Monday, 29 September 2014

Scotland's referendum: what went right, what went wrong and how we will win it next time

What a long, long month September 2014 has been - and yet we still have a couple of days of it left! During this time I have been to two job interviews, been given one job, had to give it up to start the other and of course been as fully involved in the last two weeks of campaigning including one trip to a border tea party in Berwick as well as helping out at street stalls and then back to Newton Stewart for the big vote itself. Followed by great disappointment but then the renewed determination of the great defeated. It has been a dramatic, highly charged few weeks.

We came very close to winning a Yes vote in the independence referendum with 45%. Only another 200,000 of the swing voters who eventually went for a No vote could have been enough to win it for the Yes campaign albeit by a very slim majority. In the most deprived areas of Scotland we achieved our highest vote - Glasgow, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire. This could only have been testament to the great work put in by the Radical Independence Campaign which made sure people realised this was a huge opportunity for change. But I believe that threats made by big banks and businesses, threats they didn't need to make and threats given extensive coverage by the mainstream media lost it for us.

However dejected we feel about the result, the fact that the Yes campaign grew support for independence substantially is a huge achievement. We were always the underdogs, yet in Glasgow we polled in a majority of those who turned out to vote. I will always feel proud of Glasgow for that support despite the Daily Record being so against independence. The ball is now firmly in Westminster's court, they have to deliver or face a loss in support for the Union - and the politicians down there clearly realise that. As the 45% we can help make sure they are fully held to account for what they do and don't deliver in the way of enhanced devolution.

It is hard to say if we made any mistakes in our campaigning, we could only really do our best but we certainly proved we were capable of doing our best. I think next time we will definitely need a bolder vision of independence because on certain issues we were ridiculed for not going all out in a break from the UK. Most notably was the question of currency. The SNP's preferred option of keeping the Pound Sterling put us at the mercy of Westminster who could and did say no to a currency union. And the Unionist politicians were able to use to Pound as a pawn in the argument in such a way that it was as though Scotland needed the English balance of payments into the Pound rather than the other way round. If England, Wales and Northern Ireland didn't sign up to a currency Union they would lose a important contrituion to their own currency by Scotland not being part of it and then they would have to pay all of the UK debt because they are legally responsible for it. In other words it would be the rUK, rather than Scotland, that loses out as a consequence of no currency union taking place. The pound would weaken without oil and other exports being a part of the economy. A separate Scottish currency would certainly be a strong currency as Jim Sillars has pointed out. So my view is that next time, we go the whole way and argue that an independent Scotland should use its own currency. This would put Scotland in a far better negotiating position at a future independence negotiations with Westminster.

I also think we made a few other mistakes in our arguments mostly where we were seemingly trying to soften the blow of independence. One of them was the idea that 'we're not really leaving the United Kingdom, because we'll still be part of a united kingdom with the Queen as head of state.' I don't think this was a very wise argument. The United Kingdom is a clear concept that refers to a particular sovereign state as governed currently from Westminster rather than all the countries with the Queen as head of state. Otherwise we might as well regard Australia, Canada and New Zealand as 'part of the UK.' If people say they 'like the idea of being part of the UK' then we have to challenge why they like it and why they wish to be part of the UK when it is as it is a state that doesn't work for everyone. For many of them its simply personal, a sort of nationalism, so we can't really do anything about that. But if they say 'we like Scotland being British' you have to challenge them as to what they mean by 'being British'. Why do we need to share a common sovereign state to feel like our fellow citizens and family south of the border are still very much are fellow citizens and family? And why should British only be the adjective for the UK when it is also thought by many to simply be the adjective of a place called Britain regardless of whether that's the UK or Great Britain. It's just those two definitions become unpegged with Scottish independence. I should say however that being British 'because we're part of the British Isles' is not a very good argument either because the name British Isles is contentious in the Republic of Ireland where there is no basis either political (UK) or geographical (Great Britain) for being considered British. I for one believe 'the Anglo-Celtic Isles' would be a better name for these isles where it lacks a rather imperialist set of connotations and seems more appreciative of different cultures within the isles.

Similarly I think we should have been willing to accept Scotland as a secessionist country rather than a co-continuation of the UK. I can understand the co-continuation argument but I think it reasonable for people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to feel that their own countries would form the outright continuation the UK in the eyes of the international community. The principle of co-continuation would mean we automatically remained part of the EU instead of having to reapply. But soon that principle could be unnecessary as the UK leaves the EU and so in any circumstance Scotland would have to reapply. We should be able to wholeheartedly embrace the idea of a new sovereign state emerge with an institutional blank canvas to paint up our own new internationalist society. Let South Britain and Northern Ireland be the continuation of the UK, we have our own agenda up here. UK is not OK.

It has been the most fantastic and unexpected response from 45% who didn't win that the SNP has suddenly enjoyed a sharp rise in membership numbers with people turning to Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon's party from often socialist backgrounds. This gives the SNP fresh blood that could help move the party in a direction towards a more radical vision of independence. I certainly hope that very soon we could see a revote on NATO which would overturn the prospect of joining such a controversial organisation. A reenergised SNP should also see a discussion had between radicals and moderates in the party about the what approach to taxation is the best to ensure Scotland is both a successful economy and a progressive society. Add to that the promise of a referendum on the monarchy and the thought of entering the European Union as our own state independent of a country that will probably be leaving it in 2017 and you have a very attractive vision of a new radical independent Scotland.

No comments:

Post a Comment