantasy of English exceptionalism. Brexit means that the political landscape of the UK has utterly changed, in ways which are prejudicial to Scotland. Which leads us on to …
7. Overturning of Better Together’s arguments from last time
The strongest single argument in the armoury of Better Together in 2014 was, “Why risk the insecurity and uncertainty of independence when you can have the safety and stability of the UK?” That argument has now been turned on its head. There is no country in Europe with a less certain or more unsure future than the UK. The UK is facing the potential for enormous damage to its economy, to jobs and opportunities, and to its standing in the world. We can see in the way in which the British government has humiliatingly had to bow to every demand made on it by the EU during Brexit negotiations that the supposed ability to punch above its weight so beloved by British nationalists existed only because the UK was a part of the EU. Outside the EU, the UK must bend to the will of Ireland.
Brexit is a profoundly nationalist project. It is no longer possible for someone to oppose Scottish independence but to acquiesce in Brexit but at the same time to claim that they are not a nationalist. If you support Brexit, even tacitly, you are a nationalist, a British nationalist, and this time round the Scottish independence movement isn’t going to allow you to get away with pretending that British nationalism is better than other nationalisms by virtue of not being nationalist at all. British nationalism is not only nationalist, it’s a narrow and xenophobic nationalism which is driven by a rosy eyed nostalgia for a past that never existed. This time round it’s support for independence which is internationalist and outward looking, and it’s British nationalism which is parochial, inward looking, and driven by an unrealistic romantic fantasy.
8. We know what’s coming and we’re ready for it
Since Better Together Mk II won’t be able to make a positive pitch for the supposed Union, their campaign next time is going to be driven by negativity and fear mongering. They’re going to bang on about the currency, and they’re going to try and equate the EU single market with the unitary market of the UK. By the time we enter the official campaign the independence movement will have well articulated answers to those questions – we will have a Scottish pound, and since by that time the UK will have bent to the will of the EU and ensured an invisible and frictionless border with Ireland, they won’t be able to threaten Scotland with barbed wire and sentry posts all the way from Gretna to Berwick.
We know that we’ll be getting several interventions for the very first time from the Gordosaurus. We know that they’ll be telling us that they love us but there will be no substance to the sweet words.
9. Ball kicking as well as wish trees
The last time round we were so concerned to run a positive and happy clappy campaign that we allowed Better Together and the British nationalists to get away with all sorts of arguments which were, to put it kindly, utter shite. So we had Magrit Curran on the telly earnestly telling us that she didn’t want her kids to be foreigners to her, a situation which wasn’t going to arise because after independence Magrit’s weans in London would still be Scottish and British citizens just like her. But even if they did have different passports, any estrangement felt by Magrit was only ever an argument that she was in need of family therapy and counselling. Next time round we’ll be a lot more assertive in calling out the crap from the anti-independence campaign.
But we’ll also be more assertive in pointing out the downsides of remaining a part of a Brexit Britain. The powers and permanence of the Scottish parliament will not be safe. State pensions will not be safe. The NHS will be at risk of creeping privatisation. The Tories seeking Brexit are not doing so in order to transform the UK into a paradise of workers’ and human rights. We’re in for a low wage low skills economy, saddled by debt and living from paycheque to paycheque while a small number of people get extremely wealthy indeed. Yes we will certainly be articulating a vision of the better Scotland that independence can deliver, but we won’t be shying away from telling the dismal truth about the realities facing the UK. We’ll make no bones about how paradoxically the only way to protect and defend the good aspects of the British state, the NHS, free education, comprehensive social security, is with independence.
10. We own the future
Britain is about the past, about looking backwards in misty eyed nostalgia to a little island that stood alone. Our biggest advantage, our biggest strength, is the knowledge that the independence movement is about the future. It’s a future that’s interconnected, that’s international, that looks out towards the world. Only the independence movement can paint a picture of a better country, a more just country, a country which works to tackle the problems we face. The future is ours. The future is Scottish.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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