Yes Scotland: Too many Chiefs?

I heard from a friend this weekend, who was bursting with enthusiasm and excitement.  Said friend, like me, has been around the block with party politics and similarly, has spent the last few years sitting on the sidelines.  Interested but somewhat disengaged.

That was before a local Yes meeting.  Lots of people there.  Lots of new people there.  People from all parties and none.  Scots, Danes and other nationalities too.  Young and old, men and a pleasing number of women. Everyone keen as mustard.  It was a joy.

This is what Yes Scotland was set up to do.  To bring together disparate individuals and parties to coalesce around a common goal of campaigning for a yes vote in the independence referendum.  With so many egos and potential players – and that’s just at local level – it was never going to be an easy task.  But with the great staff and volunteer team in place at Yes Scotland HQ, such issues are clearly being anticipated, with thought going into how to design their input to build the capacity of nascent community campaigns and create harmony where there is huge potential for discord.  Well done them, and clearly testament too, to Blair Jenkins’ powers and talents as a chief executive.

Already, the organisation established to achieve a yes vote is starting to deliver on its aims and intentions.  There are campaign groups now in every local authority area in Scotland.  There are training dates being set up and national days of action planned, with a real purpose.  The messaging is simple and clear and easy to understand and put across.  The materials are great.

Moreover, the movement’s approach is to engage people in a dialogue, to discuss with them their issues and concerns, to persuade them to think differently.  It will be interesting to see if the Better Together campaign can match this grassroots activism:  the SNP has, after all, proved itself masterful at such an approach in recent elections, and its activists are clearly being boosted by folk from the Greens, the left and even the Lib Dems (I kid you not).  Best of all, there are people of no party persuasion who believe in Scotland’s right to self-determination who already are stepping up to the plate.  I’m feeling guilty at my own lack of engagement and prompted to remedy it.

So again, plaudits where they are due.  The Board at Yes Scotland and its staff team – all of them in post only a few months – have hit the ground running.  And how.  Blair Jenkins is clearly a great manager and leader.  This kind of organisation and strategic approach, of finding the right people to deliver on that approach, of marshalling the resources, of allowing ideas to flourish but action to follow – these are exactly the things he was brought in to achieve, and achieving it he is.  But was he employed to become the figure head of the Yes campaign?  Does his remit extend to the politics of it all?  Is it his job to influence the process?  On this I am less certain.

It would be easier to say yes, if Jenkins was a natural showman with a deft touch for the politics.  But he hasn’t.  And every time he conducts an interview, there are gaffes.  That’s what happens when you put a novice under a sharp and unrelenting political light.  This is a bearpit and it requires politicians of the highest ability to spar and rebuff and get the message across.  And even if it is in the plan to develop Jenkins as the frontman, there simply is not time, with less than two years to go, to perfect him in this role.  Doing so is going to require all of Susan Stewart’s considerable and formidable powers as a doyenne of communications.  And is that how and where her energy and resources should be spent?

Because the media will always ask awkward questions – that’s their job.  We might not see it as their role to dig for dissent, but they clearly do.  And every time Blair Jenkins gives the not-quite-right answer, or his personal opinion, if it differs from what the SNP has previously said, the headline will scream of a split.

He also risks upsetting the other partners in this venture if he gives an opinion, putatively that of Yes Scotland, which differs from their own parties’ beliefs.  The Scottish Greens have already spat their dummy out of the pram:  Patrick Harvie will have no hesitation in doing so again, if he thinks the vehicle to drive for a yes vote is moving far from its objectives and espousing political values he and his party do not and cannot share.

Thus, today, he muses in the Sunday Herald that the SNP should abide by the Electoral Commission’s opinion on the wording of the question and on the issue of campaign expenditure.  The implication is that Yes Scotland will.  What, even if the Electoral Commission advises that donations from outwith Scotland should be allowed?  That would be directly opposite to what he and Yes Scotland has already said.  Another problem which might need swept up in the weeks to come.

And if the Commission recommends a form of wording clearly unfavourable to the yes campaign, that will be okay?  Trying to come across as warm, fuzzy and convivial is all very well but not if it leaves your own side at a disadvantage.  These are exactly the kind of consequences politicians think through – most of the time – before they conduct an interview or give a statement.

I’m sure that Blair Jenkins’ touring the studios and press is part of the grand plan.  I’m sure that it has all been agreed with the board and that the roles for each of the main front players – individuals and organisations – in the campaign have been discussed and delineated.

