Ross Colquhoun: Journey of Yes

ross

This is a speech taken from National Collective Presents… at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on Saturday 16th August 2014.

Like many other Yes voters, my decision was a culmination of conversations and research. For me it was a relatively straightforward decision to become a Yes voter when I was 15 years old. My Grandparents and my Mum have been a huge influence on my life and my Grandfather posed the question;

“Why wouldn’t Scotland work as a successful independent country?”

Indeed.

To say that my involvement in the Yes movement has been unexpected, is an understatement.

The vast majority of my family were traditional Labour voters. Yet like so many in Scotland, Labour’s steady shift to the right, teamed with the unimaginable horrors of the Iraq invasion, created a loss of faith in their party that was now unrecognisable.

The demise of the traditional Labour Party party shook up and remoulded the political landscape across the UK, but this was particularly felt in Scotland. No longer were we Labour’s Scotland. The notion of a traditional Labour voter crumbled, replaced instead with entrenched apathy.

In many ways Scotland is and has been a Labour country. The NHS and welfare state which Scots cherish were established by Labour. And despite the SNP’s success at Holyrood and in local elections, Labour remain our largest Party at Westminster.

But the values and aspirations which have driven men and women of principle to support Labour for generations are now moving them towards support for an independent Scotland.

We at National Collective come from a wide variety of political backgrounds, and like the independence movement as a whole, many of our members are involving themselves in politics for the first time. But we are unified by the rejection of a Westminster political system that ignores the many and serves the few.

There is a reason why opinion polls indicate that support for independence is highest amongst those on low incomes. For many who traditionally look to UK Labour governments to improve their lives and their communities, they now see British politics as broken. A broken politics that lead to the SNP winning in the Scottish election which has taken us towards a referendum on Scotland’s future.

It was at this point I started thinking about how I could get involved. What would my contribution be to the campaign?

Initially, I thought I might design some posters.

But, after conversations with friends Euan Campbell and Andrew Redmond Barr, we quickly realised that there was a need for a different approach to a campaign of this significance.

Images have always played an important role in shaping our identity, our culture and our perspective on history. And it is our belief that art and creativity has an immeasurable power to influence people, to dispel political apathy, to inspire ideas and to motivate change. Some of the major obstacles facing the Yes campaign.

National Collective was formed with this in mind, with the aims of arguing the positive case for Scottish independence and imagining a better Scotland. We launched our website and started to publish articles. After 4 months our website was receiving 40,000 visitors a month from across the planet. It was then we realised that there was a substantial appetite for alternative voices.

But this wasn’t enough. We needed something to happen to raise our public profile.

Enter oil baron Ian Taylor.

On Sunday 7th April 2013, Better Together revealed the details of those who donated £1.1 million to their campaign. The Sunday Herald provided a platform for Ian Taylor, who donated £500,000 of that money, to explain why he chose to back Better Together to such a degree despite not being eligible to vote in September.

We were confused. Nobody in the press seemed to be expressing any concern over Taylor’s background, despite a series of press reports linking Vitol Group, the world’s largest oil trading company, which Taylor serves as CEO, to several ‘scandals’. So we collated a series of stories already in the public domain, and in doing so challenged Better Together over the source of much of their funding.

The reports we raised were serious, and we did not publish them brazenly or without due care. Taylor’s company had been accused of giving $1 million to a Serbian Paramilitary leader, of bribing Saddam Hussein’s government and of tax avoidance, amongst others. All of these stories had been sourced and had been in the public domain for several years. We simply, in response to Taylor’s piece in the Sunday Herald, compiled them and asked Better Together to respond.

Within days, Mr. Taylor’s lawyers sent us legal threats accusing both Michael Gray and myself of defamation. We were informed that they would pursue substantial damages from us personally if we did not remove the article immediately, publish an apology and agree to never to publish the material again.

We took this threat seriously, of course. Ian Taylor is a rich and powerful man and the courts are often a rich man’s playground. Out of fear of provoking further action, we were forced to become silent. We didn’t tell our closest friends and family what was happening. We sought legal advice. We went through the original article with a fine tooth comb to check if, in fact, there was any basis in the claim of defamation. We couldn’t find any. So a week later we held a press conference at Nelson Mandela Square in Glasgow to announce that not only would we not be backing down and removing the article, we would be investigating every avenue of their business for further evidence of ‘dodgy deals’.

National Collective was now on the mainstream media’s radar.

As our work continued, much was written about the strong artistic support for the Scottish independence, although this should be no surprise. Throughout history, artists have been at the heart of social change across the planet.

However, it would be a mistake to think that this movement exists in isolation or could be replicated regardless of context.The members of National Collective and the wider Yes movement are brought together by the many stories about a better Scotland: those that have brought us to this point, those that we have helped to shape, and those that are yet to be told. National Collective exists thanks to an unprecedented opportunity to talk without limitation, from first principles, about what our society is and might become. Ours is indeed a fortunate generation.

In 2012/13 our membership reached over 3,000 and our organisers and editorial groups grew with many talented people from all walks of life, including; poets, architects, illustrators, teachers, scientists, photographers, graphic designers, students and more. We established local groups in communities across Scotland, who in turn, have hosted cultural salons, which have provided a platform for artists to speak and perform to undecided voters. In the summer of 2014 we took our movement to communities across Scotland as part of the Yestival tour and Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme “National Collective Presents…”, with more to come.

This year we have a question that will define our generation. We can be the Scotland who chose to grasp the opportunity to create a better society, or the Scotland who put fear before hope.

Scotland’s Referendum is a fork in the road, it’s about the nation we are and the nation we want to be.

Would you rather live in a country that welcomes immigrants or detains them?

Would you rather live in a country with a strong welfare state at the heart of its society or a crumbling welfare state facing privatisation?

Would you rather live in a country that is a positive influence on the international community or a warmongering dwindling empire?

Would you rather live in a country that advocates peace in the international community or stores nuclear weapons in our communities?

Would you rather live in country where we can tackle child poverty head on or where ⅕ children live in poverty?

Would you rather live in a country where you actually get the government that you voted for or one where we are perpetually given governments that don’t reflect our demands?

It really is that simple.

For the first time, Scotland’s future really is in your hands on September 18th 2014. Vote Yes because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us to build a better Scotland.

Ross Colquhoun
National Collective

email

About Ross Colquhoun

Ross Colquhoun is a visual artist, graphic designer and the director of National Collective. An alumni of Edinburgh College of Art's School of Visual Communication and founder of Human Resources, he believes that art has immeasurable power to influence people, to inspire ideas and to motivate change. He envisions a scenario in which independence would bring a new cultural confidence to Scotland.