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Not My Grassroots by Val Waldron

Things have changed so radically between 2014 and now, that the independence movement is barely recognisable as the same animal. It has been impeded, infiltrated, interrupted, call it what you will, by a plague of misogynistic wreckers. A corner of the Yes movement is a stinking cesspit of bigotry, destruction, hate and treachery. A contaminated stain, a dirty protest in red white and blue. A place where only the union can benefit.

Many of the old rabid yellow-foam finger waving, ‘Rigarendum!’ ultras from post 2014 are amongst those who have placed a target on Sturgeon’s back. Happy to find another conspiracy theory, secure in the cult of the well-funded Stu Campbell, AKA Wings, they enjoy life on Salmond’s moral high ground. It’s a great ruse, but sadly for them, the impenetrable labyrinthian paper trails will not lead to the witch, but into even more impenetrable labyrinths of civil service practices. No wonder it can’t quite catch fire the way the media would like it to in the real world.

Legions of white, male bloggers, media shills, assorted unidentifiable dark forces and those who parade Joanna Cherry as if she truly exemplifies women’s rights, (as long as they’re not trans women,) are stalking Nicola Sturgeon with all the relish of a Capitol ‘Q’er. Prof John Curtis told Gary Robertson on BBC Radio Scotland that the Salmond v Sturgeon rot had not yet significantly engaged mainstream voters, with the percentage of those who regard Salmond as dishonest equalling those who believe Sturgeon is honest. He also said that the real threat to the SNP, currently riding high in the polls for the Holyrood elections in May comes from within. Nevertheless the media are intent on changing that with an agenda nothing short of wildly sensationalist.

According to the BBC Scotland current affairs broadcaster Glenn Campbell there is a threat not just to the democratic framework of Holyrood, but to devolution itself, as he joins the frenzied pursuers, desperately trying to tie Conspiracy and corruption to the party leadership. Baillie, Ross and Davidson are finding new connections with Salmond that can only be explained in “my enemy’s enemy” terms. The protection of the ID of Salmond’s complainants has been tossed to the wind. It is barely alluded to. The backlash against the MeToo movement really is in full swing, and the hounds smell blood.

None of this should surprise us. Certain hate-peddling bloggers turned against the FM a good two or three years ago, in the aftermath of the EU referendum, in an impatient hissy fit for an indyref that we were unlikely to win. Despite the Brexit Bounce, remaining No voters are no push-over.

The adoption of the Growth Commission report was, and still is not a great look for a truly independent progressive Scotland. I joined the Greens in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, then defaulted to grassroots activism.  It felt safe enough, in fact essential to stand outside of the party of government and push it to the left. Common Weal has been a go-to think tank for that purpose. Only a few short months ago some of us were bamboozled over Common Weal Director (now ex) Robin McAlpine’s bitter denouncements of Sturgeon. Was it burn-out from decades of trying to move mountains? Maybe on some level, who knows. I thought he was a misfit in the Salmond camp, but it seems that he has previous when it comes to misogyny.

We are in the eye of a perfect storm of destruction now, whipped up by a number of issues and bad actors. Not everyone has bad intentions. Some have single issues of contention. Some, like me were looking on with curiosity as a series of new grassroots opportunities presented themselves online over a couple of weekends in the Autumn. Despite my nervousness and caution around many of the players, such as All Under One Banner, and downright aversion to other lurkers, such as the interminably bad tempered Peter A Bell, there was a reassuring presence of others on the left. Such as Lesley Riddoch. The heavy pressure she exerted on Iain Blackford to commit to the untenable position of a 2021 referendum should have alerted that nothing was quite as it seemed any more.

It’s unfair and inaccurate to conflate all issues of contention, some of which do belong on the political left. However, many players are driving forward an agenda that now stands firmly outside of the party political framework, but to the detriment of our main indy vehicle, the SNP, as it rumbles all the way downhill to the election with injuries inflicted by Yessers, and with no time or means to fix it.

This is not my grassroots. It’s an imposter. Impatience for a Plan B, cult-like support for Salmond, Campbell, Murray, Cherry and others, sit comfortably in a package containing outrage at the Gender Reform and the Hate Crime bills. Any suggestion that freedom to limit expression of hate should be prevented goes against the grain of populism exemplified by Brexit and Trumpism.

Cue also the sinister Independence For Scotland list party, a magnet for transphobes. As the hate unravels, an emboldened band of ISP and Wings acolytes have taken it upon themselves to ridicule disability. They cast others in their own light by insisting that self ID has to mean cheating. Positive discrimination is a cause for choking indignation, and anyone who gives a damn about anything or anyone outside of self interest is Woke. There is no goodness there.

It’s really not difficult to see the manifestation of the Al-Right in our own movement. It’s there in the language, and the cultish and almost mystical devotion to Wings, and all he represents. It was always there. The blood and soil nationalists were our source of shame until the floodgates opened. I was never under any illusion that our shining example of civic nationalism was unbreakable. As English working-class tory votes were being counted in the last General Election, it seemed obvious that the hope of a break away from Westminster rule was a fragile buffer against sweeping populism.

Scotland remains a generally inclusive, friendly and welcoming place. It has to be a decision that we make as a society and a nation though, and keep working on it. The breakaway bigots have seen their chance, and like those Capitol rioters, still imagine some kind of prize that will elevate and empower them above their impatient, limited horizons.

Nicola Sturgeon is still Scotland’s elected First Minister and is unlikely to be ousted by fantasists. We have our differences. Like many others I’d prefer a greener, more socialist and more decentralised structure. However, at this crucial time for independence it seems pointless to inflict this much pain on the movement. And on the individual. Sturgeon stated in March 2020 that she was First Minister for all, and has endeavoured to lead us through the Pandemic. Her decisions, often hampered by political and financial opposition, and sometimes self-defeating, appear to be taken in good faith. People know, and generally value this. Her detractors inside and outside of the party and the movement do us no favours as we continue to wrestle with the pandemic, and their spite may backfire.

We still need a strong grassroots movement, and a powerful and progressive vision for our future. We have the resources, and not least, the people. But the clamour for instant gratification does not represent me This is definitely not my grassroots. This is an alien gathering of odd bedfellows with some familiar names and faces, who are kicking the shit out of the SNP, not pushing it towards a more democratic form.

Val Waldron

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