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By Jason Michael
ARMY ANTS DO THIS THING. When things go terribly wrong for the colony out on trail, they begin to form a spiralling mass that rotates and rotates until every ant dies of exhaustion. These extraordinary little creatures are blind and so rely almost exclusively on the pheromones left by the ants ahead of them. But when these trails get looped the entire colony finds itself locked in a spiral death march, with every ant running in a deadly game of follow the leader. Already, it must be assumed, the reader can see where this is going. There is something clearly quite wrong in the independence movement at the moment. We are locked in a chaotic and self-destructive pattern of behaviour which is having a catastrophic impact on morale and group solidarity.
This is something that has become extremely difficult for people like me to talk about. In the chaos and confusion, mistrust and a dangerous level of paranoia has spread over the movement. People are frightened and on the verge of hopelessness, and they are looking for scapegoats. Like the whirling ants, the movement is locked into this behaviour because we are following a set of hardwired rules: the Scottish National Party is the party of the independence movement, the current leadership is the best of all possible alternatives, there is no hope of winning independence without this party and this leadership et cetera. Perhaps these rules have evolved within the movement for good reason — it is not the point of this article to further assail people for their commitment to these ideas. There has been enough of that going on. But what if these otherwise perfectly useful trail chemicals get confused, what if something goes wrong? Might this lead us into a death spiral?
Like the whirling ants, the movement is locked into this behaviour because we are following a set of hardwired rules…
Since the end of Alex Salmond’s trial, pro-independence political discussion online — the only place we have been able to continue this discourse — has descended into an uncontrollable and raging inferno of insecurity, anger, and hostility. Civil discussion has disappeared and many of the interconnected lines of communication — the very thing the internet is meant to create — have been severed as activists in every part of the movement block and mute other pro-independence activists with whom they disagree. The very tools that were meant to bring us together and which made the independence movement such a formidable force in 2014 have been turned on us, weakening the integrity of our movement and setting the scene for a greater conflagration.
Between Mr Salmond’s acquittal and now I have lost in excess of a thousand followers on Twitter, and, as egotistical and conceited as this statement may seem, this is a quantifiable indicator of the damage being done to the structure of the movement. All but a few of the SNP MSPs, MPs and party apparatchiks who followed me before all this began still follow me. The block and mute facilities on social media — as necessary as they sometimes are — have crippled our ability to stay in any kind of meaningful contact. This dismal picture of lost followers and lengthening block lists is being repeated right across the movement and will inevitably have serious consequences for our ability to recover from this slump and wage an effective online campaign for independence — if and when that opportunity next arises.
The personal abuse has reached fever pitch. Yes absolutely — ‘welcome to the internet’ — there is no shortage of people who simply do not know how to behave themselves online. We should all be used to this by now. But somewhere along the line, in this worsening crisis, many more of us seem to have lost sight of the fact that on the other side of a Facebook or Twitter account is a real human being with thoughts and feelings just like our own. Please don’t read this as a scolding; I myself have lost the rag with ‘Nicola fanatics’ and ‘cultists’ on Twitter and have said things which, in retrospect, were not the kindest or indeed the best things to say in the situation. So, here I am only thinking aloud of my own interactions in the hope my musings might help a few others come to the realisation that none of this is achieving anything. If anything, it’s making things a whole lot worse.
Here I am reminded of a past experience of interfaith religious dialogue when I was serving as a board member on the YLC of the International Council for Christians and Jews in Heppenheim. As one might imagine, religious dialogue is fraught with tension and division. Often this division is not so much between the delegates representing the two faith groups as it was through them; not only is it the case Orthodox Jews clash with Reform Jews and Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians squabble with one another — all too frequently different sects within these groups spark off one another. Just imagine the scene of two Catholic theologians going toe-to-toe over the question of the ordination of women.
