Pundits seem to be coalescing around the idea that a ‘positive message’ is an essential part of political campaigning (nothing new here, see Pat’s Juggernaut of Joy thesis). Whether it’s Obama’s upbeat derivative (but ultimately empty) Yes We Can, or, as critics had it, Salmond’s indy question (characterised by some as some sort of Derren Brown-style mass hypnosis), the idea of positivity is the key, or so we’re told. It’s simple: people who whinge and moan all day become a bit of a drain to be around. We naturally gravitate towards those who bring a bit of sunshine and light into our life.
This presents the Unionists with a challenge. How to oppose the Yes Campaign with a positive? What is the positive case for the Union? Well it’s about security, continuity and stability. All good things, but in stressing these you have to also sort of pretend it’s all okay as is, and that’s where they get unstuck. The nationalists have to say things will be okay, the unionists have to pretend things are okay. It’s not jam tomorrow but it’s a set of ideas – a vision – based on hope. Now we know that this might not work out but we have aspiration whereas in the HERE and NOW we kind of know perfectly well what things aren’t working. UK Plc has nationalised the banks and given our money away to the super rich. People can’t get the homes they need, and there’s an outbreak of mass unemployment, fuel poverty and a generalised economic insecurity that strikes into the heart of peoples well-being by the residual stress it creates.
In this context stressing continuity has a hollow ring.
This vision-failure isn’t just a problem for the parties political future. As Joyce McMillan writes: ‘And even if their campaign of fear and negativity is successful in achieving the “no” vote they crave, it will leave Scotland – the day after the referendum – with no prospect of a better future, and no idea at all of how it should move forward.’
And this is a problem for the emerging Devo-Max contenders. The likes of Kenyon Wright have no political vehicle to hitch onto. The paradox opens like a chasm. McMillan again:
‘In the 1990’s, the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties formed a powerful alliance with Scottish civil society to campaign for what was seen, at the time, as a huge and radical constitutional change in the British state; today, the Liberal Democrats are silenced by their Westminster coalition with the Conservatives, while Labour literally no longer knows where it stands, in the battle for democracy between ordinary citizens and overweening financial power.’
This is the reality behind the sort of paranoia fostered by Tom Peterkin in The Scotsman today ‘Fears over pressure on ‘civic Scotland’ to back devo-max’.
The scare stories about ‘rigged polls’ have been slain this week with the setting out of a clear simple question, a transparent consultation process and the concession about the role of the Electoral Reform Society. You’d also have to hope that the ‘civic leaders’ have consulted their membership before committing themselves to a political intervention?
Whatever the outcome – a more positive debate would be welcome. As Gerry Hassan wrote this week: ‘These are momentous, challenging times, filled with a mixture of excitement and bewilderment, hope and fear, depending on your political opinions. It is up to those of us who want a serious, mature debate appropriate for the occasion to challenge and demand from all Scotland’s and the UK political parties, media and political communities, that they act respectively and reach out and understand perspectives different from their own.’
So we’re inviting people who’s views we don’t agree with to come and argue the point, make the case and have the debate on these pages. But we’re also going to be working beyond politics on showcasing a series of inspirational projects and people working now (today). If you want to suggest someone or some project get in touch with us – it could be an arts project, a band, a community group, a campaign or some social innovation.
Come All Ye.