I am National Collective and I’ll have a cocktail please

Flickr_avlxyz_4140435178--Salmon_Benedict_on_potato_cakeDavid Knowles takes a look at the phenomenon that was National Collective, in the light of spending receipts recently released by the Electoral Commission. He says there are questions to be answered.


National Collective was one of the most influential and high-profile organisations campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote in the Scottish Independence referendum last year. The group described themselves as a ‘grassroots’ organisation and  ‘the cultural movement for Scottish independence, featuring artists, writers and activists campaigning for a Yes vote through local groups, events, social media, published word and art.’

‘We organise debates, talks, community events, cultural showcases, pop-up gigs and parties at venues and locations across Scotland.’

Throughout July 2014 the organisation toured Scotland with the ‘Yestival’ which, National Collective explained, would include ‘a mixture of small gatherings, pop-up happenings and larger scale events together with a few surprises along the way.’

During (and after) the campaign they drew some criticism.

In a series of blogs Scottish rapper Loki attacked the founder Ross Colquhoun for accepting the post of ‘Engagement Officer’ with the SNP. For Loki this raised questions as to the ‘authenticity as the artistic voice of the Yes movement.’ If senior members of National Collective could simply walk into SNP party posts how on earth was the organisation supposed to act as a radical criticism of the political status quo?

Alex Massie, writing for the Spectator, took a different tack, arguing that

‘For all the wishing trees and student union agitprop, their greatest shortcoming was their lack of art’

Elsewhere he corroborated Loki’s critique,

nat nat coll‘National Collective was keen on promoting selfies in which citizens posed with placards proclaiming “I am National Collective” as though this declaration of group identity – and groupthink – mattered or could be considered daring. This was as subversive as a flat white in Finnieston and lends credence to Loki’s complaint that National Collective was “a middle-class clique” far too fond of “esoteric academic theory” and “Guardian-lite” posturing.’

National Collective divided opinion: for some it was a daring and radical artistic contribution to the independence referendum, for others it was a self-satisfied clique more concerned with wishing trees than trying to understand the voters they were meant to be persuading.

Now, many months after the referendum, National Collective is no more. The group disbanded in May, writing on their website

‘National Collective belongs to a time and a place, and that moment has passed. Instead, we need to take the massive significance of that transformative journey and learn from our campaign experiences.’

The story, however, is not quite complete. Just recently the Electoral Commission released the receipts from all the groups involved in the referendum.

National Collective’s make interesting reading. Some MPs have fallen for a lot less.


National Collective are clear how they raised the money they spent during the campaign.

‘Our budget was raised entirely through crowdfunding with smaller amounts raised to cover costs via an online shop. It had no full time or part time staff and everyone who worked on the project was a volunteer. It had no constitution, procedural documents, or formal structure.’

The website itself asks visitors for a ‘modest’ donation and, interestingly, there was no guarantee that the money raised would be spent in a certain way. There is only this rather vague statement.

‘For just a modest donation, you can help us in establishing a self-sustaining arts campaign that can support the wider Yes campaign.’

On the events themselves there is also this statement

‘Our grassroots events are organised and run by our members. We organise debates, talks, community events, cultural showcases, pop-up gigs and parties at venues and locations across Scotland.’

The Spending

National Collective’s spending during the campaign (from the 30.05.2014 to 18.09.2014) is fascinating.

A substantial proportion of their budget (total: £54,848.58) was spent on taxis, rail tickets, booking speakers, hiring venues, equipment and setting up and running the website.

Some of the receipts detailing National Collective’s more social spending shed an interesting (and at times hilarious) light on the group’s referendum.

Let’s bear in mind, that all National Collective’s budget was crowdsourced, that the purpose of the donations by the public was to help finance a ‘self-sustaining’ artistic campaign and that the ultimate goal was to support the ‘wider Yes campaign’.

If this was the case, I have a simple question. Why did National Collective feel the need to spend so much of its money on fast food, hip bars and swanky restaurants?

Here are some of the details, over the campaign period National Collective spent:

  • £151.20 at Just Eat
  • £81.43 at Dominos
  • £168.45 at Papa John’s (all spent over 6 days in July)

This brief snapshot of take away pizza is 0.7% of the total National Collection Budget for the whole campaign.

On the 19-20th of August National Collective spent a total of £145.43 in Café Rouge, Bar Ten (Glasgow’s ‘original style bar’), Maison Bleue (an Edinburgh bistro), Burger King (definitely the odd one out in this list) and Café Gandolfi.

On the 11th of August their spending looks like a group of students at the Fringe.

