Where next?

So we are back to doing what we did remarkably well during the #indyref campaign – Yes folk sitting in meetings with other Yes folk agreeing with each other.

But this round of meetings is necessary. There are lots of enthusiastic newbies – folk who just a few short months ago, wouldn’t have dreamed of sitting in a draughty hall talking politics.  Now they are queuing to get in:  all are most welcome. As are those who’ve been involved before – for decades, years or just days.

We need to vent a little behind closed doors – it can’t all be positive and onwards and upwards, without first letting off a little steam.  People are masking a lot of pain and there needs to be a collective howling at the moon.

As long as it lasts for five minutes only.  And most definitely isn’t played out on social media or in endless protests about how the vote was rigged or how the meeja did us down.  Or how we was robbed.  Or how folk were duped.

This much we all know already: playing it all out on a loop over and over won’t get us anywhere.  I get the feeling from some that they are surprised at what the British establishment threw at us to thwart our ambitions, that Shock and Awe in the last week was unexpected by some.  Still, now you know: welcome to the world of the SNP for all of its existence.

Yet, in the last ten years in particular, the party worked out how to deal with it, to work with it (needs must) and how to get round it to reach the hearts and minds of Scottish voters.  The party learned to leave aside the politics of grievance and engage with the aspirations of Scottish people.  There’s a wee lesson in that for all the Yessers, about what works and what doesn’t in this game.

It would have been helpful for Yes Scotland to have hung around even for a couple of weeks beyond the vote to facilitate the greetin’ part of these meetings.  But apparently all the staff were let go the day after the vote, the Chief Executive is apparently in or en route to his holiday home in Florida and the organisation is toast.  Not even a cheery email newsletter goodbye or well done or thanks to the many thousands of volunteers who helped to pay the wages at Hope Street, as well as actually fought the campaign out there .  Ah well.  Still, at least we ended the campaign with more Facebook likes than David Cameron.

So, fifteen minutes of howling and gnashing and wailing is required.  But then, it’s onwards. Time not to get mad, but even.

Everyone agrees that we need to keep the movement alive.  Some are already way ahead of the curve – a new board for Common Weal; a funding venture for new media activity over at Bella Caledonia; a merger between Newsnet and Derek Bateman; a Women for Independence event which was over-subscribed not once, but three times (we’ve settled for 1000); plans for a RIC conference in November that over 7000 have said they want to go to.

And all those folk joining the SNP, Scottish Greens and the SSP.  Funnily enough, some of the self-same meeja who did the cause of independence down are sceptical about the membership claims.

Let me re-assure them.  Having volunteered for an hour in SNP HQ processing online applications, I’m not actually sure that the official tally is keeping up.  When I left after my hour, there were nearly 38,000 applications to be processed.  We hadn’t made much more than a very small dint in the total. And that’s only the online ones.  The phones were going constantly and the postie had delivered plenty by snail mail.

It is a quite astonishing and almost inexplicable phenomenon.  Of the few applications I processed, there is no real pattern in membership: there are men, women, young, old, rural, urban.  But a lot from the West of Scotland, a lot of trade union members and a fair few with university degrees and from the professions too.  Labour should be very afraid.

And then there’s a new SNP leadership to be determined, hopefully after a contest of ideas.  And a new Programme for Government – please make it radical and bold, something we can all get our teeth into.

And new powers coming in 2015 to get acquainted with.  There’s also the new, more powers’ process which is owned currently by the politicians but which many of us – especially on the Yes side – think should incorporate some kind of citizens’ element.  How to achieve their contribution is something that needs worked out.

This public consultation element is actually key.  Most polls over the years have suggested that a majority of Scots want control over everything but defence and foreign affairs to be devolved – devo max – or at least, a devo much more than most of the parties have offered to date.  Labour will try to drag the offer down to its level, from the starting point of the Conservatives’ Strathclyde Commission proposals. Ensuring the Scottish public – brimful of enthusiasm for the politics of ideas and still having #indyref related conversations on trains, in pubs and in workplaces – gets a say and gets what it wants requires resources and resourcefulness.

