A case study

A motivation behind the formation of the National YES Registry.

On the calling of the referendum, as an individual who had taken 5 months off work to campaign hard and full-time for the election of the SNP in 2007 in order to secure just such a referendum opportunity, I approached some political contacts from that time (senior local SNP members, councillors and an MSP) to put forward a campaigning idea.

My idea at that time was to set up as a one or two person pro-Indy organisation that would spend the next 18 months in the run up to the referendum, regularly visiting and re-visiting ‘old folks homes’ and ‘sheltered housing’. Making contact and recruiting pro-Indy residents from within as many individual establishments as possible. Then use those contacts (and their rights as residents) to organise Indy debates and visits from local councillors and pro-Indy MSPs and MPs.

By building such a network of residents from within the institutions, and marrying them up with political contacts from within the SNP (and any other pro-Indy political parties that might declare), I hoped to be able to bring to bear pro-Indy authority figures such as councillors, MSPs, MPs (and perhaps even the odd Cabinet Secretary or two) all in support of the YES argument.

This, I hoped, would have helped create strong in- roads, and effective ways to seriously engage in the debate with a Scottish voter demographic that was, even then,  quite obviously going to be one of the most difficult within our society for the YES campaign to convince.

By gaining access, through invites from within that problematic YES demographic (via Indy supporting residents of old folks homes and sheltered housing), it would also have created a useful way to focus the campaigning efforts of our figures of authority, such as local councillors, MSPs, MPs etc. among  a social group that, more than any other, still respected those traditional institutions of authority.

This again would have helped get the strong case for YES a positive hearing early on in the campaign, and through this longer, tailored participation and focus, perhaps may well have helped build feelings of inclusion among the older voter community, rather than the all too familiar reports of alienation from the ‘carnival atmosphere’ that developed around the debate nearer the end of the campaign.

This was my plan and I was committed enough to offer to dedicate my next 18 months to the project.

All that was needed was some support and expertise with the funding, transport, minimum wage plus expenses etc. My contacts in the SNP rejected the idea and an embryonic YES Scotland HQ was not in a position to help either (and never would be, as this kind of seed funding and project realisation help was never realistically part of their remit). I was told not to worry about the campaign, that ‘greater minds than ours’ had been planning this referendum for generations. ‘It’s all under control.’

We now know, that and many other aspects of the campaign, were very much not under control and what I was actually fumbling around looking for at the time was access to a grass-root movement. Unfortunately at that time, and it’s still very much the case now, traditional Party politics (no matter how honourable or well intentioned) simply are not set up to encourage, nurture or even help fund this cultural form of decentralised, ground-up (non-party) political campaigning.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this experience, the inability of traditional pro-Indy party politics to create a forum where it could assess, recognise and then take full advantage of practical campaigning ideas, enthusiasms and passions from outside the usual Party Political structures, would come to typify (in my opinion at least) one of the most obvious inherent weaknesses at the core of how the first Indyref campaign was set up and run from the beginning.

Now, just as a thought experiment, let’s consider my proposal in the alternative universe of an established and thriving National YES Registry.

In such an alternative, I would have tabled my idea with the nearest local National YES Registry pro-Indy membership group. If the group liked the idea, or even if they felt it should be considered by others in the movement, their delegates would take it to the forum.

The delegates would discuss it at forum level and then chair meetings at every group around the country to decide whether the idea had merit and grass-root support. If it was supported, each group could then do a quick fundraiser and the project would be up and running, able to be assessed in real terms and over real successes or real failures. By being put through the process of discussion and assessment within the Registry, more ideas, adaptations and contacts could be brought to bear on the concept. Energising and increasing the project’s possibilities and feasibility further.

Importantly, even if the vote as a whole in the National YES Registry had gone against the idea, any group or groups that had disagreed and still thought it was a great idea could go ahead with it themselves at a local (or even regional) level. The idea therefore, still has a much better chance of being put into action by simply going through the process of getting heard and assessed on a wider basis.

In the end, I the originator of the idea, may not have needed to do any more than suggest the idea and outline the detailed proposal. If the idea was received with enough enthusiasm by the different groups within the registry, then they themselves could undertake the tasks of making contact with pro-Indy residents of their local ‘sheltered housing’ and ‘old folks homes’. If every group decided on such a course of action themselves, then the project would effectively have gone ‘nationwide’ in a matter of weeks.

Better still, it would have done so based completely upon local knowledge and sensibilities, something that myself, no matter how enthusiastic, as an outsider could never bring.

In short, the National YES Registry gave a stage from which the idea could be heard, evaluated and decided upon. It also was a mechanism through which funding could be organised and most importantly  of all, a place where a good idea could spread, be built upon, encouraged, supported and then put into practice locally by local activists (all on a ‘national’ scale).

Multiply all this by as many good ideas, enthusiasms and time saving experience found within the current Scottish Indy grass-roots movement and what you have is one hell of a formidable pro-Indy campaigning machine, rooted in every city, town, village and community of Scotland.

This is the vision, and given your help and participation we want to go ahead and lay the foundations from which the existing and future grass-root activist groups can build. If you would like to help make this vision concrete, please donate whatever you can spare and we promise to maximise your generosity in action.

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Academic YES Survey

Dr Iain Black of Heriot Watt University ( and part of Yes Edinburgh North and Leith ) is working on a national academic survey on who took part in the Yes campaign and what they did. If you participated in any part of the Yes campaign (Yes Scotland, WFI, RIC, National Collective etc), Survey now closed. Thank you to those who have taken part.
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