The Road To The Isles


It began life as a somewhat idle notion, but one soon re-enforced by the meeting of creatives held in Glasgow some weeks ago. Among the many expressions of enthusiastic opinion geared to maximising the Yes vote was one articulated by David Greig. 

His own journey to settled conviction had been a heart followed by head affair, he admitted.  But the more he thought about the opportunities afforded by independence, the more he examined Scotland’s possible place in the world, that posture was reversed.

Now his head told him that Yes was the obvious vote, and his heart was very happy to concur.

But, in a telling rider, he expressed a parallel conviction that gathering support was not about lecturing; certainly not about hectoring. Neither was it about beating folks about the head with what you had concluded was irrefutable evidence of the country’s capacity to self govern and prosper in the process.

Better by far, he’d concluded, to listen to doubts and fears,  reservations and anxieties with an open heart and mind and respond with respect and reassurance.

The advantages of his  approach seemed obvious. In the first instance there is already a substantial level of switch-off among the undecideds, most of whose bullshit detectors have long since granted them immunity from inter-party bickering, and who were not in the market for another year of statistical war and scaremongering from whatever quarter.

But advantageous too is what a listening exercise brings to the equation; an opportunity to gauge what inspires or troubles those who are not indifferent to the debate so much as uncertain of the genuine arguments as opposed to the manufactured variety.

And that notion?  The independent MSP Jean Urquhart and I are old friends. We have different perspectives on some things, but we share an unshakeable view that the Referendum gives Scotland an extraordinary opportunity to make its way black  to full nationhood in a civilised, bloodless, electoral coup.  No voters will be harmed in the exercise of this franchise.

So we decided to combine a holiday in the Inner Hebrides with an opportunity to meet and greet voters in informal settings rather than public meetings, to listen and learn, and to share our passion that this was an opportunity not be be scorned.

We did, however, go to the lengths of a uniform!  Armed with a selection of Yes T shirts, badges, banners, and leaflets we thought we might as well wear our hearts on our sleeves and wherever else might be appropriate.  Similarly my elderly Beetle emerged with a makeover, now visibly re-branded as the Yesmobile.

This all had an immediate effect.  People ask about the badges, then about the purpose of your journey, then, invariably, share their own thoughts with you. More of these thoughts later.

We had asked various contacts to let us meet don’t knows rather than the already persuaded and in the first gathering in Arran, set up by a supporter in the local health centre, the folk who came were not hostile, but neither were they convinced.

Most felt they still lacked meaningful information about the consequences of a Yes vote. Many, from other political traditions, were yet to be convinced that the Yes campaign was a truly cross party affair rather than an arms length branch of the SNP.

But, as we were to hear time and again, the most obvious stumbling block which has to be overcome is that of resolving anxieties regarding both personal and national finances.

The acknowledgement that Project Fear had gone well over the top didn’t mean that some of the many doom laden spectres weren’t still haunting their discussions.  And those who were already committed Yes voters told us that these fears about security for both them and their children and grandchildren were the most frequent issues raised.

These were conversations to be repeated with  voters on Islay, Mull and Iona.  In Tobermory, the script got slightly muddled and we found ourselves in a room of Yes enthusiasts, all very comforting and useful, but we’re not going to get over the line preaching to the converted.

It’s clear too that preaching to the unconverted is not always easy to arrange.  The Mull folks had intended setting out their stall – literally – at two local rural events.  The organisers were not keen unless Better Together did likewise.  You will not be surprised to learn the latter  felt unable to oblige.

This is a ruse that is being repeated in some areas of broadcasting: if you refuse to take part in a debate, you essentially prevent that particular item from being scheduled. It might be smart politics, but it’s a pretty sleekit way to go about discussing the future of your country.

As we journeyed on – in fabulous Scottish sunshine and amid glorious scenery –  there was also the chance of  smaller encounters with extended local families and their friends. Talking privately and frankly they made it clear that they feel deprived of tranches of the kind of information they felt essential to inform their judgement.

“I want to vote Yes, but……” was probably the sentence most often uttered.  My sense is that sentiment is a positive one, in  that there is, both anecdotally and statistically, a very large constituency which is not hostile but uncertain.

They are entitled to have that uncertainty respectfully addressed.

For my own part I also think a major plank of this conversation with the electorate  has to be around the kind of society we want to live in, contrasted with  the kind of society being constructed by the UK coalition.

As NHS England implodes, the Education services continue to cower under a barrage of ministerial interference, and immigration officers travel London suburbs in lurid vans primarily bundling  brown skinned citizens into them on the flimsiest of evidence about their status, we get a pretty clear picture of their direction of travel.

As families are split up,  and the disabled penalised thanks to draconian welfare “reforms” over which we have no control, we begin to understand  just how unequal a world this ill assorted administration is prepared to have us inhabit.

My own hunch is that the enormity of these injustices will have  a cumulative effect on Scottish voters. But so too will the tone of the debate in which we are now engaged.

As has so often been re-iterated, if all the convinced supporters of Scottish independence – from all parties and none – persuade one more voter to become like-minded, the prize will be won.


Soon To Be Ironed And Ready To Go Again

Jean Urquhart has just sent me a post holiday pic: the Yes T shirt’s drying on the washing line. They’ll be ironed and on the march again very soon. After all, we’re the kind of gals who just can’t say No.

Ruth Wishart
National Collective