IS the Yes movement back at square one and in need of complete renewal?

Jonathan Shafi’s analysis in yesterday’s National was compelling but I’d ask a different question. Is the Yes movement tired and in urgent need of vision and unity to rekindle hope?

I’m pretty sure the answer is 99% yes. But where will that vision come from and is Yes unity now just a pipe dream, as Scottish Greens refuse to appear with Alba speakers and two separate Yes organisations are marching for independence a fortnight apart in the same city?

All that says to me is that unity should urgently become even more of a priority.

Now, I’ll grant you – that word has been sullied by overuse in vision-free zones like the New/Old Labour Party. Vision has become a saleable, focus-group led and AI-created commodity these days, while the importance of unity is generally cited by the Kumbaya brigade – keen to avoid real political difference by demanding unnatural self-restraint and an uncanny absence of flyting.

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Repeated mentions of unity (looking at you Keir Starmer) usually signal a lot of smothered dissent and only a veneer of common purpose. And hope – that precious fuel has been flared off by the serial disappointment of 10 long years, believing indyref2 was just around the corner. But none of this makes vision, unity or hope wrong or optional. Indeed, the difficulty of taking responsibility for our own “mood music” only makes the task more important.

Why does the Yes movement have a vision, unity and hope deficiency? It may suit some to name names.

But that doesn’t help us now. All the Yes “players” are in the field. They all exist. Boycotting and othering some folk for particular policy stances isn’t good enough – for one reason. Such behaviour doesn’t model the kind of Scotland we are trying to build.

I grew up in Belfast during the late 60s and early 70s, when it was all blame, anger and violence. Of course, there was history and reasons and sides. But the process of naming and repeating the hurts inflicted by one side simply invoked the same response by the other.

The late David Ervine of the Progressive Unionists called the process “whataboutery” and he did everything possible to de-escalate tension within the loyalist community and across the so-called peace divide.

The National:

When he died at the early age of 53, the unthinkable happened. Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein crossed into Loyalist East Belfast to attend the funeral and David’s widow Jeanette came out of the church and took him to sit with her on the front row.

That moment, his efforts and all the subsequent new beginnings and false dawns haven’t sorted Northern Ireland. But the massive, collective human effort to escape historic patterns of mutual suspicion have gathered pace. Northern Ireland is slowly on the move. In 2022, more Irish than British passports were issued in Belfast for the first time.

Ah you’ll say, that momentum was created by something that could hardly be predicted – Brexit and Boris Johnson throwing both parts of the Irish island together. But that’s how constitutional change usually happens. The final straw. And the by-product of events elsewhere.

Sure we need strategy. But indy, like life, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

So, independence supporters must stay alert, limber and connected. Look at other small states.

After decades of struggle in Estonia, it was the unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall that triggered the final push for independence, though a lot was planned, a lot of currency plans were also quickly jettisoned.

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The young leadership was also flexible enough to hear a returning exile from the United States, who suggested scant resources should be spent embracing the digital revolution, in which Estonia was no further behind than anyone else, and putting all their computing effort into primary schools not executive offices. It worked.

The Estonian experience speaks not to rigid ideas, but to flexibility in the midst of a new situation … and considerable courage.

Equally, the Icelanders got home rule from Denmark in 1918, but went on to assert full independence in the middle of the Second World War after a referendum. Some say the unexpected arrival of British and American troops, jeeps and bases boosted Icelandic confidence, assuring this tiny nation that their geopolitical location would always be significant.

And Norway completely cut its ties with Sweden in 1905 over a row that erupted unexpectedly about the consular representation of merchant shipping.

Now, I’ll grant you, all these countries had referenda with around 90% support for creating new states (Estonia with a large Russian population had 78% backing). Scotland is nowhere near that. Why?

The National:

In all these Nordic/Baltic states people owned their land, ran their own towns, villages and islands, took decisions and were thus modelling independence for decades – even centuries. Scots, by contrast, have had quite the opposite experience.

We are passive onlookers – subjects not even citizens in a centralised, quasi-feudal democracy, modelling passivity and exclusion from governance and that has to change.

Of course, only legislative change will free us from the top-down structures that maintain the disempowered mindset that characterises Britain. This won’t change overnight.

But now we know it. We are not at square one.

Yessers have been through a roller coaster of emotions on a near constant process of self-education for a decade. It’s been exhilarating, comforting to find kindred spirits and also totally exhausting. Let’s face it. Most of us signed up for a short sprint to the line but somewhere in the intervening decade morphed into marathon runners. Younger activists had to get day jobs. Older folk became … well, older. But we are biding our time.

And that’s probably quite sensible.

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There is one main function for the Yes movement. Showing the world, the rest of Scotland and one another that we still care. That we will always care about the future of Scotland – a distinctive, viable country shrugged off as a jumped-up, embarrassing wee anomaly at “our” parliament in Westminster, week in – week out.

Our job is to develop ourselves and this country. It’s like the marriage vow. Yessers are wedded to this country – for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish. Whether good news or bad, we still give a toss.

And that’s why disappointments hurt.

Our job is to show that without being blind to our faults, we care enough to turn out in the rain, in storm-force gales, in the sun (occasionally) and always when it matters and in a spirit of tolerance, inclusion and good humour.

We need political parties and movement organisers to pull together. Why? Because with each difficult decision to collaborate not plough solo furrows, we will be building a new Scotland. A nation of mutually suspicious Yes clans will only go so far. The movement for independence must go much further.

The National: Humza Yousaf

My hope is that later this year we will witness one single, unified march for independence – commemorating the 10th anniversary of indyref – with AUOB, Believe in Scotland, the SNP, Alba, Scottish Greens and others organising together and walking side by side.

Some will snort with derisive laughter at the naivety of this idea. It’s election year. Parties are trying to emphasise difference to win votes. Each has their own ideas, plans and schedules. And yet...

The only thing more powerful than the myriad clans, marches, parties and groups that make up the Yes movement is their combination on a vitally important date – precisely because it will be difficult, thankless and almost impossible to achieve.

But, if mutual acceptance is the building block of the new Scotland, let’s not get boycotting, let’s get started.