IS the Yes movement invisible?

Of course, there’s rarely been a time with more headline competition. A state funeral, a royal accession, a new Prime Minister (unelected) leading a new government (unelected) on a tax-cutting programme (unsupported by Scots) into the worst cost of living crisis since the war.

We’re only just emerging from the summer and two years’ worth of wariness about gatherings caused by Covid restrictions and lockdown.

And politically, we’re in a waiting game, thanks to Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy of seeking a verdict from the Supreme Court on Holyrood’s ability to hold a “lawful” referendum without Section 30 powers from Westminster. The verdict could come any time over the next year. If it rules against the Scottish Government, there’ll be more waiting until Liz Truss calls a general election before January 2024 – and the SNP launches its campaign to make it a de facto referendum on Scottish independence.

In the meantime, there’ll be more Scottish Government papers on the practicalities of independence and the first in-person SNP conference in Aberdeen next month. But the agenda still hasn’t been published, and it’s not clear if the independence strategy will be debated or not.

The long Covid layoff has caused problems for a number of the old indy groups. And the lack of momentum means more sideways swipes at one another – that’s inevitable in the absence of a shared, public, forward-leading campaign plan.

So, we wait, and watch while new forms of protest on the left supplant the old primacy of independence – from Enough is Enough to anti-deportation action, demonstrations about fuel costs and activism by Stop Climate Chaos.

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These are all excellent causes and well-organised groups that are perfectly entitled to try and grab the media limelight. But what are Yessers doing?

Are we waiting for an SNP signal to get active again – if so, why?

A movement has the great advantage of not running the country, not having constituents or a “day job” but the simple task of making sure independence stays visible, whatever the other tasks prioritised by the SNP/Green coalition running Holyrood.

The Yes movement – that ungovernable, distributed, diverse and hardy charabanc of a democratic vehicle – is not designed to be a carbon copy of any political party or wing of government.

So why are we waiting for their strategy to slowly unfold instead of devising one of our own?

Now, that’s not a call for endless debate about the official strategy. It is a call for visibility and activism. Because otherwise, some of our supporters at home and abroad will wonder if we really mean it, really want it and really have the will and energy to get the ball over the line.

One conversation with an Italian member of Europe for Scotland sticks in my mind. In a summer Zoom meeting with other Scotland-supporting groups in 16 EU countries, he said: “I’m ready to do a lot of work to explain Scotland’s case here [Italy] when the referendum is called. But are you? How hard are you prepared to work?”

Now I know that is tough to hear and very unfair. Many activists have been on semi-constant campaigning duty and indyref alert for a decade, putting their own families second and jeopardising their own health. People are exhausted, dispirited and feel leaderless – so it’s hard to get motivated. And yet we must.

And we are.

I’m chuffed to be speaking at a wee flurry of Yes events over the next few days – opening the Aye Pod tonight at 7pm in Dunfermline, relaunching Yes Hawick tomorrow night and attending a Yes Falkirk debate on Saturday.

I suspect similar events are happening across the country as groups rouse themselves for a winter likely to be more politicised than any we’ve recently experienced.

And, of course, some groups never stopped.

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The formidable team running Yes Lochaber took stalls at three local Highland Games and are working on a leaflet about independence safeguarding the NHS, penned by a group of local doctors and surgeons. You don’t get more locally impactful than that.

Yes Caithness and Yes Ross Sutherland organised Manniefest in July, marking the Queen’s Jubilee with a pop at the Duke of Sutherland beneath his statue on Ben Bhraggie in Golspie, and the Edinburgh Yes Hub became a talk venue in the Edinburgh Fringe.

All the while, Believe in Scotland has kept supplying leaflets and campaigning material to Yes groups, AUOB has kept organising marches, Indy Live has kept live-streaming events, this paper has kept showcasing Yes activity, policy groups like Common Weal have kept producing new ideas, and Europe For Scotland has been hatching plans for formal lobbying of EU leaders in Brussels. And that’s just the activity I know about.

Clearly, lots more has been happening– and teeth will doubtlessly grind at being overlooked.

But this is my point.

Even this year, perhaps at our lowest ebb, the Yes movement has been active. But not visible.

Now, visibility for Yessers can be hard to achieve – even at the height of activity in 2014, broadcasters turned their back on grassroots campaigns, even though they produced momentum, common cause and weel-kent local faces aplenty to supplement the national and party-political efforts.

AUOB marches of 100 and 200 thousand folk were routinely downsized, included as a mere 30-second item on weekend bulletins or completely ignored. The BBC’s idea of who and what makes news hasn’t changed much since then – except to focus on the handful of people who challenged James Cook somewhat aggressively outside the Perth Tory hustings. So perhaps it feels pointless to get back on the pony – get organised, get marching and become invisible all over again.

Actually, it probably is. From here on visibility relies on us, not hard-to-reach broadcasters.

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That means making lots of short films – even with mobile phones – to post on social media, and encouraging younger folk in local groups to take the lead.

Yes filmmakers like Phantom Power and others already produce excellent films – but they can’t be everywhere all the time. Yes, it’ll take a bit of training so that audio works well and engaging stories emerge rather than endless clips of sedentary folk at meetings. But it can be done.

Otherwise, what are we going to do? Wait for senior politicians to make the connection between the cost of living crisis and independence – or find compelling new voices – like the Scottish equivalent of Welsh star Michael Sheen – and do it ourselves?

Will we wait for the Scottish Government to organise an event outside Holyrood when the Supreme Court has spoken – or get networks established now with folk ready to appear the same night (because the media will certainly be in Edinburgh looking for a reaction.) Will we maybe even ponder that marching at weekends when it suits indy supporters is fine – but having a couple of thousand people when the news agenda suddenly moves onto our turf at 6pm midweek may actually be more impactful?

In short, as Yessers becomes more active this winter, will we also become more visible?

Over to you.