But I’m struggling at the moment to see what is being gained by having quite so many different voices to the fore.  Except to feed copy to a gluttonous media, desperate to portray the yes camp at odds with itself.  And the more voices we have, the greater the chance of that happening.  Having too many chiefs will confuse the public and even the injuns, particularly if the chiefs are all saying very different things all at the same time.

We already have plenty folk on the yes side who can put a message across;  there are far fewer who can deliver organisationally and logistically.  Far better then, for Blair Jenkins to leave the politicking and communicating to those who can and get on with the job he was brought in to do.  His talents, skills and experience are undoubted but the task is huge.  And if he wants to be afforded his place in Scottish political history, he needs to keep his focus and his eyes on the prize.


25 thoughts on “Yes Scotland: Too many Chiefs?

  1. Pingback: If you don’t know, don’t vote No | Means to a Referendum

  2. Have to say I agree with Kate.

    Blair is undoubtedly a good guy and has his role to play in the YES campaign. I do not think he should be the face of the YES Campaign – put simply he has the same appeal as John Swinney in the greater public sphere.

    Again, John Swinney is very good at his role but the SNP knew he was never going to set them alight in the polls and the same goes for Blair.

    We need someone dynamic, instantly likeable and a great and convincing communicator.

  3. Yeah, I did have a nickname at school, but unlike the school bully, I didn’t keep it as an adult!

    And people’s has an apostrophe btw! That’s another thing I learned at school.

  4. Hi Kate, ask what purpose does Blar serve doing the media rounds. I thought that would be plainly obvious to anyone in both camps.

    Incase you haven’t noticed there is not much coverage of the Yes campaign by the MSM and the little there is can best be described as misleading.

    Having the leader out there doing media rounds gives the yes camp a profile. It also allows Blair to get the merits of voting yes across to the general public. What’s more it has the advantage of coming straight from ‘the horse’s mouth’ so to speak and leaves little room for what he says to be misconstrued.

    As others have said before me it also allows the yes camp to project that all encompassing aspect by having a non politician. Whilst I fully agree with your sentiments that Blair may make the occasional faux pas and upset the pollies, I think this is more than made up for by the positives he brings. Besides, the pollies are made of quite stern stuff and should be able to ‘suck it up’ and take one for the team.

    Let’s not forget, if the end justifies the means, the yes campaign must forget about the differences in political ideology until the referendum is won. Otherwise there will be no opportunity to make any of the parties dreams a reality, as the whole box and dice will be thrown in the back cupboard to lay discarded forever by the Westminster elites.

  5. You’ve clearly ruffled a few feathers here, burd! A lot of them hiding behind anonymous avatars, I note…

    As a former party animal, I have become a big fan of Blair Jenkins and the YES campaign. I happen to think they’ve done a great job this far. I do agree that Blair should stay out of the mechanics of the referendum issues though. There are enough ‘contributers’ to that particular debate already and we don’t need to feed the media frenzy with tales of splits, which will inevitably follow any disagreement with Mr Salmond. It’s not where ‘Yes’ should or need to position themselves and I think that Blair has much to lose and nothing to gain by becoming weighed down in the minutae of the referendum arrangments.

    Having said that…we do need someone to disagree with Alex Salmond occasionally and get the message over that this ISN’T about the SNP!. It’s about democracy and about the kind of Scotland WE the people want to see. It’s about Women for Indy, Labour for Indy and the Yes groups representing footie fans,Taxi drivers, witches et al. and the Yes umberella NEEDS to be about the yes vote, regardless of the question!

    There’s’ room for all of us in this Campaign, but if I could offer one word of advice to the wise…let the SNP take the bashing over the mechanics, and let Blair Jenkins and the formidable Yes team make the positive case, whatever the question.

    • A lot of them hiding behind anonymous avatars, I note…

      That snide comment only helps the unionist campaign of which the MSM are only willing to cling to. What about all the Gordon Brown’s out there who could not anywhere use their name without rightful derision from others. Monikers are just a name other than written on a birth certificate or should or do you agree that we all provide our Nat Ins No’s?

      Never had a nickname when at school usually chosen by your peers?

      Monikers are nicknames only you get to choose them, real democracy provided by the internet. Please get over it as it gets peoples dander up.

  6. The debate last night was another proof that politicians have nothing positive to contribute to the debate, I think the audience was excellent, the “experts” were quite dull and we could have done without the constant bickering of the two politicians.

  7. Independence is a people against state struggle not a party political struggle which is where the media want to keep it as it suits their lazy journalistic qualities. The suffragettes was a peoples movement who were willing to expose their own vulnerability for the cause and the independence movement has to do the same otherwise nicey nicey will hang you with your own rope. Destroy a leading politician’s ideology and it will fail try and destroy a group of people who are equally committed is much harder.

