Earlier this year Hilary Wainwright and I noted the complete absence of any expression of the Yes campaign in the British press. There were streams of articles which argued why such a vote would be catastrophic for the people of Scotland. How naive they were to imagine they could keep the pound, remain in the EU, prevent their descent into sheer profligacy, and would be overwhelmed by the most reactionary forms of nationalism. It was George Robertson who even suggested that a yes vote would give succour to Al Qaeda.
Unaware of what the Yes campaigners were arguing, we called a public meeting, considering this was such an important issue which could prise open a discussion about the sterile structures of the British state: Westminster, the Crown and the City being the vital triumvirate to be targeted.
With the help of Plaid Cymru we booked a room at the Palace of Westminster for 26 June. Where better to host the radical visions of a new state north of the border than in the belly of the beast herself? We had the largest committee room filled to the gills and it was one of those meetings which you would not have missed for the world. (Something that could seldom be said!)
Neal Acheson was the first speaker and opened ‘The Union was dead and being red robed into dust when in 1999 the Scottish Parliament opened’. It was then that Winnie Ewing stated the Scottish Parliament had been ‘reconvened’. But more importantly he thought the Yes campaign has won the referendum campaign as the discussion is being centred on the sort of independence they wanted.
Obviously heavy lifting gear will be needed to consider the economic and constitutional changes required. To reconsider the uncritical institutional powers that have developed – EIS, the Scotland of the Local Authorities etc and there are political powers that have been and need to be challenged.
Beyond the SNP
Gordon Brown stated that this is a campaign for or against the SNP but in this he is completely wrong. It is not about the SNP. It is a huge mass mobilisation, a social movement typified by labour supporters not trusting Salmond and yet who cannot bring themselves to vote no. The question which has to be faced is whether the SNP could survive a yes vote, as the Yes campaign has rearranged the political parties in Scotland.
It is possible (and essential) to wreck the supreme law and redistribute power to the people, more responsibility has to be allocated to them. A No vote will mean we have a Tory Britain and Brexit with Scotland dragged with them. The future will see further advance of neoliberalism and further mutilation of the public services and a major difficulty to defend the remnants of social democracy.
The second speaker Joyce McMillan is a drama critic, a writer on culture for the Scotsman and an activist. She had been present in Tusla when the Civic Forum was called. If the result is division then more dialogue is needed. She denied that it was nationalism which was the driving force for the Yes campaign but the most important principle was the drive for social justice. Today wishy washy social democracy is pathetic, a pale shadow of the movement for social justice which motivated the political and social changes of the 40s and 50s. Instead today we have regressed to living in a world akin to that described by Dickens. For her the love affair with Labour which was evident in Scotland is over; if you want a a Tory, it would be better to vote Tory.
‘A nation without walls’
For the playwright David Greig the Yes campaign’s model is the experience of the National Theatre of Scotland. In 1920s the building of such a theatre was being discussed but he said that he was mightily relieved that it was never built. They would have been saddled with Doric pillars and statues of Wallace and Burns and he would be campaigning to close it. Instead through the devolution campaign it was possible to debate and think about a way that the National theatre would be a genuine one . A theatre without walls and a truly nationally centred theatre. How else could you have a national? theatre? in Scotland. Today there is now a fleet of foot institution. A model for Scotland and others. In the 20s it would have been an imitation of UK with hard borders and an army etc.
For him the Yes campaign should be arguing for a nation without walls. An independence which could share and pool sovereignty from the European level to the local communities; ‘We want a democracy that goes all the way down and through the front door.’
The whole process of debate around devolution has ensured that people are educating themselves about why are things the way they are? What are renewables? Crown estates? Renovation? Land reform? And there is a new media which is becoming their own media. ‘At present we live in the choice in favour of the establishment’ he said.
He also thought that the campaign holds a message for England, that ‘change is possible’. “There is a shimmering on the water which could transform democracy as happened in 1945.’
The referendum is just the beginning
Cat Boyd, is a young activist who is one of the cofounders of Radical Independence, which is not a party or a think tank but a movement. Explaining that she had been ‘outed’ by a Labour MP for being a socialist. For her the campaign is not about nations for change but changing people’s lives and their futures. The central question is what will be the best answer for people’s lives.
This is not politics as normal. Whereas the No campaign is wanting it all to be over, for those who are supporting the Yes vote it will not finish with the vote on September 18th.
There are decisions that need to be made (and with independence can be made) on Trident and the nuclear convoy as well as the establishment of a society which will be based in responding to people’s needs.
Pete Ramand is co-author of ‘Yes: the radical case for Scottish independence’. He argued Britain is a most unequal society in the midst of a huge global economic crisis, and with a mounting ecological crisis. The answer to which is not green capitalism. He said that there as a need to be radical and the whole campaign opens up so many possibilities. Ed Miliband is selling his optimism with the slogan ‘Britain can do better’ , Brown was ‘proud’ of Britain’s role in Africa! Blair argues that ‘the destiny of Britain is to lead others’. Neil Ferguson argues that Britain has created Anglo globalisation, the British Empire handed the mantle to USA and the English speaking world operates as a wise council to the US colossus. ‘Commerce, Christianity and civilisation’.
For him the key question is: which is the more dangerous – the old imperialism of Britain or a break up of an old state and potentially creating a new modern state?
Energy on the streets
Inequality in Britain is starkly evident: 35% of the wealth is in the City of London and 3% in South Wales. The state operates under an air of contemptuous neglect.
He spoke about the energies and the creativity which has been unleashed by the debates around devolution. There is a thirst for discussion and answers and attendance at meetings throughout Scotland have shown a new spirit and new determination. He gave the example of the grandmother who after attending a meeting for the first time in her life, spoke and said that ‘When this is over I’m not going back to my sofa’.
There is a new media with over 30,000 participating in Wings over Scotland. ‘When you become yes it is not a bit yes!’ He said, and the Yes campaign it is not a campaign of politicians. It is acceptable and necessary to have debates in order to create ideas about powers, he argued. It is necessary to educate ourselves and vital to create our own media.
Questions were then asked about what are the opportunities this referendum creates? What sort of a society do we want to live in? How will it be possible to maintain the movement and leave behind a stronger social democratic infrastructure. How, unlike Obama’s heritage, will it be possible to leave behind a genuine mass movement? It was also noted that this will be a state which needs and welcomes immigration which will be a notable exception in the EU.
Finally it was agreed that we should organise a Yes train with a women’s delegation to go and help canvass and give support. People were urged to phone everyone who can vote, as every person matters, to use social media, to respond to the press, and to ‘be a witness for us’.
Join us on the weekend of 6 – 8 September to come to Scotland and canvass, attend meetings, support the work of the Yes campaigners and savour the excitement and the power that the Yes campaigners have generated.