The referendum is over but the energy persists


  By Lesley Riddoch
It’s understandable Yes campaigners feel gutted, stunned and angry after the events of the last 48 hours.  55% of Scots voted No – and were immediately rewarded for their loyalty by being put to the back of the constitutional queue so Ed Miliband and David Cameron could play political games in the Commons.

  By Lesley Riddoch
It’s understandable Yes campaigners feel gutted, stunned and angry after the events of the last 48 hours.  55% of Scots voted No – and were immediately rewarded for their loyalty by being put to the back of the constitutional queue so Ed Miliband and David Cameron could play political games in the Commons.

News of Alex Salmond’s resignation served as a temporary distraction from the prevailing gloom. But last night ended with the sickening spectacle of a Union flag-waving mob terrorising folk in Glasgow’s George Square and foggy, heavy air hanging over Holyrood as the Media Village was dismantled.

All seemed bleak.

But then overnight, something seems to have stirred in the minds of many Yes campaigners simultaneously.  It ain’t over yet.  We still have a job to do.

Now it’s important to say that Yes campaigners do recognise the majority of Scots voted to stay inside the Union.  It was a close thing, but if the percentages had been reversed, Yes would have claimed 55% as an absolute victory.

But the result doesn’t mean the issues that brought so many non SNP supporters to a Yes vote have been resolved.  And not just because we have all so quickly discovered the three leaders “Vow” wasn’t worth the paper it wasn’t written on.

What did most of the 1.6 million voting yes actually want independence for?  Not the creation of a new set of Edinburgh city slickers, a tartan ruling class or Scottish jobs for the well organised boys.

Certainly not two more years of well-paid suits continuing to hog headlines and airtime– that would have been hard to take.  Changes at the top were all that interested the media.  But that motivated very few Yes voters.

Simply put, 45% of Scots voted Yes to transform Scotland.
We still can.

We still can become the better nation we wanted to become by fixing communities, backing social enterprises and creating new businesses to chime with the wider values of the 1.6million.  During the Yes campaign we raised cash, set up our own media, created new businesses, heard new music, saw new images and graphics, created choirs and empowered communities.

We can do it again.  We can harness the incredible energy of the Yes Campaign without having to waste time and energy tackling folk with sharp elbows who’ve been waiting in the wings for the opportunities of self-advancement that would have accompanied a Yes vote. 

We can rebuild Scotland from the grassroots up with support from anyone with cash and a conscience.  This way we can reach out to the folk in Glasgow, Dundee, N Lanarkshire, W Dunbartonshire and across Scotland who put a lifetime’s scepticism on hold last week to register, participate and vote Yes.

We can rebuild Scotland ourselves, encourage similar effort from like-minded folk who were part of the No campaign and demand that the Scottish Government changes its top-down agenda to facilitate change.

Of course there is no automatic common purpose between the many groups that turned Yes from a narrow party-led campaign into a broader movement.  Nor, to an extent, does there need to be.  The Yes movement thrived by letting each constituent part do what it did best. 

In contrast to the very hierarchical SNP, the Yes movement let go of the reins from the start, so that artists largely congregated around National Collective, practical activists settled in RIC, women joined Women for Independence, politically active folk were most active in the Common Weal, and journalists wrote for this great online venture, Bella Caledonia and many others.

In the best Scottish tradition there was no single person with a clipboard trying to corral free spirits into one name, campaign, venue or outlook – and indeed people happily moved between some or all of these campaigning groups during the months of campaigning.

The result was a giddy level of engagement and the creation of a real community with a virtual currency of trust and very real Yes shops and sympathetic cafes and bars for talk and chat.  I’ve made friends for life – from the women who gathered for hugs at the fabulous Yes shop on Easter Road before the vote to the actor Brian Cox whose warmth and wise words stopped me from greetin all the way through the first interview after it.

From sitting beside the marvellously outspoken designer Vivienne Westwood at that crazy Channel Four debate to discreetly slipping my Aye badge to an Asian shopworker in Tesco so store cameras wouldn’t pick up his request.

From discovering a massive audience in the middle of nowhere at Farr Village Hall to receiving my purse in a special delivery bag sent by the Yesser who found it after I drove off with it on the roof from a petrol station in Inverness.