    The less politicians are involved in this debate the better as the media will have to report in a far less biased way than is happening now as people pay their wages by choice not by taxes..

    Olafur Ragnar Grimsson Iceland president ‘Let banks go bankrupt’

    Will any of the UK MSM show that no because it shows the British establishment with only one message ‘All hail the bankers.’

  8. Couldn’t disagree more with your assessment of Blair Jenkins performance in interviews – he comes across as straight forward and to the point, as opposed to politicians who avoid answering questions, alter their answers when challenged, talk over the top of opponents, try always to talk down the other argument rather than for their own etc.

    We need fewer politicians discussing the issues on TV and radio, not more. It’s much harder for a politician to argue against a non-politician – you will notice how the no side try to equate anybody on the Yes side with the SNP (even BBC interviewers do the same) including Labour for Independence. Their mantra of “they’re all SNP” is one of their main lines of attack. The more we can get away from that the better.

    I agree with Muttley79 above about Labour for Independence – it has been obvious for the last 40 years that we need to get Labour voters/supporters on side (some people seem to think that the way to do this is to call them stupid). As L for I get more support within the Labour Party/Unions so it will become impossible to equate them with the SNP – they could be game changers.

    As for different policies, it’s time the SNP and the Yes campaign stopped answering irrelevant questions and started asking relevant questions of the no side.

    How about this – we live in a collection of countries with one parliament – one of these countries has a population 5 times greater than the other three put together and has overwhelming representation in that parliament – this means that the biggest country can have it’s way anytime it wants, it is effectively independent. TRUE or FALSE.

    This isn’t a policy – it’s a statement of fact and I don’t see where there would be any disagreement about this among any political parties or individuals who support independence. There are many other things that follow from the population point – domination of BBC programme making, being able to decide where to put nuclear weapons while underspending on conventional defence in Scotland, being able allocate yourselves a London allowance or spend £4b on your sewage/water infrastructure from a ‘national’ fund without having to ask anybody else etc etc. Let’s concentrate on ideas we can all agree on and which will be very difficult for the no side to deny or argue against.

    Independence is about being able to make our own decisions, not what decisions we will make – that comes after.

  9. The fact that Blair isn’t a politician is what makes him such an asset to Yes Scotland. Unlike Salmond, Sturgeon or Harvie, he can legitimately refuse to answer specific policy questions on the grounds that Yes Scotland is not a political party. It also gives legitimacy to the claim that Yes Scotland is not just the SNP in disguise whenever BetterTogether try to build up that particular straw man.

    I’m not even sure I really understand your point about there being too many voices, to be honest. Blair is the figurehead of the campaign, and is the one put forward when the media wants a Yes Scotland spokesperson. Surely it’s the exact opposite situation of too many heads? Contrast that with Better Together, where not even Alistair Darling – the seemingly self-appointed “leader” of their campaign – has really been used with as much regularity as Blair Jenkins. You’re still just as likely to see Anas Sarwar or Michael Moore as you are to see Darling.

    Besides, we know for a fact that BetterTogether are not happy that Yes Scotland are using a non-politico as their frontman – Alistair Darling snubbed several debating opportunities when he knew he would be arguing with Blair Jenkins rather than someone from the SNP.

    Above all, I’m far happier having Blair representing Yes Scotland than someone who might over-emphasise their party’s views – and I include the SNP in that, as nothing has made me wince as much as when Angela Constance mentioned cutting tax on the last BBC debate.

  10. I agree with the general assessment of the campaign, but I’m struggling to agree with the critique of Blair, especially if the goal is to fend off a hostile Scottish press. Aye, we could push Blair into the background, and promote a seasoned politician in to face the media who will bat away with the probing questions by saying nothing of value at all because he has to wear a straight-jacket and be all things to all members of the Yes Campaign. And to the people of Scotland, he’ll just be another suit saying nothing at all. The press will find something to write about regardless, exposing fault’s along the line of the leader’s political leanings – it’s the thin edge of the wedge and we’ll have forfeited one of the genuine differentiators in the campaign.

