I voted Yes on 18th September 2014 and I’d vote Yes again if there was an independence referendum tomorrow. However, the biggest lesson I learned from the first indyref was that not everyone is as enthusiastic or convinced by the merits of an independent Scotland as I am. As such, I think there are some things we need to address before we go full steam for Indyref2.
1. We need to deal with why we lost the first time.
I’m ashamed to admit that I fell hard into an echo chamber in the closing days of the first independence campaign to the point where I could no longer empathise or appreciate the opinions and fears of friends & family who were wavering or leaning to No.
Sadly, much of the pro-independence conversation since the referendum has remained deep in that echo chamber with conspiracy theories about how the vote was conducted/rigged, the mainstream media coverage and derision aimed at anyone who voted No because of sensible concerns remaining rampant.
This isn’t good enough. You don’t convert people by sticking a 45% badge on a tinfoil hat and mocking their concerns – if anything, you only entrench their opposition to your view.
We lost the first referendum for a lot of reasons but mostly because we failed to convince enough people that Scotland could thrive as an independent country in a mundane, everyday sense. Will we be better off or not? What’s the risk? We can go on about freedom and democratic deficits all we like, but if someone isn’t convinced that their job or pension will be secure, they probably aren’t going to go for it.
That doesn’t make someone a Yoon or a Quisling, it means that we need to improve our case and state it more inclusively.
2. Brexit: Remain does not Equal Yes
Much has been made of the fact that Scotland voted 62% to 38% to remain in the EU while the UK as a whole voted to Leave on the back of majorities in England & Wales.
While this does further illustrate the democratic deficit which Scotland experiences within the UK in that we can always be outvoted by the rest of the union (or indeed by England alone, ten times over) it cannot be taken as a guaranteed lever of a Yes vote, even assuming that Scotland would retain/regain EU membership in the event of independence (which is far from certain, but we’ll come back to that.)
For a start, it’s reckoned that more than a third of SNP voters voted for Leave in the EU referendum. One of my best friends has long said that there is no argument for independence from Westminster that doesn’t count double for independence from Brussels. Now, I don’t agree with that but I can accept that this is a widespread line of thought and one that needs to be considered.
It’s also worth remembering that the UK is a far more established and emotionally charged union than the EU and I’m not especially convinced that we’ll achieve the necessary 5.31% swing from No to Yes just by dangling the cherry of the EU, especially when being in the EU might be more toxic to a few former Yes voters than being out of the EU but in the union.
Of course, Scotland might not be able to retain EU membership as a continuing nation – especially if Article 50 is triggered and the two years elapses before a second indyref can be called, won and our separation from the UK confirmed and the relevant negotiations for EU entry completed – and even if it could, what conditions will be attached to that?
Otherwise, Scotland might be looking to apply for EU membership as a new member and there are conditions for that membership which Scotland currently fails to meet, especially as regards economic solvency and having a central bank of our own.
Basically, you can’t just point to the Remain vote in the EU referendum and say that alone is grounds for independence, a surety of victory or even entirely count on our ability to remain/regain EU membership. These divisions need addressed and these questions need to be answered.
3. The Economy
Oil prices are currently at roughly half the level they were immediately before the first independence referendum in 2014 ($90.81 a barrel in August 2014, currently $41.90.)
Given that historically the economic case foe Scottish independence has been based on our supposed oil wealth and the fossil fuel industry remains a major employer in the North East and Central Scotland, this is a significant factor ahead of a second independence referendum.
Obviously, as a Green I’m all for a just transition from fossil fuels to renewables in the interests of protecting the environment, but also in safeguarding jobs and energy security into the future. It’s lucky we have a plan for that…
However, in the context of a short term referendum campaign, which will be led by the SNP who have been slow to adapt to this thinking – largely because of that historical ‘it’s Scotland’s oil’ argument and their deep ties to the oil industry and it’s workers – the weakness of the oil industry is a serious blow to the case for Scotland’s prosperity as an independent nation. Hence, that argument needs refining.
Throw in the effects of two more years of Conservative austerity versus the promise of further austerity and the imminent damage of Brexit and the economic case is both more pessimistic and clouded than it was in 2014.
In my view, one of the biggest missteps in the first independence campaign was the proposal that an independent Scotland continue to use sterling as a currency. Even worse was when the UK establishment said they wouldn’t allow it, Alec Salmond responded with ‘yes you would and anyways you can’t stop us’ and refused to talk about a Plan B.
I can understand where the idea of continuing to use the £ came from – basically hammering home the idea that things would stay much the same under independence and as such assuage the fears of voters wary of too much change – but it meant offering a diluted form of independence that was still chained to Westminster.
Furthermore, Salmond’s response to the criticism of & resistance to the idea seemed arrogant and dismissive and put off at least four people that I know of from voting Yes. It’s no way to reassure people about the sensible management of your country’s monetary future.
This time, we need to have a serious discussion about our future currency and I’m heartened to see that Dr Craig Dalzell and Common Weal have made a start on this. I’d urge you to check out their report into the question of a sovereign currency for an independent Scotland here.
5. The Yes Movement is Split
There was a wonderful feeling on the eve of the first independence referendum where Yes was the only movement and concerns about other party loyalties weren’t even a secondary concern.
All that has changed. We’ve had both Westminster and Holyrood elections in the interim with SNP spokespeople calling the pro-indy credibility of the Greens & RISE into question and folks online calling them Yoons and accusing them of splitting the vote. So much for being pals in the ‘new politics.’
Institutions of the first referendum campaign such as National Collective and Wings Over Scotland are either gone or outed as divisive and unhelpful.
Scotland’s political landscape is changed and while the gains made my the Greens, the experience gained by folks in RISE & RIC and the proliferation of the new media (of which this blog is a tiny part) are all good things, there has been a lot of goodwill lost between the activists who will necessarily drive the campaign.
While Yes Scotland was funded by the SNP and the SNP will almost certainly be the financial and organizational core of Yes2, the beauty of the Yes movement was that it was not monolithic but a vibrant, diverse and inclusive concern.
If anything, we need to be more vibrant, more diverse and more inclusive second time round and a lot of folk are going to have to take back some slurs, apologise for things said out of tribalism and come together for the common cause – and that doesn’t mean everyone else just getting behind the SNP’s platform in an uncritical way.
We need to be self critical and not blame conspiracies or fearties for the first loss, but see where we fell short and seek to make a better, more complete and compelling case.
We need to nail down what is going to happen re: the EU, the economy, our currency and all the other mundane questions about how and independent Scotland will function. These proposals need to stand up to the most rigorous scrutiny and legitimate questions not be shouted down as fearmongering.
We need to get the Yes band back together and we need to be inclusive about bringing former No voters and campaigners into the fold.
We need to do all these things and we need to do it quickly, because the next referendum could come as soon as May 2017 and if we fall short, we might not win and never get the chance again.
I doubt I’m the only one who doesn‘t want to live through that 19th September hangover again, so let’s do the work, build the bridges and really start living like we’re in the early days of a better nation.
Image from http://indy-prints.com