THERE are a number of points in Richard Walker’s article “Do SNP need a bloody nose to refocus on independence?” (Aug 4) that I want to address. Firstly, I would like to thank Walker for stimulating this discussion, and indeed it’s great to see that he is still active for independence. However, his piece does not address the actual reason that some people took to social media in anger.

People were not angry that Prestwick SNP was doing a stall, but that there is now a clear pattern of behaviour from the SNP party machine at a national level, cascaded down from the leadership, that unless events are organised and controlled by the hierarchy then the party officially does not participate and does not encourage attendance. This pattern of blatant avoidance is divisive, and directly contradicts the message of unity put out. Their behaviour does not match their words.

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As such, on this occasion the SNP Prestwick stall, taking place nearby on the same day and time as AUOB Ayr, for many symbolised the divisive backdrop which has been created by the party’s leadership – yet this is also contrasted by the fact that AUOB marches, including the Ayr march, always have strong representation of SNP members and voters, and receive online support and attendance from many SNP branches. It’s the party leadership’s behaviour, and the way they are directing the party machine, which needs to change.

It was great to see the people of Ayr out on the streets and up at their windows as we passed through the town. Many appeared in support of independence, many seemed unsure and some were visibly against it. The rally on Low Green had a range of Yes stalls, all there to discuss the case for independence with people who frequent the stalls at every rally, members of the public with mixed views on the national question.

No-one is arguing that Yes stalls are any less important than marches. But equally that does not mean Yes stalls are more important than marches. Yet this was the message implied by SNP Prestwick last weekend, and it’s the message cascaded down by the party leadership – a message which says doing something else is more important than supporting and attending these vital marches. This behaviour has been blatantly displayed this year, with every march to date having been clashed with and avoided. There isn’t even a balancing message coming through on social media with the SNP leadership encouraging people to attend if they can, the way that other pro-indy parties have been doing. Instead there is silence and avoidance. Consequently, SNP Prestwick would have been able to fulfill their intentions that day whilst also unifying with everyone at Ayr. This would have been such an inspiring display of unity.

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Now, I do not agree with the language used in some of the comments that Walker quoted, and he is right to call that out. However, for the sake of clarity Walker should have shown some equally robust comments from other social media accounts who stomp on anyone criticising the SNP leadership’s divisive behaviour. Many of these comments are abusive and are focused on suppressing dissent, whereas at least the former have good intentions at heart – for all genuine independence supporters want to see the SNP start behaving like the Scottish National Party once again.

Furthermore, such Yes supporters are commenting in this manner because they are disillusioned, infuriated and feel powerless – and so taking to social media is all they think they can do. Such commentators should be empathised with and understood, and not castigated in the press. Walker is correct to say “ask if social media attacks help or hinder the case for Yes”, but this is equally true for comment in the press by our commentariat – and indeed also true in the sense of the bid to undermine AUOB marches and other people-led (not politician-led) demonstrations and initiatives.

Walker makes a classic assumption, which is that everyone on AUOB marches are fully convinced of the merits of independence. This is a fallacy. Support for independence is a spectrum, just like anything else, and there are multiple points of discussion. The author’s assumption has no empirical evidence to back it up, is counter-productive to advancing the cause and certainly not an argument to justify the said SNP party machine behaviour.

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Moreover, as the movement towards independence is of and for the people, then it’s a living thing, and so like all living things growth comes from the inside out, which is exactly why AUOB marches have been vital in sustaining and growing support and amplifying movement for independence over the last nine years – and we need them now more than ever. These annual demonstrations have interwoven with Scottish society. They are significant cultural events and a tradition to be proud of, to be supported and attended.

But no-one has ever argued that marches alone will win our independence. AUOB has never argued this, nor has anyone to my knowledge. However the argument that they are not the only way to win over Yes voters has been repeatedly stated by the SNP hierarchy as a justification for avoiding and not supporting the marches, and Walker compounds it in his piece. Equally, no-one is arguing that the SNP leadership’s non-support and non-attendance of the marches will achieve independence, yet this behaviour has become evident.

AUOB marches are indeed but one element of the national movement, but stating such is not a justification for the SNP leadership to consistently clash with them, not support them, not encourage attendance, and not march with people. Therefore let’s see the spirit of unity so eloquently opined matched by behaviour. So far this year the opposite has been true, and it’s disappointing and an embarrassment. Much is said about the need to court recognition from the international community, yet this behaviour, where the SNP leadership refuses to properly participate in and support any grassroots demonstrations and initiatives where the party hierarchy does not control the narrative, is not how to achieve this, and must puzzle international observers of Scotland’s struggle.

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Walker purports to support a multi-faceted approach of campaign tactics, but the underpinning tone of his piece is contrasting delivering leaflets with marching for independence, when we need to do all of this and more. He echoes the divisive pattern of behaviour from the SNP leadership towards what is styled “the wider movement”. Let’s look at that phrase. It places SNP politicians at the centre, the parliamentary leadership, and everyone else in increasing degrees of distance, and thus relevance, from this point. This phrase is used wrongly, as polls consistently show us that support for and against independence is approx 50/50, and with the size of the Scottish electorate above four million, then that’s more than two million independence supporters ready to vote Yes at a democratic test. Therefore the "wider movement" includes the SNP, as it’s actually a matter of perspective for it’s the people ourselves – the movers and shakers, the activists and voters – who are centres in their own rights. The people are the power, and this is why the SNP leadership need to change behaviour, move out of their comfort zone, step out of the bubble, and properly engage with the masses.

Walker's assertion that the SNP leadership is actually showing support for “wider Yes events” does not stand up to scrutiny. Claiming that the September 2 Believe in Scotland “march for an independent Scotland in the EU” is a “wider Yes event” is untrue, as it’s widely known that Believe in Scotland, although having many actual grassroots Yes groups aligned to Business for Scotland’s campaign slogan, is but a safe extension of the comfort bubble for the SNP hierarchy.

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Believe in Scotland has done and does a lot of valuable work, but the SNP’s intentions for it are as an astroturfing initiative. This is demonstrable due to the fact that SNP and Green politicians are all over it, yet they refuse to march and speak at AUOB demonstrations, or indeed at any other non-bubble initiative; and the September 2 march conflates Scottish independence with EU membership. This is divisive and counter-productive, as independence supporters have a wide range of views on Scotland’s potential relationship with the EU – and as this is a question that can only be answered after independence, then it’s clear that this is continuity and an attempt at dominance.

Contrast this with all-inclusive AUOB marches where everyone who supports independence is welcome, regardless of their other views, and where we always aim for as broad a platform of speakers from across Yes as possible, including the SNP. We do not quiz people at marches and take notes on clipboards. Desiring Scottish independence is the only point of solidarity. This is why this year’s AUOB Edinburgh march on October 7 will be the 40th AUOB march since 2014, and why these annual national demonstrations are here to stay.

To win our independence we must unite in action, not just at a democratic test with our votes, but on the streets, and in our workplaces and communities. It couldn’t be clearer now that we must use the ballot boxes to enact our victory at a democratic test, but unless as a people we are able to enforce this, unless we are able to hold the result won, then this top-down approach is hollow and brittle, and shall not succeed. Make no mistake, the British state will go to any lengths to keep Scotland under Westminster rule, so we must be willing to go to any lengths to succeed, and this means starting to debate and develop – now, not later – an increasingly more creative movement which works towards having the potential to make Scotland ungovernable for the UK Government. Let’s show unity in action, and get ready for the struggle to come.

Does the “wider movement” need a bloody nose to focus on people power, not politicians?

Neil Mackay
via email