My early 2015, mid-general-election piece for Bella Caledonia, 5th Feb, 2015
Some Notes Against Complacency
By Pat Kane
In the midst of my own lunchtime cartwheels over the recent Ashcroft polls yesterday – showing Scottish Labour’s potential evaporation, constituency by constituency, by the SNPs rayguns – I received a few sharp throbs of pain from some ugly old Yesser scar-tissue. You’ve been here before, pal, came the message, in distinct morse-code-like pulses.
In response, let me batter out some Notes Against Complacency.
Note 1: You’re not the SNP – you’re the YeSNP – so act accordingly. I’ve already had pelters for minting the phrase “YeSNP”, but I’m going to stick to it grimly for now. “ScotsBloc” might work if there was more than one party in the coming General Election stramash – there’s not. But what does exist is a party swollen by the consequences of the non-partisan, culturally-conscious, community-led activism of the Yes movement. It’s also resulted in a brace of parliamentary candidates, some great pals of mine, who came to the fore in that movement, and who – I hope – will be men and women o’ independent (as well as Indy) minds.
The SNP leadership and its circles must remember that it lost a referendum on a prospectus mostly brewed up in an elite bunker. That bunker explicitly fashioned it as a play-safe strategy, whose keystone – the currency union – was as easily refuted by an implacable British state as Jim Sillars predicted it would be.
The recent appeal for manifesto ideas from the wider membership is a good move. But a wise course would be to keep remembering, more than ever, that it’s the turbulent energies of a diverse movement – and a movement well to the left of the Salmond era – that’s gotten them to this powerful, unexpected post-No position. I’m still calling them the YeSNP. So there.
Note 2: The YeSNP must keep engaging in a “Battle for Britain”. If the aim is to turn this early polling promise into actual SNP (oh, alright, I’ll release you for a moment) seats on the day of the General Election, the UK implications of their policy and ideological positions must be explored and extended. It’s started with the agreed “red lines” positions with Plaid and the Greens (and extended by Common Weal a few days ago).
In the coming debates, I don’t think we should underestimate just how brilliant it will look to see four blustering blokes being elegantly unravelled by three smart power-feminists I’m sure Natalie Bennett will get her act together for the event).
But the SNP should keep searching for allies in the rest of the island, particularly among a) the English non-Blairite labour-movement centre-left, and b) the plethora of English activist networks (like People’s Assembly, 38 Degrees, the anti-war and environmental movements, the gathering Northern regional pressure groups).
Look at the diversity of activists that Compass (used-to-be Labour left pressure group, now an “open tribe”) has brought together for its Change: How? conference kicking off this coming Sunday in London. Apart from the actual presence of Scots-indy figures, what does this mix of arts, workshops, performance, idealists remind you off? Yes, it’s a “National Collective” event in all but name.
The democratic carnival of the indyref has recalled the English left to its interest in the culture of politics – all that 80s and 90s invocation of Gramsci, and latterly Stuart Hall, that unfortunately got translated by New Labour into marketing strategies and Cool Britannia. Scots self-determinists have understood well for the last few decades that pluralism, and the right to self-expression, builds deep political muscles, rather than being “off-message”. We should embrace that the English left are remembering this.
The “anti-austerity” and “more powers” elements of the SNP/Plaid/Green alliance are deeply attractive to these constituencies. Also keep an eye out for a revival in popular anti-Trident sentiment down south as well, enabled by new network tools and with major-name endorsement.
To see and hear the SNP ally itself to these progressive English forces – stationed well to the left of Miliband’s Labour Party – will maintain credibility with those Scottish Labour voters who are actively considering “lending” their vote to the SNP in May. The SNP leadership should be alive to the ways that cultivating these rUK groups can give it a chance of a different story coming through the London-based mainstream media. This will impact on those Scottish voters who are more passive in their media consumption (ie, not the “cybernats” of legend). And on that point…
Note 3: The UK media-establishment complex will play hardball again.So keep consuming and supporting alternative media (including The National). It’s quite a realisation – and on a bad day, a somewhat chilling one – to find that you have entirely lost faith that the BBC’s UK news operation can ever fairly represent the politics of Scottish self-determination.
I’m sure many of you experienced the same shiver of cynical understanding the other day. Were the Ashcroft polls on the ScotLab collapse more like a warning klaxon than a snapshot of opinion – something fired up from one part of the media-establishment complex to awaken the rest? Doesn’t it actually herald the return of the blitzkrieg of lying, loathing and demonisation that we came to call “Project Fear” – and which, as it turned out, actually did do enough to intimidate enough Scots to keep Yes from victory?
Well, if it does, then we are at least as well prepared as we were, if not a lot better. One of the salient factors in Syriza’s victory in Greece was not just its use of social media, but its access to, and support from, both a national radio station and a national newspaper for years beforehand.
We know that Scots voters who were more passive and less interactive in their media consumption – older, more traditional voters – correlated more with a No voting profile. So it is incredibly important that YeSNP (it’s back again!) types and others economically support The National paper in these next few months (and its ideological sister, the Sunday Herald). The National will become, effectively, campaign literature that can be easily obtained at the street corner, and passed to friends who occupy this bracket.
Let me be clear – this makes no request for either paper to change its existing editorial policy. The National needs only be as committed to its desired, front-page outcome – “an independent Scotland” – as the Record is to its “Vow”, “Vow Plus”, or whatever variation of Labour Unionism it traditionally supports.
Yet I don’t want to downgrade that we’ve managed to build, and maintain, an alternative public media sphere in Scotland after the referendum, out of zeros and ones (and the steady commitment of writers and readers). Newsnet.scot has come about as a fusion of the old Newsnet Scotland site, and Derek Bateman’s passionate podcasting and blogging. Bella Caledonia maintains its preeminence as the home of progressive Scottish thinking and writing; Wings Over Scotland continues its necessary and meticulous media monitoring, “watch the watchmen”.
And commonspace.scot a project of Common Weal – is picking up speed as a vital aggregator of progressive-left Scottish (and global) content from across the Net, including these sites and many other independent bloggers. When any of them make their appeals for cash, as they doubtless will in the next few months, respond as well as you can. You literally pump oxygen into the largely airless abyss of mainstream Unionist media in Scotland.
And, at least until May, we do seem to have squeezed two regular, nightly political programmes out of the budgets of STV and BBC (though for how long, who knows). Merely from necessity, these shows have an appetite for new guests and voices, which figures from the indy media sphere in Scotland often provide. We should regard them as targets for intervention with interesting stories, angles and events.
Note 4: Stay awake. Keep talking. Do what you can. Whatever’s happening, and whatever the outcome, it’s better to be busy being born than busy dying in the post-referendum Scotland. And it’s a lot better than I expected it would be. That’s definitely worth a little throbbing scar tissue.