The independence movement is just that; a movement. It is not a retailer of one narrative, or one coalescent ideology. It is a broad church peopled by persons of many political creeds, and none.
Disagreements about post-independence policy are inevitable, and welcome. This is one of the Yes campaign’s strengths. Any attempt to convince the public that we all agree wholesale on every aspect of post-independence direction would be completely disingenuous, and the public wouldn’t buy it.
The SNP have been very successful in recent years because they appeal to the centrists in the voting population. The electorate from large swathes of the centre centre left and centre right can all look to the SNP and identify policies which appeal. The SNP have been able to bridge ideological positions because the SNP itself is fairly reflective of public voting demography; made up as it is of people who can compromise on policy in pursuit of independence. That the SNP have cross-section appeal is no coincidence, but neither is it simply a construct to garner public support. It simply is because the SNP has to reflect the views of its membership, and we are a fairly diverse bunch.
It is no secret that I disagree with the SNP on NATO membership. The majority of Scots in any competent polling have expressed anti-Trident, and anti-Trident replacement preference, and I obviously welcome the SNPs commitment to the removal of nuclear weapons post-independence if it is in the SNPs gift to do so, but I will be campaigning for removal from NATO after that yes vote.
Similarly, I am a republican and I disagree with the current SNP narrative on a continuing monarchy. I say narrative because I am not aware of a vote in which the party have had an opportunity to express any preference for this new position.
I also have a preference for an independent Scottish currency, and agree with Professor John Kay that this is the best possible position for a post-independence Scottish Government to consider. However, I also agree that continued use of Sterling in the interim, as a short to mid-term stability measure is a rational and sound proposal. We will be using sterling on the day we become independent and any transition to a new currency would inevitably take time, but I also agree with The Sun’s Andrew Nicholl that locking a post-independence Scotland in to perpetuity of economic reliance on rates set by rUK isn’t much like my idea of independence either. That said, Sterling is ours too, and any attempt by Osborne to try persuading Scots that we will be excluded from using it is as ridiculous as it is offensive.
I am comfortable that I can be in the SNP and not agree with all of its policies. It isn’t a shock, horror moment that I don’t, instead it is a valuable lesson about the art of compromise because for every policy I disagree with, there are ten that I do agree with, and I can live with that. Post independence it is up to me, and people like me and the public to make our case to the Scottish people about what shape our independence takes.
Independence does not belong to the SNP, nor does it belong to Alex Salmond. Independence is about opportunity and democracy. It isn’t about policy. The SNP are quite right to set out their position on post-independence policy, and as the leading party in the independence movement, it is inevitable that the public expect them to. However, it is important that the public know that independence and the SNP are not interchangeable and the press are partly responsible for this. It suits their narrow reporting of the independence movement to conflate SNP policy with post-independence reality.
That said, the SNP are also not responsible to the independence movement. If Patrick Harvie wants to present an argument for a Scottish currency, then his vehicle to do that is his political party. If those on the radical left want bolder vision for post-independence policy, let them sell it to the public. If they call on the SNP to do these things, they are just as guilty as the media of conflating independence with the SNP. Diversity is strength, if those on the Yes side are bold enough to sell it.
The risk for those on the Yes side is that, while welcome, all the groups which have been set up to campaign for independence risk being consumed by navel gazing and endless posturing on post-independence policy. All the policy in the world doesn’t matter a damn if there is no yes vote.
The SNP are a campaigning party. James Mitchell’s study in to levels of activism in political parties evidences that the SNP has the most motivated membership and the membership of the SNP are used to campaigning, and campaigning hard. The SNP membership knows that to win elections it is all very well to have a national strategy, but when it comes right down to it, it is the areas where the highest levels of activism take place that garner the best results.
This campaign will be won on the doorsteps. It won’t be won on social media – or even in the national media. It won’t be won spending innumerable hours creating socialist utopian ideas in rooms with like-minded people. It won’t be won at rallies preaching to the converted. We don’t have to preach to the converted, we have to convince other voters that independence offers opportunity.
It is a frustration that people in political parties have known since the dawn of time: those that talk the loudest, or tweet the loudest, or speechify the loudest don’t necessarily work the hardest. It is all very well to talk about what you want from independence, and that is a valuable enterprise, but it must be accompanied by action, not just narrative.
A few weeks ago when David Cameron came to Scotland, around 50 people gathered to protest against him, the Conservatives and Trident in Govan. How many of these people then translated that protest in to proper affirmative action by actively campaigning for independence in Govan that week? Almost none, I can confirm. Protesting has its own value, but it certainly isn’t productive in convincing the public of the benefits of independence.
So, “splits in the Yes campaign” isn’t something to be feared. It is a necessary part of democracy that different views are represented. However, what we need to fear is inaction.
Those campaigners in the SNP will be campaigning on the doorsteps and in the streets for independence. If other groups and organisations in the Yes campaign don’t want the SNP to set the agenda, they have to ensure that they are out there campaigning right alongside them. The parties and bodies which make up Yes Scotland may have different opinions, priorities and opinions, but are united in seeking a yes vote. The yes campaign’s breadth is its strength, but the public will only believe that if they see it.
We can live without the “keyboard warriors”, but we can’t carry the campaign without the support of active campaigners.
We have just over 500 days until the referndum, it is time to step away from the computers, end the obsession with minutiae and get our bahookies in gear. This referendum ain’t going to win itself.