As I was saying…there will be no second referendum without a material change in circumstance. One of the dismaying aspects of the referendum experience has been the blind eye turned to the democratic process by some Yes voters who have begun to sound like zealots rather than campaigners by refusing to come to terms with defeat and instead playing victim to British propaganda.
Did Better Together lie and cheat? Yes. When the referendum was announced, it was clear that in a struggle for the survival of the British state virtually any device or stratagem would be deployed to get the result they wanted…short of selective assassination*. Every department of state was given instructions to produce reports damning the nationalist critique and, amazingly, they all did. Not one examined the evidence and concluded that independence might have benefits. This was an exercise in state propaganda. They utilised their cohorts in academia and industry to weigh in with unsubstantiated claims of contractual complexity and additional costs, some of which were embarrassing in their schoolboy naivety.
But this is a political campaign. Did we expect them to acknowledge Scotland would have been as rich as Switzerland if we hadn’t let them take our oil revenues? Did we expect them to concede the balance of payments would be unsustainable without our exports? (I myself suggested Cameron should have met with Salmond to thrash out a deal between the two before the process started but that would have required a maturity and vision lacking in the Prime Minister. He prefers to deal in war games and subterfuge).
Can anyone on either side be remotely surprised at the British approach? This is how every election I’ve ever known is run – with highly contentious claims and warnings and threats.
Did Yes play the same game? Well, not to the same degree clearly since a principled decision was taken by the board to play a positive tune and avoid the negative and discordant. There are many out there who believe this was a mistaken policy and that we sacrificed the chance of being independent today by playing nice when the waverers should have been reminded of the horrors of modern Britain – a system channelling money to the rich while child poverty increases; working families, some with more than one job, picking up benefits to make up a living wage; sanctioned claimants committing suicide; benefit levels so low the Council of Europe calls them illegal; a government working in Brussels to defend bankers bonuses while throwing out the ECHR; corrupt politicians paid by corporate interests while they sit as legislators; an economy built on unsustainable and mounting sovereign debt and a people borrowing to eat. But we didn’t do it. (To be fair, I did).
On the other hand, there were somewhat extravagant claims by the SNP about how welcome we would be in Europe and how soundly that was based on legal advice. To many, the late claims that the NHS was threatened by a No vote were contrived and at the very least, overstated. An independent parliamentary report by SPICE contradicted the claim that free nursery care for all one to five year old would draw 104,000 women into work when there are only 64,000 mums of one to five year olds in the country and only 14,000 of them wanted to work. Is this designed to win over voters with assertion or do we take everything the SNP says as the truth? Elections are about winning and each side does what it thinks will achieve that.
It isn’t disloyal to the cause to concede defeat and regroup. But it is, in my view, disloyal to Scotland and to democracy to begin immediately arguing for a re-run. It implies No voting Scots don’t count as much as Yes do. It implies they were too thick to see through the lies (as we were smart enough to do) and that if we believe something, then all must agree. It suggests fanaticism and lack of compromise.
Turn it round and imagine if Yes had prevailed by one or two percentage points. Some of us actually postulated that in the event of a narrow win, forces in London would object and suggest there were flaws in the process, that Salmond had made claims to win over voters that were manifestly untrue. They would lodge a legal challenge, find lawyers to say a constitution can’t be changed on a simple majority etc.
These, I said, would be the dark forces of Britain, the non-democrats who can’t accept an outcome that doesn’t fit their world view and personal interests. And that would be right. Wouldn’t every Yes voter be outraged that after a prolonged and legally binding exercise, the validity of the result should be questioned by the losers? We would berate and deride them for their extremism. This isn’t an edifying place to be.
We are fortunate in having a second focus for our disappointment and rage – a full-blown British General Election in six months time which has the capacity to blast the tired Westminster boys’ club out of the water depending on the way the seats fall.
If other events unfold, an EU exit poll holds within it the key to another test of democratic will for Scots, both in our own Holyrood election in 2016 and in the Scottish Parliament’s own powers to consult through referendums. The issue has not died but is on life support and must be left in a darkened room meantime.
As Alex Salmond steps down today, we should remember that the party didn’t go down the route of change through threat or violence. Everything the SNP and Salmond has achieved has been through democratic mandate which is why they are held in high regard – and fear – in Westminster and why so many people felt at ease in rushing to join them. The defeat was as much a declaration of democracy as a victory would have been. The suggestion that it wasnae fair or we didna ken sullies the history and ethos of the SNP.
This is not over. It will, I believe, return because Britain will simply fail to deliver or understand. I will go to my grave believing in independence and I will also go to my grave as a democrat.
*This used to be the responsibility of the Home Office but is now outsourced to Serco.by