Documenting Yes: Year in Review 2014

2014, or at least the 9 months from January to September, was a busy year for Yes. During these months our core team of photographers did their best to get out when they could to cover the Yes campaign happenings. We didn’t manage to cover everything we wanted to but as a group of dedicated volunteers we managed to build up a pretty impressive set of pictures. Pictures that went far and wide throughout the duration of the campaign to help show the positivity and vibrance of the Yes movement.

In this post we take a look back, through our photographers images, at the incredible amount of events that were going on throughout those 6 months. Enjoy.


January 22nd – Knitting for Independence

The women of Scotland Handknit start a creative project to knit a map of Scotland in support of Independence.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


03 Knitting for Indy by Robb M 04 05


January 24th –  National Collective Aberdeen Launch

The first National Collective branch launch of they year takes place at The Tunnels in Aberdeen.

Photographer: Alex Aitchison

Full Set:


1 NC Aberdeen Launch by Alex A02

February 19th – National Collective Edinburgh Sessions #2

The second of the National Collective open sessions takes place at Circus Cafe.

Photographer: Simon Baker

Full Set:


06 SB-140219-202842_1000- NC Edinburgh Sessions 2 by Simon B 07 08


February 22nd – National Collective Stirling Launch

The National Collective Stirling Launch takes place at Mediterranea featuring music and spoken word from Zara Gladman, Frank Hewitt, Jenny Lindsay, Citizen Smart, Megan Mcavoy, Loki, Rebecca Pollock, Jason Riddell, End of Neil and Jelly Roll Soul DJ’s.

Photography: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


10 11


February 26th – The National Collective Zine

National Collective’s first Zine is ready to send out and we were there to provide some product photographs.

Photography: Peter McNally

Full Set:


12 NC Zine by PM -140226-184358_1000


March 1st – Yes Edinburgh Super Saturday

Yes Scotland Supporters from across Edinburgh get together for their second monthly ‘Super Saturday’ campaigning day. This month they visited Gorgie.

Photography: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


13 Yes Ed super saturday RM140301b-1_1000 14


March 1st – National Collective Dundee Launch

The National Collective Dundee Launch take place at Buskers featuring The Strangers Almanac, Overview Effect, Sonny Carntyne, Commodore & The Feathers, Michael Yellowlees and special guests.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


15 NC Dundee Launch RM140301-02 16 17 18


March 2nd – Lady Gaga Video Shoot

A look behind the scenes as filming for Zara Gladman’s Lady Alba Bad Romance video takes place at Edinburgh Castle.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


19 Gaga for Indy by PM-140302-193627-2_1000 20 21


March 5th – Dearest Scotland Launches

Cat Cochrane and Sarah Drummond  launch their project Dearest Scotland at The Glad Cafe in Glasgow’s southside. Dearest Scotland is an apolitical campaign, focused on crowdsourcing a future vision for Scotland by the public for a common good. They invite you to write to the future of Scotland.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Ful Set:


24 Dearest Scotland Launch Glad Cafer by PM-140305-200629_1000 25 026


March 7th – Clean Slate Scotland Launches

A new project called Clean Slate Scotland is launched at the DUSA Union. Students are invited to wipe the slate clean and express what they would like to see in an Independent Scotland.

Photographer: Robyn Glendinning

Ful Set:


027 Clean-Slate-Scotland-what-do-the-students-of-Dundee-want_1000 028 029


March 8th – Hugh MacDiarmids Cottage

National Collective visited Hugh MacDiarmid’s cottage in the Borders to film a short documentary about his poetry and politics. The day included readings from Professor Alan Riach and the author James Robertson.

Photographer: Simon Baker

Full Set:


030 Hugh MacDiarmids Cottage SB-140308-61_1000 031


March 16th – Yes Queen

Drag artist Nancy Clench is the Yes Queen. In her referendum themed stand-up show Nancy offers a space for no voters, yes voters and importantly undecided voters to come and reflect through laughter, questions and two-way chat on the issues at hand. Nancy, also known as Nathan, allowed Documenting Yes access to record her transformation to the Yes Queen prior to her show at Vespbar in Glasgow city centre.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


032 Yes Queen RM140316-2_1000 033 034 035


March 19th – National Collective Edinburgh Sessions #3

National Collective Edinburgh hosts the third in their series of open sessions offering an evening of debate, presentations, music and spoken word. This session held at The Outhouse in Edinburgh featured amongst others a special guest appearance by playwright and theatre directorDavid Greig talking of his personal views on voting for Scottish independence and a presentation by Robb Mcrae showcasing and discussing some of his own contributions to Documenting Yes.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


036 NC Ed Session 3 by PM 140319-203527_1000 037 038 039


March 23rd – The Art Cave Sign Installation

Simon Baker installs his hand made sign for National Collective at The Art Cave in Leith, Edinburgh.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


040 NC Art Cave Sign PM 140323-203644_1000 041


 April 3rd – Yes Edinburgh Public Meeting

Liz Lochhead, Marco Biagi MSP, Alison Johnstone MSP and Tommy Sheppard make the case for independence at a public Q&A in the Augustine United Church, Edinburgh. Organised by Yes Edinburgh Central.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


22 Yes Ed Meeting RM140403-3_1000 23


April 5th – Yes Edinburgh Super Saturday #3

Yes Scotland Supporters from across Edinburgh get together for the monthly ‘Super Saturday’ campaigning day. This month they visited Wester Hailes.

Photographer: Simon Baker

Full Set:


042 Yes SUper Saturday 2 by SB-140405-8_1000 043


April 11th – SNP Spring Conference

Members of The SNP and international media gather in Aberdeen over two days to hear speeches from Blair Jenkins, Nicola Sturgeon & Alex Salmond, as well as touching tributes to Margo McDonald and excerpts from a new play by National Collective’s Alan Bissett.

Photographer: Alex Aitchison

Full Set:


044 SNP Spring Conference AA-140411-140400_1000 045


April 16th – National Collective Edinburgh Session #4

National Collective Edinburgh hosts the fourth in their series of open sessions offering an evening of debate, presentations, music and spoken word. This session held at The Outhouse in Edinburgh featured beatboxing by Iqbal, poetry from Max Scratchmann, presentations on potential future land use and forestry from architects Lateral North and Roland Stiven respectively, song from storyteller Marie Louise Cochrane, music from Euan Campbell, Iain MacLeod and Stuart McHardy and poet Theresa Muñoz and theatre maker Kieran Hurley shared their personal views for why they’ll be voting Yes in September 2014.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


046 NC Edinburgh Sessions 4 by RM140416-14_1000 047


May 12th – National Collective Glasgow Sessions #1

National Collective host their first Glasgow Sessions at Stereo Café Bar featuring guest speakers, poetry, music, presentations and project updates.

Photographer: Alex Aitchison

Ful Set:


048 NC Galsgow sessions 1 by AA 140512-192005-Alex-Aitchison_1000 049 050


May 17th – Women for Indy Campaign Morning in Portabello

Women For Independence spend a morning campaigning on the Portobello promenade with support from the Independence Choir.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


051 Women for Indy Portabello RM140517-1 052 053


May 20th – National Collective Aberdeen Session #1

The first National Collective Session in Aberdeen takes place at Cellar 35 with a host of acts, videos and discussion. A fine wee crowd of about 30-40 folk came out to see Daemons, Lizabett Russo and C S Buchan perform on a Tuesday evening and kick off what should be an exciting monthly night of informal shenanigans. Local Teacher Amy Nicholson shared her Journey to Yes and there was a video screening of Ross Aitchison and Andy Summer’s ‘Scotland Is’.

Photographer: David Officer

Full Set:


054 NC Aberdeen Sessions 1 - 2014-05-20-at-22-10-12David-Officer_1000 055


May 21st – National Collective Edinburgh Sessions #5

National Collective Edinburgh host their fifth open sessions night offering an evening of debate, presentations, music and spoken word. This session was held at Circus Cafe Bistro. Also visiting was an RTL TV crew from Germany.

Photographer: Simon Baker

Full Set:


056 NC Edinburgh Session 5 - SB-140521-21_1000 057 058 059


May 21st – Referendum Cafe Launches in Glasgow

The launch of Referendum Café takes place at Fringe HQ on Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow featuring Dearest Scotland, Scotland Loves Democracy and Lateral North. Referendum Cafe was a pop-up venue for 3 months, offering events, debate and discussion of all issues surrounding Scotland’s Referendum.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


062 Refferendum Cafe - PM 140521-191430 063 064 065


May 25th – KILTRref #3

The third KILTR Scottish Independence Referendum debate takes place at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow and focuses on the media and its role and involvement in the lead-up to September’s referendum. The panel included Brian Cox, John McTernan, Mark McGowan (The Artist Taxi Driver) and Susan Dalgety; chaired by Anna Burnside.

