WHERE ARE WE AT?
1. YES lost the referendum – NO won it – decisively.
2. Turnout 84.6% – highest since 1910 (when women didn’t have a vote).
Glasgow and Dundee had lowest turnouts but voted YES.
East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire and Stirling were each over 90% turnout.
4. 3,619,915 Scots voted.
YES – 1,617,989 votes. NO – 2,001,926 votes. 44.7%/55.3%Winning margin – 383,937
5. The polls probably had it right all along, YES probably was never ahead at any point, and final polls were close to the result. The bookies called it right all along.
The above facts are the core reality, and they contradict the fantasies entertained by many YES supporters, fed by some online YES commentators, but almost certainly never believed by politicians, core YES strategists or hard-headed YES commentators.
It was always an unfair contest – a fast, fit lightweight against a heavyweight who was so out of condition that he had to call in other heavyweights and the Establishment Mob – and offer a last round bribe to win.
Pyrrhic victory is usually a sour grapes overstatement by losers, but as applied to the NO win in Scotland’s referendum, it increasingly looks like a devastatingly accurate assessment.
Labour in meltdown, Tories entering their conference in chaos, HRH pissed off at her PM, UKIP cackling maniacally, a rush into a third ill-conceived 21st century war and the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland setting their faces against the Big Bribe offered by a Tory/LibDem/Labour front led by Gordon Brown(!) to try and appease rebellious Scots.
If we add to that a massive and quite unprecedented surge in SNP membership (75,000) a re-energised, confident YES campaign, and mass demonstrations at Holyrood, then Pyrrhic victory seems a rather apt description.
The YES Campaign (as distinct from YES Scotland) is a strange and fascinating construct – one large, long-established, highly disciplined Scotland-only party, the SNP with its raison d'être independence, the Scottish Green Party with its raison d'être environmental, with independence for Scotland being one means to that over-arching, worldwide goal, the Scottish socialist parties – small, recently riven by faction and the actions of one charismatic leader, and a plethora of other groups covering almost every conceivable interest group one could think of, across party, sex, artistic, religious and demographic lines. Added to this rich mix are those of no party or group affiliation whatsoever – the individual activists committed only to YES.
There are the think tanks and the theorists (e.g. the now split Jimmy Reid Foundation and Common Weal), National Collective, Radical Independence, Business for Scotland, Labour for Independence, Women for Independence – I could go on, ad infinitum.
From another perspective, however, I see a still inchoate democracy of newly-politicised, organised, enthusiastic but mainly politically naive voters reaffirming their core commitment to YES, but searching for a new focus and looking for leaders. They are wide-open to three kinds of approaches –
1. the new leader (or old leader re-cycled) approach
2. the crowd-fund new initiative approach (often old initiative repackaged)
I see real dangers in the first two but real opportunity in the third.
3. radically new approaches to YES organisation - as yet in embryo stage - in this new 2014AR era.
The balancing factor in this may well be the great surge in SNP party membership (and to a lesser extent Green and SSP membership).
This can be interpreted as simply a massive thank you to the party that delivered the referendum, put Scotland on the world stage, yet still managed to govern competently for seven years in the face of shrinking budgets and a wall of hostility, or it can be seen as a recognition that single focus campaign/protest politics has now entered a more complex phase, and the time has come to commit to traditional political structures.
But it can also be seen as a wish to reclaim politics from the political anoraks and careerists, by engaging with party politics in a radically new way while retaining the local autonomy, fellowship and focus of individual YES groups and all their democratic dynamism.
I hope to explore this latter approach in some more detail, but first I will outline what I see as the dangers of the first two.
THE NEW LEADER and crowd-funded initiatives.
The YES Campaign presented an opportunity to those outside of conventional party politics to gain a platform and a profile, indeed it almost demanded that such figures should emerge, and they duly did, some prompted, some invited, and some simply stepping uninvited on to the new platforms offered.
In fact the process had already started well before the official YES Campaign was launched, initially with the election of the 2007 SNP Government – and many have forgotten just what a jolt that event was to Labour complacency – then with the defining event of the 2011 landslide, which effectively guaranteed the referendum would take place.
The first significant bloggers emerged, then the YouTube pioneers, then the social networkers on Twitter, Facebook, etc. A seminal event for many (including myself) was Pi-Camp, an alternative media workshop in Edinburgh mounted by Mick Fealty of the influential Irish blog Slugger O’Toole.
Other big figures, out of mainstream politics at that time, such as Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan, cautiously stepped back into the arena, and later becoming central figures in the YES movement. Of course, political opportunists sniffed the new political air, and the likes of George Galloway popped up, complete with hat, to try and find a niche in newly-politicised Scotland.
With the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 and the official YES Scotland structure, the YES Campaign acquired a kind of co-ordination, but made many fundamental mistakes initially, before learning hard lessons about the incompatibility of traditional organisation structures with the radically different needs of a newly empowered grassroots movement, without parallel or precedent in modern politics.
