Robin Mcalpine is a very clever guy. If you follow Common Weal you will be familiar with the work of a think tank that actually earns that name The rigour of the organisation’s efforts on research and policy development has to be acknowledged as exemplary even by those who disagree with the conclusion. Much of the credit for Common Weal’s work goes to Robin Mcalpine as Director. Anyone who has heard Robin speak will know how erudite he is. Ideas flow from the man’s head like treats from a burst piñata. All of which makes it difficult to explain the monumental silliness of his latest article on the inaptly named Common Space.
‘Yes’ means a lot to me – but it’s time to move on
The headline alone is enough to furrow many an independentista brow. What follows will have Yes activist jaws thudding to the floor. After explaining how emotionally attached he is to it, he solemnly declares that “‘Yes’ can’t be shorthand for the independence campaign any more”. That’s right! The latest great idea to pop out of Robin Mcalpine’s head is that the independence movement should abandon the term which has come to define it.
He may know a lot about a great many things, but clearly Robin knows nothing whatever about marketing. That’s what a political campaign is – a marketing exercise. We are trying to sell a product – independence. The ‘brand name’ of that product is ‘Yes’. And the first rule of marketing is,
DON’T FUCK WITH THE BRAND!
The brand is crucial. It represents the product. More importantly, it represents a set of emotions and attitudes which have been purposefully associated with the brand. Everything hangs on the brand, In many ways it is more important than the product. Because an effective brand can be attached to almost any product. It is not unknown for the brand name to precede the product. The marketing team at a confectionary company will come up with a name which they realise has great potential – market appeal and the ability to take on the positive associations of the company’s brand. Only then will the product development team design a product around that name.
The company brand is more important than the product brand because the company brand represents the positive associations which sell all of the company’s products. It may even be that the company doesn’t actually manufacture anything. That production is outsourced. The company owns the brand. And that is all that matters.
I say all this in the hope of conveying just how vital branding is. It is not to be taken lightly. Organisations rarely alter their branding. If they do, it is only after a great deal of thought and research. And they must have a very good reason before they even start to think about altering the brand. So what are Robin Mcalpine’s reasons for urging us to drop the ‘Yes’ brand?
Robin gives several reasons for abandoning the established ‘Yes’ brand. The first is that “we’re unlikely to be allowed to use a ‘Yes/No’ question in the next referendum”. Many readers will recognise in that statement the meek subservience that is characteristic of the colonised mind. A mind in which is firmly planted the default assumption that the British state is superior. Or, to put it another way, that Scotland is inferior. Our political culture is inferior to the British political system. Our democratic institutions are inferior to the apparatus of the British state. Basically, if it’s Scottish, it’s inferior. The British are the boss and the colonised mind simply doesn’t question this.
On this particular occasion, Robin insists…. No! That’s wrong! He doesn’t insist, he just accepts the superiority of the British Electoral Commission and the rightfulness of its authority as the ultimate arbiter of what is permissible in a Scottish constitutional referendum This is an agency of the forces which are seeking to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination and prevent us from choosing to normalise Scotland’s constitutional status by dissolving the Union. If this isn’t the outside interference that is prohibited by international laws and conventions, nothing is. And yet Robin never for a moment doubts the Electoral Commission’s superiority. Because it’s British.
I would hazard that most people in the grassroots ‘Yes’ movement have by now recognised that there is no route to independence that adheres to the rules devised by those whose purpose is to preserve the Union at any cost to the people of these islands, and even at the cost of treating with contemptuous disregard the most fundamental principles of democracy. Those of us whose minds are freed from colonisation and who dare to question the authority that Robin so humbly accepts realised some time ago that we can only break the British Union by breaking the British rules.
The entire referendum process must be created and controlled in Scotland by Scotland’s democratic institutions. Nothing else is acceptable! And if this assertiveness discomfits colonised minds then it is for owners of those minds to make the choice. Either they maintain the sovereignty of Scotland’s people or they submit to the authority of the British state. It is not possible to do both, To choose the latter is to reject popular sovereignty with the necessary implication that the individual making such a choice cannot, by definition, be considered as serving Scotland’s cause.
Robin states that “it is now generally felt that yes/no questions are inherently unfair”. Well, maybe they are. But it is for Scotland to decide. Because it’s our referendum! We, the people of Scotland, own any constitutional referendum held in Scotland because it derives from our inalienable right of self-determination. Robin allows that he is not entirely persuaded by the “inherently unfair” argument. But, by his own argument, his opinion doesn’t matter. He has relinquished the right to choose by accepting the superiority of the British state. His preferences in regard to the referendum process count for no more than Scotland’s Remain vote in the EU referendum.
