Scottish independence denied by “Project Fear”

The proposal for an independent Scotland has been defeated in the referendum and the ruling elites have expressed a huge collective sigh of relief. It was a defeat based on fear and intimidation organised by the No campaign in collusion with Downing Street which delivered a “no” vote by a margin of 44.7% to 55.3% writes Alan Thornett.

The whole of the Westminster establishment and the three ‘main’ political parties were lined up against a Yes vote. To these we can add virtually the whole of the media, the banks, the supermarkets and the City of London. The military establishment entered the debate around in defence of Trident. They have managed to prevail by exploiting fear, intimidation and appeals to every kind of reaction and conservatism over the most remarkable grassroots campaign ever seen in these islands. Internationally they enlisted support from Barrack Obama to the President of the EU.

Labour politicians, led by a re-emerged Gordon Brown, were even more forceful than Tories in pushing this intimidation towards the voters.

Until a week or so ago, when support rose dramatically for the Yes campaign, and blind panic set in, the Westminster elites had expected a walkover. They didn’t even bother with contingencies. When Hammond was asked why there was no contingency to move Trident he said it was because the Government considered the possibility of a Yes vote as a ‘very low probability’. It was a statement that not only reflected the divide between Westminster and Scotland but the contempt with which the Tory leadership regarded that divide.

The Yes campaign should be congratulated and celebrated, despite the result. It generated a huge national debate that rose to ever-higher political levels as the referendum date approached. This is expressed in the remarkable statistics with registration at 97% and the turnout at 84.6%. This is a clear sign that when real change is on offer people will engage with it and grasp the opportunity to shape their own destiny.

the Yes campaign was not based on crude nationalism or anti-English sentiment, but on the idea of a different kind of Scotland with new level of political democracy and involvement. It was based on the idea that people living in Scotland should rule Scotland and that the long period of English dependency should come to an end. It was based on the idea that they should not have Tory governments imposed on them that they did not vote for, and which had virtually no support in Scotland.

It reflected resentment in Scotland that a range of Tory policies from student fees, benefit cuts, especially for the sick and disabled, the bedroom tax, tax cuts for the rich, and foreign wars were imposed on them by people with no support in Scotland.

The strength of the Yes campaign is also expressed in the enthusiasm with which 16 and 17 year olds took to the campaign and the debate having been given the right to vote for the first time in the referendum. It was expressed in the remarkable energy that gripped the Yes camp in the final weeks of the campaign.

On the morning of the result Labour politicians, even more than Tories, were talking about this vote settling the issue of independence for a very long time and even for good. The critical mass of support for independence, however, has increased dramatically in the course of this campaign and that is unlikely to change. People in Scotland have spent months debating and defending the idea of independence and are more committed to it than they have ever been.

It is not surprising that it is Labour politicians are so vehement this morning. Labour has been heavily damaged by running a shoulder-to-shoulder campaign with the Tories.

The biggest Yes votes were in the strongest Labour industrial (or de-industrialised) heartlands of Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, West Dumbarton and Dundee.

The Scottish Labour Party has suffered a serious fragmentation and is likely to be in trouble particularly when it comes to the next Holyrood election in 2016 when the SNP will be seeking another majority and to replace Labour as the main left of centre social democratic party in Scotland. Those tens of thousands of Labour voters who supported the Yes campaign and were attacked by Labour for doing so may well then stick with the SNP. Particularly since a big vote for the SNP in that election would be the best way to reignite the issue of independence.

Nor should it be assumed that the Westminster elite will now deliver the extra powers to Holyrood just because they have signed a pledge on fake parchment that they will do so. This is already being cast into doubt by Tory back benchers who intend to oppose it and coalition ministers who don’t want it.

Cameron knows that to do so will strengthen the call for independence in Wales. Leanne Wood, as the leader of Plaid Cymru, has played a good role in supporting the Yes campaign in Scotland, is already making it clear that she is not prepared to see Wales left behind as Scotland discusses more powers.

It also raises the issue of the huge democratic deficit in Britain as a whole as one of the most centralised countries in Europe. It raises issues from the alienation of the Northern Cities and the Northern regions from Westminster and the South East and it raises once again the issue of First-Past-the-Post electoral system which means that most votes don’t count when it comes to an election.

