It’s been a bruising and bloody week in the world of Scottish independence. Not because of anything that the Unionists have done, they’ve been sitting back with the popcorn while they watch the independence movement tear itself apart with mutual recriminations, insults, abuse, and aspersions being cast like stones. I’ve been attacked. The National has been attacked. It seems that everyone is attacking everyone else. Yet all of this was sparked off, not because of any matter of great import to the future of Scotland, not because of an existential threat to the cause of independence, not because of anything that the vast majority of Scots who don’t use social media either know or care about. It happened because someone said something on Twitter that some people took exception to.
It’s time for some tough talking here. A movement which descends into such paroxysms of anger and spite over something so trivial is not a movement which is capable of winning a raffle, never mind winning an independence campaign. This is a movement which has lost all sense of proportion, all sense of what really matters. I’m not criticising grassroots activists here. I’m not criticising ordinary people who are passionate about the cause of Scottish self-determination. When I say the movement I mean those of us who lead it. I am criticising those of us, myself included, who have public platforms and public voices and who aspire to speak for this movement.
It’s those of us who pretend to lead, we’re the ones who are letting those activists down. We’re letting down those people who staff stalls in the rain and work their socks off, those people who organise public meetings and fundraise to print leaflets, who traipse round doorways to canvass and campaign. They’re not the ones letting the movement down. It’s the fault of those of us who tweet, who write, who blog, who run national groups, who manage the “new media”. We’re the ones who’re letting Scotland down. We’re letting ourselves down. We’ve turned into passengers on a sinking ship who’re arguing about the music the band is playing instead of organising the life-boats. We’re all going to drown, but hey, at least we can be self-righteously right-on when the cold and icy water fills our lungs. We can lose The National. We can lose iScot magazine, but we’ll still have some painfully right-on blogs that no one outside a Byres Road coffee shop ever bothers to read.
It’s time to put the egos to one side. It’s time to stop being so precious about the purity of our politics. It’s time to stop competing to be more right on than the next person. It’s time to stop pretending that it’s our way or it’s no way. If those of us who have public platforms and public voices are at all serious about making this country a better place, it’s time for maturity and realism. We will not win the independence of Scotland with student politics. We’re not going to win by turning into Wolfie Smith and calling out Rick from the Young Ones for a square go. This is a game for adults. It’s time to grow up. Squabbling over trivialities is for infants.
If you’re an independence supporter who spends most of their time and energy criticising other independence supporters for having views you dislike, tactics you disapprove of, or opinions you find distasteful, you’re not helping the cause of independence. You’re only helping to perpetuate Unionism. If you want to help the cause of independence, you can put forward your own ideas and your own vision without turning that into an attack on someone else in the independence movement with a different point of view. And if your ideas resonate, if they are seen to have value, if they gain traction with the wider public, then your ideas will win through.
We will not win independence for Scotland by turning the independence movement into an exercise in being holier-than-thou. We certainly won’t win it by condemning and attacking those whom for whatever reason we deem not to be sufficiently ideologically pure. That is precisely how not to win over people who previously voted no or were undecided. This may come as a surprise to some, but not everyone in Scotland is attracted to far left politics, and we need the support of those people too if we are to achieve our goal. And I say that as someone who is himself on the left.
Right now Scotland is in a position of unprecedented danger. We are on the verge of being taken out of the EU and into an economic and political wasteland by a bunch of malign incompetents in a Tory government that Scotland didn’t vote for. They have no plan, they have no route map. The only thing for which they display any kind of aptitude is their ruthless efficiency in enriching themselves and their friends and in order to do so they will demonise migrants, the poor and the vulnerable. They don’t care if we all suffer. Our public services are facing the greatest threat they have ever faced. The devolution settlement is cracking under the strain. Meanwhile the Labour party has managed to pull off the hitherto impossible task of being even more confused and clueless than the Tories. And throughout all of this Scotland has been told in no uncertain terms that it has no right to an input or to influence the course of events.
It is the immense threat from the Westminster government and parties that the independence movement needs to be challenging. That is what we need to be speaking about – not tying ourselves in knots because a controversial blogger was controversial again. There are far more important fish to fry than what some person said on Twitter. I love this movement and this country too much to see it fail because of the egos and immaturity of a handful of loud and angry people with no sense of proportion.
For my own part I’m going to take my own advice. Twitter is for snark, cat gifs, and jokes. The most pressing task facing the independence movement right now is to articulate the case for independence, to join up the dots and to demonstrate to the people of this country that talking about independence is not a distraction from talking about health, or education, or transport. Independence is the only way to guarantee the security of our public services. It’s the only way to ensure that Scotland’s choices are respected and implemented. That’s what I’m going to spend the coming months talking about and arguing for. It’s time to be a grown up. It’s time to organise the life boats.
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