Robin McAlpine: Yessers must think like winners, act like winners and keep #ScotRef positive

CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal director Robin McAlpine says it's important for the independence movement to set the tone of the #ScotRef debate and challenge the lazy old frames

SO as far as I can make out the UK Government's official position is now "no Scotland, you can't leave – this suicide pact won't work without you". (To which the only sensible response is 'you first'.)

Nevertheless, we will either have a referendum before 2020 or I suspect we'll be turning the 2020 UK General Election into a little constitutional crisis. Either way, that gives us a clear timescale.

There really is quite a lot of work going on behind the scenes now and obviously we don't want to flag too much of that up while it's still in the preparation stage. But that means there is an awful lot of uncertainty out there – and more than there needs to be.

Which means, oh dear, I think this is turning into another 'listicle'...

Don't worry so much

I just spoke to a totally non-political friend of mine who is a big Yes supporter but is very worried that the mood at his work has even Yes supporters lacking enthusiasm right now. I've been getting quite a few concerned emails of a similar nature.

But here's the thing – that's pretty much what everyone was saying at the very start of the last campaign. We can't win. We're too far behind. People aren't ready. There's no enthusiasm for this.

Yup sure. It was true then and it is true now. We've had a two-year running debate on franchise, mandate and process. And we've had relentless commentary led by Ruth Davidson which talks about Scotland in a way that makes Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year read like a sitcom.

Until the last few months and weeks before a political decision has to be made, the vast majority of people are still only picking things up almost subliminally. Most people only start to think about a decision when it is imminent.

For as long as we're talking about process a lack of enthusiasm is inevitable. But once we start talking about vision and start converting concept into stories about people's lives, people will switch on again. If timetables hold, I'd expect us to be ready to move into that phase in six months.

And two things to remember – until the last few months and weeks before a political decision has to be made, the vast majority of people are still only picking things up almost subliminally. Most people only start to think about a decision when it is imminent.

In the end, it's a binary choice and the other side don't have a strong positive story. I've been clear that I would rather have started this campaign from a different place than we find ourselves. Nevertheless, we fight the battles in front of us, not the ideal ones. So get your greeting and your nail biting done now because soon there simply won't be time.

The Scottish Government must start work – right now

I want to pay tribute to the SNP leadership – it has very correctly recognised that this can only be won by a wider movement and is showing a lot of trust in that movement to drive things forward on its own. We must now live up to that trust.

But there are some things that it is beyond our ability to do, and so it must be the Scottish Government that does them. There are a number of these that revolve around producing a new White Paper. But I want to pick up two of them in particular.

The first is simple. The Growth Commission can recommend whatever currency option it wants, but let's get our cards on the table here. If what it recommends includes the word 'Sterling' in any context other than being preceded by 'pegged to', there's quite a good chance we're screwed.

We've published a paper on the case for a Scottish Pound, a second one on the detail of how to implement one [LINK: http://allofusfirst.org/library/how-to-make-a-currency-a-practical-guide/] and we're soon going to publish another 'troubleshooting' paper on how to deal with some of the tricky issues (protecting the currency from speculative attack in the early years, capitalising a foreign currency reserve, dealing with transaction cost issues and so on). Another paper on setting up a central bank is also underway.

I want to pay tribute to the SNP leadership – it has very correctly recognised that this can only be won by a wider movement and is showing a lot of trust in that movement to drive things forward on its own. We must now live up to that trust.

That body of work is enough to provide a detailed prospectus for what we have to do. There aren't endless options. And this is a political decision more than a theoretically-economic one. Wait and see is weak. 'Sterling then something' is weak. 'There are lots of possible options' is weak.

To be clear, there are perfectly solid arguments for Sterlingisation and the Euro and a steep learning curve for the public on a Scottish Pound. But the only strong response is to put this in our own hands, not be supplicant. Which means we need to bite the bullet and commit to a Scottish currency soon. Only the Scottish Government can commit.

The second thing that is Scottish Government territory is the deficit. Here I think at Common Weal we've come up with a very solid methodology – don't subtract from the UK budget to infer a budget for an independence Scotland but rather build it up from the ground.

We've found the big-ticket easy wins (bring defence spending down to the realms of sanity, actually count the tax impact of repatriating civil service jobs, refinance debt and so on). But we had to make a couple of more contentious assumptions (UK paying a small proportion of pensions costs to 'buy it out' of its commitment).

But there are some things that it is beyond our ability to do, and so it must be the Scottish Government that does them. There are a number of these that revolve around producing a new White Paper.

However, we're certain that if the hours were dedicated to going one layer further down into GERS and digging out actual spending activity and replicating only things that we'd want to actually do in an independent Scotland we can achieve deficit parity (being no worse off fiscally outside the UK) without contention.

Only the Scottish Government is really equipped to do this. As soon as referendum legislation is passed, I think it would be legal for the Scottish Government to dedicate resource to do this.

(And yes unionist readers, it's 'politicising' the civil service – in exactly the same way you're going to do with the Treasury. C'est la guerre. Can you please be grown up about it and not call us names for doing what you do.)

