The Pressure series: Applying pressure in Scotland

“The means to bring about change and speed up progress here at home in Scotland are already available to each and everyone of us. It’s high time to remind ourselves what they are.”

In this week’s installment of their series of essays on applying pressure for a second independence referendum, Dr Craig Dalzell and Ellen Höfer consider the mindset required for effective campaigning and potential approaches for activism here at home.

Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. – Samuel Johnson

SCOTLAND is in a pickle.

While we fight the dying Union’s anti-democratic opposition to the people of Scotland’s right to choose and determine their nation’s path forward, we do so while engulfed in the increasingly anti-democratic structure of our own political environment.

The irony of SNP representatives screaming blue murder about unionist dismissal of the Scottish electorate’s democratic wishes while not saying a single word about the 150+ membership motions of their own party being dropped from their upcoming conference is not lost on anyone paying attention (even those unwilling to speak up or register their protest).

In the classic slow-boiling-frog fashion, this is by no means the first but only the latest example of the increasingly dubious means by which dissenting voices have been managed internally, political discourse has been steered and reflection upon failed policies, missed deliverables and erroneous assumptions has been barred by the executive – all while wearing camera-ready smiles and an ‘indy first’ attitude.

Once internal democracy is shut down with threadbare arguments about not wanting to foist the technical challenge of meaningful discourse upon a Covid-safe digital membership conference, no one ought to have any delusions about quietly bringing about change from within.

‘Wheesht for indy’ is neither good for our democratic health nor is it working. The fears that underlie it – not wanting to undercut the case against Scottish independence by criticising the administration we voted into office several times to deliver it – are understandable, but they offer shallow understanding of what actually works. The means to bring about change and speed up progress here at home in Scotland are already available to each and everyone of us. It’s high time to remind ourselves what they are.

The hunt for tipping points

In any struggle, it is wise to both understand your own objectives and look for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your opponent, their immediate environment and typical modus operandi. Look for the points where you can apply your pressure with the greatest impact and don’t rely on a single approach to deliver (in case it doesn’t).


A protest without art is improperly dressed. We may find ourselves stuck at home more than ever in living memory, but that should not deter us. To the contrary: This time has allowed all of us to reconsider our immediate environment and make the most of the few occasions that present legitimate reasons to leave the safety of our homes.

Your home turf should now be your canvas. Grab some pavement chalk before you head out for your next walk. Drop some Yes stones in (and out of) your pockets. Spruce up the place by planting some literal seeds of change or bulbs of progress for a colourful spring revolution. Think about your goal, make sure your message is appropriate, and rest assured that however small you may think, your idea you are part of a movement-wide consciousness that runs circles around the capabilities any unionist establishment preoccupied with saving a dying status quo could ever compete with.

Become a policy-maker, not a policy-taker

Instead of making general complaints about how terrible the policies on offer are, we can and should directly lobby for what we want to happen instead.

Recent successes like the anti-fracking campaign – in which around 60,000 responses to the public consultation pushed the Scottish Government to apply an indefinite moratorium on the practice, despite intense lobbying from the industry and even within the government itself – show what general public pressure can do. Even more recently, the Scottish Citizens’ Assembly has presented a series of well thought-out and very radical policy suggestions that could revolutionise Scotland’s democracy. That these are coming from that particular organisation will make it very difficult for the Scottish Government to ignore their requests.

But there’s no reason we should be ignored if we’re not part of something like that. Get involved in the politics of your area. If there’s something happening (or not happening) and you don’t like it, lobby your representatives. Should you be able, stand against them at the next election if you have to.

You are your greatest lobbyist

It’s easy to think of our politicians as immune to lobbying, and certainly there have been examples of elected representatives who outright refuse to listen to their constituents between elections, but they are notable in their exception. The truth is that many politicians simply don’t hear much from their constituents which makes it worth listening to them when they do.

A recent success story of this nature was when a number of campaign groups including Common Weal co-ordinated to lobby their respective MSPs in order to increase support for a proposed Bill on rent controls. Thanks to their efforts, the Bill received enough support from MSPs (including at least one signature from every party in parliament) to progress to the next stage.

Politicians respond most readily to people who live in their constituency, but the tools of the internet make it easier than ever for relatively small but dispersed groups to have a bigger impact than one might suspect. Write to your politicians. Ask to meet them during their surgeries. Keep doing it until they listen, and shout louder when they don’t.


While in the process of shouting louder, any single voice will reach a point of hoarseness when faced with those paid to avoid ‘outside influence’. Take a leaf from Tracy Chapman’s sage advice and remember that sometimes “talkin’ ‘bout a revolution sounds like a whisper”. A choir of eloquent whispers, however, can reach a crescendo. Seek out those institutions, communities, companies and organisations who stand to benefit from your message. No cause worth fighting for has zero beneficiaries.

Facilitate collaboration and find ways of joining those disparate voices into a concert of public harmony through joint letters, events, press releases, social media campaigns and more.


Scotland can boast a proud social history of effective nonviolent activism, yet strangely Scots are more likely to remember Ms Barbour’s rent strike from over one hundred years ago than more recent achievements.

Those in power now are all too keen to tell us that we must all be content with political centrism, where the only acceptable form of political discourse is to silently applaud as our ‘betters’ do nothing but manage the perpetually deteriorating status quo. They do not want us applying pressure on them, because they have nothing with which to hold it back – Whack-A-Mole becomes infinitely more difficult the more moles are participating in the fun. Only our lack of action stops us from pushing them over entirely, and creating a story about Scottish independence to inspire those who may follow our example.

In the next part of this series, we look at applying pressure on the UK from a Scottish perspective, and make the case for a solidarity campaign so sweet and sharp, it may just cut away the Union ties.