Having just recently moved to Motherwell, I saw the launch of the Yes Scotland campaign for Motherwell & Wishaw as a great opportunity to get more familiar with my new surroundings. Further to that aim, I was also keen to start my own process of getting ready for one of the most important years of my life – such is the challenge to ensure a convincing majority vote for Scotland to become an independent country. Such is the opportunity!
I haven’t been to a launch of this kind before so I was looking forward to seeing the format and the audience participation. My natural instinct is to contribute to any debate or discussion but I wasn’t sure how that would work in an environment where the majority were on the same page (YES!!!). The chair for the evening was Clare Adamson MSP and she set the scene at the outset – each of the talkers would give a ~10minute speech and then there would be time for audience questions and discussion. It went as follows:
First up was Tommy Brennan, the ex Ravenscraig Trade Union Leader – he wrote a good Comment piece in the Scotsman last month. Tommy was introduced as a key character in the local community – he introduced himself as being unaffiliated with any political party, making sure that context was set. He gave an excellent speech with the key theme being how Westminster has failed Scotland. He gave a great but tragic example of the train line from Wishaw to Glasgow, with a running account of the industrial sites along that route that have gone from employing thousands of skilled workers to a handful in some instances and none whatsoever in most. Ravenscraig employed 13,000 at its peak but even when it closed with 770 jobs there were an estimated 10,000 additional jobs associated with the works (a good documentary on it here). The media and anti-independence campaign tries to put fear in people’s minds at what might happen if Scotland gets independence, but surely the reality of the here and now is what people have to look at: there are no uncertainties about the UK, it has failed Scotland miserably (along with many other parts of the UK) – we have to change! For me Tommy’s strongest moment of the night came later, but I’ll come back to that.
Second up was Carolyn Leckie (former Scottish Socialist Party MSP) who was there in the capacity of Women For Independence (WFI). Carolyn explained that WFI were primarily set-up to create a space in the debate for women to consider the impact of the referendum and independence in a non-party political manner (much like the umbrella group for all things yes – Yes Scotland). She went on to give what I thought was the most inspiring of the talks of the night, really pertinent for a community launch of this nature. The key point that she expressed was that each and every one of us has a significant role in the build-up to the referendum next year. Politics can often seem remote and disconnected (which in itself is a failing of our current system) but every vote counts in this referendum. The majority of people are somewhat sceptical of politicians and the media, so discussing the issues with someone who can be trusted is key. I’ve seen this myself with family, friends, colleagues and even people who I’ve met for the first time on social occasions – I’ve got no agenda here, and it is relatively straightforward to address the questions and concerns that many people instinctively seem to have about the change that independence will bring. As a result, just from conversation and giving a couple of references that give the perspective that the media fail to give, you’ll find that people are willing to move from the position of ‘No’ to ‘Don’t Know’ and then onwards to ‘Yes’. As Carolyn said, she’s never known of anyone to go in the opposite direction – this is largely a challenge of engaging with individuals and assuring them that there is a better alternative. Carolyn now has the pleasant experience of working in an environment which is 100% Yes – now there’s a challenge for each of us!
Third on the stage was Colin Fox who is the spokesperson for the Scottish Socialist Party and is also on the advisory board for the Yes Scotland campaign. Colin now lives in Edinburgh but was brought up and educated in both Wishaw and Motherwell and he gave an excellent insight to the area and some of its political history. This went from the founder of the original Labour Party, Keir Hardie, to a reference of the Red Clydesiders, to the election of the first SNP MP in 1945 (Dr Robert McIntyre), to Colin’s own experiences in helping establish Labour Party youth membership groups around Lanarkshire.
You’ll be pushed to find a more passionate speaker at any event and I found his contribution really engaging. Colin put his cards on the table at the outset – he is campaigning for a Yes vote because he dreams of an Independent Scottish Socialist Republic, where the Head of State isn’t a circumstance of family lineage but of a democratic process. He sees the potential in Scotland to move towards a society that has full employment, and the ‘working class’ are better off – with a distribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, reversing the trend that we currently see in the UK. There really is no need and no excuse for the poverty levels that we have in a country with our wealth of resource, land and opportunity. He also recognises that addressing the issue of poverty doesn’t come about by handing over large sums of cash to anyone who lives here (as they do in the oil rich Middle East), but rather from working towards full employment. Colin recognises the need to operate in a democratic system – put your manifesto to the electorate and gradually build towards your vision with investment in education and employment. There was absolutely no doubt for him (and indeed most of the room) that the democratic system most likely to deliver on these aspirations is an independent Scotland.
The final speaker was Sarah Jane Walls, who like myself hails from Hamilton originally (turns out she went to school with my friend who was along with me at the launch). She gave an excellent personal take on her reason for voting Yes – and I recommend watching this YouTube video to get her take on her journey from a challenging home life in her early years to now running a successful business. Her experiences have given her no doubt that we need the accountability and control that only independence will offer to be able to maximise society’s potential in Scotland.
After the speakers the event moved into a lively discussion between the audience and guest speakers – I found it really interesting to hear the points from the floor (and so unusually I kept quiet for the evening). I should note that Clare Adamson did a great job of chairing this part of the night.
It was good to meet Nicky Patterson again (a fellow blogger) who had a stall for the Radical Independence Campaign and he put forward the idea that the people of Scotland have the opportunity to significantly progress the movement for world peace by voting Yes. By reducing the size and power of the UK state we will cripple its capacity to fight imperial wars as was the history of the Empire but has been continued by many of the parliamentarians who currently sit in Westminster when they voted to invade Iraq. We’ll also prevent the spend of £100billion on a new nuclear weapon system – the footage that we’ve seen recently from chemical weapons will pale into insignificance to what horrors would be brought on the human race (and planet at large) if we ever did put these weapons to their designed purpose.
The main focus for the questions was interestingly one of concern about what will happen if we find ourselves with the status quo after the referendum. For areas such as Motherwell and Wishaw where many families are currently struggling to achieve a satisfactory standard of living as things are – how will we fare with another few decades of Westminster austerity and privatisation? Even just this week it has become certain that the Royal Mail will be privatised.
One of the highlights of the night for me though was when a couple of passionate union representatives questioned the possibility of things remaining the same, even if there was a Yes vote. Tommy Brennan gave an excellent response to this, likening government to a workers union. He was clear that a union is only as good as the members make it – if things are left to the leadership to run their own agenda then there will be a divergence from the union’s purpose. However, if the members are actively engaged and hold their leadership to account then they will get the representation that they hope for. This is exactly where Scotland is at politically – we can continue with the UK government which is completely unaccountable to the people or we can have a Scottish government that we vote for (or conversely vote out if they aren’t up to scratch). He also pointed out that there will be 59 MPs looking for a job in the Scottish Parliament, so some improved competition for seats should ensure everyone in the chamber is at the top of their game. I look forward to that!
In summary, this was a fantastic event and I would encourage people across the country to go to their local launch night – even if they are undecided or currently thinking No, it will be a good experience I’m sure. I hope that there will be more events locally here and even some with a mixed panel for an open discussion would be good. I feel more connected to Motherwell after this experience – I’m a happy man in my new home town and look forward to campaigning alongside the passion that was evident at this event over the coming year, and hopefully beyond in a new Scotland.