Campaign Officer for Common Weal Max Wiszniewski marks out why the indy movement can be proud of its achievements and how we can “build an independent Scotland from the bottom up”.
IT MIGHT seem to some that the Yes movement is dormant, retreating into itself since the 2014 vote. There might be no overt independence campaign for Yes at the moment but that hasn’t stopped a drastic expansion of grassroots groups forming, re-forming and re-uniting with other Yes groups around Scotland.
The grassroots everywhere are eager to get campaigning and make things happen, but what can we do? What have we actually done since 2014 to make Scotland the better place we want it to be? Do we really have much to shout about?
The answer to that last question is a resounding Yes. In the following piece I wil attempt to show you how we have already transformed Scotland for the better, why we should be more positive, and that Yes groups now have an opportunity to start building an independent Scotland from the bottom up.
Defending Prof. Clara Ponsati, former Catalan Gov. Minister from extradition to Spain
While the persecution and arrest of pro-independence Catalan politicians should worry anyone who values democracy, the Scottish independence movement took the lead in raising money for the St. Andrews Professor’s legal fund to fight the extradition. Within a few hours the fund reached over £200,000 – a heartening act of solidarity and it’s not gone unnoticed from the people of Catalonia. You can donate here or get the solidarity t-shirt here - the profits of which all go to her legal fund.
Scottish Government adopts Common Weal’s Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) policy
To quote the First Minister, "If we get this right, then this has the potential to be truly transformative”. Common Weal, Scotland’s only grassroots-funded think-tank successfully campaigned to get this onto the Scottish Government’s agenda and this February the policy implementation plan was announced.
Scotland has just opened the door to transforming our economy for the better and it stems from the work that’s come from the Yes movement and the power we all have to shape the country.
And that’s not all: our ‘think and do tank’ has also influenced the shape of land reform, electoral reform (including lobbying transparency) and was instrumental in making the economic case against fracking which is now banned in Scotland.
TIE Campaign - Time for Inclusive Education
The TIE Campaign, founded in June 2015 for inclusive LGBT+ education in Scotland’s schools, has not just seen national success but international acclaim. It has achieved cross-party support and has been working with the Scottish Government to create a culture change across Scotland and implement the campaign’s aims, and it has been described by Purdue University in the US as world-leading, setting an example to follow in the dark days of Trump. TIE co-founder Liam Stevenson has credited the Scottish independence campaign for empowering him with the confidence to organise the campaign:
“I started organising, speaking at and chairing Yes meetings in my home town. Each and every one of these meetings had a bucket on the door for the local food bank, as my feeling was that as we tried to promote a better future, we had to be proactive in making it better now.
“TIE, it's message and the work that we have been doing, reflects my reasoning for becoming involved in the Scottish independence referendum. Our campaign grew from that referendum and it is a continuation of the spark which ignited a fire in me.”
Women for Independence (WFI)
WFI have been a cornerstone of the movement and are another great example of how our post-referendum activism has changed people’s lives. Their local group achievements have included the setting up of school uniform banks, started by Sandra Douglas and other members from East Renfrewshire WFI to tackle poverty directly. Six weeks after East Ren WFI started to publicise what they were doing, there were ten uniform banks set up around Scotland which later expanded across Scotland and the UK.
On a national level WFI has also successfully campaigned against a new super prison for women being built in Scotland and persuaded the Scottish Government to include specialist maternity towels in the new baby boxes, that many women cannot afford otherwise.
National Co-ordinator for WFI Margaret Young said:
"The second part of our name "Independence for Women" has been a huge focus of our work since 2014... People who got involved in the referendum did so because they wanted a better life for people in Scotland. They were never going to sit idly by… when they could use their energies to help others and that huge outpouring of support to those in need shows exactly the type of caring society we want after independence."
Craig Paterson, Living Rent (Scotland’s tenants union)
In just over a year since hiring their first organiser, Living Rent has halted illegal evictions, secured thousands of pounds worth of repairs and the return of thousands of pounds of illegal fees to tenants. Like the TIE Campaign, Living Rent is one of many examples of organisations/campaigns gaining prominence after the referendum, that are open to people of any constitutional persuasion.
However, the momentum and the empowerment created by the Yes movement is clear to see. Organiser and spokesperson Craig Paterson from Living Rent said “My experiences in organising during the Indy Ref helped to give me the skills and confidence to take them into organising in other areas” such as Living Rent.
Craig continued with hope for the future: “We have secured the first steps in setting up rent pressure zones in Glasgow and Edinburgh… with exciting plans for the summer, more people joining every day the union is going from strength to strength…”
Local Yes groups become local champions
Local Yes groups are the community-facing front line of the movement and when the next referendum comes they will be the people that voters will be listening to on the doorstep. The trust we build in our communities now could be vital in the next campaign so here’s how some of our groups are making their place better:
Cupar Yes Hub
The local Yes Hub in Cupar have done some great work for local charities and causes placing themselves at the heart of community action. As well as raising hundreds of pounds for the Scottish Charity Air Ambulance and Royal National Lifeboat Institute last year, volunteer Arthur McGuinness said: “We have a large donation basket, with overflow area, for food donations for Cupar Foodbank and once there is enough to be collected we give them a call and their volunteers pick up, ready for distribution to the needy. We do the same with the Toy Drive at Christmas.”
Common Weal Perth and Kinross (CWPK)
CWPK has supported great community projects like Broke not Broken both for the food bank and the Conversation Café. Local volunteer Rosie Hopkins said “I think it is essential for Common Weal groups to demonstrate their values in community projects, through inclusive actions like collecting and providing food, Christmas hampers, growing vegetables and advising on benefits. This is a valuable way of showing people that poverty is political but goes way beyond party politics.”
Action in Ayrshire
South Ayrshire for Independence lead organiser Corrie Wilson has worked with local councillor Siobhan Brown and the local Yes coalition to clean litter in Ayr and the A77 “we need to get back the social pride in our community. The more people that do that, the more we can inspire others. We should be the change we want to see.” On 10 March the group collected 40 bags in one hour in Ayr City Centre, cleaned up the A77 in the following weeks and more community action is planned for the future.
There have been hundreds of initiatives across Scotland since 2014 - this list has only scratched the surface of how the Yes movement has improved people’s lives on a local, national and in some cases an international level.
I haven’t even mentioned all the brilliant independence specific work that’s gone on like the Indy App, Common Weal’s blueprint for independence, Business for Scotland’s Scotland the Brief, the fact that The National’s front covers are regularly combating the relentless negativity from right-wing daily newspapers in shops around Scotland…
It’s time to pick out the issues that matter to our communities and act on it. It’s time for Scotland to see who we really are and what we stand for. Independence begins at home - it’s time to be the change we want to see and let other people see how we can all make ourselves matter.
Look at how important CommonSpace has become, and how vital it is for the future #SupportAReporter