Yes Alba vs. ‘Yes Alba’
‘All Under One Banner have stolen the name of a Gaelic-language independence group for their own, nothing-to-do-with-Gaelic, group.’
With that tweet, I started a thread on Twitter. And things descended from there.
In the run-up to the 2014 Independence Referendum, several young Gaels came together to create Yes Alba, a Gaelic-language grassroots group campaigning for independence. It aimed to create a network of Gaelic speakers across Scotland for this purpose.
Yes Alba was successful. It amassed over 30,000 likes as a Facebook page. It successfully crowdfunded. We had Gaelic t-shirts, Bu Chòir badges, leaflets. We campaigned for a better Scotland, and a better place for Gaelic in that Scotland.
I was surprised this week, then, when I read in the National (‘Yes Alba: Top indy activists and SNP MP elected to lead new organisation’, Dec 3rd) that a brand-new grassroots group had come out of AllUnderOneBanner, Yes Alba!
This new group is not a Gaelic organisation. It is not a continuation, or reinvention, of the real Yes Alba. None of the founders of the original Yes Alba are involved in it.
So I tweeted my thread out on Friday, suggesting two scenarios: one, this was a misunderstanding, AUOB hadn’t heard of Yes Alba; or two, that AUOB knew of Yes Alba, but had no problem stealing the name for their English-language group.
I stated I hoped it was the former, but either way, that AUOB and this new group could quickly rectify the situation by renaming their group. It’s a simple issue, with such a simple solution.
Or so I thought. Things descended from there.
All of that is very good to read and take on board. Do please reflect that Gaelic speakers don’t own Gaelic words. Alba is not owned by anyone. Gaelic is a Native language of Scotland, there is not a separate country here. Have a good rest of your night.
— All Under One Banner (@AUOBALBA) December 6, 2020
It wasn’t a mistake, but we didn’t steal
On Saturday night, AUOB doubled-down on Twitter, refusing to admit any wrongdoing, trying to portray this theft as a positive, all while reinforcing tired old imperial and colonial tropes.
I had spoken to a representative from AUOB privately about this new group’s upcoming meeting to discuss the name, and stated I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and hear what came of their upcoming meeting.
But AUOB came out swinging, even saying it would be a good thing if this new organisation went by Yes Alba. Shouldn’t we as Gaels be thankful that a national organisation would use Gaelic in their name? There are ‘great opportunities’ in them doing so, they assured us.
Why not look at it positively? Alba is a name for Scotland. There are great opportunities for the language if the National Yes membership org uses it. The defensiveness over the name doesn’t seem respective, as Alba is a Scottish name, and Gaelic a Native language of Scotland.
— All Under One Banner (@AUOBALBA) December 6, 2020
Are you kidding me?
Even leaving aside the fact that Yes Alba, the real, Gàidhlig Yes Alba, counts over 30,000 followers, multitudes more than this new group, we don’t need your help making Yes Alba successful. Gaels did that themselves.
AUOB went on to complain about ‘belligerence’ and ‘creating discord on public forums’, and stated that ‘some language used in the thread wasn’t very well thought out’. Tone-policing aside, they’re literally taking the name of another organisation: that’s not well-thought out language.
I don’t think my thread was impolite. AUOB seem most upset that I claim they stole the name. They admit they knew Yes Alba existed, and that they messaged them, receiving no response. They then decided to take the name anyway. Decide for yourselves if that’s theft or not.
Their message to Yes Alba, which I included in my thread, makes no mention of wanting to discuss the name. It says they want to talk about independence, and links to their upcoming event. BBC Alba has 18k likes on Facebook. If I message them today, and don’t hear back by this time next month, am I good to take their name?
Several other straw-man arguments have emerged from AUOB and friends. ‘Gaels don’t own Gaelic’ …and you do? ‘Did AUOB know about Yes Alba?’ We’ve shown they did. ‘Yes Alba haven’t been active on social media since X’, a) they have, and b) doesn’t mean you get to take their name. ‘Can both not exist?’ No. ‘It’s a temporary name, and the group hasn’t launched.’ Then now is the perfect time to change it. These and more I, and numerous others, have addressed and dismantled. All distract from the very simple solution: change the name.
Why does this matter?
Let me be clear. It’s no Gael’s job to explain why you don’t get to take their stuff.
From the thread: ‘If you’re not a minority-language speaker, I don’t know how effectively I can get across to you the harm it does when folk […] just take the things you’ve built for themselves. For not-Yes Alba, it’s a name for their new group. For actual Yes Alba, it’s a space wherein Gaels could discuss IndyRef in their own language, a community of folk coming together in resistance. That space is now muddled and confused.’
It’s not even that this point has been lost in all the noise. It’s that AUOB has actively hit out against our rights. We’ve been told to watch our tone. We’ve been told we don’t own our words. We’ve been told it would be a good thing if an English-speaking organisation decided to give us the prestige of using a Gaelic word in their name. These are all imperialist, colonial tropes.
How an organisation opposing Westminster’s oppression, imperialism, and colonialism can say these things is beyond me. It should concern anyone wanting to build a better Scotland.
AUOB deny wrongdoing, while at the same time saying it wouldn’t be bad if they did steal the name. And this new group’s reaction is silence.
Maybe this group will meet next week and decide they want to be called Yes Alba. We’ll be ready if they try it. And maybe this committee will meet next week and decide on a name other than Yes Alba. I hope so, not least so we can all stop having to have this argument. I can’t believe the work I and numerous others have had to put in over the weekend for such a simple problem with such a simple solution.
But even if this new group decides against stealing Yes Alba’s name, both they and AUOB have shown themselves up this weekend, in their attitudes to Gaelic and to Gaels. The doubling-down, denials, and unwillingness to take any responsibility for the harm being done to Gaels’ place in the independence movement has brought us here.
The ball was in their court to show that Gaels mattered to them, and to their vision of a better Scotland.
And things descended from there.