Murdo Ritchie analyses the result of the independence referendum and
what it means for Scotland the rest of the UK state.
“There are decades in which nothing happens and there are weeks in which decades happen.” Lenin
When 1,517,989 voters (44.7%) declared they were prepared to abandon their primary, legal national identity to build a better Scotland, it was clear that Scottish national independence was coming. The defeated felt triumphant; the victorious worried.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement on the morning of the ballot declaration was filled with wishful thinking, “the debate has settled for a generation or as Alex Salmond has said, perhaps for a lifetime. So there can be no disputes, no reruns –we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.” The media may have declared the result decisive but the numbers and mood told otherwise.
Though the quantity of the votes may have been counted the quality of the two contesting groups needs to be measured.
From the moment of the Independence Referendum’s launch it was dismissed as irrelevant or a meaningless distraction. The Westminster elite and their Holyrood branch office considered the proposal of no consequence so the easily forgotten failed Scottish minister Wendy Alexander screamed “Bring it on!”
For most of the two years of the campaign, the polls only marginally altered. The No Campaign Better Together was mainly a media campaign that ran adverts, appeared on billboards and sent out mail drops. Unlike the Yes campaigners who were active for the two years and could be seen on the streets, held meetings and delivered their own
Bring it on!
Tory money funding a campaign of the three main Westminster parties was a very unappealing sight. Eventually as the polls began to move, the challenge became clearer, so the Labour Party began to organise its own “I’m voting No” campaign. Better Together was only a figleaf for the real challenge. Yes campaigns were in direct challenge to the Labour Party. Using the authority of the Labour Party to confront the Yes Campaign has catastrophically backfired as they are now seen as opposing all worthwhile change in collusion with the Coalition parties.
The inconsistencies of the Yes campaign on currency, continuation of the monarchy, NATO membership and much else evaporated. Large numbers across Scotland did not just answer the question on the ballot paper “Should Scotland be an independent country?” But have begun to ask the more important one, “What kind of country do I want?” The result showed a lot more people want fundamental change. It may have been undefined but it was real nonetheless. This process won’t stop after the polls have closed.
A national independence that challenges elite power
This is why the vote should not be understood as for or against national independence. Limited constitutional change, even token national independence may not be enough. Only a national independence that expresses anger at ongoing economic injustices, Westminster privileges, uncontrollable militarisation, and much else was exposed. Labour campaign boss Douglas Alexander laughingly misunderstood the massive mood for change alleging “there was a shift below the level of logic.” Large numbers could not understand how the Labour Party could claim the benefits for a successful economy and society that was failing them. During the second debate, Alistair Darling’s failure to propose any meaningful job creations projects or condemn the savage welfare reforms convinced many that the troika had no desire for any meaningful change.
The main losers from the Referendum campaign were the three main UK parties whose indifference stirred only when their own self-interest was threatened. They were increasingly seen as having too much that united them. Apart from failing to express the aspirations of around half the population, the corporate media failed to notice what was happening on the ground revealing an unwillingness to report it. And the broadcast media that displayed its unconscious bias so often alienated large numbers. Is it surprising that alternatives from the public meeting to the social media flashmob became a substitute?
The reactionary mobilisation that took place in the campaign’s final weeks was a lesson in how real power works. This was what happens when a third of the landmass, almost all of the oil and gas revenues, the only viable deep sea bases for nuclear submarines might disappear. Business leaders threatened to disinvest, push up prices or create economic instability joining with military securocrats offering nightmares of the violent future, as well as of rejected politicians lumbering from their long sulk to propose nickel-and-dime reforms. Workers received letters from their bosses stating that their jobs would go if they voted Yes and pensioners were terrified they would lose their incomes. It will be more vicious next time. Some may have proudly voted to stay in the Union, but large numbers were terrified into voting the same way as the comfortable and the contented. This is why the voting results took on the features of a class struggle.
The United Kingdom state is now un-reformable. Existing devolution let alone further proposals have already challenged the so-called constitutional structures of Crown-in-Parliament aka parliamentary sovereignty. This has stopped all pressures for a popularly based sovereignty for hundreds of years. The promise that Westminster will recognise Holyrood as “permanent” is impossible because no parliament can ever bind a subsequent one. All power must lie with the Crown-in-Parliament or a massive constitutional crisis will occur. This is the real meaning of the West Lothian question. All further devolutionary measures can only be at the discretion of Westminster, yet the demands for them to become popular rights based in a form of popular sovereignty has now become unstoppable.