£12.23 11/08/2014 Balancing item Taxi
£32.40 11/08/2014 Balancing item EUSA Bar
£12.35 11/08/2014 Balancing item Taxi
£15.20 11/08/2014 Balancing item The Balmoral
£10.00 11/08/2014 Balancing item EUSA Bar
£32.30 11/08/2014 Balancing item The Dome
£9.00 11/08/2014 Balancing item Pizza Paradise
£11.18 11/08/2014 Balancing item Taxi

In September National Collective spent £49.20 in Smokestack Steakhouse and Bar and, on the 15th of September (just days before the vote when campaigning was reaching fever pitch and every pound of funding counted) £22.00 in the Bon Vivant Bar in Edinburgh.

National Collective’s spending on fancy restaurants and bars were not isolated occurrences. Here are a few more examples of what do sound like very fine dinners, lunches and drinks.

£16.39 The Olive Tree (26.08.2014)
£101.00 Hemma Bar (28.07.2014)
£70.75 Medina Bar & Grill (30.07.2014)
£30.29 Pancake Place  (01.08.2014)
£115.90 The Grill House (04.08.2014)
£57.00 The Doric (06.08.2014)
£22.30 Southern Bar  (12.07.2014)
£42.50 Clerk’s Bar (08.07.2014)
£50.81 Tolbooth Tavern(09.07.2014)
£70.50 Clerk’s Bar (12.07.2014)
£48.25 Sandeman (01.08.2014)
£62.80 Pasta Brown (11.09.2014) – this restaurant is in Covent Garden, London
£8.69 Wannaburger (27.08.2014)
£6.00 Pomegranate (27.08.2014)
£30.80 La Favorita (26.08.2014)
£17.80 Favorit (13.08.2014)
£9.65 Paradise Palms (15.09.2014)
£9.70 Patisserie Valerie (05.09.2014)
£16.99 Caravan (11.09.2014)

The weeks during July and August in which National Collective members were not enjoying dinners and cocktails at their donors’ expense are oddly few in number.

Perhaps these are expenses incurred by National Collective’s onerous responsibility to run ‘parties’ or maybe, after endless hours of campaigning they were simply entertaining eager, grateful and exhausted activists.

They could be the tab run up while hosting events, certainly that would seem like the case for some of the bars. However these totals are strange, few seem high enough to account for a large event – rather, it looks like a few people going out for drinks at the end of the day.

Ultimately it is not obvious how spending £101.00 in a bar or £115.90 on a steak dinner, or £22.00 on cocktails benefited the ‘Yes’ campaign.

The nature of the bars and restaurants is also interesting. Although the group spent a total £29.54 at Burger King and £15.00 at Greggs, most of the places frequented by National Collective are fairly upmarket – it seems the social spending of National Collective matches up to their reputation as bourgeoisie ‘champagne socialists’.

National Collective Press Conference, Royal Faculty of Procurators, Glasgow
National Collective Press Conference, Royal Faculty of Procurators, Glasgow

Freedom in the Sky

There is one more fascinating aspect to National Collective’s spending. The group spent a lot of money on remote control airplanes and drones.

I have not been able to find any photos of a ‘Yes’ drone run by National Collective and none of the photos on their facebook either a) look like they have been taken by a drone or b) feature a drone or rc airfcraft. Perhaps they are out there. If you know of one please get in touch. This really is my #solerogirl story!

Here are the receipts that piqued my interest.

£927.00 Droneflight (20.05.2014)
£149.99 Koolytoyz (30.05.2014)
£219.99 Marionville Models (28.06.2014)

This is a lot of money, around 2% of National Collective’s total budget, and, for the Kooltoyz and Marionville Models purchases (especially given their .99 price tag) it seems very likely that National Collective bought individual products. Most likely small remote control aircraft. Indeed, the Kooltoyz price matches up perfectly with several products including a remote control helicopter (a ‘Yescopter’ maybe?).

Presumably these ‘Yesplanes’ were to film from the sky and circle around rallies and events.

Again, I will leave it you to judge whether the addition of several (why did they buy two? Was the idea popular? Did one crash so they bought another? The mystery deepens!) remote control toys benefited the ‘Yes’ campaign.

National Collective has ended as a movement. It was an eclectic mix of people, ideas and dreams. Whether their budget was well-spent is ultimately up to the donors themselves to decide.

National Collective and its members campaigned hard for an independent Scotland. But why they had to have so many steak dinners, take out pizzas and cocktails in the process is a mystery.

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10 thoughts on “I am National Collective and I’ll have a cocktail please

  1. For comparison, could you also do a breakdown of Labour MP’s and MSP’s expenses during the same time period, plus those of Better Together? You don’t have to bother asking them what exactly they spent the money on because you didn’t bother asking Nat Col either.

    Looking at the same figures for Better Together, there seems to be a lot of entries for ‘Volunteer Expenses’ and ‘Staff Expenses’ without further explanation. I wonder if this money was spent on take out pizzas and cocktails?

    So what’s the real story? Nat Col were honest with their receipts, while Better Together disguised them under ‘Expenses’ headings?

