The Yes Men

The Yes Campaign launch in Edinburgh was a strangely nervy affair. Queuing for Cinema 7 in the unlovely Cineworld complex started an hour before “curtains up” – but still the event began 15 minutes late. Outside in the foyer SNP Cabinet Ministers drank coffee and wolfed down maple and pecan Danish pastry plaits (rather than the neatly assembled fruit platters) as activists looked on. Some came over to button-hole, greet or have a Yes picture taken with the grazing “Big Beasts” of the nationalist jungle. I spotted few Greens and fewer Scottish Socialists. But he mood was upbeat, relaxed and quietly confident. “Are you here as yourself or the press” was the most frequent question for me – clearly some low and high profile “outtings” and conversions were expected.

Inside the massive auditorium was absolutely packed – a sight that seemed to unnerve compere and Sweet Sixteen star Martin Compston who stumbled over his script. With everyone waiting for the first big “reveal” it became clear Sir Sean had not landed by helicopter and had not even recorded a video message (suggesting perhaps he had been expected in person until the very last minutes.)

A garbled message from the Bond star was read out before Alex Salmond took to the stage. Even he was curiously breathless and hardly hit top gear. Was he worried about appearing too triumphalist – too cocky too soon? The SNP leader’s words were strongly delivered but utterly familiar to anyone whose job takes them to First Ministers Questions every week. The Greens Patrick Harvie delivered a perfectly serviceable short speech – but like a minority interest jazz artist who performs best in smoky, club venues, Harvie also seemed overly formal and anxious to be correct. Alex Salmond’s punchline was the prediction that 1 million signatures on the Declaration of Independence by 2014 would guarantee referendum victory – his prompt march off to sign in a media scrum at the side of the stage left the audience craning to see what he was doing — momentum flagged.

The whole event revealed graphically that there are “worlds” within the relatively small world of Scotland.

So when ex BBC and STV news boss Blair Jenkins took to the evangelists pulpit to announce his conversion to the cause of independence, there was a sharp collective intake of breath from the press pack – followed by “who’s he?” from a young SNP supporter accidentally seated in our midst. When a young female singer took to the stage after a mumbled introduction – the recognition problem became ours. Of course no-one could mistake stalwarts like Dougie MacLean – though many political hacks downed pens immediately, clearly unsure how cultural offerings would fit into their account of proceedings. A roar went up when Elaine C Smith was introduced – but quickly abated when it became clear she was appearing on video not in person. It seems the redoutable Chair of the Independence Convention was stuck in Cardiff at work. Knowing Elaine, wild horses wouldn’t have kept her from this event so the trip north must have been completely impossible. But her physical absence straight after the “missing Sir Sean” looked bad.

Hollywood star Alan Cumming lent star value to the proceedings, Liz Lochead read a pithy extract from her hit play Mary Queen of Scots got her heid chopped off and Ravenscraig shop steward Tommy Brennan gave one of the best short speeches, linking the glory days of heavy industry with the green revolution that will yet see demand for Scottish engineering soar.

The piece de resistance was actor and Dundonian Brian Cox, greeted with a roar that faded mysteriously when he introduced himself as a democratic socialist. Recounting his own personal journey — leaving Scotland at an early age, feeling lost in London and then content in his identity as an expat Celt – Cox confessed that he only now felt uneasy about being Scottish when he was back home. He speculated that prominent Scottish explorers might have felt the same – certain of their roots only when absent from their beholden and forelock-tugging homeland. It was an interesting idea – boomed out with the authority of an award-winning Shakespearean actor. A lengthy trawl through the politics of the last century contrasted too sharply with the short concise speeches that preceded him.  But the job was done. Some cool, some unlikely and some reassuringly familiar faces had taken to the podium to kick off the Yes Campaign. If it had been more slick – there would have been criticism. If Sir Sean had actually appeared his words would have been torn apart, his celebrity would have eclipsed every other contributor and his absentee status would have caused controversy. But I had expected something more than what was offered today. Less caution and more engagement. More personal stories of “moments”, hopes and conversions. Less reading from scripts, more imagination and far more involvement by prominent women.

Songs, sermons, socialising a few nervous jokes and caution permeating every word — it was like being at Church and was most decidedly not like being at that fateful Neil Kinnock “swally” where naked triumphalism apparently lost Labour the 1992 election. Perhaps that cautionary example has hung over proceedings too long.

