young woman holding poster saying "resist"

Disagreement and hostility: what’s the answer?

Rory Hamilton, September 23rd 2021

So, after 18 months of nothing, finally on Saturday, Believe in Scotland’s national ‘Day of Action’ saw 112 groups out and about plugging the independence cause. I couldn’t make any of the activities myself, although it would appear it was a success. However, considering the article I wrote last week, I must beg the question: where are all the young people?

While it was great to see plenty of pictures from the day, I’ve had several people say to me that the movement looks old. So, this inevitably leads me to ask, firstly, why aren’t more young activists out campaigning – we’ve got plenty of them – so where are they? And secondly, what can we do to get more people engaged?

The answer to my first question, I believe, is a relatively simple, if brutal, one: young people have better things to do. Whether they’re studying for school/university/college, engaging in recreational activity such as playing sport, or being involved in music, or if they are old enough to have a family to look after and a mortgage to think about, their priority on a Saturday is not going to be standing behind a trestle table handing out leaflets and stickers, and getting into in-depth policy conversations. Furthermore, our young adult activists would rather meet their friends, with whom they haven’t been able to properly socialise for a while, at the pubs which are now open.

Aside from alternative activities that may be pulling people away from campaigning, the motivation to get out and get heard may be missing from many of our younger comrades because of the pandemic. The easy excuse to stay home and stay away from the sometimes draining, constant campaigning may have had a lingering effect, just as the drive indoors turned many to social media where debate and discussion could often get away from us all and turn to anger and vitriol. 

The visible splits in the independence movement highlighted online have created a sense of awkwardness among activists and perhaps is one of the reasons people are less willing to come out and campaign alongside each other again.

Of course, social media is not necessarily entirely to blame for these splits, but I do feel that it makes things worse. Not only does it amplify the voices of many who already have a platform, and thus marginalises those already marginalised, but it is also easier be nasty and hateful behind anonymous accounts than it is when discussing policy and issues in person.

The overriding issue producing these splits is undoubtedly GRA reform. The ‘toxic debate’ over trans rights is alienating to many and not only puts young people off from joining campaigns but also because of its ‘toxic’ label means people stay away from the topic entirely and thus lack a proper understanding of the issues at hand. Solving splits like this will be key to uniting the movement ahead of any independence referendum.

So that leads me to my second question: what can we do to get more people engaged?

Firstly, a similar question was asked at Tuesday’s ‘Big Indy Debate’, held at Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. Of course, I thought Robin gave some fantastic answers and there was a lot of great discussion among the panel, however a couple things that Mike Small, editor of Bella Caledonia, said stuck out to me.

He said, “we need to speak to society and the wider electorate and not just speak to ourselves,” in doing so, he argued that we have to “maturely reflect on the differences within the independence movement.”

On this, he is spot on. We are not going to get a positive message across to convince people to vote YES if we are spending most of our time infighting and disagreeing over a range of issues that we already know there will be disagreements over. 

Of course, there are going to be differences within the movement, that’s why it is made up of multiple political parties, independent bloggers, journalists, and activists, and that’s why we are ultimately trying to win over a diverse majority of the Scottish people. Accepting a difference of opinion is vital to creating a united front and presenting an organised case for an independent Scotland. 

Secondly, whilst accepting a diversity of opinion, we need to reduce the hostility between groups and within our debates if we are to attract young people back to our campaigns. Returning, briefly, to GRA reform and trans rights, Ash Sarkar of Novara Media neatly summarises this,

Whatever you might think of gender and its relationship to biological sex, the right to free expression does not override the rights of trans and non-binary people to live free of harassment or discrimination. Genuine mistakes are one thing, but deliberate deadnaming and misgendering (i.e., calling someone their pre-transition name, or referring to them by anything other than the gender they identify as) is a way of asserting your control over someone. It’s saying that ‘I have more power to determine who you are than you do; I can curtail your freedom to live authentically at any time.’

As I am not here to discuss the issue of GRA reform, the article my reference is drawn from is an excellent read and makes a great case for why trans issues are important in addressing wider issues of social justice.

Finally, the best people to represent the views and issues of young people are young people, therefore involving local young activists in the organisation and planning of our events is key to engaging more young people in our campaigns.

It sounds obvious but it’s the point I made in my article last week. Representation is important, and if there are no young people involved in planning and organising events how are the event organisers to know how to spread the message to young people? How will they understand the issues young people face in getting to and being involved in the day of campaigning itself? 

