Scottish Independence Referendum: How the vote was lost & the way forward

The Scottish independence referendum last Thursday was lost by a significant but not overwhelmingly majority with just fewer than 45% voting for independence and just over 55% voting against writes Ralph Blake. A huge turnout of just below 85% of the registered voters which itself was a whopping 97% of those eligible to vote.

Post the vote there have been significant analysis of voting patterns carried out. They have revealed the reasons why the Yes campaign was not in the end successful. The young and most deprived areas of Scotland overwhelmingly voted yes. The turnout was significantly lower in Scotland’s two poorest cities: Glasgow at 75% and Dundee at just under 79%. Finally, the issues that voters ranked as most important in deciding their voting intentions were the National Health Services (NHS) ranked first and the pound ranked second.

The vote was lost amongst two groups of voters. The first were middle and lower incomes individuals and families who have been struggling since 2007 with the worst economic recession bar the 1930s, modern capitalism’s worst financial crisis, austerity and a decline in real income.  The second group was the poor who have seen no improvement in their living standards or hope for the future in the seven years since the Scottish National Party (SNP) have been the ruling party in Scottish devolved parliament.

Amongst the first it was the question of the pound and the resulting implications for the economy and the financial system that stopped many from voting Yes. While a majority in this group supported the general benefits of independence their financial situation was too precarious to gamble with the SNP’s policy of currency union and all that it implied. We have fully analysed this policy last February and described it as a potential currency trap which it ultimately proved to be. The policy was unacceptable, undeliverable and s unworkable.  The alternatives to it were put too late in the day by (the last major television debate on independence) by the SNP and only in the most general way without any concrete plans of how they might work.

There was little the broad Yes movement could do to counter the SNP on this as the SNP vision dominated the media and voters perceptions of what independence would be like.  However, rather than identify that this was the key part of winning the campaign it became the elephant in the room and was swept under the carpet. Telling examples of this were there no economists with alternative views sitting on the various panels of public meetings in the last few months of the campaign that sought to address voters’ concerns and questions on independence.  A good example of this was Lesley Ridoch, a leading spokeperson of the left wing of the campaign, who was excellent on a whole raft of issues, told the story on the morning of the election results on television that a friend had asked her to speak to someone on the question of pensions and independence and Lesley said: “what do I know about pensions”.

The second challenge was really getting the poorer sections out to vote for independence.  Again the SNP’s promises were very generalised. There were no promises to tax the wealthy, rich and better off or take Scotland’s natural resources under public ownership for the benefit of the whole of Scotland – in fact they planned to cut corporation tax. No dynamic plans to create hundreds of thousands of jobs through public financed projects such renewable energy, social housing programmes of an integrated public transport system.

The SNP’s record over the last seven years on the spending had been abysmal.  While they had inflation protected the NHS they have implemented on Westminster’s behalf 20% of cuts (£5 billion) in real terms across the rest of Scottish public sector that the Scottish parliament is responsible for. On top of theta they have frozen local council tax for a number of years which benefited middle and high earners the most which accounted for £500 million of these cuts. With essentially the same pot of money available to Scotland post-independence how can you improve public services and the prospects for young and poor without increasing taxation on the better off, rich and wealthy and corporations?

The positives of the Yes campaign have been the engagement of tens of thousands of people particularly the young and the development of a Rainbow Alliance from the Greens, socialist groups, environmentalists, women’s groups, minority groups, nationalists, independents and even anarchists. Pulling this all together was the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) who have held two successful national conferences (1200 attend ended the last one in Glasgow in November 2013) and established branches the length and breath of Scotland.

What does the future hold for Scottish and UK politics?  The three Westminster parties’ new devolved powers for Scotland are no more than what has already been previously agreed. In fact there is no agreement of what will actually be delivered with Conservatives wanting to increase tax raising powers for Scotland while Labour merely want to extend these powers. The powers may well be used for putting through a back door cut to the Scottish public spending grant – with the cuts in the grant not being offset by the money raised in lifting tax rates in Scotland back to where they are now.