Bowing to the British Electoral Commission is a shameful thing on principle and not that clever in purely practical terms. It is surely evident to all but those who are hampered by BritNat blinkers or having their head up their arse that the British political elite want to ‘influence’ the referendum question in the hope of gaining some advantage. They know they will need all the help they can get. Also, it comes as part of them controlling the whole referendum process and helps to establish that arrangement.
We have to wonder if it is even possible to formulate a question that is absolutely free of potential bias. Because people see the question in different ways and from different perspectives, there is no way to rule out the possibility of them being marginally swayed one way or the other by the formulation. My own preference is that the question be a response to a clear and unambiguous proposal. Such as,
The Scottish Parliament has passed a proposal that the political union between Scotland and England be dissolved. Do you agree with this proposal? YES/NO
The certainty is that, whatever question is proposed, somebody will complain. I trust the Scottish Government to listen to those complaints and act on them appropriately. It has been proved beyond all doubt that the UK Government won’t listen at all and will act entirely in the interests of England-as-Britain.
But I digress…
If Robin’s first reason for abandoning the established ‘Yes’ brand is ill-thought his second reason can only be described as inane. He maintains that we should drop ‘Yes’ because “most of the power and most of the media is against us”. I have news for him. Most of the power and most of the media will always be against us regardless of what we call ourselves. They will seek to undermine and destroy whatever brand we use to market independence. They will inevitably do this because Scotland’s independence movement – along with an SNP administration and a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament – stands as a threat to the structures of power,. privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. British Nationalists don’t fear and hate ‘Yes’; they fear and hate what ‘Yes’ represents. They fear mass democratic dissent. They hate those who presume to challenge the superiority of the British state. You can change your name every month; they’ll still fear and hate you.
Robin should be OK, though. Because, by his own account, he has no desire to question or intention of challenging the superiority of the British state. So it should come as no surprise to find that he also embraces the narrative of the British state’s propaganda machine.
Credit where it’s due; Robin does urge failed newspaper editor, Neil Mackay, to desist from doing the independence cause the ‘favour’ he imagines he does by pursuing his “vendetta against ‘cybernats'”. Presumably this extends to all the pompous, sanctimonious, self-appointed gatekeepers of the independence’ movement. The Yes movement dominates social media due to sheer weight of numbers. But it is effective because it is people talking to people in the way people talk to people outside the bubble of Scotland’s intellectual elite. Many voices! One message!
But, having just berated Neil Mackay for his parroting of British propaganda smearing the Yes movement, Robin then joins him in trying to dictate the terms of debate and the manner of online conduct. Or, rather, he acts as a message-boy for the anti-independence mob, passing on the constraints that they want to impose on the way online Yes activists campaign. He doesn’t seem to realise that, once you accept the British Nationalists’ ‘right’ to impose the reasonable-sounding constraints you’re grabbing the thin end of a wedge which is intended to reduce the effectiveness of those of us who are happy to be labelled the ‘keyboard warriors’ of the Yes movement.
It seems, however, that Robin Mcalpine doesn’t think much of the Yes movement. He reckons the Yes campaign “is seen as backwards-looking, a tiresome rerun of 2014”. And he seems to agree with whoever made that assessment.
Look more closely, however, and it can be seen that it is he who is harking back to the 2014 referendum campaign with the now exceedingly tiresome insistence that we must all walk on eggshells around former No voters. That we must treat them like the most delicate of hothouse flowers That we must avoid the vaguest hint of negativity and never, ever refer to the fact that it was the No vote in 2014 which put us where we are now. Here’s his wee lecture.
A much more effective approach is to be forward-looking, to say ‘in 2014 you made the decision you did for the reasons you did and you were right to follow your instincts – but a lot has changed and there is a new decision to make…’. That is best facilitated by drawing a line under the 2014 campaign.
I’m not sure what makes Robin Mcalpine imagine that the Yes movement isn’t already aware of this and acting accordingly. Most, if not all of us ‘ordinary’ activists drew a line under the 2014 campaign long ago. If Robin had any contact with our campaigning on social media then he would surely be aware of how often we berate British Nationalists for constantly going on about stuff from way back then. The largest part of online comment from so-called ‘cybernats’ is, I venture to suggest, concerning the things that have happened since 2014 and things that are happening now. I further venture to suggest that, when it comes to the activities of online Yes campaigners, Robin is speaking from ignorance.
There is a part of the independence movement – or collection of cliques which associate themselves with the independence cause – that looks down on the footsoldiers and keyboard warriors of the Yes campaign. You won’t see them at Yes gatherings, unless they’re on the platform. You’re unlikely to bump into any of them on a Yes march. But you’ll be able read them pontificating about these activities – generally in a highly pejorative manner.
