Bored Yes activists are getting on each others’ nerves, but how much does it matter, asks Paris Gourtsoyannis.
Is the ‘Yes movement’ destroying itself from within?
For the past two weeks, some of its loudest voices have been embroiled in argument with one another, dedicating far more energy to internal conflict than the small matter of convincing ordinary folk that Scotland could go it alone.
Sparked by sceptical coverage of the independence march two weeks ago, the latest row has culminated in Alex Salmond publicly renouncing the Sunday Herald, the only newspaper to endorse the Yes side in 2014 and once the Old Testament in the pro-independence bible alongside its newer stablemate, the National.
But the fissures in the independence movement now are growing and radiating outwards like cracks in the ice. First came the split between eurosceptic Yessers – led by Jim Sillars and Alex Neil – and Nicola Sturgeon, who attempted to use Brexit for her abortive charge for a second independence referendum. That was followed by a debate about how soon Scotland would be ready for another referendum, which rumbles on in the SNP’s deputy leadership contest.
Among other things, Mhairi Black recently revealed she “hated” the White Paper that was the prospectus for independence in 2014. And after he suggested his party should slow down and take stock, the online pro-independence brigades turned on SNP MP Pete Wishart, who once egged them on.
Now the howls of betrayal over the Sunday Herald are set to produce another wave of pro-independence start-ups to supplant the hated ‘mainstream media’. While the likes of Pat Kane try to fund a Yes newsletter on £5 donations, others in the movement contemplate the flag-waving and newspaper-bashing with a shake of the head. All the infighting suggests that, if there is another referendum in the next five years, the independence movement that set the tone of the 2014 campaign will struggle to come together again under on banner, supporting unified message.
But did they ever? Pictures emerged following the march on 5 May of a banner carried through Glasgow bearing the message ‘Tory scum out’ in four-foot block capitals. In the corner, it bore the logo of Siol nan Gaidheal, the fringe-nationalist group whose members have been banned from the SNP since 1982.
Their name means ‘Seed of the Gael’, but SNP veterans have other unprintable nicknames for the group. Those involved in kicking them out remember Siol nan Gaidheal turning up at SNP conferences in the 70s and early 80s wearing berets and dark glasses – like Libyan revolutionaries – and occasionally carrying ceremonial daggers.
The backstory is worth remembering because it offers a reminder, when considering the fracturing of the Yes movement, the fault lines have always been there.
I’ve written before about how some parliamentarians in the SNP’s remote outpost at Westminster show signs of growing a bit bored. After the comedown from 2014, imagine how independence activists feel? Like Judean Zealots of Monty Python fame, a bit of squabbling is inevitable.
How badly it will damage the cause is another question. Those watching on from the Unionist camp with enjoyment are probably overstating the need for everyone in the Yes movement to get along. A single campaign and a single message seems unlikely. The fact that the last White Paper left so many questions unanswered, and left so many activists unhappy, suggests that such a comprehensive effort might not be possible next time round. Already, there’s an acceptance of the need for a more honest approach to the economic downsides of leaving the UK.
As unappealing as it sounds, if the leaders of the next independence campaign have learned anything from Brexit, theirs will be an appeal to faith in spite of the facts, rather than an argument based on them.
Ultimately, whether there’s another independence referendum will largely depend on two factors: how the public responds to Brexit, which is beyond anyone’s ability to shape, and whether there’s a pro-independence majority in the next Scottish Parliament. Everyone may have fallen out with each other by then, but a common purpose could bring them together again anyway.