Yesterday I took part in the Scottish Independence Convention in Glasgow. There was a great buzz – it’s clear there are many thousands of activists who are desperate to go out and campaign for independence as soon as they get a chance.
The day was divided into three sessions: Policy, strategy and movement.
The policy session was a bit weak – there were lots of interesting ideas floating around, but a voice inside my head kept shouting that we’re living in an age of fake news and social media, and having wonderful, worked-through policies won’t really matter during a campaign. For instance, I’m a great fan of a citizens’ income, but I’m not convinced that’s the kind of thing that would really matter in a heated campaign (and in a worst-case scenario, it would allow our opponents to portray us as hopeless idealists).
One sentence that stayed with me was Jim Mather’s comment that “Last time was like a tennis game where only Better Together were allowed to serve” (quoted from memory). I think that’s a great summary of the campaign, but is developing a lot of policies really the right way to prevent that from happening again? I’m not so sure. The problem wasn’t that we couldn’t return the ball, but that we never served. We need to have more questions for the other side and to be much less passive.
The strategy session was by far the best bit. Craig Dalzell talked about opinion polls and what they tell us about Yes and No voters. It was interesting, and surprising in parts, such as when he pointed out that support for independence has dropped to 75% amongst SNP voters, and that we have a real problem with women over 55. Two things that I don’t think Craig mentioned was looking at how Leave/Remain corresponds to Yes/No, and to what extent the support for independence is caused by where you live – for instance, is the North East turning Unionist?
Stewart Kirkpatrick was better than I’ve ever heard him – he’s clearly done a lot of heavy thinking about what went wrong last time. One recommendation he made was setting up a lot of very specific Yes groups, such as Pensioners for Yes. I think this is a wonderful idea, and one that should happen now.
One thing Stewart didn’t mention – but I think it relates to this – is that this needs to be connected to chapping doors. As a Danish Yes activist, talking to random voters isn’t a great use of my time – it easily becomes a talk about why I ended up in Scotland. I should be talking to immigrants from Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands, because I think I’d be better at convincing them of the merits of voting Yes than an activist who was born and bred in Scotland. In the same ways, activists from England, those who are working in the NHS, the pensioners, the Leave voters, and so on, should all be sent to be right doors. In other words, Yes Scotland II should create a database of people’s origins and interests and use this to make activists chap on the right doors.
As the last bit of this session, Lesley Riddoch hosted an interactive session where she was walking around the hall with a microphone. It was probably the best bit of the day – there were just so many knowledgable people there with really interesting things to say.
The movement session was weak. Tommy Sheppard spoke well on behalf of the SNP, but most of the speakers couldn’t keep to their allocated time, and even though many interesting things were said, I couldn’t really concentrate any longer.
Finally Patrick Harvie gave a rousing speech to send us all off.
If the SIC are to hold another event like this (and I hope they do!), here are a few bits of advice: (1) Fewer speakers: Although almost all the speakers were interesting, it was too much for one day. Perhaps it’d be better to have parallel sessions. (2) More interaction: Most people were desperate to talk. There should be more interactive sessions, and perhaps also an opportunity to break up into smaller groups to discuss specific topics. (3) A buffet lunch: All 800 of us were supposed to find a place to have lunch, finish it and come back within a hour. It would have been better to have had a huge buffet lunch for everybody so that you could have a good blether while eating.
One general sentiment that I picked up was that people are desperate to start campaigning again. However, waiting for the SNP to fire the starting gun is pointless, because we need as much time as possible to convince people. At the same time, it’s hard to campaign without some sort of central office, so we need some sort of Yes Scotland II to be set up as a matter of priority. I think the Scottish Independence Convention might have to play that role, given that all major players seem to be happy to work with them.
If the SIC are happy to become Yes Scotland II, I don’t see why we can’t start campaigning tomorrow to create the majority for independence that we need to escape the hard and chaotic Brexit that Theresa May and her merry Brexiteers have in store for the UK.