YOU may have noticed that it’s all gone a bit quiet. The leading party for Scottish independence hasn’t been talking about Scottish independence. There have been no dramatic SNP launches, or relaunches, or announcements. In fact, if you were prone to thinking up melodramatic catchphrases, which fortunately I’m not, you might even call it the Great Indy Silence.

I am not the only person who’s noticed this. Some in the Yes movement have been grumbling about the apparent lack of action. The All Under One Banner marchers are also desperate to get going again – their events are due to start later this month. And it’s been noted that the Scottish Government – led by a person, remember, who says a referendum is now a case of “when not if” – hasn’t bothered to carry out any polling or market research on constitutional issues since early last year.

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One far-fetched theory is that, secretly, deep down, Nicola Sturgeon has been seduced by the status quo and doesn’t really want independence, but the reasons for the silence may be a lot less conspiratorial than that. In recent days, I’ve been writing about the anniversary of the UCS work-in of 1971 and I think perhaps there could be some lessons in it about independence and activism more generally. Perhaps it helps explain why everything has gone a bit quiet.

Among the activists and experts I spoke to about the work-in was Professor Gregor Gall, director of The Jimmy Reid Foundation, who had some interesting things to say about activism and radicalism generally and the independence movement specifically. Like the rest of us, he has seen support for independence chop and change and rise and fall and has noticed the current quiet. “We’re now in this period,” he says, “I don’t know how you’d best describe it – almost like silence on the issue. If that was your only focus, sometimes you’d be very busy and other times you’d be sitting on your hands.”

Professor Gall’s view is that activism – the kind that simmered and bubbled in Govan in the 70s – has fragmented in Scotland and has ended up in a number of different places. In the 70s, it would have been focused on the Communist party and Labour and was driven by the grassroots, and in the years since, some have remained in Labour, some have gone over to Yes, and some have flirted with both. Others, however, have focused their energies on trade unions and community campaigns, whereas for young people one of the primary issues has been the environment.

But Professor Gall has noticed something else as well: not only is activism not as focused as it was, there’s also much less activism generally, including among Scottish nationalists. “For a lot of people who might have been active several generations ago,” he said, “neo-liberalism has led them to think that there really isn’t much of an alternative and therefore the best thing to do is concentrate on your personal life and lower your expectations.”

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According to the professor, the SNP hasn’t done much to change the situation. “I don’t think the SNP has altered that equation,” he said, “not just because of its politics which I don’t see as being particularly radical (although it calls itself a socially democratic party) but because the SNP doesn’t rely on activists in the way some parties have done. If you think about what happened after 2014, I don’t think the SNP asked people to be active, or they don’t have a concept of what it means to be active in a party.”

This lack of activism may be why the independence marchers are itching to get out again. Before everything was shut down last year, I went on one of the big marches through Glasgow and a couple of things struck me about it. First, there was a lot of frustration among the marchers that the cause of independence wasn’t being advanced more quickly. And second, there were no significant SNP party figures in attendance at the march – indeed, I got the impression they thought it might be counter-productive to be seen there.

Professor Gall’s view is that the marches are significant events but that they are only a small sign of life in Scottish activism and are generally disconnected from the SNP hierarchy. “Those marches are quite sizeable,” he says, “but going on a march a couple of times I wouldn’t say that’s the definition of activism even if you’re also urging other people to go on the march. So yes, there is activism there and it’s probably the most active part of the Yes movement. But many of those who were more active left the SNP and joined Alba.”

Professor Gall also believes this dis-connect between the activists and the party hierarchy can help explain why things have gone so quiet of late. “The SNP’s base and structure and hierarchy,” he says, “and I know this is true of Labour as well so this is not solely an anti-SNP point – if you look at the SNP’s centre of gravity, it’s amongst the MPs, the MSPs, and councillors. There was a slight revolt last year when a group within the SNP, Common Weal, was able to gain a lot of seats on their national council but the problem is the national council in the SNP doesn’t really exercise any influence.”

The result, says Professor Gall, is a divide between the grassroots of the party, who are probably more likely to want to make some noise, and the leaders and MSPs, who may be more cautious, less radical, and more nervous about image and how their words and actions might go down with the public. The activism, if that’s what you’d call it, is left to the marchers, and the MPs and MSPs keep a nervous watch on opinion polls done by other people.

In the end, the dis-connect within the SNP also raises the question of whether the party has a people problem. I’m not suggesting for a minute that the conspiracists are right and that Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues really have grown to love the status quo more than independence. But if there really is a divide in the SNP, and confusion over where its sense of radicalism lies, perhaps the fire burns brightest with the activists rather than the leaders. Which raises a question, in the end, for those who want independence. What will win it for them? Cool, calm (and sometimes totally silent) leadership? Or the hotter, louder fire of radicalism?

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