On the eve of the final day for voter registration for the Scottish Independence Referendum, grassroots yes activists have argued that the huge success of their efforts to engage and re-engage the ‘missing million’ voters in Scotland who have either never voted before or have dropped out of political participation could make the difference in winning a yes vote on September 18th.
The comments were made at today’s #AllYes Daily Press Conference, which you can watch here.
Jonathon Shafi, co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign, who have focused it’s activities over the past week on registering unemployed people to vote in the referendum at Job Centre’s, said:
“At one visit to a Job Centre in Dundee we had 100 people register to vote, in Glasgow we had 30 people in one hour at a Job Centre. We think across Scotland at Job Centre’s over the past week we’ve registered at least 1500 people. In three hours on Saturday at our Glasgow Takeover in the city centre, we had 300 people register to vote. That’s people giving their full details to someone who they have most likely never met before, because they want to make sure they can vote Yes on September 18th. And that’s just a snapshot of what’s going on across the country – we believe there’s a political earthquake happening.”
Looking back it’s clear that the two sides in the referendum have even working from not just entirely different outlooks, modes of working but also completely different base assumptions. One, a professional campaign has engaged all the powers of the state and the media to install doubt and sow fear. The other has sprawled chaotically into a broad movement brimming with energy and optimism.
One has tried to emphasise continuity, security and prosperity against a backdrop of jihadism xenophobia and endemic poverty. One has tried to emphasise hope and vision out of this mess of foreign policy nightmares, crippling debt and militarism by exploring a Nordic model of social solidarity, cohesion and public services.
As various No supporters (such as Allan Massie) have outlined though, the negativity from No has some legitimacy. Their starting point is ‘No’. They are defending (they think) the status quo. They want no change, so there is little to articulate. It’s their prerogative to be negative.
‘Why change at all?’ they challenge.
It’s a dangerous approach for No as the polls close day on day. The No Campaign seems to have had a policy of disengagement: don;t show up for debates, close down argument, unthink. RIC’s Jonathon Shafi again: “They are not trying to register new voters, they are not trying to engage people, and they are out of arguments. Their strategy is simply to turn out the existing vote through hysteria about the danger of a yes vote. Our approach is the complete opposite – we want to win this by empowering the people who have never before felt like politics could improve their lives. And I think we are winning.”
Whilst the Yes campaign has been relentlessly positive, it’s not been exclusively so. There’s been (rightly) plenty of dark messages about the consequences of a No victory.
What we have seen from the Yes side, is at base level, an approach that is now very widespread across change theory in management for businesses, organisations or mass projects. It’s called ‘appreciative enquiry’.
Here’s a definition:
‘Appreciative Inquiry is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. It centrally involves the mobilization of inquiry through the crafting of the “unconditional positive question” often-involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people.’
Basically, Yes has looked for what’s best here (now) – and seen hope and energy in our people, our natural resources, our history and geography, our infrastructure. No has looked for all that is doubtful and problematic. But it’s not a straightforward optimist / pessimist divide. Many unionists are hopeless optimists, as they see nothing wrong with the present arrangements. Many Yes supporters are hopeless pessimists because they see only the bad in anything British.
Instead, an appreciative enquiry approach asks you to look at potential. An appreciative enquiry approach suggests four stages: discovery: the best of what is/what works well? dream: what might be; design: what should be; destiny: empower, adjust, learn and do.
It’s this dynamic that’s at play that gives the Yes movement a sense of momentum and trajectory. We are future-focused and motivated. The No campaign seems mired in the past and in a sense of hopeless complacency.
Appreciative Enquiry doesn’t mean that you ignore problems or complexity, in fact it is motivated by a recognition of the need for real change. But it does ask you look to your best. It identifies and analyses the community’s past successes. This strengthens people’s confidence in their own capacities and inspires them to take action. Allied to this approach is asset-based community development, a process of self-mobilisation and organising for change. It’s about moving away from a dependency culture. This involves mapping the capacities and assets of individuals, associations and institution, before building a vision and plan.
All of the efforts of the spiralling Yes groups mirror these approaches, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes consciously.
This is the background thinking that has meant that whilst Better Together band outlier groups seem shrouded in perpetual (and sometimes ridiculous) gloom and paranoia, Yes has a sense of purpose that is infectious.
This positivity confuses some. Andrew Marr has written: “And so we have this new nationalism: well-behaved, politically correct and eager, always, to please. It’s a social-democratic, Borgen nationalism of a kind that would have had MacDiarmid spitting tacks.”
Maybe that’s true, but that’s no bad thing. We have all of the poets, some of them are even alive, and (whisper it), some of them are even women.
