A small team from SNP HQ spent tonight setting up a series of guerilla projections on locations across Scotland as a way to persuade undecided voters and remind others to vote for the SNP tomorrow.
Behind the scenes
The SNP have won a historic landslide victory in General Election 2015 by winning 56 out of a potential 59 seats; an absolute majority and 50 seat gain. A result which broke the BBC's swingometer.
Working for a political party means that you're never really off duty. Moments after the potentially damaging #FrenchGate story broke last night, Sean McGivern and I started to create this rebuttal, whilst on a night out in a pub in Leith. Assisted by tweets by journalists that had contacted the French Consul, it was read by over 62,000 people within 8 hours. The story was completely discredited by this morning and hunt for the person who had leaked the story has begun.
The SNP has reached over 100,000 members, making it the third largest political party in the UK. This is an increase of over 80,000 in under 6 months. 1/50 people living in Scotland are now members.
A Valentines Day message from the SNP.
Scotland's new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon followed in the footsteps of pop stars Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga by appearing in front of 12,000 people at Glasgow's Hydro arena in a rally that sold out quicker than Beyonce. In what was the largest indoor political event in British history, Nicola said it was "an amazing end to a momentous week" in which she had become Scotland's first female leader.
We know that you are completely exhausted and utterly heartbroken. We are too. On face value we lost, but there is more to the result than meets the eye and this was anything but a fair fight. Two years ago, we started off with Yes on a poll of 25% and yet we ended up with 45%. The sheer resilience of the Yes movement in the face of the full might of the British state, corporate and media power, that was designed to demonise, smear and alienate anyone who chose to side with it will not die down. We’ve been looking straight into the eyes of the British establishment, and we don’t think much of what we see sneering back at us.
From the very beginning, the then ‘Better Together’ turned ‘UKOK’ turned ‘No Thanks’ campaign threw every toy out of the basket, played every dirty trick in the book, and ran a campaign based on negativity and scaring the population into thinking that we were not actually capable of running our own affairs. What we were faced with was a campaign based on stifling engagement, dumbing down politics and deadening thought whilst portraying a No vote as the rational, educated and realistic option.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the campaign will be a familiar one for many. Knocking on doors and being confronted with an elderly person who had postal-voted No because they were told that they would lose their pension. The No campaign had shamelessly managed to convince people that, in the 14th richest country in the world, we could not afford pensions. The fear tactics employed were sickening. They threw everything under the sun at us, but not once did it dampen our spirits. We canvassed, we danced, we wrote, we sang, we campaigned. And we will continue to do so.
Aside from the fear tactics, this was a campaign aspiring to deaden thought, simplify politics and close minds. #PatronsingBTLady proved an excellent illustration of such, as was the ‘I love my family, I’m saying No Thanks’ billboards, and let’s not forget the ‘independence stresses me out’ stress balls handed out at freshers fayres. This is how they see us. They think we are passive, disinterested, selfish and stupid. In contrast, National Collective toured the country on Yestival, Radical Independence knocked on tens of thousands of doors in a day on their Mass Canvasses, tens of thousands of activists reached out to apathetic communities through local groups, Generation Yes ran open platforms on social media where young people could ask us anything – the entire Yes movement was about encouraging people to think and imagine.
Despite the ‘Better Together’ campaign being what is unquestionably one of the most incompetent political campaigns in the history of British politics, what hindered the steady surge to Yes was a largely compliant mainstream media. For example, a Guardian journalist sent us sarcastic e-mails refusing to publish details of a list of 1,300 prominent artists and creatives who had signed a letter backing a Yes vote and we were constantly demonized as anti-English separatist nationalists and, at times, ‘fascists’ despite many of us being English, and some of us knowing the journalists personally. If they cannot win through an honest factual campaign, what does this say about their case?