Photographer: Simon Forsythe

Full Set:


066 Kiltr Debate 140525-135502-Simon-Forsythe_1000 067 068 069


May 26th – Africans for an Independent Scotland Launches

The official launch of Africans for an Independent Scotland took place in Glasgow. Contributions were heard from Michelle Monaghan, Chimezie Umeh, Blair Jenkins and Grace Kitenge before an open discussion and Q&A with the audience.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


National Collective: Africans For Scottish Independence National Collective: Africans For Scottish Independence National Collective: Africans For Scottish Independence


June 1st – Aye Talks

Celebrities, artists and political campaigners outlined their hopes for the future at AyeTalks, a special filmed event that took place at the Pearce Institute in Govan, Glasgow.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


073 Aye Talks 140601 074 075


June 1st – National Collective Inverness Launch

Also on the 1st of June, the launch of National Collective Inverness at Bog Bain Farm saw over 200 people come along to listen to talks and music.

Photographer: Paul Campbell

Full Set:


076 NC Inverness Launch 140601-182630-Paul-Campbell_1000 077 078


June 5th – Radical Independence Public Meeting in Glasgow

Radical Independence public meeting hosted by RIC Govan takes place at Kinning Park Complex with speakers Patrick Harvie (Green MSP), Aamer Anwar (Human Rights Lawyer), Cat Boyd (Radical Independence), Suki Sangha (STUC Youth Committee -PC), Richie Venton (SSP Organiser) & Women for Independence.

Photographer: Simon Forsythe

Full Set:


079 Radical Indy Meet 140605-191814-Simon-Forsythe_1000 080 081


June 17th – National Collective Aberdeen Sessions #2

The second Aberdeen Sessions for National Collective takes place at Cellar 35 featuring music, poetry and films.

Photographer: David Officer

Full Set:


084 NC Aberdeen Sessions 2 - 2014-06-17-at-20-31-55David-Officer_1000 085


June 18th – National Collective Edinburgh Sessions #6

National Collective Edinburgh Sessions #6 take place at a packed Circus Cafe Bistro with special guests from Wales for Yes and the Campaign for Newsnight Wales. The night also featured journey’s to YES from Gerry Hassan, Julia Taudevin and Rachel McCrum, art-work and stories from Polly T, music from Craig Lithgow, song from Eileen Penman and comedy from Viv Gee.

Photographer: Mhairi Law

Full Set:


086 NC Ed Sessions 6 - 140618-203956--Mhairi-Law_1000 087 088


June 28th – Aye Inspired Premier

The Aye Inspired exhibition premiers at The Priory on Aberdeen’s Belmont Street the weekend of 28th and 29th of June before heading off on tour with National Collective’s Yestival.

Photographer: Rachael Robertson

Full Set:


089 Aye Inspired Premier 140628-104616-Rachael-Robertson_1000 090 091



And so after many months behind the scenes planning it was Yestival time. A month-long national grassroots festival that took place place across Scotland during the month of July.

Travelling across Scotland from the 30th June until the 3rd August, the Yestival tour showcased the grassroots cultural movement for Scottish Independence and included communities in the Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, central Scotland, Western Isles, the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland, the North East, Angus, Perthshire and Fife as well as all of the country’s seven cities.

The busy schedule also included a mixture of small gatherings, pop-up happenings and larger scale events together with a few surprises along the way.

Here we have gathered some images from each stop on the tour.

Yestival Photographers on Tour: Alex Aitchison, Robb Mcrae, Simon Baker, Ross Colquhoun.

Contributing Photographers at Summerhall: Peter McNally and Simon Forsythe.

See all the sets from the Yestival tour at


June 30th – Yestival Haddington

092 Yestival Haddignton 093


July 1st – Yestival Melrose

094 Yestival Melrose 095 096


July 2nd – Yestival Sanquar

097 Yestival Sanquar 098 099


July 3rd – Yestival Ayr

100 Yestival Ayr 101


July 5th – Yestival Glasgow

102 Yestival Glasgow 140705-140929 103 104


July 6th – Yestival visits the festival of the  Common Weal at the Arches in Glasgow

105 yestival at the Common Weal 140706-124310 106 107 108 109


July 8th – Yestival Falkirk

110 yestival Falkirk 110


July 9th – Yestival takes over Summerhall in Edinburgh for 4 days.

111 Yestival Edinburghh Day 1 PM 140709-172353 112 113 114 115


July 10th – Yestival at Summerhall Day 2

116 Yestival Edinburgh Day 2 AA 117 118


July 11th – Yestival at Summerhall Day 3

119 Yestival Edinburgh Day 3 120 121 122 123


July 12th – Yestival at Summerhall Day 4

124 yestival Einburgh Day 4 125 126 127 128


July 13th – Yestival Fort William

139 Yestival Fort William 140 141 142


July 15th – Yestival Sails to the Outer Hebrides

143 Yestival Sail to the Outer Hebrides 144 145 146


July 16th – Yestival North Uist

147 Yestival North Uist 148 149


July 17th – Yestival Harris

150 Yestival Harris 151 152 153 154


July 19th – Yestival Ullapool

155 Yestival Ullapool 156 157 158 159 160


July 20th – Yestival Inverness

161 Yestival Inverness 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169


July 21st – Yestival Stromness

170 Yestival Stromness 171 172


July 22nd – Yestival Kirkwall

173 Yestival Kirkwall 174 175 176


July 23rd – Yestival Lerwick

177 Yestival Lerwick 178 179 180 181


July 25th – Yestival Lossiemouth

182 Yestival Lossiemouth 183 184 185 186 187 188


July 26th – Yestival Aberdeen

189 Yestival Aberdeen 190 191


July 28th – Yestival Montrose

192 Yestival Montrose 193 194 195


July 29th – Yestival Arbroath

196 Yestival Arbroath 197 198 199 200 201


July 30th – Yestival Dundee

202 Yestival Dundee 203 204 205


July 31st – Yestival Perth

206 yestival perth 207 208 209 210 211


August 1st – Yestival St Andrews

212 yestival St Andrews 213 214 215


August 2nd – Yestival Stirling

216 yestival Stirling 217 218


August 5th – One Love Concert

One Love Concert celebrating Jamaican independence at Studio 24 Edinburgh.

Photographer: Simon Baker

Full Set:


219 One Love Concert Simon B 220 221


August 5th – All Back to Bowies

David Greig’s ‘All Back To Bowies’ show at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, featuring Julia Taudevin, David Torrance, Neal Ascherson, Wounded Knee, Jim Monaghan, Peter Arnott, Andrew Tickell, Isobel Lindsay & David Greig.

Photographer: Alex Aitchison

Full Set:


222 All Back to Bowies AA 223 224


August 11th – National Collective Glasgow Sessions #4

National Collective Glasgow Session #4 and IndyRef Film evening takes place at Stereo Café Bar.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


225 NC Glasgow Session 4 - 226 227 228


August 28th – David Cameron Comes to Glasgow

Protesters organised by Radical Independence gather at The Hilton, Glasgow as David Cameron visits to speak at the annual CBI dinner.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


229 David Cameron in Glasgow 140828-183207-PM_1000 230 231 232


September 4th – Greg Moodie Versus The Union Book Launch

As part of The Auld Acquaintance exhibition, Scottish Cartoon Art Studio Co-ordinator Terry Anderson welcomes Greg Moodie, cartoonist for the National Collective website and others, to discuss his work as he launches his new book Greg Moodie Versus the Union with a special appearance by YouTube star Zara Gladman (aka Lady Alba).

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


233 Greg Moodie Book Launch PM 234 235 236 237


September 5th – Imagination Festival

Imagination, Scotland’s Festival of Ideas, was a weekend gathering of ideas, culture and politics hosted by the University of the West of Scotland and PAL Labs, programmed and produced by Gerry Hassan and Roanne Dods.

The festival was running from Friday September 5th – Sunday September 7th in the southside of Glasgow at Glad Café, Govanhill Swimming Pool, and other venues in the southside of Glasgow.

This event on the friday was hosted by Jenny Lindsay and included music from A New International, Chrissy Barnacle, Findlay Napier and featured spoken word from Leyla Jospehine.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


238 Friday Night at Imagination festival Glad Cafe140905-213158-PM_1000 239 240 241


September 5th – KILTRref #4

Kiltr referendum debate #4 takes place at The Bridge in Easterhouse, Glasgow and focuses on the youth vote. Speakers included, Heather Whiteside of Better Together, Alan Grant of Better Together, Katie Gallogly-Swan of the Common Weal and Liam McLaughlan of Radical Independence. The panel was chaired by Holden Hunter and the event was live streamed online.

Photographer: Simon Forsythe

Full Set:


248 KiltrRef 4 - 140905-200332-Simon-Forsythe_1000 249 250


September 6th – Our Future Our Scotland Launch

Nicola Sturgeon launches Generation Yes – Our Scotland, Our Future Declaration in Glasgow. The launch featured performances by Lady Alba and Macanta.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


242 Our Future Our Scotland Launch Buchanan Steps 140906-100253-PM-2_1000 243 244


September 6th – Yes Windaes

A look at a small selection of Yes Windaes around Glasgow’s Southside.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


245 yes Windaes Southside -140906-124949-PM_1000 246 247


September 6th – Yes Edinburgh Super Saturday #4

Yes Edinburgh hold Super Saturday #4 as part of the Mile of Yes event which sees supporters from all parts of Yes out campaigning the whole way from Haymarket to Leith Walk.

