In the gut-wrenching weekend that has followed the referendum result, social media is awash with people calling for action. A march, a 45 twibbon, another petition, getting back on the horse, wiping away our tears with our feet, marching into the next battle. No rest, folks, we still need to organise, so stop blubbing and think about what you’re going to do, the calls go. Get your groups together and get back to campaigning. Just as many of us who were too ill or unable to campaign in the last week of the campaign felt guilty for being unable to do so, now we are told we must get over this swiftly or interpret it as a victory. So here is my own call for action:
Calm it. And slow down.
That the yes movement still exists is obvious. But we need time to reflect and reorganise. Crucially, we need to think about how we do that. Conversation and communication is key, and I’m not sure that two days after what was one of the most crushing political events of our entire lives is really enough time.
As Laura Eaton-Lewis has pointed out previously, “a campaign is not a democracy.” Our many, varied, brilliant campaign groups in the yes movement were broad coalitions of people working together, and working hard, but with a very specific end-goal in sight. While they should continue, none should continue as they have.
To say this is not to do a disservice to the brilliant work that these groups have produced, often with a serious lack of resources. But for these groups to continue as they have done would be a real disservice to that brilliant work, which was all about fighting for a better Scotland; fighting for change. Fundamentally, it was also about striving to be the change we wanted to see, so it’s about time we started that process.
By necessity, and in some cases by design, these groups are broadly unconstituted, with no real structure, and no elected leadership. Where leaders exist, they do not have a mandate, often calling leadership due to longevity of service, or other undemocratic forms of ownership such as an ability to work 24/7 on the campaign, which in itself is a privilege. Nobody owns a movement, it is built by the movement, and therefore, these groups’ popularity and their platforms were built with the sweat and tears of all of us who got on board. We need to ensure that we are supporting true leadership, or becoming leaders ourselves. We also need to ensure that the democracy we are fighting for starts in our own movement.
The core organisers of these grassroots groups, while dedicated, hard-working and to be fully admired, should therefore take the time to consider how they organise. Before they do a single inch of campaigning, they need to regroup with their actual membership and ask them what they think is necessary. How is the group organised? Who is “in charge” and why? Is the group democratic? Is it actually as effective as it could be? Is it organised in a way that actually allows dissent, and what happens if there is a disagreement in terms of direction? Is it organised in a way that actually allows a plurality of viewpoints? Is it in a way that is truly collective, with everyone’s views being respectfully engaged with? Do you feel valued in your hard work? Because, if not, then something needs to give. Did your core organising group grow or shrink as the campaign progressed? If the former, you’ve a great foundation to build on. If the latter, you need to work out why that is.
Because of the reactionary nature of the campaign, which required quick decisions to be made in the face of serious opposition, many issues were swept to the side “for the sake of the campaign.” That excuse goes away now. There is time. There is. So let us pause. Let’s have a look at who is claiming authorship and ownership of this movement. Let us ask of them what their authority is for this. Ask how boards and appointments are being made in our progressive groups, whether that is in our political parties, in newly forming platforms, or in the grassroots movement.
Thousands of us have joined political parties since the result was announced. This shows that we are desperately keen to get behind a group, or a collective. When we do, it becomes ours. So ask those questions. The power of this movement has been inspiring, and the power that these groups thus have might not be fully realised by those who organise within them. So, to them, I say: you are mighty. And you have a serious amount of power. Be aware of this, and get organising yer organising. Calmly, reflectively, and with clear aims in mind. You have a duty to.