Aside from the blatant smearing of anything Yes, sections of the press did something significantly more sinister. They controlled the dissemination of information, closed the space for Yes voices to be heard, and thus facilitated and legitimised the scaremongering onslaught from the No campaign. How many times did you hear that ‘there are just too many unanswered questions’, despite the questions being answered? How many times did you hear that people were voting No because they didn’t like nationalism, despite us not being nationalists? To suggest that British identity is in no way nationalistic derives from a neo imperialist mindset. How many times did you see Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond compared to Dennis Canavan? How many people do you honestly think were aware that Salmond wasn’t the leader of Yes? This was most evident during the last week of the campaign, when we saw the Telegraph stating that voting Yes was an insult to dead soldiers and their families. The establishment’s compliant media was the cherry on top of the cake; a systematic abuse of power.
Did we let this deliberate misrepresentation and demonisation take us down? No. We became the media. Stephen Paton released his #IndyRef Weekly Review, websites like National Collective and Bella Caledonia became a space for underrepresented Yes voices to be heard, and we took to social media to overcome the smear and spread our progressive visions. We should point out here that the Sunday Herald, in supporting Yes, demonstrated courage throughout this movement. It’s not easy to go against the tide of mainstream media opinions and portrayals. The Yes movement should be incredibly proud of our ingenuity and tireless determination and we mustn’t let it dwindle.
Within the political landscape of the No campaign, Scottish Labour provided the front whilst the Tories pulled the strings and supplied the funds. If they were honest democrats, Scottish Labour should have held an election within their party regarding which stance to take on the referendum. The Scottish Green Party for example voted on it, and maintained that members who supported No could speak freely on the matter. This was the first indication that Scottish Labour were about to ostracise those demonstrating autonomy in their party. And boy did that happen. They were openly seen and heard mocking Yes supporting Labour members at their party conference. Something tells us that they may regret these tactics in the near future.
Despite Scottish Labour supporting a No vote, around 38% of their voters supported Yes. The Scottish Labour Party ignored their own supporters, and instead blindly persued an agenda that panders to the Labour Party in Westminster, a party that is out of touch with the people of Scotland and one that they have overwhelmingly rejected. One of the results of this is that we are now witnessing memberships of the SNP, the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party skyrocket overnight. Scottish Labour have risked alienating 38% of their own vote in Scotland to preserve a failing Westminster elite. This highlights how little regard they have for the Scottish political landscape. True power, they believe, lies at Westminster.
Taking all of this into consideration, and acknowledging that we were challenging the full force of the British establishment, their corporate might and their compliant media, we did bloody well. If we were at the forefront of a campaign with that level of influence, power and money, we would see a 55% as an international embarrassment.
Part of the reason that we saw the groundswell of grassroots activism that we did is because there was a deadline, a common shared goal for September 18th 2014. Although the deadline has been removed, we still have that shared aspiration. The question now is how to we encapsulate and maintain the momentum of this progressive, diverse, grassroots movement?
The first means of achieving this is clear. The vast majority of the mainstream media have demonstrated their complete lack of autonomy and level of compliance to the British establishment and the corporate elite. We need to create and preserve alternative media channels. But there is little point in creating them as a protest to the mainstream media. These alternative channels must become the mainstream. To do so requires working together. There are some utterly brilliant and resourceful people in this movement. It’s time to unite.
Secondly, we need to organise ourselves with the common aim of holding Westminster accountable to the promises that they made to us. This starts with their pledges for further devolution. We expect that this won’t happen. 1 in every 4 No voters casted their vote under the promise of further devolution. If these promises fail to transpire, we will seek to secure a date for the next referendum on Scottish independence. We have various options as to how we can help make this happen, and we will update you on this later should it be required.
Thirdly, as stated above, the Yes movement seeks to make people think. It is our duty to continue to create a politically engaged, educated electorate. What Westminster want is a Yes movement that is so utterly deflated that it regresses into the shadows, it stops dreaming, it stops imagining that another Scotland is truly possible. There is a reason why the likes of Rupert Murdoch expressed concern at the influence of progressive Yes groups in Scotland.
