“For Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die” – Alex Salmond.
On Wednesday evening I joined 600 other YES supporters of all ages packed into the market square in Galashiels. There were speeches, songs, flag-waving, cheering and laughter. There was a carnival atmosphere – an excited eve-of-poll anticipation. None of us knew who would win, but we all hoped we would, and believed we could.
Similar scenes could be observed throughout Scotland. Tens of thousands gathered in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and other cities and towns. In George Square, Glasgow, there had been many such rallies. They gathered again late on Thursday after the polls had closed. Many of them were young, and had cast their first vote. Hardly any of them had ever been involved in politics before. But they had been caught up in a YES campaign which held out to them a vision of a better, independent Scotland.
Meanwhile the world’s media had gathered. News organisations from 120 countries were there, ready to broadcast the celebrations when Scotland became an independent country.
But as the results came in, it was apparent that hopes were about to be dashed; the dream turned into a nightmare. There were moments when hopes were revived – particularly when Glasgow voted YES – but these were short-lived.
The Scottish people had been sovereign for one day as they were asked the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country”. 45% – 1,600,000 of us – said YES. But 55% – 2 million – said NO.
So instead of dancing, cheering celebrating crowds, we saw slumped, sad people, many of them shedding tears.
On my Twitter timeline there was desolation. One tweeted: ”I’m 25 years old, but I can’t stop greeting”. ‘Scotland died tonight’ said more than one tweeter. Some said it was worse than a bereavement.
After just three hours sleep, I woke up. A moment later I came to with a jolt as the realisation of what had happened hit me. I was more upset than I expected to be. Although I’ve been sympathetic for years to the idea of Scottish independence, I only decided definitely to vote YES two or three months ago. But once I’d made the decision, I soon realised how strongly I felt about it. I was in no doubt. I was convinced it was right that Scotland, for the first time since 1707, should once again be an independent nation. So I was in post-poll blues on Friday, and I’m sure most of my fellow Yessers were, too.
Eventually I walked into town. The YES shop had already been evacuated. No blue signs and posters. No campaigners handing out leaflets and engaging in conversations with voters. Just a bare, empty shop.
And then it occurred to me what was missing: celebration. The polls showed that the NO vote was particularly high in the Borders so where were the Unionist revellers? Nowhere to be seen. Perhaps unsurprising though as there’d been hardly any evidence locally of their presence in the weeks and months leading up to the vote.
And did TV show any evidence of celebrations by the NO camp apart from cheering on the night from their hq? Nothing that I noticed – that is until I saw the footage of hardline ‘Loyalist’ thugs rampaging on Friday night in George Square, taunting YES voters.
But, apart from that, no celebrations by those who voted NO. They seemed joyless in their moment of victory. Indeed there were signs that some of them were having second thoughts. One shopkeeper told me he was already regretting his NO vote. Sadly, too late.
But Saturday was a new day. The despair had been short-lived. People on my Twitter feed were in better spirits. Some of them have been campaigning hard for two years or more, and they are not going to give up now.
MOST YES CAMPAIGNERS NOT ‘NATIONALISTS’
There’s a lot of misconceptions about the YES campaign. Gordon Brown referred to “narrow nationalists”. Even The Guardian, which should know better, described YES campaigners as nationalists.
Even the SNP is not an old-fashioned nationalist party. It has an outward-looking inclusive approach, often called ‘civic nationalism’. It stresses that Scotland welcomes people of all ethnic, national and religious backgrounds, believing that Scotland should be run by the people who live and work here.
The YES campaign is a broad-based movement. It includes not only the SNP, the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party but also a host of groups and individuals including the Radical Independence Campaign, the National Collective, the Common Weal, Women for Independence, Asians For YES, Business for Scotland and English For Yes. This is the largest ever grassroots campaign in the history of Scotland.
And the majority of those campaigning and voting YES are not nationalists. They are motivated by a burning desire for more equality, more social justice and a more caring society. And they think that the best way to achieve that is by having an independent Scotland so we can choose our own Governments instead of having a Government chosen for us by England.
The idea that we are anti-English is a ludicrous smear. I returned to Scotland last year after living most of my adult life in England and have many English friends so how could I be anti-English?
But I do want to disengage from the British state. As one English tweeter put it brilliantly: “I am not the British State, so if Scots leave the British State I won’t be offended. They aren’t leaving me. We still cool”.
POST-WAR CONSENSUS SHATTERED
I was born only three years after the second world war ended, and grew up feeling British as well as Scottish. The NHS was created in the year of my birth. The welfare state provided protection from cradle to grave. Essential industries were publicly owned. British values stressed fairness and a feeling we were genuinely “all in this together”.
But the post-war consensus was shattered by Margaret Thatcher. She closed down not only the mines but much of our manufacturing industry. She removed the rights of trade unionists. She used Scotland as a social laboratory, trying out the poll tax here first. Thatcherism was detested in Scotland and the Tories, who last won a majority north of the border in 1955, were gradually removed. In 1997 Scotland elected not one Conservative MP.