It is clear from the first statements Cameron has made on this that he is more interested in looking over his shoulder to UKIP, to English nationalism, and his right-wing back benchers that fulfilling a pledge with Scotland. He is far more interested in simply stopping Scottish MPs voting on English issues, which would be popular with Nigel Farage, than looking to any kind of new constitutional settlement for England.

This poses a problem for Labour because the pledge was made first and foremost, not by Cameron, but by Gordon Brown. Cameron’s main aim now is to turn clock back on this whole development, but it won’t be easy. The Yes campaign comprehensively won the political debate. Many of the 1.6 million who voted for independence may well remain politically engages and will not take kindly to backsliding on promises or new attacks from Westminster.

The radicalisation of the Yes campaign could well translate into a new radicalism in Scottish politics. This could also have its reflection throughout Britain. Demands for more devolution and democratic reform are inevitable. Westminster has not represented Northern English cities and Northern Regions any more than it has represented Scotland.

Despite the defeat things can never go back to where they were. Business as usual is not an option.



  1. The headline does not do justice to your efforts to show the importance of the vow or promise on devo max which was probably as important as project fear in winning over those wavering Labour voters in the final days since there was some evidence that the fear tactic was backfiring. One aspect I would like to add here is the absolute failure of most if not of the Labour left or what is left of it to take a principled position and support the progressive Yes campaign. In scotland there was of course Labour for independence who I hope will join with the RIC to recompose a fighting pro-indy left that can challenge both the SNP and Labour. Some of these MPs have often stood on the same platforms as the radical left and participating in campaigns against the Labour leadership on austerity and other issues. Here they have reproduced the historic weakness of Labourism = defence of the flag and a cast iron belief that reform has to be channelled through the westminster system.The other big lesson of us is that Yes we can, we can decisively break Labour hegemony on the streets and in the ballot box so the importance of projects like Left Unity are strengthened rather than weakened today. Pity that we did not get a clear majority for a Yes in the previous conference.

  2. One would imagine from all this that the “Yes” campaign as a whole , SNP included, in Scotland was promoting a vote on the question “Do you want Scotland to be an independent revolutionary socialist state ?” Indeed, an uninformed reader of this article and so many others produced by radical Left supporters of the current Scottish “independence” campaign and referendum “yes” position could also be forgiven for thinking that avowed socialist internationalists were the overwhelming leading force in the “Yes” campaign – and that as soon as a “yes” majority was declared an elected Scottish socialist government backed by a mass socialist party would have been in a position to start transforming Scotland into the first democratic socialist state in the world (if one excludes the temporary revolutionery “war communism democracy” of the first few heady years of the permanently unstable Soviet state of 1917)!

    Of course nothing could be further from the reality. The socialist Left wasn’t even ON the nationalist bandwagon being driven forward on a sea of entirely economically naïve bogus promises and shallow Leftish nationalist rhetoric , by the nevertheless dyed in the wool pro capitalist SNP. The pr0- independence radical socialist Left , particularly the RIC campaigners were and are in fact just a marginal support grouping – running behind the nationalist bandwagon , cheering it on – giving it some “Left wing cred” to counterpose to the firml;y “No” position of the still overwhelmingly working class-supported (but of course fast-dying, firmly pro-capitalist) Labour Party — vicariously soaking up all that fervour . The left socialist nationalists were and even with the “No” majority vote outcome, still are simply imagining that a radical socialist Scotland will somehow “emerge organically” out of all the “save the NHS” , “a fairer Scotland” rhetoric which has been showered around by the SNP as a key component of its bogusly radical “offer” (whilst in backrooms Alex Salmond privately reassures Big Business that it will not only be “business as usual” in an “independent Scotland – but even better , low taxation, low red tape, no workers rights, business for the boss class than before).

    The constant attempts by the author of this article, and numerous similar ones by socialists apparently seduced by the Scottish independence bandwagon – to uneasily combine a claimed socialist working class internationalism, with the reality of their collaboration in the actual SNP demand – for the formation of a new, tiny, Scottish capitalist state – dividing the British working classes on a petty nationalist basis – and deluding Scottish workers that they have a “community of interest” with their Scottish-based bosses – is an impossible trick to pull I’m afraid. All that this constant repetition of the nationalist rhetoric of Scottish national victimhood actually does is undermine the socialist argument for an internationalist working class movement for socialism which rejects the now historically redundant , and historically very short lived, structure of the bourgeois capitalist nation state.