At one memorable conference there was an explosive ‘debate’ among the Christian delegates about the inclusion of Christian fundamentalists in the forum. Discussion is almost impossible with any form of fundamentalism, and without open and honest discussion the project of dialogue simply is not possible. Did we want to include people who would not respect the validity of other people’s religious lives and experiences? What sort of difficulty would this create for our dialogue with our Jewish sisters and brothers? Would this set the mission of the ICCJ — an immensely important task in light of Christian anti-Judaism, antisemitism, and the Holocaust — back? It was a Sephardic Jewish friend of mine from London who helped us out of this mire:
You want to exclude religious people from religious dialogue because they are ‘fundamentalists?’ You want to preclude the possibility of exchange and encounter because you believe these people do not want exchange and encounter? Isn’t that not a fundamentalist position?
All the Jews I know make statements by asking questions, but he was right. Our rigidity was every bit as rigid as we imagined these other people to be. We have an analogous situation in Scotland. Not only is there a divide running between unionists and independence supporters, there are multiple divisions within both of these factions. And we are dealing with a number of political fundamentalisms; many members and supporters of the SNP are incapable of even entertaining the thought that their hardwired rules might, at least in this instance, be getting in the way of further progress towards independence, and many in the other pro-independence factions have adopted an intransigence towards further coöperation with these so-called cultists and with the SNP. Like the ants, we have found ourselves in a death spiral. Everyone appears to be rigidly following their own set of rules and is unprepared to compromise even an iota with the ‘other side.’ The result is that we are locked in a behaviour of conflict that is both exhausting and futile and leading in short order to the death of the whole independence movement.
Like the ants, we have found ourselves in a death spiral. Everyone appears to be rigidly following their own set of rules and is unprepared to compromise even an iota with the ‘other side.’
In an effort to counter this trend I have made a big decision. Over my time on social media I have built up an impressive block list of my own. To-date, I think I have unblocked only three people and, at that, only after the special intervention of Barrhead Boy and the longsuffering editor of iScot Magazine. The petty grudges I hold are some of the most precious of my possession — a trait well-known to my closest friend who often bursts into the chorus line of ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen when I start recounting some ancient injustice. This week I decided to unblock everyone — absolutely everyone — on my block list, and have been unblocking a hundred accounts a day. The process may take some time.
Yes, there are serious issues affecting the independence movement, and independence politics is a passionate politics touching so many of us right at the heart of our identities. In an instant, arguments and insults are accelerated to accusations of treason and unionism. It was when I saw one prominent antagonist describe his fellow independentistas as ‘former indy supports’ that it really struck me that things have gone too far. We cannot continue to be this rigid and unforgiving. Independence demands the hard work and dedication of hundreds of thousands of people. We will not always agree on how this should be achieved and we will not always see the same things in leaders, in policies, and parties. But without our willingness to let go of our petty grievances, our political differences, and the perceived injustices we have suffered, we will continue on a road following the scent of an endless whirling death march. We will be the reason independence is denied to us.
The task before us is endless, but we are not absolved of doing the work. So, I forgive you. I beg your forgiveness. Now, let us get up and work together for the Scotland we want.
Demi Lovato – Let It Go (from “Frozen”) (Official Video)
16 thoughts on “Follow the Leader”
A magnanimous view to take Jason. I left FB altogether after tiring of being called a tory and a yoon for questioning the SNP’s desire to push for independence having been permabanned from twitter for a perceived slight on a TRA. Events over the last few days haven’t led me to believe things will change for the better. If the SNP have given up on indy to the point where they’re working against it, what can we possibly do? I doubt I’ll see independence in my lifetime and I’m not yet 50. I feel more despondent now than the day after the referendum. I admire those with the will to continue the fight but I think it’s a loser
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It may well be a loser (for you and me), but we have to keep working. Other opportunities may come, and if not – we are sowing the seeds for a future campaign. Keep the faith, James. We are getting there.
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Good on you, Jason.
I frequently leave Twitter (I have more than one account focusing on different topics) but I’ve rarely blocked anyone, even arch-Unionists.
I do unfollow those who I don’t want to hear from & occasionally mute the most annoying, but someone would have to be targeting me personally for be to block them.
I appreciate that my following is a bare fraction of the likes of yours but I tend to respond to everyone who interacts with me so it is still frustrating at times.
