The grassroots view: Indy supporters tell us how Yes can win next time around

Caitlin Logan

CommonSpace caught up with the crowd at the Scottish Independence Convention conference 

by Caitlin Logan and Sean Bell

THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE CONVENTION’S November conference, Build: Bridges to Indy, brought independence supporters of all political affiliations and none from around the country to the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Speakers explored the tough questions such as how to engage different groups of voters, how to develop a strong, evidence-based case for independence, and how to support the grassroots to be stronger and more involved in campaigning.

READ MORE: Scottish Independence Convention set for biggest conference yet

CommonSpace spoke to some of the attendees to get their views on two of the biggest issues facing Scotland today: how ‘No’ and undecided voters can be won over to independence next time around, and what they think an independent Scotland’s relationship to Europe should look like. 

Catherine Shay – SNP member since the referendum, supported Dr Iain Black’s research into voters’ views on independence

Changing No to Yes: I helped Iain transcribe some of the groups that he did and what seemed to come over was that people wanted to know more actual facts about what was going to happen. They needed more concrete evidence of new structures and workable structures, like a National Investment Bank, or details of how we were going to manage the currency. It seemed people were not willing to commit to vague things, they actually wanted more information, hard information, about what we were going to do.

Europe: I’m very European – in everything about me, my whole life – but I am concerned about things like the common agricultural policy, so I think we need to have a discussion about that. I would like to stay in relation to European and stay in the single market, very much so, I think that’s where we belong.

Our outlook and everything has always historically been that way. I’m just concerned that some of the policies need changing so that some of the Scottish industries like fishing and agriculture don’t suffer. I know they’ve suffered partly because of Westminster giving the money, but it’s a difficult one.

I think an independent Scotland should choose its relationship instead of being dragged out by Brexit – that’s the crucial thing for me. Hopefully we don’t actually have to leave, my ideal situation would be that we do it before Brexit and we don’t have to leave and we can rejoin very easily. 

Stuart Fairweather, Radical Independence Campaign, Dundee

Changing No to Yes: I think we need to connect the next campaign for an independence referendum to the social justice agenda, and do that more formally than perhaps was done in the past. I think it was attempted, but we need to do more of it.

Europe: I think we should be open to to developing our relationship with Europe, we should see ourselves as European. I think the discussion about the EU is a bit of a red herring; I would be for it in the conditions we are now, but I’d be open to a discussion. That’s for the people of Scotland to decide, ultimately.

I think if the referendum follows Brexit, which is likely, we won’t be in the EU, and we should take time to think about what relationship we want. There’s a number of options.

Natalie Reed, national co-spokesperson for the Scottish Socialist Party

Europe: Back in the referendum, we voted to Remain, but we voted reluctantly, because the EU is still a big bosses’ club, and it doesn’t work for the working class. So we believe we should stay in the EU, but reform it, so that it works for the 500m working class people that live across the EU.

Changing No to Yes: The EU isn’t a good enough topic to build the next referendum around. What we need to do is focus on working class issues like fair wages and ending zero hours contracts – issues that directly impact people’s everyday lives. That’s how we’ll get how we’ll get more voters over to Yes.

Jeane Freeman, SNP MSP and Minister for Social Security 

Changing No to Yes: Listen to them [No voters]. Why did they go this way? Many were almost persuaded, so what changed? Where are they now? What are they thinking about now? How are they feeling? Then begin the conservations with them that are respectful.

Europe: I think the main thing for the wider independence movement and for all of us is to, first of all, secure independence. I personally support membership of the European Union, I know not everyone who supports independence does, and there is an argument that it is for the people of Scotland to decide, once we’re independent, what we want our relationship with the EU.

Jeane Shane, individual, here to learn and be informed

Changing No to Yes: I think we are really needing to be informed, to know more about what to expect from independence, and we need to find the determination to get on with it. I’m very concerned about the future for our younger people, for our grand children and for the young people today who find they are living in a period of uncertainty.

Europe: I think our relationship with Europe would be wonderful. I think at the moment we’re deprived of that proper relationship because we don’t have a voice there, and we really need to have a voice of our own. Scots really need to have a voice of their own in Scotland. We’ve always had a good relationship with Europe and I would like to think that that can continue.

We are in the EU at the moment and I would like to think that the EU would look at our situation and help us on our way to retain our situation within Europe.

Janet Fenton, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Europe: I’ve always felt a bit mixed about the EU. I’m an internationalist, through and through, and that’s why I support Scottish independence, because I think it’s a way that we can be part of the international peace-loving community, rather than tied into an imperialistic war system. As far the EU is concerned, there is obviously a huge irony – we’ve got this Brexit situation after what was said during the last [independence] referendum.

I do have some criticisms of the EU – in particular, its relationship with NATO. I would’ve liked to have seen a negotiation by Scotland about entering the EU as an independent country, rather than on the coattails of the arrangement that pre-existed. So in a way, I quite welcome the opportunity to open that dialogue up again, but I definitely think Scotland should be able to negotiate that on its own terms, and it does seem to me there is a democratic desire to be part of the EU in Scotland.

Changing No to Yes: I think that it’s important, without ill-wishing anyone or their views, to recognise calmly that the actions of the No side became very desperate and very dishonest towards the end of the campaign. I’m not saying Yes voters were perfect in their conduct, but I don’t think there was anything close.

