Today it’s the sixth anniversary of the independence referendum of 2014. We all know what happened on that day, how hopes were dashed and dreams evaporated, but six years later the independence movement is still here, still strong, and still setting the Scottish political agenda. Our hopes and dreams are very much alive. It was far from inevitable that things would turn out that way.
Scotland voted No in 2014 conditionally. A majority of people in this country elected to give the British state the benefit of the doubt. They gave Westminster one last chance to redeem itself, to prove itself, and to follow through on the promises and commitments that Westminster politicians made to Scotland. The pledges of love. The heartfelt pleas not to leave but to lead. The cries that we were needed and wanted. They all proved as hollow as what passes for a soul in the Conservative party. Scotland wasn’t just disappointed by what happened after that No vote, it was traduced, betrayed, and insulted.
We are where we are now because of the historic failure of the British state and British politicians to follow through on the promises and commitments that they made to the people of Scotland in order to win that No vote in 2014. If they had indeed ensured that Scotland’s ties to the European Union were safe, that the Scottish Parliament was inviolable, that devolution was entrenched and strengthened, that we were living in the closest thing possible to a fully federal state, there would still be those of us agitating for independence, but we’d be a small minority lost on the fringes of Scottish politics, has beens who’d never been in the first place. We are where we are now because the British state and the Conservative party in particular has lied, deceived, and trampled on the faith that the people of Scotland entrusted to it.
The Tories are unable and unwilling to grasp their own responsibility for bringing to an end the precioussss union that they profess to love. They could have their hard Brexit, or they could have their precioussss union. They’ve chosen Brexit. The Conservatives have killed the union with their arrogance and their enslavement to the demons of English nationalism. They killed it because they wanted both a union and a unitary state at the same time and in the same place. They killed it because they practised an extreme form of regressive nationalism while at the same time rejecting any notion that they could possibly be nationalists at all. The precioussss was crushed between the contradictions.
Now they are telling Scotland that up is down, that black is white, that undermining devolution is strengthening it, that removing our rights as European citizens is setting us free. Scotland doesn’t believe them. We watch the antics of the Clown Prince of Downing Street with a mixture of disgust, anger, and revulsion. This creature and his minions do not represent us.
We are in a far stronger position now than we were six years ago. Six years ago the challenge was to normalise the idea of independence, to get people in a country where the majority had never considered that Scotland could possibly stand on its own feet that the idea of independence was realistic. The independence movement not only succeeded in normalising the idea of independence, it made independence the single most important question in Scottish politics. The issue of independence is the fulcrum around which all other political considerations revolve. Even the Conservatives are now defined by their stance on the independence issue.
The experience of the pandemic, the greatest crisis that the world has faced since WW2, did not put Scottish independence back into its shortbread tin as British nationalists confidently expected when the gravity of the crisis was first grasped. Instead people in Scotland saw that their own institutions were perfectly capable of rising to the challenge, and have noted that Scotland began to do better once it diverged from the British Government’s guidelines. It has made people realise that Scotland doesn’t need Westminster to protect it from the big bad world, Westminster is holding us back.
As a nation, we have changed from the Scotland we lived in just six years ago. Every single age cohort in Scotland except the oldest now has a majority for yes. Amongst the younger generations belief in independence is overwhelming. The clock is ticking on the UK. We now have the longest period of consistent majorities for independence in opinion polling that we have ever seen. An even larger majority, according to a poll for Businesss for Scotland, expect that Scotland will vote yes the next time that we have a referendum. That means that even a substantial number of no voters accept that Scottish independence is a likelihood.
Public opinion in the rest of the UK is also shifting. As an avid reader of anything related to Scottish independence in the Guardian, the comments below the articles are often far more instructive than the articles themselves. In 2014 despite the best efforts of a doughty band of pro-indy posters, a large majority of the comments from those outwith Scotland expressed outright hostility, anger, and incomprehension at the idea that Scotland should seek independence. Now the tone has changed. The dominant sentiment is “I don’t blame them.” In the space of six years the majority of English liberal opinion has gone from “We love you Scotland. Stay with us. You need us” to “Get out while you can. Save yourselves.”
The scare story tactics of the British nationalists, designed for internal Scottish consumption, have also begun to backfire. For years they’ve told Scotland that it’s an economic basketcase utterly dependent on the goodwill of English taxpayers. But English taxpayers have also been listening and they’re going increasingly resentful of an unhappy Scotland which rejects the Brexit project. A majority of Conservative voters would now cheerfully see the back of Scotland. Together with the shift in English liberal opinion this means that there is no longer the bedrock of support within England for keeping Scotland in the UK that there was in 2014.
Nothing is inevitable in life or in politics, but unless something unforeseen happens Scotland is clearly on a trajectory that only ends in independence. That wasn’t the case in 2014. It’s not going to be an easy path. It won’t be a smooth road. It’s going to require discipline, determination, and a lot of work. But the fact remains that the chances of independence are higher now than they ever were before.
A Scotland which is resolved to seek independence is a very recent developement. Had we pressed ahead with a referendum before now, we could very well have lost and then there would be nothing but grief on this sixth anniversary of a dream that didn’t die. Instead we have our hopes, we have our dreams, and we can see that they are becoming ever more solid and substantial. For all our movement’s internal disputes and arguments about strategy and tactics, the incontrovertible fact is that the independence movement is alive, kicking, and still setting the Scottish political agenda. And more than that, we can see victory ahead.
There’s no podcast today as I was unable to fix a date and time with the person I was hoping to have on this week. There will be a podcast next week, and hopefully the person who I was hoping could be on today can appear in some future episode.
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My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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