It’s my birthday – is it too much to ask for a little peace to enjoy it?

On Friday morning, I decided to give myself four birthday presents.

First, to retire from active politics – again.  More on that in a minute.

Second, to give up being a media commentator.  Third, to give up smoking.  And fourth, to retire the blog.

The last pledge lasted about 20 minutes and half way through David Cameron’s speech on the #indyref result.  When he got to the part about it being time to answer the West Lothian question as well as provide more powers for Scotland, clearly I had made a rash decision.  Politics is going to be far too interesting in the next while to do without my wittering on it all.  So the blog stays.  No cheering at the back there.

The giving up smoking starts tomorrow.  If Alex Massie can manage it on those electronic cigarette things, so can I.  Whether I can manage it without putting on all the weight that three months of campaigning has just removed, we’ll see.  Still, I’ll live until I’m 95 and become one of those irascible, instinctive conservative voters who sets their face against any change.  It will probably take that long for me to make that transition.

On the second, well frankly, my experience at the hands of the media around the #indyref means this one is set in stone.  For the entire duration of the campaign, women have had to shout and demand some representation (we gave up on equal as clearly a concept too far for most) as commentators on political issues.  We were all booked to the hilt to do stuff over the last week of the campaign and especially, around the results programmes.  With only a handful of exceptions, we were all bumped in favour of more luminary commentators.  Mostly politicians, mostly men.  Without any consideration for the efforts any of us had made in order to try and contribute – childcare, lack of sleep, travelling miles at our own expense.  Me?  I’m done with it all.  We don’t get the media we deserve, we get the media they are prepared to provide for us.  And the mainstream media by and large is intrinsically and institutionally sexist.  I will return to this theme in later blogs.

So you can all remove me from your contacts lists.  I will not be available for any media work but I have during this campaign, worked to create and support a greater, wider pool of articulate women commentators who speak from a pro-independence perspective. Just because they are not “names” does not mean their views are not worth hearing.  I hope you continue to approach them and I will do my best to continue to grow the group and support it wider still.  Because enabling women to join the ranks of political commentators is clearly not on any of your agendas.

The first is more complicated.  I may or may not retire. But can I make a plea to everyone tweeting, facebooking, joining and organising in the aftermath of defeat for Yes?  Please calm down.  There is time.  We do not need to do this – all of it – in the first post-defeat weekend.  In fact, decisions and moves made now are likely to be reached in the euphoria of sleeplessness and grief.  And that is never a good basis for strategising.

Some of us have been in this game a very long time.  Some of us have been on this journey for much of our lifetimes.  Some of us are trying to get a semblance of normalcy back in our lives.  We need time to lick our wounds, to slob in our pyjamas, to clear the clutter and detritus from the last campaign before embarking on the next stage.  I am not nearly as bereft as I thought I would be:  I share the sense that this isn’t finished yet, not by a long chalk.

But I am also mindful of listening to what the Scottish people said on Thursday.  More powers is what they want, not full independence.  Not yet anyway. I’m with the First Minister here – we cannot trust Westminster to deliver this on its own and I do think that if we want to arrive at a destination called devo-max then we need to work with the grain not against it. But how to do that without selling out the 45% who voted yes and without having to climb into bed with the establishment – Scottish and UK – who want to put all this democracy and appetite for ideas away in a box in the political loft and get back to business as usual?  That is the thorny issue which we must work out how to address – to keep the 45% on board while reaching out to the soft, reluctant Nos that represent at least 20% of the 55% who voted so.

And thorny issues take time to get our heads around. We do not need to set our course for the next year and beyond this week. Good decisions require space, time and proper consideration.

We do need to be having chats and reflections and sharing commiserations and indeed, celebrations at all that we have achieved.  But bouncing into the next phase – and trying to bounce others into it – won’t work.  As John Swinney himself just said on the Sunday Politics show, there is a need even for the SNP to have a discussion and debate about the “tactics” for where we find ourselves and the way ahead.  And if the party that has been doing this for decades thinks it needs such an approach, then we should all take a lead from that.

But things are moving fast, even in the SNP.  Yet, the party does need to have a fairly honest and frank appraisal about its future direction.  I’ll blog on that in due course.

