Dissonant Notes

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Final Thoughts on the Scottish Independence Referendum



Soon enough the most important vote in the history of the United Kingdom will have taken place. As a Yes supporter I would like to make myself clear on a few subjects. Many people I know and love will be voting No and my feelings for them will be unaffected. I do not consider No voters to be less Scottish, or to be traitors, or to be anything other than concerned for the future of Scotland. I may disagree with No voters, in fact I may profoundly disagree on various points, but as a believer in an open society, which protects and encourages vigorous debate and free speech, I cherish a nation which allows for all tolerant opinions (as such I found Jim Sillars' 'day of reckoning' comments to be shameful). As many have been at pains to point out, the Scottish Referendum has not only transformed Scottish politics but British politics as a whole in the sense that, for a very small period of time, London has not been the centre of gravity for the United Kingdom. This has been good for everybody in the UK, though I fear that many career politicians in Westminster see this as a crises to get through rather than a long term issue that requires a complete rethink in terms of UK politics.

Much has been made, especially among No voters, of the referendum tearing Scotland apart. That's not how I see the emergence of political debate that has only occasionally reached the level of egg-throwing and street arguing. Ultimately, a country where residents disagree politically is the essence of democracy. If Scotland votes Yes, then we need the No voters to be skeptical and loud, to ensure that hope and optimism don't allow the populace to be blindsided by bad decision making. If Scotland votes No then Yes voters can rightfully expect more powers for the Scottish Parliament, while also serving as a restless watchdog of Westminster as it continues to have a say in Scottish political decisions. The fact that things seem so finely balanced is merely a testament to the two options of the referendum. If Scotland votes Yes it will again become a country with a multitude of political opinions, including Scottish Conservatives. In fact an independent Scotland is the only place where Conservatism is likely to thrive north of the border. In an independent Scotland the SNP will no longer exist as an independent country does not need a nationalist party. I expect most SNP members to jump ship to other parties and for the SNP to change its name and reemerge as a left-of-centre Scottish political party that will try to challenge the new Scottish Labour Party for left leaning voters. If Scotland votes No the Conservatives will continue to struggle, Labour will go into free-fall, and the SNP will remain an active voice as many Scottish voters (even No voters) struggle to find a mainstream party that best matches their politics. 

It remains a kind of political miracle that the referendum polls are so close. Two years ago the No vote seemed unassailable. Given that every major British political party, every major British newspaper, every major bank, and every major corporation supports the No campaign, it is a testament to both the Yes campaign's organising and the sheer disaffection with Westminster among Scottish voters that Yes seems within a whisker of succeeding. Just how out of touch with Scottish political culture is the entrenched British establishment? The sense of panic coming from the elite when one poll put the Yes vote ahead was astonishing. Even though 30% of the Scottish electorate when polled have regularly indicated that they would like an end to the Union, this was apparently nothing to worry about. Bear in mind that the Conservative Party has not achieved 30% of the Scottish vote in over 30 years, yet there's been a Conservative Prime Minister in Downing Street overseeing the most important Scottish political decisions for 17 of those years. As the polls crept higher the sense of business-as-usual was overwhelming. What does it tell you about the British ruling class when they only realise two weeks before a vote that something important might be at stake? 

I truly hope for an independent Scotland because I object to a progressive Scotland being dragged down a neo-liberal path by a party who can barely get enough votes to return one Scottish MP to the House of Commons (or by a party who, while still popular in Scotland, have abandoned all their principles to stay relevant in southern England). I think the politics of Westminster has drifted drastically from any sense of a middle-ground and now exists to provide America with a powerful voice in Europe, while still cloaking its beliefs in a Union Jack and a respectful bow to the Queen. I object to Scotland being referred to as a democratic nation when UK General Election results show that it is neither. I have more reasons than this for supporting Yes (which can be found here and here), but at this point I merely wish to express how invigorating the whole referendum campaign has been. True, there are Yes voters who revel in the worst kind of nationalistic rabble-rousing, just as there are No voters whose main motivation has been sectarian hatred and quasi-fascist British pride, yet these have ultimately been the minority. Scottish politics has been transformed and the level of passion and debate on both sides has been inspiring. I feel that the political culture of the UK will never be the same again, no matter which way Scotland votes. Things are too close and people are too involved to simply fade away into the background on the 19th. Scotland has re-awoken and as such the referendum can only be viewed as a success. Let us hope that it is the beginning of a sense of political involvement for all people living in the British Isles. I've never been prouder to be Scottish.