Photographer: Simon Baker

Full Set:


255 Yes Ed Super Sat 4 - Bakers-140906-3_1000 256 257 258


September 6th – The Indy Choir

Members of the Independence Choir take to the streets in central Edinburgh to sing for a Yes vote as part of the Mile Of Yes Super Saturday.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:


259 INdy Choir 140906-06-42-35-Robb-Mcrae_1000 260


September 8th – Yes Live at the Alhabmra

#YesLive at the Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline was three hours of a 12 hour live broadcast created by National Collective featuring Kieran Hurley, Ruth Mills, David Greig, Josephine Sillars, Declan Welsh and Miriam Brett. There was also a Q&A with Fiona Hyslop MSP and Alison Johnstone MSP. There was campaign films shown throughout the entire day and the entire event was streamed live.

Photographer: Simon Baker

Full Set:


251 Yes Live at Alhambra Bakers-140908-35_1000 252 253 254


September 8th – National Collective Glasgow Sessions #5 

The final National Collective Glasgow Sessions takes place at Stereo Cafe Bar. Featured on the bill was award winning author, Christopher Brookmyre, Glasgow based research & design Collective Lateral North, Shambles Miller, Poet Kathleen Jamie, Josephine Sillars, Janey Godley, Dol Eoin Mackinnon, Liz Lochhead and Lori Watson & Rule of Three.

Photographer: Clair Donachie

Full Set:


261 Glsgow Session 5 - 140908_192001_ClairDonachie_1000 262 263


September 10th – National Collective Edinburgh Sessions #7

The last in the series of National Collective Edinburgh Sessions takes place at the Art Cave featuring appearances from Craig Coulthard, Tom Farrington, David Greig, Knitters for YES, Jenny Lindsay, Rachel Maclean, Lake Montgomery, Whyte & MacKay and music by TradYes.

Photographer: Simon Baker

Full Set:


267 Ed Session 7 - Bakers-140910-46_1000 268 269 270



September 11th – The Final Push

National Collective Edinburgh leaflet the city’s Princes Street with a very special friend.

Photographer: Robb Mcrae

Full Set:



271 Darling in Edinbugh 140911-12-42-52-Robb-Mcrae_1000 272 273 274 275


September 13th – Yes Supporters Gather on Buchanan Street, Glasgow

5 days before the vote Yes supporters gather the length of Buchanan Street in Glasgow to sing and dance and campaign.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


276 Yes Gather in Glasgow 140913-140452-PM_1000 278 279 280 281


September 14th – A Night for Scotland

The Yes campaign concert ‘A Night for Scotland’ takes place at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh featuring performances from Amy Macdonald, Franz Ferdinand, Frightened Rabbit, Mogwai, Eddi Reader, McIntosh Ross and Stanley Odd. Campaign videos were shown during the changeovers and the night was hosted by Ricky Ross and Elaine C Smith.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


285 A night for Scotland 140914-193448-PM_1000 286 287 288 289 290 291 292 293 294 295 296


September 16th – Yes Supporters Gather in George Square, Glasgow

Another spontaneous gathering of Yes supporters takes place in Glasgow’s George Square with only 2 days until the Vote.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


282 Yes Gathering george Sq 140916-185817-PM-3_1000 283 284


September 17th – Yes Supporters Gather in the Meadows

On the eve of polling day, yes supporters gather at The Meadows in Edinburgh.

Photographer: John Duncan

Full Set:


297 Yes Gathering Meadows 140917-1900-John-Duncan-13-of-35_1000 298 299 300


September 18th – Leithers take to the Polls

Photographer: Mhairi Law

Full Set:


301 Voting day Leith - 20140918-133106-Mhairi-Law_1000 302 303


September 18th – The Polls Close

Yes supporters gather in George Square in Glasgow after the polls close to wait in anticipation for the final result.

Photographer: Peter McNally

Full Set:


304 Vote Night Glasgow PM 305 306 307 308 309 310


Thank you to all of you who have followed, supported and contributed to the Documenting Yes project. Especially our core team of photographers. See you all in 2015!

Happy New Year!



BONUS VIDEO: The end of night sing along at a Night for Scotland

We Need To Talk About Fracking


The mainstream narrative leads us to believe that unconventional gas extraction is solely an environmental debate. Like most media fuelled political narratives, this did not manifest accidentally. Framing the debate solely on the environment is a deliberate attempt to wrongly decouple our environment from our lives and communities. Consequently, the scope of opportunity to raise legitimate concerns over corporate ascendency, power relations and civic ruin is squeezed, silenced and ultimately undermined.

Austerity has been portrayed and interpreted in a similar vein. In both cases, right wing, corporate orientated agendas are pushed forward so fervently that they ensue with minimal backlash, leaving little to no scope for creative alternatives. Thus, instead of questioning the obvious failure of austerity, Westminster parties pettily deliberate over what kind of austerity we should have. In this case, instead of pondering whether or not allow fracking in our society, all of our mainstream parties have accepted it, opting instead to place minimal restrictions on how unconventional gas extraction is carried out.

The conventional wisdom is as stands; fracking provides a possibility for immediate economic growth so is ultimately perceived a worth compromising. It is my firm belief that this naïve narrative not only ignores systemic problems but also represents a growing trend of damaging short-termism politics. There may well be an instant economic benefit, but long-term implications are highly damaging.

The first main problem with unconventional gas extraction is the obvious one, environmental dilapidation. Fracking and shale gas extraction use millions of gallons of water and hundreds of toxic chemicals, huge amounts of which are left to contaminate nearby groundwater. Already, there have been over 1000 documented cases of contaminated water near areas of drilling. These toxic chemicals have been linked to sensory, respiratory and neurological harm. The environmental damage arising as a result of unconventional methods only scratches the surface of a whole host of harms.

The role of power has been almost entirely excluded from the mainstream debate. When given the green light, both people and parliament have limited control over how drilling happens. Fracking and shale gas extraction are financed, coordinated and carried out by multi national corporations. In this case, not just any multinational corporation, but Ineos. The UK government have given the contracts to the very same business that ruthlessly threatened the livelihood of men, women and families of Grangemouth without remorse unless the Scottish Government coughed up £130 million – Why Jim Ratcliff is still allowed to control jobs and local economies in Scotland, I will never understand. Multi-national corporations such as Ineos have one goal that overrides decision-making. Aside from the obvious blatant exploitation of labour, their core focus is continuous economic growth.

Would it then be too rash to presume that communities and their surrounding environments will not be considered, let alone prioritized? I would be willing to bet, although this is purely speculative, that our excessively wealthy communities will be spared from water contamination. The budding grip of untrustworthy corporate giants in our society is a sinister corrosion of democracy, and one that leaves communities powerless.

But perhaps the scariest part of this by far has been the reaction to protest from Governments, in part as a result of corporate lobbying. From North America to parts of Europe, opposition to alternative gas extraction has been regarded as a ‘national security’ concern. Scotland Yard’s National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit for example commonly associate domestic extremism with single-issue protests. Ironically, initial concern over fracking has been both peaceful and notably well informed. There is a very real danger that the influence of the corporate sector and the ever-mounting demand for immediate economic growth will silence opposition.

I’m patriotic, but not in the conventional sense. I couldn’t care less about flags and I have no idea what the words to the national anthem are. I’m patriotic in my love for Scotland’s beautiful, untouched wilderness. I’m patriotic in my love for Scotland’s fierce resilience, from the poll tax to the bedroom tax. I hope we’ll look back on this occasion fondly as another time when the people of Scotland were fervent and brave; where they recognised an unjust issue and they fought for social justice.

Miriam Brett
National Collective

Photograph by Stephen Downes.

It’s Time to Question a Declining Media

4574919147_08d97cb039_oI didn’t make it through all of Thursday night’s instalment of Question Time, it seems I was not alone in this. I switched on to find talk of Nigel Farage’s plan to have ‘a grammar school in every town’. I also caught a bit of a ruckus in the audience about whether disliking immigrants was racist or not. As has been widely noted the episode played host to two very different radicals: one with big ideas and a twitter following, the other with no ideas and a well resourced political machine at his back. This was the high camp rehearsal for a tipping point in British politics: the full scale farce is destined to take place in six months time.

The programme presented an odd picture, certainly, in addition to provoking a more mundane sense of disconnect. Living in a part of the British Isles with a declining, rapidly ageing population, one of the lowest population densities in Europe and an education system entirely independent of England’s, the programme has become rapidly more foreign. And, in case any UKIP types are reading this, that’s an observation, not a value judgement.

One panelist started talking about the 1930s: not with reference to cross-party support for austerity, but rather to contrast the rhetoric of Russell Brand with the rise of facism. It seemed as if the resultant disintegration of the show’s format presaged something darker. People heckled and didn’t wait their turn. A bit like the Nazis.

That said Question Time’s increasingly grotesque quality does demonstrate a wider post-crash divide, some have termed it a “culture war” (though class is just as important). The great big question that we face in Scotland is how to link up the demand for something more than the theatrics of polarisation with the vast significance of our recent referendum experience.

A decade ago, Question Time could still seem like the fulcrum of political debate in the UK. I have friends who once referred to Thursday as ‘politics night’. Great chunks of meaty moral politics could end up strewn all over Dimbleby’s bear pit, but it still seemed to hang together. Today, even the boozy after-hours quality of This Week, couldn’t save it from being the subject of scandal. In the hungrier, more divided country the UK has become since 2003 even the televisual equivalent of a pub lock-in becomes mired in partisan controversy.

