I have never relished doing this, nor is it something that I even remotely like to do but someone needs to say something about the elephant in the room and it might as well be me who gets the inevitable flack if someone has to endure it. We need to address this now before launching into any new yes campaign heading for scotref.
On the 26th of August 2017, we held a March, Rally & Afterparty for Scottish Independence in Dunfermline in Scotland. It was by all accounts a brilliant event. My team worked extraordinarily hard to get things ready and to put together a day that would appeal to people from across the entire political spectrum. We decided to plan it in a way never before seen by the yes movement. Our first mission was to setup an Association, not a limited company or another form of company, but a community organisation ran by the grass roots with everything decided by the grass roots. We had an election and myself and Ailinn were voted in as Chair and Secretary respectively.
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We formed a constitutional framework, deeming all financial transactions requiring a vote at a meeting of the membership with no less than 4 in attendance and all transactions requiring signatory by both Chair and Treasurer. We then took it one stage further by directly publishing our rolling accounts online as they happened. This is something never before seen. Again we took it a stage further, showing applications and insurance paperwork for the event online, the idea that there was not only full transparency but also that by seeing what goes into such events, others could learn and recreate it themselves. Our meetings were open to the public for anyone to attend.
When it came to the guest speakers and the musicians we asked the question about “personality clashes” between politicians, something which has been a recurring theme in large scale events over the past few years.
Our arguments led us to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Fundamental Principles on Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Association, contained within them the right to freely express opinions on our constitutional affairs but conversely, automatically contained within that right is the right not to engage these rights.
We found the fairest way to implement such a policy in terms of political guest speakers and the fairest way was to turn over the decision to the parties themselves. This would, in line with the Associations stance, ensure that we could not be accused of having a bias to or for any of the parties, while at the same time keeping the association clear of any party political processes within the individual parties.
How did we do it?
Well in simple terms, we sent two invitations to each party (including Labour and the Liberal Democrats). We opted not to invite the Conservatives on the basis that they are the Conservative and Unionist Party, ergo their founding principle is in direct opposition to the idea of self-governance for Scotland. We opted not to invite UKIP, purely on the basis that each visit of one of their senior representatives has ultimately led to some form of confrontation in Scotland, so they were excluded on the basis our risk assessment deemed such an event to be highly likely if they were in attendance.
For all other parties, they were extended two invitations each, to select from their own ranks, any speakers they deemed appropriate that would represent the voice of their party on the stage. We received a response almost automatically from Solidarity and we also received a response from the Scottish National Party who clearly saw that we had taken every measure possible to ensure non-partisanship.
The Scottish Socialist Party and the Greens both refused. The Scottish Socialist Party, because they had a problem with a speaker from another party and the greens said they were simply “too busy”. We were then told by a member of our own association that their failure to appear was for the same reasons as the SSP. While we ultimately respect the right of those not to engage their right to speak, pursuant to the European Convention and take no stance one way or the other on the matter, what was unfortunate was the fact that in both cases we were informed only days before the rally despite having sent the first invites almost 6 weeks prior. If someone is to decline and RSVP it is usually at least cordial to do so well in advance.
In any case, our method of inviting parties has brought to light a number of serious issues which seem to be festering in the background about personality clashes with the movement and it needs to be addressed because quite frankly it is starting to get out of hand. The clearest issue and the one I am going to state categorically for the record is that the politicians need to grow up and so do the parties.
The Scottish National Party saw fit, despite knowing who the other political speakers were, to get up on that stage anyway. Despite political opposition on the stage, they did that! They connected with the grassroots in a meaningful way on stage, as did a range of great speakers. All of them, many of whom may have had the same reservations, put them aside and got on that stage to reconnect with the voters and to assist keeping the momentum going. What they didn’t do was put a grievance between persons ahead of the movement and they deserve to be commended for that.
