Interview with Robin McAlpine: How can Scotland win independence?


CommonSpace interviewed Robin McAlpine, author and director of the Common Weal thinktank, about his new book on how Scottish independence can be won

COMMON WEAL DIRECTOR ROBIN MCALPINE has published his new book ‘Determination: how Scotland can become independent by 2021’.

It offers a step by step guide to how Scottish independent, focusing on the type of campaign work we require and the timeframe by which certain landmarks must be achieved.

CommonSpace spoke to McAlpine about the plan he outlines in the book.

CS: One of the arguments you make early in the book is that we shouldn’t wait to win another referendum during the referendum itself. What do you mean by this?

RMc: Because of the way the referendum happened last time, an awful lot of people have got it into their heads that you win referendums during referendums. That’s wrong.

Last time we had to win a referendum during a referendum, it’s the only choice we had.

Most of the strategic talk right now is how we get another referendum. We still need to win it once we’ve got it,

This cup final mentality – the 90 minute campaign – is particularly prominent among new activists.

We need to win it before the referendum. 

And crucially, we cannot be talking in terms of triggers. We need to decide for ourselves what happens.

And the only way to get another referendum is with a democratic mandate.

CS: So what does your book argue regarding how that mandate might be achieved?

RMc: The best way to get that would be to have people from all the Yes parties and none standing on a single platform, we support a referendum on Scottish independence. There would be no manifestos on the Yes side, manifestos would be for after independence.

You would have a May [2021] election and an October referendum.

We can do this, on the condition that we have generated enough support by the time of the 2021 election.

If you had an 80 per cent turnout in a Scottish election with 60 per cent voting for a referendum I think it would be virtually impossible for Yes to lose.

CS: What went wrong the last time, and how would a successful attempt be made next time?

RMc: A lot of people are casting about for ‘the thing we got wrong’. I think that’s rather missing the point.

The public needs to get the sense that someone has done the work. But that’s about confidence, it’s not that the public are pouring over the detail of a white paper or something similar.

So when people say we got this or that policy wrong, currency for example – that’s not quite correct.

People make political decisions on the basis of confidence. It’s the same basis upon which people make any decision.

We need to get people around the table and engage in some hard, serious work to fill in the gaps in the case from last time; currency, fiscal deficit, EU negotiations, central bank and all the rest.

We should aim to get that new case out two years before the referendum, ideally St Andrews day 2018. It should be presented to the public in a simple, slimmed down form. The last thing we need is more rhetoric and PR.

We say to the public: ‘You told us last time you didn’t think we were ready. Well now we are ready’

Ideally we want two years of campaigning on that before you go near a referendum.

CS: So if the campaign is not won during the referendum, when does the campaign start?

RMc: In January 2019 we launch the fully fledged Yes campaign.

By the way, you don’t need to wait for a No campaign for there to be a Yes campaign. We need to get beyond this idea that there is a scheduled time for a referendum and we need to wait for their side to get its act together.

If we launch that campaign, by December 2020 if support is at 65 per cent we know we’ve got the election in the bag.

The point I’m trying to get across here is that all of this stuff is under our control. Events don’t have to happen to us, we can control them.

We can pursue a series of steps so that by the time of people’s decisions, a lot of the perceived difficulties of transferring to a new state which existed at the time of the last referendum have already been resolved.

Something else this campaigning model does is allow us to learn our own campaigning strengths and weaknesses long in advance of the vote.

CS: Scotland already has a pro-independence government – what opportunities does that afford the new attempt at independence?

RMc: Between now and 2021, the Scottish Government must demonstrate in its domestic agenda that an independent Scotland is viable.

The best way for that to be done is to make Scotland as demonstrably different from Britain as possible. We need to stop clinging to Britain as an indicator of normality, which is what we do at the moment.

CS: You’ve also said a lot about how campaigners need to take cultural questions more seriously. What is your argument here?

RMc: Last time I think many of us were scared of culture wars.

We thought it was terribly important to remain international, cosmopolitan and aloof from national identity.

There was lots of talk against flags, and about civic nationalism and about being democrats rather than nationalists. That actually embodies a kind of cultural cringe.

We’ve got to stop cringing, we’ve got to stop apologising for being seen to be Scottish. We need to be less worried about being identified as Scottish, culturally, linguistically and geo-politically.

The other side aren’t afraid of promoting national identity.

The book, which elaborates McAlpine’s argument in more detail, can be bought from CommonPrint here.

Picture courtesy of alister

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