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Wings Over Scotland

The difference between words and talking

Posted on June 21, 2012 by

And so the phoney war rumbles on and gathers pace. The ‘No’ campaign – or whatever it decides to refer to itself as – will be unveiled shortly and we’ve heard (with a certain sense of deja vu) that the SNP has been debating the relative merits of the words “independenT” and “independenCE”. We have independence and Unionist groups galore appearing on Facebook and the web, we’ve got Cybernats and Britnats, republicans and monarchists, hawks and pacifists and goodness knows what else.

In the meantime, I still have the bills to pay, the washing to dry in the incessant rain, the mundane monotony of the “what’s for dinner?” conversations. Today a friend’s daughter is having a baby, while another lady I know has lost her best friend. The neverending cycle of joy and tears, grief and laughter rolls on.

Politicians would do well to stop and think about this – that away from Parliaments ordinary people are still living their everyday lives, and when we occasionally get to lift our noses from the grindstone we might appreciate a little passion from our politicians, a little honesty, some better research, and an end to the sniping and spin that threatens to suffocate the independence debate.

Discussions over whether “independence” is a dirty word and should be substituted with “an independent Scotland”, “transformational” and other “upbeat” phrases are just playing with the wrapping paper. This sort of marketing-speak is fine to listen to in a seminar on a rainy afternoon and then, well, let’s be honest – forget immediately. It’s not going to capture the imagination of ordinary people.

We need people on the streets, we need independence debates in all Scottish towns, and we need fetes, galas, stalls at county shows. We need real people, not marketing gurus. We need real passion, not “brand advocates”. We need supporters of independence to hold barbecues and chat about it over a few pints, or a dinner party, coffee morning or a discussion with their mates down the pub; we need secondary schools to be encouraging activists to debate with their 5th and 6th-year students. (They’ll be voting in 2014, they need to hear the arguments starting now.)

We need to stop being afraid we could lose, and start being excited about winning. Faint heart never won fair maiden and if this beautiful country is to be independent then we need to woo the people with an honest, open and passionate campaign, not tricksy words and frippery. This marketing-speak is like the cheese soufflé my mum used to make for dinner whenever she thought we weren’t looking – initially tasty but when you shut your mouth there’s nothing there of any substance to satisfy your hunger.

This advice goes for the Unionists too. They also need to step up to the mark – the paucity of their arguments, the comments that continue to suggest that Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid, are getting a bit tiresome. They have an opportunity to reach people and offer hope for the future of Scotland within the UK. If they fail to do that, they will be failing thousands of ordinary people, people who truly believe in a United Kingdom and who desperately want to see a coherent, well-researched opposition to the independence debate to sway the undecided. The Unionists haven’t offered that yet – perhaps we’ll hear it when they get round to their official launch.

In Holyrood last week both the Scottish Conservative and Labour parties had their erses thoroughly kicked at FMQs, a reflection more on their own poor performance rather than on Alex Salmond’s magnificent oratory. There’s absolutely no excuse for poor research – the modern-apprenticeship and FSA questions were easily dismissed due to the poor preparation of the questioners. The Unionist parties must start to enter into a proper debate.

They must challenge and be positive, rather than indulging in the ill-tempered sniping we’ve seen of late. How much more credible they’d have sounded if there had been a statement from Johann Lamont or Ruth Davidson accepting the evidence the First Minister gave at Leveson and drawing a line under the Murdoch issue, and then asking Alex Salmond if he could give us some indication of his defence, welfare or economic policy for an independent Scotland.

It’s much more difficult for the First Minister to avoid those questions when he isn’t handed a get-out-of-jail-free card by way of shoddy research and an assumption that he doesn’t read the Daily Telegraph, not to mention the opposition’s obsession with things the man and woman on the street couldn’t care less about. Ordinary people want to see the real issues properly debated. We want to be offered options, an insight into what might be on the table as far as key policies are concerned.

We’re well able to understand there are no definitive answers just yet – that we’ll have to vote for the government we want to take forward the electorate’s vision of Scotland after we’ve voted in the referendum. The Unionist parties, of course, aren’t likely to announce their prospective policies for the first government of an independent Scotland until such times as such a thing is voted into existence, but there are ideas and options that can be discussed by all parties committed to the ‘Yes’ campaign. Discussing these options will help people to understand that things can be different, and that we have a choice, that this is the time to make that choice and take our chance, the time to grasp the thistle and to make a real difference  to Scotland.

So politicians, let us have less plotting and more passion; less Peter Mandelson and more Dennis Canavan.  Ditch the dictats on the “right” words and rely on the passion and honesty of real people to convince the rest of us of the benefits and opportunities for change that only independence can offer. The freedom to choose our own way will lay the foundations for a better Scotland.

