How to campaign against Scottish independence? A response to SNP’s new video

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have been promoting a short film about ways to get involved in the campaign for independence and some unionists have been getting terribly upset about it.

Here she goes again, they say, banging on about independence when she should be focusing on the day job. But I say to those unionists: calm down dears, there’s no need to get worked up. The film isn’t really about independence. It’s about something else entirely.

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In case you haven’t seen the video, I’ll quickly talk you through it. It starts by saying that the 2014 referendum changed Scotland forever (for better or worse? we wonder) and that the SNP’s membership grew by almost 100,000 (what is it now? we ask). It then runs through various ways in which people can take part in the independence campaign and ends with a rallying call: “The future of our party and Scotland is defined by how much you want to get involved. So, what are you waiting for? Help us to build a better Scotland by joining up today.”

Now, a number of things occur to me about the film and none of them have anything much to do with the concern that Sturgeon is launching another push for independence. Indeed, there’s nothing in the video about what she or the SNP is actually doing to expedite the campaign and many Yes supporters were quick to notice this. Some even suggested – and who am I to disagree? – that the video wasn’t really a campaign for independence at all but more a campaign for new members.

 

A cursory glance at the video suggests they’re probably right. The commentator – who seems to be doing that self-conscious thing of going soft on his Ts to ensure everyone knows he’s definitely Scoish and not in any way English – suggested people could get involved in a number of ways. Sign up as an SNP or Yes supporter. Join a local branch. Follow the SNP and Yes on Twitter and other sites. Share online posts with family and friends. Donate to the SNP (uh-huh). And take part in street stalls and social events. In the words of the guy in the video: what are you waiting for?

But the question is why a video full of cheery, animated Scots seemingly unbothered by viruses, obesity, or much in the way of racial diversity, is being released now. Part of it, of course, is PR: the message here is that the SNP is in fine form and ready for battle. And another part of the message is, indeed, recruitment. You may remember the thousands – thousands I say! – who joined the SNP after Nicola Sturgeon gave her evidence to the Alex Salmond inquiry. But, if membership is soaring, it’s significant that a new appeal for members is being issued now.

There are a few other things worth mentioning about the film. The first is that one of the words that occurs most is “rebuttal”, which is a glimpse into how many Scottish nationalists think. What they mean by rebuttal is a response to the “fake news” of the “mainstream media” which they will “rebut” with “the truth”. My apologies for all the inverted commas here but we really do need them. Anything that does not conform with the SNP message is rejected as fake and must be rebutted. Get involved folks!

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The other thing worth mentioning is the idea the video promotes that we would share the SNP’s messages with friends and family. What kind of friends and family do they have, I wonder. My impression is that the type of people who regularly share nationalist (or indeed unionist) posts on Facebook are the type who are quickly muted. In fact, most people do not want to talk politics with their friends and family online, mostly because they still bear the scars of 2014. And so, the idea of jolly upbeat people happily sharing the message of independence with their smiling friends is pretty much an illusion.

And, finally, there’s the idea that the video is – as some unionists seem to fear – yet another “push for independence”. As I said, that would only be true if it included some definite, concrete steps that the SNP was taking towards independence but the suspiciously upbeat animated people in the film have suspiciously little to say about independence, and it’s significant that the response to the film from Yes supporters was overwhelmingly negative. Their conclusion on the video was the same as an infamous Scottish king’s: sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Except one small thing. You may have read the column I wrote last week about a conversation I had with Professor Gregor Gall, the director of The Jimmy Reid Foundation. Professor Gall’s made the point that the SNP has a problem with activism and that its centre of power is focused on the leadership – the MPs, MSPs, and councillors – rather than the guys on the ground. “If you think about what happened after 2014,” he told me, “I don’t think the SNP asked people to be active, or they don’t have a concept of what it means to be active in a party.”

I think it’s fair to assume that the new SNP video may be a response to this problem and an attempt to look like they’re addressing it (without actually doing so). As the reaction from parts of the Yes movement shows, there is a lot of unhappiness among Yes supporters about a lack of action, or activism, by the SNP. The party will also certainly be aware that lots of the people who attend the All Under One Banner events feel like there’s a lack of movement by the leadership, which is why they like to unfurl their flags and march down Hope Street now and again.

The SNP video is effectively an attempt to connect – or reconnect – with those kind of voters. If the SNP think they’re going to get a lot of new members from this film, they’re onto plums and, really, they know it. What they’re actually hoping for is that some of the people who have let their membership lapse will rejoin. It’s also an attempt to convince Yes supporters who think there’s not enough action that there is still stuff happening, even if it amounts to little more than animated people waving animated flags or Yes supporters re-tweeting other Yes supporter’s tweets.

And, in the end, however many ways the SNP suggest to get involved in the campaign for independence, they will always come up against the same old problems. Which leads me to my suggestions for ways to get involved in the campaign against independence. Just keep on asking the same questions. About the currency. And the deficit. And pensions. And the border. The happy animated people of SNP World can bounce up and down as much as they want, but those are the subjects that matter.

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The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992