Category Archives: Yes campaign

Still dreaming

Blair Jenkins
Blair Jenkins.
My subconscious mind must have been busy dealing with the anniversary of the independence referendum: Last night I dreamt that I was in a pub with Blair Jenkins, telling him we had to start campaigning for independence again; he agreed with me, and suddenly he stood up, press photographers appeared out of nowhere, and he announced his successor as leader of Yes Scotland (it was somebody famous, but I had forgotten who it was by the time I woke up).

Like other Yes campaigners, today I’m flying a Saltire from the house and wearing my good old Yes badges. Of course, like many other people I never removed by Yes and Bu Chòir stickers from my car, so it’ll look the same as always.

The UK hasn’t been fixed (in fact it’s even worse now that the Tories have an absolute majority), and although it’s looking like Scotland will get slightly more new powers than I had expected, it’s still nowhere near home rule. And of course, once you’ve set your sight on independence, nothing else will ever be good enough.

Like many other people, in the past year I’ve thought about various things that we could have done better: We should have tailored our messages better in Edinburgh and the North-East, Yes Scotland made many errors, the Yes campaign to a large extent ignored EU citizens, and we should have tried to make postal voting less vulnerable to fraud.

But more than anything, we need to start campaigning for independence again. We don’t need to wait for the next referendum to be called — that’s a technicality that can be dealt with once we’ve got 60% support in the polls. At the moment, we’ve got the people, we’ve got the ideas, and we’ve got the momentum.

The dream will never die, and we can make it come true soon!

Lest the momentum fades

Yesterday Craig Murray made some important points about the timing of the next independence referendum:

The SNP is full of siren voices arguing that they should enjoy their spoils for a decade or two while maintaining a steady trudge towards independence. They whisper that we have to await a 60% Yes lead in the opinion polls before we try again as another defeat would be disastrous.

But the greater danger is that the momentum fades. You would have to be the greatest optimist in the World to imagine a more favourable conjunction of circumstances for Independence than an extremist Tory government at Westminster, a Labour Party in meltdown, the Liberals almost eliminated and the SNP supreme in Scotland. Plus the residue of the huge momentum of the IndyI campaign, which put on 14 points in 12 months.

This dream conjunction will not last forever. The great danger is letting the moment slip through our fingers.

I think this is a very good point. If we look at the situation in other countries, everything is in a flux at the moment, and people do things they wouldn’t have dreamt of before. Syriza and Podemos wouldn’t have done so well just a few years ago, and closer to home Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t have stood a chance against Miliband five years ago. At the same time, huge numbers of refugees are arriving in Europe and it is not at all certain what that will mean for the future of the EU and our place in the world.

People everywhere are looking for a way out of the current mess. At some point in the future, a solution will be found (let’s just hope it’s a positive solution and not a modern version of the 1930s) and things will settle down again, and by then independence could easily be off the agenda for another generation.

The time to take a leap into the unknown — and declaring independence from the rUK falls into this category no matter how many components of the UK you decide to retain after independence — is during a time of uncertainty.

Nobody knows how long the current situation will last, but I would expect things to calm down within the next decade. In other words, if the next independence referendum doesn’t get called before 2025, there’s a huge risk it will suddenly have to wait another 30 years.

I’m not arguing we should call a new referendum tomorrow. The opinion polls haven’t shifted enough yet, and there needs to be a real, tangible reason to call a referendum. However, time is of the essence.

We need to campaign for independence now as if the second independence referendum had already been called. By campaigning — and yes, that means arranging meetings, marching through Edinburgh, putting Yes stickers everywhere and chapping on doors — we can get to the 60% support for Yes that will convince our most cautious of friends that the time is right to call a second referendum, and at that point winning it will be a mere formality.

(In Craig Murray’s blog post he then goes on to discuss the conditions for a UDI, which I think is perhaps a distraction at this stage. There are times when that might be the best solution, but at the moment we should assume that Westminster won’t fight a Scottish Government that has got the popular mandate to call another referendum. He’s also unhappy that the SNP won’t let him stand as a Holyrood candidate; I appreciate he’s a bit more outspoken that your typical prospective MSP, but I believe “it’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in,” as Lyndon B. Johnson said about somebody completely different, so I hope they’ll reconsider in the future.)

