A Scottish view from the Tardis
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Sunday 06 September 1992
Whether it has any future will be decided in the next 100 days. 'The Edinburgh European Community summit in December is make or break for us,' said theo organiser, Gordon McDougal. 'If we don't get people on the street, that's us finished.'
The summit was supposed to be Scotland United's first target. It is now clearly its only target, the one chance it will have to influence the Government and win its sole demand - a multi-option referendum on a devolved Scottish parliament, outright independence or the status quo.
Five thousand demonstrators jammed into George Square, Glasgow, on the Sunday after the general election, with blue-and-white saltires (shields bearing diagonal crosses) proclaiming 'Freedom now' and 'End Tory rule' - but now momentum has waned. A rally in Edinburgh two months later attracted only 3,000.
Away from the headlines, Scotland United has been busy. It has 7,500 members, there are 25 local groups, and the print union GPMU has become the first to inquire about affiliation.
Last month, at a summit in Ayr, the structure of the organisation was hammered out. Next month the first national council meeting will be held and elect an executive. If it is not a political party, it is certainly behaving like one. So is that ultimately what the organisers are aiming at?
'No,' said Mr McDougal. 'If we ever did, I think we would fall apart quickly. What unifies us is a single issue - the referendum. We don't carry any other political baggage.'
But it is hard to see the politicians involved as having no baggage. Labour MPs on the steering committee include Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West), Willie McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) and George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead). The shock of seeing Mr Galloway sitting alongside the Scottish National Party leader, Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan), at a recent press conference in the SNP's Edinburgh headquarters brought shouts of 'traitor'.
Mr Canavan has accepted an invitation to speak at a fringe meeting at the SNP conference in Perth later this month - a move which will not help Labour's claim to be 'arguing, but still unified'.
The SNP recognises it as an organisation that could help it to regain ground after its their embarassing showing at the general election embarrasment. The Labour leadership is dismissive, saying: 'The Nats hijacked Scotland United ages ago.'
But Labour cannot dismiss the fact that it will need to gain 100 seats after boundary changes to form a government after the next election. John McAllion, Labour MP for Dundee East and a founder of Scotland United, takes a stark view: 'We can take Westminster, or we can break Westminster. I am for breaking it.'
Labour's trade union brethren, including senior officials,such as Campbell Christie and Bill Spiers, are embracing Scotland United with open arms. Although Scotland United pays a small rent for its room in the STUC, it is getting full support facilities. The Scotland United cupboard may be compared to a political Tardis - small to look at, but hiding a much bigger organisation.
With 100 days to go till the EC summit, Scotland United will see if it can break Westminster. But what would it take to break Scotland United? 'Well,' said Mr McDougal, 'if we don't get 20,000 on to the streets I'll be disappointed.'
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