Jim Sillars: ‘Yes’ must educate, agitate, organise

The Yes Scotland launch. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Yes Scotland launch. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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The Yes campaign needs to become proactive in getting across a more positive message on the merits of independence, writes Jim Sillars

Twenty-three per cent for independence, at a time when the central mantra of unionism –that Scotland needs the embrace of the big, economically successful United Kingdom – is laid bare by facts of decline, poverty, collapsing pillars of the British state, and economic weakness and failure. How come?

Better Together, a claim waiting to be dismantled by an unrelenting public examination exposing the realities of the life Scots face as part of a state able to offer only years of austerity. UK national debt is heading towards £1.5 trillion. The real cuts are still to come. The political elite at Westminster are elite only in the sense of their self-perception, when in fact they are clueless and incompetent.

Confidence in the UK economy can be measured by the conduct of corporate UK: it is sitting on £750 billion cash in hand, holding back investment because it sees no prospect of growth and profits. Without that investment there is no way out of the dismal growth/recession scenario. Scotland’s future in the UK is one of misery: pay-day loan company expansion, more food banks for the poor, and the only way out of unemployment for thousands of young people the door marked “emigrate”.

Why is it that Better Together, a sick joke, is away ahead and not independence? The answer is an ineffective campaign by the Yes side. In the contest between Yes and No, there is a vacuum where pro-independence information should be, but it is being filled by the latter with its poison of baseless allegations forecasting gloom and disaster if we have the temerity to separate from the rest of the UK. All we get from the Yes side, including that part formed by the SNP government, when confronted in public by allegations designed to suck the self-confidence out of the nation, are vapid responses that carry no conviction. The Yes website is a series of assertions and, on the European Union, mere opinions that, however eminent the authors, carry no legal or political authority.

Educate, agitate, organise. The Keir Hardie edict still stands in this age of Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, it should be even more effective with the ability of the social media to educate, agitate and organise proven in so many countries. Of course, that “education” part of the equation comes first, as it must, and it here that there is a clamant need for action both by the SNP as a party, and government, and the Yes group. Time after time, I have met people asking: “Where is the detailed information to back support for independence?”

Better Together is the world’s greatest oxymoron. Poorer together is the reality. The outstanding feature of the No campaign is its failure to provide evidence of just how Scotland within the UK is going to prosper, how it is going to produce the high-paid jobs, or even any jobs at the levels required, and how the poor are to be rescued and the gross inequality that scars society is to be eradicated.

Outside of trashing the ability of Scots, and sowing the myth of our inadequacy, Better Together says nothing on how we are to avoid more of the same. Scorn is poured upon the notion of a Scottish defence force by people who are cutting the British armed forces to a level that creates a dangerous disjunction between the desire to project force internationally, and the ability to do so. An aircraft carrier without aircraft! They, not we, should be the butt of derision.

Scots are forecast to plunge into poverty on independence by a unionist establishment that has brought countless families to the brink of ruin. The lies of the 1970s about oil are repeated now. We are told to hold fast to British values at a time when the last vestiges of social solidarity are being torn asunder as the inequality gap widens. Our competence is questioned by people who, themselves, can’t even run a railway.

The consistent low poll rating for independence is a testament not to the skill of the fearmongers, but to the inability of the Yes campaign to provide convincing in-depth information on why we must choose independence if we are to break free of an England in decline. The Yes leadership report card to date reads “nice people, intelligent, mean well, but need to do better”.

Part of the problem seems to be that the Yes campaign has become entangled with the SNP government, and appears to be like one of the submissive branches of the party that we are all now familiar with – echoing whatever comes out of Bute House.

Independence is not about the SNP. That party has been a vehicle to bring us to the point of decision on our future, and its efforts should be recognised and applauded, but it is not necessarily the future. If Scotland votes Yes, the political scene will be transformed. Scottish Labour, for one, will be freed from the unionist intellectual trap that has determined the boundaries within which it thinks. Europe is a good example of the entanglement. The Yes campaign simply repeats that SNP assertion that we will be in full membership of the EU on independence, and so is besmirched with the tar that now adheres to that SNP policy.

Where is the thoughtful paper for volunteers in the campaign that explains why Scotland is not a beggar at the gate of Brussels? A paper that examines the issue of what being “at the heart of Europe” means – joining the single United States of Europe, with the total loss of sovereignty that the referendum is supposed to give us? A paper that points out the alternative, the European Free Trade Area, if we find that the Franco-German driven direction of more integration is unacceptable? And a paper that reminds us that we have two years between 2014 and 2016 to decide where we might want to go?

Where is the detailed paper that volunteer activists can use that deals with the issue of the currency, setting out the options to the SNP government’s position? They do exist. Where is there information available that shows the balance of the Scottish economy between manufacturing and services, as opposed to the imbalance south of the Border? Where is the ruthless analysis of the inadequacies of devolution? Above all, where is the penetrating, scathing, scourging analysis of the state the British state is in, and why it is in this state – showing the future for Scots if they remain with failure?

There is nothing to be afraid of in a Yes campaign that reveals the weakness of what the No side is asking us to abide with, and nothing to be afraid of in engaging with people on the range of issues, and the options available, that differ from those proposed by the SNP.

Scots need information, not just assertions. We are a mature, well-educated people who should be treated as such. The Yes side should show us respect, and arm the volunteer activists with the material they are desperate for, and which can form a genuine national conversation and debate. Those who run the Yes side should understand that you cannot campaign without a solid base of information – something that, so far, is missing.

• Jim Sillars is a former deputy leader of the SNP