Category Archives: post-No

Where was the SNP?

Freedom Square in Glasgow today, one year and a day after the independence referendum.
Freedom Square in Glasgow today, one year and a day after the independence referendum.
I'm just back from the Hope over Fear rally in Glasgow that was held to commemorate the independence referendum.

It was great -- a fun family outing like the ones we used to attend all the time during the referendum campaign. The kids know the routine -- going to the face-painting stall and wearing huge Saltires -- and they love it.

I met a lot of friends from the Yes campaign there. Most of them are SNP members today, but of course there were people from all pro-Yes parties and none.

However, the SNP wasn't officially involved in the event, and as far as I could tell, there weren't any MPs or MSPs there. It was almost as if they'd been told not to attend.

I can understand if people in SNP HQ are worried about sharing a platform with Tommy Sheridan and about helping the Greens and the SSP in the fight for the crucial Holyrood list votes, but boycotting the post-No Yes events is a monumental error.

At least 95% of the people at the rally today were there because they saw it as a Yes event, and they couldn't care less who the organiser was. Yes supporters have a huge need for Yes marches and rallies to keep the flame alive, and Tommy Sheridan's Solidarity party is simply filling the void left behind by the SNP.

As a result, the ordinary punter can easily get the impression that Tommy Sheridan cares much more about independence than the SNP, which is obviously completely and utterly wrong.

If Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon had been there today, they would of course have got a much bigger cheer than Tommy Sheridan, and it would have given them a great platform to explain why a list vote for the SNP is the best way to get independence soon, and probably more effective than giving the second vote to one of the smaller pro-Yes parties.

I'm not saying the SNP needs to share a platform with Solidarity if they don't want to. They could create great Yes events together with the Greens, the SSP and the surviving Yes groups such as Women for Independence and Business for Scotland, and of course the vast majority of SNP members would choose to attend the events organised by their own party. Also, the turn-out was excellent today, but if the SNP organised and publicised an event (such as a march and rally in Edinburgh on the independence anniversary), it should be quite feasible to get at least 100,000 people to attend, and that would really get Westminster's attention.

As I've argued before, we need to campaign for independence now in order to get the support up to a level where a new referendum is inevitable. We can't simply focus on party politics and hope that support for independence suddenly increases on its own.

Two percent of Scots have joined the SNP over the past year because they think it's the best way to get independence soon. However, my gut feeling is their support is dependent on a strong commitment to independence, and that means the SNP has to be seen to be leading the continuing Yes campaign. The SNP should have had a strong official presence on Freedom Square today.

The Independence Institute

Yes Govan
Yes Govan.
I can understand why Yes Scotland was closed down after the referendum -- it was expensive and yet not that good at coordinating the grassroots. However, nothing has filled the void left behind.

The SNP is of course doing incredibly well, but at the end of the day it's a political party and not only an independence organisation. The same holds true for the Greens and the SSP.

As a result of this, you haven't see any official SNP involvement in the marches and rallies that have been held since the referendum -- and partly as a consequence of this, Tommy Sheridan has several times taken the opportunity to up his profile by being a big presence at the rallies.

It's also not quite clear how much effort is going into dissecting all the flaws of the first independence campaign to ensure we do better next time.

At the same time, many people -- myself included -- are clearly waiting impatiently for independence, and yet we understand that we must wait until there's a clear Yes majority in the opinion polls before calling a new referendum.

So we need a rallying point. However, setting up Yes Scotland Mark II is probably not a good idea -- we don't need a campaign organisation at this stage.

I would instead propose that we set up an Independence Institute with the following remit:

  • To organise events (conferences, workshops, perhaps even rallies) where pro-independence parties, organisations, bloggers and individuals can meet up and exchange ideas.
  • To analyse the first independence campaign and figure out how to do better next time.
  • To produce badges, car stickers and other materials that supporters can use when the don't want to use party-branded stuff.
  • To liaise with all the pro-independence parties to ensure they're all remain committed to the cause and are ready once the second campaign gets called.
  • To push support for independence up over the 60% mark that will probably trigger a new referendum.

The Independence Institute would probably be a mixture between a think tank and a campaign organisation. Once the second indyref gets called, it can hopefully easily transform itself into Yes Scotland II.

The ratchet effect

A guest post by Gerald Baird.