And what to do about all those communities and people who not only registered to vote for the very first time, but actually voted in unprecedented numbers?  Who voted for their one chance in a lifetime, who believed in hope, who got that this was absolutely about transferring power and control?  Do we just shrug our shoulders and say sorry, it’s all going to stay the same?  Do we let them slip back into disengagement and disenfranchisement?

Then there’s the need to build a bridge, rather than a trench (as Andrew Wilson so deftly put it) between the 45% and the 55%.  We can probably ignore the top 25% of the No grouping.  They’re the diehard Unionists and the Scottish part of the establishment and the uber rich in the country who really don’t get that we need a fairer society all round. And of course implacable pensioners (though not all are).

But that leaves 30% to coax across – some are already Yes buts who on the day became reluctant Nos. Others rationalised their decision to hold on to what they have by not being persuaded that Scotland could be a successful, independent country; that Scotland just isn’t ready yet to go it alone; that there are too many risks, uncertainties, unanswered questions about our economic potential.

So we need to work out how to remove these fears, but there is also something in leaving them alone to find their way home. Six billion of cuts to the Scottish block grant, interest rate rises, ongoing pay freezes, more austerity cuts from Westminster (whoever runs the show), the likelihood of Labour not winning the UK election next year and the distinct possibility of UKIP in coalition with the Tories – all this is bound to take its toll on the left-leaning middle classes of Scotland who voted for the comfort of a continued feather-bed courtesy of the current settlement.

Where next is the cry from the Yes movement?  Well, immediately it’s off to Holyrood today to lend our family’s support for a good-natured celebration of all that we have achieved in the last few years and to make our contribution to the food bank collection.

After that?  Who knows.  All or at least some of the above.  The swarm continues; some are jockeying for Queen Bee position (and I don’t mean Nicola Sturgeon) and a hierarchy is definitely forming, or being deliberately formed (check out the new look board of Common Weal…); though some worker bees stubbornly refuse to conform and seem content organising themselves. The fact that the first Where Next meeting in Edinburgh was organised by someone who just wants to keep it going, rather than any group or branch or body, speaks volumes.

This round of Yes meetings might be necessary but once the greetin’ is over and we’ve all had a go at determining where next and what next, can we just form a plan and get on with getting there?  And vow to stop spending time sitting in rooms – real and virtual – agreeing with each other.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Independence is definitely a generational thing

Some of you may know that I have written a book.  Most of you don’t, because I’ve not done very much about promoting it or talking about it.  And yet, how relevant it all seems – even after the big vote.

The book examines Generation ScotY, Scotland’s 20somethings, who they are, what influences them, how they responded to the referendum and what their voting intentions were.  At the time I finished writing it, it wasn’t clear how they would vote but the book does burst a few myths about what matters to this crucial generation.

So having failed miserably to get out on the circuit and talk it up, and having not bothered anyone at any time for funding for this blog or to feed me and my weans while I took three months off work to campaign for independence, I’m hoping a few of you might be inclined to buy the book.  Even if you never bother to read it, put a smile on Luath Press’s face and buy it please.  It’s not even a tenner.

It’s available here, mostly I think as an e-edition.  But also from here.

generation_scot_y

I’d given up political predictions (I was rubbish at them) but it seems I had a prescient moment or two with the book.

First, that Scotland’s 20somethings would largely vote for independence – and that even within that generation, there was a divide in voting intentions, with the older 25 to 29 year olds being more likely to vote Yes.  Richard Ashcroft’s polling after voting appears to bear that out:  a narrow margin of 4% for No among 18 to 24 year olds but a much wider 18% in the 25 to 34 year old group.

Second, this:

“…there could be trouble ahead if Generation ScotY feels resentful of older generations if they bequeath them a future they neither wanted nor voted for.  Indeed, if as some polls suggest, the older cohort in Generation ScotY (those aged 25 – 34) votes Yes to independence and the outcome is a No vote, then that result will most likely have been achieved throught the votes of those over 45 and particularly, those aged over 60. In other words, Generation ScotY could be denied the future they want by the votes of their parents and grandparents.  Such a situation might foment societal discord, particularly given the outlook for Generation ScotY in terms of their incomes and economic wellbeing…

The book concludes that far from being the generation that wants it all, Generation ScotY wants but a little of all that we – Generation X and Baby Boomers – have had.  “The only thing we have left behind for Generation ScotY is a morass that its members are going to have to spend their lifetimes sorting.”