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Previously you had written that events meant …”Independence has just been kicked about another thirty years down the road”…
Lets be frank, the next HR election is not about INDY. It is now about what level of shite the public will stomach. Politicians are watching, because even though such events appear an outlier at their time, public acceptance of them (at the ballot box) quickly results in them becoming the new normal. Politicians quickly learn to use this as the benchmark and their excuse once caught out. We will see almost the same press conferences repeated over and over, rolling out the same excuses and lines Scotland has had to suffer through the last year.
Politics the world over has these moments and the following election is always tests not of the politicians but of voters. Scotland has a big question…will another illusory indy mandate carrot blind them or will they put a marker in the sand and demand more of their elected officials.
This is separate to the long road of Indy, that is a thankless task of going back and starting afresh the hard work all again.
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I have to agree, Tol. This referendum legislation will be just another ‘go slow’ rather than a green light for independence. I have now accepted that the SNP’s present administration (and any that comes after, with the same mindset) will not even be prepared to contemplate independence. The runes were read wrongly after 2014 – whether deliberately or otherwise – and, now, two distinct factions have emerged: the hopeful, rather naive faction and the hard-nosed faction which cannot avoid seeing the reality.
I understand where Jeggit is coming from, and, every so often, up to this point, I have swayed towards giving in to this administration’s inertia and corruption, but, always at the final moment, have pulled back. I know they are making fools of us, I know they are deliberately foot-dragging on the issue of independence, but I’m not yet 100% sure why. Are we beyond any hope of recovery, financially, in the short-term? Are we in a situation of permanent Unionism (Scottish Unionism + rUK/English Nationalism)? Would all-out effort for independence lead to a confrontation with Westminster and the British State that the present SNP administration will simply not contemplate even if that means betraying everything the party stands for? Or is it more to do with fat salaries and seat polishing?
Whatever, this administration does not intend that we should have independence. If, by sheer miraculous intervention, the legislation is passed, and they are forced to hold an advisory referendum, they know and we should know that we will lose again. The moment that referendum is allowed to pass, and if Westminster chokes on its indignation but does not intervene to stop it, we will know that it will be lost. The devastation to the national psyche that would cause will be catastrophic, and it will either propel us into action or do the opposite and completely floor us for at least a generation or two, as, gradually, Westminster is given the time, by the Scots to complete their takeover. This, for me, is the source of my anger against the naysayers and our own naive cohort: neither is willing to see that confrontation is inevitable, in any circumstances. We bottled 2014, or allowed others to ruin it for us. Such an opportunity will not come like that again.
In some ways, this division, this internecine struggle, might be necessary, if unfortunate, in order to allow the hard-line independistas to emerge victorious and ensure our independence because this is what it will take. Pusillanimous pussy-footing doth not an independent Scotland (or any other country) make, not when you are faced with the intransigence of Westminster and the British State. It is remarkably similar to many other independence struggles. Winning independence by means of mutual regard and respect is far outweighed by the necessity of the hard-line approach, in reality.
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So many interesting points. However,
YES is not a typical outsider indy movement – SNP is in government. And just like any govt, comfy self-interests and preservation of power do not always mesh with those difficult and sometime unpopular tasks of indy. So as a YES movement you have to manage both.
It is impossible to clean house when they get to write the rules and already have their hands on all the levers. I thought being so familiar with Westminster who are the past masters of redefinitions, YES would be more savvy. Heck, remember the storm in Scotland about Brexit bill and “consent” where Westminster just redefined the word to mean: yes, no or no answer. How many times in the past 2 years have members rights been shown to be illusory just by redefinition of the process.
You never want to be in a position where Its not who votes but it’s who counts the votes.
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I will never give up on Independence, but I have given up on the SNP, I refuse to vote for corruption,that is like saying you would vote for tRump knowing how corrupt he is..I have been eligible for voting for 54 years now, I have only ever voted for the one party, worked for the one party, then joined that party & that party WAS the SNP..
I will never vote for the SNP again so long as Sturgeon, Swinney. Yousaf, Smith, Blackford and many others are still a part of that party. I simply refuse to vote for corruption & since STURGEON took over we have seen every institution that has authority over our lives, is now corrupt, they want to jail the likes of Craig Murray, & knock on the door of a women who demonstrated against the HCB by writing in chalk .. Yet you can’t get a hold of a cop when a real crime is committed. That is Scotland today.. And that has only come about in the past 6yrs of the MURRELS reign..
