What would Obama have said? What would Clinton (Hillary or Bill) have done? What would Oprah, Al Gore or even Nelson Mandela have said?
I’ll tell you what these respected, world-leading, headline-grabbers would have done at the launch of a campaign they’d worked towards all their adult lives. They’d have given the public a truly personal and utterly memorable story. They would have taken the risk of revelation. They’d have shelved the sloganising, ditched the rhetorical formulae, looked directly at the voter (through the lens of the TV camera) and explained from the heart, in words of one syllable, why independence mattered to them.
There would have been more than actor Martin Compston’s brave but passing reference to his conversion at the tender age of eight. There would have been flesh on the bones of the long journey through hostile political territory undertaken by Ravenscraig shop steward Tommy Brennan. There would have been more from ex-BBC boss Blair Jenkins on leaving the British establishment and joining the ranks of academia and (semi-employed) media policy wonks.
There would have been talented, articulate women like singer Sheena Wellington, icon Margo MacDonald or the hugely popular Elaine C Smith in person and on stage describing the emotional journey they want women and “natural” Labour supporters to take over the next two years.
Diversity would have been evident – not implied. Young Scottish Asians like Humza Yousaf would have explained why they are nationalists. Scotland’s largest ethnic minority – the English – would have been represented – so too Gaels and business, big and small.
There would indeed have been songs, jokes and extracts from plays. But performers would also have put into their own words – not just their art – why they support the independence cause. The air would have been thick with revelation, story, analogy and anecdote.
Without “proper” headlines and copious analysis, the political hacks would have hated it. The No camp would have mocked it. But the public and activists packed into Cineworld would have loved it.
Instead, the big occasion did what the big occasion always does. It encouraged compromise. It stiffened speakers. It formalised proceedings. It prompted risk-averse behaviour and (largely) careful words. It made “just getting the job done” seem ambitious enough. It created a Gary McAllister sort of moment from an open goal.
It highlighted an old problem: The Silence of the Scots. For a mouthy nation – in the safety of anonymous online forums and kitchen rammies – the Scots are remarkably bad at saying what we feel in public on big occasions. So we sing. Or quote written texts. Or modestly decline the opportunity. Or don’t turn up. Or stumble a bit. Or resort to slightly wooden rhetoric. Or hit the bar.
The Yes (to Britain) campaign – as it may eventually be named – can get away with a reliance on weary words and tried and trusted formulae. The Yes (to independence) campaign cannot.
Yes events must be transformationally good to demonstrate the possibilities attached to self-determination and change. Only No campaign events which support the status quo can afford to be so-so.
I expected to hear Alex Salmond finally drop his guard and tell his own personal story. Why did an ambitious young banker and oil economist end prospects of easy professional advancement by espousing independence – a cause which, until recently, has raised eyebrows and blocked promotion in much of “polite” Scottish society?
Why was a Scot capable of winning the British Politician of the Year Award willing to face a life on the political sidelines for a belief, feeling and cause he somehow cannot describe in ordinary language?
Unfortunately for many professional Scots, stories are just for children and personal revelations for tabloids. No less a communicator than Jesus Christ would beg to disagree. And yet no-one in the Nationalist camp seems ready to tackle this deep-seated fear of trying to emote and sounding like a John-Boy McWalton. So the battle for independence will be conducted at a largely impersonal level – claims and counter claims will be slugged across the net like end-to-end tennis. It will not bring Centre Court alive.
Of course a calm analysis of detail, policy, research and political argument is needed – on both sides. If independence will be tough in a recession so will continuing membership of an archaic Westminster system based on a blind belief in the primacy of the market.
The detailed case for independence must be spelled out. But last week’s celebratory launch was not the place to do it.
It was a time to animate, inspire and cause some controversy. It was a time to showcase the “new” Scotland with a small bit of “glitz” and a large amount of straight talking. The fact that didn’t quite happen will soon be forgotten.
But underlying problems remain. Some invited women were apparently too shy to speak. I can believe that – but you can’t largely ignore a section of the population and then “switch them on” overnight. Capacity is built over years. I also suspect some obvious women weren’t asked.
Talking publicly about independence takes everyone except career politicians outside personal comfort zones.
Most of the Cineworld actors, trade unionists, writers, media professionals and shop stewards were familiar with the limelight. But few have used it to extol the virtues of Scottish independence before. For decades that cause has been left to the high priests of the SNP to articulate in their own guarded, unemotional and slightly impersonal way. Now the pulpit’s busy.
I’ve no idea why Friday wasn’t the hottest ticket of 2012. With the talent available to the SNP, it should have been.
The Yes campaign chose the date, the line-up, the venue and above all the style of the event. None of these limiting factors was imposed by anyone else. Socialising, songs and sermonising gave the gathering the earnest quality of a prayer meeting and caution permeated (almost) every word. Thank goodness for Brian Cox.
On the “up” side, the Yes launch was nothing like Neil Kinnock’s fateful, triumphalist “swally” where naked triumphalism lost Labour the 1992 election.
On the down side, we just didn’t feel the love. To be persuaded to move house in a hurricane – we need to.
And, if you want to hear more - here is Lesley in the Pod.