Thoughts for the Pheonix
On Friday the 19th of September, we were in mourning for the loss of our dream. A progressive independent Scotland. A beacon of hope in a grey world to counter the gathering clouds of hopelessness.
Peoples eyes were cast down. A few of us exchanged glances, more exchanged hugs. The tears flowed, and the anger too. Friends shouted into the void – ‘ Why did you do this! Why did we do this!?’. Most of all there was greyness, silence, bar jackdaws squawking from someplace in the haar. We knew that in the face of the unified onslaught of the mainstream media, the corporate imperial state, and their puppet masters in global finance, we lost.
Yet if we have lost, why do so many of us feel that our determination has grown? If we have lost, why are the ideas already flowing thick and fast from the National Collective, Women for Independence, Labour for Independence, Common Weal and many others?
Here are a few of the thoughts coursing through my mind:
One of the characteristics of our movement has been hope over fear. With this philosophy we grew and took flight. With our positivity we discussed with our families, chatted with our friends, approached people on the bus, at the school gate, in our local shops, and won over hundreds of thousands of individuals, one by one.
All of us pressed our positive message home. We took on powerful vested interests fearlessly. Obama, the Pope, Barroso, a gaggle of banksters, all came out for No. Pah. Every time another piped up, another thousand friends could see that the Emperor was naked. What would they throw at us next? The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Teletubbies for No?
By the time a rickshaw driver chased 100 Labour MPs in Glasgow playing them the Imperial March, it became clear that we were denying them a lot of their power. The truth is over the last few months many of us have already been free.
With our defeat, those who oppose the power of the people, and the power of a positive message, the fearmongers, are rapidly realigning themselves. They are looking at our weaknesses. They will be ready to exploit our divisions.
The reactions to the result have been strong and include disbelief, anger, despair and grief. Since then there have been tirades of self-loathing and expressions of despondency.
There have been angry comments about all categories of no voters. This is understandable on many levels (see below for one idea of how we can give these emotions space to be expressed and transformed).
Yet if we go down the avenues of resentment, blame and revenge, then they have us where they want us again. Nelson Mandela said: Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. If we succumb to negativity, we fall again, reduced to being once-in-a-parliament voters, consumer statistics, and cannon fodder.
We are reconfiguring, and reimagining what to do next. Whatever we do, let’s not hand the power back. Bertold Brecht (his saying adapted slightly here) famously wrote:
There are those who struggle for a day and they are good.
There are those who struggle for a year and they are better.
There are those who struggle many years, and they are better still.
But there are those who struggle all their lives:
These are the indispensable ones.Let’s all aspire to be the indispensable ones.
Empowerment from Despair
There is a tool we can use for this moment. The Truth Mandala created by Joanna Macy is an exercise in experiencing our sadness and grieving, our anger, our fear and our despair. It is a simple enough exercise, but those who have experienced or hosted it know that it carries immense power, and requires very delicate facilitation.
A word of warning, it is not an easy process. You may find that people are angry, grieving, in despair or terrified for reasons far from the loss of the referendum. This approach should by experienced facilitators. It opens people up, and makes them vulnerable. If this is not part of a process that recognises that we began before this point and continue beyond, then it can be a door to the abyss, in other words only the despair with no empowerment. This is the last thing we want or need.
This is a way of grieving the deep setback of the butterfly rebellion. It is a way of releasing these negative energies deeply, experiencing them rather than suppressing them inside until they become a cancer that contaminates our movement cell by cell, resurfacing collectively in destruction and darkness.
When done right, the flip side of our sadness can become joy, behind our anger we can find passion for change, by taking hold of our fear we become empowered, and releasing our despair we can experience the rebirth of hope.
Don’t knock it. Give it a go. There are many who can lead this type of exercise. Please leave a message if this is something that you feel you need, or if this or another type of exercise is something that you know how to lead.
As Robin McAlpine has called for, we need continued awareness-raising, deepened economic literacy among the wider population, leadership training for young people. This has been nothing less than a huge movement in popular education, and it needs to continue.
