At the heart of a campaign is the common cause. When all else can be qualified, debated, amended or dropped, the core objective must be inviolate. Whatever the disagreements on preparation tactics and post-event consequences, there can be no debate about objective. The ultimate aim is an inspiration to all and is the focus for all, wherever else they find points of difference.
I was wondering about this as I took part on the Radical Independence gathering on Saturday and heard uplifting contributions about re-making our society as an egalitarian community, creating a genuine democracy uncorrupted by corporate power and rejecting the neoliberalism of a market economy.
This is a powerful and intellectually-driven agenda which Scotland has been lacking since Labour shuffled off its radical skin and, more recently, socialist votes were hoovered up by the SNP – aided by internecine implosion.
I personally engage with the message and think it has echoes throughout Scottish society. I have deep admiration for those who have been carefully crafting it and who have the chutzpah to promote it to a growing audience. So why do I hesitate?
One reason is a recent communication from one of the originators of the New Scotland who was worried that my own wish for independence was identity-based and therefore exclusive and could be used by the No campaigners as a sign of division – that is, you’re either one of us or you’re not, in which case, we reject you.
As I said at the time, it isn’t individual identity I’m talking about, rather it is allegiance to nation because the referendum offers a choice between two national entities – Scotland and Britain. So my argument is that you have to choose which you prefer to run the government, either the nascent Scottish state or the existing UK and the choice indicates your preference. That leads to a question for No voters: If you think of yourself as a Scot, why do you choose Britain as your governing country? If nationhood is the benchmark for all the other nations on earth, why do you accord a lesser status to your own country?
So my correspondent wanted the choice to be between how the country should be run rather than which country you preferred because that was potentially divisive. So as I listened at the conference I imagined myself to be a different kind of Scot, rather than, as I am, a member of the liberal-minded media city set – a shopkeeper from Forfar perhaps, a fisherman from Fraserburgh or a farmhand from the Borders. I still want change, I know society isn’t equitable and I do believe in the Scots but do I readily grasp that Scotland – despite my vote electing the SNP, despite the referendum itself – is “not a democracy” as one speaker said or that “corporations run the country” as did another?
If I have a few thousand in the bank, if I’m a promoted teacher on a professional salary, if I’m comfortably off in retirement with no mortgage, am I one of the “rich that is voting No?” If I am one of that constituency – a baby boomer maybe – and I’ve done alright and I’m seriously toying with a Yes vote, will I find that language engaging or will I shy away from being told I’m a capitalist pariah in a class war? Part of the problem with casting No people as the privileged is that, if it were true, it seems they are in the majority, according to the polls, so tactically that is a self-harming assessment likely to damage your prospects of winning them over.
We are immediately into classification of course. Who is rich? We know that in Scotland they are getting richer, no doubt, but the figures show there are only 25,000 people known to be earning over £120,000 a year. If they are the rich who are voting No then the Yes campaign has little to worry about even if they all back Better Together. My point is that that there is a thick layer of Scottish society which is gainfully employed on a good income or retired (ditto), home-owning, investment-holding, car-polishing and holiday-going. Are they the target of the class war?
Now I’m not being disingenuous. I know the real target is multi nationals and party funding, lobbyists and greasy handed politicians and a global corporate structure shaping our affairs to their own advantage, not that of the people of the world. But I think a campaign strategy has to be subtle enough to include all possible support and the genuine danger here is that those respectable Scots who love their country and are thinking maybe the time has come to cut her free to flourish will recoil if they get a sense – via the media – their vote is to create a socialist republic.
For many out there I suspect it is already a personal struggle to rationalise to others more sceptical why they are planning to vote for independence. Challenged on questions many Yes campaigners take for granted, – How can we afford it? What happens when the oil runs out? – switchers remain unsure and lacking in the confidence to articulate their views. The last thing they need is to be asked if they are now socialists opposed to the corporations who bring up the oil, who export the fish, beef and lamb, provide their pensions and employ their family.
Applying my earlier correspondent’s test to the conference, I see a real danger that the whole Yes movement can be dressed as a divisive class war with, as its target, not the rich of which there are vanishing few, but middle Scotland, playing into the hands of Better Together and their narrative of keeping things as they are because of fear of what may lie ahead – a message designed for respectable, deferential Scotland which also happens to be Most-Likely-to-Vote-Scotland.
I subscribe to the demand for radical change and believe Scotland can be a beacon for others, but in the beginning, in the first few days of a new nation the real risk isn’t globalisation, it is disinvestment – of people, companies, investment funds and economic credibility. I don’t believe that will happen in any significant way but we have to guard against a rocky start so the transition can be smooth as there are no guarantees. And this leads to the key point: None of these dreams of change will have meaning without a Yes vote. It is only then that the hopes of a nation can fly and everything must be focussed on the one aim – the common cause. No one should be told – or allowed to think – they are not wanted in the new nation because every one of their votes counts the same. It is one thing Better Together have never wavered from. Their content and tone is often offensive but they are not interested in nuance or morality, only in winning. That mentality – however unattractive to dreamers among us – has to be replicated by Yes. It is the core objective without which everything else turns to dust.
I’m not criticising the ideals and the inspiration behind the movement and I accept fully that some idea of what the new country can be like is needed as a guide and to give a reason for voting. But we are entering the difficult phase when all views and attitudes will come into play and I worry that there is a tendency to be too prescriptive about the country after Yes which can repel as many as it attracts. My personal approach is to focus on what no one can dispute or deny – my right to vote Yes because Scotland is my country and my home and deserves to fulfil itself through joining with the other nations of the world and there we will find our feet as an independent people forging the country we want.