Friday, April 20, 2018

SNP vote remains rock-solid in Highland Perthshire by-election

Just for once we have a by-election outcome where the terminology of 'hold' or 'gain' isn't misleading due to the quirks of the voting system.  The Highland ward in Perth & Kinross was firmly Tory territory in the council elections last May, and the vacant seat was successfully retained by the Tories in the by-election yesterday.

Highland ward (Perth & Kinross) by-election result:

Conservatives 46.7% (+1.2)
SNP 35.9% (-0.6)
Independent - Taylor 6.9% (n/a)
Labour 5.8% (n/a)
Greens 2.5% (-1.4)
Liberal Democrats 1.9% (-1.6)
Independent - Baykal 0.3% (n/a)

For my money that's a very solid result for the SNP. Of course they were talking up their chances of winning outright, which any party with even an outside chance always has to do, but the reality is that they would have needed a hefty 4.5% swing from the Tories, which was always improbable given the greater tendency of Tory voters to turn out in lower profile contests. Essentially what we have is a no change outcome - there's been a tiny swing to the Tories, but nothing of any real consequence. That's consistent with the message of the national opinion polls, which suggests that despite all the media hoo-ha over the general election result, the SNP vote has actually held up admirably since June.

* * *

I think someone at Time magazine has a sense of humour - either that, or (and this is more probable) they're just completely clueless. The publication has named Ruth Davidson - I'm not making this up, Ruth Davidson - as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Well, let's put that seemingly improbable claim to the test, shall we? She's an MSP, so the main arena for her influence really ought to be the Scottish Parliament - but she doesn't have much there, even as the leader of the second-largest party. Yes, the SNP government is just short of an outright majority and is sometimes forced to seek arrangements with other parties to get legislation through, but for obvious reasons parties other than the Tories are the usual port of call for any deal-making. So if Davidson is frozen out of power in Scotland, the only conceivable influence she could possibly have would be indirect influence on her fellow Tories in government at Westminster. But what evidence is there that she even has that? She's made two main boasts about what 'her' bloc of MPs at Westminster would achieve over the last year - 1) that the devolution settlement would be protected with amendments made to the EU Withdrawal Bill at the Commons stage, and 2) that powers over fisheries would be repatriated to the UK immediately after Brexit. Both of those claims came to absolutely nothing, and all we've heard from Davidson is how "frustrated" she is that she can't do anything about it. As a general rule, the most influential people in the world get what they want, rather than whinge about being "frustrated" that the opposite of what they want is happening because other people are calling the shots.

I think GA Ponsonby has it nailed - the bogus narrative of 'Ruth the Powerful' is a fairy-tale dreamt up from scratch by the media, and has somehow gained so much traction that even a few people in other countries have started to believe it. This accolade for Davidson will in a few short years look as mind-bogglingly silly as Henry Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why the Tories want the SNP to let their mandate for a referendum expire

Not for the first time, David Halliday has hit the nail on the head with this tweet -

"If not having an independence referendum before 2021 is sensible then why has Ruth Davidson been fighting so hard to make sure that that's what happens?"

If you find yourself doing (or considering doing) exactly what your opponents want you to do, it's always worth stepping into their shoes and considering why they want you to do it so badly.  From a Tory perspective, there are a number of very good reasons why an early independence referendum is something to dread -

1) The imminence of Brexit means that Project Fear would work in both directions this time.  It will be easy enough for the Yes campaign to produce a steady stream of "There were warnings tonight about the impact of Brexit on..." stories.  (How easy it will be to get the broadcasters to give those stories equal prominence is another matter, but an official campaign can help set the news agenda to some extent.)  If voters are convinced that there are credible reasons to fear the uncertainty of Brexit, the effect of fear in the campaign may be neutralised in a way that was never possible in 2014.

2) Theresa May is absolutely the worst person to be a figurehead for the No campaign.  She is tone-deaf in respect of Scotland.  She could single-handedly lose the referendum for No.