To list the things that have changed in Britain over the past decade is too vast a task to attempt here. Though it should be noted that a post-Iraq crisis within the BBC is probably central to the predicament of a media that is, like Thursday night’s Question Time, unravelling before our eyes.

However, let’s not forget how fast that erosion of status has taken place. In 2005 Tessa Jowell proclaimed ‘The BBC is as much a part of British life as the NHS’. She did so off the back of a vast public consultation about the national broadcaster. 75% of some 30,000 responses were positive, with ‘high quality news programmes’ amongst the top three factors cited. Post-Iraq, post-Saville, everything has changed. That such decline dovetails with the final extinction of social democracy in British politics, is of profound significance too.

Seeing a nation state crumble is something that is bound to be played out in conjunction with the demise of its media. In large part, as sociologist Jürgen Habermas demonstrated, it was the emergence of mass media that created the public sphere in the first place.

The rise of the newspaper and various other new media over the centuries worked in tandem with the development of the nation state. In this sense the BBC’s tortured decline is telling. Britain, it could be argued, is the BBC. In a country with limited traditions of popular sovereignty, a highly contested, perhaps non-existent national culture, institutions take on an aggrandised, almost sacred, role. They serve an awkward and very British task that encompasses everything from the mundane day to day functions of dusty bureaucracy, to acting as the sole carriers of national identity. We think of the BBC and NHS as fair and virtuous, because Britain needs them to be.

Yet these institutions, like so many others at the heart of Britain, are all reaching a tipping point. Their reserves of social and economic capital are depleted, increasingly their defence has to revert to broad abstract statements of principle. Yet without them, there is little else for the realm to fall back on.

The gamble is (and to some extent always has been) that social cohesion in Britain can be patched together out of these institutional fragments. All the while the private realm continues to be favoured in policy, while corrosive debates about ‘entitlement’ at the extreme ends of the class system dominate political rhetoric, as does fear of the other.

Such an assessment is no longer radical. Newspaper editorials from across the political spectrum are warning that Britain could soon descend into chaos. As The Independent recently remarked on the possibility of a Green-Left bloc after the next election, ‘the work of governing Britain will become near impossible’.

Rather than the unions, or the working class, the enemy within in the coming battle of Britain will be plurality itself. Establishment hysteria treats that which is normal throughout Europe: the inability of any one party to form an overall majority, as a kind of doomsday scenario. Shorn of resilience, the patchwork collection of shared institutions ‘our BBC,’ ‘our NHS’ ‘our Queen’ are all likely to find themselves tested as never before. Given that memories of the 1930s are in vogue, pundits should also reflect that the rise of facism was facilitated by establishment complicity.

Will Scotland be a thrawn, reticent, onlooker to all these confrontations? The role of the SNP in particular in the coming election will be key. Here is a party that talks social cohesion and has advocated working with the Greens and Plaid Cymru (the only other parties entering the contest to be led by women). In that sense Scotland’s interim role within the UK can be one of leadership, unlocking a hung parliament and demonstrating the need for reform. To do that, as a country, we need more than just a single party in Scotland. We need a vast, mature and plural public sphere built in the spaces opened up by the referendum campaign. Think of it as Scotland’s latest export: mass political engagement.

The referendum then, becomes a demonstrable experience not just of people power, but also of a profound desire for our media and politics to be better. Indeed, other than the ten days in September when Britain was saved, there can be no better example of Britain’s ongoing democratic crisis than the BBC’s handling of leadership debates in the coming election.

The BBC’s partisan promotion of Nigel Farage to Prime Ministerial contender has opened up a pandoras box. We are now witnessing ossified media institutions desperately trying to adapt to a our new non consensual politics and failing. Big time. The institutional response to a pressing need for plurality is to shut it out. Should we be surprised that our media instinctively sides with the establishment? Well no, because it is a cornerstone of the establishment. Anyone who has ever take part in public protest will be well aware of that. The fact that it seems all the more blatant in that role, in the age of social media, demands nothing short of transformation. If it fails to do so, it will continue to haemorrhage legitimacy, eventually becoming just one contender in the culture war itself.

Leadership debates have become a kind of election time viagra for ailing news organisations. They provide spectacle and can generate a whole heap of additional content and stories premised simply on the ‘performance’ of each contender. Who best grips the lectern, who sweats, who stutters, who blinks, who delivers key soundbites with better intonation. All factors that are infinitely easier to fixate on than a constantly shifting landscape of a politics that has escaped from the neat, easily managed domain of the two horse race.

Such gladiatorial contests, complete with ring-side pundits and bizarre gimmicks (like Scotland Tonight’s straight forwardly surreal ‘word cloud’) are a symptom of this struggle to represent the post 2008 scene. Plurality remains something that the BBC clearly struggles to grasp, perhaps because it is so overwhelmingly lacking in the British media itself. Ever more elitist, squeezed by the PR industry and reliant on pre-packaged sources or ‘churnalism’, our news media, as a sector, is painful ill-equipped to respond to the politics that we are now living. This widespread emasculation of journalism is not something public service broadcasters are protected from. Robert Peston, noted earlier this year that the BBC is ‘completely obsessed’ by editorial agendas of an overwhelmingly right-wing press.

The favouring of Farage’s party over the Greens is relatively straight forward: his politics is not a threat to the British establishment (UKIP is essentially a Thatcherite home for eurosceptic Conservatives). As in the referendum, this is the real criteria for favourable airtime. The rise of the Greens and the SNP on the other hand, is about a more complex story. To explore the breadth of politics in the UK today takes time, investigation, analysis, rigour and an editorial courage that is more and more scarce in all but the most exceptional of news rooms.

A renowned journalist from a different era, Harold Evans, neatly summed up the lofty role the fourth estate once played in public life:

Governments as well as citizens need a free and inquiring press. With a volatile, pluralistic electorate, and a complex bureaucracy, a free press provides an indispensable feedback system from governed to the governing, from consumers to producers, from the regions to the centre, and not least from one section of the bureaucracy to another.

The public sphere in Britain, of which that free and inquiring press must be a crucial part, is broken. No one with the power to do so is talking about fixing it. But the above remarks do begin to provide some sense of a way out.

Evans, speaking in 1974, could never have guessed that the ensuing decades would see every category mentioned above (and the relationships between them) irrevocably changed.

As has been brilliantly argued here, a blanket rejection of the mainstream (or worse, trying to mimic its practices to smaller audiences) offers only regression. It’s as counterproductive as suggesting that Russia Today or Press TV provide viable alternatives to the BBC, because their coverage of the independence referendum was not explicit state propaganda. That simply changing the logo (and the state agenda) is somehow a recipe for plurality. The staff at Russia’s last independent TV station, currently reduced to broadcasting from a living room, would beg to differ.

In this time of flux for both politics and the media, the challenge is slightly more complex than simply making different consumer choices, but the answer is ultimately more rewarding. Firstly, Scotland must rebuild and reimagine its own public sphere, as Gerry Hassan has argued, in order to remedy our ‘truncated democracy’. A solution will not be achieved by endlessly contrasting Westminster gruel with Holyrood honey, or bad London media with virtuous, enlightened Scottish alternatives. While green shoots like The National, Scottish Evening News and Common Space are welcome: they are not saviours. But taken together, they can begin to demonstrate what a plural media might look like. Their success does not depend on offering up different brands, or indeed platforms: rather, this will be determined by whether they manage to provide vehicles for well resourced journalism.

The injunction to be the media is a complex one. It involves some weighty thought and a search for new formats, better suited to the complexity and variety of the world we inhabit.

The second task, then, is to work out new formats better suited to a world so different to that which Evans describes. A world in which bureaucracy is replaced with multi faceted private entities, in which the ability to differentiate between centre and region is altered, in which producers are consumers and consumers producers.

Thirdly we need to stop railing against ‘the media’ in general. Instead, we need to look at the institutions that constitute it, examine their politics, their decisions and make concrete demands of how they can be better. The role of the BBC in the coming General Election must held up to more public scrutiny than ever before, again, Scotland’s referendum campaign can provide a point for us to start leading. On top of that we also need a civic campaign that demands a better public service media, a grassroots alternative to gather stream ahead of the BBC’s charter renewal in 2016.

Our media is one big tired format: A Question Time with more and more noises off presented by the same man who fronted general election coverage in the 1970s. It’s time to relentlessly question such centralised, narrow and archaic media and to start mapping out ways in which we can re-make it for the 21st century.



Heart of Midlothian Introduce Living Wage


Today, Heart of Midlothian Football Club became the only professional team in Britain to not only be undefeated in league football but also the largest British club where all staff are to be paid the living wage. This comes shortly after Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that the Scottish Parliament was to become a living wage employer. The living wage is voluntary for companies to adhere to and stands at £7.85 per hour, £1.35 per hour more than the current minimum wage.