    If anything, I want more Blair Jenkins’ and less Salmonds and Harvies! And as your piece on Bella outlined, the SNP aren’t exactly making this easy and Patrick Harvie is clearly looking to exert some political muscle over the campaign. These are bigger problems than Blair Jenkins IMO and a look at the Scottish press coverage will demonstrate than 90% of coverage is still obsessing about party political issues. I dont see the introduction of more political personalities and baggage as being a sensible solution to this problem. When people tune in or read about Yes Scotland in the media, I’d like to them to look at these people and listen without any preconceptions about who these people are. That’s a no to politicians, and a yes to people they’ve dont know, talking sense. If they make mistakes that need to be cleaned up a bit later, that’s fine – Blair, and others like him, will attract more people to the cause than it will turn away IMO.

    I want Yes Scotland to take risks and I want them to dare to be different. This feels like a call for them to look more like a political party and IMO, that’s the last thing we should be doing. Call me naive, but we should be resisting the urge to do what we would normally do and we should certainly not allow the MSM to influence how we shape the campaign.

  11. Interesting thoughts, Kate, but don’t be too hasty in judgement. I noticed today on BBC sunday politics how strenuously A. Darling was emphasising the ‘fact’ that he ‘doesn’t speak for Labour’ on this or that topic,esp when the questions were awkward like Mr Cameron’s latest intervention on EU Membership.

    I think that is a direct result of what Blair Jenkins has been doing in presenting himself as a non political (party) spokesman for Yes Scotland, successfully in my opinion.

    I think the No camp have realised that as a strength and have decided to counter it with the strange idea that Mr Darling (whilst still a labour MP) no longer speaks for Labour.

    Imitation and flattery come to mind.

  12. I am not sure about this. Yes, I agree he is not slick but he’s also patently not a liar. In terms of public perception slick/liar often go hand in hand. I am not sure I want a Yes Scotland spokesperson who is up to all the tricks of the political trade.

    Indeed I think that in some ways in order for us to win this referendum we all – from the top to the bottom – need to unlearn all of those tricks. They are, after all, what makes the public distrust politicians.

    But yes that leaves a flank open for the media to attack. But aren’t they going to do that anyway? And let’s remember one of the few professions which the public regards as less trustworthy than politics is journalism.

    I can see where you are coming from on this one but still I am not sure.

  13. I think the Yes campaign has many strengths. The biggest plus for me, as someone who supports the SNP, has been the emergence of the Labour Voters for Independence. As far as I can see they have been putting in a considerable amount of effort for the Yes campaign. Given the often bitter SNP-Scottish Labour rivalry, this is a remarkable development and the most positive one so far.

    Unfortunately for me it has also highlighted a major negative of the Yes campaign. Patrick Harvie’s role as been an absolute disgrace in my opinion. He is a very good speaker, and has done very well in the debates. However, I believe this has been overshadowed by his otherwise moaning, and petulant attitude towards the Yes campaign. Harvie seems determined to be seen as opposing the SNP as much as possible, while taking part in the same campaign as them. I don’t get any kind of a feeling from him that he understands the difference between a referendum campaign and an election campaign, where all the different parties put forward their own policies.

    On Blair Jenkins’ role, I think he has done well in widening the base of the Yes campaign to include people from all the different parties. It has been very noticeable that the No campaign and the media have been conflating the Yes campaign with the SNP as much as possible. I think Dennis Cannavan would be able to do more interviews with the press. He has the political experience that Jenkins does not have.

    On the SNP’s performance in the Yes campaign, it has been mixed. They have not handled the EU issue that well. They will get some respite now because of Cameron’s speech. Nicola Sturgeon has done very well.

    Overall, the Yes campaign need to find a way to get their message across. The media are being hostile, and I feel are misrepresenting the Yes campaign significantly. I hope the Yes campaign have methods to counteract this.

  14. ” And even if it is in the plan to develop Jenkins as the frontman, there simply is not time, with less than two years to go, to perfect him in this role”

    Just the two years or so?? This gave me a laugh … it’s the longest campaign in history. Until Cameron’s EU referendum came along of course,

  15. My view is that YES Scotland should be breaking the party barriers,which I think they are doing it but not as aggressively as the various union parties attack YES Scotland and the pro-independence parties.Although sometimes the more softly approach is best,as we see the unionist campaign in its haste to attack all of the pro-independence parties and people,making a lot of the attacks personal.They are tripping themselves up and they do show a lot of badness in their approach,this is being noticed by a lot of people.I also think that the way Alex Salmond has stayed back and all but removed himself from the fray.I think the First Minister is biding his time and “saving him-self” for later in the campaign,and I hope he is.I have always wanted an independent Scotland as far back as I can remember.But I should be commenting on Blair and the YES campaign,there is time for Blair to round on the Better together mob (I think of them as a mob) and get the advantage over them.There are a lot of people in the YES Scotland campaign that are new to politics or new to serious and getting involved in politics,he is at present allowing himself to be available to all of the pundits and he does know that most of them are having their strings pulled by the Labour party,I think he will turn this to YES Scotland’s advantage,in the last few weeks of the campaign.The core of YES Scotland is Independence although like many branches of party politics we have others in there with their own agenda,like CND members being either in the Labour party or (more likely) in the SNP,and they are driving their agenda which is detrimental to the end result,for me its Independence first and last,the rest can be sorted out later or we wont have a later,to lose because of in-fighting will be a disaster that we wont recover from ever,we can kiss Scotland good-bye,as we will be totally absorbed by Westminster.Ramble over if there is any sense there good if not excuse me but I am morphine,and get mixed up,and that is my excuse for rambling.