I don’t really think that Gordon Brown served the people of Scotland in what he did towards the end of the campaign, and I think that No voters should seriously consider how they’re going to achieve a better and a fairer Scotland while we’re still dictated to by warmongers and people who are convinced that taxation should not be fair. These are fundamental questions that all Scottish people need to consider.

Susan Rae, Scottish Greens Edinburgh Councillor and Kate Duncan, Scottish Greens and Berwickshire Granarchists

Susan Rae

Changing No to Yes: I think the Scottish Government are very cautious and not nearly bold enough. Events like this are fantastic and they’re very good for the spirit but it has to be sustained through government action. That’s the only way to keep that spirit up there is to see it happening on a daily basis, like [Kate] said, like we’re living in the early days of a better nation. We want to start doing that now.

Europe: I would like to see Scotland within Europe, although I would like to see Scotland within Europe campaigning to make Europe better, particularly from a bureaucratic standpoint – I think a lot of people have issues with that. And particularly now, the way they’ve treated Greece, they way they’ve treated Catalonia, and haven’t got behind them I think is a fundamental issue for democracy.

Kate Duncan

Changing No to Yes: What I’d like is – we’re being told that we should work as though we’re living in the early days of a better nation, which I think is great, I wish the Scottish Government were doing more, showing what an independent Scotland could be like. I think we’re still a bit wet on that.

Europe: I’m fairly sceptical about it; I was sceptical before the referendum although I did campaign for it, because of the way they treated Greece and I’m extremely worried about the way they’re treating Catalonia. I still think it probably is in the old thing of a ‘rich man’s club’. I love the idea of Europe, but I think we don’t necessarily – I mean TTIP was a thing from Europe and we’re still being threatened with that, so it’s not a panacea for me.

James Proctor, Edinburgh Central SNP, Yes Edinburgh North and Leith

Europe: Personally, I am a Europhile. I’m in favour of the European Union. I’m in favour of freedom of movement. But I think, as a movement, we should be open to looking at things like EFTA as well, because there are so many different opinions and options. I think it’s a question that, as an independent country, we would need to have a look at. My personal opinion is I would rather an independent Scotland was in the EU, but there’s room for different arguments and everyone should be listened to.

Changing No to Yes: The best thing we could do is listen. I think that people had genuine concerns and genuine reasons for voting No in 2014. A lot of people are changing their mind now, or maybe re-evaluating the question, but we need to listen to what those concerns are and have answers.

We also need to act as an independent country already. I think we’re starting to do that. I personally was a big fan of Common Weal’s idea for a national investment bank, and I’m delighted to see that’s happening. I personally think local government needs to be reformed. We need to look at things like nationalising the railways and the energy companies. But the best thing to do is listen, and then walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

Lindsay Bruce, Aye Mail, supports Yes groups with campaign materials and fundraising

Changing No to Yes: It’s going to be about certainty. At the moment people are still trying to absorb Brexit, they don’t know what means yet, so I think it’s going to be important to show people what an independent Scotland is going to look like, and address some of the issues around finance, pensions, and what we need to do is show them it’s not as big and scary as some people are going to tell them, and we need to have the evidence to back that up.

How the next campaign shapes up politically remains to be seen but we know the fear factor is going to be back again and we know there are going to be a lot of 10 word soundbites. Really we need to present a more convincing argument this time around, and we’ve really got to win this time.

Europe: I’m very much a believer in the EU project, I think it does have some quite serious flaws and as we’ve seen from the situation in Greece and in Catalonia, the member states do act in their own interests. As much as they like to talk about democracy and this community, when push comes to shove you can see how they’ve reacted, they act through self interest.

So there are issues with the EU, but having said that, what are you going to replace it with? It’s kept the peace in Europe since World War II – a lot of people don’t understand that it was the EU that did that, not the UN or NATO. Trade and relationships are vital, and we now live in a global world – you have to have global government. As Britain comes out of the EU it’s going to be incredibly isolated, so how else do we get to have a voice in Europe if not through the EU?

Gwen Sinclair, Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament assistant secretary

Europe: I would like us to have full representation within the EU. At this point, I’m very concerned with the situation in Catalonia. I feel as though, if we had a voice within the EU in our own right, I think Scotland would be one of the countries speaking up. Also, I’d relate that to the situation of the United Nations, that Scotland doesn’t have representation in. I feel it’s similar. If we were an independent country, we would have much more ice in the world.

As far as I can see, the Scottish Government – as it is – has been very supportive of the peace movement, and Scotland has been a positive nation, rather than a warlike nation that isn’t prepared to speak out against injustice.

Changing No to Yes: At the moment, there’s been a lot of Yes shops and hubs opening up again, and I feel those will be the obvious places people will go to as information points. But I do think we need to make sure we shout a little bit louder about the achievements we’ve been having.

I think the Scottish Government has been putting out a huge raft of policies – such as combating the climate challenge we all know is there. There’s not one person living in Scotland today that isn’t getting some positive contribution from the Scottish Government, and I think we need to boast a little bit more about it.

We have a lot of people who are very confused about the political system we have – they don’t know what’s coming from local government, what’s coming from Westminster and what’s coming devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so we need to make that really clear.

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