We simply cannot afford to let our beautiful movement regress. 1.6 million of us stood up and dared to dream. We lost by the equivalent of the population of a small city. We can win this, we must win this, we will win this. When you get a popular revolution driven by hope and optimism like this, that energy will not dissolve into nothing. It can only grow. In the aftermath of a normal election, the losing party is disheartened and their supporters deflated. The difference here is that the whilst the official No campaign has finished and will no doubt try to delete all evidence of it ever existing, people still make the Yes movement and we will continue to campaign and dream. We will always put hope over fear.
Keep imagining a better Scotland.
Ross Colquhoun and Miriam Brett
Photograph by Peter McNally
This essay was first published in the Sunday Herald and is inspired by and dedicated to the utterly brilliant and tireless campaigners who I have met and worked with since launching National Collective from a laptop in my bedroom over two and a half years ago.
When I first considered getting involved in the Yes movement, I’d originally intended to design some posters.
I did, but alongside two friends, I also ended up kick-starting a movement of over 3000 of artists, writers and activists. The movement has generated hundreds of articles, events, two festivals, a landmark publication and local groups across Scotland. To say the results have exceeded my initial expectations would be a massive understatement. It’s been an utterly inspiring collective effort.
My journey to Yes wasn’t that unusual. The vast majority of my family were traditional Labour voters. Yet like so many in Scotland, Labour’s steady shift to the right, teamed with the unimaginable horrors of the Iraq invasion, created a loss of faith in their party that was now unrecognisable.
The demise of the traditional Labour Party party shook up and remoulded the political landscape across the UK, but this was felt with particular strength in Scotland. The notion of a traditional Labour voter crumbled, replaced instead with entrenched apathy and disillusionment. Scotland stopped being a country that belonged to one party, even though we remain stubbornly attached to what many still see as “Labour values”.
For my family, like so many others who supported Labour for generations, their disillusionment with what the party has become has moved them, at last, towards support for an independent Scotland.
It was this disillusionment with the narrow, professionalised, Westminster political system that led to the creation of National Collective. But it was also about wanting to do politics differently and on that front we’ve succeeded.
I believe that creative practitioners benefit immensely, like other workers, from a society that is more equal. The UK is the fourth most unequal country in the world. Aside from the direct cultural damage inflicted by cuts and austerity to the arts, most artists live precarious economic lives. Therefore constantly spiralling living costs radically affect the ability of individuals, especially the young, to participate in culture. No Westminster political party is offering an alternative on this.
Images have always played an important role in shaping our identity, our culture and our perspective on history. And it is our belief that art and creativity has an immeasurable power to influence people, to dispel political apathy, to inspire ideas and to motivate change.
As a result of this campaign Scotland has already changed.
People from all walks of life have realised, many for the first time, that we are a young, vibrant nation, ready to meet the future head-on, with our minds, our hands and our creativity. The flowering of ideas and the convening of artists around the idea of independence during this debate demonstrates that Scotland has been energised as result of its position at such a unique juncture.
Whatever the result next Thursday, we really have risen to the occasion.
Yestival, for example, was a colourful, exciting and at times unpredictable national tour. We worked with local communities, made use of local spaces creatively, took over village halls, created pop-up exhibitions, invited local speakers and performers to contribute as well as presenting a touring band of National Collective performers.
We were genuinely taken aback by the positive response it received from the Scottish Borders to Shetland.
Scotland’s Referendum debate has brought an unprecedented level of public engagement with politics through the revival of town-hall meetings and through cultural events across Scotland.
Grass-roots social media activism has countered the tactics of the No campaign and the mainstream media by utilising facts, creativity, wit and humour. Politics has become fun again and a Yes vote would let us nurture and channel this energy into nation-building events like the creation of a constitution.
This year we have a question that will define our generation. We can be the Scotland that chose to grasp the chance to create a better society, or the Scotland that put fear before hope.