The world’s richest 1% now own more than 48% of global wealth. In the UK alone, the ownership of Britain’s wealthiest 1% equates to 55% of the population’s poorest. Furthermore, the UK is the only G7 country to record rising wealth inequality between 2000-2014. In regard to this enormous inequality and the very fact that a voluntary wage exists based on the necessity of survival, the case for increasing the minimum wage is surely a convincing one. A quick google search for “Westminster living wage” shows that half of the top results relate to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, with the only other direct reference to the UK Parliament coming from UNISON’s website. This reflects Scotland’s leading role in tackling wealth inequality through increasing wages. While the minimum wage remains a reserved power and companies are not legally obliged to pay staff a wage from which they can reasonably support themselves and their families, voluntary payments of the living wage are most welcome and should be encouraged. The living wage may not be a large sum of money in the grand scheme of things but it could make all the difference for families on low income. Tough decisions on rent payment and the ability to have healthy hot meals may be made slightly easier.

Hearts should be proud of their commitment to the living wage. Football has a major significance in Scottish cultural consciousness, especially among the traditional working class. It is to footballers and football clubs that swathes of the nation’s youth seeks inspiration and finds their role models. While major clubs are paying players wages upward of £250,000 per week and increasingly generating debt, under Ann Budge’s leadership, the Jambos are setting the precedent that not only should a football club, recently threatened with financial collapse, live within their means but that all employees deserve a fairer rate of pay in relation to wider economic circumstances. The move towards a living wage comes quickly after Budge’s public condemnation of sectarian behaviour from both sets of fans during a Scottish Cup match against Celtic. With attitudes such as these coming from a football club that is prioritising youth development, Hearts are successfully transforming their fortunes and fast becoming a shining example of an ethical business model.

Hearts and the Scottish Government are tackling wealth inequality. Their decisions are fantastic examples for other organisations, both public and private, to follow suit. Hopefully, the introduction of the living wage at Tynecastle will inspire other corporations, especially major multi-million pound clubs, to do the same and perhaps even take the distribution of fairer wages a step further.

Euan Campbell
National Collective

Image from Ross Aitchison

Challenge Everyday Sexism

We are about to witness a defining moment in Scottish history; a woman is about to rule the people of Scotland. We are also about to witness an inevitable onslaught of sexism from the media, politicians and members of the public alike, a great deal of which will go unnoticed, let alone challenged.

There remains a common misconception that gender inequality exists only in a few socially conservative societies. Or that it is exclusive to particular religions. Or that it being worse elsewhere somehow diminishes the urgency to confront it here.

In reality, sexism exists in the realms of our everyday lives. Seldom is this more apparent than in politics. We can try to blame the right-wingers, but the painful truth of the matter is that in spite of progressive ideals, a very real strand of sexism exists in left wing politics too. It’s an ever-present, structural, global issue. And yes, it manifests in varying strands of severity, but regardless of this, it needs collectively confronted.

Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting for a second that Nicola can’t handle backlash – if people think we have a fragile leader on our hands, they’re sorely mistaken – but that shouldn’t stop us challenging everyday sexism. Seemingly insignificant, petty remarks or headlines are a tactical, strategic way of deliberately undermining women in politics by steering attention away from politics and onto appearance, or gender based stereotypes. Speaking out against seemingly trivial belittling in our political sphere is one of the many ways in which we can seek to preserve the socially just, progressive politics of the Yes movement.

There is however a fairly sizeable chunk of society who will acknowledge that this is problematic but deny that it is structural. A hard truth remains; our stale media and outmoded sectors of society aren’t ready for women in politics. They’re yet to come to terms with it. Here are just a few examples that remind us of just how far we have to go.

In 2011, the then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was subjected to a hideous attack from renowned red neck imbecile, Tony Abbott. Alongside claiming that women should stay home to iron and that men are by physiology and temperamentally more adapted than women, the opposition leader told Ms Gillard that she should “make an honest woman of herself”, labeling her a “man’s bitch”. To put the impact of this attack into perspective, Tony Abbott comfortably won the following election and is now Australian Prime Minister.

Only this year, #PatronisingBTLady happened. As much as we enjoyed laughing in the faces of those who thought this would actually appeal to women, it is genuinely scary that in this day and age women are seen as too dense to think.

Yet it is not just the archaic Eton bred dinosaurs that reduce women to gendered stereotypes. Love her or loath her, and I place myself firmly in the latter category, the problem with Maggie Thatcher was her deeply callous politics, not that her personality was not ‘Motherly’ enough. These gendered typecasts did not come from draconian Conservatives; ironically they came from those who define themselves as pro equality progressives. Speaking of Thatcher, I am extremely excited at the prospect of never hearing the words, “yeah but look what happened last time a woman was in charge” again.

If you thought for a second that this might have significantly improved in the decades to follow, think again. One recent example heard MP Austin Mitchell say that, “apart from obsessive feminism, women MPs are more amenable and leadable”. He continued, proclaiming that women are preoccupied with “family issues” and “small problems rather than big ideas.” In other words, get back to your cereal and focus on the wee things. Let the big shots handle the real politics.

Hop over the pond to America and in 2013 a Republican convention produced badges comparing Hillary Clinton to KFC that read, ‘2 fat thighs, 2 small breasts … left wing.’ They literally compared a globally influential woman to a bit of puny meat.

Here in Scotland, the Lamont versus Sturgeon televised debate aptly illustrated how backwards attitudes can be at home. Before they even spoke, comments about their hair, clothes and expressions erupted over social media. Before they even spoke, the very focus of their presence was thus on appearance, rather than their potential contribution to the debate. All of a sudden, these women were no longer authoritative, influential political figures. Nicola was bossy and irrational, and Johann was a troll with anger issues. ‘But people fixate on the appearance of men in politics too’, I hear some say. Yes, Salmond and Darling provide a good example of this, but there remained a general ability and willingness to differentiate their appearance from their politics.

Already, a particularly condescending headline referred to Nicola as “First Lady” – Apparently it’s much easier for our crusty tabloids to portray our soon-to-be First Minister as the wife of a leader, rather than the actual leader. When Nicola spoke at their conference, signaling a new direction for politics in Scotland, a headline read, ‘New Leader’s Natty Style: Nic Shoes the Way Forward.’ Don’t get me wrong; Nicola’s tartan heels were fabulous. They just weren’t quite as important as the content of her pioneering speech.

We live in a country where women lead two of our political parties and co-convene another two; a country where women, especially young women, have been actively engaging in politics throughout the celebration of democracy that was the referendum. As a society, we should embrace and encourage this.

To really do so, Scotland needs to acknowledge that petty belittling and seemingly trivial everyday comments and headlines are symptomatic of a wider, structural problem that needs tackled.

Many people say they want to challenge these kinds of attitudes, but seldom speak out when the perpetrators are on their side. Sexism transcends party boundaries; it’s bigger than any ideology, and it’s high time that we unite to challenge this embedded social problem.

Miriam Brett
National Collective

Image: Corey Oakley

Class and Power: Scotland’s Changing Politics

Nicola Sturgeon is now the first woman to lead the SNP, and will shortly become the first woman to lead Scotland as First Minister. Her first speech to SNP conference as party leader made it clear where her priorities lie for leadership: a determination to tackle poverty, to extend the living wage, to tackle gender inequality, to institute radical land reform, to raise the NHS revenue budget in real terms, and to fund a massive investment in education infrastructure to allow an increase in free childcare.

One passage of Nicola’s speech states her sense of purpose clearly:

“The need for a strong economy to support a fairer society is well understood. But I want our national conversation to recognise, just as clearly, that the reverse is true as well. A strong economy depends on a having a healthy, happy, well-educated and well-paid population, to provide the workforce and the customers that businesses need to succeed.

“Right now, 1 million of our citizens – 220,000 of our children – are living in poverty. In the 14th richest country in the world, that is quite frankly a scandal. So let me promise you this. Tackling poverty and inequality – and improving opportunity for all – will be my personal mission as your First Minister.”

The context of Nicola’s transition to leadership is remarkable. Despite the referendum loss, or perhaps because of it, the SNP has seen an astonishing growth in membership and support in opinion polls. Meanwhile the Labour leadership is deeply unpopular at a UK level and non-existent at a Scottish level, with both Johann Lamont and Anas Sarwar resigning from their positions shortly after the referendum.

Labour are now involved in a highly public spat between the left and right of the party, with the trade unions hoping that the little known Neil Findlay can overcome the high-profile and ultra-Blairite Jim Murphy in the leadership election. But more broadly, the party is undergoing something of an identity crisis. Since 2007, Labour’s inability to outline a credible alternative has seen them alternately oppose and adopt SNP policy. On council tax, for example, Labour routinely attack the council tax freeze as a regressive policy (an extremely dubious claim), despite making a manifesto commitment to freezing the council tax in 2011, supporting it as recently as the 2013 Dunfermline by-election and vehemently opposing a progressive alternative to the council tax in the last parliament.

But the bigger structural issue for Labour is their loss of support amongst the working-class, outlined earlier this year by Jamie Maxwell. The Scottish working-class not only now prefer the SNP to Labour but were the strongest supporters of independence, threatening to carve a permanent divide between Labour and their traditional constituency of support.

The referendum result told us what we already knew. Support for independence cut across Scottish society, but it was strongest in deprived, urban communities. This was unsurprising partially because Yes campaigners had focused a huge amount of energy on these areas. Much has been said about the role played by the organised left through the Radical Independence Campaign and their high-profile mass canvasses of Scotland’s housing schemes. But beyond that, local Yes groups across the country were often focusing their efforts on these areas, understanding that working-class voters were more likely to vote Yes but also less likely to be registered and less likely to turn out to vote.