A general UK election is looming in 2015 with all three parties at Westminster having to implement more austerity with the public spending deficit running at still over £110 billion a year. In Scotland there have already been mass defections from the Labour party with over 5,000 new members of the SNP in the last few days and pictures of people burning their Labour Party cards. RIC is holding a recall conference this November with nearly another 5,000 already registered!

The left must now decide on a strategy for the 2015 UK general election and 2016 Scottish election. One possibility is tactically supporting the Greens and the SNP in the 2015 elections and building  a Rainbow Alliance for 2016 Scottish election.

The independence debate in Scotland has not finished it has just moved to a higher exciting new level.

Ralph Blake is the pen name of an analyst in the Scottish Financial sector.

  1. Good post Ralph. Arguably the pro-independence left was too soft on the SNP during the campaign but the prospect of a Scottish Rainbow alliance where the only common denominator is ‘independence’ is really much worse. We need, as you suggest, to understand why many of our people voted no and not just console ourselves with talk of betrayal and ‘trickery’. From this point of view, the RIC Conference in November could be an great opportunity to seriously take stock and begin to map out an alternative strategy. The idea, however, that we should now endorse tactical voting or indeed some kind of electoral bloc with the bourgeois nationalist SNP is, to my mind, to draw precisely the wrong lessons from the referendum campaign and its result.

  2. Ralph, the SNP’s “Vision” wasn’t the only thing that totally dominated the “Yes” Campaign. The SNP organisationally and in electoral support, and in being the governing party on Scotland today, and for the unforeseeable future, totally dominates the “yes” for independence movement as a whole – for ever . The diverse groups of the Left grouped in RIC are completely marginal to Scottish political life – and the belief that the RIC groups were a major part of a dynamic movement was radical social change via independence was a self delusion produced by tailing and sucking in the heady nationalist fervour of the petty nationalist SNP bandwagon.

    Ironically your article clearly explains quite correctly just what awful, pro-capitalist, pro-Austerity, politics the SNP holds to, and always will hold to. Indeed, if, as you correcty say, the “Yes ” vote had actually won on Thursday – the SNP would have set about turning Scotland into yet another tax haven and low corporation tax base for multinational capital – not the proto socialist utopia the RIC campaign has been selling to anyone in Scotland who would listen – essentially acting as a camouflaging Left wing of petty Scottish nationalism. Yet , even though you accurately explain just how crap the SNP is politically – you laud its enhanced membership numbers – and propose that the Left should advocate supporting the SNP in the forthcoming elections ! The logic of your position is actually that the Scottish radical Left should immediately JOIN the SNP to act as its Left wing ginger group !

    Far too many on the radical Left have once again got lost politically in the seductive swamp of “substitutionism” -ie, looking to a distinctly non working class movement led by petty bourgeois political hucksters, the SNP , to carry out an anti capitalist struggle on behalf of the working class, that it has no intention whatsoever of doing.

    The Left “Yes” groups who have fallen , yet again, into the trap of Left nationalism – need to wake up and smell the coffee. Tailing the reactionary petty nationalism of the SNP can lead only into class collaboration – both for the Left wingers who pursue this path – and for workers seduced by the bogus ideology of a ” cross class Scottish National Interest”. The job of the radical Left today is to build working class unity in struggle across Britain – and Europe, not to get sidetracked into promoting a divisive petty nationalism which actually leads only to reaction not working class self activity.

    • Jings!
      John writes, “The job of the radical Left today is to build working class unity in struggle across Britain”.
      Clearly critical of any of us falling into a Scottish left-nationalist trap, the writer is oblivious to his own left British-nationalism. And there in a nutshell is the Left British Nationalist No vote. A progressive movement is Scotland is to be undermined because it dares to address and challenge the nature of the current British state.
      Until sections of the left understand their own unconsious British nationalism we are on a hiding to nothing from ever getting a grip on what internationalism realy means.
      Why stop at “across Britain”? Have we no broader horizons than those defined by the current British state?