The Independence Institute

Yes Govan
Yes Govan.
I can understand why Yes Scotland was closed down after the referendum — it was expensive and yet not that good at coordinating the grassroots. However, nothing has filled the void left behind.

The SNP is of course doing incredibly well, but at the end of the day it’s a political party and not only an independence organisation. The same holds true for the Greens and the SSP.

As a result of this, you haven’t see any official SNP involvement in the marches and rallies that have been held since the referendum — and partly as a consequence of this, Tommy Sheridan has several times taken the opportunity to up his profile by being a big presence at the rallies.

It’s also not quite clear how much effort is going into dissecting all the flaws of the first independence campaign to ensure we do better next time.

At the same time, many people — myself included — are clearly waiting impatiently for independence, and yet we understand that we must wait until there’s a clear Yes majority in the opinion polls before calling a new referendum.

So we need a rallying point. However, setting up Yes Scotland Mark II is probably not a good idea — we don’t need a campaign organisation at this stage.

I would instead propose that we set up an Independence Institute with the following remit:

  • To organise events (conferences, workshops, perhaps even rallies) where pro-independence parties, organisations, bloggers and individuals can meet up and exchange ideas.
  • To analyse the first independence campaign and figure out how to do better next time.
  • To produce badges, car stickers and other materials that supporters can use when the don’t want to use party-branded stuff.
  • To liaise with all the pro-independence parties to ensure they all remain committed to the cause and are ready once the second campaign gets called.
  • To push support for independence up over the 60% mark that will probably trigger a new referendum.

The Independence Institute would probably be a mixture between a think tank and a campaign organisation. Once the second indyref gets called, it can hopefully easily transform itself into Yes Scotland II.

We need to campaign for independence now

My daughters were doing their bit during the indyref, too.
My daughters were doing what they could during the indyref, too.
Although the opinion polls are shifting towards Yes, they’re moving at a snail’s pace. (The most recent one had 47.5% Yes vs. 52.5% No.) I personally find it puzzling that no matter what horrors the Tories throw at us, most of the No voters don’t seem to be reconsidering their position.

It’s particularly strange because the months since the referendum have seen the huge landslide towards the SNP, so in many polls this party is now more popular than independence (and that’s ignoring the other Yes parties).

The problem with this is that we’re unlikely to get a new referendum until Yes is significantly ahead of No in all the polls. I don’t think there’s a magic number as such, but Alister Rutherford’s argument that we need 60%+ is pretty sound.

Not only that, but we can’t expect the Tories to listen to the 56 SNP MPs unless they’re backed up by a convincing majority in Scotland. As long as they know that we wouldn’t dare call a new referendum, they can effectively ignore Scotland and concentrate on making their Southern English voters happy.

We have to grasp the nettle: We need to start campaigning for independence again. We must find a way convince 5-10% of the No voters that they should join us. If we can also make them support one of the Yes parties, that’d be great, but I’m actually more interested in their support for independence than in their party-political allegiance. In fact, it might even be helpful to ensure there are independence supporters in all parties and none.

I’d love us to create some huge Yes events where we can all meet, like the wonderful independence marches in Edinburgh. Recent Yes events seem to have been organised by far-left groups and mainly shunned by the main Yes parties, so the SNP and the Greens need to take ownership of them.

Perhaps the best way forward would be to resurrect Yes Scotland — not as a high-cost PR organisation, but as an umbrella group that organises marches and other events and creates Yes materials (badges and car stickers and so on). Like the old Yes Scotland, it could effectively be controlled by the SNP and the Greens.

I know many people are tempted to focus always on the next election, but this means that we keep focussing on the parties rather than the cause itself.

If we want independence, we need to campaign for it. We can’t simply wait for the next referendum to be called.