It just wasn’t clear who today’s event was aimed at – the party faithful, the cameras, activists, the watching public, the political hacks – or all the above. At times the Yes launch felt like a variety performance, at times it felt more like a formal political rally without the rain, hecklers, megaphones or any efforts at American-style razzmatazz.  In retrospect, Martin Compston’s hesitation was perhaps the most eloquent statement of the Yes campaign’s dilemma. Talking publicly about independence takes everyone except career politicians right outside their personal comfort zones. Some of today’s speakers spend their lives on stage, in front of cameras or addressing larger audiences than the one assembled in the Cineworld. But few actors, trade unionists, writers, media professionals or shop stewards have been in the limelight to extol the virtues of Scottish Independence before. For decades, that’s been a dodgy belief to publicly espouse in professional circles. So independence as a cause, aspiration or political goal has been left to the high priests of the SNP to articulate in their guarded, careful, unemotional and almost impersonal way. The awkwardness demonstrated today by consummate performers in other fields was to be expected given the SNP leadership’s monopoly on fronting, orchestrating and perhaps hogging the independence campaign to date. If they are wise, yes organisers will give more exposure – and speech-making experience – to these random, diverse, and heartfelt speakers. And they’ll hire a helicopter for Elaine C Smith, arrange the next event around her schedule or learn the very hard way that no amount of talk about “engaging the women’s vote” ever compensates for an all-live-male-speech-making line-up.

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  1. Not much substance to the article, Lesley. I was expecting you to describe people’s clothes next.

  2. Just Saying says:

    What a nonsense. Even listening into live stream from my work was exciting!

  3. Siôn Jones says:

    There are 2 1/2 years to go. It is obvious that nobody wanted to come over all premature 0n this. The Start of a long, smouldering build-up, that is all.

    1. CW says:

      I suppose you meant ‘loons’. The idea of self-government for a community of people has an obvious logic, and this sort of stuff simply doesn’t work anymore.

  4. camarades1 says:

    I’m fiercely and proudly Scottish, but this bunch of looms do themselves, and my country, no credit.

  5. Lesley, how do we get the roadshows, which you have suggested and I wholly support, off the ground? Is it possible that this can be done roots up? without a SNP input? who would help/organise/fund?
    Gill Lange

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi Gill, the Scottish Independence convention are planning just such a thing. Go here to join: http://www.scottishindependenceconvention.org/

      1. The Radical Independence Conference may be another…

  6. Welsh Sion (the other one) says:

    Taken from one of our leading Welsh language magazines and offered to you via the keyboard of this professional translator:

    Leanne Wood, [the leader of Plaid Cymru in the National Assembly] has commented in the debate over independence for Scotland, as the “Yes Scotland” campaign is launched.

    “In 2014, the Scottish people will be asked to vote on the future of their nation. The opportunity for people to vote in the Scottish setting and they will be taking their destiny into their own hands.

    “The YES campaign is a grassroots campaign in Scotland, the largest community campaign in the history of Scotland.

    “This is a very important day for the people of Scotland. It’s the start of a golden opportunity for people to shape the future of their country – to give all the decisions that affect Scotland in the hands of the people of Scotland.

    “This is the time for the Scottish people to create their own prosperity, to create jobs and growth on their own terms and to find Scottish solutions to Scottish problems.

    “Plaid hopes very much that the people will do the right thing and vote YES for Scotland in 2014.”

    Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd MP said:

    “I would like to extend all my support for the Yes campaign in this historic referendum.

    “The time has come for a thorough and comprehensive debate on the constitutional future of the United Kingdom, and I hope that the people of Scotland will choose the road to prosperity, rather than being satisfied with being controlled by London.

    “Here in Wales, there is a growing desire for more powers to shape our own future, and I hope that the momentum of the Yes campaign in Scotland will inspire more people to further our aspirations for the future of our nation.

    “I hope that the people of Scotland seize this opportunity to take complete control over the decisions that affect their everyday lives, and not be deceived by the scaremongering unionists.

    “I am confident that the campaign will be successful, and I can assure everyone who is involved in it have the support of Plaid Cymru every step of the way.”

    Source: Golwg Magazine, 25.05.12

  7. Jacqui says:

    Many people in the country are now realising that independence is a real option – it is a big, big thing, and understandably they might feel a bit nervous about it. It seemed to me that this launch was perfectly aimed – at everyone, but especially those who actually have a life outside politics, ordinary people who don’t spend every moment immersed in the debate – who intuitively feel that Independence is the right way, but are still that wee bit cautious.The wonderful, glorious mix of folk who will have their say in 2014. (And, to be honest, I didn’t notice it was an all-male line up – for me it went beyond that today.)

