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By Jason Michael
Years ago, close to the last time I would see him alive, I passed my grandfather in the Howard Park. He was sitting on a bench looking more reflective than I had ever seen or remembered him before. The Dundonald Road runs along the back of the Howard Park, and this is where our family GP’s clinic was – maybe still is. ‘Motto’ – as he was affectionately known – had obviously been to see the doctor and was now lost in thought on a bench. Perhaps I should have guessed it was serious, but I was a teenager and more preoccupied with the fear he might have noticed I wasn’t exactly where I ought to have been at the time – in school. The meaning of this encounter only became apparent about a year later when he passed away. My guess is that I ran into him when he had bigger fish to fry than a miscreant grandson. He had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer.
Like so many working-class men of his generation, Motto saw illness and any form of physical or mental weakness as a character flaw. Until he took desperately sick and was rushed into Crosshouse Hospital, no one in the family knew what was wrong with him. He hadn’t told a soul. When my mother and aunt asked the medical team for information, they discovered to their shock that the staff had been under instructions to say nothing. When they did find out, it was too late. Nothing could be done. He was dying, and we had days to prepare ourselves for the inevitable.
Jim Hagart (@JimHagart) October 17, 2018
Sicknesses and diseases are not cured by ignoring them. Silence is one of the world’s most rubbish remedies. I’m reminded tonight of Motto’s last days because much the same has been happening inside the independence movement. Something rotten has been festering under the surface; known to some, unknown to many, and wilfully ignored by the rest. In essence, the cancer has been ignored and swept under the carpet in the vain hope that the darkness in which it was shrouded would make it all go away. Well, that hasn’t worked too well. In fact, things have only gotten worse, and tonight threatened to tear a significant section of the grassroots of the movement asunder. What I have discovered, as I have dug into this issue since October last year, is a classic form of what Upton Sinclair aptly described as the ‘besieged city’ syndrome – that one cannot challenge the government of a city under siege without becoming the fifth column of the besiegers.
Ever since I first questioned the organisers of All Under One Banner about suspect and reckless behaviour in the lead-up to the October 2018 AUOB march and rally in Edinburgh – namely the lie published by Mr Mandeep Singh and the harassment and intimidation of Historic Environment Scotland employees – I have been treated as your fifth columnist, a traitor. Members of the organisation and no small number of supporters of the organisation have taken it upon themselves to describe me as a British government plant, as someone simply out to cause discord and division, and as a liar. Frustrating as this has been, I don’t hold this against people. We are a city under siege. The Scottish independence movement functions within an intensely hostile political and media environment. Every voice in the media is against us. Add to this the paranoia that every critical voice must be an agent provocateur or an agent of the British state, and what you have is a besieged city syndrome – everyone must follow the leader like a drone.
Tonight, however, we have managed to lift the veil. Most of the suspicions I have had about the sickness within AUOB and most of the sources I have listened to have proven correct. There has been a profoundly diseased culture growing at the head of this organisation. Earlier tonight Neil MacKay, the current director of the AUOB, and Carol McNamara, chief administrator, came onto Scotland at 7 on Broadcasting Scotland with me to answer some fairly serious questions myself and others have had. Their candour was commendable. What they had to share was quite obviously difficult. They were awkward and stressed. As was I. Nothing of this was easy. Whether or not what they said was the truth remains an open question – there are two (possibly three or five) sides to this story. But what was made crystal clear was that from the very beginning we were right to be suspicious – we were right to ask questions. The interview laid bare that there have been ongoing issues with lies, financial irregularities, intimidation, extortion, physical violence, and drugs.
Kudos to Jason for doing this. Sweeping problems under the carpet doesn't fix them. Hopefully now we can put the hi… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Lindsay Bruce (@RogueCoder250) July 23, 2019
That, dear readers, is a sickness. Now, we can be like Motto, sit on the bench in the park and think to ourselves how best we can make this all go away by ignoring it, or we can make the braver decision – the more courageous decision, and ask ourselves if this is the shape we want the grassroots movement in and, if not, how we can make it better. Is AUOB worth saving? Honestly, I don’t know. No one can deny that this organisation has worked wonders. It has achieved so much in terms of mobilising people and making the independence cause visible and impossible for the British media in our country to ignore. We owe AUOB this much. We are also talking about an organising with many dedicated volunteer independentistas who have put their hearts and souls into the organisation who are perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing.
We need marches and rallies. At no point have I said otherwise. Even from the time of the Manny Singh “white lie” I made it clear that I was willing to involve myself in civil disobedience – and I still am. But as a form of radical activism, people cannot be duped into such action. They must engage in it fully informed and with their eyes wide open.
We don’t need an organisation – however successful – masquerading as a vehicle for pro-independence activism when in fact it is a cover for all sorts of criminality. If that is the case, then yes – this diseased limb has to be severed for the good of the independence cause. But this is not yet clear. This isn’t over. So much of the comment on social media around this interview has been about lancing the boil and moving on, but this is yet another platitude offered by people who want this back under the rug as soon as possible. It’s not going back under the rug. The rug ain’t big enough. We have begun a process of dialogue in good faith with the organisers of AUOB – and this is a process. There is no quick fix. What we have is a treatment plan, one that will hopefully bring us to a place where we have a highly successful and dedicated pro-independence engine for mobilising the grassroots. At this point, given the serious nature of the allegations and the state of the accusations going back and forth, no one can say how this will play out. I certainly can’t.
Cybernat Nell #ItsTimeToDissolveTheUnion (@HelenYates52) July 21, 2019
The bigger picture is what is important. Marches and rallies do not win independence. Votes will win independence, and the task of winning those votes depends heavily on the reputation of the Scottish National Party, the wider movement, and prominent pro-independence groups and organisations like AUOB. If we choose to ignore problems as toxic and corrosive as these, the disease will not die in the darkness. It will grow and it will spread. It will cause such a stink that onlookers – ordinary voters – will associate a Yes vote with the stench of corruption. It doesn’t matter how loyal we are to brands and to personalities, if the problems they create are noxious enough they will damage the cause and cost us our independence for God knows how long.
If you are reading this and getting impatient with the “infighting in the movement,” then consider this: What may look like infighting is people talking. It is not always destructive. Ugly it may be, but it is a necessary communication. It is dialogue – and that is exactly where making things better begins. Had it not been for this infighting we would still be none the wiser about what has really been happening at the top of AUOB and I would still be in MI5. The problem would only be getting worse. But now we have an opportunity to address this and work with those who are working for the good of the cause in AUOB to get things battle ready. Today we heard that Boris Johnson is to be the next British Prime Minister, we are heading into a catastrophic no-deal Brexit, and we really do have to be battle ready soon. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand. This is a serious and potentially fatal situation. But this unholy mess is far from hopeless.
Scotland at 7 – 23/07/2019