The very first thing that George Kerevan and others must learn is to distinguish between the movement and the campaign. The things that work for a political movement are not necessarily the things that work for a political campaign. They are very different things.
Diversity can be a very good thing for a political movement. But, in a political campaign, diversity can all too readily become division. In a political campaign, solidarity is more important than diversity.
A movement may benefit greatly from openness to all manner of ideas. A campaign must be totally focused on its objective.
The absence of constraints may enable a political movement to grow and develop. A campaign requires discipline.
The movement is the marching. The campaign is the battle.
That is the starting point. Without a firm grasp of the essential difference between the movement and the campaign as a foundation, any thinking on the nature, structure and function of either – but particularly the latter – is almost certainly going to be fatally flawed. Evidence of that flawed thinking abounds here.
Apparently, “activists are angry they are not getting a political lead”. Really? Maybe activists are getting a political lead but simply don’t recognise it as such because it’s subtle and nuanced and nobody is explaining it to them because their thinking has run aground on the reef of glib phrases such as “activists are angry they are not getting a political lead”. Maybe the political lead that activists are getting from Nicola Sturgeon is that they are the ones who must take the political lead at this time.
If you haven’t already made up your mind that there is no political lead being given, perhaps you won’t be deaf to the political lead that is being given. Maybe you’ll hear the subtext in pretty much everything the First Minister has been saying on the subject of a new independence referendum over the past couple of years. A subtext which is asking for substantial and evident public demand for that new referendum. Sometimes, the people must lead. Sometimes, the people must be the ones to drive events.
Nicola Sturgeon has a mandate for a referendum. The British establishment refuses to recognise that mandate. The British parties squatting in the Scottish Parliament will not even accept the authority of the assembly to which they have been elected. What Nicola Sturgeon wants is for us to strengthen her hand. That is the political lead she is providing. If only activists were more prepared to listen and less eager to criticise. If only prominent figures in the party were better able to convey to activists what is being asked of them.
We are constantly being told that we must learn the lessons of the first independence referendum campaign. Almost daily, we are solemnly advised that we should not repeat the same mistakes. As if anybody actually thought that would be a good idea. That’s right up there with sage counsel about not holding the referendum at the wrong time. Just in case the movement to have the referendum at the wrong time should gain any momentum.
This sort of inanity tends to come from the same people who berate the SNP and the whole independence movement for failing to scrutinise the reasons the Yes campaign didn’t win in 2014. I don’t know where these people have been for the past three and a half years, but I’ve attended countless meetings in that time. At pretty much every one of those meetings – particularly in the early months – the matter of the first referendum campaign was one of the main subjects under discussion. Anybody who suggests there has been no post-mortem on the 2014 referendum doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Of course, you can’t learn from past mistakes unless and until you understand them. Far too much of the analysis that has been done focused on what the Yes campaign did wrong. Because that’s what was being looked for, that is what was found. Asking different questions provides a fresh perspective and new insights. If you really want to learn from a past campaign, there’s only so much you can glean from looking at the losers. Additional and, perhaps, more useful lessons can be learned by looking at the winners.
By asking different questions and re-framing our inquiry we can free ourselves from facile, but fixed, assumptions.
The assumption that “the indy case bombed on the currency question” perfectly exemplifies the product of shallow analysis. Not that the “currency question” wasn’t a failing of the Yes campaign. Just that it wasn’t the failing that so many assume. They fail to fully understand the issue because they approach it as something the Yes campaign did wrong without considering the possibility that it was something that the No campaign did right.
It is painfully easy to imagine the smug, self-satisfied, sneering grin on Blair McDougall’s face as he watched the Yes movement tear itself to shreds over the ‘currency issue’. It sickens me to think of his drooling, orgasmic glee at a success made all the more pleasurable by the surprising ease with which so many Yes activists were manipulated. Better Together/Project Fear hardly had to bother attacking the Scottish Government’s position on currency. At any given time, about a third of the Yes movement was doing the work for them.
The British establishment didn’t have to concern itself with distracting attention from the weakness of its position, because the Yes campaign seemed oblivious to that weakness. The threat to unilaterally abolish the currency union was an act of political desperation. It wasn’t calculated. It wasn’t thought through. It was so massively flawed that it would have collapsed completely if the Yes movement had so much as glanced at it. But by far the most vocal part of the Yes movement was far too busy attacking Alex Salmond. Instead of asking awkward questions about George Osborne’s ‘plan’, they were preoccupied with parroting the British media’s demands for a ‘plan B’.
The Yes campaign’s mistake in 2014 wasn’t a failure to properly answer questions about currency. It was a failure to ask the right questions. All the effort went into echoing the No campaign’s complaints that the currency position hadn’t been adequately explained, and almost no effort went into explaining it.
The truth is that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Scottish Government’s position on currency. It was precisely what it purported to be – the best solution, on balance, for both Scotland and the rest of the UK.
More importantly, there was nothing in the Scottish Government’s position on currency – and the rest of the ‘White Paper’ – which couldn’t be supported by the entire Yes movement without any cost to their diverse political agendas.
Inducing the Yes movement to undermine its own ‘manifesto’ was surely one of the big wins chalked up by Project Fear. If the ‘currency issue’ contributed to the outcome of the 2014 referendum, it was because a significant part of the Yes campaign opted to run with the narrative generated by the British state’s propaganda machine.
People often ask what the No campaign in the new referendum will look like. They wonder what arguments Project Fear 2 might deploy now that it has been comprehensively and conclusively established that the No vote in 2014 was won on a prospectus of lies, smears, false promises and empty threats. It’s a good question. The answer may be that they don’t really need to make much effort. If George Kerevan’s article is any indication, the anti-independence campaign can simply rely on the Yes movement making the same mistakes as before.
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