Socialist Worker

Britain's rulers win a No vote, but still face a crisis in Scotland

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2422

The Yes campaign pulled thousands of people into political activity for the first time

The Yes campaign pulled thousands of people into political activity for the first time (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Voters in Scotland rejected independence by 55 to 45 percent last week. The 85 percent turnout was the highest ever in Britain.

A surge in working class support for independence gave the British ruling class the fright of its life. For many people in Scotland, things won’t ever be the same again.

Support for the Yes camp became a rebellion against the austerity of the Westminster parties in the unionist Better Together campaign.

In Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, thousands of Yes supporters took to the streets almost every day for a week leading up to the referendum. Hope filled the air.

This was not a nationalist movement. In the only poll carried out after the vote, Yes voters’ top two reasons for voting were disaffection with Westminster politics and defending the NHS.

Support for independence was strongest among younger voters and in urban working class areas where social deprivation and poverty is the most severe. 

This was true for the four council areas that saw Yes majorities and the four with slim majorities for No.

The social housing schemes, former shipbuilding towns, steel towns and mining villages in these areas had large majorities for Yes.

The more affluent the area, and the older the voters, the higher the No vote was.

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

But Project Fear’s predictions of doom fell on deaf ears for many who felt they had little to lose by voting Yes, and potentially a lot to gain.

These were also former Labour Party strongholds that have been fiercely contested by the Scottish National Party (SNP) over the past decade or more.

Leading Labour politicians sided with the Tories, who are tearing up working class people’s lives, and argued to stay with the union. 

In Glasgow their arguments didn’t win a single Scottish parliamentary constituency for the No side.

In traditional SNP heartlands the Yes vote did not go much beyond support for the party, if at all. SNP leader Alex Salmond resigned on Friday of last week.

Yes campaigners helped create a mass movement driven by hope for a future society more equal than the current one. That movement showed an energy not seen before.

The genie is out of the bottle and Britain’s rulers cannot simply go back to the way things were. 

In desperation they promised more devolution—and many who voted No on that basis expect those promises to be fulfilled.

But the Tories already look like they are reneging—and that could be explosive.

‘English votes for English laws’ will not get rid of the Tories or the cuts

David Cameron speaking after the Scottish referendum

David Cameron speaking after the Scottish referendum (Pic: 10 Downing Street)

David Cameron hosted a summit of top Tory MPs last week to discuss “English devolution”.

He was promising extra powers for Scotland before the independence referendum.

Once it was over, he leapt to looking at how to carve Scottish MPs out of key Westminster votes.

The “West Lothian question” asks whether MPs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should get a vote on issues that only affect people in England.

The Tories see “English votes for English laws” as a way of having fewer Labour MPs voting on policies in Westminster.

Right wingers back the idea because it panders to bigots, nationalists and racists.

Labour leader Ed Miliband hasn’t rushed to take a position. 

But some in the Labour Party see devolution as a way to escape a Tory-dominated English parliament.

MP for Barking & Dagenham in east London Margaret Hodge has backed devolution to London. Manchester MP Graham Stringer has called for regional devolution.

These ideas strike a chord with some people who are sick of being ruled by Tories they didn’t vote for. But the way governments are set up isn’t the key question.

For instance, the Welsh Government has blocked some Tory measures—such as the abolition of Education Maintenance Allowance. But it made cuts elsewhere instead.

Many Labour-run councils are implementing Tory attacks.

Regionalisation won’t guarantee protection from cuts.

But the argument helps the Tories shift the focus away from outrage at their policies towards the bigots’ bogus outrage at “anti-English” discrimination.

Labour loses support by lining up with the Tories

Gordon Brown when he was prime minister

Gordon Brown when he was prime minister (Pic: 10 Downing Street)

It was the Labour Party that won it for the British ruling class. In its time of need, Ed Miliband and co came to the rescue of the imperialist British state.

Labour was the only force among the Westminster parties that could influence working class voters in Scotland to reject independence.

Tory prime minister David Cameron knew his party was too toxic in Scotland. 

So he sat back and wrote the cheques that could make Labour as toxic as the Tories.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown was resuscitated to help win as the Better Together campaign floundered.

Yet large chunks of Labour’s support among working class people have been broken during the referendum campaign.

Labour governments and local councils betrayed them for years. A significant minority looked to independence to bring change.

The vote in places such as Glasgow, Dundee, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire was a judgement on Labour’s failure to deliver for the majority.

For many the sight of Labour figures wrapped in the Union Jack celebrating with Tories and rich landowners at election counts will have been the last straw.

One argument for a left No vote was that Labour would lose its Scottish MPs in Westminster. 

It was claimed that this would condemn the rest of Britain to Tory governments forever.

The argument was false. But by jumping into bed with the Tories to save the union, Labour may have signed a death warrant for many of its Scottish MPs.

There is no doubt that 45 percent of voters in Scotland, and possibly more if devolution promises are not fulfilled, want to punish them.

Labour is by no means finished in Scotland.

But we need a viable alternative of the left to give its members a new home.

Say No to Nazis in Glasgow

The referendum result fuelled British nationalism and boosted the nasty face of reaction.

Loyalist thugs waving Union Jack flags attacked Yes voters in Glasgow to “celebrate” the result on Friday of last week. 

An assortment of sieg-heiling Nazis joined them.

Many Yes supporters had gathered for hours in Glasgow’s George Square to discuss the result, hear music and debate what next for the Yes campaign.

The bigots intent on having a ruck destroyed the peaceful atmosphere.

Anyone wearing a Yes badge or flying the Saltire flag faced violent intimidation. Passers-by were subjected to racist abuse.

Police facilitated the process, and allowed the thugs to throw bottles and fire off flares. 

A protest was quickly organised for Monday evening of this week to oppose racism and bigotry, and to say fascists are not welcome in the city.

Give young people the vote

At least 70 percent of 16 and 17 year olds who voted for the first time in the referendum backed independence. 

In contrast only 27 percent of those over 65 voted Yes.

Over 90 percent of 16 and 17 year olds registered to vote.

The Scottish referendum marked the first time that 16 and 17 year olds could vote in Britain.

Young people played a huge part in building the radical Yes vote in Scotland. 

They have a massive part to play in building a new left alternative following the result.

Socialist Worker supports giving 16 and 17 year olds across Britain the vote.

We should demand that the Tories allow them to vote in next year’s general election.

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