In a wide range of fields, from literature to the applied arts, our nation is world-leading. But this isn’t about claiming to be better than any other country; it is claiming equality. The past achievements of Scottish intellect, creativity, and ingenuity are an exceptionally precious resource.
At its best, our creativity has been unbounded in its vision and ambition. All of the energy, thought, imagination and graft that has been poured into this campaign will not go away. It will inform the future that we choose to build.
In contrast, the No campaign backed by big money has failed to adapt to the new media landscape, treating those who campaign creatively and online with disdain, and the electorate as if they were a focus group.
In no uncertain terms, a Yes vote would be a victory for the Yes movement in the face of the full UK state, corporate and media might. It would be a victory for the network generation against the antiquated hierarchy of the British state. It would be a victory against all of the odds and one that would reverberate across the planet and throughout history. But most importantly, it would be a victory for democracy and the will of the people of Scotland in deciding their own future.
The opportunity to create a new state is perhaps the ultimate challenge that a society can grapple with. It is also a fundamentally creative one. It is the task of artists to inhabit the vanguard of imagining and questioning the future of a society.
After Thursday’s vote, we must do all that we can to maintain the spirit of exploration and rediscovery that has defined this campaign. Whatever the result, it will be needed, and whatever problems we face, we need to solve them with all our creative, collective ability.
Perhaps the most important thing about National Collective is that is was never supposed to happen. It really has been a spontaneous, unplanned adventure.
I never expected to have opportunity to work with so many brilliant and talented people in support of this campaign. Like so many other parts of our movement our power is decentralised and self-generating.
It’s not about policies, committees or ideas: it’s about being active, engaged and educated. Other than helping to win a Yes vote, I hope that this pro-active attitude, that inspires ordinary people to do remarkable things, will form our legacy.
Scottish independence is a fork in the road, it’s about who we are and the society we want to be.
For the first time in our lives, as you step into the polling booth on Thursday, our future really is in your hands. This is, indeed, a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity for all of us to build a better nation.
So, Scotland, what kind society do you want to be part of?
Photograph by Robb Mcrae
During Scotland's Referendum only political parties were entitled to broadcast airtime. National Collective created this alternative broadcast and shared it online. The animation was optimised for mobile phones.
Since this morning I've been co-ordinating #YesBecause day on behalf of National Collective. It was a social media event designed to encourage people to explain why they are voting Yes in 140 characters on Twitter and demonstrate the unfettered reality of the Yes movement. For 24 hours it was trending in Scotland, UK and Worldwide, reaching over 3,000,000 people with 101,238 tweets.
A selection of tweets from the day:
The National Collective team are just back from Yestival, a mammoth 30 day national grassroots pro-independence festival that took place across Scotland during July. The Yestival tour showcased the grassroots cultural movement for Scottish Independence and included communities in the Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, central Scotland, Western Isles, the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland, the North East, Angus, Perthshire and Fife as well as all of the country’s seven cities.
After leaving on the 30th June 2014 from National Collective’s subterranean headquarters in Leith, The Art Cave, the touring party began a busy schedule that included a mixture of small gatherings, pop-up happenings and larger scale events together with a few surprises along the way.
Inspired by Independence is a landmark collection of art and writing co-published by National Collective and Word Power Books in July 2014. Colourful, substantive and visually stunning, it includes some of Scotland's finest writers, artists and performers and marks Scotland's historic referendum with a celebration of cultural confidence. The following is the foreward from the book.
The Scottish people will answer a question of historic significance on 18th September 2014. Whatever the result, we can observe, all around us and in these pages, a country that is already profoundly altered by the need to find answers.
The events we are now living were neither predicted nor planned. Though unexpected, the flourishing of interest in discussing what Scotland is, or could be, is remarkable and unprecedented. It is out of this very new set of realities that groups like National Collective have emerged.
The question of what National Collective is has been the subject of some confusion. We are a group with no policies, loose structures, a surprising ability to organise and no party or ideological loyalty. In a world increasingly commodified, boxed and packaged, it can be odd to see an association of people, especially a new one, consistently refuse to define itself. But this is our key strength.
