By Dave Stockton
Despite the rejection of independence, the shock to the system caused by the final weeks of the referendum campaign – when it appeared the blue Saltire was going to be ripped out of the Union Flag – continues to be felt. The pro-union parties at Westminster, which made a solemn vow to devolve greater powers to Scotland, have already fallen out over the constitutional issues this has raised for England and the rest of the UK.
So Britain looks set for a major debate, which, to put it mildly, could complicate the forthcoming election campaign.
This was no ordinary ballot. For the first time in a generation, instead of being confronted by two or three parties with near identical neoliberal, pro-big business agendas, there appeared to be a real choice: an independent Scotland or more of the same.
For once, this was not a campaign primarily waged through million-pound TV ads and billboard posters, or even Obama-inspired call centre teams. Since every vote counts in a referendum, as with proportional representation, so there was no narrow focus on “key marginals”.
Instead there was a real political awakening of the whole population. School and college students debated in giant halls, as did older folk with their workmates, families and neighbours. Social media was abuzz. Professional politicians and newspaper pundits were followed and harassed wherever they went. Photo-ops became opportunities to spoil the party.
What did the referendum show?
On 18 September a total of 3,619,915 people cast valid votes, a record turnout of 84.9 per cent of the electorate in any kind of ballot. In the end 2,001,926 voted No and 1,617,989 voted Yes. Yet the narrowing of the lead for rejection during the campaign was remarkable.
At the start of the campaign back in 2012 only 23 per cent supported independence. That rose to 29 per cent last year and by July 2014 stood at 33 per cent according to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. But on 7 September a YouGov poll gave it to the Yes campaign by 51 to 49 per cent. Cue Westminster panic.
For the Tories, with only one MP there, Scotland is a lost cause. It is Labour, with 41 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster MPs, that is licking its wounds. Traditional Labour heartlands like Glasgow and North Lanarkshire swung most heavily to a Yes vote.
In Glasgow, the Yes won by 53.5 to 46.5 per cent and in North Lanarkshire, by 51 to 49. In West Dunbartonshire just under 54 per cent voted for independence.
There is no doubt that among Yes votes a huge number, maybe one third were recent converts and moved because of Labour’s inability to convincingly defend the welfare state, education, and unwillingness to pledge to restore cuts. In short they were persuaded that a traditional Labour agenda could best be achieved in an independent Scotland.
Labour paid the price for entering an unprincipled popular front with the Tories and Lib Dems. Better Together was a joke, offering not a “better” future but worse: more austerity, militarism and unfairness. Scare tactics around the currency and EU membership backfired as Scots refused to be bullied by the establishment.
This eventually dawned on Labour leaders after the disastrous second TV debate, which the audience gave to Alex Salmond over Alistair Darling by 71 per cent. As one shadow cabinet member told the Huffington Post, “The truth of the matter is that we couldn’t have designed a worse fucking campaign.”
The campaign’s apotheosis arrived with its disastrously patronising TV advert, which dreams up the most apolitical woman imaginable saying:
“My Paul is worse than the telly these days. He will not leave off about the referendum! He started again first thing this morning: ‘Have you made a decision yet?’ I was like, ‘It’s too early to be discussing politics, you eat your cereal.’”
Inevitably the advert backfired and was spoofed mercilessly online.
Suave middle class lawyer Alistair Darling just didn’t seem to get it – at least until the last weeks of the campaign when Gordon Brown was drafted in big time.
Interestingly the elephant in the sitting room ignored by most of the for the late night media pundits was Austerity. YouGov polling showed the main issue was the belief that the NHS was not safe in the hands of a UK government in the Westminster bubble. So Labour had to pressure Clegg and Cameron to sign “The Vow” – carried on the front page of the Daily Record on 16 September – to leave the NHS in Scotland alone.
The SNP’s positive appeal is in part because they no longer appear to be the “Tartan Tories” they did in the 1970s. They successfully rebranded themselves under Salmond as a tartan Old Labour. Salmond, who, unlike Darling, speaks the language of ordinary folk, easily out-flanked Labour on the left, promising to renationalise the Royal Mail, raise old age pensions, provide free childcare and rid Scotland of the nuclear submarines at Faslane.
With the support of unions like the RMT and the uncritical backing of the far left Solidarity and left reformist Scottish Socialist Party, the Yes Campaign was able to pose as the more worker friendly side. Ironically the old northern and rural heartlands of the SNP, like Salmond’s own constituency, Aberdeenshire, voted solidly No. As the adage goes, “You can’t fool all the people all the time.”
The referendum on independence for Scotland was a basic right supported by all democrats. The mass participation in the vote and to an important degree in the debate is to be welcomed.
But for all this the referendum was not a vote on austerity. It was a vote on breaking one state into two. And separation into smaller states is not a good thing in itself. While most revolutionaries believe every nation has a right to national independence, providing this is does not involve depriving another people of their right to it (as the Israeli settlement does for Palestinians), this only has a progressive character if the nation concerned is suffering some form of national oppression and that independence can end this and thus aid the reconciliation of the workers of both countries.
For just over 300 years Scotland has been an integral part of a capitalist and then an imperialist Britain. Scottish and English merchants, industrialists, settlers and soldiers, have colonised and exploited the world, allying themselves with the oppressors and exploiters worldwide. Even far left converts to Scottish independence hardly dare argue that Scotland is an oppressed nation, like Ireland.
On the contrary, Scotland is the “third-richest region in the UK after London and the south-east of England”, according to Larry Elliot of The Guardian. State spending north of the border was £10,212 per head last year – £1,624 more than in England. Of course this is not to say that there are no areas of deep deprivation in Scotland – just as there are in London and the south-east. But these are class divisions, not national ones.
Whatever the hopes embodied by the mass participation of working class people in Scotland, the Yes campaign inevitably strengthened nationalism in Scotland. And now the media, the Tory right and Ukip have seized the opportunity to promote English chauvinism and parochial regionalism as props for their Europhobia and anti-immigrant racism. All nationalism – Scottish as well as English – undermines the basic working class principles of unity and internationalism.
The only antidote to this, as well as being the only was to really fulfil the hopes of working class Yes voters is to rouse the labour movement from its slumbers and launch a UK-wide struggle to defend the NHS, raise real wages, and take up important political issues like opposing the new cold war our rulers are launching.
And for this we are indeed better together, not as “Brits” – we should instil in people a deep hatred of the crimes of British imperialism – but as revolutionary internationalists fighting against our own ruling class.