Indyref postmortem II: We need to talk about Yes Scotland

I think it’s quite likely the next independence referendum will happen sooner rather than later, so it’s important to have a look at what we could have done better, not in order to point fingers at anybody, but simply to make sure that we win next time. This is the second of several indyref postmortems.

Blair Jenkins
Blair Jenkins by Ninian Reid, on Flickr.
During the independence campaign, lots of people were privately girning about Yes Scotland, but most of it remained private out of fear that any criticism would be used against us. However, Yes Scotland — or rather, the headquarters on Hope Street in Glasgow — made many mistakes, and we need to learn from them before the next referendum.

My main criticisms are listed below.

Failure to liaise with local groups

Yes Scotland did play a role in setting up many of the local groups. However, once they had been set up, they were to a large extent ignored, except for endless requests to raise money for Yes Scotland.

One particular problem was that it led to uneven campaigning — if there were many volunteers in one area, they could undertake lots of activities such as fundraising and canvassing that would help later in the campaign, whereas other areas were starved of resources. Nobody seemed to look at the “empty” areas and try to help them grow until they could campaign on their own.

It could also get quite depressing being a Yes campaigner in a strong No area — on Facebook you could see how much fun campaigners in Yes areas were having, but the strong focus on local campaigning meant you had to knock on the doors in your No-leaning area alone. I often wished we could have swapped volunteers with a Yes area for a day!

Perhaps this was all caused by the lack of community organisers, as pointed out by Alistair Davidson last July:

Yes HQ made a serious mistake in not hiring any community organisers. An organiser’s job is to put themselves at the service of a movement (the professional jargon calls organisers “staff” and ordinary movement members “leaders”), to develop and maintain relationships with people who take on leading roles, and to encourage new activists to become involved in leadership and planning. This kind of organic connection to a movement helps to smooth over clashes with the careful plans of the political strategists.

Instead of actually liaising with local groups, Yes Scotland seemed to see it as their role to provide ads, literature, merchandise and email updates.

Yes East Renfrewshire's offending leaflet.
Yes East Renfrewshire’s offending leaflet.
Another problem with not engaging sufficiently with local groups was seen when HQ called me in June ’14 to tell us (i.e., Yes East Renfrewshire) to pulp 20,000 newly printed leaflets because they contained a link to Wings over Scotland. We had already distributed the first batch, and before we produced it, I had talked to somebody from HQ who waffled and didn’t give me a straight answer. (They claimed later they had said they didn’t want Wings included — but if so they did it so subtly that I didn’t understand it — all I took from the conversation was that it wasn’t their job to tell local groups what to do or not do.) However, because of a potential media story about a leaflet produced by Yes Leith, they wanted us to pull ours, too. Eventually we produced 20,000 more leaflets without Wings, which we then distributed before distributing the old leaflets once the media story had gone away, in spite of what HQ had said. I imagine a community organiser would have been more closely involved in the design and contents of local leaflets so that the issue wouldn’t have arisen.


Yes Scotland seemed to think that all the local groups should do was fundraising and canvassing. As soon as people signed up, they were typically told to go and canvas rather than being invited to a social event to make them feel welcome. I think we lost many potential volunteers in this way, especially in the early days of the campaign.

Raccoon Circle
Raccoon Circle by CommonGroundAdventuresFL, on Flickr.
As I argued on this blog in July ’13, there was a huge need to motivate and encourage volunteers, and this almost only happened online, and not by HQ, who instead told us to “step away from your keyboards and talk to people!”. Robin McAlpine expressed this very well a year later:

[Wings over Scotland] has lifted our spirits throughout the campaign. When we wake up in the morning and Yes Scotland isn’t in the papers (why?) and the SNP is being timid and talking like an accountant, it is often Wings that is the primary source of commentary that doesn’t seem always to accept the premise set by the mainstream media as the only possible frame for discussing independence. It makes it OK to be both angry and excited while becoming informed at the same time.

