The British elite threw everything into stopping a Yes win, but the narrowness of the No vote adds to the crisis of the United Kingdom
So near and yet so far. Despite all the energy, creativity and excitement of the great debate which has gripped Scotland it did not achieve a Yes vote.
Yet, for the pro-independence campaign to get anywhere near to winning was nothing short of a miracle. Westminster thought a No vote was a certainty until the last fortnight of the campaign. The British elite will not be happy with the sheer numbers – over one million - prepared to vote to quit the United Kingdom.
The British elite threw the kitchen sink and more into stopping a Yes win – rolling out corporate chiefs galore to threaten disinvestment and, in the case of one Deutsche Bank spokesman, the greatest economic depression since the 1930s. The media bias was so bad it would have been hard to make it up. The fear factor was the British elite’s best weapon and boy did they use it.
Not content with that they turned to a trusty ally, the leadership of the Labour Party, and in particular former premier Gordon Brown. Brown, firstly, ditched the cross party Better Together and campaigned on a Labour ticket, using words like solidarity excised from the party’s dictionary under New Labour without any embarrassment. Secondly, Brown announced that all three Westminster parties had agreed to his plan to fast track extra powers for the Scottish parliament. This may have been news to David Cameron but he hurriedly agreed understanding it had to be done to head off independence.
That will create real problems for Cameron. Even before polls closed in Scotland yesterday the railways minister, Claire Perry, joined a growing number of Tory MPs criticising the promises made to Scottish voters. They want the scrapping of the Barnett Formula, whereby Scotland receives a portion of the UK budget, despite Cameron joining Miliband and Cameron pledging to retain it.
In two weeks time Cameron looks set to lose the Clacton by-election to UKIP, after the sitting Tory MP, Douglas Carsewell changed his colours, resigning from the Tories to join Nigel Farrage and forcing a by-election.
More importantly Cameron, as has been widely reported, has waited for the referendum to be out of the way before ordering British airstrikes in Iraq. Independence campaigners should demand a vote on this in the Scottish parliament and that the SNP, which opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, should vote against fresh military action there.
The narrowness of the No vote adds to the deep crisis at the heart of the United Kingdom. For historical reasons the British economy is very globalised and thus exposed to any turmoil on the world markets. Secondly, its historic dependence on finance, its low investment and its low productivity means it’s suffered over a century of economic decline that no government, not least Thatcher’s been able to staunch let alone reverse.
Having lost an empire the British elite cannot be confident Scotland is safe in the Union. The age profile of the No camp suggests time is not on their side. Further, a poll this week showed Scotland and London would vote to stay in the European Union if a referendum is held on Britain’s membership, the rest of England would vote to quit. Such a result would open up a can of worms.
Returning to Scotland, the Yes vote is big enough to create a problem in that down the road the trend is towards independence. For Scottish Labour its clear the Yes vote was firmly based on working class areas which were traditional Labour heartlands in Glasgow, elsewhere on Clydeside and Dundee (the SNP could not carry its strongholds like Angus, a largely rural and small town area). Those traditional Labour voters were subject to a considerable amount of denunciation by the Labour leadership and its unlikely those Yes voters will return to the Labour camp any time soon.
The crucial question is what happens to the huge numbers mobilised to campaign for independence, particularly those who were mobilised by the Radical Independence Campaign and the other groups fighting for a different, radical Scotland.
For them but there will be a bad hang over this morning but once we’ve recovered there is work to be done. There is no Team Scotland. This is a country divided along class lines. That’s important, there will be battles over fresh wars, austerity and much else, but the central question for me is where those working class people who voted Yes go now. They found a voice for the first time in a generation in the broad pro-independence campaign. Tinkering with the constitution is not going to satisfy them.
The SNP will try and capture their support but they could not carry their heartlands such as Angus and Perth & Kinross for Yes and during the referendum campaign their “Vote Yes and nothing will change we’ll keep the queen, pound and Nato” was not inspiring. It was crucial that the more radical message of Radical Independence Campaign in others mobilised working class people. The SNP are capable of outmatching Labour in terms of social democratic rhetoric but they accept the neoliberal template.
This poses the question that having mobilised working class communities and a new generation of young activists RIC and others have to ensure they do not lose their new home and their new sense of identity.
The radical left got its act together in this campaign. It needs to stay together because it’s better together.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.
More articles from this author
- Civil liberties in Spain? The clampdown against the Catalan independence movement
- What’s changing in Scotland?
- Flawed transition: why the Spanish state is repressing the Catalan independence movement
- Sails and Winds: A Cultural History of Valencia - book review
- Imperial calculations: why World War Two was declared 80 years ago today
- Westminster is broken, it's time for Scotland to quit
- Defending the Indefensible: the British Army in Northern Ireland, 1969