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This Is Why The Scottish Independence Movement Is Beginning To Splinter

"If we don't get our collective head out of our collective bahookie then the whole indy project is going to be sunk without a trace," said a former senior Yes Scotland staffer.

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The Scottish independence movement is beginning to splinter after the SNP's disappointing election result, which dented the prospect of another referendum, leading Yes figures have told BuzzFeed News.

Prominent pro-independence writers, editors, and campaigners have said that, without a clear path to a second independence referendum to bind it together, the movement has been blighted by recent factional infighting.

At the general election in June, the SNP lost 21 of the 56 seats it won in 2015, which caused Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to postpone her plans to pursue a second referendum as an alternative to Brexit.

With no clear momentum towards another referendum, and fresh doubts over whether the SNP is the best vehicle to deliver it, different sections of the broad Yes coalition have been publicly scrapping on social media.

The unity of the 2014 referendum has been replaced with arguments between left and centrist, different pro-independence news outlets, the SNP and the Greens, and those who want independence now and those who want to bide their time.

"If we don't get our collective head out of our collective bahookie then the whole indy project is going to be sunk without a trace," said a former senior staffer for Yes Scotland, the official 2014 pro-independence campaign.

Callum Baird, the editor of the only pro-independence daily newspaper, The National, told BuzzFeed News that the SNP's post-referendum success papered over the defeat in 2014 and Yes activists are just beginning to deal with it.

"I think we’re facing the first extended period since the independence referendum in which there isn’t an tangible target for the Yes movement to pull together and aim at," Baird told BuzzFeed News. "Since 2014, there’s always been something to look forward to, something that we could collectively focus our efforts on. We’ve had four elections, the Brexit referendum, and the possibility of a snap IndyRef2 over Europe.

"Now, without a major political event on the immediate horizon, we’ve still got all that passion and enthusiasm, but not a clear direction in which to channel it."

The National has found itself at the centre of one of the disagreements inside the Yes movement in recent weeks after pro-independence Green MSP Ross Greer tweeted that the newspaper was damaging the Yes cause.

Greer accused The National of undermining the movement with cartoonish front pages and publishing "ethno-nationalist" views in its letters page, which he said will alienate the people the pro-independence side needs to win over in any future referendum.

At some point Yes folks need to discuss why the National is doing more harm than good to the cause it's there to support.


Greer told BuzzFeed News the Yes movement is splitting along the faultlines of those who see any criticism of the SNP as anti-independence and those who are trying to put forward an alternative vision for an independent Scotland.

“The reality is that the SNP’s popularity is on the decline after a decade in government which has, since the referendum in particular, been deeply uninspiring," the Green MSP and Yes campaigner told BuzzFeed News.

"Those who see independence as a means towards a more socially, economically, and environmentally just Scotland are frustrated by a government which won’t use the powers it has now to tackle poverty, inequality, and exploitation of the planet.

"Those who see independence as the goal in itself see criticism of the SNP as a threat to that, and have doubled down on a trench-warfare approach. That not only attracts no 'soft No' voters but actively pushes away 'soft Yes' voters, as well as dedicated activists who can’t bear being associated with that behaviour."

The most polarising figure in the Yes movement is arguably journalist Stuart Campbell, who runs the widely read pro-independence blog Wings Over Scotland and has also been caught up in Yes infighting in recent weeks.

Campbell, who is currently taking legal action against the leader of Scottish Labour, Kezia Dugdale, after she claimed he sent homophobic tweets, was criticised in a blog post published by left-wing pro-independence site CommonSpace.

Campbell's loyal following then accused the editor of CommonSpace, Angela Haggerty, of dividing the Yes movement and many of his supporters said that they had stopped donating money to her crowdfunded site.

Campbell told BuzzFeed News he thinks the recent disagreements among Yes campaigners were inevitable in a broadly left-wing movement, especially at a time when there is no immediate campaign to bind activists together.

"I don't think the movement has become any more fractured, I just think the differences that were always there have become more public," the Wings Over Scotland writer said.

"It was miraculous that until the referendum what was broadly, but not entirely, a left-wing movement managed to largely avoid infighting and 'purity wars' that invariably bedevil the left across the whole of the UK and indeed the world. "

After the [2014] defeat, elements of the radical left tried to convert the heightened political engagement and awareness that the IndyRef generated into power and influence for themselves, most notably at the 2016 Holyrood election."

He added: "When [left-wing party] RISE totally bombed at the election and basically disintegrated, they ended up embittered and without anything constructive to focus on, and some of them have reverted to the left's usual self-destroying Trotskytariat and been pretty toxic presences ever since."

CommonSpace editor Haggarty was unavailable for comment, but tweeted, following apparent abuse from those who backed Campbell, that she believes the Yes movement should be capable to housing lots of different opinions.

If you think spamming me with tweets or trying to cruelly rip my character and intentions apart will work, think again.

Mike Small, the editor of prominent pro-independence site Bella Caledonia, told BuzzFeed News that the rise of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party had also threatened the Yes movement as it's no longer the only progressive alternative.

"The emergence of a more radical and surprisingly effective Labour party offering a genuine left alternative for the first time in decades – despite obvious failings and contradictions on the constitution, Trident, and Brexit – has had an impact on the supremacy of the SNP and caused division and tension within the broad church of the indy movement," said Small.

"Added to that, the (relative) success of the Scottish Conservatives and the inevitable SNP losses and the feeling of loss of control has affected those who were of the 'One True Path' variety: those who believed that independence would be won solely through the electoral victory of one single party."

Small continued: "Added to this the lack of leadership or direction, the online Yes movement has become more antagonistic."

There is also strong disagreement in the movement about how to proceed and bring another independence referendum closer, and many senior activists are beginning to panic that the cause is suffering as a result.

One senior former staffer from Yes Scotland, the official 2014 campaign, told BuzzFeed News that infighting had replaced any concrete idea about how to take independence forward, and therefore risks the whole cause.

"Since 2014 there's been a leadership vacuum about messaging or visions of an independent Scotland that might appeal to the unconverted – including people who voted Leave," said the senior Yes Scotland source.

"In that vacuum, there's been aimless faffing and now narky squabbling as folk focus on competing agendas rather than winning the big prize. It's not because they're bad or weak or stupid – it's because they've not been given anything more meaningful to do. "If we're going to win IndyRef2 then all that needs to change. If it doesn't then there may not even be another referendum because the path to IndyRef2 would be a helluva lot clearer if there was decent support for it in the polls."

However, a senior SNP source denied there was a problem in the Yes movement, saying: "There's some silly season social media handbags at dawn amongst a few blawhards (which largely seems to be about who can monetise Yes most effectively rather than any sort of ideology), but I don't see it in the activist real world."

National editor Baird said that, as there was no effective discussion about how to take independence forward after the 2014 referendum due to endless elections and referendums, it's now time to have a frank discussion about it.

"I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to be reminded that [independence] is not going to come easy. For a while there, there was a dangerous consensus from many media pundits and politicians that ‘independence is inevitable’," said Baird.

"Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like such a sure thing and tempers are naturally starting to fray as the stakes get higher. I think – and hope – it’ll settle down once the summer’s over and politics starts back again.

"The independence issue is far from settled."

Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.

Contact Jamie Ross at

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