A true democracy has no need for a silly slogan like 45%
Let’s not romanticise this lost “Yes” with a slogan like “The 45%”. A Yes No question was always a silly way to settle social issues, it just provided a temporary opportunity much better than anything else going. Independence Yes or No, was a battle picked not by Scottish people but by two centralised neoliberal parties. Now it’s over, it would be ridiculously ironic to settle comfortably into a straightjacket we were only given because of an intra-elite barney between oil money man Salmond and Etonian thug Cameron.
Thinking tactically, these people, our rulers, have just shown us that they can beat us on this ground of their choosing. The sad truth is that we, the people, are not sovereign in the UK and we have to play canny if we want to beat our rulers. 45% wasn’t enough people persuaded when they unusually agreed to an official referendum. We shouldn’t think for a minute that those people are going to put their backs into forcing another referendum, Catalan-style. Even if we’d had 55%, we might have lost the post-Yes settlement to the rich and powerful. What good would 55% have been then?
These campaigns are a good base for change, and they shouldn’t squander themselves on bitterness about a fight they didn’t pick anyway. If we want to build a more economically and socially just society, let’s not return to the fray on their terms but choose our own.
Winning or making
The appeal of 45% is surely about the possibility of winning. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to win? The simplicity and cleanness of this tactical way-point, “Yes”, was unusual and welcome in the messy world of activism. That’s partly why it made for good campaigning material. And right now it feels like we almost won all of those many things we were campaigning for.
But a more just economy and society aren’t going to be “won”. They are not prizes. They need to be built piece by piece. Mainly from the bottom up, though some sympathetic changes from the top can help enormously. We were not 5.3% close to “winning” our goals, and clinging on to an essentially rather silly way of trying to solve society’s problems is not going to get us any closer to them.
Us and them
Thirdly, it’s just offensive to imply that 55% of voters voted No for bad reasons. For the Yes campaigns, the whole point was that we live in a country where we have very very little control over our lives and our communities. You can absolutely subscribe to that point of view, and want better, and believe we can do it – and still think it was too bloody big a risk to let the SNP and the Tories battle out our constitutional future for two years before an election. I didn’t, on balance.
Many people did. Don’t call them stupid, or dupes of the corporate media, or traitors. Especially if you want to work with them. Disturbing and dangerous is the clarity of the line with which this 45% slogan draws an us and a them. This is not a good path to go down. For starters it is playing into the hands of Cameron, who wants to whip up English resentment and chauvinism to help him see off UKIP and Labour. If we’re going to be canny we won’t play this predictable game.
Some 45%-ers want to send shivers down the spine of the establishment. Forget John Lewis, some of what is being said under the banner of 45% sends shivers of horror down mine. That some people think 1745 is good historical resonance, forgetting it was when Scottish elites and a drunken Italian gambled with ordinary Scottish people and culture and sold them into death, penance and exile when the intra-elite conflict of their day failed to come off. The boycott threats against Standard Life, John Lewis, the BBC, Sainsbury’s, the Daily Record, etc, etc, which are a total distraction from the issues and threats to social justice in Scotland and the UK right now. The Yes campaigns didn’t attract 44.7% of the vote by using aggressive tactics and bellowing, bullying language. A campaign about corporate attempts to control public opinion would be great but bawling threats over twitter is not it.
It is powerful open-heartedness that inspires devotion to the cause of social change – please, let us not loose it to bitterness. The last thing we want to do is to play this game. We need to keep our heads, keep talking about the real issues to real people, and not get drawn into this game of soldiers that only the rich will win.
A messy time
Which ever way the vote had gone, right now was always going to be a messier time, now that there isn’t a convenient point up to which so many people can be fellow travellers. There will be many who want to press on and will use any tactic to try and make us “stick together” so they can keep up the illusion of the “win”. There will also be many who need to step back, figure out what they want, what to do next.
This 45% stuff is a mostly well meant attempt to keep a movement together. But we should have the confidence that it doesn’t need to be kept together by empty sloganeering. People should be allowed the time and space to shape these movements for themselves.
Darren McGarvey says it very well when he points out that a lot of campaigns have grown very fast with one clear goal in mind, and now we need time to reflect and make sure they can be strong and democratic as campaigners before diving straight into the next thing. This means lots of voices and listening to disagreement. This is healthy. Campaigns that don’t make time for this will fail their members, and squander all their knowledge and passion. Those who can stomach a proper conversation will come out the most strong and vibrant. Collaborative discussion, doubt, messiness for a period, will be the big bold act of confidence and creativity that everyone needs right now.