3) Jeremy Corbyn clearly has some appeal in Scotland, but an independence referendum would not be his natural terrain.  As was the case during the EU referendum, he probably wouldn't look terribly interested.  He would also say random things about "SNP austerity" that just wouldn't have much resonance for people in that particular context.

4) Given that the Tories are now Scotland's second party at almost every level of representation, it would be hard to justify sitting back and allowing Labour to be the cuddly public face of the No campaign once again.  And yet the alternative - an identifiably Tory-led No campaign - carries enormous risks.  Notwithstanding Ruth Davidson's much-vaunted "popularity", the Tories remain the most disliked of the major political parties in Scotland.  In a binary-choice referendum, there's not much use having 25% of the population solidly behind you if another 65% hate your guts.

5) The Vow may be a trick that was only ever going to work once.  On the pro-independence side, we tend to think of what could go right or wrong in a referendum purely in terms of victory or defeat, but for the Tories, giving too much ground on devolution is a fate almost as bad as defeat.  If a Yes vote looked like a realistic possibility with a few days to go, they would have to decide whether to make very painful concessions of new powers, or whether (and this is more probable) to offer absolutely nothing and just hope for the best.  Neither option looks too appetising for them in advance.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Why I'm backing Chris McEleny for SNP depute leader

Because the candidates are perhaps a little less well-known than would usually be the case, I had planned to take my time before making a final decision about who to vote for in the SNP depute leadership race.  However, the three remaining candidates have now all expressed clear views on the timing of a second independence referendum.  Unless those views change, I think the decision to vote for Chris McEleny has effectively been taken for me. 

These are the positions of the candidates as I understand them -

Chris McEleny: There should be an independence referendum within the next eighteen months.

Julie Hepburn: We have a mandate for a referendum.  But the timing of the referendum is not what members should be thinking about right now.  We should trust Nicola Sturgeon to make the right decision.

Keith Brown: The SNP is not yet ready to fight an independence referendum, and we need to get ready before a referendum can be called.

Now, I know some people will argue that this contest should not even be about the timing of a referendum.  Julie Hepburn's exhortation to "just trust Nicola" is superficially seductive.  But here's the thing: although Nicola Sturgeon will ultimately be the person who makes the decision, she will do it after factoring in the views of other key players within the SNP.  It would be perverse if the voice of the membership is the only voice that is not heard in that decision-making process.  What "trust Nicola" really amounts to is saying that you'll be equally happy regardless of what is decided, and there can't be many of us who truly feel that way.  Even if a decision goes against you, it's a lot easier to accept the outcome if you've had a chance to express your view and to be heard.  This election is taking place at a time when the SNP is facing one of the biggest forks in the road in its history, and the idea that we should all just be ignoring that and choosing who to vote for based solely on other factors seems to me naive and unrealistic.

Some people will argue that Chris McEleny does not have a high enough profile to be depute leader.  The reality is, though, that because the SNP's big beasts are all sitting this contest out, the role of depute is going to be very different from before, regardless of who wins.  Keith Brown is the only parliamentarian standing, but even if he wins, he's plainly not going to suddenly become the second most important person within the SNP, and probably not the third or fourth most important either.  The new role of the depute could be as a bridge between the leadership and the grass-roots, and Chris McEleny is arguably best-placed to fill that role.

"Preparation and persuasion, not obsessing over timing" is another seductive argument, but my huge concern is that all the best preparation and persuasion in the world will count for absolutely nothing if the referendum never actually takes place.  That would be the risk we'd take if we flirt with allowing the mandate for a pre-2021 referendum to expire.  In fairness, Keith Brown isn't adopting the Pete Wishart/Jim Sillars stance - nothing he has said would specifically preclude a pre-2021 referendum.  However, it does seem to me that he is effectively ruling out a referendum in the spring of next year - if he's saying that the SNP is not ready now, it's hard to see how he'd be able to argue that everything had been turned around by the autumn, when the starting-gun for a vote in early 2019 would have to be fired.  I don't think that taking any option off the table is helpful at this stage.  At least Julie Hepburn appears to be genuinely neutral on timing (and her emphasis that "we have the mandate" perhaps points to the likelihood of a pre-2021 vote), so on that basis I'm currently minded to give her my second preference vote, behind Chris McEleny.  I'll continue to keep an eye on what is said, though.