To the greens and the SSP, despite how much abuse this will probably end up getting for it. They need to realise something important and realise it quick. You are not “making a stand” by telling a specific political opponent that you will not get up on stage with them. What you are doing is telling your political adversary that if they were of the mind to do so (and clearly they were not, they simply put forward the speaker that best represented them at such event), not that you won’t attend if they put XYZ on the stage, you are telling them that if they put XYZ on stage, they won’t have you putting your viewpoint forward. So your position is illogical, on the simple fact that all you are doing is penalising your parties ability to connect with the yes movement, with the voters and with those of a pro-independence disposition, your parties bread and butter. To do this marvellous feet, you are also sending a message simultaneously that you are incapable of putting aside a grievance between people or parties in order to benefit the yes movement as a whole. Eventually, your own grass roots within your party will say to you “wait a minute! XYZ spoke for 30 minutes about their beliefs, about their party and about their vision for an independent Scotland! Where was the person that is supposed to represent my vision on that stage as a party member?”
While i have the right to make this assessment, there are those that are sitting at their screen reading this with one eyebrow higher than the other. Ultimately it is party members who need to think to themselves: Is this conducive to the message that the yes family is more than the parties within it? This of course naturally leads to the question of whether you are a yesser first or a party member first. If the parties continue to refuse to engage with the grassroots movement, then only one route will be left and that route is that your members that are in your party will shift to another party or the movement as a whole will simply decide that the politicians are more bother than they are worth.
I refuse to take sides in the war of words between politicians, I have no feeling one way or the other. My message is simple: How can we as a movement move forward as one if we cannot get the politicians and party representatives to play nice. The perfect example is pre-election debates. If Nicola Sturgeon refused to get on a stage with Theresa May (Yes! I know it happened the other way around) then all you have is one leader with the floor and the other disappearing into the background noise. You only have to look at the pasting the Conservatives took because of exactly that. This, of course, leads you to the natural conclusion that while the artificial inflation in party members during this pre-independence era might look good for the parties, they should well remember that in terms of the Yes movement itself, we are all watching the parties. Those who engage with us and those who don’t. Those who are politically aligned with us and those who are not. Every yes event will ultimately be a deciding factor in who people choose to represent them after independence.
One way or another though, those under the illusion that not speaking is somehow conducive to themselves, their party and the movement are sorely mistaken. All you are doing is keeping derision going and ultimately penalising your own party.
I guess what I am trying to say is: How can we show our movement to be one that is all inclusive and united if those we expect to represent and defend our political viewpoints refuse to engage with large chunks of the yes movement because they have personal problems with other politicians, but the solution to this is SUCK IT UP! – I mean, I am sure that there are many times the likes of Nicola Sturgeon have wanted to jump across the floor and strangle Ruth or Alex wanting to stick the nut in David Cameron. The point is, to be a politician you need to connect with the needs of your grassroots and if you aren’t doing that then you are not a representative for them. Those in parliament or councils at the moment suck it up and even though you can hear their teeth grind, they do so because it is the entire reason their position exists – TO REPRESENT THE PEOPLE THEY SPEAK FOR.
In either case, the Dunfermline event went great. Everyone enjoyed it and had a great time, but the question was ultimately asked about the fact that despite us going to great lengths to be non-partisan and to give the parties the opportunity to select and be flexible about their own speakers, some chose not to engage with the grass roots. We simply directed them to their own parties.
The time has come to stop with the bickering, to stop with the political differences. The next 4 years will decide the direction Scotland will go and many of those directions will be catastrophic. Independence is no longer a want or need, it is now a moral imperative unless we want a post-brexit Britain with the Conservatives as sole arbiters of our fundamental rights and freedoms. No disagreement, no difference, no aggravation should be so great that it procludes keeping the dream of self-governance alive and a continual interaction between politician and grass roots. It needs to stop, not for us, but for every man, woman and child in Scotland now and in future generations.
This is not a lambasting of individuals, nor of parties, but simply a reminder that like in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction and ultimately if you exercise the right not to engage, then those who you fail to engage with will choose the same option.
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