But even without this targeted effort, the class dynamic of the campaign was predictable simply by looking at history. This was Scotland’s third referendum on constitutional change, and each time it has been working-class Scotland that has voted most enthusiastically in favour.

The aftermath of the first referendum prompted a significant and now deep-rooted change in the Scottish national movement. The 1979 referendum is now infamous – a majority of those who voted in the devolution referendum voted in favour, but turnout failed to reach an arbitrary and undemocratic threshold. Afterwards, the small but influential 79 Group were established by young radicals within the SNP, who argued that the SNP should seek to build on the working-class support for devolution by replacing Labour as the natural party of the left.

The 79 Group were expelled from the party within a few years, but the short-lived faction left a legacy of ideas and personnel that have defined the national movement since – Alex Salmond, Kenny MacAskill, Roseanna Cunningham, Margo MacDonald and Jim Sillars were all prominent members. The success of the modern SNP has been the implementation of the central 79 Group strategy of winning support in the Labour heartlands. It is no coincidence that the party is now led by a Glasgow MSP, while her Depute is a Dundee MP.

But there is an important lesson for the left in the referendum result. While our support was concentrated in the working-class, Yes never reached the same saturation of support or turnout in the poorest areas as No did in the most affluent. Or, to put it another way: there are as many Scots in the top 20% of wealth and income as in the bottom 20%, but the top 20% will always turn out in bigger numbers and vote more uniformly in their interest.

This poses a challenge for those of us who see politics as a tool for transforming the lives of the working-class. It is almost certain that we will see another independence referendum within our lifetimes. A whole generation of working-class Scots now see the creation of a just society as inextricably linked with constitutional change. But victory next time round will likely depend on winning over middle-class Scotland on a scale we’ve so far been unable to do.

Nicola has acknowledged that part of building support for independence is ensuring a competent devolved government. But what could be more crucial is improving confidence in Scotland’s economy. Pointing to GDP and export figures was not enough. Confidence in Scotland’s economy will come when people feel better off, secure in their employment and able to pursue opportunity. And, as our First Minister-in waiting has argued, building a stronger economy will require us to use any devolution of economic powers to improve the lives of our poorest citizens, who voted Yes in hope of exactly that.

What Were They Really Fighting For?

It’s 100 years since Europe descended into the madness of World War One and 75 years since the nightmare was repeated with the outbreak of World War Two. Today we remember all that we lost. The cost was so high, it is fitting that, before we go any further, we remember the loss of life and those who were directly affected. But I would like to talk here about what we won. The true legacy of the chaos of the world wars, the tangible prize that our forebears secured for us, is still with us today and we could complete the tribute to them by celebrating that legacy. We could be shouting it from the rooftops. But very few people are. Our government and media seem afraid even to mention it. Why?

It is easy to look back on the destruction unleashed during the world wars from a distance, through the black and white lens of documentary footage, or to flick on a BBC drama that brings the front line into the living room, so close that the mud and blood splash up on the screen. And yet something is still missing. Neither the dramas nor the documentaries, nor the politicians nor any journalists that I can find are making the connections that tell us what WWI and WWII really mean today. They are letting us down, because we are only getting what it was like back then, when we should also be asking, what’s it like now?

What good came out of the carnage? What did we win? What were our great-grandparents, grandparents and parents really fighting for?

I don’t have many political heroes but one of them is Stéphane Hessel, a man who answers these questions not just from the wartime generation’s point of view, but by bringing it right up to date. He was born in Germany in 1917. His Jewish family naturalised French in 1939 and Hessel fought in the French Resistance, surviving Buchenwald concentration camp and serving in De Gaulle’s Free French government during and after the war. In 1948, he observed the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (he was there when the UK and USA made a failed push for a weaker ‘international’ rather than ‘universal’ declaration). Throughout his subsequent career as a French and UN diplomat, right up to his death in 2012, he campaigned tirelessly to ensure that what he calls the ‘true legacy’ of the world wars was honoured.

In 2010, when he was 93, Hessel published a short book that inspired two of our generation’s biggest political movements, the Indignados in 2011 and Occupy in 2012. It remains a key text for both. It is called Indignez-vous! and it would sit well on the bookshelf of anyone who wants to see a socially just independent or devo-max Scotland, just as it sits on 4.5 million other bookshelves worldwide. It calls for a revival of the type of economic and social democracy that lifted Britain, France and Germany out of the ashes of World War Two. What were the real prizes that our grandparents’ generation won for us? Well, among them, writes Hessel, are our universal welfare and social security systems and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in particular, Article 22) upon which those programmes are based. These advancements transformed our societies for the better, and their insistence on the fundamental dignity of human life everywhere has prevented us from rushing back into war against each other since then.

Yet today they are under attack from many of the politicians that we see laying poppies, and from the right-wing newspapers that laud Britain’s wartime generation every November only to spend the rest of the year dragging that legacy through the mud and cheering as they see it stripped to pieces. Austerity is the weapon they use (see below) while our party of UK government wants to take human rights out of the universal and back into the national domain.

But it is our legacy. Not theirs to take away. It belongs to everybody. I’ll let Hessel do the talking from here. He writes that the advances his generation made have “gone into reverse at an alarming rate. Kids, be careful, we have fought to secure what you’ve got. Now it’s up to you to defend, maintain and better it. They want to take it away from you. Don’t let them.”

How to stop them? He urges us to connect with the spirit of his generation and in particular with the indignation that motivated the French resistance. Rejecting apathy is key, he says, and crucial in itself, even if it is hard to know where to focus efforts in 2014:

“There is plenty to get indignant about if you look around. The dangers are not as apparent as a neighbouring country invading your land. But they are just as dangerous.”

One of those dangers is austerity, whose lie he unmasks: “They have the gall to tell us that the State cannot afford the costs of these programmes. But how can it be that there is insufficient money today to maintain and extend these achievements when the production of wealth has increased so greatly since the Liberation, a period in which Europe lay in ruins? It’s because the power of money, against which the Resistance fought so hard, has never been so great, so insolent and so egotistical, with its servants in the highest seats in the State. The gap between the richest and the poorest has never been so great, competition and the free flow of capital never so encouraged.”

Indignez-vous reminds us that the aim and practical achievement of the Free French government from 1944 was to “establish a true economic and social democracy that involved the removal of large-scale economic and financial feudalism for the management of the economy.” It was a system that strengthened French society after 1945 just as Britain’s did for us in the same interregnum, up to the 1970s, and it needs defenders today. Hessel urges us: “We, veterans of the Resistance and of the fighting forces of Free France, appeal to the young generation to revive and carry forwards the legacy of the Resistance and its ideals. We say to you: fill our shoes, get indignant! Those in positions of political, economic and intellectual influence, together with all of society, must not give up or be influenced by the current international dictatorship of the financial markets, which are such a threat to peace and democracy.”

Before the September 18th referendum, Better Together tried to capitalise on the emotional bonds that grew up between the Britons who fought together in the wars. Yes campaigners perhaps didn’t know what to do with them, since they are real and they imply complex and layered identities. But the fact is that the Yes campaign was the movement fighting for the powers to defend and extend the democratic achievements that our fighting forebears won, a priceless legacy that the British State seems hell bent on demolishing.

It is incumbent upon us to remember today, on Armistice Day, but how do we remember? Just by looking back? Or do we look around as well, deploying the perspective of the past so as to understand the present? I think that we ought to do both. The fight is not finished, and thanks to the generation that sacrificed so much in 1914-1918 and in 1939-1945, we don’t need to go to war to win it. Just all of us raise our voices.

Alasdair Gillon
National Collective

Image: Staffs Live


Translations are variously Alasdair’s and those of Damion Searls and Alba Arrikha whose English version of Indignez-vous! is entitled Time for Outrage! It is published by Quartet Books (London, 2011).

Catalans Are Ready To Vote


It’s getting late in the day in the Catalan countryside. At the family meal in a rural house near the small farming town of Prats de Lluçanès, everyone has switched from Castilian Spanish (for the foreigner) to native Catalan. It’s the end of a long, uncertain summer and the pine forest outside smells fresh and inviting once more after the final crescendo downpour of a thunderstorm. Sleepy children are kissed goodnight, large tumblers of wine are refilled, cigarettes lit and shoes flung aside as we pad down stone steps and out into the night air under a new moon.

At first, the dance is graceful and gentle; seemingly suspended in slow motion. It looks easy until you attempt to imitate. Friends join hands and cousins are hoisted onto shoulders. Everyone is serious and full of intent. Knowing looks are exchanged between older relatives (traditional Catalan folk dances were banned by Franco in the years after the Civil War). Voices compete to find the authentic chorus of a distant but familiar tune. Someone shouts ‘Molt bé, a munt’’ and the dancers begin to rise. A young girl atop her cousin’s broad shoulders stretches her arms wide to imitate the grace and wisdom of a mountain eagle. They fly in exaggerated, circular swoops, beckoning others to do the same.

This is La Patum country – the annual festival of traditional dances where local people dress as mystical, symbolic figures. It’s a long way from the saradana performed for tourists outside Barcelona Cathedral every Sunday or the castellers (human towers) rehearsed and organised with regimented precision. This is a dance for participants, not confused by-standers. I can’t connect it to the recognisable 4/4 rhythm of a Scottish ceilidh reel. I make my apologies and step back to try and make sense of it all.