It would appear that there will be no leadership contest and that Nicola Sturgeon – who has not yet declared her hand but is doing the canny thing of allowing all potential rivals to count themselves out this weekend – will be elected unopposed.  That would be a fine testament to how she has grown and prepared for the role in this last year in particular.  But the party does still need to create space for a venting and to hear how Nicola intends to take the party forward.  Shutting down the opportunity for a greetin’ meeting at conference in November wouldn’t be wise nor even respectful.  A lot of SNP folk put their all into this campaign – they deserve to be heard on what worked and what could have been done differently.  Constructive criticism is nothing to be afraid of.

But it seems that the real contest will be for deputy leader.  Names are being bandied about.  So, here’s my choice.  Shona Robison, MSP for Dundee East and Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport, who also has the equalities brief.

Tomorrow’s blog will explain why.

That’s not a cop out.  It’s my birthday today and I have a house and a garden like a coup.  I’d like to spend some of the day in the sunshine, righting some of that.  And trying to get back a little normalcy in my life.  Before my nerves are shredded by giving up smoking tomorrow.

And just in case anyone is listening, I’d advise a little normalcy for us all.  Step away from the social media.  Stop promulgating conspiracy theories.  Stop planning the next stage of our nation’s political evoluation/revolution.  Go for a walk.  Watch a movie.  Sleep. Read. Drink and be merry.  But leave the politics alone for a day.  It will do us all good.



Scotland’s quiet revolution needs you

Today’s wee greet came early.  With the morning cup of industrial strength coffee which is needed to make me barely human at the moment.

Sitting in the quiet of the back garden, contemplating yesterday’s events.  An amazing day in Muirhouse and Drylaw.  I’d made up nearly 200 supporter packs for people to take away with them to decorate their windows, their cars and themselves – all gone.  Materials disappearing off our four street stalls like the proverbial snaw aff a dyke. A cavalcade by Women for Independence with over 30 women in it, at least 10 cars leading Elaine C Smith across the city through working class areas, between two speaking engagements with undecided women voters.  Over 50 local activists out chapping doors at various points through the day.

WFI cavalcade photo

And our wee extravaganza was repeated all over the city, studiously avoiding and ignoring the less happy events going on in the centre.  Our day was spent celebrating hope, empowering people to believe that yes, they can.  I’m not quite sure what the point of the other shebang was. Oh, don’t get me wrong – in a free society that values freedom of expression, they absolutely had a right to march, to bus in their brethren from all over the UK to make their point, to openly state their beliefs.  But the images tell their own story.  Marching in file, formally dressed, overwhelmingly male, pale and stale.  Starchy, organised, stilted. The difference could not be more stark.  They represent the old Scotland: the outpourings, organised by social media and word of mouth and some of it spontaneous, in cities and towns all over Scotland, represents the new.  Colourful, joyous, vibrant, with our rich tapestry of nationhood – young, old, male, female, white, black and every colour in between.

Yes supporters filled Buchanan Street in Glasgow from top to bottom.  They massed in Inverness.  In Aberdeen and even in douce Perth.  And still there were enough to allow the work of engaging voters on their doorsteps and in their communities to continue – in far more numbers than the No campaign could muster.

Yesterday, across Scotland we painted a rainbow of hope, of belief and of confidence.

And it wasn’t just here at home.  A mass Yes rally in Cardiff.  The Saltire being woven through the gathering of 1.8 million in Barcelona to support Catalan aspirations for independence.  There’s nothing narrow or insular about any of this outpouring of international solidarity.  Even writing it all down makes the tears flow again.  Because putting it down here and out there crystallises the enormity of what Scotland is engaged in.  The world is indeed watching.

Last week, what appeared to be news was 100 politicians getting on a train and heading for Scotland to save the Union.  That’s MPs paid for by taxpayers the length and breadth of the land to represent the interests of their constituents.  The housing, benefit and planning issues in communities down south must be all solved then, if the most important thing these folk could find to do in a day was to come up here and speak to Scottish voters.  I hope they don’t have the audacity to claim their train tickets on expenses.

The comparison the gulf in approach between the two campaigns.  As the political scientists have discerned, this is pyramid versus swarm.  Twentieth century versus twenty first.  But it’s deeper than that.

