2007 - 2021

Announcing a New National Campaign

As reported this morning: “A NEW national campaign organisation to help win a future independence referendum on Scottish is set to be launched on St Andrew’s Day. The Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), a voluntary cross and non party organisation, is to launch a fundraising appeal to provide staff and resources for the new group to be unveiled on November 30. The organisation will help provide a strategic vision for the Yes campaign, carry out research and media work including a fact checking and rebuttal service.” Here Robin McAlpine reflects on the initiative.

I was always taught that when those around you are down, hurting, then even if you feel exactly the same, still its your job to try and lift them, no matter how little you might feel like it.

I was also taught that when you believe that something is important, that it has to be said then you should say it courteously but clearly.

The first of these is why I dragged myself to my computer keyboard on the 19th of September 2014 to write a piece to make clear that the independence movement would have its moment again, and that it would come quicker than we think. But that we needed to work and prepare.

The second is why I’m desperately keen that everyone – EVERYONE – gets behind the new national pro-independence campaign organisation the Scottish Independence Convention is soon hoping to launch.

Because the moment I wrote about back on that grim Friday morning four years ago is nearly with us – but it will not last forever and it guarantees us nothing. We need to work to take that moment for ourselves.

The moment is Brexit. Not, as some have mistakenly believed, because Scotland is deliriously, uncritically in love with Brussels and its institutions. It isn’t. But because given the choice between the path on which the UK has set out and still being a member of the European family of nations, we voted for the latter. I think we assumed the UK as a whole would as well.

It’s the lack of confidence in the sanity of the leadership of Britain that is opening up this window for us. It’s the sense that no-one is actually driving the bus and that we’re running out of road.

It’s the fear that this is all ideological, that it’s a project which has wrapped up a fundamental hatred of cooperation in the clothes of disillusionment with economic injustice. It’s the sense that a Tory right-winger telling us it’s all about the NHS means whatever it’s about, it’s definitely not about the NHS.

I’m not just guessing these things. We’re still ploughing through the analysis of a very complex opinion poll the SIC commissioned about current attitudes to independence (as soon as we have solid conclusions we’ll definitely be sharing them with you).

But one thing is absolutely clear – there is now a definite majority of people in Scotland who think that a Brexit Britain may be very bad for them; very bad indeed.

What worries them is what is going to happen with public services, what will happen to their future working conditions, whether the ease with which they have come to expect to travel abroad will disappear.

It’s not that they believe all the scare stories verbatim – we were wrong if we thought they’d be bounced by the dire projections of the London business and political classes alone. People have to feel it. It has to actually happen.

But it’s getting close enough now that these fears are becoming less and less abstract, more immediate. In our poll there is a majority of people who now want another independence referendum before 2021 – and an additional number of people who would like one shortly after 2021. In the earlier research work we did, people were already saying ‘I’m getting close to being ready to listen to your case again’.

What should give us a real sense of urgency is the repeated evidence that people are very able to ‘normalise’ any new set of circumstances. For a couple of years the impacts of Brexit will be new, will be unfamiliar. Against that the case for independence is a case for undoing harm and instead doing something better.

But quite quickly after that it is likely that people will just absorb this as normal, as ‘just how it is’. Against that backdrop we risk getting back into the dynamic of the whole debate being about whether we can prove that Scottish independence won’t be worse than the status quo.

Our window is the period between when the shock of Brexit is fresh but before it becomes another shrug of the shoulders, just one more thing done to us that we must put up with.

My personal guess is that the moment is between 2020 and 2023 or 2024. Miss it and we drift into the middle distance, a realm we can only guess about. Perhaps it will be good for us, perhaps not. I just don’t want to find out.

So how do we make sure and take our opportunity? I think it’s really, really important that we’re learning the best possible lessons from campaigns that are happening now the world over.

The current ‘big idea’ in campaigning sectors is that you win by telling effective stories which put the person you are talking to right at the centre and which make them feel nervous about standing still but confident about making change.

While this is because the ‘authority’ models of influence has had constantly declining effectiveness (authority figures talking down to us and telling us what we should think), it is a mistake to imagine that this is just ‘anarchy’, everyone telling everyone else whatever story they want to.

On the contrary, the most effective campaigns are identifying very precisely the messages that move people and are turning them into effective stories about their lives, making them feel angry about things they want to change but hopeful about what it would be like if we can change them.

And despite a consistent belief in the independence movement that this means ‘knocking doors’, that’s not really true. Who honestly wants to answer the door to a campaigner when they’re getting the kids tea ready or are sitting down to watch telly? When is telling someone something once ever enough?

