I’ve just watched Jim Sillars on the Aye! Talks website giving a speech about the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence.
Jim is always worth listening to and here he’s as articulate and passionate as ever about why he believes Scotland should step away from the union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The best thing about his talk, for me, is that it clarifies the essence of what “Yes” – the movement in favour of an independent Scotland – is all about.
First, he’s asking us to believe that a shared national identity will translate into better democratic decision-making than we currently endure.
Second, he wants us to believe that the decisions that are made in this improved democracy will result in a more egalitarian society.
He offers no evidence that these things will happen. He just asks us to believe.
To be fair to Jim he only had a ten minute slot and was perhaps unable to give us his personal take on how these things might come to pass, but this lack of anything more tangible than desire and belief is prevalent across the whole broad spectrum of the Yes campaign.
Peel back the rhetoric of anyone from the SNP, or the Common Weal, or the Radical Independence movement and there is nothing that tells us how the people who happen to live within the borders of Scotland will create better systems of government, or how our society will become more egalitarian, wealthier, healthier, or all the other things that are being touted as consequences of voting Yes on the 18th of September.
There are lots of good ideas being aired and debated, not least by the Scottish Greens, but no-one is offering a coherent strategy that could plausibly deliver what Jim Sillars asks us to believe will happen if enough of us vote Yes. In fact, no-one, as far as I can see, has even defined what this better democracy and more egalitarian society will look like.
In the absence of evidence we’re left with faith and hope. These might be enough to carry some of the undecided along the same path as the enthusiasts for independence, but they’re feeble levers when it comes to shifting the inertia of the majority of Scots who are apathetic, or cynical, or conservative, or self-serving, or all of the above.
We will not get better democracy or a more egalitarian society until we apply ourselves to defining the requirements for these – describing exactly what they are. And we can’t hope to meet these requirements unless we do the hard graft of developing policies that are capable of doing the job. And the policies that we devise have to be both plausible and attractive to that massive majority of the Scottish electorate that has no faith, no belief in the the political establishment.
The referendum isn’t far away, so it’s probably too late for the Yes campaign to coalesce around a set of defined requirements and plausible policies. Enthusiasts will have to hope that hope and faith will win the day. But if it does, I fear that Jim Sillars will be as disappointed as the rest of us by the mediocrity of what follows.
There will be a lot of arguing and arm-waving as individual politicians and pressure groups campaign for their particular projects. Some good things might emerge from the scrummage that might contribute to the better life that Jim wants us to believe lies on the other side of the referendum. But if they do happen it will be more by accident than design.
The Yes campaign is rich with fine words and true faith. But words and beliefs never built anything and never will. Not now. Not after we vote Yes.
Building things takes diligence, focus, attention to detail, and hard work.
If we’re serious about building a better Scotland we need leadership, design, specifications, money, materials, labour, and strong support from the bulk of the population for what’s being built.
The Yes campaign has largely ignored this list and is hoping to romp home on a wing and a prayer.
Who can tell? Hope might just be enough to squeak a result.
But then what?