Scots have Spoken – What did they say?
I received the news of the Scottish ‘No’ to independence on NRJ, the French pop radio station. A scheduled news bulletin announcing that the painful divorce I had hoped that Scots would reject, sandwiched symbolically between bursts of Ed Sheeran and Emile Sande.
Any pangs of disappointment at being on holiday for a monumental constitutional moment at home were tempered by the knowledge that (a) I had no say in the matter and (b) I’d had a complete guts full of divisive nationalist rhetoric.
Now we have the result what have we learned?
Here are my take-aways:
1. Referenda should not be played out over 18 months. Putin was a bit punchy with the one week Crimea heist, but stringing out a decision like this does not help the electorate get to the absolute truth, but does allow the arguments to become very bitter. The prospect of a 2 year build-up to a Euro referendum under a Tory government fills me with dread.
2. Nationalism presented with charisma is as seductive as ever. Throughout history talented leaders have convinced millions of people that simply by dividing people on national lines, pedaling the politics of them and us, they can make the world a better place for the chosen few. In a time of austerity it’s even more tempting to close ranks and look for someone to blame and Salmond (and Farage) make simple arguments that resonate.
3. We need a better solution for the British constitution. Federalism has been Lib Dem policy for many years, ‘home rule’ has been on our agenda since the 1880s. These concepts are now getting traction in the mainstream and we should seize the moment to deliver a properly devolved federal constitution. Devo-max can progress immediately, but in the long-term only by addressing the fundamental problem of over-centralisation through a federalist constitutional settlement will the nationalist fox be well and truly shot.
4. Labour is losing its grip of Scotland. It may not play out fully in one general election, but hundreds of thousands of traditional Labour voters are happy to vote nationalist which may have a long-term impact on Labour’s ability to gain a majority. Although it was (on paper) a single issue referendum, the Yes campaign played heavily on the potential for an independent Scotland to deliver a government consistently to the left of the current Labour party. Many voters clearly rejected Labour in favour of a more socialist flavour and they may do so again in a general election.
5. People care about politics. It has been fashionable to think that people are too apathetic to give time to politics. The referendum has turned that on its head bringing people out on the streets campaigning for what they believe in and to persuade others to support their cause. That is politics at its best and it shows that if we ask important questions the public can be energised by politics. We now need to find a way to harness that energy for unifying and progressive goals, rather than waiting for the jeopardy of a referendum.