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Wings Over Scotland

The masses against the classes

Posted on December 01, 2012 by

Unionist Collective. Radical Unionist Conference. Women For The Union. March & Rally for Scotland in the Union. Scottish Unionist Convention. That’s a list of things you probably won’t see appearing between now and 2014, and with good reason. In fact, the thought of such groups starting up seems inherently preposterous. But why?

If there’s one thing that notably separates the independence and unionist campaigns, it’s the amount of choice on offer. Those who seek a Scotland in control of its own affairs have an ever-increasing array of organisations they can get behind to fight for it (indeed, many of us are members of multiple groups), whereas those who wish for Scotland to remain in the Union have a dearth of options. It’s a metaphor for the debate itself – independence offers us whatever future we can dare to imagine, whereas remaining in the Union has just one predictable (but depressing) outcome.

This, of course, is precisely why there are so many groups on the independence side – because the limitless possibilities give us something to get excited about. But how do you get people excited about voting for the status quo, a scenario that even the leader of the No campaign admits is not fit for purpose? The answer, of course, would be to make “No” mean something exciting, hence the attempt to make it about further devolution with Devo+, an idea which has yet to set the world on fire.

It’s worth noting that groups like National Collective, Radical Independence and Women For Independence have all sprung up organically and are in no way party-affiliated, something which is increasingly shaping up to be one of the main strengths of the independence argument.

The winning side in the referendum will be the one which manages to engage ordinary people the most. The Yes campaign is already demonstrably doing this, whereas grassroots Unionism is conspicuous so far by its absence. This comes as no surprise to anyone who understands why pro-indy bloggers and commenters on the internet outnumber Unionists massively, or who understands why sites like Newsnet Scotland and Bella Caledonia flourish while sites like Labour Hame (which has seen just four posts in the last two months) struggle to keep any momentum going.

If people can’t even be bothered to argue for the Union online, then how are they going to be galvanised to set up an advocacy group and promote their cause on the streets? The answer is they won’t, so instead the Unionist cause depends entirely on politicians (and wannabe politicians), whose instinct is almost always to fall back on lies, smears, argumentum ad hominem and every other trick in the political book. While sometimes effective against other politicians, that tends to be a much less successful strategy when directed at a diverse group of ordinary voters.

By way of illustration, it’s tempting to look at the AV referendum and imagine that the same negative tactics that were deployed to defeat AV could be used against independence. But the missing ingredient in the AV referendum was something positive for people to get excited about. AV is just a convoluted version of First Past The Post – in fact, AV fits that description far better than how Westminster is currently elected – and not something which (so far as we’re aware) there’s ever been a popular movement for anywhere on Earth.

But in 2014, the negative forces of the Tory-funded, Labour-populated “Better Together” campaign will be up against an idea more than 300 years in the making, and with a building groundswell of popular support since the 1970s. An idea like that is hard to silence with a few cynical posters positing false choices between maternity units and independence, particularly when all three Westminster parties are united around a programme of savage austerity for years to come.

It’s in the interests of the Unionist side to make independence campaigners fear differing visions in case it gets spun as “conflict”. But presenting a future of choices to people will not lose a single vote. Restricting the electorate’s choices tends to have the opposite effect.

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22 to “The masses against the classes”

  1. Doug Daniel says:

    Needless to say, I wholeheartedly approve of the Manics-inspired title *applauds*.

  2. smallwhitebear says:

    Did yo hear Good Morning Scotland today 39:20
    Tory/ David Cameron plan to remove Scottish, Welsh and Irish MPs from Westminster in return for increased devolution and to promote a more “federal” UK.
    The main Tory aim being to have Tories in power at Westminster forever.

  3. Bill C says:

    @smallwhitebear – I wonder if this is the same kite flying or is Scottish Skier’s analysis starting to sprout wings? Excuse the awful pun Rev.

  4. Tamson says:

    The No campaign is basically relying on older traditional voters. As such, online campaigning and debate has limited effectiveness.
    If the older generations (where the bulk of Labour and most of the Conservative vote remains) can be pushed even towards a 50-50 split, the Yes campaign will have won.
    So, how to reach those voters?

  5. Iain says:

    @Doug Daniel
    Good piece, I sometimes get a bit bipolar about our chances but we should always remember that we’re the idealists with the positive vision. Thursday’s vote in Westminster when over 300 MPs (including 32 Scottish ones) essentially stated that Scotland would be punished if we voted for independence was just the latest installment of the Union’s MASSIVE huff.
    Re masses, I think it was originally Gladstone, not bad for a C19th Liberal of aristocratic background – unimaginable from today’s LDs.
    ‘All the world over, I will back the masses against the classes’

  6. muttley79 says:

    The No campaign has the advantage that the media mostly supports it.  It also has the advantage of an ideology that has had hundreds of years to develop and gain a foothold on the Scottish psyche.  Unionism is also the official ideology and has the full weight of the British state behind it. 

