Yes Scotland’s supremo, Blair Jenkins, delivered this year’s Donaldson lecture. This fixture in the conference agenda is delivered by a significant figure and who is more significant and more topical than Mr Jenkins. His lecture was warmly received by a packed hall, who gave him a spontaneous standing ovation at the end. He speaks as he finds and it’s a language we can all understand. Here is his lecture in full:
It’s a great pleasure to be here talking to you today and for me personally it’s a matter of some pride and a real privilege to be speaking to you as the chief executive of Yes Scotland, the campaign for a Yes vote in the independence referendum in 2014.
I realise that I am speaking in the slot immediately before lunchtime, and the obligation on any speaker at that time is to get on with it and not to outstay his welcome. I did ask for the 3pm slot today….. but I was told it was already taken.
Now there are three areas I mainly want to talk about today. First, I want to explain to you what I have been doing for the last 3 months to shape up the Yes campaign to be the winning campaign that we all want to see in 2014. Then I want to share with you why I firmly believe Yes Scotland will be the winning campaign, and why the people of Scotland will vote for an independent Scotland in the referendum in two years’ time. And then finally, I would like to talk to you about what you can do, collectively and individually, as members of the SNP to help us get the outcome we all desire.
But before I do any of that, the first thing I would like to do is to say something on behalf of all of us who believe in an independent Scotland, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to have the vote we will have in two years’ time. And what I want to say to the Scottish National Party is “thank you”. Thank you for delivering the referendum. It was of course the victory of the SNP in last year’s Scottish elections, which has paved the way for this referendum campaign. But I am also aware of the many people over many years, some of them no longer with us, who worked hard to get us to where we are today.
And so that large and growing number of people who believe in an independent Scotland but who are not members of this party have a debt of gratitude to the SNP……so, again, from all of us, thank you very much.
Let me now move on and talk to you about what we have been up to within the Yes Scotland campaign. The first thing I did upon beginning the job some three months ago was to try to put in place a really good team, a first class group of people who can run the kind of campaign of the scale and quality we are going to need to win in 2 years’ time.
Now some of those names will be familiar to you, some of them will be people you don’t know, but I can assure you we have got a first class team of people who will be absolutely committed to getting that result in 2014.
One of the interesting and exciting things about the whole process that we went through to recruit that top team, was the quality of the applications we had and the number of people who came through the door to say: “I felt I just had to be involved in this”, “I just couldn’t let this campaign happen without being personally involved”.
So I believe we have a team not only of talent and ability but also of passion and commitment – people who are absolutely dedicated to the cause of Scottish independence.
Now the other thing that we have put in place over the last three months is the Advisory Board, the people who are making sure that we are running the campaign in a way which squares with the objectives of Yes Scotland and that we are properly representing all the different elements of Scottish life who feel committed to this cause. That Advisory Board is, I think, one of the real strengths of the campaign; it will be one of the things that gets us across the victory line in 2014.
And I am particularly pleased that as chair of the Advisory Board we have Dennis Canavan. Now Dennis, I am sure, is known to many people in this hall. He is a very highly regarded, experienced Scottish politician. He is a man who speaks his mind; he is a man of independence. He is a man who is in nobody’s pocket. I believe Dennis Canavan is not only a great asset to this campaign but a credit to his country. So I am very glad to have Dennis in the role as chair of the Advisory Board.
I am also delighted to have on our Board the Yes Minister herself, Nicola Sturgeon, fresh from her triumph in securing what I can only describe as a sensationally successful outcome in the referendum negotiations. I congratulate her and the First Minister on what they have achieved.
I think it was a very important principle that 16 & 17 year olds should get the vote in this referendum and I am personally delighted that in the very difficult negotiations which took place in the terms of the referendum deal, that it was not one of the things that was traded off, that this very important principle was preserved in the final agreement.
I think the No campaign are going to have real difficulties in approaching 16 and 17 year olds in the course of this campaign. Profound difficulties. You can imagine how the conversation would go: “Hello, we’re the No campaign. Remember us, we are the people who tried to stop you having a say in the future of your country.” I’m sure that’s bound to go down really, really well. Good luck with that!