But the idea of a new politics is worth exploring. Borgen did three things. It gave us a fantastic example of a lead female politician of a small north European state. And as we followed the charismatic Birgitte Nyborg the not-so-subliminal message was clear: we could do this. The second thing that it did, as did the darker prequel The Bridge, was to make live the relationship between two states that had separated and are now good neighbours. Severed bodies aside, the border between the two nations is a feat of engineering to be admired not a thing to be feared. It’s a Bridge, not a barrier.
Nobody is separate separated or cut off because they elect their own government. Nobody seceded into obscurity.
Both countries are full members of the Nordic Council, of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, of the Council of Europe, and of the European Union. Around 21,000 Swedish people live in Denmark and around 42,000 Danish people live in Sweden.
For emotional No’s this is a powerful lesson. Scandinavians can still be Scandinavians and share a common culture and co-operation. They can ‘be in the world’ but they also have pride about their cultural integrity and manage their own affairs. As a mirror for the ‘UK’ this model is worth reflecting on.
The third thing Borgen did was to bring normalcy to the very idea of a small country. What does that look like? Feel like? It suffers from the same problems of complexity, media distortion and difficult political and moral choices. Nyborg and her party navigate these waters there same as the rest of the world, as best they can, as will we. Democracy is normal.
This idea of it being okay to live in a democracy has now percolated down into most of Scottish society. Not bad for the 21st C.
But the idea of a Borgen politics is important. It consolidates and consoles the idea that concerns some wavering No voters: ‘I like being British’. ‘I like the idea of Britain’ ‘ I like being part of something bigger’. To which you can say: that’s okay, we’re going nowhere, we will still be part of Britain in a cultural, historical and geographical reality. Your Smiths albums are not going to self-combust on September 19th.
If the ‘appreciative enquiry’ approach – looking to the best within – has dominated the movement for independence, it would not have had any traction had it not been all happening in the context of wider change. The terror of the ‘Arc of Insolvency’ isn’t really wheeled out any more, partly because it’s counterpart, the Austerity Union is a much more real live threat and reality. As Iain Macwhirter pointed out, the idea put forward by Alastair Darling that the Work Programme, the scheme that has had unemployed people working in Poundland for nothing, would be a bonus power brought to Scotland in the event of No is such a pitiful remark it’s unclear where to begin. In 2012 Liam Byrne – then Labour’s Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary said:
“The Work Programme is now comprehensively failing to get people back to work. The Government, when it went out to award these contracts, said that, if it did nothing it would expect about 5 people in every 100 who are long term unemployed to find a job. What these figures show is that actually only 2 people in every 100 are finding a job through the Work Programme. So, in other words, the Work Programme has turned out to be worse than doing nothing.”
So much for new powers.
Here was a senior Labour politician on live television whose best offer was a programme that leaves unemployed people working for free in Poundland. It’s worth remembering that Gordon Brown’s
Britain is broken, and the aspiration on the table from Darling is truly woeful. Britain is knee-deep in debt and all the unionist parties now share an austerity economics that has been proven to fail. A no vote won’t be a return to the pre-2008 economics, nor will it be a return to the 1950s some on the right seem to yearn for.
People resist change but when change starts to happen it happens with bewildering speed.
From the collapse of the banks, to the disappearance of Woolworth’s pick and mix from our high streets, to the emergence of food banks as a new marker in abject poverty, Britain’s been changing rapidly over the last few years and the rise of a new Scottish democracy is just one expression of that wider movement.
Britain may have talent, but in 2014 the prospect for this talent is to work for free in Poundland. Some vision.
But it makes sense. It’s a brutal economics for a place that has become more and more closed, less and less hopeful, more and more repressive.
The mainstreaming of surveillance techniques on peaceful protestors, the extensive use of agent provocateurs such as Mark Stone/Kennedy, the kettling of thousands of young people, the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 and the cover-up that followed, the visceral response to the Dale Farm gypsy encampment: all of this combined to create a perception of England as a more brutal, troubled place. This is Paul Dacre’s and Richard Desmond’s England. It was a place without dolly mixture.
In the process something has broken. For all the steady stream of commentators who insists there is nothing (nothing!) distinct about Scotland or Scottish politics or culture, something has shifted, and the attempts to re-examine it we’ve undertaken in the past two years has been transformative. We’ve discovered, dreamed and designed. Now we need the destiny bit.
If the missing millions turn up and vote we’ll win.
As Paul Mason writes today (‘Something incredible is happening in Scotland’) predicting a a Podemos-style left emerging post-Yes: “Independence has become a narrative of the people against big government; about an energised Scottish street, bar and nightclub versus the sleazy elite of official politics.”