In 2010 just one of Scotland’s 59 Westminster MPs was a Tory. Yet Scotland had a Conservative-led Government imposed on it which proceeded to plunge many Scots into poverty. The hated bedroom tax was introduced. Food banks proliferated. ‘Austerity’ has resulted in cuts in public services and growing poverty for those who find their benefits cuts – while MPs continue to claim lavish expenses.
Meanwhile nuclear weapons, housed in Trident submarines, are based in Scotland. The British state continues to be run by politicians who seem to hanker after the days of Empire, revelling in their perception that Britain ‘punches above its weight’ and is a world ‘power’. Consequently we still spend far too much money on ‘defence’.
And what of the Labour Party? Can’t we just wait until they are re-elected? But Labour under Tony Blair embraced Conservative principles as well as plunging us into the disastrous and illegal war in Iraq. As for Ed Milliband’s Labour Party, even if it is elected, will it make much difference? Labour supports austerity and Trident.
The British state, at its peak as an Imperial power, has failed to adapt to modern times even retaining a wholly unelected second legislative chamber, which is an affront to democracy. The United Kingdom, which is not united and should not be a kingdom, is no longer fit for purpose.
The sort of society I want to see is far more likely to evolve in an independent country. Scotland should be a nation again, exercising our right to self-determination. At the same time, as an internationalist, I want to see us co-operate with other nations through our membership of such organisations as the EU and the UN.
REASONS FOR VOTING YES OR NO
Since Thursday’s vote, there have been claims that the Referendum provided a big margin of victory. Really? 45% of those voting (on an 85% turnout) voted for independence. They wanted to leave the Union. Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and the third most populous in the whole of the UK, voted YES.
And, of those who voted NO, did they really vote because they wanted to ‘save the Union’, as has been claimed? Not according to the polling evidence of Ashcroft who interviewed 2000 people after they’d voted in the Referendum. Only 27% said their main reason for voting NO was “a strong attachment to the UK”. 47% – almost twice as many – said they’d voted NO because of the ‘risks’ of becoming independent. A further 27% agreed that their main reason was that a Scottish Parliament would have extra powers “together with the security of remaining part of the UK, giving the best of both worlds”.
So Ashcroft’s poll reveals scant evidence to support a claim that many people voted NO because of their pro-Union views. More wanted extra powers for the Scottish Parliament, and had presumably been convinced by the last-minute ‘timetable’ announced by Gordon Brown that they did not have to vote YES to get such powers but a NO vote would do the trick. And almost twice as many were concerned by the perceived ‘risks’ – including some pensioners who’d been blatantly lied to by NO campaigners who claimed their pensions were at risk despite the fact a UK Government Minister had stated categorically that pensions were secure.
Research during the campaign showed that the more informed people were, the likelier they were to vote YES. Many rely on the media to inform them. But the media was hopelessly biased in favour of a NO vote. Apart from the Sunday Herald, no Scottish or English national newspaper supported independence.
And, although the broadcast media have a legal obligation to be impartial, apart from Channel 4 News, they failed to be so. Indeed, although there were some exceptions, such as the BBC’s Robert Peston, many broadcasters shamelessly acted as cheerleaders for the NO campaign. Even NO supporters I have spoken to concede that. In my lifetime I have never seen the BBC, ITV and Sky so biased in their coverage. This was noticed by some media professionals. Paul Mason, for example, now working for Channel 4 News, told his Facebook friends: “Not since Iraq have I seen BBC News working at propaganda strength like this. So glad I’m out of there”. And Stuart Cosgrove, Channel 4’s Director of Creative Diversity, described the BBC reporting of the Referendum as “an outrage”.
The London-based media had not paid that much attention to the Referendum, assuming it was in the bag for the NO camp. Then on Sunday 7th September a YouGov poll gave YES a 51-49 lead, the first time they’d been ahead in the entire campaign. It was a remarkable turnround given that YouGov had shown a 22% lead for NO just a month earlier, on August 7th. A superb YES campaign seemed to have had all the momentum since the second Leaders’ debate which Alax Salmond had comfortably won. And all the while the YES activists, far more numerous than their NO counterparts, were knocking on doors, persuading people that their message of Hope provided a positive vision for Scotland’s future in contrast to the negative NO campaign dubbed Project Fear by their own leaders.
Westminster went into panic mode, fearing that the ‘Union’ was in serious danger of ending. Prime Minister’s Questions was suspended as a dramatic stunt, enabling all the party leaders to go to Scotland – although David Cameron only addressed gatherings of the faithful, never venturing out to face undecided voters. A hundred Labour MPs made a day trip to Scotland. And Gordon Brown was unleashed. Suddenly the man whose Premiership had been undermined by the press, became a media darling. The ‘great clunking fist’, as Blair had once dubbed him, in effect took over the NO campaign from the hapless Alistair Darling. Although now only a backbencher, the BBC and Sky News showed his speeches live, and he was the one interviewed for the NO camp by David Dimbleby on the Tuesday before polling Day.
