A guest post by Jason Baird of the IndyApp
A few months ago the following kitten GIF was posted to a twitter thread discussing self-
organisation among the local YES groups – it was posted by a big Yesser and killed the discussion stone dead!
Like a brilliant tabloid headline, those kittens seemed to hit the nail right on the head for a lot of people. By confirming and then crystallising certain preconceived ideas, every entertaining kitten retweet that followed light-heartedly bludgeoned the credibility of the possible alternatives… and the twitter argument was over.
That GIF really got me thinking because it seems to perfectly encapsulate a potentially damaging view of the Yes groups commonly held within parts of the movement, and even by some grassroots activists themselves. It’s a debilitating stereotype that misunderstands the autonomy of local indy groups and paints them all as unleadable and without order. So, let me use the same Gif to explain why those preconceived ideas are so wrong.
First, I’d like to start by pointing out that the power of the kittens GIF lies in the fact that there is a very large element of truth to it. The autonomous groups are in many ways like kittens in sheer single-mindedness and fierce individualism. However, the old tabloid trick used here is to powerfully identify universally-acknowledged truths, and then apply them as proof to an unrelated proposition.
In this case the implication is: single-mindedness and fierce individualism of the YES groups (an acknowledged truth) makes self-organisation, enlightened self-interest and working together on shared goals impossible. At best this is an unproven proposition, and if believed, at worst a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, let’s take a closer look at those kittens again:
Aww, lovely… and yes, in some ways the kittens are a very good representation of the indy groups, and the Yes movement in general. They are autonomous, inquisitive and playful, but with a real hunter’s instinct. They are also too, too cute and loved by all – when not being annoying 😉
However, to equate this particular GIF to the grassroots is to fundamentally misunderstand the psychology of the autonomous groups and, just as importantly, the kittens. What we see here are the legs and disembodied hands of an increasingly frustrated external force attempting to impose their will on the kittens. ‘Line up, damn yous!’ These arms and legs do not represent organisation: they represent top-down organisation.
Big hint: Autonomous groups (and kittens) do not respond well to top-down!
This is why political parties, and the more centrally organised institutions of the YES movement, find working with grassroots groups (as a collective) such a frustrating experience. It’s not a criticism, but whenever a Yes institution (or political party) attempts to organise the groups, they will always be seen, in one way or another, as attempting to line up the kittens to their own organisational requirements, and no matter how sensible those requirements may seem to be, from a Yes organisational point of view, the kittens (as a collective) have shown themselves simply uninterested.
This frustrating experience has led many thinkers and activists from the more ‘traditionally organised’ side of the movement, to conclude that any practical organisation of the local groups is therefore, in itself , somehow impossible. That’s the message being cleverly reinforced by the GIF but fortunately it’s a damaging message that is simply NOT true. What is true however, and what it should be used to underline, is the frustration felt by all those still trying (and failing) to organise the groups from above.
So, with all that in mind, let’s imagine our own alternative kittens GIF … One with all the kittens doing their own thing – some on the floor, some on the table, some under the couch, some on top of the couch – all doing what interests them most. Then, instead of
disembodied hands trying to place them all in a line, we have a large bowl of milk placed on the ground. Soon, mysteriously (not), you see every kitten in the room happily and intently engaged in the same thing, lapping away at the edge of the bowl. No need for guidance, persuasion or even disembodied hands.
This bowl of milk represents official referendum campaigning. THAT is what brings the autonomous groups together, and it’s the wide and varied local interests of those groups, developed before the bowl of milk is put down, that gives the YES movement it’s incredibly frustrating, but powerfully decentralised, campaigning abilities.
Big hint 2: Yes grassroots only gains its full power when the movement is focussed by an official IndyRef campaign. Disembodied hands from above are not required to keep our eyes on that prize!
During the last referendum we had plenty of kittens; our big problem was that we only had a small, but very deep, bowl for the milk – in the form of our centralised Yes HQ. Only a few kittens got fed, there was mayhem as they tried to get their share of the milk and there was frustration, disappointment and inaction from all those wanting to participate but couldn’t see over the feeding scrum, never mind get to the bowl!
Our job as a movement, and what the NYR IndyApp platform has been designed to help do, is to enable a large enough pro-Indy organisational bowl to be created before the next IndyRef campaign is called – a bowl that gives every kitten more than enough access to their own share of campaign milk. They can drink their milk however they like. Some will be dainty, some will get it all over their faces and inevitably some will even climb into the bowl! The mess will not matter, because some kittens will want to lick their milk off the faces of friends, and even those kittens that climb in the bowl will serve as a warning to others not to be so daft. The important point is that it is the kittens
that must decide how they drink.
As I hope this article has shown, leadership from above is NOT the intuitive model Yes communities formed themselves around when fighting IndyRef1 and it’s NOT the organisational model that evolved within the local groups themselves. So, how can the grassroots groups themselves crack the organisational nut to ensure all kittens get their milk during IndyRef2*
From our experience of Yes shop campaigning during IndyRef1 and years of local meetings, opendiscussions, listening and holding National Gatherings, what has emerged from the groups themselves is a desire to come together as a community of autonomous groups and create their own collective structures, for their own organisational needs. That is the collective will that the National Yes Registry (NYR) is focused on encouraging, and it’s that ‘community of autonomous groups’ that the IndyApp platform has been built to help practically facilitate.
Next Step: Now that the IndyApp platform is ready, the NYR are holding a national training weekend for all local Group Editors and interested group members. It will be held at The Station Hotel in Perth over 21/22 September 2019, 160+ training places available with overnight accommodation for 100.
After holding successful test events, we have an interactive training process that practically takes folk through all the shared platform functions needed to allow that community of local Indy groups to form.
Timing: Our aim is to cascade platform readiness across all groups and synchronize IndyApp training with the timing of the Scottish Government’s own IndyRef legislation, going through Holyrood and scheduled for completion by Christmas.
The Strategy: Once we are properly networked and local groups are able to respond to enquiries from the public, we can all focus on expanding IndyApp membership out to as many Yes supporters as we possibly can. From that solid base we can begin to get many, many more Yessers actively involved in practical campaigning. This training weekend is about building the grassroot networks that Yes will need to be ready for action the moment IndyRef2 gets called. Only the groups can organise themselves like this and only active group members can lead the process.
Open Invite: ALL groups are very welcome, whither registered on the IndyApp platform or not. To ensure you and your group are a part of this important training weekend, please book your places here …
Bookings are going well but each place at the Perth weekend is heavily subsidised in order to keep attendance affordable and open to all. This means that the training weekend is dependent on the success of our crowdfund. The full venue costs must be paid by the 1 st of September and so the crowdfund end date is less than a week away! At time of printing we are at 22% of our target, so if you like what we are trying to do, please click on the link, read more about it and perhaps drop something in our bucket to help make it happen.
*I think the kitten analogy is now at its limits, but I will be lurking below the line for anyone who wants to continue stretching it 😉