From the outset, the media wrote the contest off as a foregone conclusion. A choreographed narrative tried to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that the establishment would remain strong and stable. From tabloids to broadsheets, the message suited the few who own, sponsor and produce the news. Keep the status quo – or face chaos. Then something changed. Visions grew; a popular grassroots momentum flourished and afterwards society would never be the same again.
There are many striking parallels between Scotland’s 2014 independence vote and the 2017 general election. Even in defeat, ‘indyref’ transformed society. It didn’t lurch with the racism of Brexit. Instead, blue-sky thinking continued. For instance, in Fife and Glasgow – places discarded by neoliberalism – basic income is higher on the agenda than Ukip or ‘hard Brexit’.
GE2017 is still for the taking, even if it’s a long-shot. But what the experience of the independence referendum shows is that you can lose an election and still make gains in a broader political battle. You can create a participatory movement that means the establishment can no longer tell society There is No Alternative. Looking back, there are lessons to be learnt and no time like the present. The Yes campaign had two years to get from 20-30% to over 50%. The whole UK has less than a month to make similar gains.
1. Another world is possible.
Labour’s manifesto offers Britain its chance to break from austerity. Jeremy Corbyn is the first post-neoliberal opposition leader; willing to save the NHS and education, and redistribute wealth from millionaires to the masses. In England and Wales this is unprecedented. Scotland – still under British austerity – also has these problems. Yet via devolution, many alternatives are in action, such as free education, a fracking moratorium and renewable power.
The Scottish National party deserves credit, but it is a broad church, pushed towards progressive policies by social movements – not unlike Labour under Corbyn. Indyref created a space for movements to bind around independence: a space to imagine. It became a starting point to ask: how should we do things? From the Radical Independence Campaign to Green Yes, from Women for Independence to other liberation struggles, independence wove a common thread into social justice, creating a vision for a progressive country, which continued beyond 18 September 2014.
In GE2017’s short window, the early shoots of a movement of movements are budding, contrasting to usually placid election times and the xenophobia that has overwhelmed politics in recent years. Regardless of the election’s outcome, reversing that trend in the face of Brexit is already a victory.
2. Guerrilla electioneering.
Thousands have been present at Corbyn’s public appearances. Scenes of masses turning out for Corbyn events echoes indyref, as does the social media buzz. But there is plenty more room on the streets for movements to make this election theirs.
97% voter registration marked Scotland’s 2014 vote as extraordinary. The Radical Independence Campaign enabled this greatly. In 2017 we are seeing similar efforts: voter registration amongst students has soared. ‘Grime 4 Corbyn’ encourages voters to register to win tickets to a free rave, and brings to mind the creativity of indyref. These types of initiatives opened up the movement in Scotland, and made it accessible beyond an echo chamber – or at least broadened its walls – which enabled Yes to gain 20% points in the polls.
It is worth thinking pragmatically, recognising we do not need 50% in June. The Conservatives won the last election by 12 seats, hinging on only 5,280 votes. This is why targeting marginal seats specifically could turn this election.
3. Project Fear machine.
Another similarity between indyref and GE2017 is that this will be another incarnation of the establishment’s Project Fear. In the run-up to indyref, corporate news gave dour predictions, from economic collapse to being dragged out of the EU, to poverty increasing and the Scotland losing its NHS. These are in fact all consequences of Conservative rule. The Tories are killing Britain.
Turning attention to Corbyn’s Labour, from the outset he has faced a full-on media assault. But what can be learned?
One essential example that can be held up against the Conservatives is indyref itself. It is a case study in how the UK establishment does not keep its promises; it shows how they will implement the very thing they say they’re trying to save you from, or far worse.
4. Another media is necessary.
The fact the corporate media worked as establishment propaganda machines against Scottish independence was not without media landscape-shattering consequences.
The unmistakable one-sidedness catalysed the viewing numbers of non-corporate news. Bella Caledonia was one of the sites to grow enormously. Wings Over Scotland’s Wee Blue Book about the progressive case for independence had 250k copies printed and was downloaded over half a million times. Straight after indyref, a massive injection enabled new online publications such as CommonSpace, the investigative Ferret and pro-independence daily newspaper The National to create professionally-made independent media.
Below the border, the digital age has enabled a smaller renaissance in non-corporate media, although five billionaires still control the lion’s share of output. GE2017 could accelerate the movement away from this oligarchy. The clear hunger is shown by the meteoric rise of sites such as the The Canary, which receives more views that the Economist. To be part of a media revolution, you can donate to Novara Media. To repeat a phrase from indyref, we need to stop hating the media and become it. When a system is broken: circumvent it.
5. Voters for change.
One of the most striking similarities between indyref and Corbyn’s support is demographic. Supporters for both are generally under 40. The older you are, the more likely you are to vote for the status-quo.
The indyref movement often debates and discusses this subject through opinion pieces featured across new media. Four take-home ideas include: emphasising the importance of local activists, as these people are most likely to reach out beyond the echo chambers. Second, reaching out to people respected by the Tory-voting public – faith leaders have already spoken out how this government is killing disabled people, for example. I can think of one national treasure who went from silence to speaking out about how climate change is killing the planet. How much further a step is it to say Tory-driven climate change is killing the planet? Third, there are people’s own non-digital social networks. If Grime 4 Corbyn could get the youth out to vote, what sort of campaign could persuade the elderly to not vote Conservative? It would only take 14 Tory voters from Gower to swing that seat for Labour.
The final lesson from indyref is that independence campaigners needed to emphasis socially-just policies for the elderly, making the case loudly that independence would mean a stronger pension, for instance. The Tories’ attack on the elderly makes this message even easier in GE2017. These people have had the NHS a long time: do they really want to see it gone?
The general election offers an unprecedented escape route. But even if we lose this time, it might be a far bigger socio-political turning point yet.