We can grow beyond the 45%. Rather than demonise no-voters, we need to particularly reach out to those geographic areas, and those sections of the population that voted predominantly no. We have little hope of convincing hardened unionist positions, and those that particularly benefit from the status quo. However many others can be swayed and brought into the butterfly rebellion. As we have done before, conversation by conversation we need to reflect, discuss and critically analyse together with them.
We need to reach out to the over 55s, and analyse why their demographic voted overwhelmingly no. Is it because they have less access to social media? Did the No campaign target them specifically? To what extent did the Yes movements target them in awareness-raising work? We need to learn how this awareness-raising work is done, how we create spaces for participation that encourage more of this older generation in.
We need to continue to reach out to us new Scots, English Scots, African Scots, Turkish Scots, Polish Scots. Yes there may be those who remain aloof and uninvolved in the nation. But what has become clear over the last two years it is that so many care deeply about this country and want to be ever more closely connected to Scottish society. Reaching out to new Scots is the best way to mutually deepen that journey.
I have always felt at home in Scotland since I moved here 24 years ago as a geographically-challenged (as my friends say) person of Swiss origin, but it is during the last 2 years that I have truly become Scottish, because I have felt so completely embraced by the movement. This movement has deepened the welcome, and given us new Scots full acceptance. As has been discussed widely, this civic rather than ethnic bond is one thing that has set the Yes movement apart, and made it a home to so many of us who do not identify as nationalists.
The commitment to this civic approach deserves deepening. It is a precious gift provided by the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement, which opened the vote to all those who live here, and by the framing of the campaign by the SNP and others. This is a way of using belonging and welcome to avoid the rising racism we see elsewhere. This gift needs to the world to be nurtured.
Amin Maalouf (as a Christian, Arab, Lebanese, French man) wrote in his 2000 essay In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong about how the retreat to a single defining identity leads to separation, conflict and even ethnic cleansing, while an embrace of our multiple identities (for instance a Glaswegian Polish woman Labour for Indy trade unionist Scot) supports us to understand our interdependence and feel we belong in this place but are also part of the broader human adventure. We can be proud Scots without retreating to this single identity.
We can also reach out and spread our message and our approach outside of Scotland, in Wales, England and Ireland, and beyond. Whenever we go, in Scotland, with elders, with all of the new Scots and abroad, we the 45 are the ambassadors for the butterfly rebellion.
Do not underestimate them:
The backlash will continue to grow. The global kleptocrat elite, which Westminster is solidly part of, does not like our movement. We have scratched their armour, perhaps opened up a chink. We have challenged TINA, the Thatcherite diktat that ‘There Is No Alternative’ to neoliberal planet-destroying austerity.
As our movement recharges its batteries and strategises, let’s not be naïve. They are watching and listening, and strategising too.
They will try to isolate our leaders. They will try to co-opt and infiltrate our movement. They will try to blame us for anything that goes wrong with their confused and conflicting devo-mini plans.
Our power and resilience will come from our openness, our diversity, and our positivity.
For all the goodwill in the world, our movement needs cash to keep it going.
We need the individuals behind Common Weal, Bella Caledonia, Women for Independence, and many other groups, to be supported financially so that it frees them, if this is what they choose to do, to continue to manifest and meet, write and organise, and create the spaces that allow us to thrive collectively, rather just fitting this into spare time, next to other work.
We need people-owned new media to allow us to counter 97% of the MSM that supported British Nationalism. We need bandwidth and continued support to core organisations. We need physical spaces to host our debates, our discussions, our schools of methodology and our young leaders trainings. It would be far-sighted to have enduring places to do this work.
We need to support policy research. We need funds for court cases, for advertising, for running polls, to support campaigns.
We need to create the materials to educate this and the next generation. We need books, films, pamphlets. I looked at the Yes materials I have around the house and realised that some, focused of course on the referendum, are now out of date. We need new or adapted materials for this context.
So here is an idea, it’s an idealistic one. Do you think there any idealists among us? The 45 are 1.6 million people. If one in five of us gave £5 per month on a standing order to support part of the movement financially, that would be £1.6 million. If another one in five gave £1 per month, another £320,000. If we did this, we would be paying almost £2 million a month into the movement, £24 million a year, split over dozens of groups.
