As usual, I managed to get myself into a little twitter bother yesterday. I was trying to be wry and failed.
I was sorry not to be able to attend the Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow yesterday. The speaker line-up was impressive and clearly the volunteers behind RIC had put huge efforts into organising the conference. There were new voices and folks too and mindful of some of the barriers to participation, the offer of a crèche. All good.
But I can’t have been the only person to have been bemused at a conference theme of failure, hope and transformation looking at options for a new economy and new democracy, with lots of the usual kind of polemicising about social injustice and inequality, all delivered from the comfort of one of Glasgow’s most exclusive hotels.
Oh I know it’s hard to find conference venues to accommodate 1000 people that don’t make the eyes water at the expense. But they do exist, and not in the commercial sector either. Surely if the future is co-operative, fairer and modelled on co-production and inclusion, then how and where you make the pitch counts?
Few of the people yesterday’s conference signalled its concern about – the poor, the disengaged, the missing million whose votes will be so important in the referendum – would contemplate stepping over the threshold of the Marriott hotel. It’s not the kind of place they’d feel comfortable in, never mind afford a room in. That’s what decades of conditioning and ghettoisation do for you.
So despite the clarion conference call being that the referendum needs poor people to vote, I doubt if many of the views expressed yesterday actually came from anyone marginalised and dispossessed. So far, so familiar and so typically patriarchal.
But it’s a small point. The real issue I have with yesterday’s gathering is that it was aimed at and spoke to and with (with a few exceptions) people who are already voting yes. When the 1000 or so folk there might have been better deployed, each of them, getting out there and talking to a few persuadables. The more we hing thegither the more comfortable the better togethers become. Much as it would have been a pleasant way to while away a Saturday, contemplating the future with like-minded folk, I decided to spend it doing something slightly more productive instead.
Indubitably, some who were there are folk who live, breathe and sleep yes. They are – like the diverse, cross- and non- political membership of Women for Independence – out at meetings, out leafleting, out blethering with and listening to voters, at every opportunity.
But here’s the rub. Those attendees are mostly in the SNP.
A lot of them have been doing this for more years than they care to remember. It’s become a way of life. And they are the activist stalwarts who have helped put the SNP into government, not once but twice, and whose efforts have helped get us to this juncture. They have and they do deliver votes. It’s them and their insatiable appetite for one more leaflet run who scare the pants off the yoonyinists, not the creators and conspirators consumed by the cottage industry of ideas that’s sprung up around the referendum.
This cottage industry, made up of the rainbow parts of the Yes coalition, dominated the panels yesterday, and its foremost proponents are inevitably to be found on the platforms at countless Yes meetings all over the country. That’ll be the meetings elected SNP MSPs can barely get a seat at, never mind an opportunity to speak. Even when they are being held in their constituencies.
So what we are getting as a result is a skewed vision of what an independent Scotland might offer, at least in the early days. The reality that is about to be revealed in the 670 page White Paper on Tuesday doesn’t get a look in. The politics which dominated yesterday’s conference is not of a type shared by a majority of Scots. If it was then maybe the Scottish Greens and the SSP might have garnered more than 100,000 votes between them in the election in 2011.
Most Scots don’t want a class conflict, they don’t feel oppressed, they dislike the thought of breaking anyone’s rule and they’re indifferent to the prospect of structural change. And I’m not just referring to the rich. For all that the radicals purport to envision the future, they are awfy fond of harking back to a mythologised, largely ideological past. One that many Scots don’t recognise in their present. Such talk might be inspirational – and often it is – but it speaks to a small number of people who already believe it. And guess what? Their votes are largely in the bag.
Little of what was on the smorgasbord yesterday will feature in the Scottish Government’s plan for independence. As Dennis Canavan rightly pointed out, “It’s the only realistic route map on the table that we have towards independence.”
And if we want to get there at all, everyone needs to get out of the meetings and conferences, to put on hold imagining the future, and just get round the doors and on to the phones. As the SNP, supported by a new army of previously apolitical foot soldiers whose sole aspiration and belief is in independence, is doing and has done.
A little less conversation and a whole lot more action is what’s needed. And if the Greens, the SSP and the unaligned darlings of the left in this debate can deliver their share of yes votes, then we can talk.