Remember that even if Keith Brown wins due to name-recognition, a strong showing for Chris McEleny would still send a powerful message to the leadership about members' views on the urgency of a referendum.  So from that point of view I feel that a vote for McEleny is an each-way bet that is well worth taking.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Renew the Section 30 request, put a deadline on it - and then if needs be go ahead and legislate for a referendum anyway

Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland has helpfully moved forward the debate over indyref timing by arguing that the Scottish Government should go ahead and legislate for a second referendum without specifying a date.  I would maybe quibble over whether this proposal stands outside the dispute over timing in quite the way that Stuart thinks, because what many of the people arguing for a long delay really want is for the whole issue of a referendum to fade from public debate, whereas legislating and perhaps triggering a challenge in the Supreme Court would have the opposite effect.  Nevertheless, on paper at least, preparing the ground for a referendum without naming the day ought to be able to unite all shades of opinion on timing.

Two key points need to be added to the proposal in my view.  Firstly, the Scottish Parliament should only go ahead and pass a Referendum Bill after the request for a Section 30 order has been revived and clearly rejected.  To avoid further "now is not the time" delaying tactics, the UK government should be given a specific deadline for a definitive response to the Section 30 request, with a failure to give a clear "yes" or "no" by that date being interpreted as rejection.  It must be plainly seen by the public that the Scottish government wanted an agreed process, and only legislated unilaterally after their overtures were spurned.

Secondly, it's important to get the message across that any hypothetical rejection of a Referendum Bill by the Supreme Court will not lead to us all packing up and going home.  Of course we would obey the law, and of course we would not hold a "wildcat referendum".  Instead, we should make clear that if all other options are exhausted, the next Holyrood election will be used to seek an outright mandate for independence.  A negative outcome in the Supreme Court would actually be helpful in the pursuit of that mandate, because it would provide clarity - Yes supporters would be under no doubt that the only way to achieve independence will be by turning out in huge numbers in a Holyrood vote.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Twitter poll confirms overwhelming demand within the Yes movement for a pre-2021 referendum

The Western Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil has been holding a Twitter poll over the last 24 hours on the timing of an independence referendum.  The results are dramatic, with a combined total of 88% of the thousands of people who took part saying that the current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum should be used.  Just 12% think the mandate should be allowed to expire.

Now of course I'm not going to pretend that a self-selecting Twitter poll is a scientifically rigorous exercise.  Nevertheless I do think it's of some interest.  Public opinion polls tell us about the views of the public, whereas a poll like this captures the views of the demographic that follows SNP parliamentarians on social media - ie. people who are the foot-soldiers of both the Yes movement and of the SNP.  Their opinions do count for something.  And at just over 5000, the sample size is impressive.  Remember that Twitter only allows one vote per account, so it's unlikely that the result was distorted by widespread multiple voting.  People's votes are also anonymous, so if they had wanted to quietly express a preference for letting the mandate expire, they could have done so without any fears.  There just doesn't seem to be much appetite for that option within the movement.

Jim Sillars is now, to all intents and purposes, opposed to an independent Scotland

I think that's fair comment.  It's rather like Gordon Brown's famous "five economic tests" for joining the euro - they were intentionally designed never to be met, because for whatever reason Brown had decided in advance that Britain should retain the pound, but he knew he had to go through the motions of looking open-minded about it.  Jim Sillars is not a fool, and he knows that the threshold he has just suggested for holding a second independence referendum (a 60% Yes vote in the polls for a sustained period of six months) is not likely to be anywhere close to being met at any time in the next twenty years, let alone in the next five.  He also knows that independence is essentially impossible if a referendum is not held, so it's reasonable to conclude that kicking independence into the long grass is now his conscious objective.  It's significant that even Pete Wishart felt it necessary to distance himself from Sillars' impossible threshold.  (Although of course that does beg the question of what Wishart's own threshold would be.  Don't hold your breath for an answer.)