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Looking at the goal of Independence through a lense that you allow to be obscured by your dislike of (hate for?) named individuals brings into question your commitment to that goal.
The goal is bigger than any one or group of individuals. Surely your distaste for a particular cohort still allows you to see that?
Many who will vote for the SNP in the constituency ballot will share your distaste for Murrel and his apparatchiks in HQ, me included, but is it right to throw the toys out the pram over the existence of some dodgy hired hands? People whose coats are now on very shoogly pegs. It will take the membership, through branches and constituency associations to pressurise those who made such appointments to give them their P45s.
The politicians you cite have, like most people, their strengths and weaknesses. I agree with you to the extent that not all of them are my cup of tea.
Until such time as they are no longer seen as fit for purpose by the candidate selection process they are who we have to trust to keep the goal in sight and make it achievable. The party must review its structure in respect of the NEC. That won’t be achieved if you and others bale out. Change from within is part and parcel of recreating a party fit for purpose.
That purpose being independence. Our shared goal.
perthcol: many people in Germany, in the 1920s and early 1930s, knew what Hitler was and what was likely to happen under his stewardship, but, hey, they said, we should not allow our dislike of him to colour our need to put Versailles behind us and build a better Germany. Weak leaders and well-meaning people almost always usher in the ‘Devil’, for want of a better description, often literally holding the door open for him, in the mistaken belief that they are right.
Nicola Sturgeon is hanging on to power. She, like the politicians who thought they were using Hitler, thinks she will be able to control what she has created. She won’t. Scotland is now on the brink of self-destruction, but there is still time to pull back from the edge. If she has any sense at all, she will call a plebiscitary election with the express intention, publicly stated, that she will be seeking to move to independence immediately if an overall win for independence is achieved. Once she has achieved that, she can then step down. The dangerous moment will have passed. If not, I think she will usher in someone who will take us to destruction – not for independence but in handing us over like sheep for the corporate and constitutional fleecing.
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
With grateful thanks and appreciation of your comments that echo what many, many of us also feel about the present Independence movement – Sometimes I’m at a loss for words! – even for us bilingual people… so, using Scottish Gaelic, the following comes to mind –
1 (act of) awakening, waking 2 (act of) cautioning, warning 3 cautions, warning
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There seems to be one party leader in Bute House , who will not allow Salmond his justice. It’s pretty tough to move on , when she continues to trash him at every opportunity.
Sturgeon is the divider, not Salmond.
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I don’t know if you have seen my rants on Facebook but everyone of them is aimed at gaining SCOTLAND Independence. I don’t care what people’s religion, colour or nationality is because Independence is my aim and dream and nothing will distract. If anybody is not happy fine get independence done then campaign for what they want don’t damage the movement that is the strongest I’ve seen in roughly 50years. So my rant is stick together and get this job done. You know the story Never Trust a Tory 🌈 LANG MAE YER LUM REEK 🌈
May I say very briefly that I am impressed by the mature debate shown on this site, from both the author and the readers, unlike some others. There was very little that I disagreed with in this blog. I have been a member of the SNP for 38 years and I have never seen the party in such a mess. If Sturgeon wins a majority in May’s election it will be because of the sheer ineptness of the opposition (same as last time) rather than any political astuteness, honesty or integrity. In the meantime, keep up the good work.
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Jeggit, I just wanted to thank you for all you’re doing for the cause. I don’t know what we’d do without bloggers such as yourself, BB, Iain Lawson, Grousebeater, Rev Stu and of course Craig Murray. I’m not on Twitter or Facebook, but I can imagine it’s a thousand times worse than the abuse that’s dished out in the National to critical voices.
I have just listened to your podcast with Ross Weir and really enjoyed it . Are you planning one with someone from the AFI. I really hope that they can manage to work together.
Thank you for your kind words. I will certainly try to get someone from AFI on the podcast, and yes, I hope they can work together too.