I remember it vividly: a sea of saltires and a soundscape of joy and noise from Mogwai, Frightened Rabbit, Stanley Odd, Franz Ferdinand and loads more at the Usher Hall for A Night for Scotland, sometime in September 2014. It was intense. It was the pinnacle of ecstatic Yes-Certainty. But it was a bubble and a silo and we lost.
Fast-forward nine years and little has been learnt as the remnants of the Yes movement debate frantically that a convention is needed urgently to salvage itself and move on. No real detail is made of how or why such an event is needed or what it would do but it’s definitely URGENT and anyone who disagrees or doesn’t attend is a traitor to the cause (or something).
This is why Neil Mackay at the Herald was quite right to argue that the AUOB marches are largely pointless at this stage. He wrote: “What’s the earthly point of a bunch of people who believe the same things telling each other they believe the same things? Well, let me correct myself. There is a point: the point is to reassure yourself that you’re right. The Yes movement – at least the AUOB iteration – seems so fragile it must be constantly on parade to convince itself God is on its side. There’s an inherent risk here, of course. By parading around and telling yourself you’re right all the time, you repel those who don’t agree with you, and deter those who sit in the middle unconvinced …”
He’s right. The independence movement needs to be looking outwards, not involved in pointless endless internal feuding and pointless endless talking to – and performing to – itself. Mackay notes that lessons can be learnt from Northern Ireland where there’s been an emphasis on listening to and respecting those from ‘the other side’. He writes that that has paid off: “More and more young people – and not so young – from a unionist background are beginning to embrace the notion of a United Ireland.”
Much of the arguments about a Yes convention miss the point. It is not about the SNP via a movement, it is not about Alba, the Greens or the ISP or whoever, it is not about the characters and individuals involved at all and the clash of egos or online wars, it is about engaging with what actually matters, what is actually going to make a difference to peoples lives in the hellscape that is Britain after 13 years of Tory rule.
Mackay again: “The Yes movement will only move forward when ordinary non-partisan Scots feel they are part of this conversation.”
This is not to say that taking to the streets doesn’t have a powerful role at times, but that actions, protests and marches have to have a purpose and an endlessly inward-looking movement that repeats the same events with the same actors and the same routines is not a movement of change, it is a movement atrophied and parochial. It’s much more difficult to talk to people you disagree with. It’s even more difficult to listen to them. But talking to yourself is pointless. We are at the stage where we need to change how we organise and who we look to for leadership because their programmes and projects are failing us.