Four years ago, today, reality collided into our very beings as we realised that despite all the canvassing, meetings and conversations, most Scottish voters had preferred to stay part of the United Kingdom than for Scotland to become an independent country. Despite the grief felt by many, there was a genuine optimism that a new kind of politics had been forged throughout the referendum campaign. I for one was very proud to play a role, working with people of all parties and none to put across an alternative vision for the future of Scotland.
In the weeks and months following the referendum, this hope and optimism turned for many into an adoption of different colours and fierce attacks at any criticisms of roles played in the referendum. Some like myself, foolishly thought real change was possible in helping to evolve and enhance other pro-independence parties to in part remove the stigma that independence was ‘all about the SNP’ While members of smaller pro independence parties were asked to lend their vote in General Elections on the vague assurances that it would be repaid in the PR votes of Holyrood.
When they never came further divide was created. Added to that those who dared to ask for more from a Scottish Government who had pledged in 2015 to end austerity politics were hounded, tarred as unionists in disguise, suddenly the unspoken common charter of decency and genuine debate was torn apart. In what may be an unpopular opinion, the SNP must shoulder some of this blame. In seeking to maintain their ascendancy they have allowed this to tarnish the positive and inviting atmosphere the yes campaign had created. In short, they have placed party power ahead of any chance to improve the route to independence.
Further proof in this was in their attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. Here at last there was a Labour leader who shared the vision of a society many in the yes campaign had espoused, yet rather than seek to work with him or to convince his many supporters in Scotland that independence was the best route for this society in both Scotland and ergo through successful implementation in the RoUK also. They have instead joined in with the Tory party and media attacks on him and those with an opportunity to transform the Labour Party into the socially just party it was created to be.
To be fair to the SNP their attacks and power grabs are understandable to a degree in that they must retain power in Holyrood to have another opportunity at an independence referendum, however they have by proxy set off the more ardent fringe members of the yes campaign to act in a way that has seriously tarnished not only the legacy of the yes campaign but also future opportunities for a successful referendum result.
It is however not too late to rescue the situation. The re-emergence of local yes groups is a positive step in moving the campaign away from the fringes of social media. The real positivity and creativity of the last campaign came from these groups in conjunction with the smaller yes parties and groups such as Labour for Independence, RIC, BFI, and Women for Independence. While the Common Weal has been in place these last four years and have produced a power of positive alternatives for policy within an independent Scotland, they have with respect fallen into the same trap that many local yes groups had last time out.
Far too often meetings and events were arranged that were preaching to the converted. A reality must set in that if we are to achieve a yes vote beyond 50% we must reach out to those who voted no the last time. Offer to debate them, attend the same groups & projects within the community and engage with them on a more personal basis. I for one am guilty of not reaching out as much as I could to no voters in these last four years.
Finally, Labour are not the enemy, most decisions in the party are made by a select few within the party, most members whether they will agree with a yes vote or not will engage and debate. One of the biggest failings in the last campaign was finding comfort in calling Labour red Tories when really, they just had a differing point of view.
There is still an opportunity to begin to rebuild the bridges which have fragmented the Yes Campaign, I’m sure some will accuse this article, by criticising the SNP, of further fracturing the movement. I respectfully disagree. As we so often repeated during the last referendum, yes isn’t about Salmond, or Sturgeon or the SNP, it is about creating a better society. I believe in that better society, I believe that Jeremy Corbyn can deliver that in a Westminster Parliament if given the opportunity, but will he ever get that chance? That’s a case that needs to be made. It won’t be made without engagement of no voters, nor without self-regulating the content we support on social media. It’s time to mend fences and then regardless of yes or no, we will be back on the road to a better nation.