We need to reframe – assertively

How is holding an independence referendum in the middle of overwhelming uncertainty and act of 'uncertainty'? Which 'certainty' is it that 'business leaders' are worrying we will disrupt by trying to restore certainty to Scotland?

Why is a party supported by about one in five people who went out to vote allowed to present itself as speaking for the majority of the nation – when it isn't? If previous rejection is a subject for discussion on radio, can we talk about how thoroughly Ruth Davidson's party has been rejected in Scotland for half a century?

Why is two unionists plus one independent supporter considered balance? Why are people who are actively anti-independence allowed to be presented as neutral commentators but independence supporters are always independence supporters?

There are a set of frames that the media uses to understand independence. Indy people who get on the telly generally try to be reasonable and work within these frames. We shouldn't, we should challenge those frames.

There are a set of frames that the media uses to understand independence. Indy people who get on the telly generally try to be reasonable and work within these frames. We shouldn't, we should challenge those frames.

That does not come from complaining or sounding paranoid. It comes from carefully devising your own frames and dragging the debate into those. A good White Paper IS certainty for Scotland in comparison to what we've got just now. Scotland IS divided on this issue, so let's see if we can't resolve that division through an informed debate.

Economics is not a neutral science. Anecdote is not fact. Balance is letting people hear both ideas equally, not letting every career politician have their moment in the sun. We're not clever enough at this stuff just now.

Take unionist arguments seriously – but don't worry about unionists

I can't stress this enough – Ruth Davidson and Brian Wilson want to drag us down into a dirty, bare-knuckle fight in the dirt. They want the public to be exposed to the sight of two groups of professional politicians tearing lumps out of each other while the public walks away.

(They want this particularly because the media describes every move we make as dirty but turns a blind eye to their eye-gouging.)

Ruth Davidson isn't going to be in a position of real political power in your lifetime or hers. I'm actually a little sad to say that Kezia Dugdale may not even be in a job by the end of May (I don't dislike Kezia as much as many of you). Willie Rennie is the definition of marginal. Brian Wilson is crazy.

If you find yourself jumping up and punching the air because one of your politicians landed a splendid blow on one of their politicians, remember that most people just shrug.

They are not your concern. They are not your targets. They don't matter. Stop worrying about them. They think they're in an argument with us. Meanwhile we're in a conversation with the wider public. That's the only conversation that matters.

Now having that conversation means that we need to take seriously the things that unionist politicians are saying (and some of their arguments are completely legitimate and are ones we absolutely should be talking about anyway). This isn't stick your head in the sand stuff.

But if you find yourself jumping up and punching the air because one of your politicians landed a splendid blow on one of their politicians, remember that most people just shrug. It's them you're talking to. Stay away from unionists. It's not how we win.

Finally, act like we're going to win

Cautiously, I think we are going to win. It's a well-known social phenomena that mood is contagious. That's why unionists want the mood to be dark and terrible. We need to make this a 'festival of a better future', because, done well, optimism is more contagious than pessimism.

We need to behave like we expect this outcome, because there's a remarkable correlation between expectation and how people make decisions. Honestly, do the unionists look like they think they can win?

But perhaps above all, act like we're going to win because we are going to win. Last time independence seemed new, kind of unlikely. It doesn't feel like that now. So work to win the referendum, then work to win a new Scotland when we do.

In the end, isn't that what this is all about?

Picture courtesy of Robin McAlpine

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Comments

MauriceBishop

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 16:09

Like the National, you have the luxury of embracing a re-run of the 2014 referendum because the campaign itself - regardless of its outcome - is, for you, fun and exciting and it makes money flow into your business.

Now, look at this little survey of REAL Scottish small businesses.
http://www.frenchduncan.co.uk/news/french-duncan-news/indyref2-survey-re...

You carry on having fun.

Justin Kenrick

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 17:56

Excellent piece.

The point it makes being illustrated by the comment from Maurice Bishop.

It was extraordinary watching some of the Holyrood debate on this - they really have nothing positive to say about either Scotland or the Union.

I don't underestimate the effectiveness of their game - after all trying to make people feel hopeless that we can use politics as a force for good is how those with power keep it (Clinton/ uncritical support for the EU) or increase it (Trump/ Brexit).

But, though we may well not have the social media on our side this time, any more than we'll have the moguls media, we are offering the real deal that Farage and Trump only pretended:

we are offering to really take back control for alll those getting a bad deal from the existing system, and we can do it with humour and care, not mockery and bigotry.

Don't get caught in their game, let's start from where we are and what we want: a society that doesn't exist to enrich the few, but a society for all, whether they voted yes or no.

Dave's picture

Dave

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 20:09

Hello Robin - the line below jumped out at me - btw - I'm on your side (whether we're 'Yes' or 'No')

You said: "In the end, it's a binary choice and the other side don't have a strong positive story. "

If the ballot only allows two boxes (forget about spoiling - in some votes it is my preference - or I'd prefer NOTA if we were allowed it) then binary it is!