*A version of this article also appears on National Collective.

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  1. 22 06 12 10:08

    Scotland’s Independence Referendum: Media Round-Up, Friday 22/06/2012 « Still Raining, Still Dreaming

10 to “The difference between words and talking”

  1. EricF

    Agreed re market-speak and all that.  What I despair of (one of them anyway) is the seeming impossibility of getting any kind of constructive dialogue with Westminster and related institutions about how an independent Scotland might interact and co-operate with them.  Every attempt to explore this ground is met with dismissal, ridicule and an absolute refusal to contemplate the very possibility of it happening.  You can see why they do it, but it suggests there will be next to no meaningful discussion of these issues at all in the next two years.  

  2. R Louis

    I wholly agree with the article.  I feel that the SNP are falling over themselves to answer questions on ‘what an independent Scotland would be like’, but failing to point out the obvious fact that it will ultimately depend on which political party forms the Government.

    Time and again, I watch SNP politicians literally tying themselves in knots, attempting to answer the wholly ridiculous and incredible.  Silly and frankly pointless questions on ‘what will the Scottish income tax rate be in 2016, if independent’, are seemingly tackled with glee, rather than somebody pointing out the bleeping obvious fact that, no government on earth knows its income tax rates for 2016, including Westminster, so it’s pretty ridiculous to ask such a question for a future independent Scotland.

    Of course the SNP definitely should state their priorities and vision, but they singularly fail to remind people that whilst independence WILL categorically make things better for Scotland through decisions being made IN Scotland, political and fiscal policies will be dependent upon the nature of the Government elected to the ‘newly independent’ Scottish parliament.  They can most easily defuse the Britnats and expose the bland hypocrisy of Labour by throwing the same question at Labour or the Tories or indeed the Libdems.  If said parties state they have no such policies then this can be picked up on, to highlight the utter paucity of cohesive thought on the part of the NO campaign.

    Then we have the apparently absurd end of the pro independence scale, those who publicly say they only want independence if we abolish the monarchy, and nothing less will do.  Such people need reminded that as pointed out on this site recently, it is a referendum on independence for Scotland, it is NOT a referendum on the monarchy.  Ditto for green policies, socialism, neo liberalism, the pound, the euro, Europe, NATO etc…  Having said that, it can then be asserted, that ONLY with independence could such subsequent decisions ever be made in Scotland.

    The old mantra is ‘attack is the best form of defence’, yet the pro independence supporters seem to be falling over themselves attempting to answer the most absurd questions.  Such questions are designed to spread confusion and dismay.  Which brings me nicely on to my final point, the media.

    Whilst I agree with the above article, let’s be clear where the biggest failing lies within Scotland regarding the independence debate, and that is fairly and squarely the media.  The BBC are clearly following a spectacularly partisan anti independence path, in all they broadcast and all they do whether online or via TV/radio.  The instances of such blatant bias are well documented on site such as Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland.  It is now well beyond any kind of rational doubt.

    As for the print media, in most instances they so slavishly follow their own particular anti independence agenda, that facts or rational discourse become a secondary or even non existent priority. 

    The SNP can and should set out their vision for an independent Scotland, and of course they should inspire us, together with the Greens and socialists who support Scottish independence, but getting locked into silly ‘debates’ over the monarchy or any other nonsensical topic of the day is absurd and merely a distraction technique courtesy of the britnats and their very helpful BBC chums.  It is imperative that the independence supporters started thinking more clearly and ensure the message is factual and to the point.

    If I were a casual Scottish voter, and wanted to know about independence, I would likely despair.


  3. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy)

    Good article Sue.

    We not only need to steer the debate into the realm of possibilities and opportunities but additionally we have to do it in a broader arena than merely the internet. This needs to be print, radio, T.V and personal.

    The ability to do things differently, decide for ourselves and follow our own path needs to be shouted loud and clear, but more than that people need to know why we NEED to do things differently.

    The old addage “If it aint broke dont fix it” comes to mind when a lot of people think on Independence. We need to show them how it IS broken, why it doesnt work and how it impacts them.

    Relentless positivity will not achieve this, but that is not to say it does not have its place.

    Closer to the vote we can be positive about the future options but HERE AND NOW people need to understand why we need change. That means pointing out the negative, showing the problems and probing the Union as it stands today, and how it will be tomorrow.

    Lets hope that the “Official” independence movement gets the script and starts to fight fire with fire, open up the debate and explore the options.

  4. TYRAN

    The silhouette on the right is Jim “Spud” Murphy. The one on the left, former Scottish footballer Alec Cleland.

