A Way Forward
OK, even by my standards this is a rather rapid run-through of how we can pursue the twin-track approach of making Scotland a better place for its citizens and showing them in the process why independence will enable us to do even more. So let me write it down.
I do so with a couple of caveats. I cannot stress enough that things are still falling (it’s not even two weeks since the result) and we need to see where they land. Strategy should always change according to circumstances and we do not yet know all of the circumstances. The second is that anyone who thinks they alone have all the answers is a fool. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the last two weeks but there will be wonderful thinking out there I’ve not yet heard so I know I have much personally to learn. So these are my thoughts at this moment.
Caveats done, something like a plan might look like:
Now until close 2014
Our first priority must be to remove as much of the unionist powerbase in Scotland as we can, as quickly as we can. It is very sad to say but unionism means full support for the British establishment. Not one of the unionist parties is proposing any fundamental change to the economic or social order in Britain. I admire some Labour politicians and many party members, but they are now in the institution which is the biggest barrier to social change in Scotland. As we saw over the last two years, Labour’s primary function is not to fight on behalf of working people but to channel the votes of working people to support the neoliberal economy of the City of London. So long as Labour can continue to channel the votes of working people in the interests of financiers and right-wing media it will be difficult to achieve any real social change in Scotland.
So let us quickly try and produce a means of clearing out as much of the unionist powerbase in Scotland as possible – which means elected politicians. We should begin by seeking to create an electoral alliance for the 2015 General Election. It will be hard for all concerned but if we can be really honest about who is best placed to beat the unionist candidates on a constituency by constituency basis then a block of at least 30 pro-indy candidates is easily achievable. In most cases that will probably be SNP – but there are quite a few places where that isn’t the case. It might be possible to get a Green candidate or possibly an SSP candidate but often where the SNP are not strong the best bet would be to find an popular local independent candidate. They should stand on a ticket that demotes the party tag to second. So let’s say the alliance was called ‘People’s Scotland’, the ballot paper might say “People’s Scotland: John Smith (SNP)” or “People’s Scotland: Margaret Jones (Independent)”.
The key is the pitch. To win it would need to stand on a platform of ‘we can hold the balance of power – and use it to protect the vulnerable from Westminster’. It would require a shared manifesto platform. There are some things that might be considered for this (Royal Mail back in public ownership, nationalise the National Grid). But at it’s heart should be a call for a one-off wealth tax substantial enough to largely eradicate the national debt and therefore remove the need for austerity (and that tax would mainly hit the super-rich of London). It would stand on a ‘confidence and supply’ basis with Labour – if Labour is the minority government it will back it in votes of confidence and supply votes on a case-by-case basis, dragging Labour to the left.
Scotland would vote for a powerful block of people ready to fight Westminster on this platform. Labour would be in real trouble.
Now until Spring 2016
‘Don’t rock the boat’ was tried as a strategy. It didn’t work. We now need to create a devolved agenda in Scotland which is not small-c conservative but big I inspiring. If we want to make a cast-iron case for more powers then we need to push much harder at the boundaries of the powers we have now. And if we are pitching Scotland as different politically than Westminster, holding back from implementing the worst of Westminster policies is not enough.
So we need a much more ambitious and ‘Nordic’ manifesto for the 2016-2020 parliamentary term. This means bringing together the interests of the maximum number of groups – high-wage policies for low-pay workers, industrial policy for indigenous businesses, housing policies for low-wage workers and young professionals, massive decentralisation and local democracy for everyone, better community planning and service provision for the elderly and so on. It must show what we could be – and make clear what we can’t be with existing powers.
I make no apologies for saying this is what the Common Weal policy project was all about and for stating my belief that it is an essential approach to moving us the next step forward. We have a Common Weal Policy Unit almost up and running and it has already begun work on producing a manifesto for 2016. We aim to have it ready for conference season in the Spring 2015 with a year to go for the election. An agenda which differentiates Scotland from Westminster is essential.
By this point (hopefully) we will have learned the benefits of an electoral alliance – and also have learned the practices that make it possible and effective. We need to use it again. Yet again we need to go constituency by constituency and make sure there is only one pro-indy candidate standing against the unionists. We have independent (or loosely aligned) candidates that can make serious inroads to even the most hard-core Labour areas and we need to use them. So we need to be thinking about a ballot paper that says “People’s Scotland: Allan Grogan or Deborah Waters (Independent Labour)” or whatever we have to break those areas. We need to stand on a shared manifesto – which will certainly take some negotiating but it is not impossible.
Then we stand as ‘with one vote elect your own minority coalition government’ (it would be helpful if no one party had a majority…). We unite on the constituency vote but stand against each other on the list (this will maximise representation). We can win big on this approach.