On the Sunday of the YouGov poll George Osborne had announced on the BBC’s Marr Show that all parties had reached an agreement about new powers for Scotland which would be announced later. It turned out that there were no new powers – just the ones that had already been announced by the 3 UK parties. And they disagreed, making different offers. But what was new was a timetable for action announced by Gordon Brown. This was followed by a ‘vow’, signed by all three party leaders and published in the Daily Record, which pledged action in the event of a NO vote.
The broadcast media lapped this all up, failing to scrutinise exactly what was involved. It was constantly referred to as devo-max, which implies all powers being devolved except foreign affairs and ‘defence’. But even the best offer – from the Tories – was nothing like devo-max, and it soon became clear that the timetable was hopelessly optimistic and that backbenchers might well refuse to support whatever was proposed even if the leaders eventually agreed.
In the last 11 days of the campaign, the media coverage was non-stop. But it was hopelesly slanted in favour of the NO camp. Any scare story about the alleged risks of independence was highlighted, often without being properly checked. For example, following contact from the Treasury, the BBC falsely claimed that the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds were planning to move their headquarters to London with an ensuing loss of jobs in Scotland. RBS then issued a statement saying that no jobs or banking operations would be affected. They were merely making contingency plans to move their registered office if there was no agreement on a currency union. And, as for the Lloyds headquarters, that was already in London, and had been there for a hundred years. Again, the only thing being contemplated was moving the registered office – the ‘brass plate’ as Alex Salmond put it.
Then after a meeting with the Prime Minister, Asda, John Lewis and some other large stores said prices might be raised in an independent Scotland. Morrisons and Tesco’s said this would not happen but their comments got little attention. The media seemed to want only stories that would damage the YES campaign.
Of course, we know broadcasters have views but they are supposed to keep them private. Some failed to do so. Tom Bradby of ITV News bewailed on Twitter the fact that he might have to report on the “break-up of my country”. In a tweet exchange with me, he sided with the NO campaign, ridiculing the notion that an independent Scotland could be part of a currency union. He failed to mention the YES case that the three UK parties were bluffing and that they would agree to a currency union as it was in the best interests not only of Scotland but the rest of the UK. He then declined to answer my tweet questioning how he could be impartial when he clearly favoured the NO side. Later he claimed I hadn’t asked a question and I’d been abusive – totally untrue.
Nick Robinson of the BBC claimed Alex Salmond hadn’t answered his question about the banks but a YouTube video showed that Salmond’s reply had been edited out.
My feeling is that the vast majority of presenters felt passionately that Scotland should vote NO, and that because they felt so strongly they were unable to cover the story impartially. So claims by NO were not subject to sufficient critical analysis.
Given the media bias, the YES campaign did remarkably well to persuade 45% of us to vote YES.
So where do we go from here? I’m sure there will be another Referendum but it probably won’t be in the near future – maybe not for another 10-15 years. It would only come earlier if the UK party leaders reneged on their ‘vow’ to devolve substantial new powers to Scotland in the near future. The timetable, drawn up by Gordon Brown, has already been put at risk by the Prime Minister’s opportunistic insistence – after the vote, of course – that new powers for the Scottish Parliament should be linked to constitutional change in England.
Also if the UK votes to leave the EU – and the people of Scotland vote to stay – that could hasten another Referendum.
There will now be strong pressure from YES campaigners for genuine devo-max, ie Scottish control over everything except foreign affairs and ‘defence’. And some will want to go further, for example, calling for the removal of Trident for Scotland.
In the few days since the Referendum, the parties supporting YES – SNP, Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party – have gained thousands of new members. Many will never forgive the Labour Party – now dubbed ‘red Tories’ – for their collaboration with the Tories in the NO campaign. The Party may have been partly motivated by the desire to retain their 41 Scottish MPs at Westminster. But they may face an electoral payback both at the 2015 General Election and the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.
There is now a radical movement consisting of those who have been involved in the greatest grassroots political movement ever seen in this country. As Alex Salmond said: “The real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster, or even at Holyrood, but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse meekly to go back into the political shadows”.
And younger people are much more likely to support independence. Ashcroft’s findings were that 54% of those aged 16-54 voted YES. NO secured victory because 66% of those aged 55 and older voted NO.
The 2014 Referendum was lost. But the hunger for radical change in Scotland will not go away. As much change as possible will be carried out within the confines of a devolved Scottish Parliament still in the UK. But ultimately I believe that will not be enough. The British state is on borrowed time. It has only postponed the inevitable. Sometime within the next 20 years – maybe much sooner than that – Scotland will become an independent nation