We are this book and the works contained within it. We are also the hours of event organising, painting, tweeting, filming, editing, debating, dancing, photographing, printing, acting, writing. In short, we are a group defined entirely by the extent to which each of us wants to get involved.
It would be a mistake to think that this movement exists in isolation or could be replicated regardless of context. We are brought together by the many stories about a better Scotland: those that have brought us to this impasse, those that we have helped to shape, and those that are yet to be told. National Collective exists thanks to an unprecedented opportunity to talk without limitation, from first principles, about what our society is and might become. Ours is indeed a fortunate generation.
Within these pages we have included artists and writers from a slew of different backgrounds, disciplines and places. From octogenarians to twenty somethings, the teeming variety of genres and forms that we’ve gathered together speaks to a culturally confident, creatively promiscuous Scotland. Inspired by Independence does not claim to be a definitive collection of the innumerable creative and intellectual responses to these times: as editors we know that such a task would be impossible. We are however confident, that in bringing together these works, we have created a volume that will continue to have resonance well beyond September 2014.
So what will you find herein? Our purpose in creating this book was not to collect bland statements for, or against, the ultimately unknowable concept of independence. Indeed not all of the contributors have made clear how they will vote in the referendum. We don’t care for dividing up artists based on their opinions anymore than we care for the language of machine politics. We take a different approach. Namely, we suggest that all that we have, in facing the challenge of fundamentally changing the community we call Scotland, is the style with which we can imagine that change. The tenacity with which we can question. The skill with which we can build. Perhaps even, as one contributor has argued, the license with which we can dream.
So you won’t find conformity or easy answers in this volume. In fact, many of the contributors make a point of addressing independence not as a simple solution, but as a single step in a larger, more complex, journey. The following pages look at both the challenges and the opportunities that come from a desire to make something new.
Inspired by Independence arrives in a Scotland poised at a juncture. It provides a snapshot: a visual, audial and written memento of how some of our most engaging makers of words, images and sounds have responded to our current position.
One way or another, it seems that an older Scotland is leaving us, creaking under the weight of change, taking with it old ideas, old loyalties and old certainties. A space is opening up: how shall we inhabit it, name it and understand it? What will we do with the opportunity to step out from the old and into the new? Contained within these pages are a few sketches of how that space could be occupied, of how we might begin to shape a bigger answer to a disarmingly concise question.
Generations of artistic endeavour have shown that Scotland is a worthy subject, because it remains alive with possibility. Whatever else it might be: this debate is not a terminus, but rather a point in a journey, a patient search for a better destination. Just as culture itself is not a product, not the end of a process, but rather, in all the ways that we might conceive of it, the process itself.
In this spirit, with this finely wrought book, we assert that independence is not an end in itself, but an opportunity to imagine a better Scotland.
If this moment, this remarkable opportunity and set of circumstances, is not one that we can revel in and meet with the quality of our imagination, then Scotland is indeed lost. We humbly submit the following pages as evidence to the contrary and as a tantalising glimpse of that better country that awaits us.
Ross Colquhoun and Christopher Silver (co-editors)
This article was originally published on the National Collective website after receiving legal threats from Vitol Group, the world's largest oil trading company.
On Tuesday 9th April, lawyers acting on behalf of the multi-millionaire oil-trader and principal Better Together donor Ian Taylor, and the world’s largest oil Trading company Vitol Group, attempted to silence National Collective through threatened legal action. The following is our side of the story up to this point.
This is a story that should worry all Scots who wish the referendum campaign to be conducted in an open and democratic manner. Since launching in 2011, we have prided ourselves on running a positive, thoughtful and self-critical campaign, and have hoped that, in our own small way, we have improved the independence debate.
Our main focus has been on imagining a better Scotland. But any campaign for change is also a campaign against the status quo, and that requires a degree of criticism – and so, when necessary, we have been critical of the Better Together campaign.