    1. I’m not sure that ‘Labour MPs claim food and drink on expenses too’ really cuts it here. The whole ethos of many within the Yes campaign was one of ENDING the kind of politics where there’s this kind of snout in trough attitude. I didn’t donate so its no skin off my nose where they spent the money, but it strikes me as a bit uncomfortable. I do find that the refrain of ‘Labour did this’ is used all too often to deflect from genuine questions/critique. (Aaand, your logical fallacy is…tu quoque! Congratulations!)

      The questions is surely whether or not this kind of spending is appropriate, and if it is, then whether it is clear to those donating what their funds are going to be used for. And that goes for any organisation.

  2. I think it does cut it because the argument put forward by article author is what places the money was spent in, not what it was spent on or for whom or for why. So it is not a proper argument. The only way you could get traction from it is in comparison to other groups and show that their spending was high relative to the other groups. But Better Together doesn’t show what places the money was spent in, instead secretively labelling it as Expenses.

    Given that the article quotes the fact that everyone in Nat Col was a volunteer, I don’t think it against their principles that they bought a slice of pizza or a pint of beer for their volunteers. I imagine most people would say that’s the least they could do to thank them for all the unpaid work their volunteers contributed.

    1. No problem with a few beers and pizzas thats only fair for people volunteering but why the up market restaurants.

      Surely there if it was only a few beers and pizza for the volunteers there was cheaper alternatives nearby?

      I thought National Collective were above all the rest of politicians etc but in the end they are just the same as all the rest.

      I genuinely thought they were creating something unique and special that we could build on but like so many they have let me down.

      Power and greed always corrupts it seems

      1. None of these restaurants are that upmarket – the article has performed a clever wee sleight of hand by claiming that they are, but if you look closely it doesn’t really seem to be the case. Pancake Place? Papa Johns? The most expensive-looking one, the Grill House, where they spent the most money, is just your regular burgers for £8.95, fajitas for £12.95 place, so presumably they took a large group out to thank them for some hard work. The Hemma spend looks like a party for volunteers. Nowhere does it say “cocktails”. For a lot of the time in July and August they were on tour with their Yestival, which artists and workers created entirely for free, often giving up work for two weeks to camp and work long hours in venues all over the country, so it seems fair enough to me that that’s when they were spending a lot. I wasn’t ever part of NC, but I donated to them on the understanding that they were going to feed their volunteers with part of the money (it was all on the site), so I’m fine with this.

    2. hahahaha….this is hilarious…so much pretension, pomposity and sanctimony yet so little self awareness. National Collective are absurd. Wonder how that list would go down if shown in a local food bank?

  3. Sometimes it is bettter to keep your mouth (keyboard) closed and let people think you a fool rather than open it and remove all doubt.
    Does this piece add anything to the revival of Labour fortunes? or should I say Labour PARTY fortunes for the party has moved away from the movement and yet still wants blind obedience in the ballots.
    Gogs was always whipping out the ‘intrusion on private grief’ joke which this article reminds me off.

  4. Real weak stuff. I started reading it expecting some sort of expose, and this is all the author, who has clearly gone through the accounts line by line, came up with. The feeding of volunteers is surely the bare minimum any credible organisation should provide, and to folks who spent weeks and in some cases months on the road getting their message out there? Sure at times National Collective was a bit self indulgent and indeed arty aka “middle class”, and I dare say on a few occassions a few liggers got an underserved bottle of Peroni, But the vast majority worked their buts off in no expectation of reward. £54k well spent I’d say, and all off it crowd funded on the NC own initiative. Perhaps Labourites might more usefully ask why there was nothing remotely equivilant on their side?

  5. hahahaha….this is hilarious…so much pretension, pomposity and sanctimony yet so little self awareness. National Collective are absurd. Wonder how that list would go down if shown in a local food bank?

    I am national collective…oooh look they have quails eggs!

  6. My list of “fancy restaurants and bars” wouldn’t include Domino’s or Patisserie Valerie…. The author doesn’t ask how many people were fed by each spend. If it were one person, that’s a blowout – if it were 10, it’s a pizza and a coffee and one of the things I’m happy to have donated money to NC for is the knowledge that the volunteers were fed and, at the end of a hard day’s campaigning, had a beer together. The author can’t be too familiar with Edinburgh during the Festival or he wouldn’t quibble with those receipts…

    When I was a film and television producer, organising the catering for (paid) crew was very high up the priority list because an army marches on its stomach. I’ve also chaired an organisation composed primarily of volunteers, and for most of them, that meal and a beer at the end of our annual get-together day was the payoff for weeks and months of hard unpaid work.

    I’m delighted NC spent some of the money I donated on feeding and refreshing its volunteers. I’m much happier about that than I am about MPs, paid over three times the average wage, having subsidised food and drink in the Houses of Parliament, actually.

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