We know we have an abundance of talent among our young ranks, and we are not short in numbers in many cases, so let’s utilise those people and trust them to take the lead.

3 thoughts on “Disagreement and hostility: what’s the answer?”

  1. Young people in particular can be motivated by ‘priorities’, what they see as important in life.
    So one reason they may not be present in any Day of Action or any other activity to promote Independence, may be that they do not see any priority in Independence.
    It’s easy to see a priority in climate change for instance, people are talking about it every day. Or the NHS.
    But it’s only politically geek people who will find any motivation in something that seems to be “yesterday’s fight”.
    Maybe they’ll look at Independence after we’ve saved the world.

  2. Ian Davidson

    Nearly 60, I am interested in politics for two key emotionally honest reasons: a. I have always been so, i.e habit; b. I have nothing better to do. That is me being brutally existentially honest rather than self inflating ego rationalisations (like Miss World contestants who have altruistic ambitions for the tv cameras). Some politically motivated folks I have encountered can be: boring, self centred, immature, poor listeners etc (or worse, e.g. Keith Vaz, former MP, a bully). It is no surprise that some 24/7 “activists” negotiate the poisonous party routes to become professional politicos, where they can indulge at public expense, their latent sociopathic tendencies! What could be more boring than standing at a trestle table on a damp Saturday morning asking disinterested shoppers to get excited about indy? of course issues such as the “clear and present danger” of climate change, not having enough cash to pay rent and “do stuff” are of more interest to younger folks!
    Maybe some folks in the indy movement would be better advised to practise greater self awareness, improve listening skills and “get out more” than rushing from demo to demo? I remain committed to indy. However the past few years, including covid, have taught me that there is more to life than promoting indy. Attempting to help care for sick elderly relatives, appreciating the full value of existing close relationships, donating spare cash to good causes (not usually political parties etc) have helped me to understand my essential humanity (good, bad and indifferent) far more than mouthing clever intellectual arm chair opinions. If you want to change the world then you also need to improve your self awareness, do more listening and less shouting and have politics/life balance; otherwise you will never understand what motivates those whom you wish to persuade?

  3. Maybe, (just as in 1320), to regain Scotland’s independence – no matter your age – you first have to make your case for your own personal statement of independence, your own UDI,, your own principles, and do so in a manner which hopefully encourages others to do likewise.

    Now lodged at the United Nations by me and those Sovereign Scots who have taken part in this initiative:

    “The Declaration of an individual Sovereign Scot” its purpose – to regain the independence of Scotland.

    Context: The Nation of Scotland has a long history which can be traced back to 892AD. The sovereignty of the People was established by the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320AD and again in the Claim of Right in 1689AD. The Claim of Right to self determination has been reaffirmed many times including on 4th July 2018, when the House of Commons officially endorsed the principles of the Claim of Right, agreeing that the people of Scotland are sovereign and that they have the right to determine the best form of government for Scotland’s needs.

    Exercising my Claim Of Right as a Sovereign Scot, I declare:

    I do not consent to the terms of, nor the continuation of, the Treaty of Union established through the Acts of Union in 1707.

    Inter alia, I adopt and rely upon the principles, and international legal recognition of Article 1 (2) – (Equal rights and self-determination of peoples) of the United Nations, and specifically the principle of self-determination and the right of peoples to decide their own government, and in so doing declare that I recognise the sole democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament, and assert its primacy and permanence to act singularly on behalf of the Sovereign Scots whose votes alone establish and maintain its existence.
    I do not consent to the terms of, nor the continuation of, the Scotland Act 1998, and all subsequent relevant Acts of like nature and purpose, and demand that any Oath of Allegiance to be sought from, and given by, a potential Member of the Scottish Parliament recognises the Sovereignty of the Scottish People in the following terms: “By this oath, I acknowledge that if elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, it will be as a result of votes cast by Sovereign Scots, and I do solemnly swear and affirm that my allegiance is, and will remain, to the Sovereign people of Scotland.

    That this Declaration is made by an individual Sovereign Scot to ensure that Scotland regains its independence as a Sovereign Nation, and in so doing can secure its economic future to not only offer opportunities to its people but equally to provide for the welfare of its people by entirely legal and democratic means and without any form of outside interference, and in an international context to support the United Nation’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, by the removal of all nuclear weapons from Scotland.

    Signed this day, the 6th April 2021 in my name: Mike Fenwick.

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