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.