All over Scotland and indeed, around the world, people are coming out to support this quiet revolution.  Despite the forces of the establishment throwing everything they have in their arsenal at us, still the referendum is on a knife edge.  And boy is it being flung: all manner of threats and bluster, misusing the powers of the offices of state to twist arms and lean heavily on old allies to do the dirty.  All the while, aided and abetted by media outlets – 100 MPs head north to save the Union! – suppressing and misreporting and misrepresenting the scale of what is going on here.

But only the UK and Scottish ones.  Scotland’s quiet revolution has attracted the attention of international media.  On Friday, I collected a bewildered Brazilian journalist from my cafe focus group of women in Muirhouse – “haw Yes hen – this wan’s looking for you” – and took her to join the rest of the campaign team for lunch.  Yesterday, we had the Berlin correspondent from the New York Times, filming and interviewing “what was going on on the ground”.  I’ve done interviews with and pieces to camera for journalists of at least a dozen nationalities now, some of them regional press, others national, and many international agencies commissioned by broadcasters all around the world to file packages.

They don’t go to the staged media conferences, like the one that John Harris called out.  They come and find us.  What is of interest to them is not what the politicians have to say about what is going on in Scotland but what is actually going on, on the ground in Scotland.  Why are we in these communities?  What are we doing?  They are interested in the real story, not the narrative the No campaign want people to be reading.

The UK, and the Scottish media (with a few honourable exceptions like Peter Ross and Paul Mason) should be ashamed of themselves.  For years, I’ve defended them here on this blog – many of them I know personally and I know how tough their environment is right now.  But few of them have bothered to leave the safety of the official news agenda to write the story of this referendum.  Fifty per cent of the population – give or take the odd percentage point in recent polls – is pledging to vote Yes on Thursday, to vote for change, to dissolve a political union of over 300 years’ standing.  To overthrow the British establishment and the British state, actually.  To claim power and control for themselves.  To say no to always having people make decisions for them, to say no to the wealth of their country and their people being squandered by others, to say no to never being allowed a say or a stake.  They are intending to vote to take responsibility for themselves, their families, their communities and their future.

And the reaction of the fourth estate in this land?  “Whatever”.

There is a quiet revolution going on under their very noses and they are oblivious.  Or worse, pretending it isn’t happening.

Well, the world is documenting it.  And keen to observe it unfold.  And in certain quarters, showing solidarity and supporting it.

But if we are to complete the pass, we need more people.  These last five days of the campaign are vital.  The momentum is all with a Yes vote but those with their hands currently holding power are doing their damnedest to stem the flow, to slow down the shift, to prevent it crossing the finishing line.

We have no money and no mouthpieces.  We have ourselves, our resilience and our shoe leather.

Every person extra who turns out to campaign means more of those crucial undecided voters reached.  It means we can visit more of the soft no’s.  It means we can make sure those who were nudging towards voting Yes – the Yes but’s – get there in the end.

If you live here, there and indeed, anywhere and support Scotland’s right to self-determination, or want to see the quiet revolution take hold here so you can create one in your own backyard, then come.

Come to Scotland in these last five days of the campaign.  Get on a train or a bus and come.  We can’t pay you (unlike the No campaign), but you will be welcomed with open arms.  We’ll find you somewhere to stay and feed you and entertain you and walk the legs off you.  Email me at and I will put you in touch with a campaign team that can involve and include you. If you’re a Yes group and want more volunteers, email me at the same address.

And if you are an ex-pat Scot and wish you could have been here to vote Yes, do the next best thing and help those who can vote Yes, get out there and vote.  Book a bed or a floor at your relatives or friends and come.  And if you are involved in this Yes campaign and know you have friends and relatives elsewhere on these islands – or even further afield – who support us, contact them and ask them to come.

This one’s going to the wire.  On Thursday, we could change not just Scotland, not just the UK, but the world.  But we need your help to do so.

It’s people versus politicians.  Bottom up as opposed to top down.  A new dawn versus the old guard.

Scotland’s quiet revolution needs you.  Come.


(Image by Robb Mccrae)

Relaxed? Not fairly, not nearly. I’m outraged.

Today, my twitter timeline is on fire. Because I refused to toe the line and dared to speak my mind.

