Deliver votes, then we can talk

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.


16 thoughts on “Deliver votes, then we can talk

  1. I read the RIC Declaration and was truly moved by the words and I didn’t see anything in it that ordinary folk (such as the likes of myself) would find off-putting , nor did I see anything offensive to the SNP/ Scottish Government. In my opinion the ric, with their 2 conferences has expanded the indy movement and enriched the whole idea of independence. I am also pretty impressed by a lot of what I have read so far in the White Paper (and no doubt will be reading for a while). I am a yesser and I do my bit in a small way to spread the word amongst the undecided. I feel I now have a clearer view of achievable possibilities, thanks to ric and I don’t see them as a threat to winning ref – the opposite, in fact.

  2. I’m not sure if the bother you refer to was our own little altercation – I deleted most of my tweets – but I hope it came through that the reason for my hyperactive reaction to some of your tweets was based on the fact that I and many others listen very carefully to and are often influenced by what you have to say in terms of this debate. With power comes responsibility – I know this all to well in a professional context and have learned the hard way myself once or twice. That’s why, when I’m encountered with a situation that stretches the boundaries of my own technical know-how, I defer to those around me who have the proper expertise to make a qualified judgement. I happen to know a great deal about that particular subject (misspent youth) and given I have a perfectly clean criminal record, we can all draw our own conclusions from that. Anyway, you appear to have forgiven me and I thank you for that.

    I wrote a fairly long reply to a similar blog from our friend, Derek Bateman, a couple of days ago. I’m a tacit supporter of the RIC but I too was a little disturbed by some of the discussion coming from the fringes. I’m a strong supporter of the CW and I hope to get involved in some capacity, no matter how small, when I return to Scotland. I have no problem giving up some of my wealth but I’d like to be given the benefit of the doubt before someone paints a target on my head.

    That said, I’m in no mood for entertaining Bolshevik or Trotskyist romanticism. As one of these apparently ‘rich’ people who has made donations to a few of these umbrella groups and the CW, I was somewhat bemused by the tone of some of what I was hearing. I come from the same environment as some of the very same people who seemed to be tacitly calling for people like me to be lynched a matter of days ago.

    I agreed wholeheartedly with Dennis Canavan. We need to keep our eye on the prize and, once achieved, then if the ‘radical’ elements of the RIC manage to sell their prospectus to the people, so be it. I will campaign against them and continue to support the CW. Given we haven’t yet given it our full endorsement, that may lead to me parting ways with the SNP (this and free education is for me what NATO membership is for our wise – and principled – old sage, Peter Curran: a red line issue) but there’s a long way to go before I need to think about that. I’m hopeful there’s enough high-profile support from within the party to get it into policy. I can certainly think of one or two high profile members who’ll oppose it but if I find myself in the minority then I guess that will signal a personal parting of the ways. I’ll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.

    To those fringe elements who think it’s time for a class war between the working and middle classes, I will only say this: you are playing into the hands of the very people you seek to bring down.

  3. Kate Higgins: Contributing nothing to Scottish politics for far too long.

  4. As one of the many volunteer stewards present at the conference let me try and explain why security was necesary. Firstly in order to hold a public meeting/conference wherein some high profile speakers are present there is always a requirement for event stewards. RIC volunteers in this case to ensure the safety, and ensure that the event runs as smoothly as possible. Despite the fact that some of us, myself included hold a current SIA licence the hotel felt it appropriate to provide their own (G4S) security teams the RIC organisers where unaware of this companies presence till the morning of the conference.
    I personally did not have any problems working alongside this firm however i gather that there were some teething problems on the morning of the conference which where swiftly resolved between our own senior stewards and the hotel managment.
    Hopefully this response will answer your question as to the Why?

    • Thanks for that detailed response. Yes, it does make sense to steward in this way and thanks for clarifying that the hotel used G4S.

  5. The venue is a red herring. And Higgins’ question as to why “they had security” is ingenuous in the light of the Project Fear and other fanatics that may be roaming the streets of Glasgow. There were 1000 people there and a security force is essential to ensure everyone’s safety (not to mention the Hotel’s property). As for her criticisms of RIC 2013 and other YES meetings, take these with a pinch of salt. Because KH has been on many platforms over the last year discussing Independence usually with her mates from Project Fear. She was probably annoyed that she wasn’t invited onto the RIC podium.
    One last thing. Good on you RIC 2013. You obtained the kind of publicity in the Press which the YES campaign is desperate to obtain. And for Indy that is as good if not better than knocking on doors on a winter Saturday afternoon.

  6. Pingback: Deliver votes, then we can talk | Referendum 20...

  7. I agree with your observations and your right taking to yourself doesn’t change things,on another point has anyone noticed the constant drip drip drip every other day mostly from the national media where the yes vote can’t or are unable to voice an opposing opinion or have a right to reply mostly half truths or even down right lies on what would happen if scotland votes YES . Also can we realy be sure the vote won’t be tampered with do we realy trust any Westminster involvment ? They have as they say. Got previous keep up the good work your posts are interesting if a bit long some times ha ha oops !

