That referendum on Scottish independence from the rest of the UK, eh? I hear Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Plenty has been written about that result. For my part, I pitched a small offering about the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 into the mix. I am reticent to erode an already well-trodden path with more of my meanderings (especially when it is too late to affect the result), but I do have a few thoughts that I think are worth sharing.
If you want to avoid my navel gazing, skip forward four paragraphs to the section headed, “What now?”
Reflections on the result
As readers of this blog will know, I voted Yes. I declared that I would do so in advance. This is the first time I have publicly backed a political horse. On the back of the result, it might seem that I chose the wrong race in which to do this, but now that the campaign is over I can note with a degree of impunity that I did not actually think Yes would win. Okay, I had the odd wistful wonder that the Yes campaign might just pull off a win, but I generally stuck to the line that I thought the result would be a narrow No (in oral conversations, if not online). Why did I not publicise my thinking? Funnily enough, I wanted Yes to win, hence why I made my public declaration of Yes in the first place, and I did not want to seem downbeat about the chances of a Yes victory. On one view, maybe I should have been downbeat, to encourage a final drive for votes as opposed to what some might characterise as premature celebration, but so be it.
Am I disappointed with the result? Yes and no. Why yes? Because I wanted Yes to win. Why no? Because democracy within the territory of Scotland is more important to me than Scottish independence. By a not insignificant margin of 383,937, more people voted to stay in the UK than [re]form an independent country. I respect that.
Returning to my prediction as compared to the actual result, is 45% a narrow No? Well, naturally it could have been narrower – thus ends my amateur psephology – but even when some of the more optimistic Yes polls came out towards the end of the campaign I was never quite convinced the Yes campaign would win. I had a nagging thought that referenda to overturn existing arrangements often struggle, as evidenced by the recent AV referendum (on voting reform) and the less recent referendum on the UK’s place in Europe. (It will be recalled that the UK passed the European Communities Act 1972 before giving voters a chance to vote on it a few years later. For some reason Scotland was not allowed a few years of independence to make a success of it before going to the polls: I cannot think why.) I was also aware of the Quebec example, where there was a drag back to the status quo come polling day. There is also the fact that those in power, and their pals, tend not to cede power without making a bit of a fuss: moan about the media all you want, but it was ever thus. All of this meant Yes had to be doing really well in the polls in the days before 18 September, as opposed to just quite well or indeed neck and neck.
Regarding that point about Scotland perhaps being gently encouraged to stay in the UK by, how can I put this, a sympathetic press and/or lovebombing and/or full-on fearbombing: I have a confession to make. Some of the “Project Fear” type stories actually started to chime with me. In my Yes blog I noted that the NHS and human rights were my two weak points, but then stories about pensions (particularly with regard to EU cross-border rules) and mortgage costs started to pile up. I am not so foolish as to pretend these would not have had the potential to affect me. I know a thing or two about mortgages, also known as standard securities, as Scots property lawyers stubbornly but correctly call them. Without exposing my own finances in too much detail, I own land in Scotland, such ownership having been financed by secured borrowing. A spike in monthly repayments would affect me and I can understand there may have been a smattering of truth in articles like this Telegraph piece. One curious reaction to this was to think, “Och, if it really is going to be a narrow No I may as well still vote Yes.” I.e. Part of me did want to give the effing Tories a kick (or at least be part of the electorate that registered their intention to do so). (Granted, this could have left me in the ridiculous position akin to a dog who actually catches a car, i.e. if Yes had won I would suddenly have been faced with the potential of higher monthly repayments, but so be it.) I was also willing to take a bit of a punt that the overall mix in iScotland would have been better. Many others did not take that punt. I respect that.
To coin a phrase, we are where we are. The electorate in the referendum find themselves in a territory where a lot of people wanted X and a lot of people wanted Y, which territory is within a country where a lot of other people might have wanted X or Y but did not actually get a vote. We need to get on with it.
I am not going to join any calls for a post-referendum reconciliation: as noted by Professor Christine Bell on a recent BBC programme, a reconciliation implies a wrong, and I do not see many wrongs. That being the case, I do have two key observations for my fellow Yes voters.
- Don’t respond to all problems in the UK with, “I voted Yes!” To draw on the wisdom of The Simpsons, it’s about as useful as proclaiming, “I voted for Kodos!“
- Similarly, if a No voter (or indeed a secret voter, they exist too) has a legitimate moan about something, that is as legitimate as any moan a Yes voter might have. To deny that would be approximately as empathetic as me trumping anyone that grumbles about a minor health ailment by pointing out that I have had cancer. It might be true, and you can probably mention it as a nuclear option once in a while, but it does not really help matters.
To an extent I am falling into my own trap here. If there is no wrong to reconcile, why am I trying to put down some ground rules? And by whose authority am I doing that? Both of these are fair questions. Ignore me as you see fit. After all, I backed the losing horse in the referendum race. Although perhaps I should not use the terminology of losing and winning. The most obvious winner in the referendum was the referendum itself and the process within which it operated. Let us bottle some of that enthusiasm and move forward.
As for the future of the independence campaign, there are many interesting things that I could write here. I will restrict myself to one or two political observations and one personal observation.
First, politics. There is a UK general election next year. I cannot even begin to count the various permutations of that election. Amidst all of those, I do note that the Sunday Herald (in the immediate post-referendum edition) carried a report about the possibility of putting “Yes Alliance” candidates forward in Scottish constituencies for Westminster. The effect of channelling all votes for a cause to one candidate can be huge: it will not always lead to victory, as evidenced by the 2010 result in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, but the fact a single Unionist candidate came within four votes of Sinn Féin in that constituency is staggering. With the next general election in mind, the odds of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives stepping aside for each other in Scotland are next to nil. If the Greens, the SSP and the SNP can put forward single candidates in each constituency on a united front that would make for a captivating dynamic.
On what ticket would such candidates campaign? That is where it gets really interesting. I think it would be ill-judged to campaign on a bald pro-independence platform in a general election that follows a referendum that came out against independence. Whatever the Smith Commission might come up with, independence is the one thing that is off the table. Sure, Salmond might not be the First Minister for much longer, but I think the SNP should assiduously stick to his line that the referendum would settle things for “a political generation”. Indeed, the only people who have it in their gift to change the independence timeline from a double digit to a single digit number of years are the parties who campaigned for the Union. Such a change is not likely to be deliberate. That is to say, it would take them contributing to a situation where somehow things change, perhaps by:
- the Scottish Parliament being abolished (very unlikely);
- the UK leaving the ECHR (unfortunately looking a bit more likely, but probably still erring on the unlikely side of things);
- the Smith Commission proposing absolutely nothing of note, notwithstanding “The Vow” and any subsequent petitions (pure speculation, the Commission needs to be given a chance); or
- the UK dragging Scotland out of the EU after a UK-wide referendum when Scotland voted to stay (unlikely, but what do I know?).
On that basis, I suppose the ticket of the Yes Alliance, or whatever it might be called, would be to keep the Better Together parties honest and be ready to react if and when the political environment evolves. Not the easiest thing to change into a political soundbite, but that is not my job.
That leads on to my personal observation. Having dallied in the pro-independence movement just a little, I think now is the time for me to take a step back. As noted, I don’t think it is in any way sensible in the short term to campaign vociferously for an outcome that has been rejected at the ballot box. And who knows, there might be a job for me as a Presiding Officer at a future election. I would not be eligible for that role if I was actively campaigning, as I recently discovered in an object lesson on electoral law.
That is probably quite enough overtly political blogging for me. I will return to droning about matters land reform, law and education. For now at least.