This would need to be a financial commitment above any charitable commitment we have already. We shouldn’t cancel our standing orders to anti-poverty work or environmental campaigning or cancer research, but dig deeper in our pockets – if we are lucky enough to be able to do so – to support the movement. In part we can fund this by halting our BBC license, suspending our newspaper subscriptions, or any other means that removes a modicum of power from the institutions that have come out against us.
Participatory democracy has been at the heart of this movement, and it needs to be at the heart of what we do next. Within our butterfly rebellion we have thousands of facilitators who are versed in approaches to participation. We need to identify them, and good facilitators typically shy away from the limelight, creating the conditions for others to shine.
So far we have had the deadline of the 18th of September to lend urgency and excitement. Now we need to sustain the energy. As we meet, plan and enact the next steps, let’s make sure we embed and embody participation. Hundreds of people meeting to listen to great speakers and responding in question and answer sessions is no longer the way to go at this stage. Tools and techniques for participatory leadership and planning like World Café, Open Space Technology and many others can help us to tap into the collective wisdom of all who are participating, even in gathering of hundreds or thousands. We can invest time framing the key questions that we want to answer at any particular point; ensure that the ‘harvest’ of what is discussed is captured; and that concrete plans, generated and owned collectively, can emerge and be followed up on.
One of the discussions to be had is about local democracy. Lesley Riddoch did us all a favour in her book Blossom by pin-pointing our local democratic deficit, showing that we have the largest councils in Europe, the least local tax-raising powers, the lowest number of individuals who stand for public office. We could hold widespread dialogues on decentralisation, learn how to reform the system, learn what we can do under present Holyrood powers, and implement decentralised local representation. This will consolidate independent power-bases, and put to bed the accusation that independence would lead to a highly centralised Scotland. We can campaign to get rid of false and meaningless consultations with premeditated outcomes (one such consultation may come from Westminster in November to look into devo-mini proposals). Establishing participatory budgeting in local and national governments could be a powerful step towards keeping the movement energised and empowering people over the long-term.
Local democracy and participation will also come from local ownership of energy production. We should lobby and legislate for community renewables on a massive scale, in so far as this is possible with a no result.
One of the truly striking aspects of the Yes campaign for Scottish independence is that we have encompassed so many perspectives, from Tartan Tories to Anarchists who threw aside their active opposition to statehood to cast a Yes vote as a strategic pathway to a better future.
We have been extraordinarily disciplined. Our discipline has been to keep away from infighting, to stop calling names, to stay away for blaming particular groups in society, to keep far from divisive sectarian or ethnic identities, to love our broad movement, to be welcoming to all.
No-one has been asked to blindly follow the words of another; instead we have instinctively looked after this unity of Yes. This has helped us to be resilient and powerful.
Without advocating unity at all costs with those with whom we disagree, we must also work hard to find as many ways as possible of expanding our broad movement with its multiple perspectives and ideologies.
We need to make sure none of us become the Peoples Front of Judea. We also need to become practised at more consensus-based decision-making, moving away from oppositional politics, like the televised debates during the campaign. For so many reasons we are incredibly energised now, but the shouting of the political cut and thrust will otherwise turn people off politics again.
Action, Reflection, Action
We need to learn from our movement, from the ups and the downs.
By way of example Yes organised in labour heartlands and delivered success in Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and Dundee. But did we take our eye off the ball with the over 55s who steadily vote, election after election. What can we learn from this?
Learning from our successes and failures is especially important for the leaders of the movement, for the strategists and the organisers, the planners and the plotters, the educators and the facilitators… but of course it is essential to all. What worked and what didn’t? This is how social movements learn, through what the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire called the action reflection spiral.
In addition to our rapid learning from social media, we should plan and host annual methodology schools, where we learn from what has been done on the ground, get a chance to self-criticise and plan how we are going to tweak or change our approach. We should also get a chance to plan over the mid to long-term, thinking about how we sustain our movement to self-determination and far beyond.
Love to you all. Carpe Diem. Count me in.