I walked from a community centre in south Edinburgh talking to a grandmother who’d just been at a public meeting I was talking at. She told me she’d never been involved in politics but that she’d been out putting leaflets through doors (the older generation always tell me its for their grandkids but I suspect they’ve been itching to do something subversive for ages…) “And I’ll tell you what” she told me conspiratorially “I’m not going back to my sofa when this is all over”.
She’s Team Scotland.
A man in his early 30s emailed me to say he’d been reading Common Weal stuff and articles on Bella and National Collective and he wrote (in his words) “I can’t remember being interested in politics like this, I’ve not been this excited since I was a teenager”.
He’s Team Scotland.
I spoke in Lasswade last week and on the panel with me was Jill Murphy of Business for Scotland. She admitted nervously to me before the meeting that this was only the second time in her life she’d spoken in public (the first time being the previous evening when she’d been heckled by Better Together activists). She started by telling the audience that she was nervous and hadn’t really done this before but that she thought it was too important so she had to get over her nerves and speak. She was great.
She’s Team Scotland.
I did a debate in Broughton High School. Afterwards one of the sixth year pupils had to walk me back to get my jacket. She told me on the way that she had thought it was all too complicated and scary to make a decision on independence (I wonder who set up an organisation to encourage that reaction in citizens…). But she said she decided that she better get over it, get on the internet and read for herself. She’s not scared any more.
She’s Team Scotland.
And I’ve got a pal locally I met in the street. He’s English, ex-army, doesn’t believe that wind turbines really work and believes that Scottish independence would be a complete disaster.
But he’s Team Scotland too.
The SNP has promised that the terms of Scotland’s independence will be negotiated by ‘Team Scotland’, an inclusive group not just made up of SNP politicians. Three cheers to that. But in my opinion the future of the SNP and the future of Scottish politics (in the event of a Yes vote) will be defined by how the SNP goes about creating a Team Scotland.
The Yes campaign has been carried by neither back-room strategists at Holyrood nor paid politicians. It has been carried by a mass of citizens who have set up local and national groups and worked incredibly hard (almost all unpaid). Politicians are keen on saying ‘it was the humble party worker who won it…’ – but they add an unspoken coda of “…by delivering our incredibly clever leaflets while we won the campaign in the TV studios’. Not this time. Citizens are out there delivering their own leaflets and devising and running their own local campaigns. The TV studios are, like the weather, a subject only mentioned when we fancy a moan about something predictably grim.
The UK chattering classes have been wondering what a real, mass grass-roots campaign might look like in modern, professionalised politics. Impotent is their usual conclusion. Well come on up and we’ll show you. The old feudal dance where councilor doths cap to MP, MP to Minister, Minister to Prime Minister and Prime Minister to corporate CEO may well continue apace even here in Scotland. But it’s not winning Scotland.
The cleverer of Scotland’s commentators and journalists have picked this up. They’re not yet sure how to respond (if news is being made in town halls, how do you report it?), but they’re starting to get it. The Marie Antoinette Media is meanwhile clueless, has no idea what is going on outside the window. “Let them eat this shit” they say while covering their front pages with mad lords and well-trained think tanks spewing out apocalypses no-one believes.
“Why. Isn’t. It. WORKING!” they fume, Alan Cochrane and David Torrance becoming more spiteful and less coherent with each word they write.
“Why. Won’t. These. Fucking. Scots. STAY DOWN!” bleat exasperated Westminster types who fully expect to watch citizens kneel by their fields in deference when the Ministerial limo approaches.
I have been all over the place talking in town halls. At each I’ll often catch up on the gossip from other speakers who’ve done other meetings. The number of people I’ve met here or anywhere else who want Scottish independence so we can quickly replicate Westminster’s system of feudal deference can be counted on the fingers of no hands. If there is anyone among the leadership of any political party in Scotland who thinks that we’re all just ‘useful idiots’ removing one political elite just so we can replace it with another, I suspect 2015 and 2016 are going to be a shock.
If the SNP thinks it might be ‘helpful’ to sort-of just write the first draft of a constitution they’ve promised the people can write themselves; if they think it might be safer just to leave it to professionals like themselves, very serious trouble lies ahead. People you might not expect and whom the SNP does not want as an enemy have already talked about rebellion.
There are lots of rumours about which of their opponents the SNP leadership is planning to invite to join its negotiating team – Danny Alexander, Jim Murphy, Gordon Brown, Alastair Darling. Someone even told me straight-faced that Lord George Robertson was going to get the call (though that was before his meltdown in New York). It is assumed that to the ‘cream’ of Scotland’s political class will be added a trade union baron, the CBI chief, a charity boss and church minister. The press release will call that Scotland.
Now I’m a big believer in the merits of learning your trade. I would have Scotland’s negotiations led by the best negotiators we can find. Some will be in political parties but many will be in trade unions, the business sector and the legal community. But – and this is a big but – while they may be the best team to negotiate, they are not Scotland. What they negotiate – not how but what – must reflect Scotland and not only its elite if we are to truly escape the politics of ‘Great’ Britain.
I’m going to ask some of our experts on participatory democracy if they will write something for us on how to construct a participative negotiating process. I think there should be some kind of ‘national council’ of people created in some way that reflects real Scotland, that this council should call on all ideas for how to create a new Scotland, it’s constitution, the fabric of its democracy. That it should produce proposals for negotiating positions – and that it is these proposals that form the basis of what our negotiating team negotiates.
As people start to see the hope of a Yes victory, there is much talk about post-Yes politics. There are three rough camps. One hopes to change the SNP into a radical reforming party. One hopes Labour will rediscover itself. And one hopes that a new political party will rise from the ashes of the debate. If the SNP cannot shake its centralising, top-down tendencies, if it begins the new Scotland as “welcome to the new boss, same as the old boss” then I predict an immediate flow of people towards the second two options. It is a flow that could quickly become a flood.
Demobbing an army and telling it: ‘thanks for your sacrifice, we’ve got it from here’ is a notoriously good way to get your head chopped off. If they hand the design of my country over to a ‘Team Scotland’ every member of which comes from the top five per cent of society, if it proceeds on the basis of ‘what would a corporate CEO do?’, if it seeks to stuff the military’s mouth with gold, if it chooses a currency union the terms of which suit only RBS, if it does SSE’s bidding and traps us in the UK’s dire energy market without discussion or debate, if it behaves like power always behaves, I’ll be reaching for my axe.
Oh citizens, it doesn’t have to be like this anymore. You are Team Scotland. Don’t wait. Pick up the ball and start running.