So why would Sillars of all people want Scotland to remain subject to London rule?  Quite simply he got a pleasant surprise when Britain voted to leave the European Union, and he's now emotionally tethered to the idea of Scotland leaving European institutions when the rest of Britain does.  What's about to happen is a dream come true for a Eurosceptic, and he can't bear the thought of independence getting in the way of it.  That has led him to take what is a perverse position for any Scottish nationalist by denying the legitimacy of Scotland's own democratic decision to remain in the European Union. Essentially he agrees with the grotesque Richard Leonard doctrine that by voting No in 2014, Scotland empowered a neighbouring country to take a decision on European membership on our behalf, and that we are now honour-bound to abide by the decision made for us even though we disagree with it.

For anyone who actually prioritises independence over Brexit, it would be an extremely good idea not to follow Sillars down this latest rabbit hole.

*  *  *

As you know, I was extremely hurt the other day to discover that Pete Wishart had blocked me for refusing to agree with him that the hard-won mandate for an independence referendum should be allowed to expire.  I hadn't said anything that could be construed as abusive or insulting towards him, so it seemed clear enough that the blocking was simply because he couldn't tolerate any dissent.  However, I've now had an explanation of sorts for his decision, and it is nothing short of extraordinary.

What that means in plain language is that he blocked me because of just one tweet.  This is the one....

As you can see, there is no insult in that tweet.  I just accurately described what we can all see with our own eyes - that Scotland in Union had used him as a poster-boy.  If he's so thin-skinned that he can't bear someone to state a fact when it's a wee bit embarrassing for him, then I suppose I just have to say "fair enough" - it seems a bit bloody silly, but people can make decisions about who to banish from their own social media space for the silliest of reasons, and that's up to him.  The problem is, though, that the blocking wasn't the end of it - not even close.  You've probably seen the gleeful articles in unionist newspapers such as the Daily Record that pick up on his complaints about abusive comments from his own side (ie. the pro-independence side).  You've probably also noticed that one of the two main examples he offered of this "abuse" was the fact that he had been referred to as a unionist "poster boy".  Incredibly, then, it appears to be the case that my totally innocuous tweet above is being cited by him as an example of vile Cybernat abuse.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a stunt.  His pride has been hurt by the reaction to the poster, and he's getting revenge by deliberately conflating genuine abuse with a comment that he knows perfectly well is completely non-abusive.  This is the second cynical stunt I've been on the receiving end from him over the last week or so (ie. after his so-called "right of reply" to me that was not a reply at all, and that just used me as a pretext to essentially regurgitate his original "let the mandate expire" article and get a second round of free publicity for it).  As someone who has received a large amount of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic online abuse over the years, I find it an absolutely sick joke to see an innocent comment of mine being ridiculously cited as an example of the worst abuse.  It trivialises genuine bullying and intimidation.  I must say that once I wised up to the game Pete was playing, I stopped feeling hurt that he had blocked me, and realised that it would be entirely appropriate for me to block him.

I'd also just like to note in passing the slightly sinister 'thought-police' aspect of Pete's suggestion that it is somehow 'unacceptable' to retweet certain ideological undesirables or to state certain facts.  Thank heavens he wasn't a TV censor during the original run of Catchphrase.  Roy Walker's famous exhortation of "say what you see!" would have had to be replaced with "say what you see unless it's a poster featuring Pete Wishart, in which case give us a pretty lie instead".

