The rebellion: Phase Two
There will be a time to put in words how I feel now. There will be a time for me to discuss what I think we should have done differently to win. There will most certainly be a time (when the pain subsides) in which I will celebrate who we became in these two years, to memorialise the countless heroes of our failed revolution who changed my life and who changed Scotland.
This minute, this grey Friday, I just want to list what we need to do next. (This is a long read for a day like this – read the rest tomorrow). I do it for three reasons. First to let you know that once this weekend is over, Monday is when we start. It will be hard, but the team who are working on the Common Weal project will be meeting to begin work proper and our amazing Board will be meeting soon to build a strategy. I’ve been knocked onto my knees many times in my life and it only feels hard to get back on your feet before you’ve done it. Once back up, your strength will return. (I write this parenthesis after finishing the below. I feel the strength returning to my hands already.) Second, I want Scotland and its shameful institutions to know that we are only getting started. I know plenty off them who we scared the pants off and are desperate to believe we’re finished. I want them to know what it’s going to look like when we are no longer fighting one exhausting fight and instead start organising to fight them. And third, I so desperately want you all to remember that your purpose has not changed and while none of us can be expected to work at the pace we have for the last two years, you will damn well continue to work. Cry into your beer, climb a hill and scream, blame the moon, smash up your TV. Do what you need to do but do it now and do it hard. You need to get over it. We’ve got a lot to do and you won’t be able to do it if you’re blubbering.
One: we must precisely design our goal
The comforting glory of a binary decision is that you don’t need to think about what you want to achieve. Now we do. It is for no one person to make that decision so these are just my first thoughts. We must create the infrastructure of a movement that can win. That means we need a means to organise, to coordinate, to build and to grow. It means we need to create a media – and to do what damage to the pitiful media we have. We need to build any institutions we’re lacking – for example, a progressive business organisation, a network of powerful economists, a more powerful Scottish Parliament, creating a trade union sector that actually campaigns for workers’ rights and so on. We need properly to map and network our movement – find out who still has an appetite to fight, find out what exactly they can do and learn, train and develop until we are the really formidable force we very nearly became. We need to build a new narrative for Scotland. Failing to explain exactly what was failing in our society and how it can systematically be fixed was a part of the problem. We must teach Scotland to think using a language which exposes the corruption of the British elite. We need a really strong policy programme which we can campaign for which can be achieved with whatever powers we have. And we need to take a very long, hard look at the political structures we need to make this happen. What (in my mind) is without doubt is that we must work to exclude, isolate and marginalise the British Labour Party in Scotland to drive them finally from the places they once called their heartland and consign them (if they must exist at all) to the me-first affluent suburbs where they belong in an ongoing fight with the Tories for the British Nationalist vote.
And in case this needs said, I am bound by no gentlemen’s agreement by two wealthy men on when the people of Scotland have a right to decide on their destiny again. As soon as we can build a slightly bigger rebellion, one certain to win, we push for round two. I am virtually certain that Westminster WILL betray Scotland’s aspirations in the course of the next 18 months. I am virtually certain that all this talk of Britain having ‘changed forever’ will be quickly forgotten as a UKIP by-election (the sort of thing Westminster ACTUALLY cares about) replaces Scotland as the curiosity of the week. I am absolutely certain that the rightward drift of Britain will continue and that the vicious agenda of cuts and victimisation will continue. I suspect it will take a very short period of time before a very high number of No voters realise their mistake. So we do everything we can to speed up that process.
Two: we need infrastructure
We need to be able to connect the movement, keep it alive and help it to organise and be effective. We (Common Weal) are already well underway with plans for a powerful social media engine which will do just that. It will be called Common Space and it’ll be a sort of ‘Facebook for Scotland’s progressive movement’. Individuals and groups and organisations can join, share information, spontaneously create campaigns and new groups and keep ourselves permanently informed and educated about what’s going on.
We of course are creating a new, expanded policy function. The Common Weal Policy Unit has a Director and staff and will launch soon. We will develop a Parliamentary lobbying function. We are building a team of writers, designers, campaigners and social media experts who can develop and push the narrative. All of this we intend to use to pursue the aims and goals we set out as a Board but it is also a resource for the movement to draw on. If 100 of you want to create a group to campaign on an issue, connect, communicate, plan, organise, develop – and then if you need some lobby help, or if you need some policy development, or if you needs some design or copywriting or whatever, then we’re there.
And we are already at the early stages of looking for a venue for the first of the cafe bar hubs we hope to create to build a physical space for that community to meet and build. Don’t give up the lease on that local Yes shop/hub just yet…
This is only some of what we might want to build, so we need to get cracking.
Three: we need to replace and reform institutions
In the end, it remains unclear that it is really possible to win a national campaign when every single media outlet is against you. So we need to replace those media outlets. I don’t want to go into a full strategy just now but we may want to think about targeted boycotts sufficient to damage the viability of some of the worst offenders. In the immediate term we hope to be able to integrate a proper news function into Common Space, providing a full, free political and current affairs news service for those disgusted with Scotland’s shameful hacks. One day we’re going to need a printed, newsstand media too.