    Having said that, there is no vision, no energy or dynamism in the the No campaign.  There is no positive ideas and only offers the usual ‘separatist’ rhetoric.  It must be soul-destroying to work in the No campaign. 

    In addition, the Yes campaign has different elements, such as various political parties and groups.  It also has a significant non-political element.  It has energy, ideas and a real determination to improve Scotland’s social and economic conditions. 

    Rev Stu also mentioned an important point about the No campaign being up against an idea over 300 years old.  The 1707 union has always had popular resistance against it.  Think of the riots in Edinburgh in 1707, the Jacobite swords at Culloden in 1745, with the engravings of ‘No Union,’ and Robert Burns’ ‘brought and sold for English gold’ line.  This continues to the present day with the SNP and the wider independence movement.  The unionists could achieve the effective surrender of Scottish sovereignty, but they could not kill off the popular memory of, and appeal of, the opposition to the union.

  7. cath says:

    One other major thing the Yes camp has going for it is that, regardless of alternative visions, policy ideas or even the odd bit of bad feeling between some groups within the campaign, at its base we all want the same thing: independence. And there is an understanding that much of what we dream of and hope for post independence cannot and will never come about unless we first get that Yes vote. So we have the passion and excitement of debating radically new ideas and of working towards a new country, but with that one solid, unifying necessity.

    The No campaign has no hope for a better future, and no vision. And even if anyone within it wanted to change that, and wanted to try and provide some kind of vision, there’s no way the parties involved could or would agree on that vision. The 3 parties are political enemies at heart, and have no abiding reason beyond self-preservation to keep fighting for a no vote. Self-preservation might be enough to keep the MPs involved for now, but I can’t imagine the 3-way Lab-Tory-Lib coalition lasting for 2 years, because there is nothing else at all contingent on that vote – just continuation of the same, the status quo. That’s not enough to keep political differences buried.

  8. jambo51 says:

    Online is of course important but so is letters pages on traditional newspapers.

    However  the most important part of the YES campaign should be speaking to voters on the doorsteps and answering the numerous doubts people have and there is little evidence that this important task is being addressed.

  9. Dcanmore says:

    Of course when it is mentioned that there will be years and years of austerity measures being promoted and supported by the Unionistas, what they actually mean is austerity everywhere apart from the SE bubble. The London Evening Standard ran a story on Friday on how the government is throwing another £300 million into shovel-ready London projects, and there was positive blanket coverage on Boris’s trip to India where he was promoting London to Indian businessmen. In contrast, the Scottish Government are screaming into a brick wall trying to get Cameron to release cash for Scottish shovel-ready projects (around £300m funnily enough) and when AS goes on a trade mission abroad it’s met with howls of derision.

    There is no positivity with the Union or Better Together, and I believe the NO campaign will slowly disintegrate as they have no room to manoeuvre. Brian Taylor was right when he said the three unionist parties will ‘shuffle’ together to oppose Independence, they have no cohesion or the will for a lengthy battle. If they did organise a march against independence then it would be populated by Union flag waving extreme groups such as the BNP and Orange Order. The long game is ours to win, we just have to make sure that we don’t follow them down to their obnoxious level.

  10. G H Graham says:

    That there is around 150,000 signatories to the YES campaign is encouraging yet reveals the scale of the challenge. Assuming the 1 million signature target is an appropriate indicator that a majority of the electorate would take the plunge & vote positively to begin the process of negotiations with Westminster as the first step towards independence, then over well over 38,000 new signatures must be received each and every month between now and the autumn of 2014.

    That means the campaign must receive an average of at least 1,200 new signatures on each and every single day lasting approximately 660 days.

    Another way to look at it is that from all the current signatories, each must recruit at least 7 more signatories to hit the magic 1 million target.

    Blair Jenkins needs to communicate the specific requirement from all the current signatories so that everyone understands their own target, otherwise complacency will set in & an assumption that someone else will do the leg work will guarantee failure.

    We must remind ourselves that although we may not like hearing it, we live in a cynical, sceptical, cannae dae country, hammered into us each and every day by a corrupt, biased media & belligerant Unionist propaganda machine.

    The battle really isn’t about politics or even economics, it’s a psychological one.

  11. Ronald Henderson says:

    In my opinion it was daft to come up with this million signatures idea. What was the real point of it? To show that only 20% of our population care enough about independence to actually be bothered to click on a computer screen?
    It’s just not wise to make oneself a hostage to fortune. What happens if they only get 999,000? They will just look daft. Too many things aren’t being thought through thoroughly enough.
    The Yes campaign is packed with intelligent and very patriotic Scots, but it needs leaders with smeddum who aren’t afraid to call the enemy exactly what they are: a bunch of creeping parasites who would rather live on a pittance of a handout from a London Government than actually go out and work for their own country to build a society of which we can all be proud to call our own.
    Lamont, Davidson, Rennie. Shits. The lot of them.