One thing I do agree with Pete about is that we should be taking Scotland in Union on.  But what I don't understand is how voluntarily adopting huge swathes of their programme and rhetoric is supposed to help us do that.  Yes, they were being mischievous by using Pete's image on their poster, but there was a sort of inescapable logic to it as well.  For example I'm struggling to see a huge difference between Ruth Davidson's stated reasons for opposing a referendum, and Pete's own views about Scotland supposedly being "weary of big constitutional decisions".

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Landmark Panelbase poll finds 42% of Scottish public want a very early independence referendum

Today brings word of a full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase, and not for the first time it illustrates beautifully the yawning chasm between the actual state of public opinion, and the fictional version of public opinion that the unionist media would rather we heard about.  Ludicrously, the Times (who commissioned the poll) claim there is "little support" for a pre-2021 independence referendum, even though the poll actually shows that a whopping 42% of the electorate - the sort of percentage that governments are elected on - want a referendum within around twelve months, let alone within three years.  17% want it to be held while Brexit is still being negotiated, meaning within less than one year, and an additional 25% want it at the end of Brexit negotiations, meaning in about a year's time.

As I've noted in the past, the format of Panelbase's question on referendum timing isn't ideal.  There is no obvious option provided for people who want a referendum in two or three years' time - anyone in that position is effectively forced to be more negative about a referendum than they really feel (by choosing the third option of "no referendum in the next few years") or to be more bullish about timing than they really feel.  Which way such people are jumping in the poll can only be a matter of speculation.  What I would point out, though, is that the relatively even split of 58% against a very early referendum, 42% in favour, has occurred in spite of a prolonged spell in which the SNP have not been openly making the case for a vote.  If they had been, it seems at least conceivable that the numbers would be even more favourable.

Just as was the case in the Ipsos-Mori poll a few weeks ago, there is no sign whatever of Pete Wishart's so-called "indy-gap" - a claimed phenomenon of support for an early referendum running significantly below support for independence itself.  In reality, support for an early referendum (42%) is once again essentially identical to support for independence (43%). 

The Yes vote continues the trend of recent months by remaining static.  Some pollsters have shown Yes essentially static in the mid-40s, some (like Panelbase) in the low 40s, and some in the high 40s.  These are simply 'house differences' between the various firms, and it's impossible to know who is closest to the truth.  It's a remarkable turnaround from the long indyref campaign that Panelbase online polling is now on the No-friendly end of the spectrum, and that Ipsos-Mori telephone polling is on the Yes-friendly end.

There are also Westminster voting intention numbers -

SNP 36% (-5)
Conservatives 28% (+1)
Labour 27% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 2% (n/c)

The drop in the SNP vote may look alarming, but the 41% recorded in the previous Panelbase poll was the highest in any poll from any firm since the general election, so it may have been an inflated number caused by the margin of error.  This is only the second post-election poll (out of nine) to put the SNP below the 37% recorded on election day, but there has been no reduction in the eight-point election gap between SNP and Tory, and only a statistically insignificant one-point reduction in the gap between SNP and Labour.  So even if this poll was accurate, it's not clear that the SNP would be losing seats in an early election.

More details and analysis to follow...

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The weak enslave themselves

Yesterday was a genuinely dispiriting day for me, because for the first time I discovered I'd been blocked by an SNP parliamentarian - in spite of the fact that I hadn't said anything remotely abusive or insulting towards him.  I suppose in a way it was a useful moment of clarity, because it gave the lie to the notion that Pete Wishart has been merely trying to promote a constructive debate on the timing of an independence referendum.  Clearly the function of the rest of us was just to dutifully agree with his verdict that the SNP's mandate for a referendum should (probably) be allowed to expire.