Spirit of Independence
Spirit of Independence by Màrtainn MacDhòmhnaill, on Flickr.
Of course I would rather there had been a Yes vote, but I don't feel gutted and empty like so many, and here's why.

All along I have been unhappy with the timing of this referendum; Salmond was over a barrel; the unexpected landslide in 2011 made it well-nigh impossible not to go ahead with the referendum in the current session of parliament, and that's what the SNP conference decided that year, although Salmond was too clever an operator not to realise the problems. Wendy Alexander's notorious "Bring it on" call was just one example of the pressure on him to call it, but of course he knew that the population was not yet ready.

The Yes campaign, fascinating and revolutionary as it has been, always seemed to me to have something a bit febrile, a bit attenuated about it. It lacked the breadth-in-depth needed for its position to be incontrovertible. Though the White Paper did a remarkable job, there were too many openings for malevolent opponents to aim at and to nail with a lying headline.

It's all to do with education, in the widest sense, and the process is only half done. It has developed amazingly quickly, but it does need time for new ideas to be introduced and for people to become aware of them and go through the stages of shock, ridicule, knee-jerk opposition, growing understanding, admission of possibility, passive acceptance and finally active endorsement. The awareness of the issues is vastly more widespread than it was even a year ago, and above all, the idea of independence has become naturalised within the political landscape as a perfectly legitimate option available to Scots if they wish to take it.

The sudden realisation in England that the Union might soon have been over without their being able to do a thing about it is a further indication of how things have moved on. This is an enormous advance, and given the universal hostility of the corrupt press, the unspeakable BBC Scotland, the unanimity of the official parties in Scotland, Labour, LibDems and Tories, Cameron's calling-in of debts from folk like Obama and other worthies, all the scare stories from business, banks and supermarkets ... and yet, given all this, forty-five per cent of the population voted, not for the SNP, but for independence! That's a barely credible change that has taken place in a very short time, and it seems to me a very healthy base indeed on which to work for a final push.

I think the situation will have changed radically again in two or three years (it's changed pretty fast in two or three days so far!) There's no chance at all of Westminster being able to satisfy the needs of Scotland with their insulting back-of-a-fag-packet "More Powers" legerdemain, as their current (highly diverting) disarray demonstrates, and the best recruiting officers for independence are already taking up their positions: Cameron, Miliband, Boris and Farage.

The genie is out of the bottle, and although I won't say all we have to do is sit back and wait, really the best arguments for control of our own affairs are going to be displayed in front of us. An enormous number of No voters are putting their trust in Westminster to come up with the goods, and that's just not possible. I can sympathise with the English on this; if I were an MP for somewhere in Norfolk or Hereford, my reaction would certainly be, "What? Still more Westminster time for the Jocks? They had their chance and bottled it; time to move on."

When widespread disenchantment sets in among the No voters, as it inevitably must, we will be told that we can't have another referendum. Westminster, having made the mistake once, will not assist in the legitimising of a democratic vote a second time. So what's the procedure? There are two ways of doing it: one is for the Scottish Government to have a referendum anyway, and stuff Westminster. It would have to be supervised by international bodies, of course, but I don't see a problem.

Secondly, my last resort proposal is what I call the Sinn Fein option, not a helpful title, since it immediately makes folk think I'm advocating violence. Not at all; in the UK general election of December 1918 Sinn Fein stood in every seat in Ireland on a manifesto of declaring independence; they won a substantial majority of seats and immediately declared themselves to be the Dáil Éireann, packed their bags and left Westminster. The UK government declared this to be an illegal move, and the Dáil said effectively, "So what?" (I'll say in passing that one of the things about life in Britain which really irritates me is the near-universal failure ever to consider the experience of other societies in dealing with similar problems. Whether it's education, health policy, local government or whatever, the debate is conducted largely by assertion on both sides rather than thinking, What do they do about defence in Finland? How do the Germans provide health services? How important are private schools in Italy? How did Czechoslovakia manage the split? More to the point, how did Ireland?)

The Scottish situation is immeasurably simpler than was the Irish, with an immovable and sizeable Ulster bloc of hostile and implacable bigots ready to take up arms with the less than covert support of half of the UK establishment, and I adduce this evidence just to make clear that, given a properly prepared electorate, whatever may be said (and it will be) there is no problem at all about the future mechanics of producing a legitimate end to the Union. And that's what it is, of course. I wish the Yes campaign had squashed early on the terminology of "leaving" the Union, as if it would survive, if in a lesser form, after Scottish independence.

