Tuesday, 29 April 2014

#Bingate and the NO Campaign: A reflection

Yesterday I had a bizarre experience.  A Daily Mail journalist interviewed me at an action I had helped to organise, about something that didn't happen.  Better Together Director Rob Shorthouse had, unbeknownst to me, summoned the Daily Mail, because there were people outside in Blythswood Square, and there were a crowd of them.

The reason we were there is that Glasgow City Council is under a police investigation into allegations of corruption.  Our community campaign to hold the Council to account had previously published a dossier into corruption scandals at the Council and, as this was followed up by the Police, we were gathering around the corner at Blythswood Square from the centrally located Pitt Street police HQ, where we handed in a signed copy of the dossier we'd previously issued to give a note of thanks to Police Scotland for taking the issue as seriously as we do.  As it happened the desk sergeant promised to pass on our note of thanks to the Chief Constable.

That it had absolutely nothing at all to do with Better Together, the NO campaign, or the constitution, but was an action for a community campaign to hold Glasgow Labour to account hadn't mattered for the twitchy Shorthouse however.  In fact very shortly after I arrived there appeared to be a woman taking photographs of us suspiciously from inside a car parked over the other side of the street.  All very secret squirrel.

We had been assembling for about ten minutes when a young woman kept pacing up and down the pavement, as if she was looking for something.  I didn't think much of it until she approached me, and said she was from the Daily Mail, and had I heard anything about Better Together's bins?  A colleague snapped a photo of the encounter.  Not very flattering perhaps but I think it does convey my bemused surprise (she was equally confused, but did her best to sound interested and reportly).  I proceeded to inform her about what we were up to, and the campaign and why we had come to this place at this time.  I did my best, but it was all very odd, as was the cameraman we noticed later who was actually with her taking photographs through the blacked out windows of parked van across the street.

As an incident we can pass this off as one of the absurdities of everyday life.  But I do think that there is something worth reflecting on here.  As a community organiser, I am interested in organised people and in civic participation generally.  The referendum campaign is an interesting stopping off point in the story of people's organisation in Scotland.  The NO campaign has relied heavily on the media, and seems to be able to summon the Daily Mail at the drop of a hat.  The YES campaign, as we know, faces a "challenging media environment."  Its response has been to build what it's called "the largest community campaign in Scotland's history."  Whether it is yet bigger than the Covenant (the original one), the Reformation, the Wars of Independence and so on and so forth is difficult to assess by any yardstick, but one thing is clear.  It's big.  I should declare that I'm an interested party, as, altho I'm a socialist and not a nationalist, I strongly support a YES vote to save and actually extend the welfare state, and to end the sheer evil that is the deliberate starvation in a large and advanced economy of 1 in 23 people in cities like Dundee, where I grew up.

This involvement however has given me some insight.  When you're in a position that you're starting a chapter of a national movement as granular as a relatively small place like Possilpark, you can be certain that what you're dealing with is organised people getting active in communities in a way that really hasn't been seen at any point in my lifetime.  This also prompts the question about what happens to this army of grassroots activists after the vote?

Scotland has been sorely in need of community organisation for some time.  Ever since Jack McConnell's government crushed the tenants movement in a co-ordinated and highly successful attack, and set up a department of state called Communities Scotland, whose sole job was to take control of the remaining tenants organisations and marshal them into a tame spokescouncil, there has been little voice on the ground in poorer parts of Scotland over questions like estates maintenance, housing conditions, case work, and so on.  Power in Community, the organisation I set up, and the NGO that helps deliver community organising to the 100 Promises Campaign, has as its mission the rebuilding of this kind of organisation.  Perhaps the troops on the ground fighting for a better Scotland with a YES can continue to play that role after we are independent?  Time will tell, but the commitment to the Commonweal is certainly a positive sign, and the issues around which the referendum debate has come to revolve are all grist to the mill of community campaigners and for community organisers like me.

This brings us to the NO campaign.

I know of one person in Scotland who has been canvassed by a NO campaigner.  He stays in a scheme in Edinburgh.  The NO campaign is an accurate title in more ways than one, because outside of the BBC, STV and the papers, they have NO campaign.  There is nobody out knocking doors except staff.  Frequently 'events' arranged weeks in advance have been attended, and pictured by YES activists and the bemused public, by no more than a staffer or a Unionist Councillor.  They have resorted to sending out bulk mail drops as their primary means of communicating with the electorate, because they have nary an activist.  Their absence of personnel has caused them to take some super weirdo decisions like appointing what must be Fife's only young Tory to be the lead organiser there.  And just why is there nobody outside of Committee Scotland and Unionist staff prepared to get out there and pull down that Saltire?  Perhaps it's because of what the NO campaign's nae campaign has become about.

My pal’s exceptional encounter in Edinburgh illustrates this perfectly.  A posh and rich woman chapped his door, and being a bit of a political geek he decided to see her line of argument, and coquettishly said he was undecided.  It boiled down to - opined in that 18th century London accent of her Morningside tones - 'you just aren't good enough to have any say over me and mine.'  This isn't aberrant.  On the rare occasions in my canvassing that I've met strong NOs, they have always been angry, vituperative, and visceral and above all ENTITLED.  I think it's fair to say that the NO campaign is *about* entitlement.  Entitlement to forever control Committee Scotland.  Entitlement to forever rule vast tracts of our rural landscapes.  Entitlement to scrap the welfare state - about the only palatable part of the British Empire.  Entitlement to the kind of economy that leaves one third of households in Glasgow workless.  Entitlement to be as corrupt as they feel like.  Normality in Scotland is very much not the normalcy of a Northern European country.  In a place that produces more oil than Kuwait 2400 vulnerable people freeze to death every year.  There is nothing like it across Northern Europe.  And these NO campaigners feel entitled to preserve this state of wounding iniquity?  As this mask slips, and this rank entitlement is laid bare, the nae campaign is becoming little more than the funerary cries of an old order of corrupt elites.  And what a metaphor yesterday! 

A group of organised citizens, who have been campaigning together for years, gather to welcome Glasgow City Council being investigated by Police Scotland over the Labour Party dominated Council's links with organised crime, and the NO campaign think and believe it is an attack on *them.*  And who do they call for help?  The most corrupt and the most viscerally right wing of all papers: The Daily Mail.  The paper that tried to create the meme 'food scrounger' to deflect attention from Britain's escalating food security crisis.  That's the NO campaign.  That's *why* they have NAE CAMPAIGN.


  1. We are wrestling power from the establishment & established "ways of doing things". It's no shock of course that there's a reaction from them. But you have articulated one of several strategies they use; inviting a compliant British media to assist with smearing even the most innocent of activities.

    But there never could be a grass roots movement from Better Together because those that have most to lose aren't living in "schemes". They live in tax payer funded second homes with a generous, guaranteed pension. There's always a corridor of open doors leading to directorships, titles & patronage, all lubricated with plenty of money.

    But their biggest weakness is in numbers. there's just isn't that many of them so they direct & lead from a small summit where there's not much room anyway. And if you happen upon this summit you are proverbially thrown off it.

    Unfortunately for them, there's a load of folks at the bottom digging a big tunnel to undermine the hill they are on. We just have to keep digging until there's a landslide. I just won't be crawling over with search poles once the mud has settled firm. They are on their own.

    Keep up the good work.