The conversations that really matter are the ones that happen all the time anyway – round the dinner table, at your work, in the pub or the cafe, when you visit your relatives, during your leisure time pursuits, on the bus and, yes, on social media where it is friends talking to friends (not strangers shouting at you…).

All the evidence is that these peer-to-peer conversations are the most important way people form their opinions now. And yes of course, what they saw on TV, read in a newspaper or heard a politician say often kicks off the conversation. But its how that conversation develops that matters, what people say next when someone says ‘did you see that story in the papers this morning…’.

We need to colonise those conversations. We need to own them much better than we currently do. We need the best stories.

We don’t need to tell people that the UK is an insecure country with over-priced housing, widespread corporate fraud and tax evasion with a criminal banking system and enormous inequality. We don’t need to tell them that London captured all of the UK’s wealth and just keeps grabbing more and more.

What we need is for people to be telling each other these things. That’s how we win.

So how do we get people telling each other these stories? Well, first we need to write the stories. We need to find out what is worrying people, what they hope for, what they want from life. We need to make those about why Scotland can be better for them than the mess that is the UK.

That needs work – research, understanding, awareness, testing. We need to explore what hits home with people. Then we need to help people to learn the stories, to adapt them for their own place, for the people in their community, their colleagues, their family.

And we need to support them with materials. We need better media interventions to kick stories off (and yes it’s a hostile media, which is why we need to be clever). We need really good briefing materials so no-one is caught unprepared when they’re telling the stories.

We need brilliant support materials – clever messages, strong visual images, humour, emotion, passion. We need to organise better and grow. We need to stop potential allies off by making out that supporting independence is hard work – we don’t need 25,000 hard-core activists, we need 250,000 advocates making the best possible use of the conversations they would have anyway. We need to make it easier for more and more people to carry the weight of the campaign with us.

And we need to repeat it all, over and over and over.

It is no slight to or criticism of any political party to say that they’re not the best people to carry this message – lack of trust in politicians and parties (particularly among the harder-to-reach target audience) is simply a sad fact of life these days.

We need something which is all-party and no-party, which talks not with the accent of professional politics but learns to talk in the way people talk in their real lives. And we need a body that is capable of doing real, hard work on our behalf.

We need a national, all-inclusive campaign organisation both to lead and to support much of the independence campaign and its message. I believed it that morning on 19 September 2014 and am more convinced now than ever.

So it has been at times frustrating trying to get here. The only way to do things in a broad movement like this is to take everyone with you. That’s what the SIC has been trying to do, and yes, that means progress can be slow. We’re all capable of spending a lot of time looking at the minor flaws in something we know to be essential in principle.

But we’re (nearly) there now. We’re nearly ready to ask for your help to fund an office to do the work and really get a national campaign going.

Nothing is ever perfect, but the planning has involved lengthy debate involving every pro-independence campaign organisation there is. It has very widespread backing. It is the next step we have to take. It has to work.

Comments (35)

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  1. Jean Martin says:

    How can I donate? I live in the north of Ireland and have supported independence for Scotland for many years. I feel a link with you in your endeavours to remove the shackles of English rule. I don’t have a lot of money but I’d love to help n the only way open to me, donating a few pounds. I’ll be watching with great interest. J

    1. Peter Piper says:

      “The shackles of English rule”? Don’t you think you’re slightly over egging your pudding? What good does it do the cause you support to use such ludicrously exaggerated language? Or maybe you think that the ordinary Scottish punter goes about feeling like a colonial slave dying for liberation from the oppressor’s yoke? Get real, Scotland is a democratic state, a parliamentary democracy and one of the richest countries in the world to boot. We are not an enslaved colony of England and no amount of lurid, ultra left, sentimental nationalist drivel will make any sensible person think it is. And why are you so vitally concerned with Scotland anyway if you don’t live here? I thought the notion of transferred nationalism had died off after Orwell gave it a mighty boot way back.

  2. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    Please can we notice the date of 6 April 2020? It will be 700 years since the Declaration of Arbroath – time for another ‘Declaration’?

    1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

      Mary an idea to be noted but I fear we may well be forced by Tory incompetence to go sooner.

    2. John B Dick says:

      …and the 31st of January 2019 is the anniversary of the Battle of George Square.

      I will be in George Square then. See you there,

  3. Alf Baird says:

    No voters in Scotland just need reassured that post independence they will be able to keep their British citizenship/nationality and also have dual Scottish citizenship should they want it. That should be enough – they still get to move where they want in the British Isles. If not, lets have Blackford’s sovereign Scotland majority take Scotland as the union began via the constitutional exit, prior to Brexit.