Now the other things that have been going on which I am sure you have picked up on and you’re aware of is that we have been attracting support from all corners of Scottish society. I think what is happening is that your party, the National Party of Scotland, is now part of an even bigger and broader groundswell of support – a national movement in favour of Scottish independence.
We recently had the Scottish Green Party deciding at their conference to be part of the Yes Scotland campaign. I think that was a very welcome development and I believe the Greens will have a substantial role to play in delivering the yes vote in 2014.
We’ve also seen the emergence within the Labour Party of Labour for Independence, a growing and significant group within that party. It is my personal view that Labour supporters of independence – either members or supporters – will be a significant part of the campaign that we build. In fact the next political conference I will be talking to is going to be the first conference of Labour for Independence to be held in Glasgow next month and I think they are to be encouraged and welcomed.
Within the Liberal Democrats in Scotland we have seen the emergence of strong individual voices supporting the independence cause. Notable figures like Dame Judy Steel and others have come on board and said they are committed to securing Scottish independence. Now whether or not that growing number of individuals in that party forms into a more formal campaign within the Liberal Democrats, I don’t know. They are clearly not receiving any encouragement from the leadership of the party. You may have read recently that Yes Scotland was banned from having a stall at the Liberal Democratic conference. A move which, as was pointed out by some party members, seems to be neither liberal nor democratic.
Apart from Yes Scotland, of course, there are other groups as part of the broad coalition working towards Scottish independence and I am talking about organisations you will have heard of. We recently have had the formation of Women for Independence and there are other bodies such as National Collective, the Scottish Independence Convention and others. So what we are seeing now is the emergence of a growing body of support for Scottish independence. People from all walks of life and people who have never been involved in political campaigns before. And I think this is greatly to be encouraged.
Now for members of the Scottish National Party who have been involved in this campaign for a long time, what you’ll be discovering is that there are new faces around, you have new friends that you didn’t have before. I hope you will welcome them all and embrace them all, because the way we win this referendum campaign is by building the broadest possible groundswell in favour of independence.
You could say that I myself typify that movement of people towards the independence cause. I am someone who has never ever been involved in politics before. I am not a member of any party. I’ve never been involved in political campaigns before. I guess in my career the things I have been known for are campaigning for better journalism and better broadcasting. I’m still passionate about both of those things, but now I am delighted to be campaigning for a Better Scotland, an independent Scotland.
I realised at the beginning of this year that there was no way I was going to be able to sit on the fence or bite my tongue, or whatever metaphor you want to choose for the next two and a half years. I think this campaign is a time for everyone to stand up and be counted and I believe that is what more and more people are going to do over the next two years. I think more and more people are going to find themselves drawn to this cause and people will come out and declare their support for Scottish independence.
My own experience in the months since I have made my own position clear and since I became chief executive of Yes Scotland, is that all sorts of people have got in touch with me from all parts of Scotland and from different periods of my life. People I haven’t seen since school days, people I worked with in newspapers, people I worked with in STV and the BBC, people I have known socially and professionally. Lots and lots of people have been in touch. Almost all of them have said they are so glad I have taken this position, so glad you have come out in favour of independence. They either say they are already there with me or they say I’m thinking of moving your way. And this kind of development, this kind of contact, the kind of responses I’ve had, encourages me that we will get the majority we want in 2014.
A very important point about Yes Scotland and it is one we have to keep restating, is that we are not a policy making organisation. We are not a campaign that is going to put forward a particular set of policies. That is the job of the political parties. It is the job of the SNP, it is the job of the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party, on the pro-independence side of the argument.
But my view is that it is the responsibility of ALL the political parties in Scotland to set our very clearly what their vision is, what their ambition is for the future of Scotland, whether or not they support independence.
Now I know the SNP is going to do that at the end of next year – set out its vision of what an independent Scotland will look like.
As far as Yes Scotland is concerned, all we ask of anyone is that you support the core principle, the core democratic principle, that the best people to make decisions about the future of Scotland and what is right for Scotland are the people of Scotland themselves, the people who live here, the people who work here.