But when a large number of people become gripped by an idea, a cause, an enthusiasm, whether it be religious or political, such enthusiasm creates a hunger for a focal point, new leaders and a wish to demonstrate allegiance by tangible contribution.
These processes throughout history have produced transformational political movements, political parties, and the great world religions. The consequences have been sometimes positive, sometimes destructive and all too often exploitative.
An inevitable product of a nation gripped by an idea or by perceived injustice is that such a situation is instantly recognised as an opportunity by people who want power or money – or both. The reasons they have for seeking power or money may be admirable or venal, but in both cases, the process involves surrender of control and autonomy by the people.
Organisation is subordination – an inescapable fact.
The essence of the great grassroots YES movement was and is democratic self-empowerment in small groups. Try to keep it that way, but with the freedom to liaise dynamically with other individuals groups in networks and events.
Radically new approaches to YES organisation in new 2014AR era.
It’s early days, but the most hopeful development I’ve seen so far is the recently formed YES Alliance. I don’t do Facebook because of security reasons (and other reasons) so this limits my involvement with them. I don’t know enough to endorse them, but I like what I read and see so far, especially their flexible, rotating leadership concept.
The key dynamic of YES groups and YES collectively in the new era in my view will be the parallel relationship with the political parties committed to independence, and by political parties I mean those parties with an existing discrete identity as a party, e.g. SNP, Greens, SSP etcetera, not groups of supporters within a UK party committed to independence, e.g. Labour for Independence, not sub-groups of YES, e.g. Women for Independence, and not aspirant groups who might like to form a new party at some point.
I make no value judgement on the latter non-party groups, and certainly don’t challenge their democratic right to try and found a new party – my advice is based on the stark fact that the new seminal event, the 2015 UK General Election is just over seven months away (7th May 2015), the UK Parliament will be dissolved on Parliament will be dissolved on Monday 30 March 2015, in less than six months time, and to all intents and purpose, the UK parties are now in unofficial, but deadly serious and bitter campaigning mode in one of the most unpredictable and uncertain political climates I have witnessed since the 1945 General Election.
There just isn’t time for new grand initiatives and the formation of new parties – we’re now in a deadly serious mega game in which a key player will be the combined Scottish political parties committed to independence fielding candidates – and that means the SNP, the Scottish Greens and the SSP, but backed up by a giant YES grassroots organisation who have put their money on, and their commitment with political parties and party membership on an unprecedented scale.
(YES Alliance seems to understand this in a way that the other groups that mushroomed in the strange atmosphere following 19th September don’t appear to. (Some of them seem to be trying to re-invent the Referendum Campaign, or are in pursuit of worthy but completely unattainable objectives in the short term.)
THE SNP MEMBERSHIP SURGE – IMPLICATIONS
One senior Scottish politician – Nicola Sturgeon – instantly recognised - with her usual acute political insight - the implications of an SNP membership now comprising 75,000 plus members, more than two-thirds of whom are new members, many with little or no political experience other than YES activist campaign work, and a significant proportion of whom are likely to have little understanding of how political parties work in a democracy, or even of how UK’s partial and flawed democracy actually works.
HERALD: “The Deputy First Minister, who has no plans for a fresh referendum, said if the members and leadership were out of step it could cause issues for "the next couple of years".
However, Sturgeon - who is almost certain to succeed Alex Salmond unopposed as SNP leader and First Minister in November - said she would far rather deal with this issue than the exodus of members she believes is facing Labour.”
That’s one issue. The other key one surrounds the right of members to vote on the selection of candidates for local elections, UK Parliamentary and Holyrood Parliament. The new members would under existing rules be time-barred from voting for candidates for the 2015 General election, however, I understand that a rapid change of the qualifying period is now planned to permit them to do so.
There is another dimension to the new membership surge – the actual experience of Party branch structures. Without in any way wishing to sound negative about the committed activists who have often devoted a large party of their lives and energies to branch activities, participation and attendance is low in most branches, and the branch ability to promote – or even their enthusiasm for promoting maximum membership involvement in the selection of delegates and candidates for election may also be low in many instances.
The new dynamic from the new members and new structures of YES groups – e.g. YES Alliance – is going to be, shall we say, interesting …
Since our schools do it so badly – or not all – I see an urgent need for basic courses in the mechanics of democracy for YES activists and new party members, and I think this should be driven and provided by the YES movement, obviously with the involvement of the political parties but emphatically not by the political parties. I can see a clear role for Business for Scotland in this key task.
So that’s my very tentative take on where we’re at. I had great difficulty with this blog – I feel it’s scrappy, incomplete and not exactly what I wanted to say, but it’s the best I can do in a situation that is changing by the day, if not by the moment …