Thomas Swann, Graduate Teaching Assistant at the School and the recent recipient of a Times Higher Education Best Essay Prize, encourages us to pay more attention to the Grassroots of the movement toward Scottish Independence
Those who struggled through the recently televised debate between between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling witnessed a pretty dour affair. Rather than witnessing visions which might motivate people into belief and action, we were instead presented with a series of statistics and financial figures which were then tossed back and forth between two seasoned politicians. This did very little to affect the lie of the political land and, in turn, should perhaps come as little surprise. The spectacle of a vibrant, challenging and inspiring campaign for Scotland’s future being reduced to two middle-aged-men-in-suits trying to score debating points against one another isn’t the idea of a good time of anybody I know. I can’t be the only one who wonders whether it really has to be as bad as all this.
Salmond, for his part, played the game pretty well. That was his mistake. It would be wrong to expect anything less from Salmond than a convincing performance. He is, after all, a mainstream politician. Nevertheless, for me, he has always been at his best when he’s gone beyond this mandatory role for the sake of providing space on the mainstream political stage for potentially radical ideas. His closing statements, which subsequently adorned the Yes Scotland materials proliferating across social media, showed glimpses of this figure he occasionally cuts, this would-be public face of a broad, progressive and, dare I say it, radical movement for real political, social and economic change in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon, his deputy in the Scottish Government, did a better job of summonsing forth this figure by focussing not on the narrow issue of currency but on broader questions of social justice and nuclear disarmament.
Fortunately, the campaign for Scottish independence, despite what the governing, pro-independence Scottish National Party and the media would apparently like us to think, is not reducible to Alex Salmond. Nor, we can be just as grateful, is it reducible to any figure on a stage lecturing an audience on this percentage point here or that legal opinion there. The campaign reaches far beyond the driech landscape of mainstream politics and into the streets and homes of Scotland. It is the campaigners doing the rounds and running the stalls that have the radical imagination which was so sorely lacking from the recently televised debacle. Salmond implied as much when he asked Darling why so many of his own Labour Party followers were considering voting Yes even though the party is officially lining up behind the No campaign. It isn’t dry arguments about finances that have won these people over but the progressive vision of what an independent Scotland could be.
What Salmond and the Yes Scotland big-wigs can do best is see themselves as spokespersons for the grassroots movement for this radical alternative in Scotland. This is what will motivate people and make the difference between now and referendum date, the 18th of September. Nobody is impressed by the mind-numbing theatre of politics as usual. However well Salmond and others can perform on that stage, this is not how the campaign should be fought and is not how it will be won. It may well be how it will be lost.