As Referendum Day comes ever closer, it is time to step back a bit and reflect on the extra-ordinary nature of this campaign. For it is truly unlike anything ever seen before, not just in Scotland, but I suspect anywhere in the UK. I am, I have to admit, old enough to remember what passed for a campaign way back in 1979. This referendum was for a pretty unexciting Assembly and the campaign was suitably drab and uninspiring. It was much better in 1997 and this applied not just to the referendum campaign itself, but to the campaigning in the years before. There were lots of public meetings and leafletting. I can remember Jim Sillars addressing a packed out meeting in Anstruther. There was also another well attended meeting in St Andrews which featured Ming Campell and George Galloway, both advocating a Scottish Parliament. However even the 1997 campaign was nothing like the current one.
What really stands out this time around is the sheer number of grass roots, community based groups who form the bedrock of the Yes campaign. These groups are organizing public meetings, events and activities in just about every town and village across Scotland. While there are Scotland wide bodies, such as Yes Scotland itself and others like Labour for Indy, Radical Independence, Women for Independence, National Collective etc, the main work is being done by local groups staffed by local volunteers. This work includes canvassing and leafletting to street stalls, Yes Cafés, public meetings, pub quizzes and goodness what else.
What is emerging from all this is that there is an enormous appetite among most people in Scotland to get engaged in this debate. Most people are excited by the prospect of independence. Some are still not sure, a bit worried if we really are rich enough. But they want to know more and the more they know, the more likely they are to vote Yes. The other aspect of this campaign that stands out is the enthusiasm and joy of those working for a Yes vote. People from just about all backgrounds, ages and from all political expressions from the left to the right are working together in harmony. There are differences of emphasis of course, but all parts of the Yes campaign are willing to share platforms and meetings and to treat one another with respect and even to enjoy themselves.
It is not just in public meetings and events that the Yes campaign is engaging with the wider public. This can also be seen in the range of articles, reports and analysis coming onstream. I am not here referring to the Scottish government’s own publications or those commissioned by them, but to the work produced by the various campaigning groups mentioned earlier and by the immense range of blogs advocating independence. To mention just a few, the Jimmy Reid Foundation is in the process of producing a series of reports on what an independent Scotland might become; National Collective produce regular articles and reports from the perspective of the artistic community, while blogs such as Wings over Scotland and Bella Caledonia offer daily comment and analysis on the developing campaign.
There is nothing remotely comparable on the No side. The No campaign reminds me of nothing more than an old general election campaign. Led from the top with an almost exclusive focus on elderly, white, male politicians. The preferred setting – a TV or radio studio or a closed door meeting. It is also clear that the No campaign is financed and led from London. Better Together, though it has Scottish front men, seems to take its orders from elsewhere. The main party leaders at Westminster have agreed to work together to save the Union. Though on the ground and in the streets it has proved almost impossible to make this work. The fact of the matter is, Labour, Tories and LibDems just do not get on well together. In fact they probably hate each other almost as much as they hate independence. Where is the joy on the No side? Where are the people of Scotland?
This general election feel to the No side is also reflected in the way the media are covering the debate. They are only too happy to limit and control the debate to what goes on in studios. BBC, STV and the print media like to think they are influencing the campaign, when in truth they are both distorting and ignoring what is actually happening. Not used to covering and reporting on grass roots, popular campaigns in the UK, they seem to have decided to just ignore what is happening on the ground in Scotland. Driven by their own Unionist, Britnat bias, they have been left floundering. This is most obvious in the London based media, where only sporadic glimpses are allowed into the nature of the debate up here. Most of the time Scottish independence is still dismissed out of hand as something silly, romantic, backward looking, if not just an outburst of anti-Englishness.
The vibrancy, the positive ideas, the inspiration, the visions of a different and better Scotland all come from the Yes campaign. This is what both the No side and the media in general have missed and probably not anticipated. And it is this enthusiastic engagement with what an independent Scotland can become that is making a Yes vote more and more likely.