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8 October 2018

Scotland’s independence marchers show the movement is far bigger than the SNP

All Under One Banner is creating its own carnival tradition in pursuit of a Yes vote. 

By Pat Kane

On Saturday, the day before the Scottish National Party conference opened, thousands of people marched through Edinburgh in support of independence, in an event organised by the umbrella group All Under One Banner. 

The AUOB marches are a sign that there is an “independent” independence movement. This is, in fact, the strongest legacy of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, where DIY values pertain. 

The AUOB marchers don’t always see eye to eye with SNP government – for example on land reform, and a separate currency – and they are not alone. Other umbrella organisations are kicking into life, such as the Scottish Independence Convention for example, whose strategies draw support from the think tank Common Weal.

But the intent of the self-described “DIY Yes” groups is, like the regular street occupations of the Catalan independence movements, to create a “marches” or “carnival” tradition: these events’ emphasis is on families, on display of international flags, on music and celebration. 

Some in the movement worry that such displays of gentle patriotism may alienate swithering No voters, rather than attract them. It is this same group that the SNP aimed to placate with its Growth Commission, which followed in the tradition of the 2014 White Paper in stressing continuity with many institutions of the UK state. 

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The Growth Commission report, published earlier this year, has sparked a genuine economic debate. The question is: if turbulence is now endemic, what turbulence is worth it? 

The Scottish government proposed a shared “sterling zone” in 2014, but now sterlingisation (using the pound in open markets) also implies staying within the Brexit framework, at least for several years. Does this just put off the tough task of establishing banks, a durable currency and the nation’s creditworthiness? 

Others suggest using the post-Yes period to set up core institutions of macro-economic management, which will allow full adjustment to any prevailing economic or financial conditions. And all those considerations don’t include the input of the indy-supporting Scottish Greens, who hold the balance of power in Holyrood and are at best querulous about “growth” in the first place. 

For the Scottish government, Brexit mostly comes into the debate as a wrecking ball, swinging through its carefully-constructed global plans – soft power campaigns promoting key sectors like tourism, food and drink, education and engineering – over the last decade or so.

Much depends on what the coming Brexit deadlines bring. The recent polls feel right – the more calamitous and autarchic the Brexit outcome, the stronger an outright Indy majority might be. But if Westminster manages a Brexit fudge, even if it is just postponing the bad news, it will get the SNP off the hook of immediately going into the indyref breach again. 

The crucial point will be when those elements of EU continuity that could be connected to the Scottish 62 per cent Remain mandate – access to the single market and the customs union, free movement of people or a similar regime – are definitively smashed up for Scotland under a brutal Brexit deal or no deal. Then the Scottish government will have to make a dramatic decision as to whether to set the indy wheels in motion again (or not). 

But Brexit has also intensified feelings of Britishness among certain elements of Scottish society. And there are also those on the left who observe the EU’s behaviour with Greece, or its macro-economic strong-arming of Italy, and would like to maintain some geopolitical autonomy vis a vis full EU membership. This latter group might also be an electoral gateway for Corbynism into Scotland… if the Scottish Labour Party were not such a disreputable, derided mess. 

If the SNP is to win its great prize, it will need to reframe independence as the project of continuity and stability (with the EU, but also with social democracy), and Brexit as the opposite. That reframing is what will get the crucial 15 per cent of doubtful or swithering Nos over the line. (Indeed, I have been told privately by those close to the Sustainable Growth Commission that the document, in its homage to stability and probity, is precisely targeted at this group). 

Events way outwith the control of the Indy movement and parties may play into these perceptions of stability or instability.

For example, if Nicola Sturgeon does campaign hard for Remain in a People’s Vote, what will the opposition’s posters look like? A reprise of the one where Miliband pops up out of Sturgeon’s pocket – except this time it’s Corbyn, or Vince Cable? What sentiments will her charismatic campaigning stoke in various English Leave-voting regions?

The AUOB marchers play this four-dimensional Star Trek chess game as well as any pundit. But there is something about their feet on the street which seems the most clearly determined element of this bewildering field of possibilities. 

Pat Kane is a writer and musician, and was on the board of the Yes Scotland campaign in 2012-2014. He is also on the board of the Scottish think tank Common Weal, and is a columnist for the independence-supporting newspaper the National.

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