Hundreds of people joined the largest online gathering yet for the independence movement in Scotland this weekend. The assembly was organised by the All Under One Banner (AUOB) group that has been organising throughout lockdown with online forums and socially distanced protests.
The event underlined the fact that the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) long honeymoon period is definitely over.
Recent figures showed it has lost somewhere in the region of 40,000 members since last year.
This is against a background of soaring support for independence. The disastrous handling of coronavirus by the Tory government has convinced record numbers of people of the need to break free from the British state.
This mood for independence has not found a reflection in a renewed push for a second independence referendum (indyref2) by the SNP.
The frustration with the SNP leadership has been growing now and has been given expression in the huge marches for independence AUOB has organised.
The party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford floundered in a Q&A session with broadcaster Lesley Riddoch as she repeatedly pressed him to reveal what many independence campaigners want to know—what’s Plan B if the Tories refuse to grant an independence vote.
The tone of comments during this session were dominated by exasperation.
“No answers just more waffle”, said Janey. Another participant, Allison, commented, “The people are miles ahead of the politicians”. Anne, said, "He sounds like Labour for the last ten years."
Multiple mandates to press for a second independence referendum have been won and kicked into the long grass by the SNP leadership. This has sown a grassroots determination to organise and bypass the official leadership of the movement.
In this context, the idea that all independence campaigners can do is to hope for an SNP landslide in the May 2021 Scottish election is losing traction.
Former SNP MP and left wing journalist George Kerevan argued that independence campaigners can't allow the movement to become captured by a political class.
Saturday’s AUOB assembly was a serious discussion, involving representatives from over 200 local Yes groups and pro-independence organisations that have remained active since the first referendum in 2014.
It looked at strategies for winning independence, campaigning during a pandemic and setting up a new national membership organisation.
It wasn’t without its differences, from debates over a focus on parliamentary action versus building the movement on the streets, or which party to vote for in elections to the Scottish parliament next May.
Some people argued that as much as the SNP is failing to deliver, the focus of the movement should remain on putting pressure on its leaders.
Others argued that taking up issues around climate or anti-racism dilutes the message of the campaign or that talk about civil disobedience will alienate more moderate elements.
However, others counteracted these views and reported on positive experiences of climate activists in Extinction Rebellion and other environmental campaigns getting involved in local Yes groups and proposed an escalation of the campaign’s militancy.
But there was a unanimous feeling that relying solely on the main party of independence wouldn’t cut it anymore.
Sessions looked at building alliances and fostering unity, with ideas to develop networks of trade unionists, of young people and of migrant workers and refugees for independence.
Other sessions took up discussions about the role of the media, developing alternatives to the anti-independence mainstream outlets and campaigning on social media.
For many, it’s the thirst for an alternative to the Tory shambles and hope for a different society that drives support for independence.
Campaigners need to tap into the energy of movements such as the climate strike or Black Lives Matter to enthuse the thousands of activists that can wrest indyref2 from the Tories.
Class issues will be central to any progress. The fight for independence needs to recognise that it means very different things to different people and that working class interests have to be fought for.
The Tories are riddled with problems. A powerful challenge for independence could give them a destabilising blow that plunges Johnson’s government into an even deeper crisis.