It’s three weeks now since Scotland had its independence referendum. 45% of those who did vote (1.6 million voters) voted Yes to independence, and 55% (just over 2 million) voted No, although polls suggest that one in four of those voted No on the understanding that substantial additional powers would be devolved to Scotland (the leaders of all three UK unionist parties, in Scotland and at Westminster, as well as backbench MP Gordon Brown “guaranteed” this).
The Smith Commission has been set up to consult on what additional devolution for Scotland should look like, and if you are reading this prior to 31 October 2014, i strongly suggest you put your views forth now on what that devolution should consist of.
Massive demonstrations have taken place since the vote, in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, and it is clear that the Scottish independence movement has gone from being a minority cause, to a mainstream movement over the last year or so. For the pro-independence supporters, the result of the referendum may have been disappointing, but the result of the campaign has been a resounding success.
However, the mainstream media, particularly the BBC, as well as many UK unionist politicians have repeated the message over and again that those who support independence, particularly the Scottish National Party, must “accept” the result, and “move on”. Several politicians have gone so far as to say, some in the House of Commons even, that the SNP have not accepted the result of the referendum! Newspapers have been reporting almost across the board that Mr Salmond or Ms Sturgeon (the leader and deputy leader of the SNP, and the Scottish government) have “threatened” to hold another referendum, or to unilaterally declare Scottish independence, in defiance of the “settled will of the Scottish people”.
So i’d like to discuss for a minute just what “acceptance” means, what sort of “reconciliation” needs to happen, and just exactly how we should all “move on”.
I accept that the result of the referendum was 45% Yes, 55% No. I know there are many who believe there was electoral fraud. I personally believe there was considerable potential for electoral fraud. The two main areas of weakness being the ballots being transported to the counts by lone drivers, sealed with unnumbered seals that were not checked at either end, and the postal voting system, which it is well known is very easy to manipulate illegally in the UK without detection. The closeness of the result, and the high number of postal ballots means that No won the referendum by about 400,000 votes, while twice that amount of votes were actually cast by post.
I do not personally believe that the various video evidence of fraud happening at the count constitutes “proof” of anything, and it is even possible that these videos, which appeared within hours of the result being announced, were actually staged or misrepresented by unionists, in order to give Yes voters something to rant about, and ultimately make themselves look like conspiracy theorist nutters. I do however think that the UK Electoral Commission continuing to insist that the process was secure and was conducted properly, in the face of the concerns of many voters who were given ballot papers without official identifying marks, or members of the public who witnessed and reported suspicious behaviour, is not only suspicious, but simply unprofessional as well. If the Electoral Commission believed its processes were secure, then surely it would want to demonstrate beyond the reasonable doubt of the electorate that this was the case. So far, however, we have seen very little movement on this. According to the Edinburgh Agreement 2012 there can be no recount, and the result cannot be overturned once six weeks have elapsed following the referendum no matter what then comes to light. There seems to be a strong attitude of “electoral fraud could never happen here in our civilised country” however in most elections in other countries, no matter how civilised, it is usually assumed that unless electoral fraud is ridigly guarded against, then it will take place. Not only that but there are almost countless examples of vote fraud in the UK in recent times. It does not do to be complacent simply because it “seems unlikely”.
So i accept that 45% of Scotland voted for independence, i accept that 13.75% of Scotland voted “No”, believing they were voting for “a modern form of home rule” and i accept that the remaining 41.25% voted No to independence and No to additional devolved powers, for reasons of their own. I also accept that a certain majority of that last segment were over retirement age, according to polls, and i also accept that in the days immediately before the referendum, campaigners for No were cold-calling elderly voters to tell them, wrongly, that their pensions were under threat if Scotland were to become independent, and in some cases, to tell them that food would no longer be available in the shops in the event of Scottish independence. I also accept that polls have shown that 60% of those who voted No were motivated by fear of change, and that 80% of those who voted Yes were motivated by hope for the future.
