Socialist Worker

Scottish independence rejected, but Yes campaign has created new movement

by Keir McKechnie and Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2421

Yes campaigners in Glasgows George Square on Wednesday

Yes campaigners in Glasgow's George Square on Wednesday (Pic: Andrew McGowan)

Scottish voters have rejected independence by 55 percent to 45 percent. But they gave the British ruling class the fright of its life—and Scotland will never be the same again.

The genie is out of the bottle, and there is a new movement that can change Scotland.

This was the highest turnout ever for a British vote, 35 percentage points higher than for the last Scottish parliament election. People have proved they are not apathetic.

They go to the polls when they feel they have a choice and their vote makes a difference. People suddenly felt politics was for them. They came to meetings, argued and campaigned.

The Yes movement achieved marvels.

All the main parties except the Scottish National Party (SNP) organised “Project Fear” to win a No vote. The vast majority of the media—and in particular the BBC—rubbished independence.

Big business, bankers and billionaires unleashed a systematic campaign of threats to jobs and pensions in an effort to stop a Yes vote.

The Tory, Labour and Lib Dem leaders were forced to promise new powers for the Scottish government and upheaval in the British constitution. In their desperation they did it without consulting the Westminster parliament, the Northern Ireland or Welsh assemblies—or their own parties.

Over 100 Labour MPs were sent to argue for No, and Gordon Brown wheeled out to persuade Labour supporters that it was right to reject change.

Yet still 45 percent—over 1.5 million people—voted Yes. It was much more than a nationalist vote.

The areas of the highest Yes vote follow the map of unemployment and social deprivation. It was a vote for a different Scotland, and a judgment on Labour.

Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire, the three most traditional Labour areas, voted yes. Dundee, which used to be a rock-solid Labour stronghold, backed Yes by 57 percent.

Labour has saved the British state. It has lost tens of thousands of its usual supporters.

It was sickening to watch Labour figures wrapped in the Union Jack celebrating their “victory” alongside Tories and Lib Dems who are tearing up working class people’s lives.

Labour backs Tory spending limits, welfare cuts and scapegoating. In the referendum it also stood shoulder to shoulder with our class enemies.

The SNP’s tactics also reduced the Yes vote. It was not until the second televised debate with Alistair Darling on 25 August that Alex Salmond began to stress class issues such as the NHS. This provided an instant boost to the independence campaign, but it was too little to late.

However, a tremendous social movement was born out of the main campaign.

It saw mobilisation after mobilisation on the streets in a joyous and determined atmosphere of hope. At the head of the campaign were working class people, young people, women and the Radical Independence Campaign.

They were not motivated by narrow nationalism. They argued for a Scotland that does not join imperialist wars, that rejects the priorities of big business and the rich, which stands against racism, oppression and scapegoating, and supports the Palestinians.

It was a movement for people before profit.

Over 25,000 people came to public meetings with socialist Tommy Sheridan and others, where they cheered the call for a great battle for a better society.

The media and most politicians will now tell us to return to “normal” life. Many in the SNP will say the crucial task is to vote for them in the general election of 2015 and the Scottish parliament election the year after.

That’s not our view. We urge everyone who has been part of this movement to stay engaged and active.

In the last 18 months tens of thousands of working class Scots felt part of political life for the first time. They felt the power could be theirs. Now we have to focus that.

The most important arena is in the workplaces, communities, schools, colleges and universities. We need demonstrations against the new war even now being prepared in Iraq, against racism and Ukip, against the devastation of wages, services and communities.

Everyone should join the demonstration called by the Scottish trades unions in Glasgow against the Tory assaults on Saturday 18 October.

We need to build for strikes that can shatter the pay freezes, give confidence to the fightback and challenge the bullying bosses. Scottish workers need to unite with strikes south of the border and struggles across Britain.

And a substantial number of working class people who voted No will join those battles too.

Let’s unite against the Tories, austerity, war and racism.

They are sipping champagne in Downing Street, Balmoral and Labour headquarters. But struggle is coming and we must make them face a terrible reckoning.

A new movement, a new left

We also need a new political movement.

The Labour Party in Scotland still has support from some good people, and can still win elections. But it is politically dead.

It used the most backward, demoralising arguments to win a No vote. Its riposte to hope has been nope.

If working people had faith in Labour to improve their lives then many more would have put their faith in the next general election to bring change rather than independence.

No such promises were forthcoming. For many Labour is beyond resuscitation.

Creating a new party is hard. But it’s not impossible if we move quickly to bring together the movement that’s exploded into life. It can agree on a basic set of anti-capitalist politics, be democratic, grassroots-based and centred on activity.

It would stand in elections, but not be obsessed about them.

It would be the opposite of men in suits explaining why we can’t do things. There are thousands of new people who can be won to this vision.

The biggest obstacle is frozen ideas and arguments from the past. We cannot be defined by events in the Scottish Socialist Party a decade ago or about splits in the left at some point.

We have fought under the same banner for months. Why should we separate?

Some 54,000 voted Yes in Dundee, 124,000 in Edinburgh, 195,00 in Glasgow and over a million elsewhere. We can build from that.

A new party also has to offer a home to left wingers who voted No. We think they were wrong. It doesn’t mean they are scabs. We want to engage seriously with them.

It will be criminal to waste this great oportunity.

Socialist Workers Party comrades in Scotland—and from England and Wales—have been inspired by working alongside others in this campaign. We need to keep discussing and we hope you will join us to be part of the push for a wider left alternative. 

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