It's connected with all the tedious nonsense one has heard, and will hear, about Manchester, or Yorkshire, having just as much right as Scotland, blah, blah. The whole point is that Scotland, unlike Yorkshire, is one of the two (not four) constituent nations of the Union, one of the two signatories of the Treaty of Union. A marriage ends when one of the participants has had enough; the position of long-term boarders, or live-in aunts, is not a factor, however problematic it may be for them.

Winnie looks on in the campaign war room
Winnie looks on in the campaign war room by Ewan McIntosh, on Flickr.
Ultimately that has been the main problem in the long and complex history of the Union: the fact that the English (and because of non-existent education in these matters, very many Scots) have never seen Scotland as England's constitutional partner in the enterprise of Union, but as a troublesome province with ideas above its station which has had to be appeased from time to time.

Anyway, to my own surprise rather than feeling despondent I find myself astonishingly optimistic about the future, and the next time, since everyone has been through it before, it will be much better prepared for.

Really since Winnie Ewing in Hamilton all those years ago, the progress of self-determination for Scotland has been a ratchet effect: a bit forward, a bit back, but never quite as far back as it was before. The events of this year have moved the ratchet nearly to its end; I see the current position as a reculer pour mieux sauter, not a setback. As I've been saying for decades now, It's comin yet, for aa that!

More pandas than Unionist MPs

panda by Camilla Hoel, on Flickr.
The Unionist MPs from Scotland (such as Jim Murphy, Gordon Brows and Alistair Carmichael) dominated Better Together strongly because they were the only people with a strong personal interest in the status quo. The majority of MSPs and councillors didn't care all that much, and neither did most rUK MPs.

It's therefore really important that we get rid of as many Scottish Unionist MPs as possible at the next Westminster election in May, because this will weaken as future No campaign a lot. However, how realistic is it?

To find out, I looked at the votes cast for Unionist parties in 2010 and compared it with the Yes vote in the referendum. Unfortunately, at the moment referendum data is not available on a constituency basis, so I had to group some constituencies and council areas together to achieve comparable areas. In the table below, the first three data columns show first the votes cast for pro-independence parties in 2010, then the votes cast for Unionist parties, and finally the votes cast the the largest Unionist party (given that this is a FPTP election); the next two columns provide the referendum results, and the last column lists the difference between the votes cast for the largest No party in 2010 and the Yes vote in 2014:

2010 Election Independence Referendum
Area Yes parties No parties Largest No party Yes No Diff.
Glasgow 41977 177703 128818 194779 169347 65961
Aberdeen / Aberdeenshire 47268 160549 79246 130727 192700 51481
Angus / Dundee 41086 72042 43261 88664 85072 45403
Edinburgh 30797 188849 86426 123927 194638 37501
East Ayrshire / North Ayrshire / South Ayrshire 40687 140919 88902 121236 140705 32334
East Dunbartonshire / North Lanarkshire 37407 166140 114587 146407 159236 31820
Falkirk / West Lothian 40869 106188 72056 103831 123712 31775
Highland 19582 86449 49414 78069 87739 28655
Clackmannanshire / Perth and Kinross 33062 63843 33870 57825 81750 23955
Dumfries and Galloway / Scottish Borders / South Lanarkshire 44943 240783 141702 165510 247392 23808
Fife 26235 145823 95208 114148 139788 18940
Moray 16273 23646 10683 27232 36935 16549
Argyll and Bute 8563 35427 14292 26324 37143 12032
Renfrewshire 15561 66224 47455 55466 62067 8011
Midlothian 8100 29821 18449 26370 33972 7921
West Dunbartonshire 8497 32581 25905 33720 28776 7815
Inverclyde 6577 30502 20993 27243 27329 6250
East Lothian 7883 39868 21919 27467 44283 5548
Stirling 8091 37609 19558 25010 37153 5452
Na h-Eileanan an Iar 8135 6582 4838 9195 10544 4357
Orkney Islands / Shetland Islands 2042 16082 11989 10552 19955 -1437
East Renfrewshire 4535 46274 25987 24287 41690 -1700

As an example of how to read the table, the constituency of Argyll and Bute in 2010 saw 8563 votes cast for Yes parties and 35427 votes for No parties; however, the latter were divided between three parties, and the winning party (the LibDems) only got 14292 votes, which is 12032 votes less than the 26324 votes cast in favour of independence last Thursday.

