Forever Autumn: Electoral Counts and Accountability

Autumn seems to be dragging this year, from its first signs of heavy leaf-fall on that faraway 18th September morning standing outside the polling station, to these mild days. And perhaps the shockwaves of that day are similarly continuing – as with an appetite for a rerun of the Referendum in the not so distant future. At the start of this month, a poll showed that a remarkable three-to-two majority of Scots would welcome a second independence referendum within five years, and a two-to-one majority would be happy to have one within a decade. IndyRef fatigue? Apparently not. As much as David Cameron wanted to present that vote as the ‘settled will of the Scottish people’, those same Scottish people seem remarkably unsettled on this being the final result.

And yet I recently read Derek Bateman railing against such open discussion of ‘IndyRef2’ without ‘fundamentally changed circumstances’, as though it was somehow disrespectful of the result and therefore insulting to those ‘No’ voters that we have yet to win over. It is almost like we are being told not to showboat or grandstand, as though it is distataeful behaviour in the wake of some victory (we DID lose, didn’t we?). But I feel that this policy of silence is disrespectful to those who have newly joined the ranks: they need a focus, not to be told ‘Alex said not for 20-25 years, so just shut up about it for now’. However much the opposition might have willed otherwise, Alex Salmond was never ever the leader of the Yes campaign, and certainly did not dictate policy for either the movement, or any of his successors.

We have a large population new to the idea that ‘independence is a good thing’ – they are not as experienced as most to the idea of the ‘the long game’ in which the Referendum was the latest (albeit the closest thus far to final victory) in a long series of skirmishes. They have recognised that independence is necessary and necessary NOW, and why should they just lie down and accept the Referendum result as though it was a final audit for all eternity? Why should they not feel cheated of a Future that they had embraced wholeheartedly as necessary, if not essential? The rest of us may have experienced disappointments on this road over many decades, and may have expected the grand last minute deceptions (even black ops) right from the start – but they did not. They have a keen and urgent expectation for change. It is very hard – if not inappropriate – for them to turn away and act as though the current trajectory is acceptable.

The consequence of a Conditional No – which, to a large extent, the purdah period was supposed to prevent from being a possibility, by stopping last minute bartering and offers of mythical beads or magic beans from London – is that if the promise of ‘more’ is dangled in front of the electorate, then you have given up on trying to win a straight vote, and are attaching strings to that ‘No’ vote. You are tied down by that as a commitment – and it matters not how you intend to divest yourself of any responsibility for such commitments after the polls close. You are tied into that result, regardless, as a result of pretending to make a pact with the electorate. The idea that a side can bargain with the electorate at the eleventh hour, and say ‘Ok, we’ll give you virtual federalism within 6 months’ – then not do anything of the sort, is something that has to be held accountable. Sure, politicians are ‘economical with the truth’, but this is so naked that it should be made an example of. What has been clear from the speed at which the ‘No Alliance’ distanced itself from its ‘Vow’ is that they absolutely believed that no delivery of anything other than token powers was required – just win the vote, and move on leaving the impotent wails of the defeated behind them.

The only way that we can hold them accountable, is by deciding whether or not they have fulfilled their ‘offer’. And the only way to remind them that we are watching, is to keep reminding them that we can do this again. It is the only Sword of Damocles that we have, to make them more honest than they might wish to be. And the Smith Commission report tomorrow will be an important stage for the electorate to scrutinise what comes forth, and see whether there is anything significant there – or whether it is simply repackaging of the remaining changes from the 2012 Scotland Act, mixed with one or two tweaks on taxes from the spring proposals. But ‘DevoMax’ it is fairly unlikely to be.

To be frank, a default on their ‘Vow’ is more than enough for me in terms of fulfilling the condition of ‘changed circumstances’: I do not need anything as elaborate or apocalyptic as an EU departure divergence scenario in order to justify running the referendum again. So, my answer to the question: ‘Why have another referendum?’ is ‘Because they lied to you to steal the last one, stupid.’ If they default on their own ‘terms and conditions’, then we just do it again.



“SNP figures say independence won’t return to the agenda for a generation. This is unlikely to be true. Scotland is being carried along on a process of steady institutional, political and social divergence from the rest of the UK, which will continue.” (Neal Ascherson, 21st September 2014)

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