We were also considering plans for a broadcasting service providing a number of hours of TV and radio content a day. It was always in the back of my mind that a really good Scottish Broadcasting Channel might make that redundant. But in fact I think that may actually be even more important now.
Trade unions are going to have to show us that they have a positive role beyond negotiating their members’ terms and conditions. If not rocking the boat on important policy issues (in particular all aspects of industrial democracy) to protect Labour remains their priority then we may need to think about a new organisation to fight the fight for industrial democracy. We could certainly do with an intelligent, progressive business organisation. For too long the political right has claimed ownership of small businesses at the very same time as shafting them. We need to win them back over.
There is much more in institutional Scotland than this that we should fight and rebuild. You will have your own list…
Four: strengthen the movement
As I have been writing this, my heart has been warmed by an email from over a dozen people in Dunoon who contacted me to say ‘OK, we want to start building the Common Weal here. When are you available to come to talk to us.’ (The answer is ‘very soon indeed.’) So who else is ready to start building Common Weal? Just email me and tell me what you want to do. We’ll organise meetings around the country and me and the team will come and talk to you.
In truth, a degree of naivety was one of the great strengths of the campaign. But it was of course a big weakness too. With a couple of days to go I spoke to people who genuinely thought we were going to win by a landslide (at a moment at which I was pretty seriously worried that we were falling short). We are wiser now; I expect we will lose some of our exuberance which will be sad. But we will gain the benefit of wisdom. So we need to continually train and learn. I’ve long wanted to develop a ‘leadership programme’ to develop the skills of the next generation of young left activists in Scotland. I think we must expand that ambition – it is important to be clear than in many areas (for example, media relations), we are still a long way short of the skills we need. There was barely time when we were fighting the campaign. There is now.
But I want to close this point by emphasising that there is no lesson I have learned more fully in this campaign than just how important it is never to seek to control or run a movement like this from above. If what has been written above and below sounds a bit ‘Common Weal’ at the exclusion of the rest, that is only because I’m not in a place to talk about the future of Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, National Collective and the rest. Those of us who became the Radical Independence Campaign (which itself is a coalition of other groups) must also think carefully about what next.
The unionists, in their Orwellian way, kept shouting ‘unity is strength’. Well, diversity is resilience and that’s what we need.
Five: a new narrative
We only partly controlled the narrative of this debate. At its outset the British Nationalists (and in particular Johann Lammont and Ruth Davidson) made clear that in their view the UK was virtually perfect and required no constitutional change at all. We changed that. We even forced the British Labour Party to pretend to be socialist (for ever such a short period). We need to keep going. This is a big and complex issue in itself. I here offer only four examples.
First, we need to control language. I shall never again refer to the ‘Scottish Labour Party’ since it is clear no such thing exists. But that’s small beer. We worked on a language set (you know ‘me first’ versus ‘all of us first’ and so on). We need to embed a different language and a different conversation. It remains a mystery to me why ‘lowest state pension in Europe’ never became a key line in the campaign. (OK, not a mystery, but that’s for later.)
Second, we need to nail home a clear memory of the reality of the campaign. To my amazement last night, the BBC team commenting on the results simply refused to even consider the possibility that the last two weeks had been a campaign of intimidation, utterly remarkably to my mind positing that it was the ‘barnstorming genius of Gordon Brown’ wot won it. (Lesley Riddoch – my sincerest thanks for your almost single-handed attempt to knock some sense into them.) I think I shall propose a serious piece of policy work from us carefully documenting what was actually done and relentlessly fighting their attempts to disappear the truth about how they behaved.
Third, we need to educate (gently and gradually) as much of the Scottish population as we can on some of the fundamentals of economics and finance. I know that sounds dry, but it needn’t be. The British Nationalists got away with murder by putting forward economic arguments which only worked if you knew absolutely nothing about economics. Many more of us need to become a bit more economic-literate. This is nothing like as hard as you think, but we can’t leave them to own that territory.
Fourthly, we need to miss no opportunity ever to amplify and make unmissable the corruption of Westminster and the lies told. The Scottish Government should regularly make public Better Together claims (the oil will only be worth two pounds sixty…) and show Scotland that it was lied to. Every single food bank, every single day, must be made clear as the fault of Westminster, and in particular of Labour offering no alternative. Every effort must be made to push at the powers of Holyrood and when we reach the limit we must say ‘here ends your so-called Home Rule Scotland’. We must make it as hard as is humanly possible for a corrupt Westminster regime to govern Scotland.