    1. Jamsie says:

      Actually Alf people want to be absolutely sure that there is a future devoid of third world poverty with public services provided by the relevant authorities which meet their requirements.
      Unlike now.
      The minority shout loud for Indy needs to believe there are enough voters out there who are open to being convinced.
      When push comes to shove and the hard facts are laid out in front of them on the economic prognosis and the probable third world levels of austerity do you really think that it is likely they will choose that.
      Imposing it on them is not an option.
      When wee Nicola comes out and apologises for the £30bn lie and admits it could take twenty five years just to get back to where we are now do you really think that this will be the death blow to the UK?
      Of course it won’t.
      The referendum is not going to happen but you all already know that and the anger is palpable.

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        Still full of the wishful thinking then J*msie? It’s understandable I suppose, given that over 4 years of unopposed unionist campaigning has failed to impact on support for independence (it’s higher now than it was in 2014 – heart breaking for you), the thought of the Indy movement actually beginning to actively campaign again must be a sphincter tightening experience for you.

        1. Jamsie says:

          Ah MBP I see the effect of Tomny the convicted perjurer’s oration has lifted your spirits.
          Did the face paint wash off?
          The thing is the mandate!
          What was it again?
          If we are dragged out the EU against our will?
          And Brexit means we are being dragged out and this is causing the economic problems this “government” are incapable of addressing without falling back on the U.K. for financial support after they have cocked up.
          The poor performance of the economy and in particular growth in Scotland is caused by Brexit.
          Except this is the party line put together by Spad in response to some embarrassing facts raised by the considered expert within the SNP on the economy.
          The lies being proffered by wee Nicola and Mackay in the full knowledge that their position is mendacious and composed by a spad should be a resignation issue.
          The lag in growth between the Scottish and the UK and EU economies is nothing to do with Brexit and their foremost economic advisor had told them that.
          The lag is due to the collapse in North Sea oil and gas revenues caused by the world crash in demand.
          The truth is out there if you look.
          Freedom of Information is a wonderful thing when it is allowed to function as the law intends that us with no spad editing what should be freely available to the public about their politicians and their actions.
          Next crisis?
          Wee Nicola’s integrity!
          Because she has been stupid enough to try to deflect from the truth and has been caught.
          As I said the referendum will be off the table because it is not economically conducive at this time.
          Watch and see.

          1. Jamsie says:

            And as her ratings continue to fall hence the very limited tv and radio exposure theses days when do you think she will become an electoral liability?
            In destroying wee Eck has she already become one in the heartlands so ensuring the Tory vote will perpetuate?

          2. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Even more wishful thinking mixed in with a sprinkling of mendacity. Your good for a laugh if nothing else J*msie 🙂

          3. Me Bungo Pony says:

            And the award for least original fiction in the fantasy genre goes to …. J*msie 🙂

  4. Willie says:

    250,000 envoys promoting independence. We have that and more.

    Give them the lead, and we will deliver the result.

    1. Jamsie says:

      And when it comes to answering questions on the economy and the currency what will they say?
      The same problems remain, there are no answers forthcoming that explain how public services will not be slashed to third world levels or how her cherished ambition of surrendering power to the EU would ever be achieved.
      Opinion within the Indy minority is split between reckless disregard and the fear of failure again.
      The majority of the electorate know there are no answers to the economy and currency questions.
      Wee Nicola knows it too.
      You only have to look at the dependence on the UK over the last few weeks to address budget errors to see the Scottish “government” are totally incompetent.
      Why would people vote for Indy on that basis?

  5. Jack collatin says:

    SIC: No Country For Old Men and Women.
    The very notion that I sit until I die waiting for the self appointed ‘leaders’ of a broad based independent movement decide when I can hold a referendum is counter intuitive to the author’s observation that :-

    “While this is because the ‘authority’ models of influence has had constantly declining effectiveness (authority figures talking down to us and telling us what we should think), it is a mistake to imagine that this is just ‘anarchy’, everyone telling everyone else whatever story they want to.”

    Mr McAlpine then sets out his alt-authority vision, what he considers is needed, which definitely doesn’t include septuagenarians and above.

    “We need to colonise those conversations. We need to own them much better than we currently do. We need the best stories.”
    His list of what ‘we needs’, runs to quite a list.