  16. Blair Jenkins is the figurehead of the Yes campaign and I am delighted that he doesn’t sound like a politician. We need non politicians to inspire us and others to get involved, leave the politicians to lead the No campaign.
    Chiefs of our local Yes groups are people outside politics, if you are a politician, consider yourself an Indian in this campaign.

  17. While I would agree that the intervention by Blair Jenkins was ill-advised, I think that to extrapolate this to some inherent problem with the Yes Scotland campaign is overstating the matter. The fact that the leader of Yes Scotland is non-party political is one of the campaign’s great strengths.

  18. Pingback: Yes Scotland: Too many Chiefs? | Referendum 2014 |

  19. Where to begin on this one?

    First up, I think your assessment of the state of the Yes campaign is extraordinarily optimistic – it should be light years ahead of where it is just now. I don’t think the responsibility for this lies with Yes Scotland as such but with the way it was set up – and the least said about the machinations behind that the better probably.

    Does this really matter? Probably not in some ways because Better Together is in an even bigger mess and it is difficult to see how that is ever going to gel properly and drive a decent campaign on the ground. For me it is frustrating because there is an open goal for the Yes campaign that it doesn’t even seem to see far less take advantage of.

    The biggest problem that the Yes campaign has is the way that SNP policy overshadows the real debate. The SNP did the right thing on NATO in my view (although it might have been handled far better) because there has not been a peep about it since. The ongoing sore is the EU question and until the SNP put this to bed, Yes Scotland is never going to get the space to make the case for Independence properly.

    It is painfully obvious that, regardless of the rights and wrongs, the SNP is never going to demonstrate unequivocally before the Referendum that Scotland will remain in the EU post-Independence far less the terms upon which its membership would be based.

    The solution is to stop simply asserting that EU membership is required/best/certain for an Independent Scotland and commit an SNP Government post-Independence to putting any membership terms of the EU to the people then get on working with Yes Scotland to make the case for Independence on the basis that EU membership simply isn’t a crucial issue. Just ask Norway or Switzerland.

    Unless the SNP does this, any assertion that the UK coming out of the EU would cost Scotland tens of thousands of jobs will simply be thrown back in its face because it cannot guarantee that an Independent Scotland would be a member of the EU and therefore the Independence Referendum presents exactly the same risk as an EU Referendum.

    It is beyond me why the SNP is so intransigent on this issue. It is completely unacceptable for one component of the Yes Scotland campaign to be putting its preferred policy position on the EU ahead of the common objective of all partners.

  20. Sorry Kate but I tihnk your central point – that Blair should leave the politics and communications to others – is misguided and wrong. It is surely not the fault of the Yes campaign if politicians from other pro independence parties can’t understand the difference between their party line on a given subject and the legitimate right of the Yes campaign to itself express a view. It is after all a movement of all parties and importantly, none. The logic of what you say is that only the professional politicians can take to the studios – which would absolutely damage the whole central thrust of the Yes camaoign’s s strength and by the way, significantly reduce the number of women whose voices would be heard through that media.

    • Not at all advocating that it be left to professional politicians but that Blair Jenkins should focus his considerable talents on what he is good at. Which also includes making speeches – he’s great at that. Yes Scotland has no locus in the process, in my view, of the nuts and bolts of the referendum – that is for Government and Parliament. Yes Scotland’s strength is its diversity and ability to appeal to all, as you say – and indeed, I praise in the piece. But every time it expresses a view which differs from one of the members, it will result in those members drifting away or feeling cut loose. It’s a hard balancing act but its role has to be to give the broad vision and thrust of the point of independence and allow the parties and individuals – including board members – to give their view on what the detail looks like. We disagree on the approach clearly but what is to be served by Blair doing the media rounds at the moment or indeed, at any time? Whose purpose does that serve?

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