But the road to the ballot box is not so Bipolar. In IndyRef1 I voted 'No' and Bella Caledonia published my feelings about this. The post attracted well over 100 comments - The "Wings" guy was hostile and I was called a "sociopath" by well meaning "Yessers". There were two thoughtful replies (and it pleases me that they were both from women) They said - if you're going to be as insanely idealistic as that John - you need fertile ground to give such fragility a hope of fruition. And they were absolutely right in the light of the accelerating hostility of the world at large to "giving a fuck". I'm now being seduced by "Yes" ... but a week is a long time n' all that.

My Bella Caledonia post went like this: You have to think of Tax as us freely sharing, not the "State" imposing on us. I work closely with friends in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Chester and Stockport. We want the best for each other usw usw. That's one consideration. I don't want to say to these friends - I'm not there for you anymore - I'm only here for the Edinburgh/Glasgow mates. Is it "Funny" - I don't know - but with Holyrood's devolved tax powers, I seem to have voted "No" and lost.

It's all incredibly complicated and it's definitely not a binary road to the decision for me - historically for example - my Uncle Frank was a para in WWII, fought hand to hand Jungle combat in Burma and survived forced labour in the Japanese rail building camps. His brother Joe was a stoker in a tank landing craft thatbhe sailed back from collecting in Baltimore and then manned an anti-aircraft gun while the ballast tanks had rendered the vessel a sitting duck to LuftWaffe Stukas on the beachheads of Normandy and Anzio. Don't let anyone ever say that WWII was a death of colonial imperialism war - it was not. Joe and Frank were about 19 in 1939 and their friends shed blood with the boys from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Chester and Stockport and never came home.

It is complicated culturally too - I grew up in the 70s - not many people nowadays will find much meaning in me saying that Joni Mitchell said that Nazareth's version of "This flight tonight" was better than hers. If you're not a "folkie" and you don't like Calvin Harris, then nowadays you have to look beyond Scotland for "bread" in the "man cannot live on bread alone" sense. Is Fred Macaulay a peer of Stewart Lee?

This has gotten too long for a comment so I'm killing it here.

The decision may be "binary" but the digital register word may be longer - if the word were "32 bits" there'd be many billion roads to travel to settle the most significant bit - that is - "Yes=1" or "No=0".

Enough for now - and keep on keepin' on.

John

Scot o' The World

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 21:56

Maurice, we're going to have a wonderful and exciting Scottish Independence Referendum - and we're going to win - whether or not you post doom & gloom.
Nice try btw.

Have fun!

Bill White

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 22:16

Maurice,

Independence will be bad for chartered accountants? Count me in mate!

Justme

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 08:55

I like your optimism, but look at what happened on FB after the tragedy of Wednesday. We had Yessers throwing conspiracy theories around like confetti. As long as we have that mindset, we are never going to generate an air of optimism. Given that Project Fear dominated the last referendum, that we had the older generation unable to sleep at night for worrying about their pensions and other Social Security benefits, I don't see how trying to generate a positive vibe can be perceived by the public as a whole as anything but false. We are where we are, and just have to deal with it in the best way we can. I hate being so negative but that is a legacy of 2014.

Jomry

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 10:01

I certainly agree that optimism will be a key ingredient in a successful outcome in the next referendum - and that will come from self-belief and self-confidence and a conviction that we are perfectly capable of running a successful country.

Unionism will do all it can to dent that optimism through MSM and establishment broadcasters. Just scan the headlines in any news stand in a supermarket and you have an ever present pageant of negativity boring into the consciousness of those who pass, whether they buy a newspaper or not. And while the falsehoods and unwarranted claims need to be challenged, this invariably involves following an agenda not of our making.

There are many very positive things happening in Scotland today - technological developments, scientific breakthroughs, innovations and enterprises, business and social achievements - which never see the light of day in our main channels of communication. Yessers are often unaware of them, and yet they are the ammunition to bolster the belief and confidence of those undecided about independence. Getting such info to a wider public will be a challenge.

Prof John Robertson has recently switched his emphasis from challenging media bias to "Talking up Scotland" - presenting research, reports and publications which present these positive achievements across a wide range of fields. And of course the bias of MSM and broadcast channels stems as much from what they omit to report as much as from slanted reportage. If anything, it is even more insidious.

If you look at http://www.scoop.it/t/talking-up-scotland you get a "news stand" of positive headlines and stories about Scotland, which exist in their own right - rather than being simply ripostes to agendas set by others. We need much more of this over the coming months.

LyndaF

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 13:59

The Scottish Government must also start acting even more as a government in charge. Whilst making every use of the powers they do have, they must also start making plans for governing an independent Scotland.

Make plans for renewables which don't need Westminster, make plans for infrastructure which doesn't need Westminster approval.

Plan for a deep water port to rival Rotterdam or Hamburg - strategically Scotland is in an excellent place for this. Servicing both freight and off shore renewables installation.

Let's not base our future solely on tourism and whisky.

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