    Alan , as an undoubted Marxist, fortunately doesn’t make the ghastly mistake that other “left” supporters of the Yes campaign like Tommy Sheridan have repeatedly made over many years in ascribing to the entirely historically bogus idea that Scotland is, or ever was, an “Oppressed Nation” under the British Empire – identical to, say, India or Kenya – a position which is only a tiny ideological step away from all that “we are an oppressed “proletarian nation” bollocks that the fascists in Italy in the 1920’s used to mask and justify their own colonial ambitions. But the entire “Yes campaign” is steeped in the entirtely spurious sense of “Scottish victimhood” vis a vis “England” , or “The Westminster Elite”, that is both historical nonsense, and ideologically distracts and poisons Scottish workers from recognizing their complete unity of interest with the rest of the British working class – and that capitalism , not “English capitalism” is the enemy.

    Radical Socialists need today to be spending their time building the social forces for a new mass radical Socialist Party and a new Socialist International, not only across Britain, but Europe too , as a starter, not sowing illusions in the viability and socialist potential of ever smaller capitalist nation states. It is undoubtedly true that the disintegration of the ideological glue that bound the British Empire, and “Britain” together, is in train with the ever increasing domination of any distinct “British capitalism” by the overarching power of US capitalist hegemony (and the ever-increasing conversion of the British capitalist and political class into a “Comprador Bourgeoisie “ of US imperialism). And that the pressures on British society of long term economic decline and the current privations of the Austerity Offensive, is behind the emergence of the petty nationalisms of Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, England. Just as petty nationalisms – often with a similar “leftish policy coloration” are emerging across the rest of Europe , from the Northern League in Italy (now more clearly seen as a neo-fascist movement), to the Catalan independence movement in Spain – and sundry others. This is always a feature of a capitalist global crisis – in which “capitalism cannot continue to rule in the old way – but the new future is not yet born”. Petty, divisive nationalism – even with its often “leftish” face – is a serious distraction from the building of socialist political movements firmly based on socialist internationalism, for us across Britain – but also across the rest of Europe too.

    There is no petty nationalist shortcut to the building of a mass socialist movement, or socialist class consciousness across the working class. Hoping to “piggyback” a ride on a non-socialist , petty bourgeois-led mass movement of petty nationalism – which is what the Scottish “independence” campaign is – represents yet again the tendancy of too many on the left to indulge in gross political “substitutionism” – hoping some other class will carry out the “historic task of the working class” in the absence of class conscious action by the working class itself. We’ve been there all too often before – with Stalinism, and sundry petty bourgeous “progressive” nationalist regimes in the ex-colonial world – from Nasser to Gaddafi to the ANC.

  3. I think that Alan’s very last point sums-it-up: “Business as usual is not an option”. Yet in some cases doubt remains — a leading local activist against privatisation in the NHS — recently told me that she hoped there would be a ‘No’ vote because she feared that there would never be another Labour government. Somehow or other Left Unity has to get its head round this.

  4. The figures seem to show that a big majority of the working class voted yes. The impact of new labour by failed prime minister Brown was to use British nationalism to lower working class turn out

  5. This idea that without scottish mps Labour cannot win in England is a red herring = several times during the campaign allthe figures have been rolled otu to show that this has not been the case historically except in two very short periods.

  6. Great article by Alan.

    I’ve been astonished and inspired by the radicalising dynamic of the independence campaign. Just the gigantic cheer-up we all needed.

    Thanks to the campaign for giving hope to all those oppressed people internationally who want and need to see the United Kingdom monolith broken up,

    Dave Bangs

  7. Soon after it was clear that the ‘No’ campaign had won Carwyn Jones, First Minister in Wales, announced that the union was dead. This is quite a remarkable claim given that Jones, as a Labour Party member, had been an enthusiastic supporter of the ‘No’ campaign, travelling to Scotland to participate in the ‘No ‘campaign (as well as enthusiastically endorsing the recent Nato conference in Newport). There appears to be a real possibility of a campaign in Wales for greater powers, bringing together Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, sections of the far left and, if Carwyn Jones is serious, the Labour Party. Any campaign would have to take on board the open, dynamic nature of the campaign for Scottish independence if it is to have resonance with working people in Wales. The starting point should be that it is up to the people of Wales to decide what powers they want and not to meekly accept whatever the Westminster parties decide can be ‘devolved’.

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