That is the only price of admission if you like, there is no other admission ticket that you need. You simply need to buy into that core principle of independence for Scotland. This is a cause that transcends political parties and, indeed, is a new kind of politics.
Having said that, I do believe, that one can begin to see, to some extent, an outline of the kind of independent country that we could be, the kind of values that we have, the kind of things we could see in an independent Scotland that in my view are not currently there in the direction of travel that the UK is taking. We know that under successive Labour and Conservative governments, the UK has become one of the most unfair and unequal societies in the western world. That didn’t happen as an act of God, it was an act of policy.
And this leads me onto the second area I want to talk about – the reasons why I believe we can win and will win in 2014. I believe 2014 will be the Year of Yes and we will get the majority we are looking for. We are coming to a clear fork in the road, a choice of direction. Let’s not be part of an increasingly unequal society, let’s continue on the journey we have started.
The vision of an independent Scotland that many of us have is of a country where all of us look out for one another, and where our sense of duty and responsibility to other people doesn’t begin and end at our own front door. I think most of us value the notion of a society that is inclusive, a society where communities and individuals are not left behind and are not marginalized. A country where your access to Higher education does not depend upon the wealth of your parents. A country where your health and your lifespan does not depend upon where you were born or where you live. A country where we value investment in people and investment in society. And where old age is not a time of loneliness and fear, where there is provision for the most vulnerable in society.
Now I believe in Scotland we do value enterprise, we do value business. We do value the people who can be entrepreneurial and create jobs. But those people also do buy into the notion of a strong collective ethos in Scotland a strong set of values that we do look out for one another and we do value one another.
One of the things that we did, very soon after I took over at Yes Scotland, was that we started to look around for a campaign headquarters. I was keen to find a base somewhere in the middle of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, that we should be highly visible, that we should be accessible. The door should be open to the Scottish people to come in and ask us questions, get information. To see that the campaign for independence was rooted in the community and open to all and welcoming to all. We had a look at lots of properties and as chance would have it, fortuitously, the best property we looked at, the one most suited to our purposes was based, on Hope Street in Glasgow.
This seemed entirely appropriate. If Yes is based on anything, it is based on hope. We are a positive and ambitious and aspirational campaign. And we felt that it was an absolutely perfect fit, in terms of the symbolism and sentiment of that address fitting the Yes Scotland campaign so well.
By the same token I have to assume that the No campaign are even now searching the street maps of Scotland for a Pessimism Place, or maybe a Despair Drive……
It’s interesting to reflect for a moment on how the No campaign are actually operating. We knew it would be a campaign founded on a very negative view of Scotland’s prospects and of Scotland’s future. But things seem to have got worse. The underlying rationale – the No narrative if you like – seems to be that the rest of the world, other countries in the world, and international institutions would adopt immediately an irrational and hostile view to an independent Scotland.
It seems to me to be a profoundly pessimistic view of our future, of how an independent Scotland would be received and welcome. I do not believe such a view has any rational or substantial basis at all. Just look at the worldwide media interest in your conference here this weekend….. The No campaign has no shared vision or ambition for Scotland – the only thing holding them together is the desire to hold Scotland back.
I was talking to an audience of students in Edinburgh a couple of months ago and I presented them with an alternative way of looking at the independence debate. I asked them to imagine a scenario in which the debate we were having now, the campaign we are having now, was not on whether or not Scotland should vote for independence, but to imagine that Scotland had actually remained independent and the vote we were having in two years’ time is on whether or not we should join the union. Now this is not to rewrite history, it is simply a different way of framing the debate.
I think if you stand back and look at it, a campaign being run now to persuade Scotland to join the union in my view would be an impossible campaign to run. Just imagine some of the leading propositions, the case that would be put to the Scottish people: your main parliament will move hundreds of miles away, and your MPs will be in a tiny minority; you will get a government you didn’t vote for; all of your oil and gas revenues will be handed over to the London treasury. The biggest nuclear weapons arsenal in Western Europe will be built on the River Clyde, 30 miles from your largest city. You will be joining a country where the health and education services are rapidly being privatized. Now and then you will get dragged into an illegal foreign war. An austerity budget will be imposed from London, cutting jobs and threatening the provision of vital public services. Weak regulation of the banking sector will bring your economy to the brink of disaster. And, on top of all that, the most vulnerable people in society, instead of getting protection and support, will be interrogated and humiliated in order to deprive them of the very meagre level of provision to which they are entitled.