It often felt like Yes Scotland had no idea how to deal with their campaigners. As a parent, I often felt they used negative parenting techniques, ignoring the volunteers for too long and then suddenly barking commands at us (“Pulp that leaflet! Don’t participate in the BBC Bias demo! Don’t read Wings!”), instead of using positive techniques, such as engaging proactively. The problem with negative parenting is that eventually the sproglets get fed up and start ignoring you or — worse — start acting against you. Yes Scotland were actually quite lucky that all volunteers felt so strongly about the goal — Scottish independence — that nobody wanted to rock the boat during the campaign.

In addition to community organisers, some internal web forums might have been useful, as well as a yearly Yes conference for lead volunteers.

Yes Scotland the company

Other people have already pointed out that Yes Scotland initially seemed to waste a lot of money by hiring directors used to working in big corporate positions.

Chevron Corporate Offices in Houston TX
Chevron Corporate Offices in Houston TX by Jonathan McIntosh, on Flickr.
As a result, it often felt like they constantly felt cash-strapped but short of hands. However, many people who participated in the campaign had more time than money, and to me it just didn’t seem sensible to beg volunteers for money in order to hire people to do the jobs that the volunteers would have done for free if they had been asked. The number of emails asking for financial contributions were endless, but I don’t think I received a single one asking for help (apart from reminders to go canvassing).

Would HQ in their heart of hearts have been happier with a small army of paid canvassers like Better Together’s, rather than having critical and engaged activists with their own dreams, hopes and campaigning ideas? At an event for lead volunteers in Stirling in June ’14, a representative for Yes Scotland for instance told people their job online was to regurgitate the daily messages sent from HQ so that the campaign theme of the day was the one decided in Hope Street, which of course was a pointless appeal at that point in the campaign.

In fact, Yes Scotland often seemed to think like spin doctors, for instance preferring to arrange photo-ops for the media with hand-picked volunteers, while talking down or ignoring the actual grassroots events organised on Facebook.

The database

One huge problem was Yes Scotland’s database. They were clearly so keen to get it up and running quickly that they installed a version of NationBuilder without testing properly that it could cope with Scottish addresses.

Database Diagram FAIL
Database Diagram FAIL by Tony Buser, on Flickr.
The result was that we lost many volunteers. The system couldn’t assign volunteers to the right groups (partially because it didn’t register the address of many volunteers, only their email address, I believe), so when we tried to use their system to email everybody in our area, we didn’t reach many people. My dear wife at first received the emails from Glasgow, not from East Renfrewshire, and later she didn’t receive any local emails, only fundraising messages from HQ.

I understand they were keen to launch before Better Together, but they would have been better off with a simple one-table MySQL database and a simple PHP website (I could have made this for free if they had asked) until they had had time to test the real system sufficiently.

It would also have been good if there had been a decent canvassing app (or a mobile-friendly website) that could have been used when you sent people out to knock doors. Yes, eventually there was an app, but it arrived late in the day and its functionality was limited.


Yes Scotland wasn’t given an easy task, of course, being tasked with combining the campaigning strength of the SNP with the varied skills exhibited by smaller groups and inexperienced first-time volunteers. One might argue that the laissez-faire attitude adopted towards local groups in many instances actually worked well and that a more active HQ could have demoralised local campaigners much more than Yes Scotland actually did.

However, many of highlights of the campaign that people instinctively associate with Yes Scotland were actually organised independently, such as the wonderful independence marches, the flashmobs and the gatherings on Glasgow’s Independence (George) Square, and it often felt like Yes Scotland weren’t always too happy about not being in control of these.

Hopefully the next incarnation of Yes Scotland will learn from the mistakes made, turning the coming Yes campaign into a truly unstoppable force.

Indyref postmortem I: What went wrong in Edinburgh and the North East?

I think it’s quite likely the next independence referendum will happen sooner rather than later, so it’s important to have a look at what we could have done better, not in order to point fingers at anybody, but simply to make sure that we win next time. This is the first of several indyref postmortems.

The colour of each council area shows the difference between the actual indyref result and my prediction. Red means it did less well, and blue means it did better.
Map of disappointing results: The colour of each council area shows the difference between the actual indyref result and my prediction. Red means it did less well, and blue means it did better.
On the 18th of September last year, the good people of Edinburgh were basically asked “Would you like to live in the capital of an independent country?” and proceeded to answer No. How could they?

