The Referendum Murders (paperback)

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Friday, 18 September 2015

My thoughts post-Referendum defeat September 2014

What I thought a week after the Referendum result in 2014. Who could have imagined what came next?

27th September 2014

It’s over, and we lost. Or did we?

Confession time – I expected to be devastated after a NO vote, but in the event, I wasn’t. My immediate reaction was one of relief, which baffled me and left me feeling ashamed of myself. I watched the ecstatic NO groups celebrating and the tearful YES groups staring bleakly into space, my heart went out to them, and the question returned – why don’t I feel like that?

THE RESULT

In the years leading up to this moment, my biggest fear was not that we would lose – it was that we would win with a narrow majority after a polarised campaign, and the new Scotland would start in very troubled times.

Even with my scepticism over UK’s motives and methods, the scale of their unprincipled onslaught in the final weeks staggered me. It also convinced me that if we won, it would be by the narrowest of margins and that we would be subject to intense pressures to ensure that our new Scotland failed.

Any Government that was capable of perverting the apparatus of the state to secure their ends -  e.g., Treasury, Whitehall, the Civil Service, the ‘think-tanks’ – and was willing to engineer a possibly criminal leak of information to media from a board meeting in progress - i.e. RBS - that was calculated to destabilise the markets – was capable of anything. The last minute Big Bribe was the final evidence.

Although I would have rejoiced in a narrow win, and fervently hoped that Scotland could make independence work against this wall of hostility, the gnawing, subliminal idea took root that maybe the time was now wrong.

In the event, the outcome was decisive for NO – Scotland had rejected its independence, rejected its chance to make history and had acted out of fear or complacency – or both - rather than vision, confidence and hope.

The attack by an organised mob of male thugs brandishing Union Jacks and throwing flares at a mixed sex group of YES supporters sharing their grief in George Square, Glasgow – my native city, and a city that had voted YES – underlined my fears.

But a recent tweet of mine summed up my view of validity of the result. While accepting its democratic reality, and feeling bound by it, my feeling was -

How can a referendum outcome based on news management and intimidation of voters by vested interests be the "settled will" of Scots?

Judging by the immediate reactions to that tweet, and the subsequent number of retweets in the hundreds (more than anything I’ve ever tweeted, in over 43,000 tweets), that view resonated with many of the 1.6 million Scots who voted for independence.

YouGov post-ballot poll - with a sample three time the normal size (3,188 voters) - showed fascinating stats on how people voted (if you accept poll validity).

74% of those born in rUK voted NO. By definition, that includes the very large block of English-born residents in Scotland. 51% of voters born in Scotland voted YES. Those stats alone trigger interesting speculations, but I won’t offer opinions on them that I can’t substantiate.

Analysed by party support affiliation, 27% of Labour and 29% of LibDems said YES, but only 8% of Tories. Of the five demographic bands, four were majority No vote – only the 25-39 group voted YES – 55% of them.

20% of those who claimed to be SNP supporters vote NO.(Related findings came from poll after 2011 Holyrood SNP landslide – not all SNP voters were YES supporters.)

REACTIONS

Initial reactions (my subjective impressions from media, online comment and direct contacts) ranged from despair and grief through bewilderment from those who had been in denial at polls - preferring to believe instead that a YES majority was being hidden - to real, visceral anger and feelings of betrayal.

The latter emotions were raw online on Friday morning, with wild accusations of betrayal  of the young by the old (prompted by Ashcroft poll of young voters) being flung about including by one high-profile activist who should have known better, as if exacerbating the tension already present within many families would offer a constructive way forward.

I was aware that for the essentially secondary online activists, the betrayal would be felt less keenly than by the dedicated, exhausted and by now potentially demoralised front-end activists from the streets, the doorsteps, the public place and public meetings. They were the ones who had shifted the polls so close to victory – and they had not had the offset of mini-celebrity, visibility, networked contacts and in some cases much more tangible benefits that others had received – perfectly legitimately – to cushion the shock of the result.

Similar considerations may be applied to those who had been salaried for all or part of the campaign – the politicians and the YES staff.

I say these things, not in any spirit of criticism, but as a recognition of a harsh reality in all politics: that, of necessity, the security of paid political professionals and the economic and career gains of a minority rest on the unpaid work of an army of dedicated and usually unrewarded and often unrecognised body of activists. 

These were the supporters of YES who were, in addition to giving of their precious time and energies, were also engaging in repeated acts of incredible generosity, crowd-funding all sorts of worthy, valid, and in some cases, absolutely vital initiatives that made significant contributions to the greatest grassroots campaign ever see in British politics.

But the most incredible contribution of that group was then delivered in a matter of days after the ballot – the massive and entirely unexpected surge in SNP membership, (unparallelled to my knowledge in British politics) from around 25,000 to well over 62,000 at the last count, now exceeding the combined membership of the other Scottish parties and overtaking the UK-wide membership of the LibDems.

In the midst of the chaotic responses to the NO vote, and the burgeoning of a rash of online groups clustering round the magic number of 45, this was a great cry of endorsement for the SNP, accompanied by a steely resolve to not just support the party that had taken Scotland so far towards achieving its independence, but underline Alex Salmond’s recognition in his resignation speech that the great democratic and re-energised Scottish body politic was now less in need of leaders, but still in need of politicians and a party that would carry their agenda forward – the sovereign Scottish YES people.

WHERE ARE WE AT?

I’d planned to offer my perceptions of that key question in this blog, but having already expended over 1200 words on reviewing reactions, I feel that I would test the stamina of my readers for the moment.

But I’ll be back tomorrow or early next weeks, because I have a lot more. to say.

I’ll close with my blog motto - Id dico quod ego morior - non habetis audire, which is in Latin to make it sound more profound than it really is, and to give an entirely spurious gloss of learning to my ragbag reality – “I say what I must – you don’t have to listen!”