YES supporters from across Scotland gathered in rainy Glasgow on Saturday for an assembly called by All Under One Banner (AUOB) to evaluate the state of the independence movement and offer up fresh ideas for this year’s marching season. It’s fair to say that the unpaid, hardworking and totally professional volunteers of AUOB – operating unbidden and autonomously of the nationalist establishment – have single-handedly saved the independence cause from despair and oblivion, after a frit SNP leadership essentially demobilised the movement following the 2017 UK General Election.

The working-class volunteers of AUOB are scrupulously democratic almost to a fault. Hence the weekend’s assembly represented local Yes groups and bodies such as the Scottish Independence Foundation – which now receives any cash donated at AUOB marches for disbursement back to the movement.

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As someone who has been active in left-wing politics for (hate to say it) half-a-century, I have never seen this level of working class political self-activity, except in rare moments such as the original Solidarnosc in Poland in 1980. It is testimony to the atrophy of the UK Labour Party that their leaders cannot appreciate this amazing proletarian movement north of the Border.

Saturday’s event – bar an introduction from AUOB founder Neil Mackay and a passionate speech by National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) Scottish organiser Gordon Martin – was run by the participants. Discussion was fresh, lively and good natured – a world away from the regimented rallies SNP conferences have become. The lack of grandstanding or obvious pitches from besuited SNP young fogeys looking for career advancement was particularly welcome.

The National: Neil Mackay (left) and Carol McNamar from AUOBNeil Mackay (left) and Carol McNamar from AUOB

The sessions devoted to nuts-and-bolts ideas for this year’s marches were very creative. There was a constant refrain to link up with the young climate activists of Extinction Rebellion, around the slogan “Pro-Indy, Pro-Earth”. There were also lots of ideas for how to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, during AUOB’s march in the town on April 4.

I liked the notion of reading out the Declaration in English, Scots, Gaelic, Polish, Urdu and every other tongue spoken in internationalist Scotland today.

Organisation aside, it was obvious the gathering was deeply frustrated by the SNP’s growing moderation, and the First Minister’s unwillingness to use her mandate(s) to confront Westminster. The SNP leadership will counter with calls for patience and the need to win over wavering, former No voters. Yet the party leadership is in deep denial regarding the depth of alienation of the movement’s grass roots. A grass roots which feels it is already doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to persuading fellow working-class Scots into the Yes camp.

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The AUOB assembly also saw an intense discussion regarding the various plans to launch an “independence party” separate from the SNP, to run list candidates in the 2021 Holyrood elections. To date, three such initiatives have been declared. One comes from the indefatigable Stuart Campbell, of the Wings Over Scotland blog. He took soundings last year but does not seem to have progressed the idea further.

Then there’s the Scottish People’s Alliance, which has links to folk in Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity but has wider support, including among some SNP leftists. The most advanced project is the Independent Scotland Party (ISP) fronted by the redoubtable Colette Walker, sadly a casualty of the SNP’s toxic gender wars. The ISP has already applied for registration with the Electoral Commission, which is indicative of its obvious professionalism – and what you would expect from Collette and others from Women for Independence.

The current D’Hondt counting system used to allocate list seats for Holyrood ensures that a party which performs well in the first-past-the-post (FPTP) seats will find it extremely difficult to make gains in the eight regional lists.

The National:

IN 2016, for instance, the SNP won 59 FPTP seats. But the party secured a miserly four list members despite winning a staggering 953,587 votes in the regional count. That equalled the combined regional vote secured by both Labour and Tories, who won a thumping 45 list seats between them. Fortunately, the Scottish Greens won six list seats, with 150,426 regional votes.

When combined with the SNP tally, this gave the pro-independence parties an overall majority. Extending that pro-indy majority is vital in 2021. You can be assured that if the SNP-Green bloc diminishes by even one seat next year, Boris and Co will claim the nationalist tide has been reversed irrevocably and reject a fresh Section 30 order.

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Which brings us back to gaming the D’Hondt electoral mechanism. Many activists believe that running a new Yes party on the regional lists would harvest some of that near-million “wasted” SNP list votes from 2016.

If such a new Yes Party won 150,000 votes across Scotland (similar to the Greens last time) it would garner half-a-dozen MSPs.

Last time the SNP-Green bloc won 69 out of the 129 Holyrood seats. Conservatively assuming the same again, then those six extra Yes Party seats would take us to 75 pro-indy seats – a thumping majority of 21 over the Unionist parties. Then bollocks to Boris.

But AUOB supporters are increasingly restive at the SNP leadership’s cautious approach to calling indyref2. As one speaker on Saturday put it: “You need to control the ball to control the game.” In this context, a second Yes party is not just a method of weaponising wasted SNP regional votes, it is also way of putting pressure on the SNP leadership. The AUOB marches effectively forced the First Minister to declare for a referendum in 2020 – if only as a way of retaining control of the mass movement.

In like fashion, a new Yes party could pressurise the SNP leadership into holding that referendum, with or without permission from Boris.

However, talking to folk at Saturday’s AUOB assembly, there is some feeling that the fine details – political and organisational – of any potential new Yes party require ironing out. For starters, it would defeat the whole exercise to have competing Yes parties on the regional list, which could easily result from a combination of ego and ambition. The outcome would be to confuse voters, pit the movement against itself, and give the Unionist media an open goal.

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Secondly, would a new Yes party have policies beyond the single issue of independence? Would this not alienate some potential voters, either of the left or centre? There were other indy parties on the list in 2016 and they did abysmally. Far-left RISE polled barely 11,000 votes. Alternatively, single issue parties have done well, eg the Senior Citizens Unity Party got John Swinburne elected to Holyrood in 2003.

The new Independent Scotland Party is considering using internet polls of its membership to set policies, along the lines of Podemos in Spain. That populist approach might actually appeal to ordinary voters.

AUOB has a marching programme for the next two years. Behind the scenes, the various constituent parts of the Yes movement are discussing how to create a unified structure and leadership autonomous of the SNP.

As Saturday’s event proved, we are a huge social movement which is not dependent on the electoral fortunes of any one political party. We march not for its own sake; we march with a purpose.