      BTW – thanks Ralph. There is a need for standing back and getting a clearer picture of what happened and where we are.

  3. John, the RIC is clearly not marginal to Scottish political life. It’s the way left groups and individuals have found to be precisely the opposite. I’m aware some on the left, whether revolutionary or social democratic are discussing the prospect of a broad party….. That’s why I tend to favour Iain’s approach although I think Ralph’s analysis was spot on in other ways.

  4. Andrew. Reality check time – seriously comrade ! RIC’s completely shameless “tailing” of the inherently reactionary SNP nationalist bandwagon – based as it is on an entirely mythical “Scotland as imperialist victim” rather than the stark historical reality of Scotland as completely willing equal partner in , and huge beneficiary of, British Imperialism’s rampage across the globe – and giving a Left-flavoured credibility to a profoundly flawed unworkable model for a prosperous “independent capitalist Scotland” under today’s conditions of globalised capitalism and global capitalist crisis, is no real indicator of meaningful , progressive, impact on the Scottish political scene. Though undoubtedly those groups in RIC who chased along behind the SNP led and dominated petty nationalist bandwagon were no doubt thrilled to feel so much part of a receptive “real mass movement” for once. Unfortunately the “independence” mass movement – dominated by the SNP was and is a bandwagon to nowhere for the Scottish working class.

    All that RIC has actually done , and then only at the margins, is give Left cover to the SNP’s profoundly pro capitalist petty nationalism – allowing the SNP to make marginally greater inroads into the Scottish working class than The SNP was perfectly capable of making on its own account with its fake Left-leaning “we’ll protect the NHS” promises, and its entire raft of totally unachievable future “benefits” for Scots workers , under conditions of being a tiny economy in a globalised crisis-ridden world economy, and of course its endless stirring up of petty nationalist sentiment in place of class consciousness.

    Their is no chance whatsoever that such a bandwagon chasing opportunist petty nationalist foundation as RIC will serve as a solid long term basis for a genuinely working class oriented radical socialist mass party in Scotland. Start a party on such a dodgy, politically flawed, basis and such a movement will always be poisoned by the canker of petty nationalism – not least because many of those who describe themselves in RIC as “radical, or even “revolutionary” socialists are actually just radical Left nationalists. A completely different political animal. They should be in the SNP ,not creating confusion on the socialist Left.

    • Scots are perfectly well aware of their involvement in British imperialism. You sound bitter that they no longer wish to celebrate it and remain partners in guilt of England. But I guess you won’t be happy until…

  5. Worth reading Lenin on the 1916 Dublin uprising which he supported, against those who denounced it as “Petty bourgeois” nationalist in character. I paraphrase Lenin from memory, when he rejected the view that reduced the class struggle to a battle with stove pipe hatted plutocrats in pinstripe suits on one side and boiler suit clad proletarians on the other. He saw an international system straining at its weaker links, manifesting the stress in multi-faceted ways. Dare I say the opposite of econmistic thinking.

    • Thanks for the link Iain. I also found cat boyds article calling for a Scottish podemos encouraging. It may be true that none of the existing orgs in Scotland can fulfil that task. But the article could have mentioned and constructively engaged with the ssp, which is growing at an unprecedented rate currently. Edward, nice post.

  6. The Labour party leadership played the decisive role in the NOs campaigns political victory.

    The Labour leadership sowed the seeds of doubt among Labour voters, all to defend the rump of the British empire.

    The positive to come from this is working class people are breaking the bad habit of always voting Labour.

  7. We could learn some lessons about socialist nationalism from the struggles of the Polish Socialist party under Pilsudski and the criticisms of Rosa Luxemburg who conterposed international solidarity across the workers of different countries under Tsarist Russia,Prussia and the Hapsburgs. That independent Poland based on a form of national socialism a model advocated in the present Scottish Socialist party lead to a regime which was anti-Semitic fought stopped the advance of the red army in 1920 and sought an accommodation with Hitler before being invaded by him.

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