So we’re well off the starting blocks and on our way; the campaign has started and it’s a mere two years until the referendum. With the No campaign (or however they are choosing to style it) launch this coming Friday, all of Scotland’s political parties are ramping up for the fight of their lives and the rhetoric is already feisty as they compete for our attention and our opinions. The line has been drawn in the sand between the sides, and all oblivious to the rolling of eyes and heavy sighs of the electorate they are trying to charm – because although this referendum is unprecedented in UK history, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the political parties have only one mode of campaigning. They have to persuade us, they have to gain our vote, they have to do as they have always done and “get their message across”. What they don’t realise is that we are in completely new territory altogether, and this is not going to be the way to win the referendum from either side.
The referendum may be about politics, but it most certainly is not about political parties. The SNP can’t win the Yes vote; only the people of Scotland can, because an Independent Scotland is our prize, not theirs. While the Unionist parties continue to attack Alex Salmond and try to conflate the idea of an Independent Scotland with some notion of perpetual SNP government in Holyrood, they are showing quite blatantly their inability to slip out of the game of party politics (like Game of Thrones, but a little less bloody and a lot less sexy). They continually play the man, not the ball, and it’s no surprise the electorate wants to give them all the red card.
The SNP, determined to be seen as ‘positive’, are walking into their own trap too. The slickness of presentation is amazing, but it lacks humanity. The careful massaging of their message is understandable, but comes across as borderline control freakery. While it may have been somewhat exaggerated in the media, the recent fracas over the alleged threat of the Greens to walk out of the Yes Scotland campaign illustrates an underlying problem with the campaign as it stands. Perhaps it is time for the SNP to learn to let go of their cherished ideological baby and let it grow up for itself?
Illusions by Richard Bach opens with a parable about creatures clinging to the rocks in a river. They are safe, comfortable but inexperienced with the larger world. One of the creatures decides to try and let go, hoping to experience what lies down river. The other creatures plead with it not to, but it goes its own way nonetheless. It gets battered and bruised on its journey, but learns and experiences much, and comes out of the process a much wiser creature than it began.
The Referendum campaign needs to be freed from the clinging insecurities of all the political parties, and it needs to be allowed to run free among the people so that new ideas and ways of looking at things can be absorbed into the debate, both Independence and the Union. It will quickly become stale, if it isn’t already, while both “sides” of the debate rehash and reiterate the same old tired ideas and arguments. Do you think that a radical proposal that might actually save the Union will come from any involved political party? Of course not; they are already all far too well trained to step outside the boxes drawn for them by their political masters.
Will truly radical ideas about how an Independent Scotland will work come from politicians? Not while the softly, softly strategy remains in place.
Efforts are being made by the Yes Scotland campaign to be inclusive and non-party political, however it is still finding its feet whilst ultimately being run by a single political party. The website is very swish, designed with social networking in mind, but it’s struggling very hard to be inclusive. Facebook is already doing it better without trying because through Facebook, people are self-organising.
The ‘No’ campaign website suffered some leakage recently, as did the Tory campaign Friends of the Union prior to its launch. It all smacks of them giving us the chance to talk about it while still trying to keep hold of the agenda for themselves.
It’s not necessary any more, from either side, to be so rigid and controlled in this debate. This is not a General Election, where the parties are selling themselves to the people. It’s not like any of them are going to lose seats come the morning after the vote this time, and it’s not like any party will gain new power or authority the next morning either. This is not about them, it’s about Scotland and where her people decide to take her.
What can we do to seize control of the agenda? How can we reign in our politicians and prevent them from putting the rest of us off the debate entirely? It’s not really that hard. As I already said, groups are already self-organising on facebook, some of them with specific agendas and some of them as general discussion and news groups. Being that we are mostly geographically close enough, it isn’t much of a leap for these groups to start working together offline too. Of course, it’s not all about facebook – the blogosphere has long been host to a great deal of informed and constructive comment on independence, and can also be a source of alternative debate on the referendum. We are slowly learning how to bypass the mainstream media that is often so closed minded and restrictive about the referendum, and we can learn to bypass the politicians too by organising our own events, media and discussions that will allow a truly diverse range of voices to be heard.
We no longer need the politicians to talk to us; we can start talking to each other and take control of the debate for ourselves. We don’t need to be given different options by either side of the debate, we don’t even need them to listen to us, so long as we are listening to each other, because the political parties need us - they need all of us – to make this decision for them. We can turn around and dictate to them what terms it will take for us to vote either yes or no. If we want, for example, control over the process of writing a new constitution, we have the power now to come together online and in our towns and villages and tell them this is what we want and this is what it will take for us to vote yes in the Referendum. We can force these issues because in post-referendum Scotland all of the political parties will be scrabbling to re-align themselves with the new landscape of Scottish Politics. For the political parties of Scotland there will be a whole load of new powers suddenly available to them, but they must ask us to grant those powers to them. That’s where the true power in Scotland lies, now and in 2014.
Fiction Writer and Political Blogger