From sharing a makeshift TV sofa with Pat Kane, Iain MacWhirter, Stephen Paton and Sarah Beattie Smith to speaking in meetings arranged by local communities in Kirkwall, Islay, Stewarton, Irvine, Melrose, Wigtown, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, Aberdeen, Dundee, Wick, Helmsdale, Strathpeffer, Farr, Newtonmore, Dunvegan, Barra, the Uists. Tarbert, Stornoway, Kinross, Innerleithen, Wiston, Birnam, Ballinluig, Lerwick, Stromness, Dunfermline, Ardrishaig, Elgin, Inverurie, Portsoy, Aboyne, Kirkcaldy, Livingston, Perth, Stonehaven, Stirling, Largs, Arran, Dunoon, Comrie, Fort William, Oban, Anstruther, Newburgh and Easdale.

I’ve relied on volunteers who’ve exhibited more professionalism and constancy than many “professionals” – from the folk who set up this ground-breaking news agency Newsnet Scotland, to Mike Small et al at Bella Caledonia, Ivan McKee and Michelle Thomson at Business for Scotland, Alison Balharry at Yes Scotland and activists in Women for Indy, Radical Indy, Common Weal, the National Collective and the self-starting local Yes Groups that’ve sprung up all over Scotland.

I’d like to pay tribute to this fabulously varied, un-herdable, indomitable, warm and generous bunch of people who gave me the best year of my life since the Eigg buyout in 1997.  I don’t want that aspect of the indyref to end and I’m not alone.

So why should it?

We’ve all had special conversations, real exchanges, hilarious moments and found new friends who’ve given us new confidence in this campaign.  I’d guess it’s the loss of this community, sense of purpose and connection which is fuelling our current indyref grief.

And it doesn’t need to.  Au contraire.

It’s time for campaigners to get back on the pony.

By mid-morning on Saturday a new hashtag was born #45plus (I’m not so keen on #the45 with its overtones of Jacobite battles).  The aim is to channel the spirit of the Yes campaign into new activity.

For some that will mean revisiting the independence vote itself if the opportunity presents itself.  There are Westminster elections next year.  Should a 45 slate stand?

And what about Holyrood?  Obviously members of the existing parties would be aghast to see new kids on the block.  But if the SNP and Greens don’t demonstrate a new political will to tackle the structural problems of Scottish society, new political groupings will undoubtedly form.

I’d be interested in setting up a ReBlossom tour encouraging communities to identify the things they need to change.  Maybe Yes shops can become 45 shops for a short period to facilitate that kind of discussion – or maybe that’s a step too far for overstretched volunteers and expensive leases.

Others have suggested starting a new TV channel – I’d suggest an online radio station like a MciPlayer too.  My husband and podcast partner Chris Smith wants to think about setting up a 45 Bank to back capacity building ventures.

Maybe that won’t be needed if existing banks remember why they are in business.  Will they?  I’m sure readers could add to this list – after a modest period of recuperation to get back some of the vitality lost over these last fractious months.
I know some folk are already critical of #45plus since it excludes the 55% who voted No last week.  That’s a fair point.  Many are clearly as interested in social justice, equality and grassroots activism as Yes campaigners – I quite accept that.

And yet, my first concern is to make sure the energy of the Yes movement is not dissipated if humanly possible.  That extraordinary energy was widely acknowledged – even by generous No commentators – to be the unexpected and transformational power house of the Yes Campaign.

In any case – it’s too late to stop #45plus.  In the viral way that most yes groups formed, #45plus is already on twitter and facebook profiles and is stimulating thought, optimism and action online.

After the stultifying, deadening feelings that followed the referendum disappointment, that’s good enough for me – for the meantime.

In the course the last six months many previously inactive Scots have become independent-minded, self-starting citizens.  That is as precious as the legacy of Alex Salmond – because that alone will truly transform Scotland.

[Newsnet Scotland has started a petition to have broadcasting devolved and brought under the control of the Scottish people.  The petition can be found by clicking HERE.

We would encourage everyone to sign this petition and make others aware of its existence.  This is important now that Lord Kelvin has announced he will be taking input from Scottish organisations on further devolution. 

Lord Kelvin has said he will present his recommendations on 30th November.]