Also, the SNP has traditionally been strongest in the North East, but places like Moray that I had predicted would vote Yes by 60% instead voted No by a huge margin. Why are the people up there happy to vote SNP in local elections, but when they’re asked about the raison d’être of the SNP, they say No?

The map on the right shows the most disappointing indyref results in red. Some of the areas aren’t that surprising. I can understand that some people in the Scottish Borders would have worried about creating an international border close to home, and the fact that this area receives ITV instead of STV cannot have helped the Yes vote either. It’s also natural that people in Orkney and Shetland are worried that Edinburgh might be too far away to fully understand their needs.

"Let's become independent before 100,000 more children are living in poverty."
“Let’s become independent before 100,000 more children are living in poverty.”
I wonder whether there was a lack of local campaigning materials. Many of the posters, leaflets and TV ads produced by Yes Scotland seemed to have been designed to appeal to low-income voters in Greater Glasgow and similar areas.

Why didn’t anybody produce Edinburgh-only posters with messages such as “70 embassies will be built in this city, bringing a lot of money to the local economy” or “After independence, Edinburgh will be a real capital again, like London, Paris and Washington”? Where were the leaflets reassuring voters in the Scottish Borders? What was being done in Orkney and Shetland to explain to voters there that turning Scotland into a Nordic country would make them a central and crucial part of Scotland? Did anybody serious target occasional SNP voters in Aberdeenshire?

I was campaigning in East Renfrewshire, where we did more or less as well as one could have expected, and the only other area I visited frequently was Glasgow, which did better than most people expected, so I don’t know what exactly went wrong in other areas. However, my impression was that the campaign themes were the same all over Scotland, and if they were right here, they must have been wrong in other places. I definitely got the impression that a lot of the leaflets we distributed went down much better in the poorer parts of East Renfrewshire than in the rich neighbourhoods.

Did Yes Scotland suffer from a lack of regional campaign managers that could have identified a need for local campaign materials? Were local groups too passive, expecting to be given materials by Yes Scotland instead of producing their own?

Whatever the reason, it’s an error we can’t afford to make next time. Of course we need national campaign materials, but we must be better at targeting local areas with messages that matter to people there.

Den skotske uafhængighedsafstemning

Danish media are finally starting to show an interest in independence referendum, but many journalists seem to be getting their information through London-based media, so there are a lot of misunderstandings. I have therefore decided to write this brief introduction to the topic in Danish.

Mig med et Yes-skilt
Mig med et Yes-skilt
En af de hyppigste misforståelser, der dukker op, når danske medier behandler den skotske uafhængighedsbevægelse, er, at Det Skotske Nationalparti (der har regeringsmagten i Skotland) nok minder lidt om Dansk Folkeparti, men intet kunne være længere fra sandheden. SNP definerer sig selv som et socialdemokratisk parti, og det bekæmper fremmedhad og racisme. De andre partier i Yes Scotland (Ja-bevægelsen) er De Grønne og Det Skotske Socialistparti (der mest minder om Enhedslisten).

I danske termer ville det altså svare lidt til, at dansk uafhængighed blev støttet af Enhedslisten, SF, Socialdemokraterne og De Radikale, mens alle de borgerlige partier var imod.

Nogle vil måske indvende her, at jeg har glemt Labour, men det parti er i de sidste tyve år gledet længere og længere mod højre, og iflg. meningsmålingerne støtter en stor del af deres almindelige vælgere uafhængighedsbevægelsen.

Disse venstrefløjspartier støttes af bl.a. Kampagnen mod Atomvåben og et stort flertal af skotske musikere, forfattere og kunstnere.

Som man nok kan begynde at ane, er det altså ikke en drøm om et etnisk rent Skotland, der motiverer alle disse mennesker, og heller ikke et dybt had til englændere. Tværtimod! Formanden i vores lokale SNP-kredsforening er englænder med muslimsk svigersøn, næstformanden er undertegnede, og sekretæren er jøde af typen med en stor Davidsstjerne tatoveret på underarmen. En af de vigtigste undergrupper i Ja-kampagnen er Scots Asians for Yes.

