What’s peculiar about this outcome is that the Catalan indy movement is a hothouse of political dissention, a veritable alphabet soup of competing and factious parties, and a permanent brawl over strategy and tactics. Does that remind you of anywhere else? Like Scotland, for instance?
There are two obvious lessons to be learned from the Catalan experience. First, that internal debate – whether raucous or refined – is no barrier to electoral success. If a national movement is indeed truly national, it is bound to contain a heterogenous ensemble of political views and allegiances.
There is a second, equally important lesson here. Successful independence movements still require some sort of structure, or they will fall apart. But structure does not necessarily mean a hegemonic political party like the SNP. Rather, there has to be some agreed, non-partisan space that ensures joint campaigning – a space separate from the political free for all where the various parties, bloggers, grandstanders, elders, and young firebrands argue the toss.
Which is why a bunch of us in the Scottish independence movement have launched an organisation called Now Scotland as a non-party, grassroots campaigning body controlled only by its members. Our model (or one of them) is the Catalan National Assembly. For decades, the ANC has served as the bridge that brings together the disparate sections of the Catalan national movement in joint activity. It organises the famous million-strong marches, knocks on doors, and holds the meetings that animate the Catalan indy campaign.
Some discern something sinister in our project. Perhaps a political Trojan horse designed to undermine the First Minister? One critical voice is long-time Scottish journalist Euan McColm, writing in Scotland on Sunday. His piece is headlined: “The danger Now Scotland poses is to the SNP”. As with all political commentators, Euan is not averse to a little hyperbole. I can hardly complain as I was a columnist for The Scotsman for 15 years and have also penned for Scotland on Sunday.
The problem is that Euan’s piece about Now Scotland in SoS got a few facts wrong. I’m not blaming Euan. It’s up to us as a new organisation to set out our wares. But it might have helped clarity if Euan had picked up the phone to me as co-convener of Now Scotland. He might have gotten a better story.
According to Euan, Now Scotland is “the offspring of All Under One Banner, the group that insists on organising tiresome pro-independence marches which, pre-lockdown, would clog up the streets of Scotland’s cities while the rest of us were trying to go about our business”.
Let’s leave aside Euan’s personal views about the highly popular (within the indy movement) AUOB marches. It is indeed true that folk from AUOB helped initiate the zoom assemblies that led to Now Scotland. But other groups were involved in these early meetings, including the Scottish Independence Foundation which has funded a lot of activity among the family of Yes groups across Scotland. Also, the launch of Now Scotland was supported by leading independence activists with no axe to grind, including author and film-maker Lesley Riddoch.
Euan goes on to tell SoS readers that Now Scotland’s inaugural (and very interim) launch committee is “a rag-bag of second-rate politicians and campaigners whose achievements I am unable, on the grounds of their non-existence, to list”. Ouch! Yet in the sentence immediately before, Euan notes that Now Scotland is a “grassroots, non-party campaign”. One would hardly expect such a grassroots organisation to be run by people in Euan’s contact book. That’s the whole point of Now Scotland.
A potentially more telling criticism of the inaugural NS steering committee is that it contains some prominent opponents of the SNP leadership - including SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil and blogger Craig Murray. Yet the committee (which has a female majority) also has members who are favourably disposed to Nicola Sturgeon. And it contains folk from both sides of the GRA debate.
However, Euan fails to grasp that the steering committee does not make policy. As befits a democratic body, that is the province of the NS members in regular online assemblies. We are mindful that the primary activity of NS is not to count political angels on the head of a pin. We exist solely to promote non-sectarian campaigning to win over the undecided to Scottish independence.
Euan concludes his piece by suggesting that NS has Nicola Sturgeon in its sights: “So when Sturgeon does not deliver the referendum Now Scotland demands, what will it do? Will it agitate for the SNP leader to be replaced by someone who will gamble on an illegal referendum?”
Firstly, while I’m sure that the 2,000 NS members signed up so far would like to see a referendum taking place soon, we are not as an organisation in the business of determining who leads political parties. But neither are we bound by the decisions of individual political parties, which may be what is worrying Euan. NS members believe that only the people of Scotland are sovereign and capable of deciding the way forward. If that view has become contentious in certain quarters, that alone justifies the creation of Now Scotland.
George Kerevan is co-convener of the Now Scotland steering committee. NS can be contacted at nowscotland.scot