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17 September 2014updated 24 Jun 2021 12:58pm

The empty cult of Yes: the silent masses in Scotland want to know what we’re really being sold

People have started to feel that behind the apparent hope offered by the Yes campaign is something more sinister.

By Ewan Morrison

You repeat a word enough times and it loses its meaning. That word in Scotland is Yes – the word behind the massively successful pro-independence PR campaign. On the advertising hoardings, on the lampposts, there are so many Yes signs that it’s impossible to walk down the street without the subconscious sound of the word in your head – Yes Yes Yes. Alex Salmond proudly boasted that he’d stolen a march on his opponents by buying up all the ad space in the country, and so now Scotland is plastered with the very same advert: an image of a newborn child’s hand in a mother’s hand and the words “Scotland’s future in Scotland’s Hands” and the word written big: YES.

It’s a powerful affirmation. Who could say no to this message of positivity and hope? You can only say Yes, otherwise you appear to be anti-hope and anti Scottish. Yes Yes Yes. It is asking you to affirm your very existence – and this is in Scotland, the land of “dour negativity” and Calvinism, the land of the “nay sayers” of old. Yes Yes Yes. The Yes campaign has encouraged followers to put yes flyers and posters in their windows to demonstrate their allegiance. You would think all of this would lead the Scots to voting Yes, but for this Scot and a hidden and silent mass of others the saturation of the Yes message has lead to Yes fatigue and made us ask –what is actually being sold here?

In the final week before Scotland goes to the polls, a week in which it is has been impossible to escape the Yes logo in all our public spaces, Scots have woken up from this hopeful dream of a politics of pure positivity. The don’t knows and the Nos feel intimidated by the Yes signs that Yes voters in their neighbourhoods have placed in their windows. People have started to feel that behind the hope of Yes is something more sinister. People are afraid to speak their minds, because out in the streets they have heard demonstrations and Yes groups silencing the words of their opponents with that one chanted word: Yes Yes Yes.

The PR, marketing and recruitment machine of the Yes campaign has done an impressive job, but at the eleventh hour, the Scots are asking “are we really voting for who ran the best advertising campaign?” Personally, I asked myself – what is really behind Yes, what does it stand for? What is on offer with independence? What is really on offer here? The efficiency of the Yes campaign is also its downfall – the gloating efficiency of a slogan without substance has been exposed as empty.

I joined the Yes camp out of the communal euphoria that had been whipped up by the cult of this one word, but I did not find substance, nor did I not find any real politics. Instead I found a kind of ecstatic refusal of real-world politics in favour of “positivity”. I found something a bit like witnessing a street seller in action. If independence was a product that was for sale, then the Yes camp were cunning salesmen – telling us as little about the product as possible by saying that this product was exactly what we as individuals wanted. It was thus they attracted the Greens, the Trotskyites, those disillusioned by party politics, anti-globalisation warriors, the English haters, the Gaels and the anti-nuke peaceniks. The salesmen told us that each and every one of us would be satisfied by this “independence” product, because this product was all about us, personally, and it was about feeling good about yourself – empowering yourself. You can become a “new you”, like the newborn in the poster. A crowd gathers, all wanting this desired product, this independence that fulfils all their desires but then some people in the crowd start asking – but what is this product really? How can it work for me if these other people are getting the same thing? And then someone else shouts – how much will it cost?

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In truth, the Yes camp is a ragged collection of factions all seeking power for themselves – a bigger slice of the political pie in a much smaller country. The unity and positivity behind the singular Yes has masked the divisions on the Yes side, between Greens who want no more drilling and the “it’s-our-oil” men; between steady state anti-capitalists and “business for Scotland”. There are even within the Yes camp factions of the old left that have long been pushed out of modern politics. The chanted “Yes”, it turns out, is as much about silencing the dissent among the ranks of Yes followers as it is about silencing opponents.

How will so many disparate and vying factions manage to create a better, more “positive” Scotland? We could have had an answer to this if months back the Yes factions had actually made concrete plans for the future and recognised their divisions, but instead they chanted the mantra of fantasised unity: Yes Yes Yes. This is why the word plastered all over our country has come to mean absolutely nothing. It’s an illusion of positivity. A hope about hope. A pure advert, selling us something we don’t need, something that does not even exist – a post-political dream of a new nation untroubled by the conflicts of the past or grim realities of the world beyond. Say it enough times and you start to believe it. Yes Yes Yes. Say it and see it too many times, and it vanishes into meaninglessness.

Ewan Morrison is an award-winning author and screenwriter

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