  8. Doug Daniel says:

    I enjoyed the launch a lot. I understand some of Lesley’s points about awkwardness, particularly when switching between speakers (not helped by the fact that the Facebook site’s live feed did an awful job of getting the right shots, especially when Alex and Patrick were signing the declaration and the feed was fixated on the screen, which wasn’t doing anything). I agree people were nervous – Patrick’s delivery was not quite as sure as I would expect from someone who I’ve witness make impassioned speeches in Holyrood with ease – and perhaps Alex’s bit was not as rabble-rousing as one might have expected, and sounded quite similar to speeches I’ve heard him make this year already. It did seem a bit odd for Elaine’s bit to come via a video, and Martin Compston seemed a bit like he was reading something out to class at times.

    But it definitely struck the right tone. This couldn’t look like a normal SNP event with a few guest speakers chucked in. The show was definitely stolen by the trio of Brennan, Canavan and Cox. I would urge everyone in Scotland to watch their speeches, and see what an independent Scotland can mean to people. They made extremely important points, highlighting exactly why Westminster does not serve Scotland, and showing exactly why people are wrong to think that the polls today predict the referendum result. These are people who were once firm believers in the UK and Scotland’s place in it, but they’ve seen the light, and others can do that too.

    It’s the people like them – the ones who think they are “no” voters but only because they’re ignoring that little voice in their head – who will decide this referendum. Those who are open to persuasion, and many who don’t realise they are. And let’s be perfectly clear here – once someone sees the light, they don’t go back. You only need to convince someone of the opportunities of independence once, and they’ll be onboard for good.

    The true picture of the union is something that cannot be unseen.

    I look forward to seeing who else is going to “come out” as an independence supporter. Blair Jenkins’ speech was another highlight, as it was rather unexpected. Who’ll be next, I wonder?

  9. Sheena Wellington says:

    I am with you on that, Jacqui, I didn’t notice the all-women line-up till Lesley mentioned it! We all know what Sir Sean thinks and Elaine’s politics haven’t been a secret for years. It mattered today that we had Brian Cox and Alan Cumming ‘coming out’ for Independence, these are names that resonate beyond Scotrland and, frankly, I am struggling to think of any Scottish woman, apart from Susan Boyle, who has that kind of international recognition factor! The Women for Independence group will be making their voices heard soon – and there is still along way to go!

  10. stevie Black says:

    Miserable, femino-centric roaring pish. Lesley, you can do better than that! The launch had its faults, but your uncharitable and wumminist analysis is neither clever nor truthful. I normally respect your opinion but this is lazy, cynical, rude and nowhere near thoughtful enough.

  11. Albalha says:

    I watched, isn’t Liz Lochead a women? It wasn’t an all male line up and LL, before reciting, made a valuable point for the debate going forward, the fact that she is not now and unlikely ever to be a member of any political party. My biggest criticism is that A Salmond should not have wrapped up after B Cox, they should have left it at that imo.

  12. Didnt anyone else notice it was an all white lineup??

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      It’s easy to pick faults at the make up of the line up, but who would you suggest was included instead, and perhaps even more importantly, who’s place would they take?

  13. I’d suggest it shouldn’t be easy to find such obvious faults with such an important launch. But perhaps Doug Daniel thinks any form of criticism is unacceptable and unionist? This is something I’ve previously encountered when trying to engage in debate on the referendum. It’s not for me to pick and choose who took part in the lineup. Surely the organisers should be aiming to reflect a multicultural Scotland? And I thought it interesting that the gender imbalance was raised by Lesley Riddoch, folk commented that they hadn’t noticed that and yet noone brought up that it was an all white lineup…

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Tam, if you could refrain from putting words in my mouth, I’d be most grateful.

      I just find it interesting that people get so hung up on the gender and race of the people speaking, and don’t stop to consider why these “faults” exist. Sheena’s comment was interesting, because I think she’s just about the first person I’ve seen state the obvious – who was missing? I just think people are being too quick to criticise the lack of women and non-whites without considering why it was those who spoke were picked.

