THE independence-seeking California National Party (CNP) is basing its strategy on that used by the SNP in the 2014 referendum campaign as it works to become a recognized party with its own place on polling forms.
Jed Wheeler, vice chair of the CNP, was in Scotland as an indyref observer, and says he knows they are in it for the long haul.
He told The National: “When I was in Scotland in 2014 I interviewed an SNP organiser who was in his 80s and had spent his entire adult life working to build the movement for independence.
“I often tell that story to our new recruits to let them know we don’t expect this to be fast or easy, but we are in it for the long haul.
“We have to earn the trust of California’s people and convince them that independence will serve their interests.
“The latest polling shows only 22 per cent of Californians support the idea. The good news is that 22 per cent support for our party’s core mission is a great place to start for an insurgent political party, and we expect that number to grow rapidly once Trump takes office.”
The current CNP goal is to register as a political party – with the ultimate aim of achieving independence through negotiation –, which will require 63,000 signatures from voters.
“Once we reach that threshold we will become the first pro-independence party in California’s history to qualify for the ballot,” said Wheeler.
“CNP will go on the voter registration form as an option people can join just by checking a box instead of having to check ‘other’ and write us in, and our candidates will automatically qualify for the ballot for all races.
“We have until January of 2018 to reach that threshold for the 2018 elections. When we hit it we expect the shockwaves to help us grow very quickly.”
He said the party had already held a training call for canvassing team leads, and was planning a presence at the Women’s March protests across the US on January 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. “The Los Angeles march should be the biggest of those and we are an official sponsor there and will have a booth and a visible presence,” he said. “We believe the movement for a progressive and independent Republic of California can best be built by getting out and supporting progressive causes, and so we’ll be there to visibly support women’s rights and point out that in an independent Republic of California, women’s rights would finally be safe from the far-right politicians elected by America’s conservative heartland.
“From there, our strategy is modeled very closely on the SNP. We aim to run a small group of dedicated and – this is important – highly qualified people for winnable local offices in 2018.
“One big problem with third parties in the US is that they often run people who are in no way qualified for the positions they seek because they do not expect to win and just want to pick up protest votes or talk about their pet issues.
“We are taking a very different approach and every race we enter we are entering with the intent to win.”
In the longer term, Wheeler said the goal was to build enough power in the state legislature so the party could demand a “mutually recognised and mutually binding referendum”.
This, he said would avoid the pitfalls associated with another campaign by Yes California – a separate organisation – because the courts would have no cause to reject it.
“The US would have a much harder time blocking us from seeking international recognition if they had agreed in advance that we had the right to do so, if we won the vote.”