    Last Friday, my Better Half and I indulged in a rare treat. Greasy fish and chips from the local take away.
    In front of me in the queue were a young waif, a girl of no more than ten, and presumably her younger brother, perhaps two or three years her junior.
    She ordered a portion of chips, £1.20 I think, which I have no doubt was their dinner that night.
    She and her brother, and a third of a million Scots children like them, cannot wait until 2024.
    I’ll be 77, they could be dead by then.
    I have a different interpretation of Mr McAlpine’s ‘sense of urgency’.
    While he wants funds to set up an office, and presumably create lucrative employment for himself and the SIC team and busy themselves coordinating the 250,000,
    I must spend my final years suffering under the English Establishment Iron Heel Oligarchy?
    Give them another five years of the Rape Clause and they’ll come to their senses?

    ” For a couple of years the impacts of Brexit will be new, will be unfamiliar. Against that the case for independence is a case for undoing harm and instead doing something better.”
    Mr McAlpine, feck right off.
    ‘For a couple of years.’
    Job creation for the day time anarchist?
    We hide in the catacombs while our fellow Christians are fed to the lions in the Circus Maximus? Eventually the majority will declare,’ enough is enough’?
    Aye, right.
    Thank you for your list of ‘we needs’.
    They are not mine.
    What we need is to go now, with a plebiscite announced pre Leave Day, and a Referendum immediately after England and Wales are a ‘third country’.
    Perhaps I and the Baby Boomers should form the Scottish Army of Independence, and march on Holyrood with garden forks and pruning shears glistening in the winter sun?
    It beggars belief than anyone is advocating that we wait beyond 2019 to act.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      Thanks for that wee bit wisdom Jack. Looks like Robin wants to lead us up the Quebec Mk II garden path where indy is easy meat for the Anglophones still piling in with another half a million cultural No votes by 2024. Our best (only) hope remains to use Blackford’s and Holyrood’s Scotland indy majorities to good effect and end the union as it was constituted, or perhaps if there is a hurried UK GE to decide Brexit but where the SNP only need campaign for a Scottish UK exit. Anyone who really supports Scottish independence will be content with either. People who advocate another dodgy referendum are basically working for Mundell.

  6. Steve Arnott says:

    Don’t agree with absolutely everything Robin says here, but I think he is broadly right.

    The time for a second indyref is sometime between 2020 and 2023, and all the points about a truly inclusive but professional national campaigning organisation that IS NOT party political are correct in my view.

    But it also strikes me that there are a couple of elephants in the room that Robin doesn’t touch on. Perhaps – in order to build unity – these are questions this new SIC sponsored organisation would rather avoid in the first instance, but I don’t think they can be avoided.

    Given Robin’s timescale, it means we are now looking at a second indyref when Scotland has already been taken out of the EU. That means that if we want to rejoin as an independent state – and many of us don’t – there would need to be our own democratic referendum on the matter once independence is achieved.

    In order to ‘neutralise’ the EU issue and make sure both YES Remain and YES Leave voters are on the same bus, the Scottish Government – and the SNP – should pledge to hold such a referendum in the early years of the first indepndent Scottish Parliament, based on the arguments and circumstances of the time.

    The second elephant, if the timescale stretches beyond 2020, is that we might need to secure a clear and unequivocal mandate for a second indyref at the Holyrood elections in 2021. That means opening up a friendly discussion now on the best rational strategy to achieve a pro-indy result. My view is that Both Votes SNP again just won’t cut it, and that we will need to look towards some form of Max the YES strategy that utilises the peculiarities of the Additinal Member System and involves other YES supporting parties, individuals and organisations.

    Finally, the hope must be that any new organisation is truly inclusive – no excluding Solidarity, for instance – and also democratic, with member YES groups and campaiging organisations able to contribute fully to developing ideas and policy, and not just being passive recipients of top down messaging.

    1. Jack collatin says:

      Divide and conquer.
      Once independent you can campaign against the EU, advocate that we all are obliged by law to read the thoughts of Chairman Mao, wear hessian People’s Army uniforms and storm the Winter Palace.
      It is argued that Rise, and SIC wil do the Brit Nats work for them: Not everyone who wants independence wants your Socialist/Marxist hate Europe Utopia.
      You’ll be getting guest spots on the Scotsman, Record, and Herald next.
      There is an argument that you preach unity but practice division.

      1. Jamsie says:

        The contradictions just keep on coming eh?
        The so called mandate for a 2nd Indy referendum supposedly arises from the fact that Scotland is being dragged from the EU against its will.
        It is very clear a large section of the Indy support are leave voters.
        It is also clear Scotland will be leaving the EU with no way back into the EU for twenty five years according to the GCR.
        Why has wee Nicola not acknowledged this?
        Why has she not explained she no longer has a mandate?
        Everyone knows she has none and that is why she has not tried again to call a further referendum.
        Reality needs to kick in sometime.
        2021 elections will probably be the time.
        Any such referendum will be kicked into the long grass then.

