Many have talked about the possibilities of sustaining positive political change after the vote on September 18th – but I myself foresee a darker aspect. For, as upbeat as ‘Yes’ has been, I can see an inevitable transformation on the other side of the vote – regardless of the result – where the ‘Yes’ movement changes into the party of ‘I told you so’.
In a ‘Yes’ scenario, it is easiest to envisage (or even expect) this – as soon as those straw men of ‘no currency union’, ‘no EU entry’, start crumbling in the harsh light of RealPolitik’s dawn, there will be inescapable crowing from Yessers over our ‘extraordinary prescience’: we were right – and yes, you were right to listen. (And that is without even beginning to take into consideration the possibilities that the favourable economic future predicted by so many would start to make a real impact on people’s everyday lives…)
But there is also an imminent dark side of the ‘Yes’ campaign that is poised in the shadows, waiting to emerge after a ‘No’. And no, I’m not talking about any of the mythical ‘aggression’ that Yes has been accused of by ‘No’. There has been a mendacity in the ‘No’ campaign that has translated into a ‘scorched earth’ policy for Scotland’s place in the Union. In the course of ‘No’s malice, Scotland has come to see that her comfortable perception that we were regarded as some sort of equal partner in this Union, has been completely obliterated in this campaign, in favour of rather being some kind of errant child. In this sense, it recalls the way some commentators look on the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US to be a one-sided piece of willful self-delusion…and feels uncomfortably similar.
Part PR construct and part revelation, this mean-spirited attitude has created (or ‘revealed’, depending on how much you believe that that attitude was already present) an increasingly hostile attitude towards us from other parts of the UK. In and of itself, this is unfortunate, but something that we could afford to deal with in the longer term, when reality begins to set in after a ‘Yes’. But after a ‘No’, this attitude instead becomes a dangerous thing, as this will politically legitimise much of what is to come as consequences for Scotland afterwards.
And this is not even talking about when the meagre promises of the ‘No’ campaign for ‘more powers’ fails to materialize. Although ‘Yes’ has run a remarkably positive campaign (to the extent of often being criticised for it, by its own supporters, when refusing to respond in kind to disparaging attacks by ‘No’), it has also highlighted what is waiting for us with a ‘No’ vote: next year’s welfare cuts (70% of the £6 billion cut to Scotland’s welfare budget due by 2016 have yet to be applied – ‘I told you so’), the further expansion in foodbanks and poverty levels (‘I told you so’), the National Health Service in Scotland starting to be cut whether through the TTIP treaty being applied (‘I told you so’), or the budget cuts with the loss of the Barnett Formula (a projected £4.5-6.5 billion) – yes, I really really did tell you so.
In the wake of a ‘No’, and as the above consequences slowly start to appear, the highly hostile attitudes that increasingly have been appearing via the press (including online comments) seem likely to emerge as a force majeur during next year’s UK general election campaign. Driven forward by the resentment towards Scotland created/revealed by the press and media, this will directly precede the ‘astonishing’ (to some) failure of anything resembling DevoMax to materialize, and suddenly a large tranche of the ‘No’ vote will start to reluctantly realise that they have been – successfully – played for mugs by the establishment.
What happens then, of course, would be very interesting. Of course, many ‘No’ voters would not care – for them this has all been about saving the Union, no matter what the cost: remember the statement by Jim Hood (MP for Lanark and Hamilton East) in Westminster, where he declared that he did not care if his constituents would be economically better off in an independent Scotland – he would still vote against it? But there will be others who will have voted ‘No’ genuinely believing that the future under the UK could not be so bad, and that of course Westminster would stand by their word and give Scotland ‘more real powers’. It’s them that will feel like they have been well and truly ‘had’. And – it seems likely – that more of them would go over – at least in principle – to ‘Yes’. How would this disillusionment manifest itself for ‘No’ voters? There is not another vote planned or envisaged for a considerable period of time, so little outlet for any sense of outrage from that quarter.
Of course, in a (currently hard to imagine) scenario whereby such disillusionment brings about a second vote on independence, this would be a positive thing: in that sense, even if they walk into the polling booth on the 18th September and vote ‘no’, those voters are still not a lost cause; they just need a little more experience of a reprise of that ‘1979 Feeling’, when those that had trusted Westminster (either Labour to have a fair referendum on devolution, or the Conservatives who promised a better offer after the Labour one was rejected) started to realise that they had been taken for a ride.
My father was one of those in 1979 – he died still angry at having been so brazenly and unashamedly deceived by politicians. Nowadays, we might say ‘well, what exactly did you expect?’, but the levels of public mistrust in politicians (particularly, for those naturally to the right of politics, of Conservative politicians) were not nearly as rampant as they became under the ensuing Conservative government. Now we live in a post-MP’s expenses world, where Alastair Darling can be cited in as august an academic publication as the ‘Biological Journal of the Linnean Society’ as the epitome of corruption in UK government: a Chancellor guilty of willful financial malpractice while in the top job in charge of the nation’s Treasury. In spite of this, blatant lying by politicians to their electorate is still found by most to be a shocking and abhorrent idea, still seen to be crossing ‘a line’ – and many of those voting ‘No’ will need a 1979-type shock to their system, to make them angry, understand (finally) why things need to be changed in terms of Westminster rule, and to be motivated to do something about it.
As I have said – how this new energy for change might manifest itself is hard to see at this point – particularly as the political will at Westminster will be for this question NEVER to be asked again. Already, Douglas Alexander is trying to manoeuvre to harness or ‘claim’ (‘neuter’, perhaps, is a better word for it) the revitalised political energy of the people in Scotland for Labour’s benefit – as inappropriate a hijacking as there could possibly be, after this campaign. Would it be through some sort of transformation of the current political energy, as happened with Common Cause after the 1992 General Election, which led to the Scottish Constitutional Convention? Perhaps it might – but the harnessing of that energy and the forging of a road forward will be a lot more difficult this time, with Westminster implacably opposed to Scotland’s departure, and no Westminster political party wanting to advocate constitutional change along the lines desired by a revitalised people (something that the Labour Party happily took ownership of in the wake of the Constitutional Convention).
However many ‘No’s subsequently may come to feel cheated – it is highly likely by then that they will have come to the party too late, and missed their chance. What way forward for them, then?
“The Union of equals that we thought exists doesn’t exist…’we love you, please stay, if you go we’ll wreck your economy’…sometimes we’re treated very colonially.” (Stephen Noon, Yes Scotland)