On Sunday 7th April, Better Together revealed the details of those who donated £1.1 million to their campaign. The Sunday Herald provided a platform for Ian Taylor, who donated £500,000 of that money, to explain why he chose to back Better Together to such a degree despite not being eligible to vote in next year’s referendum.
We were confused. Nobody in the press seemed to be expressing any concern over Taylor’s background, despite a series of press reports linking Vitol, the company which Taylor served as CEO, to several ‘scandals’. And so our intrepid reporter Michael Gray (a 21 year old student), through careful use of Google, collated a series of stories already in the public domain, and in doing so challenged Better Together over the source of much of their funding. If we can be self-congratulatory for just a second, it was a fine example of citizen journalism.
The reports we raised were serious, and we did not publish them brazenly or without due care. Taylor’s company have been accused of giving $ 1 million to a Serbian Paramilitary leader, of bribing Saddam Hussein’s government and of tax avoidance, amongst others. All of these stories had been sourced and had been in the public domain for several years. We simply, in response to Taylor’s piece in the Sunday Herald, compiled them and asked Better Together to respond.
And so we were shocked to receive a letter from Mr. Taylor’s lawyers accusing us of defamation, and threatening two of our members, Ross Colquhoun and Michael Gray, with legal action if we did not remove the article immediately, publish an apology and agree to never to publish the material again.
We took this threat seriously, of course. Ian Taylor is a rich and powerful man and the courts are often a rich man’s playground. Out of fear of provoking further action, we were forced to become silent. We sought legal advice. We went through the original article with a fine tooth comb to check if, in fact, there was any basis in the claim of defamation.
We stand by Michael Gray’s article. Everything in the article was based on reliable news sources and, while we do not have the resources of the mainstream press or journalistic training, the piece was put together with due care and caution. The Herald received a similar legal threat and refused to back down, as did Wings Over Scotland after picking up the story.
Our legal advice was to remove the article in question while we prepared a response. Doing so would be in no way an admission of guilt or wrongdoing, but an acknowledgement that we were up against powerful forces with which we cannot compete financially. Yet there was an important principle at stake here – the principle that ordinary citizens should be able to question the powerful in society. We felt uneasy about the prospect of pulling the article, even temporarily, and continuing as normal. We may only be a humble group of activists, writers and artists, but to appear to be backing down felt too much like submission and displayed a lack of solidarity with Michael. If his voice could not be heard, then neither should any of ours.
For this reason, and for the reasons documented here, on Wednesday the 10th of April we took the very difficult decision of removing our entire website on temporary basis while we sought further advice. That morning, our initial story had been covered by both The Herald and The Daily Record. A further piece published online by The Scotsman that day included a warning from Vitol about legal action to ‘correct inaccuracies’ and ‘prevent further publication’.
By threatening legal action, Mr. Taylor’s lawyers hoped that this information could be kept from the public domain. But we were not attacking him personally. This was not the gutter press. This was information in the public interest. It matters how these campaigns are funded, which is why we repeatedly asked Better Together to comment. Lots of other people did, too. It was not an unreasonable demand considering Douglas Alexander, not our biggest fan, had previously raised similar questions over Taylor’s relationship with Downing Street. It was Labour MP and Treasury Select Committee John Mann who first described Mr. Taylor’s political donations as ‘dirty money’. (albeit Mr Taylor does not consider there to be anything improper about his political donations)
Yet we were met with silence. When we asked questions on Better Together’s Facebook page, the comments were marked as ‘spam’, and so could not be viewed by the public. It’s not the first time the No campaign have preferred to hide from us than engage – only a few weeks ago, Better Together tried to pull a film promoted by National Collective from YouTube, only for this to spectacularly backfire and go viral.