But at the moment I think we need to stand on a ‘no call for another referendum in this Parliament’ ticket. I just think there is ten per cent plus of the No vote we can take but would be put off at the thought of another rapid referendum.
Now until 2017
With the best will in the world to the White Paper (which I maintain had a lot of good stuff in it), it wasn’t nearly a full implementation plan for independence – and we suffered because of it. We must take a leaf out of the Constitutional Convention book. After losing in 1992 the pro-devolution forces made sure that the next time people voted they had an absolutely cast-iron proposal sitting on the shelf waiting for use. We must do the same. We need to get every element worked out properly with everything from the public sector accounting to the treaty negotiation stance in place.
At its heart (in my opinion) we must accept that we can’t ever go into a campaign again wholly relying on a narrative that involves a currency union we can’t guarantee. Scotland lacks a really strong monetary economist. I’d like to see us (probably the Scottish Government) recruit a world-class monetary economist now with a three-year project to develop a really bullet-proof plan for an independent Scottish currency. And everything else too, from a plan for pensions to a tax model.
That model for independence should be there by 2017 or so, ready for people to understand and be inspired by. Common Weal will certainly be undertaking some work of this sort but this needs to be a shared national project.
We then need to make sure that the movement does not dissipate. We are going to need it to be ready to take the next campaign forward in a couple of years. Many people have ideas about how to do that. We’ve outlined some of our thinking at Common Weal – creating places (‘The Common’) to meet and organise and socialise (socialising is important to keeping movements together), creating a powerful social media site (CommonSpace) to enable people to connect, communicate, organise, share information and materials, train and so on.
Beyond that, we all need to find roles, person by person, organisation by organisation. We need to be very careful not to slip back into protest mode – only marching and shouting against austerity which we cannot stop in Scotland is simply asking people to get involved in a campaign that hasn’t in the past reached a wider public and which is doomed to failure. Of course we must do it, but we need positives to win – nationally, locally, community by community.
I would say something here about institutions and media but right now the picture is somewhat crowded. We (at Common Weal) had been thinking about trying to employ a proper news editor and team of experienced journalists to create a news service. However since a lot of others are now talking about similar things we’re going to wait and see what happens – we certainly don’t want to duplicate good work if its already happening.
The same is true of broadcast (or podcast). We need documentary, discussion, news and much more. This movement definitely has the ability to produce it. But it must be good and we must make sure that it amounts to something coherent and consistent. Yet again, I don’t think anyone has a single answer. We’re again waiting to see what plays out and will concentrate (through CommonSpace) on linking to the best of what is there and producing some policy-focussed documentary if we can.
This only scratches the surface of what we need to do collectively to keep motivated, keep active and keep focussed.
2016 – 2020
We have won a big majority as a progressive political alliance which supports independence. We have a strong and inspiring policy agenda which flexes the powers of the Parliament and sets a much clearer political direction for Scotland, moving it further away from the Westminster approach. We make Scotland better, and in the process make it different – and popular with voters.
We also use government to do much more to highlight the failures of Britain. So regularly promoting international comparative statistics, setting targets to bring Scotland up to the level of performance of countries other than Britain and so on. Accepting the UK failure for fear of having to come up with an alternative must end. Lowest state pension in Europe? We NEED to say it very loud and very often.
We also need to use government to highlight the false data used in the campaign. Make sure every new oil price information is publicly compared against what Better Together said it would be. Hound the IFS every time its data projections turn out to be completely false and so on. We need a proper process of undermining institutions which were flexible with the truth.
In 2017 we get the new prospectus for independence. That marks the starting-point for a three-year campaign to get people to support it. That is when we really start to hit the streets again and really push these ideas. The target is to make sure that by May 2020 we have close to 70 per cent support for that prospectus right across Scotland.
2017 – 2020
The work done on the prospectus is just the start. Once it is in place the remaining three years should be used to create a solid, ready-to-go implementation strategy. The UK won’t pre-negotiate, but we don’t need them to. We just put our case together and make sure everyone understands it in detail. List all the treaties and state the position of Scotland. Put in place plans for every transitional arrangement and publish them. Explain our reasonable position on accepting some liability for UK debt and all the rest. If everyone sees it and accepts it is reasonable, the process of negotiating independence should be rapid.
We have our last electoral alliance. We need to continue with a shared manifesto but what that means is impossible to tell from here. But we have one central policy – a fast referendum. We will have been running our own campaign for three years by this point. We will be ready – very ready – to fight a quick referendum campaign.
Scottish Election in May
Independence referendum in September
To all intents and purposes, out by Christmas.
And then I really am going to take a holiday.