  5. YesYesYes

    @R Louis,
    “no government on earth knows its income tax rates for 2016, including Westminster, so it’s pretty ridiculous to ask such a question for a future independent Scotland”.
    It’s even worse than that. Cast your mind back to the 2010 British general election. Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats made a number of policy pledges that they would implement if they were elected to office. They’d barely been in office for two weeks when many of these policy pledges were, at best, severely curtailed or, at worst, abandoned altogether.
    You’ll recall that the line that was spun at the time, particularly by the Liberal Democrats, was that it was only when they’d been in government for two weeks and had a chance to ‘see the books’, to use their phrase, that they realised the scale of the task ahead of them.
    So, on the one hand, we have a British government that is deemed to be acting reasonably when it reverses many of its policy pledges on the basis that it could not predict the policy environment that it would inherit two weeks in advance. And, on the other hand, we have the same British government, and its apologists, demanding that the SNP make detailed policy announcements into the distant future.
    Consider also the budget u-turns performed by the present British government in the last few months. A number of policies which, some three months ago, were presented as being set in stone, as providing solutions to Britain’s problems, have, in the space of the last twelve weeks, been reversed after being discredited as being either unworkable or unfair. Yet these are the very same people who are trying to persuade us that we should entrust our future to them, that we should trust in their British incompetence and mismanagement.
    Of course, if you’re not happy with the blue Tories you can always turn to the red Tories, the government that got us into this mess in the first place. It is a defining characteristic of both Labour and the Tories in the independence debate that they want us to be fearful of the imagined disasters that might befall an independent Scotland, but they require us to exercise a collective memory-loss when it comes to the actual real disasters that successive British governments have imposed on Scotland for decades. 

  6. Peter A Bell

    I do not accept that a professional and a grass-roots campaign are mutually exclusive. We need to advance the independence case on all fronts and by every means that we can devise. The language in which the case is framed is very important. To imagine otherwise is to indulge in the kind of reactionary naivety that would be a gift to the anti-independence campaign.
    If your opponents are getting all worked up about your tactics, it’s probably because they fear their effectiveness.

  7. Tris

    I noticed the other day that the Scotsman ran a story saying that Scotland faced 6 years of economic uncertainty if it chose independence.

    Only 6, I thought…

    I was wondering how many years of economic uncertainty the UK faces.

    Much, of course, is dependent on how President Hollande and Angela Merkel can sort out the Euro crisis, but that would affect Scotland and England more or less equally. That aside, even Osborne can’t really paint a good picture of the future, despite the drop in the unemployment figure, which is cosmetic in any case.

  8. pa_broon

    I don’t think it matters what the SNP or any other indy supporting entity says, its going to be twisted around by the press, rehashed by Labour, rerehashed by the tories and libdems.

    The fact is, if SNP people said outright they didn’t know the answer to the nitty-gritty questions they’d be presented in the media as not having a clue.

    The only thing I can think of for them to do and keep doing is reiterate at every opportunity that the referendum is not about politics, not about what party you support, its not about the SNP or Alex Salmond (people who like them and him are already in the bag in terms of votes,) its certainly not about the left or right, its about basic governance; namely where from. I don’t even care about who it is, they could be Nigerian as long as they’re provably and demonstably for Scotland and the best interests of its inhabitants.

    Conversely, the SNP withdrawing somewhat from the process might win some of those floating voters over to the yes camp, sounds counter-intuitive but there it is.

    More than anything though, we need an objective press and no BBC involvement at all if possible, it is incredibly frustrating when you talk about this with someone and they say ‘but the bbc said…’

    I suppose, indy supporters if asked for details could say, “income tax (for example) will be set at the level offered by the party who is voted into office after independence. Until then, it’ll stay the same.”

  9. Arbroath1320

    Tris says:
    June 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm
    I noticed the other day that the Scotsman ran a story saying that Scotland faced 6 years of economic uncertainty if it chose independence.
    Here’s how the Scotsman ran with that story.

    I wouldn’t get too upset about it though, ’cause if we stay in the union then we are going to face this.

    Now personally I think I’d rather face 5 or 6 years of economic uncertainty rather than 210 years of economic cuts generated by Westminster!

  10. Jim Campbell

    It doesn’t matter that Labour tell lies about the apprenticeship programme
    Because the BBC  news site has been running the Labour press release about this
    for the past 4 – 5 days as if it were real news.    
    The BBC runs Labour press releases  and other Labour party lies, accusations, smears and innenuendo without any corroborating evidence or balanced reporting.

    Even when these Labour lies are totally disproved the BBC continues to run them and 
    does not even have the honesty to  run a retraction.

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