Having been blocked by Pete, it's hard not to feel doubly cynical about Andrew Tickell's piece in The National yesterday, which lauds Pete's contribution as some kind of breakthrough in thoughtfulness and nuance.  What particularly raises a hollow laugh is when Andrew quotes one of Pete's straw men in its entirety and then says without a trace of irony: "Wishart doesn’t accept this view. Neither do I."  Let me just reiterate as the person who Pete was nominally "replying" to in his letter that the view I actually expressed is the opposite of the one he ascribed to me.  I do not believe, and have never claimed, that calling a referendum will automatically create a majority in favour of independence.  What I do believe, on a solid evidential basis, is that any significant changes in public opinion (which could be in the direction of either Yes or No) are far more likely to occur when a referendum campaign is actually underway.  That's one of the reasons why it's such a mistake to base decisions on referendum timing on minor changes (or lack of changes) in opinion poll results.

In truth, it's no surprise whatever to see Andrew backing the best available voice of caution in the SNP (or, to be blunt, the voice of indefinite inaction).  Practically the first thing Andrew did after the 2014 defeat was lecture Yes supporters on how they shouldn't even be openly referring to the possibility of a second referendum.  "Stop it" he said bluntly.  He had previously given the impression that he felt that even the 2014 referendum had been called very prematurely - which raises an intriguing question.  Are we closer to victory, or further away from it, as a result of the first indyref being held?  It may seem obvious that we're closer, because opinion polls show that most people who were won over to Yes during the 2014 campaign have remained rock-solid in their support.  But if we choose to take the view that suffering a first defeat means that the threshold for calling a second vote must be much higher, and that some kind of near-certainty of victory is now required before pulling the trigger, then it follows that we're much further away from independence simply as a result of having held a referendum in 2014.  A Yes vote of 48% in 2018 makes independence far more distant than a 33% Yes vote did in 2013.  That's perverse, upside-down logic, but it's absolutely the position unless we banish the doctrine of "a first defeat was thinkable, a second defeat is not" - which if left unchallenged will ensure that in all probability a second referendum is never held, because guarantees of victory will never be available.

I think we should come back to the light.  Calling a referendum in 2014 was not a mistake.  The converts we won over back then were not worthless.  We're closer to independence than we were five years ago, not further away.  All of those statements can be true as long as we're not hellbent on making them untrue.  There's a line from an early 1980s Doctor Who story that keeps popping into my head: "The weak enslave themselves."  We're in danger of enslaving ourselves to the fear of defeat.  The one thing that will genuinely guarantee that Scotland remains part of the UK indefinitely is an indefinite failure to hold a second independence referendum.

Of course Andrew Tickell would regard what I've just said as macho posturing.  This is the sneer with which he ends his article: "Demand as many referendums as you like. Extol courage. Blast faint-hearts. Shout and thunder at folk like Wishart raising their experiences of the communities they serve and know well."  

Well, it cuts both ways, doesn't it?  Say that the time is never right.  Suck the life out of others at every available opportunity.  Tell them to pack up and go home.  Lecture them on how they should leave the grown-up stuff to their betters.  But at least take ownership of the fact that to all intents and purposes you are arguing that Scotland should not become an independent country at any time in the foreseeable future, along with all of the consequences of that in respect of a Hard Brexit and the undermining of devolution.  Andrew and Pete Wishart both describe Scotland as "weary of big constitutional choices" - but it is a simple fact that the rejection of making a choice is a conscious rejection of independence, and an embrace of a Hard Brexit.  That is not what I joined the SNP for.

I see that Jason Michael of Random Public Journal is saying that if the SNP allow their mandate for a referendum to expire, he will look away from the SNP and find another vehicle for independence.  I don't take that view, because I don't think there will be another credible vehicle.  But being blocked by Wishart simply because I refuse to abandon my support for an independence referendum is perhaps my lowest point since joining the SNP, and I'm beginning to understand how people's enthusiasm is going to just wither and die almost overnight if the party leadership allow fear to win the day and let the hard-won mandate expire.  I'm still hoping and praying that doesn't happen.  Over to you, Nicola.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Gathering

A guest post by Jason Baird of the National Yes Registry

Many thanks to James for the generous opportunity of a guest post on Scot Goes Pop. For all those who have not yet heard of the National Yes Registry or what we do, here is a short film giving a little of our history, explaining who we are and what IndyApp does. It was made as an easy introduction to us for the audience at the SIC Build conference last year.  It includes a reference to the successful crowdfunder that has allowed us to continue finishing the IndyApp and organise our next big grass-roots The Gathering #1 Event: the real subject of this blog post.

