Towards a Politics of Yes

“The reason for being independent is a simple one. It is fundamentally better for all of us if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland – that is by the people of Scotland. It is the people who live here who will do the best job of making our nation a fairer, greener and more successful place.”

Does that reasoning make sense to you? It’s the central rationale of the Yes Campaign, the buildup for Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum. And it’s brilliant. And it’s working. In the first six days of the campaign, which launched in May, 15,000 people signed on. Tens of thousands more have signed on since. A potential Scottish government polls at 53% higher in terms of popular trust than the current British one. The campaign is emerging as one of the largest and most impactful grassroots efforts in Scottish history; hundreds of events are being held around Scotland, at levels from the neighborhood to the small town to the city, and a large convergence is planned in Edinburgh for the 22nd of September.

As Cascadians, engaged in building awareness of a culture which holds a position relative to the United States similar in some ways to that of Scotland to Great Britain, we can learn three key things from the way in which this campaign is being conducted.

First: The Scots are presenting an argument that they can do things well, rather than that the current system is doing things poorly. By saying “it is better for all of us” to succeed with this campaign, the conversation immediately becomes one about the benefits of the campaign’s goal, rather than the drawbacks of the current system.

This gives the volunteers who are building the campaign around the country, the people who – like many Cascadians – are sharing their message one stranger, acquaintance, friend, or family member at a time, the chance to talk about a bright future, the chance to talk about success. The chance to talk about skills, contexts, and possibilities with which they and their audience are familiar – since those skills, contexts, and possibilities are their own. The chance to be happy, to talk joyously about what is being created, rather than angrily about what needs to be torn down.

Second: The Scots are making the emphasis of their campaign about their right to self-determination, rather than about their lack of self-determination.

This has the effect of immediately setting the context for all debate as one of a moral good rather than an injustice – “everyone deserves” rather than “we don’t have.” By building on the right to self-determination, the argument is founded in universal human values rather than an atmosphere of grievance; though the grievance is valid, the broadening of the frame from the specific case to the universal value strengthens the argument, drawing on evidence that is more basic and that resonates more deeply for people both inside and outside the Yes Campaign.

Third: The Scots are making an argument about themselves, rather than an argument about Britain.

Look back at that first paragraph. Scotland is mentioned three times in the second sentence; the people of Scotland are mentioned three times. Crucially, the speaker uses language – “all of us” – that places him or her among those about whom the declaration is speaking. By using this framing, by talking about themselves, the Yes Campaign supporters accomplish two things. They’re immediately put into a position of expertise, and so are the members of their audience – a tremendously democratizing move that shifts the subject of necessary knowledge from the impersonal to the personal, broadening the base of those who can reasonably speak to every Scottish person – and they’re directly including their audience in the speaking of the declaration.

Effectively, through the presentation of this argument as one about all of Scotland, every Scot is already included. This is tremendously powerful.

What all of these things have in common is summed up in the name of the campaign: Yes. Every aspect of the declaration and campaign is a positive one, and quite deliberately so. By talking about the wonderful aspects and potential of a place and a people that they love, the Scots engaged in the Yes Campaign can shape the debate around their referendum, building popular support for their goal – and, as importantly, building a culture which is in favor, consciously, of the idea of Scotland.

As Cascadians, as people trying to speak about and raise awareness of our own culture, we can make use of this same positioning – and we should. Because, in the end, we’re arguing for Cascadia, for a thing that we love – and the first step of that is arguing for, rather than against.

By adopting a politics of yes, we can spread Cascadia in its most potent form, building a love of place and awakening people to the unique culture that is already springing up throughout our bioregion.


by Michael Hodges