Scotland will be independent. This much we know. What we don’t know is how it will happen. In truth, we probably won’t know how it happened afterwards either.
If we look at major historical events like the collapse of apartheid, the ejection of Britain from its colonies and women getting the vote, there was a weight of activity which brought critical moments to pass. We remember one or two iconic pictures and actions, but the rest is contested, and many factors and people are given credit.
With support for independence hopefully polling as a majority position for good, there is no single thing that brought us here. Certain people, particularly the SNP leadership for the last 17 years, were indispensable. But there is plenty of credit to go around – including to external events. At the bottom of the despair in 2014, no mastermind predicted the important boost in the polls that would be provided by Brexit and the UK government’s mishandling of a coronavirus.
And so it will be in the period to come. The external shocks may not be in our control but we must all play our part and continue to do the small and big things which will propel us forward.
It will most likely not be nice and neat. We had that chance in 2014 and in true Scottish fashion we turned that down in favour of doing things a harder way. Boris Johnson will do everything possible to block our path as the “sheer might” of the British state has done time-and-again to people across the world.
Building a new country is meant to be difficult. This won’t be won by a few politicians and lawyers while the rest of us commentate on social media. We all need to show how hungry and serious we are.
We live in the age of Greta. We will win thanks to a mass grassroots indy movement vibrant with creativity and energy, “leaderful” from the ground, taking tactics from movements like Time’s Up and those that gained marriage equality. We will attract international attention thanks to the progressive causes – like wellbeing and environmentalism – we embody in everything we do and through our use of the famous Scottish sense of humour.
What I’ve seen in recent times though, since getting reengaged with the independence movement after a few years away, is a discourse of rancour. People full of energy but complaining that while it’s going well, it’s not going well enough. People calling for more from the SNP but also calling for the SNP to get out of the way.
This is not a time for squabbling, it’s time for organising. Film maker Ava DuVernay recounted a story from legendary civil rights activist John Lewis who passed away in recent weeks. She asked him what activists should be doing at this moment. His reply: “Do everything”.
We will have to assess and reassess plans after progress and temporary setbacks. There will be no linear Plan A. A topline Plan B will not be enough on its own either. We will likely need Plans C, D, E – and now thanks to Covid we’ll also need F, G, H and more – implemented in towns and villages across the country and beyond to get to our goal.
While independence won’t be won by parliamentary process alone, MSPs and MPs have an important role. They should see parliamentary politics as part of mass organising, not the other way around. Right now though, there seems to be too a large gap between parliament and the street. We must secure a majority for independence in Holyrood next year and we can hope the UK government respects that. We need to be ready for the possibility that they don’t.
In that case, with so many stalwart MSP campaigners stepping down, we should be quizzing potential new MSPs about their credentials to inspire, engage and organise communities. It’s not good enough to look for the old toolbox at this point in history.
There is nothing more Scottish than the fact we turned down independence in 2014 and took this longer harder road instead. Our new state will be all the stronger for it though as we will carry forward the momentum from our activism and make it as successful as it can be.
Scotland won’t just be standing on its own two feet; it will rise on the 10.8 million feet of all our people. And after it happens we won’t just say that we were there, but that we made it so.
First published in The National