      Brian Cox wasn’t picked because he was a man, he was picked because he’s a lifelong Labour supporter who is now extolling the virtues of independence, and he’s also very famous. Which world-famous ex-Labour supporting female actress or non-white actor could have taken his place?

      Tommy Brennan wasn’t picked because he was a man, he was picked because of the role he played in fighting to keep the Scottish steel industry alive, and is a hero for many people, people whose lives were ruined by Westminster putting Scottish industry to the dogs. Which heroine or non-white hero of traditional Scottish industries could have replaced him?

      Dennis Canavan wasn’t picked because he was a man, he was picked because he symbolises what the Labour party used to mean, and is a shining example of someone being convinced of the independence case because of their Labour values, not despite them. Which universally respected female or non-white ex-Labour MP could have replaced him?

      Blair Jenkins wasn’t picked because he was a man, he was picked because he’s thoroughly respected in media circles, having held high office in both the BBC and STV. He was also arguably the most unexpected independence supporter there. Which female or non-white ex-head of news or whatever could have taken his place?

      Patrick Harvie wasn’t picked because he’s a man, and more importantly, he wasn’t picked because he’s bisexual. He was picked because he’s the Scottish Green’s main media mouthpiece. Putting up Martha or Alison just wouldn’t have had the same effect. And they’re both white too.

      Alex Salmond wasn’t there because he was a man, he was there because if the FM wasn’t there, nobody would have come along to the launch. Nicola and Humza, as able as they are, would not have had the same effect. Although Humza will have his day…

      There were reasons for everyone who was there (I’m assuming no one is going to complain about Alan Cummings or Liz Lochhead being there, since their absence would have lowered the LGBT and female representation). I just don’t think you can criticise them for the make up of those who spoke unless you’re prepared to say who could have spoken instead. You didn’t answer me, and I wonder if that really is because you don’t see why you should have to say who was missing, or if it’s simply because you can’t actually think of anyone. For the record, I can think of three non-white, non-politician independence supporters who could be described as having a high-profile (the Kohli brothers – although women might have had something to say about Hardeep SIngh being there – and Aamer Anwar), although I don’t even know if any of them truly is pro-indy and their actual recognisability (except perhaps in Hardeep’s case, thanks to his tartan turban) is questionable. One of the Kohli’s could have replaced Martin Compston perhaps, but then you’re indulging in tokenism, which is even worse, and we’d then have people moaning about there not being any young people speaking.

      It would be great to have a totally multi-ethnic, gender-diverse cast list to choose from for this sort of event. The sad reality is, we don’t. Highlighting the overly white and male nature of the prominent independence supporters won’t suddenly change their race or gender. Even if you do, someone else will just highlight the lack of transgender people, or the lack of disabled people, or the lack of people from the Highlands & Islands, or the lack of English-born people, or or or…

      Concentrate on the messages being made, not the people saying them.

      Incidentally, if I was Elaine C. Smith, Liz Lochhead or Lou Hickey, I’d be pretty peeved that so many people on the internet are either calling me a man, or saying I was a non-entity.

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi Tam, wasnae there but I did hear that commented on. When Bashir Ahmad launched Asians for Independence in 1995, the won Pollockshields East he said: “The lack of any Asian or ethnic minority voice in the Scottish Parliament has been felt deeply in my community. But SNP members have righted that wrong. By doing so, they have proved that the SNP aspires to lead a Scottish Parliament that will represent all of Scotland – a truly national parliament. I firmly believe the SNP can now earn the trust of the Asian community throughout Scotland and that this will be a bond that endures for generations.”

      That’s not just true of the SNP it’s true of the independence campaign that needs to be consciously inclusive.

      Criticism is essential.

  14. Doug, I didn’t answer you, partly because I am touring the Borders by bike at the mo and it’s hard enought to get a mobile signal it seems, never mind 3G or wifi, but mainly because I have such deep seated anxieties about the whole independence project and it’s referendum tactic that it’s really not my place to get involved in it’s minutiae. I accept that therefore it could have looked like a cheap jibe at the make up of the platform but I thought it interesting that folk hadn’t noticed it. You make a number of valid points and a number that I could debate with but I do think I should try to find the space to express my anxieties as fully as poss – I’ll ask Bella Caledonia if it might be here – and perhaps we can debate on the bigger picture…

  15. why does ms riddoch always think she is being recruited by the snp? I have heard her state this same before. To full of her own importance I think. No-one is trying to convert her. I am sureof that. A pretty sarastic piece.

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