As part of the interesting recent discussions between James, Pete Wishart MP (and others) over the optimum timing for IndyRef 2, I thought folk might be interested in some context from a grass-roots group perspective. James’ call for the Yes movement to become much more pro-active seems the perfect time to let interested folk know just how pro-active the grass-roots are at the moment and exactly what the local Indy groups have planned.

The Gathering #1 is being held just a matter of weeks before the SNP 'spring' Conference and so hopefully will not go unnoticed by those present at Aberdeen. Think how a 'sold-out' and vibrant national Gathering of the groups in Stirling will strengthen IndyRef2 options at that conference. It should also help inspire the rest of the wider Yes movement into more and wider action. A final thought before you read the main blog: the unionist Labour Party in Scotland had their conference recently with a reported attendance of 400 delegates. Our venue for the Gathering has a capacity of 450. Need we say more?

The Gathering #1: All Groups Welcome

As promised, we are now organising the first national gathering of the Yes movement’s local groups - a place where the groups can define for themselves how best to organise and work together in preparation for winning IndyRef2.

Stirling: The Albert Halls, Albert Place, Dumbarton Rd, Stirling FK8 2QL

9am - 5:45pm, Sunday the 27th of May (Bank Holiday weekend). In the evening there will be a separately-ticketed, fully licensed Ceilidh Dinner. 7:30pm -12:00pm

How much?
The Gathering: (400@) £14each. Ceilidh Dinner: (220@) £20each. Purchase codes will be supplied direct to the groups. Prices include full days catering and Paypal booking fees. No profit will be made and all event accounts will be published.

Why a Gathering?
The task is to provide a new form of participatory grass-roots leadership, one that gives direction at a national level but fully understands, protects and strengthens group autonomy at a local level. This can only be achieved through active participation and consent by all groups. Who, but the groups themselves, are capable of providing this new form of leadership?

The Gathering’s Concept
This will not be another 'top table' Yes Conference, finished when the speakers have said their piece and everyone has gone home.

Instead, Gathering #1 will be the start of a collective process of group mobilisation. One where individual participation, group consent, popular support and new technology come together to bind Yes into an effective, non-party political, campaigning force.

A process that has local groups, their members and all of Scotland’s different community needs at its centre.

This is about collective grass-roots legitimacy in action.

The Gathering is where the groups will begin to set out a practical campaign agenda for themselves and the movement, one that naturally comes with the authority of its activists.

Autonomous groups lead themselves, so the real task of the Gathering is to identify: shared experiences, campaign ideas, resources and proposals that the groups collectively feel are of strategic importance to the movement. These will then be posted on the new IndyApp for the newly networked groups all across the country to assess and decide upon for themselves.

This is the grass-root movement’s greatest strength.

The final say in local campaigning should always be in the hands of activists who know and understand their communities best. Local group autonomy enables Yes campaigners to select from the movement’s full range of valid independence messages and tailor them to suit their own community’s needs. The wider the variety of community groups participating, the more powerful our campaigning advantage becomes.

Building momentum
If Gathering #1 is the success we believe it will be, its format can be refined by the groups to become a regular event on the campaign calendar. Gatherings organised at local, regional and national levels, with all the new ideas generated at them, could then be accessed across the grassroots using the IndyApp National Forum.

Event Goal 1: On the day
Initial ideas will be generated by all delegates within workshops, followed by presentations of each workshop’s findings to the entire Gathering, for us all to debate and assess.