Six: a new policy agenda
Perhaps above we need a policy programme – and fast. I have only had about two hours sleep so forgive me not having this all thought through. But among the parts of Common Weal I think (or know) we can rescue in this context include:
- A strategy for finance that ends deficit but avoids austerity (that being the hardest without proper powers)
- Proper local democracy with powerful community politics and regional devolution, particularly to the highlands and islands
- A bold programme of participative governance at the national (and every other) level
- Very serious land reform, including a Land Value Tax
- A major reform of local taxation, looking at some combination of local income tax, land value tax and local sales tax – with all rate-setting to be entirely in local control
- A very big house-building programme in the public rental sector creating first-rate housing at affordable costs with the aim of both providing great housing and controlling house price rises.
- Every effort to force as much new energy generation capacity into the collectively-owned sector possible
- As much as we can do to create that universal childcare system
- Massive reform of government, breaking corrupt internal cartels of public sector managers in cahoots with private interests. This will include reopening the procurement reform and doing it properly – but also requires reform to planning and much more.
- Explore how we can set up a national investment bank (I am not sure if this can be done directly by the Parliament but I think it could be done in a non-profit mutual manner with government support)
- Explore creating a network of local authority banks to break up the corrupt banking sector
- Major democratic reform of institutions – for example, major democratisation of institutions like universities and quangos
- Big changes in education, moving away from assessment-focussed learning to attainment-focussed learning
- And then – as far as we can and given whatever powers are given to us – cobble together as much of an industrial policy, social security policy, investment strategy and so on as we can.
There will be much more than this. OK, perhaps not MUCH more. But it shall have to become our real genius to build something brilliant with the second-rate tools we’ve been let to build it with. If this kind of ambition has driven government over the last five years, I think we’d be looking at a different result today.
Seven: new politics
Finally (for now – there is much running through my head), we are going to have to look at how we change the practice of politics in Scotland.
First, and with no qualms whatsoever, I reject calls to work with the British Labour Party in ways which will benefit that party. ‘Working with’ is only feasible if there is trust – and it was Labour that destroyed that trust. I heard that some Labour strategist said something like ‘we now need to tap into the spirit and substance of that grassroots campaign’. Well good luck with that. I’m going to break this into a new paragraph for emphasis:
The relationship between our movement and the British Labour Party is exactly like the relationship between the miners and Margaret Thatcher.
Tap into us? You have no moral authority of any sort to align yourself with this movement. Frankly, even if some of us thought it made sense, the very idea would misread greatly the strong personal feelings of the vast majority of the people in the movement. The personal abuse that was heaped on the good people of this campaign by the Labour leadership has left deep and abiding anger which will not abate – or at least not in their political lifetimes. It is entirely appropriate to isolate and marginalise from grassroots politics those involved. If we are clever and active then every social movement in Scotland from fighting austerity to opposing nuclear weapons will be part of our movement. While I would never exclude an individual (and I know there are still some honest people in the Labour Party), I am happy to make exhaustive efforts to make sure that that party never again in my lifetime get to use a social movement as a handy photoshoot background to distract people from their vicious neoliberal agenda. Let them live on with the allies they have chosen – the Tories, the CBI and the Orange Order. I think it will actually be quite easy to chase them out of working class Scotland finally and permanently in 2016.
But – and this is a final but which I leave hanging quite deliberately – we are going to have to be honest with ourselves about whether we have any political vehicle which is capable of taking us any further than we currently are. Let me put it like this – is there a party ready to adopt the kind of policy agenda above and really make a push for the voting demographics that win elections for socially democratic parties? We’ve got only a few months to make that decision. I am currently a long way from convinced.
…to work. I shall own up. When I wrote the line about the email from Dunoon above it brought into my mind everyone I’ve met and hugged since this began. It was the moment when finally, after the numbness of the last 24 hours, I broke down and cried and cried. And cried. I spent part of yesterday with the Hamilton team at their hub and at the polling stations. The love, the affection, the camaraderie there and everywhere I’ve been has been the most important part of my life for two years and it still will be going forward. I know its not going to be the last time I cry but it’s done. It’s out.
You don’t win by wallowing, feeling sorry for yourself, blaming the world or putting your efforts into conspiracy thinking. And you don’t change things if you don’t win. I played rugby for Biggar. We were good but always the underdogs. We lost games we needed to win. When I was a young player an older teammate taught me much about victory and loss. I remember winning a crucial game that got us promoted, against a team that should have hammered us. Us youngsters jumped about like we’d won the lottery. My teammate clipped us around the ear and told us ‘you ALWAYS walk on a pitch like you think you’re going to win and you ALWAYS walk off a pitch like you knew you were going to.’ But the advice is even more important for the loser. You ALWAYS walk off a pitch with pride, determination and dignity. Because that’s what you’re going to need the next time you walk on it.
We lost. Get over it. Every second we spend licking our wounds is a second we lose for the fight. And fight we must. And fight we will. We made much of this land our Scotland, not theirs. So now we hold our territory. Then we take theirs.
Wipe your eyes. On your feet. Grab your stuff. Let’s get started.