Wanting in, not walking out

Posted on June 17, 2012

Anyone familiar with the tone of online political debate in Scotland will be able to imagine my Twitter feed last weekend, when the news broke that the Greens were to “walk out” of the Yes Scotland campaign. Where one newspaper began, others followed suit with headlines including words like “split” and even “defection”. Of course nothing of the sort had happened.

The situation, as we explained patiently and repeatedly, was very simple. Despite many months of suggesting to SNP figures that discussion was needed about how to form a joint campaign for a Yes vote to independence, there had been no progress. Even when the date for a launch event was being touted by the media, we were being assured that no decisions had been taken. To my dismay, not surprise, the date was confirmed, the launch organised, the declaration written, the Yes Scotland organisation formed and the messages chosen without any hint of joint decision making.

Even so, we share the objective of a Yes vote in 2014. On that basis, and with plenty of public comments about the need for Yes Scotland to become a genuinely inclusive campaign, I accepted the invitation to speak at the launch. I made it clear that rapid progress was needed on the questions of participation. Since that time, there has been none.

Yes Scotland was, and remains, entirely controlled by the SNP. There is, sadly, no basis on which another political party can join. Our party’s national Council has therefore decided that the issue can’t be resolved until our conference in October, when the greatest number of our members can take part in the decision and where all the option scan be considered. I very much hope that by this time Yes Scotland will become a broad and inclusive organisation, where the key decisions are taken together by the participants, not by a closed group chosen by the SNP leadership.

Some have told me (in the bluntest language known to social media) that the SNP are right to remain in charge. They have the resources, both human and financial, to organise the campaign. More than this, they have the democratic mandate to hold the referendum in the first place. These facts are not in question.

But even their astonishing election result last year did not achieve a majority of support, and there is no doubt that a proportion of their voters wanted them in government but don’t (yet?) support independence. When it comes to the referendum, 49.9% will be a failure, so the Yes campaign must reach beyond the SNP, using arguments which they would never advance. Indeed it must reach beyond party politics altogether, and it can’t do this under an iron grip from the SNP leadership.

This means much more than simply expecting people to stand on a platform together, smiling and clapping along to a content-free assertion of the word Yes. It means taking key decisions about the direction of the campaign together. It means having a forum to discuss the policy differences between us instead of ignoring them; properly articulated the diversity of a Yes campaign can be a strength, but if those who oppose the SNP’s particular programme are expected to simply shut up about our politics there’s no way a campaign can stay together.

I look forward to voting Yes in 2014, not out of nationalism, but out of the conviction that the transformation needed in our society and our economy, a transformation which I believe Green politics represents, can best be achieved by Scotland as a small independent country. I know there’s a lot of work to do if we’re to convince the unconvinced about that case. There are many in my own party too who are open minded but not yet certain how they will vote. A broad and inclusive Yes campaign will have a chance of engaging with far more people as they make their decision than a top-down SNP controlled campaign can do. It could also lead a more honest debate, not pretending that independence offers a bright and shining future, or a disaster waiting to happen. The truth is somewhere in between, and the people we need to reach already know it.