An unreformable state
The Crown is not a harmless anachronism as the Queen’s interventions show, but a dangerous force for reactionary pressures as well as constant centralisation of political powers in a narrow Westminster elite. Popular sovereignty implies a republican form of government. Republican consciousness and pressures are only growing. Yet there is no mainstream political pressure to transfer from the Crown-in-Parliament to popular sovereignty in a written constitution.
David Cameron hopes to stimulate English resentments about any future changes, “millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws … requires a decisive answer.” The English also lose under the parliamentary sovereignty regime that exists. At present, Cameron fixates on removing Scottish MPs’ abilities to vote on clearly English matters, creating two tiers of MPs. He cannot explain what would happen in Cabinet if Scottish members should be able to speak on English matters, without creating a massive erosion of Cabinet collective responsibility. None of the planned “constitutional” arrangements can work. Like a partially inflated balloon, pressure on one spot increases distortions elsewhere.
A sense of betrayal
He pretends that there can be devolution of some powers to the cities; the same ones that have been removed for over a century. This cannot stop tensions between wealthy and poorer cities from arising. But Westminster fears regional assemblies. These would challenge its monopoly of sovereignty with a powerful electoral mandate outside. Indeed if Scotland decided to become independent, England would probably disintegrate.
The Daily Record’s Vow has already collapsed as the different parties in the troika cannot agree over how to bring into existence its unworkable policies. According to Gordon Brown, “the Tories have still to support half of the powers that Labour proposes.” Even if agreement can be reached, the constitutional anomalies will only cause further problems. A sense of betrayal is already building up as more and more voters realise they have been deceived. This is why another Independence Referendum is inevitable. A new settled will is being created. If the result of Westminster’s elections create instability then it may be possible to launch a demand for one.
However, the main battles over the next period will not be for mobilisation. It will be for the battle of ideas. Thomas Paine pointed out that it was absurd to talk or write about the British Constitution because the UK didn’t have one. It is that absence as well as the legitimacy of the methods used to fill that absence that will be discussed. Most importantly, though, it will be the policies that should be in a future constitution that will be of concern. This will include a better understanding of the importance of a republican perspective to all political issues.
The Constitutional Convention
A Constitutional Convention to draft the future written constitution should still be called. It will require months of in-depth community discussions. It can create the structure of the future Scotland that came out of the many discussions that took place during the Independence Referendum. Undoubtedly, not all proposals should be included in a constitution, but numerous creative ideas arose. It has become clear that a written constitution should make it impossible for national assets to be sold at the whim of government; that financial assets should be kept in public hands to avoid future calamities; along with energy resources so they can be made more environmentally friendly and avoid fuel poverty. A clearer definition of individual rights and responsibilities on employment, housing, gender equality and civil rights needs to be defined.
At present, Scottish history makes organisational unification unlikely. However, obtaining a consensus around an agreed constitutional form may provide the perspectives to bring about necessary unity for progress to occur. This approach can bring many into this process. There is no reason why the Scottish Government cannot still pursue this goal. Indeed it could easily be seen as a logical continuation of the referendum process. Already a number of independent bodies have been brought into existence by this process Women for Independence, Radical Independence Campaign etc. who would participate in this process.
A “national” movement of sorts has come into existence. There are already people jumping in front offering to lead it. However, they are unlikely to “lead” if it is the policies that do the leading. Allan Armstrong has written elsewhere that “It has been suggested that a new Left Party could be created in Scotland that rapidly becomes a ‘player’ making deals with other ‘Independistas’. Such a Left Party could also look for allies amongst all those newly recruited SNP members, who will now form the majority in that Party and surely dictate its policies. However, these new members will come up against a leadership that has created the ‘New SNP’, controlled from the top by the ‘suits’, and moulded to meet the interests of business. The SNP leadership has not wasted all those years creating the ‘New SNP’ to represent the interest of a wannabe Scottish ruling class, so that this can be easily set aside.”
For the present, the SNP will lead the organisational movements for national independence. After all, it is more than its organisation; it has the control of government. This may be unpalatable to many, but the left can only find openings to challenge capitalism’s priorities and goals through other movements for the time being. However, it must build more clearly its ideas of self-determination and bring them into a popular base. At all times, it will be essential to promote a class independent perspective, especially in elections. Unlike the nationalists or independistas, our goal must be self-determination for the working class and its allies through national self-determination.
The final weeks of the referendum campaign showed how quickly events can move after lying dormant for a long time. It was a time when decades of hope and anger were expressed in a few weeks. It will occur again soon. But this time it is necessary to have the right ideas creating and leading the organisations that will make the new future Scotland.