The following is a statement from the NC organisers group.
National Collective was not the creation of any one individual or group, but the combined effort of a vast number of people. NC brought together supporters, organisers, performers, participants, writers, artists and speakers to play their part in building a colourful creative non-party movement whilst campaigning tirelessly for Scottish independence. To be a part of it was exciting, energising, inspiring and beautiful.
National Collective belongs to a time and a place, and that moment has passed. Instead, we need to take the massive significance of that transformative journey and learn from our campaign experiences. It is now time to embed what was learnt into the life of our country; to normalise creative participation in public life and to find new ways of doing things to make Scotland better. Its work and its record belongs to all the wonderful people who helped make it happen. There will not be a single legacy, but many: taken together, this represents a huge shift in how we think about our cultural and political life in Scotland.
What we achieved collectively, within National Collective and the wider Yes movement, cannot be taken away. The future is unwritten, but we can write new stories together. Where we once had a campaign to rally around, we now need to act: to act as if we already live in the early days of that better nation we imagined.
Scotland will never be the same again. We’d like to thank everyone who made all of what we achieved together possible.
A Short History of National Collective
There is a long history linking radical politics with art in Scotland. In that sense, National Collective was simply the latest iteration of an old Scottish tradition of taking a creative approach to political discourse. Yet it was also something new: it offered a form of participation in politics that was thoroughly imaginative, but also accessible to all. National Collective tapped into the consciousness of a generation for whom the restrictions of ideological and party loyalties can often seem stifling and archaic. As is possible in the digital age, it did not have to ask anyone’s permission when it was spontaneously founded by a small group of artists and writers in late 2011. Unlike so much else in Scottish public life it by-passed the Scottish establishment: it was not founded as a pet academic project, nor a worthy publicly funded initiative, still less the brainchild of a political strategist.
National Collective’s central aim, to “imagine a better Scotland” remains just as relevant now that the referendum campaign is over. Its early success was just one example of a wider upsurge in grassroots activity in support of Scottish independence. However the group was also tapping another seam, namely, the rise of what has been described as the ‘precariat’. The young, often highly educated post industrial workforce that has become an ever more significant feature of neoliberal economies everywhere. National Collective is what a political campaign looks like when it is instigated and sustained by such people: a plethora of creative skills and portfolios gathered around a banner under which individual identities can sit comfortably.
That this group managed to achieve so much in such a short time speaks to the pace with which Scotland has changed. The development of social media has fundamentally altered the way that people relate to power. This was clearly illustrated when the world’s largest oil trading company, Vitol, threatened legal action against the fledgling group when it highlighted links between its Chairman Ian Taylor and a notorious Serbian war criminal. Taylor was a major donor to Better Together.
Rather than a setback, this incident propelled National Collective to the fore of the wider Yes movement. By early 2014 the group was putting on a regular programme of sessions in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Shetland. Typically these events would mix music and spoken-word with talks on a range of subjects, including slots for individuals to share their personal ‘journey to yes.’ The group also published a substantive volume of art and writing, Inspired by Independence, before going on to find its most definitive expression in the form of ‘Yestival’, a month long tour of Scotland, followed by a programme of live events at the Edinburgh Fringe.
That all of this activity was achieved with no staff and no organisational structure (money raised through crowdfunding underwrote each project) stood in stark contrast to the party political character of more conventional political campaigns. Such contrasts are a definitive part of Scotland’s recent political experience.
Today, we can observe that to inhabit a country that is a centre for enlightened political engagement is to celebrate the best of our recent history and build on it. The coming years will bring unprecedented challenges, in Scotland and across the globe. Indeed, the referendum may just have been a brief test of our collective skills. This is why we must use the discipline and knowledge coursing through the veins of a newly active polity, to continue to imagine a better Scotland and a better world.
You can read more about National Collective’s legacy here.