While some folk have been jubilant, many people (even, especially Yes voters) have expressed a quiet despair at the thought of another referendum. A kind of collective groan could be heard across the country from people who, as I heard repeatedly last week ‘Had just about recovered from the last time’.
Particularly for young people, for many of whom the indyref was their first and only real political experience, the campaign was brutal, the result tragic and the scars lasting. Many people ‘gave their whole selves’ and in doing so became vulnerable in a way they had never been before.
Hiding behind cynicism and an affected facade of aloof slacker nihilism, is the default position for many. The indyref changed that and allowed people to step-off that space and ‘commit’.
Losing wasn’t just bad, it was awful. It felt terminal. You had to look around and realise that a majority of people you lived alongside didn’t want to govern themselves, and, worse than that, didn’t think they could. Dependence won.
And the experience of losing by being lied to, and watching the machinery of the British State ramp up propaganda over and over was, for many people, just overwhelming.
But there’s another thing that’s making people feel disillusioned.
The quality of our own campaign, and our own apparent inability to reflect, change and hold dear to certain principles is a draining disappointment. If once the idea that constitutional change was inexorably connected to social change – unlocking the potential for transformative and radical political change, that aspiration seems to have seeped away, captured not just by professionalism but by sell-out.
If Stay Gold seemed to haunt the campaign of 2014 – politics of three years later seems dominated by far-right populism, bouge sell-out and a vague reformism that seems to have capitulated to a seperation of ends and means and been reduced to an insipid flag-waving. As social media has turned from a giant playground of connectivity into a bitter network of rancour, a movement has itself split and splintered.
But the ScotRef, when it comes – will not be Indyref2.
The danger is that people don’t want to be made vulnerable again. They want to don their protective jacket. Being idealistic and giving yourself meant you lose. For lots of people it wasn’t just about losing their ‘youth’ it was about losing their faith, not just in their own nations capacity to act, but in people. That’s a pretty powerful combination.
It’s easy to scoff. People from both sides deride such bruised activists as ‘snowflakes’, a term we didn’t even have then. Some Yes campaigners scorn people who are tired or disillusioned as lightweights, while others from ‘the other side’ laugh at such naivety.
But there’s another side to this. We witnessed a process of mass (self) education. The networks and skills that were created then haven’t disappeared. The political lessons need to be understood and a dialogue about self-protection (on and offline) needs to be developed.
So what are the lessons learned? Here’s ten:
1 The best manifestations of the independence movement were the self-organised which embodied the values and methods of independence. Top-down campaigning is disempowering and unconvincing. Means and ends count.
2 The whole Yes movement was consumed by the spectacle of itself.
3 It was mostly the Yes side that engaged with and inspired people, and we can do that again. ‘UK:OK’ wasn’t – and can’t be inspiring. ‘UK:OK – Bad Foreigners’ still less so.
4 No party can win a referendum on their own.
5 Women need to be central not peripheral to any campaign in voice, in tone and in leadership.
6 Social media is very effective at some things and virtually useless at others. We need to know the difference.
7 Emerging projects and groups need structures transparency and process.
8 Leadership can and will take new forms. Multiple leadership is better than singular leadership.
9 Fear can be compelling, but not endlessly so.
10 Shouting at people doesn’t work.
Suzanne Moore has written that: “Scotland did not vote for independence, but it embodied an idea of what independence may be about, what an engaged populace may look like, what a civic identity could be. I take it for granted that self-determination is a progressive value, so have always supported it.”
Bernadette McAliskey told us that we had taught Ireland what ‘self-determination’ means again, and that was important.
I completely understand that people are mentally exhausted, disenchanted by politics, disillusioned about the potential of independence, wary of nationalism and tired of tribalism and the binary simplism of referenda. I get it. But this is an opportunity to break the British state and to re-make anew. This opportunity is a privilege. People in countries across the world don’t get the chance to be ‘jaded’ or bored when they have the opportunity to change broken and corrupt structures of power.
A few days ago Kirsty Gunn wrote:
“For we shouldn’t need to have referendums, should we? Our elected politicians, in full-time jobs as politicians, with all the information and statistics to hand that we, with our own jobs, don’t have time to read through and quantify…. They’re supposed to be doing that job for us … Look where that referendum got us. We can’t hope “the people” will speak for us. “People” are too busy working and bringing up their families and trying to make ends meet. And besides, not all of us want to be “the people” anyway. We want to be individuals who have informed, reasonable, interesting debate. We want the language to match and the politicians to step up to the plate. We, “the people” are really just you and me.”
This kind of insipid belief in politicians with “all the information and statistics to hand” is a weird disavowal. It’s a regression and a reject of citizenship. It’s a sort of Cath Kidston politics.
The best of the independence movement is the opportunity to transform Scotland, to raise aspirations and expectations and to create our own future. This can be done by acting collectively, by being open to real change and by shifting from the cycle of constant reaction to a different rhythm of listening and response. We have the tools and the nous to win, but only if we stop blaming everybody else for the last time and break out of our own comfortable-silos.
Two key things have changed since 2014 that will make the next time utterly different. The economic case is still absolutely primary, but on new ground. We won’t be fighting against a British economic case grounded in feelings of supreme confidence and respect, but a financial state drowning in debt and a faltering currency. We shouldn’t mimic the old faltering financial institutions and economic models (‘Export! Growth!’) but create the conditions for the circular economy to grow. The second is that the comedy gold of desperate Love-Bombing isn’t going to happen this time round. As Paul Mason notes:
“Scotland’s desire for independence is being cast no longer as simply unwise (as in 2014) but unjust. It is being subtly reframed by the English right as a form of theft, disloyalty, disobedience and disruption, a wilful sabotage of the Brexit process. If the left and centre of English politics do not resist this – and consciously offer something different – this anti-Scottish resentment story will become the core of the new English ideology.”
In some ways that’s a harsher environment to campaign in but at least it’s more straightforward. The illusory idea of Britain as some forward-thinking multi-cultural entity is gone. Today they are talking of evoking a ‘Henry VIII’ clause to smooth the passage of Brexit.
The challenge is to (re) make the radical case for independence, to transcend tribalism and create a new movement of energy, hope and vitalism based on a vision of social justice, which, given the toxic air we breath and the rallying cry to do nothing but consume quietly, is a sedition in itself.