Yes! There are individuals and groups among Yes activists who take a different approach. It’s a massive and massively diverse movement. Of course there are a variety of campaigning styles. The intellectuals and righteous radicals tend to celebrate this diversity. But they do so while trying to make everybody conform to a single ‘approved’ model of campaigning. If diversity in a movement is good, then conformity must be bad. Yet everywhere we turn we find intellectuals and righteous radicals laying down the ‘One True Way’ that must be followed by all, lest they be condemned for the heinous crime of ‘not helping’.
I go back to what I said before. One message! Many voices! There is no ‘One True Way’. There can’t be. Because the electorate is not a homogeneous mass. Different people will respond in different ways to the same message. If you ever do find a message so bland as to offend nobody, it’ll be too weak and insipid to be effective. It’s a fucking political campaign! Given what’s at stake, we are entitled to press our case in as assertive a manner as possible without crossing that line into aggressiveness. And if we occasionally tread on that line as we push the envelope than that too is all part of hard-headed political campaigning.
I am not going to tell No voters that they were right. I am going to treat them like mature, rational adults and tell them that they were wrong. There is no disputing the fact that they were wrong with hindsight. But they were also wrong because they chose to ignore warnings given before polling day about the consequences of a No vote which, in many cases, have turned out to be over-cautious.
I have drawn a line under the 2014 campaign. But not before learning the lessons of that campaign. Including the valuable lessons that were to be learned from looking at the things that worked for the winners of that campaign.
It is those who insist we must follow the same procedure as before, and stick to the same methods, who are refusing to let go of 2014. They are the ones refusing to recognise that the entire constitutional ‘battleground’ has changed. They are the ones who castigate anyone who suggests that the changed circumstances demand a different and more robust campaign strategy. Robin Mcalpine and I are never going to agree on how the Yes campaign should be fought because we are talking about two entirely different campaigns. He’s talking about the campaign as he thinks it should be. I’m talking about the campaign as it actually is.
But Robin has not finished denigrating ‘Yes’. He denounces it as ‘tribal’. Get a load of this,
The polarisation of politics and the culture of social media means we are more likely to define ourselves as part of a tribe, or at least as not part of another tribe. We listen to our own tribe members much more clearly.
All he’s talking about here are the perfectly normal and ‘natural’ divisions that are bound to occur in a society where people are free to form and express their own views. Democracy is the way we deal with those divisions without fracturing society. Which is why anti-democratic British Nationalism is so dangerous. Because once the democratic routes to resolving differences are closed down, only one thing remains. And that is something no sane person wants.
To paraphrase the great philosopher, Homer Simpson, you can make anything seem bad by sticking a label on it saying ‘BAD’. The term ‘tribal’ is used as a pejorative label, not to describe something, but to manipulate our perceptions of it. For ‘tribal’ just read ‘political differences’. And I dread the day those are eradicated.
The rest of the article continues in the same depressing vein. Give up on ‘Yes’ because it’s ‘tribal’. And because the British state won’t allow us to use ‘Yes’. in the referendum ballot. It doesn’t even occur to him that this should be a matter for Scotland alone and not the British state or its agencies.
Give up on a referendum before 2021 because the British state won’t give us permission. And, even if they did, the conditions attached would be crippling for the independence campaign. It doesn’t even occur to him that this is a conclusive argument for not following the Section 30 route used in the 2014 referendum.
Give up on moving the campaign away from the ground of economics and onto the ground of the constitution, where it belongs. It doesn’t even occur to him that this suits the British state. It’s what they want. An economic debate favours the side which can churn out the most and scariest stories of doom and disaster. And those of us who remember Project Fear know how good the British propaganda machine is at scaremongering.
Give up on turning the campaign around so that we are asking the questions instead of answering them. Stay always on the back foot. Always on the defensive. It doesn’t even occur to him that all those questions about currency and the rest aren’t about getting facts, they’re about creating doubt. And by constantly attempting to answer them all you are doing is helping to feed those doubts. Nor does it occur to him that the anti-independence campaign wants us on the defensive. Not least because they know that the Union can’t stand up to scrutiny. So they avoid that scrutiny by throwing questions that intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals catch like circus seals catching fish.
I don’t speak for the Yes movement. Nobody does. (A situation we may have to address.) But I do speak from first hand knowledge of the Yes movement. And from some relevant experience in both marketing and political campaigning. I reject pretty much every word of Robin Mcalpine’s article. Initially, I rejected it in anger. Now I do so in despair.
Robin Mcalpine is ‘yes, but’. I’m still Yes. I’m all Yes. And that isn’t changing any time soon.
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