Neale Hanvey: Let's put co-operation at the heart of our movement

The first major Scottish Independence event I attended was the march and rally held in Edinburgh on 22nd September 2012. Approximately 5,000 independistas from Scotland, Catalunya, Flanders, Veneto, Corsica and beyond marched from the Meadows to rally at Princes Street Gardens. The headline speakers were Alex Salmond, Margo MacDonald and Dennis Canavan with Dougie McLean leading the assembled chorus with a rendition of his anthemic Caledonia.

It was a tremendous way to kick off the next two years of campaigning, with each of the headline speakers presented their distinct vision of what independence could deliver for Scotland. But it was little known Allan Grogan of the nascent Labour for Independence group’s speech that I was most excited by. Allan’s speech spoke directly to the left wing values many in Scotland hold, but were discarded by Blair’s conservatisation of the Labour Party, and with it came the sweeping realisation that independence would usher in a Scottish political renaissance where such values would no longer be the purview of any London leader; we’d set the dial ourselves.

Reflecting on that day reminds me of the vigour of the campaign ahead when Scotland exploded with passion, ideas, and political ambition for our country. Whether Labour for Indy, SSP, SNP, Green or no party affiliation, any disagreement on policy in debate at Yes meetings, in cafes, bars and the workplace was amicably wrapped up with a shared understanding that anything beyond the proposition for independence would be sorted out following free and fair Scottish elections.

That ability to debate passionately and amicably was the unifying strength of the movement. After all one-size-fits-all was the political world we were trying to escape.

While I have missed Allan’s voice on the political scene in recent years, it’s hard to imagine how his distinctive perspective would find the same welcome it received in 2012. As a movement we seem to have found ourselves up a cul-de-sac where disagreement and debate on policy is routinely shouted down, and that noise is emanating from all sides. Surely as a movement we can do better than this?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of robust political challenge, as anyone involved in politics surely assumes. However, slogans and insults do not constitute political dialogue, and in the current political climate we urgently need to consider mediation and reconciliation or independence may well be out of reach for the foreseeable future.

So ask yourself, is that something you are prepared to accept? I’m certainly not.

The good news is that despite the headline grabbing assertions that the movement is irrevocably split, the reality is that this is just not true. Admittedly there are challenges in certain quarters, but this is not replicated at grassroots. Take my recent podcast appearance with Naz and Cammy for Dunfermline’s Yes in the City Hub (available on their YouTube). One an SNP Councillor, the other a staffer for an SNP MP, and both without question focussed on independence for Scotland. We had a great chat and it brought back to me and other SNP pals doing the filming, the energy and commitment of 2014.

What that interview demonstrated beyond doubt is that as a movement we can work together, we can unite around independence, and subordinate or divisive policies can be put to one side until after independence. No one has all the answers, the voice of a critical friend has value, and disagreeing on policy is not only normal it is essential to democracy.

This principle was set out eloquently in last weeks LGB Alliance Tribunal judgement which said,

"the fundamental rationale of the democratic process upon which our society is founded is that when competing views, opinions and policies are publicly debated and exposed to public scrutiny, the good will over time drive out the bad and the true will prevail over the false. Only when differing views are expressed, contradicted, answered and debated will the legislature be able to obtain the fullest picture of the views held by those they represent."

These words need to resonate throughout the political sphere as an antidote to the polarisation that is now so commonplace at home and abroad. Anyone involved in the campaign for 2014 will no doubt be able to apply the words above to the campaign we pursued back then.

Refusing to cooperate, speak or engage is the enemy of independence, whereas freely expressing differing political views and priorities is the engine room of better policy fresh ideas and progress to statehood.

Coming together as a broad church movement has always been a necessary condition of winning independence. Any narrowing of the campaign reduces its appeal and the evidence of that is becoming all too clear.

No independence supporter should be pleased to see the East Kilbride East by-election result. An SNP relegated to third place now risks delivering Scotland into the hands of a right-wing Starmer government. Pro-brexit, anti-immigration, Neo-liberal economics and pro NHS privatisation, all of which will be a disaster for our people and the plundering of our resources will only intensify.

I can only pray that the First Minister takes a sobering view of this result and doesn’t dismiss it as a ‘blip’. However much he may want to believe that’s all it is it’s increasingly clear the SNP won’t deliver independence alone. If we are to galvanise and build the 52% support for independence and resist a Starmer incursion then a #ScotlandUnited ticket is the only viable option.

But a #ScotlandUnited win at a General Election is only the first step, what we then do with it is even more important. At present my Scotland (Self-Determination) Bill is the only game in town that seeks to address the UK Supreme Court own-goal. It’s not a fanciful idea either, it is now backed up by Professor Robert McCorquodale’s expert international legal opinion. This week I challenged the Prime Minister directly on the People of Scotland’s right to Self-Determination. His reply will be instructive for the path ahead for everyone in the independence movement.

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