Could you help me out please?

by | 27 Sep 2023

I'm about to launch a piece of work I care deeply about and I fear it runs a serious risk of being distorted, undermined or misappropriated. Can you help?

This is an unusual article from me. If it looks like I’m about to ask for money you’ll find it’s quite the opposite. I’m going to ask you to help protect what I think is a good idea because I’m worried it is going to get distorted or undermined.

This is all about the paper on a strategy for achieving independence that I’ve been working on. It’s been out with a lot of people for review and it’s nearly ready for publication. It has some new ideas in it and what I’m hoping to do is to try and protect the integrity of those idea. I have had long debates with trusted advisers on whether to put this out at all.

The reason is that on a number of occasions I’ve tried to produce work which would help us move forward with independence, only to find that the work I produced is distorted or cherry-picked for quite different purposes. On some occasions other organisations have taken bits of the idea and faked a version of it to raise income. On others again it has been hollowed-out and used to protect vested interests.

This happened to me almost straight away after the independence referendum. The day after I wrote an article (mainly to try and cheer people up) and in it I argued that the only possible first step to overcome the constitutional impasse were approaching was to get support for independence higher. This isn’t rocket science, but I mentioned the number ’60 per cent in the polls’.

I made this point to emphasise that we had a lot of work to do and needed to get our finger out and act systematically to reach our goal. But the leadership of the SNP at the time took the idea and turned it inside out – apparently the 60 per cent threshold had to be reached before we took any action. And that was their position for about seven or eight years (‘stay out of our way and trust us until we get to 60 per cent and then we’ll call a referendum’).

This pattern has recurred endlessly since – if a good idea is presented, either turn it inside out or snatch it and monetize it. Someone says ‘use a Citizens Assembly’ to break the logjam and what we get is a pointless, useless Citizens Assembly which was really about suppressing pressure for action for another 18 months. If someone says ‘we need a convention’, the SNP takes anything they were doing already and calls it a convention – for the same purpose.

The people I respect most do their job diligently, effectively – and quietly

There are too many people in senior positions in this movement who think that a good idea is a threat to their control, or who see a good idea and want to turn it into either power or money for themselves. In fact, it’s because I’m not confident this movement actually has a leadership with a will to win just now that I had been minded not even to publish this work.

But too many people in the movement that I care about have expressed too much despair for me to feel comfortable about sitting on a hopeful, workable idea. So we’re publishing at the weekend (if I can get final revisions made on time). Which takes me to the bit of this article which is unusual for me. I want to persuade you I’m not a grifter, a chancer or an egomaniac.

So while I despise the fashion for ‘poor me’ confessionals… I am not driven by money. If I was I wouldn’t be doing what I do. I used to have a successful, well-paid professional career and I gave it up to do this because this is more important to me. When I started Common Weal I took a salary of £24,000 a year so we could give a start to the maximum number of (mostly) young staff.

In the almost-decade since I have not taken even a cost of living pay increase because every penny we could find was dedicated to increasing the pay of staff. I still earn £24,000 and we’re a family of four with only a small income coming from my partner. (This is also what Craig Dalzell earns and he could earn so much more elsewhere that we’re very lucky to have his commitment.)

I’m not complaining about this. I live a lovely, modest life and I’m happy – I just don’t chase wealth. I don’t even accept expenses for going and doing talks to independence groups. Independence isn’t an income source for me and I want to make sure it stays that way.

(I have a handful of donors on this site who help me out with costs, but it doesn’t go much beyond that, and I never ask – though feel free, the donate button is at the very bottom of the page…)

I’m not looking for power. I have lived among politics my whole life and I know precisely how to go about acquiring power. I could have crawled my way up the ladder if I’d wanted, but I didn’t want to. I am 50 years old and I decided long ago to put my efforts in to trying to make things better. You can’t do that if you expend your energy climbing the career ladder. You certainly can’t write what I write…

I don’t want to be famous. None of you had even heard of my name before indyref and the prominence I gained was certainly not intentional. If I can do my best work without anyone knowing I did it, that’s great. In fact that’s probably about 60 per cent of what I do on a daily basis. I have no desire to be on social media telling you ‘how much I do’ or ‘how great I am’, so I amn’t on social media.

The people I respect most do their job diligently, effectively – and quietly. That’s what I aspire to. I grew up in a culture that had a very deep distrust of blawhards and I maintain that deep mistrust. Show, don’t tell. That’s what I was taught.

What I’m trying to get across is that, if this strategy that is to be published this weekend were all to be actioned, I don’t get a job out of it, I don’t gain power, I don’t become famous, I make no income, I don’t get a statue, I don’t become chairman of the board or president or Archduke. If this works, I would simply go on quietly doing what I do. I’m really not jockeying for position.

I have my fingers crossed that we have gone past a point in the cause of Scottish independence that enough people now realise that unquestioning loyalty is no substitute for unity and urgent, concerted action

I won’t ever write another ‘poor me, look how morally superior I am’ piece, I promise. I’m really uncomfortable with this one but I feel I need to make the point. The point is that I’ve been building this strategy for more than five years now and it’s basically all I’ve got left for you on achieving independence. If this idea is turned inside out and used as another reason to prevaricate or to increase control or boost someone’s income, it has failed.

That’s what I am asking for your help with. As soon as this strategy is published I have another very big project to get done (we’ve done all the background work on a strategy to reform and save the NHS and I’m supposed to have written it up by now). I’ll come and talk to anyone who asks me to come and present the strategy. I’d help implement if it went ahead. But that’s it. I need to move on.

So how can I protect and defend this piece of work as a plan which could actually work because it’s filled with moving parts which all click together and which will fail if the moving parts are all taken out of context and used for other purposes? I can’t. But I’m hoping that you can help to call out anyone who tries to do that.

You’ll know easily enough – people will start using the language and concepts contained in it without connecting them to the wider plan, or they’ll start saying things like ‘of course this is what I always thought and that’s that I’m already doing’, or they’ll kick off another fundraiser by aping bits of it.

You can help by basically hollering ‘chancer’ at them (politely please). If we keep scrambling over each other to be the messiah, the chosen one, the top dog, we’ll get nowhere at all. If we unite around a cause and we emphasise the actions which will move that cause forward, we have a chance. Ego and unity are in opposition. Control and unity are destined to fail together. Avarice and unity leave no space for each other.

Please be assured that I do not mean that you need to ‘submit’ to my strategy completely. In fact you’ll see it is quite the opposite, that it is broad framework which acts as an invitation to collaborate to make it work.

I have my fingers crossed that we have gone past a point in the cause of Scottish independence that enough people now realise that unquestioning loyalty is no substitute for unity and urgent, concerted action. If I’m right, we have a chance. If I’m wrong, we’re about to piss away yet another decade.

And if we are past that point, then there are enough of you out there who want to help to move beyond a civil war of vested interests and towards a united, collegiate conversation about what the hell we’re doing. It is you I wrote the strategy for, and it’s you I’m writing this for.

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