And this is exactly what Ashcroft’s poll suggests has happened. Only 43% of people in Scotland aged 55 to 64 voted Yes and a staggering 73% of those over 65 voted No.

Pensioners and those about to become so voted to keep all that they have gained in their lifetimes.  They opted for keeping things just as they are, not wanting the bother of upheaval at their time of life. Shame on them.

They are the generation which by their hard work and effort, built the great British institutions – the welfare state, the NHS, comprehensive education.  Throughout my lifetime, the dismantling of those institutions has grown apace, coupled with severe economic dislocation, not once but twice.  Yet, Baby Boomers have been largely protected from the impact of this, by dint of their age distancing their experience of some, such as the education system and because governments and politicans have worked hard to protect them from that impact.

The ones most affected by all the change, economic, political and societal, since 2008 are those in their 20s and 30s.  And they will continue to be so throughout their lifetimes.  There are £5 billion of cuts coming in the next two years to the Scottish block grant;  the Tories have promised to limit public spending as a percentage of GDP through legislation; Labour is pledging to remove under 25s from benefit entitlement completely; inequality is growing exponentially and poverty among young single adults in work is rising rapidly.

Generation ScotY got that in this referendum.  They could look forward and see the misery before them, if Scotland opted to stay within the UK.  When I looked at what issues matter to our 20somethings for the book, I was surprised at what they listed.  They are caricatured as frivolous and flippant and they are anything but.  Generation ScotY took this referendum seriously – far more seriously in terms of the country’s and its people’s future than their parents and grandparents, who largely voted for themselves. Thatcher’s children, indeed.

If Scotland voted Yes, they would still have been all right.  Little would have changed in their lifetimes.  The changes needed to create a wealthier economy and a fairer society would have barely begun by the time they shuffled off to their resting places – something they failed to get.  And they refused to listen to their children and grandchildren, who in opting for independence, were prepared to put up with short-term, even medium term, dislocation, in order to have a chance of their lives – and their children’s – being different.

Baby Boomers opted for a present which only exists in their rose-tinted view of the past, rather than a future which was not theirs to design.  If I was in my twenties, I’d be pretty pissed off with my grandparents right now. And I’d be tempted to call them up and tell them why I won’t be visiting this Christmas.  In fact, the next time a pensioner coming on to the bus gives me a hard stare to get up from my seat, they’ll be given a hard stare right back.  After all, who’s paying the fares here?  Petty, yes. But no protest is ever futile.

But there is also hope. This generation of 20somethings is a sunshine one: despite the hand dealt them by the current state of things, they are optimistic and positive in the outlook for the future. They will make the best of things.

And I don’t think they will give up.  They get that power and control needs to belong in their hands and not given away to sit with a tiny political elite.  They get that equality, justice and fairness matter as key building blocks in society and indeed, the economy.  They are prepared to work hard, to use their talents and skills to believe in and indeed, create a better future for themselves and their communities.  If you buy the book, you’ll find out why I am making such assertions.

So while fear triumphed on Thursday, because of the sheer numbers of Baby Boomers who refused to lift their eyes and vote for the future, hope still remains.  Not least because Generation ScotY voted for it.

The Unionists have written off the possibility of another independence referendum for a lifetime or even a generation.  They’re wrong.  I don’t think Generation ScotY will allow Westminster and the political class to put it back in a box.  The referendum allowed them to discover the thrill of political activisim: 20somethings organised themselves in this campaign and learned skills and enjoyed experiences they won’t want to lose.

The question of independence for Scotland will be back on the table within ten years at most, possibly even five, if the Unionist parties renege – as they already seem to be doing – on the more, new powers vow.  When that happens and all those cuts still to come bite further into the forbearance of Generation ScotY, they will demand the chance – again – to opt for different.  And this time, they’ll win.

For as Alex Salmond said, the dream shall never die.  Not when Generation ScotY – over 53% of it – already voted for it.  Not when they already demonstrated hope, aspiration, belief and crucially, Yes votes that their future lies in an independent Scotland.  Next time, thanks to them and the generation still to reach voting age, the dream will become a reality.