On Monday 8th, our story had received only a small mention in The Guardian, buried at the foot of another article. But we persisted. Within 3 days of publishing, our original article had been viewed 25,000 times, shared on twitter over 900 times and receiving over 3000 facebook likes. Momentum was growing behind our concerns, and yet Better Together refused to respond to us. But our persistence paid off. By Wednesday, the story had made both The Herald and The Record, and SNP Defence spokesman Angus Robertson had begun questioning Better Together over Vitol’s links with Serbian paramilitary Arkan. The information presented when Arkan was indicted to the International Criminal Court is too vile to discuss in detail.
After our story made the national press, many supporters of National Collective expressed concern over our silence – we’d had a serious breakthrough, so why had we not commented? When we replaced our website with a notice reading ‘Not for Publication’, many looked at Vitol’s warning in The Scotsman and correctly guessed that we had received a warning from lawyers.
Later that day we released a statement from our lawyer Aamer Anwar stating that our ‘website is offline only as a temporary measure for a few days. A detailed and robust response will be issued early next week along with further questions for the Better Together campaign.’ The response was an outpouring of sympathy which we found overwhelming. Donations flooded into our campaign fund without any request on our behalf. Kenny Farquharson, Deputy Editor of Scotland on Sunday, expressed his support, tweeting that ‘I hope the young pups at @WeAreNational overcome their legal difficulties soon. I’m a fan of much of what they do on#indyref.’ Euan McColm wrote that we had been ‘so far, among the most interesting and positive contributors to the campaign’. Kate Higgins, writing over at Bella Caledonia, gave great praise for the work we’d done. Support came in from, amongst others, musician Stuart Braithwaite, writer Alan Bissett, and several MSPs, as well as hundreds of ordinary people from both sides of the debate.
Meanwhile Better Together had suddenly taken an active interest in our group. Staffers Rob Shorthouse and Blair MacDougall put out a coordinated tweet mocking us prior to our statement being released. Better Together, who had been notably silent over the issue for several days, then responded by releasing a frankly bizarre statement accusing us of being part of a ‘co-ordinated dirty-tricks campaign’. This was only the beginning of a series of diversions manufactured by Better Together, all of which is covered in this rebuttal document ‘here’.
During a stressful time, this statement was a welcome piece of comic relief. Blair McDougall continued this line of attack on Scotland Tonight that evening, insinuating that this campaign was orchestrated by the SNP with Alex Salmond at the head. We can only speculate as to whether Better Together believed that Michael Gray’s article had been planted or encouraged by the SNP. For the record, Michael is not, and never has been, a member of any political party and the SNP and Yes Scotland were completely unaware that we were running the piece on Ian Taylor prior to its publication. It’s nice that Better Together are so worried by us that they’ll make this stuff up.
On the same night, Severin Carrell, the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent, discussed the disappearance of National Collective on Newsnight Scotland. When asked by interviewer Gordon Brewer if it might not be in the political interests of the No campaign for it to appear to be taking elements of the Yes campaign to court, Carrell said ‘No, it won’t play well at all. It’s certainly going to fuel the sense of outrage in their opponents and it’s going to start to put them on the back foot. I suspect, especially for the Better Together campaign, there’s rather a bit more to come on this one’.
Despite attempts to paint this as a smear campaign, the story refused to disappear. As well as ourselves, legal threats were sent to The Herald as well as other pro-independence websites. Robbie Dinwoodie continued to cover the story for The Herald on Thursday, and writing on Friday of the silence from Alistair Darling and Douglas Alexander over the matter.
While Darling and Alexander were still silent by Friday, Better Together continued to attempt to smear the independence movement. The Sun covered Better Together’s claims of ‘dirty tricks’, where the evidence presented for this widespread conspiracy and sabotage was a single facebook post and an abusive form returned to the Better Together office. They sounded rattled. The Sun couldn’t resist mocking the No campaign, stating ‘if you really want to get into conspiracy theory territory, you could even start to wonder if the whole thing is a fiendish plot by Better Together to smear their opponents’. The attempt to accuse the independence movement of a coordinated smear campaign, while in fact smearing us all, seemed a classic case of psychological projection.