On 9 November 2014, Catalans will stage a very public demonstration of their renewed cultural pride and civic confidence when they press ahead with a non-binding independence vote and what many see as the inevitable next step on the way to realising the region’s right to self-determination.

“There is no way they can stop this,” says Bernat Garrigos, an organizer with the Catalan National Assembly (a civil society group prominent in the independence campaign), referring to the Spanish government’s opposition to a vote.

The non-binding vote this weekend follows a protracted and very confusing back and forth stand-off between the centre-right Catalan Premier, Artur Mas, his pact with more leftist Catalan politicians to hold a referendum, and the national government in Madrid. In September, at the request of the Spanish government, the Constitutional Court granted an injunction against any official referendum on 9 November.

It seems that in Catalonia, everyone expects a Spanish inquisition. Perhaps in order to save face after two years of promoting referendum day to an excited electorate, or perhaps because the injunction is the latest in a long series of avoidance tactics on the part of the Spanish government , the Catalan leadership retreated to a somewhat ambiguous- sounding ‘consulta populaire’ (public consultation) and now, just in the last few weeks, to a residual, non-binding vote. Disempowered, the Catalan people are losing patience with the continued rhetoric and political posturing, on all sides. They didn’t turn out in their millions for the V for ‘Vote’ demonstration in September 2014 or the ‘Via Catalonia’ human-chain in 2013 only to be dealt a rehearsal referendum instead of the main event.

Here in Scotland, we might be feeling the hurtful chill of a bitter post-Referendum, autumn wind but our Catalan friends look on with envy at what they perceive to have been a transparent and peaceful self-determination process negotiated between Edinburgh and London.

Many Catalans complain that Madrid drains the region of taxes to subsidise poorer parts of Spain without respecting the Catalan language or culture. In a decision described as “incendiary” in the national press, Spain’s national budget for 2015 has given Catalonia the lowest settlement for public investment in 17 years. Meanwhile, those in favour of a unified Spain insist that Catalonia already enjoys autonomy under Spain’s written constitution.

The reality is that Spain cannot afford to lose Catalonia. Not only is the region the industrial and economic powerhouse of a country still on its knees begging to Merkel following the financial crash, sanctioning the possibility of Catalan cessation would give hope to independence movements within the Basque country and Galicia. The new leftist political party in Spain , ‘Podemos’, has overtaken both the major parties in the opinion polls on an anti-austerity message.

But rather than emulate the sycophantic love-bombing of UK Westminster politicians in the panic-stricken final days of the Scottish Referendum campaign, Madrid is refusing to even turn up to the party. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáez de Santamaría said the Catalan plans for the November 9 vote – with same-day voter registration and volunteer pollers – represents a “legal fraud” and “a perversion” of the democratic process. In response to such put-downs, the Catalan political leaders defiantly turn up the volume of their different tune and the confusing dance that began with a referendum attempt, followed by public consultation, then ‘participation process’, continues apace.

Newly democratic Spain is angst-ridden with visible growing pains. Only the young Catalans swaying to the folk tune atop their older cousins’ shoulders were born into a post-dictatorship Spain. This generation is over-educated and under-employed. Most are well-traveled and speak at least three languages – Catalan, Castillian Spanish, and usually English, French or Italian.

Catalonia has been part of Spain for over three hundred years. It is a region of 7.5 million with a distinct culture, language and diverse geography spanning the Pyrenees mountains in the north and the vineyards and olive groves of Tarragona in the south. Since the current Catalan government first committed to an Independence Referendum two years ago, many border towns such as Berga in the north of Catalonia have declared themselves to be bound only by devolved Catalan law and to refute the supremacy of Spanish laws. Perhaps it is always at the national, and personal, borders and boundaries of life– these crossroads to something different and the fault-lines of our identity– that excitement and anxiety collide.

By refusing to agree to a Catalan referendum, Spain is galvanizing the independence cause. A poll released at the end of October by the Catalan government’s Centre for Opinion Studies indicated that pro-independence sentiment remains strong in Catalonia. It showed that 49.4% of Catalans would vote “yes” to both questions on the proposed November 9 independence ballot. The two questions are: “Do you want Catalonia to become a State?” and “In case of an affirmative response, do you want this State to be independent?” The poll found that 19.7% would vote “no” to both questions, and 12.6% “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second. Even the choices in the ballot box appear confusing when contrasted to the simple Yes/ No of ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’.

When I ask Catalan friends to try to explain to me what this all means, they smile, open their hands and concede that nothing is clear and Catalans themselves are frustrated by the slow pace of participatory democracy. My friend Mariona joked, “now that Spain refuses us a referendum and the Catalan leaders won’t commit to anything more than a participation process, we might as well decide this by a WhatsApp vote” (referring to the popular smartphone texting app). With the lack of an official electorate census or the formality of a sanctioned vote, turnout for 9 November is predicted to be much lower than originally hoped for.

Each day introduces another step in the dance. Although the exercise will have no legal weight, Catalan leader Artur Mas and his supporters say it will send a powerful signal to Spain and the rest of the world that Catalans are ready to go it alone:

“We will have polling stations open, there will be ballots and ballot boxes, and everyone over the age of 16 will be allowed to vote…. This will not be the final consultation. It will be the one before last.”

In this complex land where wild eagles soar above the Pyrenees, the calls for change are getting louder amongst ordinary people fed up of remote political elites. It’s an ever-changing choreography of elaborate moves in which successive generations are caught between history and hope.

At the middle of the folk dance celebration, someone shouts “Estem preparats!” The pace quickens, the assembled circle is cheering, hands are held tighter, but no one can quite remember the next move.

Jemma Neville
National Collective

Originally published at

Image from Josep Ma. Rosell

Devolving Immigration – A Lifeline For The International Student Community


The SNP recently announced it wants powers regarding immigration devolved to Scotland, so that they can re-introduce the post-study work visa. All around Scotland, International students (and friends of!) briefly gave this news an interested glance; the repercussions of such a plan actually taking place would be incredibly exciting. Before we look at the potential results, here is some context:

  • The Tier 1 Post-Study Work Visa (tied to the ‘Points Based Immigration System introduced in 2008) enabled International students to work in the UK upon completion of their degree for up to two years before applying for a work permit.
  • This system in itself was actually regulation by Labour rather than de-regulation – the system used previously (Highly Skilled Migrant Programme) was more flexible and welcoming, enabling students to apply for work permits under more relaxed criteria.
  • The Conservative-Liberal coalition decommissioned this visa in 2012 as a step to ‘tackle the immigration problem’. As a result, students now have a window of a few months to find a job – within a very narrow range of sectors – that has a minimum starting salary of £21,000 per annum (yes, a graduate job in the current climate of that level), with the employer then also requiring to go through an arduous process to enable them to be ‘sponsors’ for this visa.

The net result, obviously, is that International Students struggle to stay and find work. Post-degree celebrations are marred by the melancholy of leaving the place you have settled in. I lost four very good friends this summer who all tried (and failed) to find something – anything! – that would keep them working in their adopted country of residence. This is common.

So when the Independence campaign kicked off, and the ‘Yes’ camp clearly laid out their plans for returning a provision to enable International students to stay, a lot of International students got involved. One of the clearest arguments that resonated from the ‘Yes’ camp with regards to ‘differences’ was just how starkly different a new Scotland’s immigration plans were from the direction Westminster travelled in, and this was a crucial part of that. It was one of the first reasons that grabbed me, as well as several other International students – here was a Nationalist movement that wanted to help me stay in my adopted country.

The current laws are detrimental to all involved in the sector. Principals of Universities hate it as it has a clear effect in their recruitment of International students. Students and academic staff hate it for reasons detailed above already. Businesses hate it since it adds a massive layer of bureaucracy when finding and appointing workers. The laws have also had absolutely no positive impact in the jobs available to British workers – we’ve seen unemployment figures, the inequality figures, the skew towards low-paid work.

Of course, that’s before we even discuss the social impact of bringing in hundreds of thousands of International students into a country every year – bringing in millions into the economy – and then sending them the clear signal that they aren’t wanted.

We’ve seen how conversations about immigration have progressed over the past two years. This issue is completely off the table as far as the Conservatives are concerned. Labour’s current offering amounts to removing International Students from the migration figures – a move that has no tangible gains for students, rather simply a move for the government to claim “hi, well, since you don’t count now, hurrah look how much we did to cut immigration!” This is simply more fuel for them to shout about how tough they’re being on ‘them foreigners.’

Labour cannot be trusted to bring about this change in any case – remember, it was the Blair Government that brought in this visa in 2008 as a cut to migration – and Ed Miliband’s recent rhetoric around immigration is enough evidence that there is nothing progressive on this issue coming from that particular party.

A ‘No’ vote robbed that opportunity for International students to build an inclusive immigration system here in Scotland, and by and large hope was dead. I was very open about the very personal impact that vote had on me; it dictated my chances – and future international students’ chances – of calling Scotland home or not. I was devastated.