By the end of the day each workshop’s findings, presentation and identified campaign topic will be posted onto the new IndyApp National Forum, to allow every local group member across the country access and opportunity to participate.

Event Goal 2: Extending participation
All groups and all group members across the country can then participate using their group’s Local Forum on the new IndyApp. This is where autonomous group memberships can share, discuss and develop any Gathering proposals that interest them. Groups can also post their own proposals and ideas onto the National Forum for the consideration of the movement and to canvas support from fellow groups.

Organisation: It’s in the detail
Group ideas and proposals posted onto the National Forum that find support among fellow groups will need to be taken forward in a coordinated way. Turning good ideas into practical campaigns and action plans can be achieved through IndyApp facilitated National Committees.

These committees are created by (and made up of) interested group members and committed activists from all around the country. An effective way to harness the Yes movement’s wide base of specialist knowledge, experience and campaigning enthusiasm.

All National Committees will set themselves up to operate within tight time frames and remits.

Event Goal 3: Gathering Committees
The five most popular and well developed proposals will each have National Committees created at the Gathering on the new IndyApp. Made up of volunteer activists who want to help put the Gathering’s proposals into practical action, these committees are also where any interested local group member can make direct contact to join, or offer their specialist knowledge to help advance its purpose.

Event Goal 4: Accessing all talents
No good idea should ever lack support, and no activist should ever be short of a good idea to support!

The Gathering’s format together with the new IndyApp platform helps provide a simple way for all group members to easily follow, make contact and practically participate in developing ideas and proposals presented at Gathering #1. Whether they were able to attend the event on the day or not.

Equally, local groups who post ideas on the National Forum can also open National Committees of their own and encourage participation in their projects from right across the entire knowledge base of the IndyApp group network.

Calling All IndyApp Groups!
Success of the Gathering as a grassroots leadership strategy rests on each participating group’s individual ability to communicate effectively. First, within their own memberships, and then directly with one another as autonomous groups. The IndyApp has been created on behalf of the groups to provide exactly those capabilities.

Please ensure you get your entire membership logged in as soon as possible, in anticipation of Gathering #1 and the all-new communication forums that are coming to support it. If you are a member of a group on the IndyApp but your ‘front door’ is still inactive, please contact us and we will help you get your group ready for the big event.

If your group is not yet on the IndyApp but would like to participate, please complete the sign-up form and we will respond as quickly as we can.

Magical Mallaig moment as SNP vote increases in Highland by-election

So the STV by-election gods giveth, and the STV by-election gods taketh away.  A couple of weeks ago we were enjoying a technical SNP 'gain' from Labour in Penicuik, even though the SNP's vote had gone down slightly and they had remained in first place in the ward.  Today we're getting the flip-side of the equation: the SNP have technically 'lost' a seat in Caol and Mallaig, even though they have remained in second place in the ward and their vote has gone up appreciably.  On the plus side, because the Liberal Democrats have gained the seat, it's always quite a fun pastime trying to work out which triumphalist Lib Dem supporters are just pretending not to understand how the voting system works, and which ones are genuinely clueless enough to think that this is some sort of terrible setback for the SNP.  For a party that is supposed to regard STV as the holy grail of voting systems, the Lib Dems don't always give the impression of being terribly well versed in it.

Caol and Maillaig by-election result (first preferences):

Liberal Democrats 31.1% (+21.7)
SNP 27.2% (+3.2)
Independent - Wood 21.5% (n/a)
Conservatives 8.7% (+0.5)
Independent - MacKinnon 6.9% (n/a)
Independent - Campbell 4.6% (n/a)

There's probably not a lot of point in trying to make sense of the big increase in the Lib Dem vote - this is a part of the world where the candidate often counts for more than the party label, which is why a lot of people were betting on victory for one of the three independent candidates.  A Lib Dem win is a surprise, but isn't a sign that Rennie-mania is sweeping the nation.  For the same reason we shouldn't get too excited about the fact that there has been a small net swing from Tory to SNP.