  7. Jude Smith says:

    Brilliant, where do I sign up to help?

  8. Crubag says:

    Steve Arnott makes the point that – if Brexit is to be the pivot issue – then we will be reapplying to join the EU, given Robin’s preferred date. For that, we need all the institutions of government – including the central bank and currency.

    But it’s the case that we would have needed those anyway, even if we were still inside the EU.

    I don’t think there’s any external, quick fix, issue that substitutes for the measured development of a roadmap, that builds institutions and gives people confidence there is a plan.

  9. Steve Minton says:

    Judging by the map I guess that you don’t want Shetland to be part of Scotland then? Why else would it be left out? Ignorance? Stupidity? Or just laziness?

    1. fcluness says:

      completely agree!

  10. f cluness says:

    as you don’t have Shetland on your map does that mean its not there

  11. Kenny says:

    Could you explain a bit about HOW SIC made these decisions? From what little I know, local groups don’t seem to be very involved, there seem to be some issues with the office bearers and people don’t understand criteria for co-opting members. SIC doesn’t even appear to have a constitution. It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence to turn over money and responsibility to SIC when there is very little transparency around how it operates.

    1. Jack collatin says:

      Exactly, Kenny.
      When a self appointed ‘spokesperson’ lists what he thinks ‘we need’, I ask, surely that is what the author wants, to happen, which may not necessarily be what the YES Movement ‘needs’, or indeed, ‘wants’.

      I sense that job creation and dragging out the Road to Self Determination into a nice little 5 or 6 year earner are the ‘needs’ expressed in this declaration of a ‘New National Campaign’.
      The arrogance of this announcement leave my breath taken.

      Mr McAlpine does not speak for me, and I sense, for many millions of us.

      1. Jim Coll says:

        Robin’s article is thoughtful and thought provoking, and has stimulated several good responses. However, I do not accept that The Next Referendum can be accurately predicted or calculated. There are too many variables. Two points perhaps could be kept in mind. (1) Setting the date cannot be left off too long otherwise they’ll just think we’re only playing at it. (2) Setting the date will never be entirely in our gift and we may need to accept that a battle is never fought when it suits one side to say, ‘that’s it we’re ready now’.

    2. Hi Kenny
      very happy to try and explain about how the SIC functions. Yes groups are involved with the following organisations having a vote on the SIC council:

      Women for Independence
      NHS for Yes
      Common Weal
      Christians for Independence
      Scottish CND
      Scottish Green Party
      Scottish National Party
      Scottish Socialist Party
      Labour for Independence
      SNP Youth
      SNP Students
      Radical Independence Campaign
      Pensioners for Independence
      Business for Scotland
      Scots English for Independence
      Hubs for Scottish Independence (HUSCI)
      Yes Highlands
      Aberdeen Independence Movement

      More details here:


      1. Kenny says:

        Thanks for that. It still doesn’t explain much about the organisation though. How are office bearers chosen? How is policy set? How do campaign groups become involved? If registered participants in the last referendum were invited to be part of it, where was Wings Over Scotland? What happened to the groups who were members but aren’t now? In short, where is SIC’s constitution?

        Also, who thought a £100,000 crowdfunding campaign was a good idea a month before Christmas? :-/

        1. Hi Kenny

          in answer to your questions:

          Office bearers are nominated and voted by voting organisations.

          We don’t set policy, we are a collection of indy organisations working together. They all have their own individual policies.

          If a regional Yes hub such as Yes Inverness and Aberdeen Indy movement then they get in touch and again voting orgs agree to accept them in… They then become a voting org.

          As for the organisations that used to be involved and now aren’t – they removed themselves due to feeling they can’t represent their constituents.

          The Memorandum of Understanding can be found http://independenceconvention.scot/about-us

          This is the constitution but lighter due to being a stakeholder centred organisation.

  12. D. Harper says:

    It would be nice to see Shetland included.
    We are literally not in the picture you produced.

  13. e.j. churchill says:

    Robin is a timewarp: George Lakoff expiating ‘the absolute importance of originating & commanding the narrative.’

    If those instructions are followed: the left MUST always win.



  14. Maureen says:

    I’m disappointed by the nasty tone of some of the comments on this article. Vindictive insults don’t help constructive debate.

    1. What comments do you have in mind Maureen?

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