I ask this conference – who in Scotland would vote for that package? Who in Scotland would vote for that union?
The Yes Scotland campaign will be a grassroots campaign. I believe you will see a groundswell of support for independence around Scotland as we build the case over the next two years. We are already in the process of setting up Yes groups in every local authority area in Scotland. Some are in place and all will be in place before the end of the year. And we will then be even more locally organised after that.
And I think already you can see that we are going to be a much more visible and more active and more locally based campaign than our opponents and I think this is going to be our key strength: the fact that Yes Scotland will be campaigning in every community, we will be in every street.
My personal aspiration is that, one way or another, every household, every person on the electoral register over the next two years will come into contact with Yes Scotland and have a conversation with us about the benefits of independence. We are determined to work flat out and to run that kind of campaign because we realize that by having that kind of conversation with people, by having the evidence and giving them confidence, we can build that winning majority.
I think the phrase I have used, and I really do mean this, is that Yes Scotland intends to help from the centre; it does not intend to control from the centre.
Finally, let me explain what I believe that this party, your party, the Scottish National Party, can do to help to create a winning campaign. On my first day in this job, I was asked by people, sometimes directly, sometimes by email, and by text and so on, what can we do right now to help. What can we do as of now to work towards delivering a Yes majority in 2014?
And the answer I gave then and the answer I give again today is that what each of us can do is to persuade one other person to vote yes. The rationale for saying that is quite simple. Whatever opinion poll you look at, and I personally don’t place much faith in any of the opinion polls at the moment – I think it is far too early in the campaign to be looking at opinion polls. But any and every poll you look at demonstrates the same point – and that is that if each of us who already intends to vote for independence can persuade just one other person to do the same in the next two years, then we will have a majority.
And when you think about it, we all have circles of influence, we have family, we have friends, we have people we go to the pub with, people we see at the hairdressers, at the football match, we all have those circles of people that we know. Within that circle, each of you is bound to know someone, at least one person, who is not yet convinced of the case for independence, not yet persuaded to vote yes. Your job over the next two years is to persuade that one person, get them to vote yes. If we all do that then we are guaranteed a winning majority in 2014.
I know some of you will convince a lot more than just one person, and we do want every single vote we can get, to secure a comfortable majority.
I think the other thing that you can do which will be very helpful, going back to my earlier point, is to welcome the new friends and new faces you will be encountering in this campaign. You will find yourself standing next to, standing alongside, canvassing with, campaigning alongside, people who may have been your opponents in other election campaigns. It is very important that people feel welcome and people feel a part of a Yes campaign which is broadly based. It is a big tent, a broad church, please make everybody welcome.
So please make 16 & 17 year olds welcome, make the Greens welcome, make Labour for Independence welcome, make Liberal Democrats, make Conservatives – people from right across the political spectrum – feel welcome. We are not asking anybody to change their party allegiance, we’re not asking Labour Party members to suddenly switch and start voting for this party. All we are asking them to do is agree to give us their vote on this historic occasion. We want to borrow their vote to secure an independent future for this country. We are not asking them to make any other change.
I’d like to thank you for giving me this time to speak to you today, to explain some of the things Yes Scotland is doing; some of the reasons why I believe we will secure the majority we want in 2014, and some of the ways in which you can help.
This is an incredibly exciting time, an inspiring time, for all of us who believe in an independent Scotland. We are the first and only generation of Scots to be given the opportunity to vote on this issue and to decide on the future of our country and to opt for self-determination.
Yes Scotland will give the people of Scotland the information they need, the debate they deserve, and the outcome they desire.
I believe we have the evidence. I believe we have the arguments. I believe we have the vision and the momentum.
And I believe 2014 WILL BE the Year of Yes.