It’s been two months since the Independence Referendum in Scotland, and the results are now becoming clear. The initial analysis, that the SNP ‘lost’, is no longer sustainable.
While the result was a majority in favour of staying within the disUnion, at least for the present, this has not constituted a defeat for the SNP. To understand this, we need to look at the campaign in a broader context.
In the first place, it was never, and will never be ‘one referendum will settle it for good’. The September referendum was one event in a long sequence, all of which, for over a hundred years, have loosened the ties of the disUnion over Scotland. The September vote should be seen in the context of this ongoing journey; it was just another stage in a process and one which shows support for independence to be far higher already than the Westminster political class were suggesting twelve months ago. Like the odious George Robertson’s claim that ‘a Scottish parliament would kill the SNP’, those statements, of how the referendum would put an end to Scotland’s journey to nationhood now look very hollow. Perhaps it is no surprise that the English media and their subsidiaries in Scotland are glossing over those words now, just as they gloss over Robertson’s
Devolution is a process, not an event, and the end-point of that process is independence. The real question the most recent referendum set was not ‘will Scotland be Independent’ but ‘will Scotland be Independent now’.
Many observers saw Cameron’s acceptance of a referendum, formalised as the Edinburgh Agreement, as a canny move by a duplicitous politician to kick the issue into touch. It was too early for a ‘yes’ vote, and Cameron was banking on the ‘no’ vote being overwhelming and the Unionist parties triumphant on the back of that. So he agreed to it – and he did have a choice in this – as a political move against the SNP. Most Unionist commentators believed that Alex Salmond had been outmanoeuvred, and lost no time saying so.
Did Cameron’s tactic have the result he desired? To answer that we need to look at what actually happened and the aftermath.
Roughly 400,000 more Scots voted ‘No’ than voted ‘Yes’. However, a large contingent of these – more than enough to swing the vote – were pensioners. That means that the ‘No’ side depended on a generation born before 1949. These people grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War, when Britishism was rejuvenated and, to be fair, the British State had made an attempt to create a fair and egalitarian society.
This is a perishable resource. Younger people voted overwhelmingly for ‘Yes’ and would do so again. The ‘No’ side has a far worse enemy that Alex Salmond to contend with: time will inexorably thin the rank of this constituency and weaken its power. Young people today – my children, for example – see that war as ancient history; it does not tug on their emotions.
At the same time, the attractiveness of the British State has vanished. From being an inclusive, if often ill-directed, social state, it has now become the epitome of the most rabid form of capitalistic and patriarchal free-for-all, with the weakest and poorest in society punished and the richest and most powerful rewarded. It is a horrible state and naturally repulsive to the Scots. There is no chance of this being changed by Westminster, and the continuing social injustice will go on playing for Scottish nationalism.
The SNP has attracted over 60,000 new members since September, making it not only the largest party by far in Scotland but a major UK party. It now has over 80,000 members while the Labour party, understandably coy about its embarrassing statistics, is estimated to have no more than 13,500 Scottish members.
Repeated polls since September show that this is no hypothetical advantage. Because even the most brain-dead Tory knew that flooding Scotland with their yapping poodles was practically guaranteed to cause huge numbers of Scots to vote ‘yes’, they left the main thrust of campaigning to the Labour Party, which is as a result now known as the ‘Red Tory’ party.
So how has the referendum played for the Tories’ stooges? If voters vote as they say they will, the Labour Party (in Scotland) may be reduced to four Westminster MPs in next year’s UK General Election. One might have thought a party that had ‘won’ a referendum might do a little better than that, and while voting reality probably means that Labour will scrape a few more seats, it may well find itself reduced to a dozen or so Westminster MPs rather than the forty it currently contributes as lobby-fodder. So is that a ‘win’ for Labour?
In terms of personal approval the SNP’s political leaders, principally outgoing leader Alex Salmond and incoming Nicola Sturgeon, have ratings that Westminster politicians can only dream of. They are overwhelmingly seen as doing a good job. On the other hand, the Labour Party (in Scotland) is in leadership meltdown.
Johann Lamont threw in the towel spouting angry and justified rhetoric about how Labour (in Scotland) was a ‘branch office’. To replace her, London Labour has flown in Jim Murphy, a Red Tory of pure crimson hue, who has supported most major Tory (the blue ones with the weird accents) policies including austerity measures, the Iraq invasion, Trident and many others. He will certainly win the leadership position – Labour is not a democratic party and the powers in London will ensure that he does – but he is not ‘evolved’ to be a peacemaker or healer.
The divisions within his own party are huge and are ripping Labour (in Scotland) apart – and Murphy is the very lad to ensure that they complete the task. He is the perfect face of the Red Tory, and encapsulates everything that is hated by legions of solid Scottish left-wingers about the post-Blair party, one which has thrown out all interest in socialism or even social justice.
For a socialist in Scotland, Labour now has no ground. It has been outflanked to the left by both the SNP and the Scottish Socialists and on the environment – never a Labour strong point – by the Greens, which are all feeling the benefit as disaffected former Labour supporters depart. At the same time it has been identified as just another version of Toryism. If this is what they call ‘winning’ we would love to see what ‘losing’ might be – and likely we yet shall.
But enough of the Labour party (in Scotland.) Their woes are grave but they are not alone. What about the rump of Slimy-Say-Anythings? The pollsters predict disaster here too, and Scotland may well soon be a ‘Liberal’-free zone. This is not an unrealistic scenario, nor is it one that could come quickly enough. Their leadership must quake in terror, looking at disaster in the polls and a pledge by many in the SNP to wipe them off the political map – a pledge they are well capable of fulfilling. It really does not look as if the referendum was a ‘win’ for them either.
The Tories (the official blue ones, not the red ones) have neither suffered nor benefited. Otherwise an irrelevancy in Scottish politics, they doubtless represent a solid anti-Independence minority. But their numbers are low and they are pathologically hated by most Scots. In UK terms they cannot muster but one MP and even at Holyrood, were it not for the arcane voting system that favours minorities, the Tory Party would be like Banquo’s ghost – an unwelcome but ineffectual phantom of a long-gone reality. Nope, don’t think it was a ‘win’ for them either.
In terms of the ongoing independence project, the SNP has emerged triumphant from the September referendum. Their party membership has quadrupled, their projected share of the vote has soared and their leaders’ approval ratings are sky high. They now completely dominate the political debate in Scotland, despite the efforts of the Unionist media to pretend otherwise – media which itself has come under heavy fire. One shakeout of the referendum will almost certainly be the closure of some of the Unionist titles.
The fact is that the SNP is well placed to hold another referendum any time it likes and its leaders have now made it clear, officially, that, for example, should England vote to leave the EU, or if Westminster drags its feet in the transfer of power, that is exactly what they will do. At the same time, the now departed leader Alex Salmond has articulated the threat behind that reality – Unilateral Declaration of Independence. In other words, Scotland would just walk away. What would Westminster do? Send in the troops? Refuse to use Scottish electricity? Deploy gunboats to seize oil-rigs? Ban the sale of whisky in England? Send the nearly one million Scots working and living in England and upon whom the English economy depends, back to Scotland?
Tell me again how the SNP ‘lost’…
Also published on Medium.