Robin McAlpine: Organise for indy – there's miles to go before we sleep

CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal director Robin McAlpine says it's easy to fall into a dip when strapped in for a long political journey, but it's all just a trick of the mind...

IF you have a large room to repaint, a big bit of garden to dig over, a thousand things to put in envelopes, a child's mess of Cat in the Hat proportions to clean up, you will probably be aware that the most depressing stage of the job is not the beginning, but about a third of the way through.

It is the point where, despite a lot of tedious, soul-destroying work, there is still more to do than has been done. That moment can defeat people.

The thing is, its a trick of the mind. A task which is a third finished is always a much better task than one which hasn't yet been begun. It's you that changed, not the task. The job didn't get harder; your patience, optimism and determination dipped.

I suspect that almost everyone who is hoping for Scottish independence or a social, economic and political transformation of Scotland is facing a dip soon – possibly even a crash.

This is unavoidably human and we all need to come to terms with it. And it's particularly important right now because I suspect that almost everyone who is hoping for Scottish independence or a social, economic and political transformation of Scotland is facing a dip soon – possibly even a crash.

Because while we have worked our socks off for years now, and despite the fact that we've achieved a lot, I think soon, each at our own pace, we're going to realise just how much more needs to be done before we can claim anything like a victory.

So I'll admit that I'm already there (and have been for weeks). It's not that I don't want to hold and win a referendum next year or the year after; it's that I don't think we've got a hope in hell of getting one and I'm not 100 per cent sure we'd win one even if we did.

And domestically, I really want to believe that we're already on a transformative path that will soon lead to genuine progress on economic and social equality. I really do. But we weren't five years ago and little has changed for the better since.

In the year after indyref I was invited to a load of places to talk about Scotland's political revolution – London, Venice, Copenhagen, Geneva, Bilbao, Kiev, Brussels and a number of times to the north of England. Others were taking us as a model, a source of hope.

While we have worked our socks off for years now, and despite the fact that we've achieved a lot, I think soon, each at our own pace, we're going to realise just how much more needs to be done before we can claim anything like a victory.

I was very glad to go, but I felt a little guilty because I knew that what happened in 2013 and 2014 was not yet etched into the substance of our nation. We hadn't created strong enough lasting structures and networks of power which could challenge the old order of vested interests and corporate lobbying.

There has been a very clear political change in Scotland as the Labour party has seen its hegemony not dented but utterly destroyed. But apart from that? Everyone who was running the show before is back running the show now.

Scottish citizens have no more control over the public realm today than previously. Activists, campaigners, party members and voluntary movements seem little more able to influence agendas than before.

In the National, Alyn Smith MEP wrote a piece highlighting a lack of think tanks and civil society organisations as a problem for Scotland. He's absolutely right. But we also need a public realm which is receptive.

And in any case, it's not enough that a new elite is created to challenge the old elite. We need a radical new participatory democracy in which it is citizens who guide our future, not whomever has the most money to pay the best connected lobbyists to get all the decisions they want.

It's not that I don't want to hold and win a referendum next year or the year after; it's that I don't think we've got a hope in hell of getting one and I'm not 100 per cent sure we'd win one even if we did.

Because a glance at this week's newspapers would show you that the public agenda still seems to be dictated by the corporate aviation industry ('thanks for the generous APD cut – now can we have our massively expensive rail link?') and the fracking industry ('we've been patient with you community types but enough is enough now – our annual profit margin is at risk').

We've challenged both these campaigns with carefully produced evidence to the contrary on fracking and on APD – but not a single newspaper other than the National would print so much as a word of our detailed analysis (and you'd think that compelling evidence that cutting APD is likely to shrink the Scottish economy would be considered newsworthy).

Oh brave new world, how much you resemble the old.

So yes, I'm in a dip. Thankfully, as an independence supporter, anti-nuclear campaigner, leftie and follower of Scottish national sporting teams, I'm well prepared for this. And there's only one way out of a dip – we have to climb.

So yes, I'm in a dip. Thankfully, as an independence supporter, anti-nuclear campaigner, leftie and follower of Scottish national sporting teams, I'm well prepared for this.

Which is why, having set out reasons to pour yourself a stiff drink, I also want to set out reasons for hope. Because while the task ahead is enormous, and while we may be weary with the struggle, so much of the hardest work is behind us.

We have a vision for a different Scotland, informed but not dictated by Nordic social democracy. It can never be overestimated how important it is to have a shared view of a different future – it has always been a precondition for change.

We have a mass of politically interested, educated and active people, another essential precondition for change.

We have nascent structures which can challenge and shape debate – I'd highlight CommonSpace, Common Weal's local groups, Women for Independence and its local groups, the flourishing of individual campaigns such as Tie, Global Justice Now's TTIP campaign, Upstart, Our Land land reform campaign, community-based anti-fracking campaigns and much more.

And, of course, there is the mass membership of the SNP. At the moment it sometimes seems to be treated more like a threat than an opportunity – but it really is a big opportunity.

But while the task ahead is enormous, and while we may be weary with the struggle, so much of the hardest work is behind us.

So if we have people, vision and emerging structures, what are we missing? The first thing we're missing is money. A guerilla campaign without resources can win battles – but generally well-funded lobbyists win wars. The money question is complicated so I'll come back to it another time.

The second thing we're missing is coordination and communication. With very little mainstream media interest in us we're rather stuck in terms of sharing information. In fact, we're inordinately reliant on two for-profit corporations – Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

Both pose serious problems for political and social organising. In the case of the former your networks will cover many people who are there for anything other than politics and you'll need to wade through all those pictures of cats. With the latter you're limited to a very small number of words which rather comes across as shouting in haikus.

But social media is crucial. If we want to take those next steps on independence and equality, we need to organise better and more effectively than those who oppose us. We need to be better educated on the issues than them. We need to be faster to react than them. We need – somehow – to be both more diverse and more cohesive than them. And, simply put, we need to think better than them.

There is no magic to this – it can only come from having enough people who want to work together towards a shared end and having more people who want to listen to each other than who want to 'defeat' each other. I think that exists.

There is no magic to this – it can only come from having enough people who want to work together towards a shared end and having more people who want to listen to each other than who want to 'defeat' each other. I think that exists.

But while there is no magic to it, it is certainly possible to help it along. Which is why this Saturday Common Weal is launching CommonSocial (it's fully integrated with CommonSpace where you will be able to switch between the two).

It'll be a fully-functioning social media site where you can do anything you can do on Facebook. But it's designed specifically for people who want to organise politically. Our sincere hope is that it becomes a place for people who want to work together, not for people who want to win arguments (who will still have Twitter).

I think we all have a long way to go yet. I know a lot of you suddenly believe we have a strong sense of direction. I fear it is more illusory than it first seems and I think we're drifting more than is widely accepted. I know that more and more people are coming to the same conclusion, particularly among those most experienced in politics and campaigning.

I know we will find direction, but I don't think that the people who can help to create that direction will all fit round one table. If we really are going to etch change into the substance of Scotland I think we're going to need a bigger table. That's what CommonSocial is supposed to be. We hope you find it useful.

Picture courtesy of Robin McAlpine

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