Det, vi ønsker, er, at Skotland skal styres af folk, der bor her, og ikke af en fjern elite i London. Vi opfatter os som tilhængere af borgernationalisme (engelsk “civic nationalism“) — vi ønsker et blomstrende demokrati med deltagelse af alle, der bor i Skotland. Som journalisten Ruth Wishart sagde ved den første uafhængighedsmarch i Edinburgh: “A Scot is someone born here, and anyone who has paid us the compliment of settling here.” (“En skotte er en, der er født her i Skotland, og enhver, der har givet os den kompliment at bosætte sig her.”)

Man skal som dansker gøre sig klart, at de fleste skotter, walisere og nordirere (og mange englændere) ikke opfatter Det Forenede Kongerige som et land, men som en politisk union, der består af fire nationer, så det føles forkert, når London træffer beslutninger, som de fleste vælgere i Skotland ikke er enige i.

Hvis London altid traf de samme beslutninger, som vi selv ville have truffet, ville det måske ikke have været et stort problem, men siden Thatcher kom til magten for snart mange år siden, har Sydøstengland og et flertal i Westminster-parlamentet flyttet sig længere og længere i en neoliberal og fremmedhadsk retning. Der er en anden vej! Vi vil af med atomvåbene (der er stationeret 50 km fra Glasgow), vi vil bevare og udbygge velfærdsstaten (som den liberal-konservative regering i London gør sit bedste for at afskaffe), vi vil forblive i EU (og der afholdes jo sandsynligvis en folkeafstemning om tre år i Storbritannien om at melde sig ud), vi vil have mere indvandring (Skotlands befolkning ældes for hurtigt, og vi har brug for mere indvandring end England, der har større befolkningsvækst), vil vil have billigere børnehaver som i Skandinavien, så kvinderne ikke tvinges til at blive hjemmegående. Alt sammen ønsker, som ikke kan realiseres uden selvstændighed.

Når man som dansker besøger Skotland, kan landet mange steder godt virke ret fattigt. Det skyldes, at mange skattepenge forsvinder ud af landet og betaler for prestigeprojekter i London, atomvåben og mange andre ting, som ikke kommer almindelige skotter til gode. Skotland er grundlæggende et rigere land end England, og iflg. nogen undersøgelser kan det som selvstændigt land ligefrem overhale Danmark. Skotland har i dén grad det økonomiske grundlag for at klare sig.

Men man skal altså ikke regne med, at Skotland bliver en neoliberal “keltisk tiger” som Irland. Skotland stræber efter at blive et velstående nordisk land med et stærk velfærdsstat.

Skotsk uafhængighed kan derfor godt vise sig at få overraskende konsekvenser for Danmark. Den danske debat virker ofte, som om venstrefløjen har givet op — neoliberalisme og udlændingeangst har frit spil. De to års Ja-kampagne i Skotland har imidlertid skabt grøde på den intellektuelle venstrefløj, og kampen mod neoliberalisterne i London har hærdet aktivisterne. Det skulle ikke undre mig, hvis dette bliver startskuddet til en genfødsel af venstrefløjen i Norden.

Det undrer mig oprigtigt, at ingen ser ud til at have opdaget, hvad der lige nu sker i Skotland. Alle venstrefløjsaktivisterne burde været fløjet herover for at hjælpe til, men de troede måske på Nej-propagandaen i London-aviserne.

Stemningen i Skotland lige nu er elektrisk — som det blev forudsagt af National Collective for over et år siden:

There is no place more revolutionary and no time more exciting than here and now in Scotland. Of all the eras I would choose this one. Of all the places to live I would choose this one.

Der er lige nu dødt løb i meningsmålingerne, men det er Ja-siden, der har vind i sejlene, så mere og mere tyder nu på, at Skotland på torsdag otte dage stemmer Ja til uafhængighed.