Meanwhile, the story rumbled on. On Saturday, Alistair Darling finally broke his silence, welcoming the support from Mr. Taylor and indicating that the donation would not be returned. The same day, senior Labour MSP Ken McIntosh target=”_blank”>conceded he had no knowledge of the situation. At the same time, in a classic case of the Streisand effect, people had dug deeper into Vitol’s history and uncovered allegations of questionable business practices. We will report on this in due course.
By Sunday the 14th, former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish entered the debate, telling The Scotland on Sunday that prominent politicians behind the No campaign had to ‘respond to legitimate questions’, and that ‘Labour has to be clear about whether this is the type of finance we want in the campaign’. Yet, when politicians from across the anti-independence parties were pushed for answers, they responded with silence.
6th day of asking without answer: Does @margaret_curran approve of @uk_together donor link to war criminal Arkan?
— Angus Robertson (@MorayMP) April 15, 2013
6th day of asking without an answer: does @ruthdavidsonmsp approve of @uk_together donor link to war criminal Arkan?
— Angus Robertson (@MorayMP) April 15, 2013
6th day of asking without an answer: Does @willie_rennie approve of @uk_together donor link to war criminal Arkan?
— Angus Robertson (@MorayMP) April 15, 2013
We wish that we did not have to discuss this. While campaign funding is important, it’s also a minority interest and discussing it is certainly not why we launched National Collective. The accusations of a smear campaign put forward by Better Together (which, ironically, appears in every sense a smear campaign) have been in poor taste and Scotland deserves a better debate.
We look forward to returning to normal and working towards a Scotland where one in four children do not grow up in poverty. However, we are extremely concerned with how the debate has gone since we published our original article on Ian Taylor. Our website has been the subject of very serious threats in an attempt to silence and stifle debate, and while the influence of big money over politics is not new, our questions remain unanswered. We are very lucky to have been able to access the advice of well qualified legal counsel Aamer Anwar, who gave time and support completely free of charge. Other citizen journalists without these support networks would likely have been silenced.
This demonstrates the power of a platform such as National Collective. Thanks to careful research, an effective online presence and the support of the wider movement, we’ve forced an important issue into the debate, and Better Together can ignore us no more. This is a moment for all supporters of our campaign and all those who care about Scotland’s future to unite behind citizen journalism.
We know that Yes Scotland will reject any large donations from outside of Scotland, and we hope that they would also reject any donation from any individual or group with as questionable a history as Ian Taylor. If they did accept such a donation, we would ask that they return it. To the supporters of Better Together we ask – what price is Union for you?
What next? People on both sides of the debate have called for Better Together to return this donation. We are backing this call, and hope that our partners in the Yes movement will join us. Today we launch this petition to call for Better Together to answer questions about its funding. We are contacting Better Together, as well as their supporting parties, to ask the following questions, and will publish their answers if and when we receive a response.
- Do Better Together believe it is good practice to accept a large donation from Ian Taylor in light of the concerns raised by National Collective and others over the business practices of Vitol?
- Do Better Together believe it is acceptable to accept a large donation from an individual who is not eligible to vote in the independence referendum?
- Do Better Together believe that their principal donor taking legal action against their political opponents is in the spirit of a fair and open debate?
There are bigger questions raised here for another day. We’ve asked questions over the hostility of rich elites to independence before. While the continued ability of rich, powerful men to intimidate ordinary citizens may not disappear on independence day, there is a discussion to be had about how we empower ordinary Scottish citizens and end the domineering influence of the powerful over politics. We hope you’ll join us in that discussion.
But for now, let us leave with this. We suspect that Mr. Taylor never intends to take us to court. To do so would simply raise the profile of a story he evidently wants buried. And if he did, both Michael Gray and Ross Colquhoun would go to court if it would clear the path for a fairer and more equal Scotland. And they would not be alone. If, Mr. Taylor, you do intend to continue with legal action, make sure that you do not only single out Michael and Ross. Come for all of us.