You Are The #IndyRef

by David Renton

The temptation, in the short period immediately following the referendum, will be to be focus on the final breadth of the No victory and to assume that the result was always a forgone conclusion. The Yes vote began the poll with the support of 35% of Scots, during the campaign it had to increase this figure by 15%. Reaching 45%, it achieved two-thirds of the swing it needed for victory.

Among the wealthy and those who identify most strongly with them, there is clearly a feeling of resentment that their representatives were obliged to make concessions to the independence campaign, in order to placate those key groups of voters – workers, women, the young – who in the penultimate week of the campaign appeared to be swinging decisively from No to Yes. It will be said in public by Tory MPs, and privately, by the classes of people they represent, that the concessions were unnecessary, and any promises can now be withdrawn. We should expect threats of Tory rebellions against any legislation for devolution. There will be plans to draw those rebels off, by (for example) mixing up devolution with steps to reduce the powers of Scottish MPs in Westminster. Trident will remain as will the detention centre at Dungavel. It is most likely that the issue of independence will not sink away but will be revived, starting with the general election next year.

One of the most exciting features of the independence movement was its outriders’ success in formulating left programmes for growth, local democracy, tax, planning, poverty, pensions , putting impossible demands so reasonably that they seemed achievable. The left began to do the ‘vision thing’ in a way that it had not managed for years.

Why did Yes lose? Yes had a narrow majority among men; No had a bigger majority among women. For about 30 years in Britain, the right in all its forms has been better at aiming propaganda at women than the left. The left has had no counterpart of the success of the Daily Mail in working a message of women’s subordination into a total analysis of every aspect of politics and daily life, and of selling this message – targeted and superficially attractive, but disempowering – to millions of readers.

This is a time when, all across the world, women’s campaigns are returning to the centre of political discourse. But, against this, it is striking that almost none of the promises of independence were addressed specifically and principally at women. I saw nothing positive from Yes aimed at women which matched in its exuberance, the sheer jaw-dropping awfulness of the No campaign’s #patronisingBTwoman.

A vote which does best along the Clyde and in Dundee is a deflected class vote; but the class on which Yes relied has itself been atomised by deep processes of economic and cultural division. There are obvious reasons why turnout in Glasgow was 10% lower than it was in more affluent Edinburgh. There are no longer the workplaces, with single employers, tens of thousands of employees and a tiny intermediate caste of managers, in which workers can see for themselves immediately the identity of their interests. Neither has there been a movement since the poll tax which brought together working class people in sufficient numbers on the basis of a shared resistance to poverty. The bedroom tax has not been the ‘son of poll tax’ that many hoped.

‘No’ had sufficient bridgeheads: it had majority support among the elderly, among first-time voters, and among the wide layers of society that fit somewhere between possession and dispossession: the business owner whose capital is in fact owned entirely by banks, the call centre supervisor involved in monitoring other workers, the lecturer with a modest salary but jealous and protective of their relative cultural capital.

Under neoliberalism, civic society has been weakened, and this process is faster and deeper among trade unions, co-operatives, tenants associations, working men’s clubs, and branches of the Labour Party and of parties to Labour’s left. The Yes campaign was a shallow beneficiary of this process (this is the ‘deflected’ aspect of the class vote: the Yes vote’s increase saw Labour Party identifiers switching from a ‘Labour’ to a ‘nationalist’ cause), but atomisation served in turn to curtail the independence becoming a majority cause. It is the reason why, in the end, not enough tenants of council housing voted to take Yes beyond the 50% it needed.

Scotland is not going to be an independent nation; neither, in its economics or its society is it very different from the rest of Britain, and the depressing thought is that those of us who live far from Scotland are going to face the same problems – in 2015, and repeatedly, until the majority of people who lack a financial reason to identify with the status quo have enough confidence in their own shared ability to replace it that the begin to see themselves as a class, that is, an alternative set of rulers in waiting.

Forty-five years ago one of Scotland’s most brilliant philosophers Alasdair Macintyre, gave a broadcast on BBC radio. Drawing parallels with the crises of the Edwardian era, he declared:

‘The strange death of Liberal England was the outcome of a system that could neither accommodate nor come to terms with the trade unions, the Irish or the suffragettes, conservative as many of the leaders of these in fact were. The strange death of social democracy has been accompanied by an unwillingness even to admit the existence of demands for local and regional self-government and the degree of support which has emerged for Welsh and Scots nationalism.’

Macintyre complained of the exclusion of working class people from secondary education and even the expanded universities and expressed his regrets at Labour's first attacks on the beneficiaries of social welfare. He decried moves to curtail the powers and independence of trade unions. He concluded: ‘if it is said that I have been presenting something akin not so much to a personal view as to a partisan political broadcast, let me point out that I am talking for and of a group that has no party, the British working class.’

Scotland’s tragedy was that party’s remaining absence.