  8. I’m not sure what their role was, but my understanding is that the conference was stewarded entirely by RIC volunteers, but that present in the building were G4S staff who are contracted by the Marriott for big events. I sincerely doubt RIC had anything directly to do with this. In any case, I can’t comment with authority as I wasn’t there.

  9. The auld ‘squib up a close’ tactic, Kate 🙂

  10. I am not sure I understand this article. A major theme of the No campaign has been to conflate the Yes campaign. The Radical Independence campaign effectively shows this up for the nonsense it is. A further point I would make is over where it was held. You seem to have a problem because it was held in a plush hotel. Given that there was over 1,000 people there yesterday, where are RIC supposed to hold it? Given the time of the year then they are not going to be able to hold it in one of the larger housing estates in central Scotland. I find it disappointing that the efforts of those who organised the RIC’s conference are being criticised. In addition, I am not sure why you think you know what most people in Scotland want or believe in. Not one individual in Scotland knows what the majority of people in Scotland want. Also, you appear annoyed that elected representatives of the SNP are not able to speak more at Yes events. The referendum is not a party political election. To win a coalition of political groups and individuals is needed. The Green Party, the SSP, socialists, trade unionists, Labour for Independence etc are vital if we are to get over 50 per cent in the referendum. You only need have saw the boost that the Yes campaign received when Sir Charles Gray and Alex Mossan declared their support for independence. If some in the SNP are finding it difficult to share the limelight with other political parties and groups then that is tough luck! Finally, your description of the “cottage industry of ideas” and the “unaligned darlings of the left” is patronising and condescending in the extreme. How do you think the Scottish Labour Party managed to put down roots? It was through the radical ideas of the likes of Keir Hardie, Maxton, Johnston, Wheatley, McLean! Your dismissal of people who hold radical political views is absurd. How much poorer would Scotland be without the pioneers of the Labour movement and trade unions be? You genuinely seem to think that the high poverty levels and social inequalities in Scotland are not important.

    • That first sentence should be ‘conflate the Yes campaign with the SNP.’

    • Muttley; it’s almost impossible for me to argue with your assessment but there were some things being said on the fringe that quite frankly worry me. I’m certainly not putting this on the RIC; it’s not easy to contain a basic message with such a wide diaspora of opinion, but the target needs to be political reform and not individuals themselves, regardless of their class or background. If we take care

  11. Hi Kate

    Interesting to read your thoughts in fuller form here, having seen your tweet about the venue yesterday.

    I feel a little confused about exactly what the nature of your complaint with RIC is though. On the one hand you’re concerned that in booking the Marriott they are excluding marginalised voices, and sitting too comfortably and ineffectually close to the mainstream. But then you go on to suggest that their progressive ideas are a waste of time because they’re not going to be compatible with the SNP’s White Paper, and that if they want to appeal to voters they should just get on with being more like the mainstream Yes campaign. Forgive me if I’m misreading you, but it seems to me a little unfair to criticise a movement for not being progressive enough while at the same time implicitly condemning them for being too progressive in one blog post. I do think your first point about the venue is perhaps an important one, though as you point out there are very real logistical issues that have to be considered here and painting RIC as some kind of hypocritical group of elitists is utterly disengenuous (though if reports are true that G4S were given the security contract for the day then this is obviously a very real problem.)

    I couldn’t be at the conference yesterday and I was very sad to miss it. Last year I found it an incredibly galvanising experience. At risk of appearing to belong to a “cottage industry of ideas,” I’m not a nationalist, nor am I a supporter of the SNP (though I have voted for them in the past). My support for independence is earned through a belief that it might be the first step towards the kind of society that those at RIC are beginning to describe. Last year it wasn’t just a talking shop by the way, people were making new connections and building plans, but even if it were I’d still defend it as valuable. For someone like me, who doesn’t see their politics reflected in the mainstream debate, attending (or even reading about) something like RIC is crucial in reminding me that this is definitely something worth campaigning for. I agree that door-to-door type campaign work will ultimately be the thing that can win a Yes vote, but without events like RIC articulating a vision that I can sign up to and insisting on it being part of the narrative, I’m not going to be the one ringing doorbells. To simply suggest that for one day a year everyone could be out there doing something more pragmatic than sharing ideas, visions, and hopes is to woefully underestimate how vital this is in creating the energy, belief, and optimism necessary for many of us to sign up to do the campaigning in the first place.

    In that sense, events like RIC are already winning votes from people like me who might otherwise see a campaign for independence as a nationalist distraction. You say that the SNP White Paper “doesn’t get a look in” when the reality is it will feel like the only show in town for the next month or so after Tuesday. I don’t think I’m alone in not entirely relishing the prospect. I can think of nothing less likely to get me out to the ballot box, far less on the streets campaigning for a Yes vote, than the belief that I’d be acting exclusively alongside people “whose sole aspiration and belief is in independence.” That’s not to say I don’t buy Cannavan’s appeal to first get over the line. I know that a Yes vote will sometimes feel compromising and will involve uncomfortable temporary alliances. But any time I go to the ballot box it is an act heavy with political compromise, so I at least I have to believe it might, over the pace, be worth it. The moment we “put on hold imagining the future,” I am out. One vote lost.

    I’m convinced the work being done by RIC and affiliated organisations is not only going to be vital in securing a yes vote, but also in making independence a prize worth winning.


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