So at this point, hope’s fairly dead in terms of policies from parties down south. Then enter the devolution commission and SNP’s latest proposal, a move that’s backed by their ‘Yes’ campaign allies the Scottish Greens. Let’s briefly put in context just how many people this policy would affect – 40% (that’s upwards of 8,000 people) of our student populace in the University of Edinburgh is currently on the Tier 4 visa. Several of the Scottish Universities pride themselves on their international intake, and this is a massive lift in a hope we thought was dead.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m probably of the belief that immigration would be the last detail to be devolved by the Smith Commission. There’s enough scare-mongering flying around from the other Westminster parties to try and make devolved immigration unfeasible. But the very fact that the SNP have brought this back on the table, at a time of massive immigration scaremongering, and making a clear statement that they want the opportunity to actually make international students feel welcome here – that’s something. That’s hope.

Like I said before, 40% of our student populace is currently on that Tier 4 system that makes it nigh on impossible for them to stay in their adopted country. I can’t think of a better policy for them to get behind. There’s hope once again – perhaps fleeting – but a recognition that we haven’t been forgotten about.

Dash Sekhar
National Collective

Is Devo-Max Compatible With The UK? And What Is Devo-Bare Minimum?

Many of us remain convinced that the best, and most democratic, way for Scotland to be governed is as an independent state. But constitutional options like devo max (generally understood to mean Holyrood having power over everything except defence, foreign affairs, immigration, and a few macroeconomic essentials like the currency), which were dangled in front of voters so extensively during the final weeks of the recent referendum campaign, would be a welcome advance on Scotland’s path to self-government.

Now that the referendum is over though, the mode du jour amongst the unionist commentariat and political elite has been to claim that devo max is a “complete non-starter” (Ruth Davidson MSP) and “incompatible with remaining part even of a largely federal system” (Alan Trench). But is it really true that devo max is incompatible with membership of the United Kingdom? Or is it simply a working backwards from a (legitimate, if not majority-held) view that Scotland should remain as similar to the rest of the UK as possible?

If we look to the rest of the world (something which I fear hasn’t happened nearly enough in the current debate), we find some potential answers to that question. And, while we’re at it, we observe some possible ‘design patterns’ for the constitutional arrangements of post-referendum Scotland, and the UK as a whole, in places that have been doing this stuff for decades.

On a fundamental level, the claim by some that devo max is, more or less by definition,
incompatible with being part of a larger state is patently false. Hong Kong is an integral part of the People’s Republic of China, yet has more autonomy than even devo max would provide (Hong Kong having both its own currency, and a separate immigration area from mainland China).

Hong Kong – along with Macau – is of course governed under the maxim of “one country, two systems”, and some may object to the comparison on the basis that no-one in Scotland expected a No vote in the referendum to mean the “state within a state” form of government that Hong Kong enjoys. That proposition remains to be tested – perhaps this would be a more popular option than many unionists would like to believe – but it is not necessary to pursue this particular comparison here. It serves merely to illustrate that on a technical level claims about devo max being inherently incompatible with membership of the larger state that is the United Kingdom are simply not true.

If we look then to federal (or federal-like) countries which no-one would suggest are anything other than single states, we find several where some or all of the constituent parts have significantly more control over the fundamental issues of taxation and welfare than Scotland currently does as part of the UK.

The most obvious example – and one not so far from home – is Spain, and in particular the
autonomous communities of the Basque Country and Navarra. These two autonomous communities – through their economic agreements with the Spanish central government – are responsible for setting most, and collecting virtually all, taxes in their respective territories, while remitting a certain amount of money to the Spanish state for centrally provided services such as defence, according to a bilaterally agreed formula.

Are the Basque Country and Navarra part of the Kingdom of Spain? Quite clearly they are. (Many may wish them not to be, but that is besides the point here.) These two autonomous communities have had almost exclusive competence over tax collection for more than three decades (and also previously, before the Franco era), but they remain part of Spain, and, indeed, are highly integrated in the Spanish single market.

Crossing the Atlantic to Canada, we find provinces which are responsible for a significant number of their own taxes, and virtually all of their own working-age benefits – there is no Canada-wide equivalent to Jobseekers’ Allowance or Universal Credit, for example. In the area of contributory state pensions, where there is admittedly more uniformity across most of Canada, Québec has its own separate Québec Pension Plan. Yet Québec, like the other provinces, is still an integral part of Canada, and an integrated part of the Canadian macroeconomic zone and single market.

Careful observers won’t have failed to spot my specific highlighting of the Basque Country and Québec, two of the most independently minded parts of their respective larger states – and, in fact, the most autonomous sub-state entities in the whole of the OECD. That is with good reason. Contemporary Scotland is the most independently minded and autonomy-seeking part of the United Kingdom, and so we should devise a constitutional settlement which reflects and accommodates that (even if ultimately I would prefer such a settlement to be extended to, or at least be on offer to, all four UK nations). We shouldn’t force Scotland into a UK straitjacket that doesn’t meet the aspirations of most Scots simply for the sake of some abstract notion of British unity.

Looking again at Spain and Canada, and examining the situation of even the most ‘Spanish’ of autonomous communities – Castile-La Mancha amongst others – or of an ‘ordinary’ Canadian province such as Ontario, we find aspects of the constitutional order which go significantly beyond the Scotland Act 2012 and which would be worth taking serious note of. For example:

  • Castille-La Mancha, in common with all Spanish autonomous communities, has a statute of autonomy – an entrenched written constitution subordinate only to the written constitution of Spain.
  • Ontario levies a large number of its own taxes, including beer and wine tax, corporation tax, fuel/gasoline tax and personal income tax – and, particularly relevant to the current debate in Scotland, the employer health tax, a payroll tax completely separate from income tax and unique to Ontario.

Some may posit, “Well, that is all very well and good, but our contention was never that such systems of government would not be technically possible in the United Kingdom, simply that in the specific case of the UK, the essential nature of what the UK as a country is about – as opposed to what, say, Canada and Spain are about – makes the level of autonomy that devo max would involve impossible to contemplate.”

That seems quite a contorted argument, but if it is some people’s view, let’s at least hear it – along with a decent defence of this position. What is it that makes the UK so different from Canada, Spain and elsewhere that makes significant, if not complete, autonomy for a part of the state over taxation and welfare a non-starter, uniquely, here? I’m not sure anyone has a convincing answer to that question.

That all said, let’s for a moment set aside the first choice (for now) of devo max, and focus
only on two humbler aspirations:

  1. That the Scottish parliament should be responsible for raising tax revenue to fund substantially all of its own expenditure – a basic principle of responsible and accountable government anywhere.
  2. In having responsibility for a particular tax, this responsibility should be comprehensive – ensuring that the Scottish parliament isn’t prevented from making reasonable changes to the structure of a particular tax to the extent that the usefulness of it having any control over that tax at all is severely hampered.

One benefit of devo max-like systems is their clarity, and thus their clear trace-through to the ballot box. In the Basque Country, for example, it is clear to everyone who is responsible for every last rate, band and relief of income tax – and this would also be the case in Scotland under devo max.

By contrast, in all of the unionist parties’ rather tepid proposals on income tax, numerous
important components of the income tax system would remain under the control of Westminster – including the personal allowance (which is simply a 0% band), meaning that Westminster, bizarrely, would be deciding how much of Scottish taxpayers’ earned income could be taxed, while not actually receiving any of the tax on this income itself.

At the recent UK Conservative Party conference, the UK prime minister David Cameron said:

So here’s our commitment to the British people: No income tax if you are on Minimum Wage. A 12 and a half thousand pound tax-free personal allowance for millions of hardworking people. And you only pay 40p tax when you earn £50,000.

If the Conservatives’ current plans for further Scottish devolution were put into effect, the
part of Mr Cameron’s promise relating to the 40p income tax band wouldn’t apply in Scotland, while the part relating to the proposed £12 500 personal allowance would (meaning the UK parliament would be telling the Scottish parliament at what point it can start taxing Scottish taxpayers’ earned income). I challenge anyone to convince me that this would not be an utterly confusing proposition at the ballot box in Scotland – not to mention the unfairness of English voters being able to vote for a holistic vision of the entire income tax system while Scottish voters cannot.

Returning then to where we started: Devo max is quite clearly not incompatible with Scotland’s staying in the United Kingdom and to suggest otherwise is to wrap a political preference in the guise of objective fact. Furthermore, devo max would make Scotland’s governance arrangements much simpler to understand (compared to either the status quo, or any of the other currently mooted schemes for further devolution), and it would thus provide the greatest level of political transparency and democratic accountability possible while Scotland remains in the UK.

If devo max is not deemed to be politically achievable this time around, then let’s give Scots a system of fiscal autonomy where they are able to express a holistic view at election time on at least some of the most significant taxes and welfare benefits. (And, in deciding on the extent of such a system, let’s keep in mind that many countries manage to operate, and indeed thrive, with much less fiscal uniformity than currently exists in the UK.)

While such a ‘devo max lite’ proposition would likely not satisfy the appetite for more powers of most Scots – not least of all the 45% who voted Yes on 18 September – it would be another step forward on the journey to true self-government – a journey where the direction of travel is clear and unambiguous.

The Edinburgh Agreement commits the Scottish and UK governments to work together constructively in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom. It benefits neither Scotland nor rUK for a discontent Scotland to be denied the power over its own affairs which it legitimately seeks.

Let’s make a step change in the governance of Scotland and all of the United Kingdom.

Let’s get to it.

Kenneth MacArthur
National Collective