I had the temerity to suggest that I am not even remotely relaxed by the current storm engulfing the independence referendum campaign. And here’s why.

First, the hacking issue. This is the most serious and deeply troubling issue. If as has been alleged, Yes Scotland’s emails have been hacked, then that has to be fully investigated by the police and done so expeditiously. We all have to await the outcome of that investigation to find out what has gone on and if there has been criminal behaviour then charges must be brought and prosecuted, if the evidence is there to support such action.

This is the bit of the story that has legs. If there is any link to a Scottish newspaper, then frankly that blatt is toast. If hacking has been shown to occur, then we might yet get a McLeveson – and not before time.

If – and it’s a very big if – there is any connection whatsoever to anyone on the pro-union side of the debate, no matter, how tenuous, then that is potentially a game-changer. If those who would seek to preserve the constitutional status quo would stoop so low, would in effect break the law and every unwritten rule of campaigning in order to win, well they’ve lost.

Not just the argument, but potentially the vote too.

Yes supporters are outraged and so am I. But there’s no schadenfreude here. This not only could change the result of the referendum but the nature of political campaigning forever. We will have lost something from our body politic and that could reverberate for years if not decades. The big losers will be the Scottish people, who will feel more disengaged than ever before. Turnouts could plummet as people turn their backs on the democratic process.

And who could blame them? Because their democratic rights have been entrusted to political parties and players – which include the media – and a significant section could well be found wanting. Trust in the process will be gone forever.

But that isn’t the only trust issue, which brings me to the other source of my outrage. That Elliott Bulmer article asked for by Yes Scotland and paid for by it, yet presented when published as being written by an independent constitutional expert. He might well be the latter but on this occasion, this single instance, he cannot claim and should not have allowed himself to be portrayed as the former.

Will the Scottish media ever trust the provenance of any article pitched by Yes Scotland again? Not without forensic examination. Leaving aside how this knowledge got out there, out there it is and it has consequences: Yes Scotland is going to find it very hard in the next few months to get column inches for pro-independence pieces it wants out there, putting the pro-independence campaign at a distinct disadvantage.

Did anyone in Yes Scotland stop to consider the potential consequences of someone finding out that this single article was effectively commissioned? Did they weigh up the gain against the possible loss? Clearly not.

And it is this willingness to play fast and loose with a cause and a campaign entrusted to it that outrages me most. I am indeed a fairly marginal activist these days, but among us, my family has over 100 years’ collective activism – that’s unpaid for time, energy, toil and shoe leather working in support of independence. Doing our bit when this was the least fashionable of political causes – when holding a deposit or winning a council by-election was considered the dizzy height of success. And we are not alone.

Consider the unpaid, voluntary slog of all the SNP’s elected politicians which got them and their party to where they are now. Now consider the sacrifices, physical, emotional and material, which many more have made in their lifetimes to get here.

Then there’s the painstakingly crafted reputation for trust and competence which the SNP has carved out in the hearts and votes of the Scottish people. And the desperate attempts by Labour and Better Together to dismantle it.

And here’s Yes Scotland doing their work for them.

I don’t care that they do this. That this is how it’s aye been. That they mould and manipulate the institutions and structures to keep things as they are. The means do not justify the ends. Not when you call for honesty, integrity and transparency in the campaign. And not when you preach Scottish values that you appear not to wish to bother to practise yourself.

we are not them. We have been trying to persuade the Scottish people that we are different and that if they trust us, their lives could be different too. And when, more than at any other time, we needed to be, to show that we are different, we have been caught with our pants down.

The campaign which is fuelled by our money, which relies on us to give it legs, which we trusted to take us over the finishing line, has let every volunteer activist who ever did anything to get us to this point down. It chose to play the game, for a narrow daily advantage. And at what cost?

Every chip to that notion of competence, every dent in the shield of trust is potentially one persuadable dissuaded. No better than the rest, that’s what some voters will discern from this unseemly spat.

This, unlike the hacking scandal, is a media storm which will no doubt subside in short order but who knows what damage has been done in the meantime. To the campaign’s reserves of energy and resilience too.

The messenger has become the message and the vehicle is now the story. Hope St, you have a problem. And I doubt very much if others are quite so relaxed about it as you claim to be.