  12. mogabee says:

    Ronald Henderson
     I don’t want “our” side to start any negativity by calling anyone “shits” ! Give them some credit for knowing how to get us to Independence without creating a deep rift between the two sides. Let the NO’s keep up the negative language and see where it gets them in the long run. I’d much rather be a tortoise than a hare in this instance!

  13. Holebender says:

    I agree setting a target of 1,000,000 was unwise, and a hostage to fortune.
    I also agree that we should leave the negative, name-calling, stuff to the nay-sayers. I think it’s valid to point out the negative consequences of the union, especially the post-NO union, but calling people “shits” does not advance the cause. Whether or not people actually are shits.

  14. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “I agree setting a target of 1,000,000 was unwise, and a hostage to fortune.

    I also agree that we should leave the negative, name-calling, stuff to the nay-sayers. I think it’s valid to point out the negative consequences of the union, especially the post-NO union, but calling people “shits” does not advance the cause. Whether or not people actually are shits.”


  15. Ronald Henderson says:

    Aye ok. I won’t call them shits anymore, (ged a tha fios againn gu bheil iad direach sin gu tur.)

  16. muttley79 says:

    O/T.  Those nasty cybernats are at it again…From the Sun newspaper

    Gary Coburn wrote on the Better Together site that he wanted to fire BULLETS at party leaders.
    The threat was posted on Thursday — but web bosses at the campaign, run by former Chancellor Alistair Darling, only removed it last night.

    An SNP spokesman said: “That the offending post stayed on their page while other posts were edited suggests it was given the OK.

    “Alistair Darling must clamp down on this unsavoury element.”

    Coburn made the comment in response to an earlier post criticising Nats MSP David Torrance for encouraging SNP members to attend a Better Together talk by ex-PM Gordon Brown.

    Referring to the 2014 indy poll he said: “I wish the vote was how many bullets do we get to fire into the SNP leaders.”

    Better Together said: “We’ve strict rules about what can be said on our Facebook page. The user will be banned.”

  17. AMM says:

    “the Unionist cause depends entirely on politicians (and wannabe politicians),”….  um and rather unfortunately the vast majority of the press.

  18. Doug Daniel says:

    AMM – perhaps, but my point is they’re not generating any excitement outside the usual suspects of political campaigning, and the press are included in that. The winning side will be the one that gets folk who usually ignore politics interested, and the press don’t come under that.

  19. Doug Daniel says:

    In regards to the 1,000,000 signatories, bear in mind that the 150,000 signatories Yes Scotland have now is 150,000 more than the number Better Together have for wanting to stay in the union. I think it was very much about making a statement of intent, and while 1,000,000 might sound like a lot, I think it was important not to set the bar too low. If they’d said “we’ll get 250,000 signatories!” they’d have been open to ridicule. If no number had been placed on it at all, there would have been questions about how many signatories counted as success and it would have seemed like less of a statement.

    As for getting X amount of signatures per month/week/day, it’s not going to be a linear thing. Many folk are still making up their minds, but come summer/autumn 2014, people will be more focused on the question. The numbers will rise sharply the nearer we get to the actual vote.

    Maybe it’s made the Yes campaign a hostage to fortune, but I think it could prove to be a clever gimmick. It’s getting people to commit themselves (in their mind at least) to voting “yes” before they’ve even walked into the polling booth, and it also gives another (better?) way of gauging how the campaign is going as opposed to the usual opinion polls.

    Ask yourselves this – is anyone going to vote “no” in the referendum just because the Yes declaration hasn’t hit 1,000,000 signatures?

  20. douglas clark says:

    Doug Daniel,
    There are a few very negative people who would use any excuse whatsoever for voting no. They usually inhabit the comments column of the Herald. Apart from them, no.

    Good article, btw.

  21. Luigi says:

    The one million signatures was a bold, positive move and we have to show confidence if we are to have any chance of winning. I was also wary about the enormity of the task, but I think that more and more people will sign up as minds become focused in the final year before the referendum. 150,000 signatures at this early stage is pretty good. Many scots are not ready to engage in the referendum debate (maybe after Christmas)! In addition to the upbeat, confident message conveyed, the signatures initiative forms an ideal platform for bringing yes supporters together at this critical, early stage in the campaign. It keeps people engaged with something to work for, keeping the referendum “warm” as the other important strategies are developed and carried out. If less than one million signatures are obtained, then the No-campaigners may well laugh, but our immediate response should be “how many signatures did your campaign achieve?”. They won’t be laughing for long, anyhow. 750,000 signatures, followed by a YES vote in 2014? I’ll settle for that!

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