As you can see, the things i accept are all true facts, and they all add up to a massive appetite for change within Scotland, a majority appetite in fact. They also add up to those who support independence being more optimistic, and probably more rational (or at least better informed) than many of those who voted No (in my opinion anyway). I believe the reason for this panicked insistence on acceptance by unionists is the fear that this continued support for change, and for Scottish independence, will result in another, successful, bid for Scotland to depart from the UK in the near future.
In short, the thing we are being told to accept is not the same as what we do accept. I think pro-independence supporters accept the facts, but i think we are being asked to accept defeat, and i don’t think that is something that politicians and media barons can rightly ask an entire population to accept. Certainly, i believe it is laughable for politicians like Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson to pressurise the SNP to accept defeat on behalf of the Scottish people. Do the leaders of the unionist parties, then, concede that the SNP speaks literally on behalf of the Scottish people? The idea is absurd, and is designed to mislead.
Many No voters resent the referendum even happening. Most if not all Yes voters celebrate the fact that the referendum has woken Scotland up and enfranchised and engaged the population at large in a way that has not been seen in our lifetimes, but many who voted No simply want us to shut up. “You lost!” they whine, believing that that should be enough to make us shuffle back to our silent places, having been taken down a peg for another “political generation” at least.
Surely even those who voted No should celebrate the awakening of popular democracy as well? Why wouldn’t they? Could it be that their motivation is fear, again? Fear is not rational. If they voted No because they fear change, then the ongoing political engagement of the Scottish public will also cause them to fear, because it introduces uncertainty into their situation. While the masses are disenfranchised and powerless, you can rely on your nice wee picket fence life to continue, more or less, but once the proles are all up in arms and starting to organise, it’s time to panic, if you’re not a fan of change, that is.
Another mantra we hear on the news frequently is that of reconciliation. “How will we reconcile with each other as a nation?”, the BBC earnestly asks on its Scotland 2014 programme. When sons have been set against fathers, and colleagues against colleagues, shouldn’t we all cuddle and make up, and let bygones be bygones? Well, i certainly don’t advocate maintaining an adversarial attitude towards those who voted No, but then i don’t believe that attitude ever existed. Those who voted Yes did so for a better future, and viewed No voters as simply people who were yet to be educated to the benefits of independence. Nothing has changed in that regard. The benefits are the same, and those people still need to be convinced. If anything it’s the No voters who need to reconcile in their minds the fact that Yes voters are not their enemies!
The politicians do not help. We continually hear in the Commons and Holyrood that “the nationalists” continue to use the “language of the referendum” and we need to accept the result and move on. The true fact is that those who voted Yes are for the most part already moving on. The politicians who do not support independence, however, would prefer not to acknowledge this. It suits their doctrine to portray these “narrow nationalists”, as they call us, as some maudlin backwards facing group, simply because they haven’t yet thought of a way to marginalise us other than to simply misrepresent us when the cameras are on them. Ironically, by doing this, as time passes, it simply becomes more and more obvious that it is the unionists that are having problems moving on. They know that massive change is what the majority in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, desire, and they are scared of having to deliver it, scared of potentially relinquishing power to those they do not agree with. Basically, the unionists are scared of the democratic process actually working as it is intended to, to put more power back in the hands of the people.
Change won’t come, though, if the people just sit back and watch. Luckily that isn’t what’s happening. Like never before, people in Scotland, and even now some people in England and Wales, i believe, are beginning to take notice, and get involved in the politics that affect them and their daily lives. The disparity between what the Conservatives, the Labour party, and even the Liberal Democrats stand for, and what the people actually want to vote for is widening fast.
So we shall see. Clearly as time goes on it will become evident to more and more people that it is possible to accept, to move on, and even to be reconciled with, the result of the referendum, and still firmly believe in the strong benefits of Scottish independence, for Scotland and for the remainder of the UK. It remains to be seen, however, how long it will take for the unionists to accept the tenuous circumstances surrounding their “victory” and move on from that.