(I should point out that SNP constituencies haven't been eliminated -- for instance, Na h-Eileanan an Iar currently have an excellent SNP MP.)

It's clear that almost everywhere, more votes were cast for Yes than for the largest No party. The two exceptions are Orkney and Shetland, where there is a very strong Liberal tradition, and East Renfrewshire, which was a Tory stronghold until recently and so Labour benefits from a lot of tactical voting to keep out the Tories.

In other words, in most of the country it should be possible to unseat the sitting Unionist MP if we can mobilise all Yes voters from the referendum. I do have my doubts about Orkney and Shetland, but I guess it would be quite useful to keep one Unionist MP so that we don't have to stop telling panda jokes.

Of course, this analysis is rather crude because I didn't have access to the referendum data on a Westminster constituency basis. If I manage to find this, I'll publish a new version of this blog post.

Unpredictable prediction errors

Yes? by Cams, on Flickr.
Readers of this blog may remember that a while ago I made a prediction of the geographical distribution of a narrow Yes vote, based on the most recent council election and some reasonable assumptions about voter behaviour.

The assumption made was that the following percentage of party voters would vote Yes: SNP -- 81.7%, Labour -- 25.8%, Tory -- 5.9%, LibDem -- 26.2%, Others -- 50.0%. (That is, I expected 81.7% of the people who voted SNP in the council elections to vote Yes to independence.)

A survey made by Lord Ashcroft (PDF) found that 86% of SNP voters, 37% of Labour voters, 5% of Tories and 39% of LibDem voters voted Yes to independence, but this was based on people's recollection of their last Westminster vote, not the council elections. Also, this was based on a small sample, so these numbers may not be entirely accurate.

To test this, I wrote a computer program to work out the percentages that would have produced the best prediction of the actual result (still based on the council election results). The results are rather surprising: SNP -- 64.6%, Labour -- 50.3%, Tory -- 9.1%, LibDem -- 33.4%, Others -- 36.9%. Using these percentages produces a decent prediction of the actual result (although a few council areas are wrong, such as Dundee, which performed much better than the revised prediction, and West Lothian, which performed worse).

I don't claim that these revised percentages are accurate -- you'd need a massive exit poll to make sure -- but they show that many strong SNP areas performed much worse than I had expected, and many Labour areas performed much better.

To illustrate this, look at the differences between the old prediction and the actual result (the table has been sorted by the difference):

Council area Old prediction Actual result Difference
Orkney Islands 56% 33% -23%
Shetland Islands 56% 36% -20%
Moray 60% 42% -18%
Scottish Borders 47% 33% -14%
Aberdeenshire 53% 40% -13%
Angus 57% 44% -13%
Argyll and Bute 53% 41% -12%
East Lothian 49% 38% -11%
Na h-Eileanan an Iar 58% 47% -11%
Perth and Kinross 51% 40% -11%
West Lothian 55% 45% -10%
Clackmannanshire 55% 46% -9%
Midlothian 53% 44% -9%
Dumfries and Galloway 43% 34% -9%
East Ayrshire 55% 47% -8%
Aberdeen 49% 41% -8%
Falkirk 54% 47% -7%
Highland 54% 47% -7%
Stirling 47% 40% -7%
Fife 51% 45% -6%
South Lanarkshire 51% 45% -6%
Renfrewshire 52% 47% -5%
East Dunbartonshire 44% 39% -5%
North Ayrshire 53% 49% -4%
Edinburgh 43% 39% -4%
East Renfrewshire 40% 37% -3%
North Lanarkshire 53% 51% -2%
West Dunbartonshire 56% 54% -2%
South Ayrshire 43% 42% -1%
Dundee 56% 57% 1%
Inverclyde 49% 50% 1%
Glasgow 51% 53% 2%

Orkney and Shetland might be special cases, because they are so far away from Edinburgh, but what happened in places such as Moray, Aberdeenshire and Angus? Did the focus on winning over the Labour voters in Greater Glasgow make the rural SNP voters desert independence?

Going forward, we need to ensure that independence doesn't become solely a left-wing ambition. Independence will be good for almost everybody in Scotland, and next time we need to work harder on making independence the choice of people everywhere, not just in and around Glasgow and Dundee.

Looking forward on a day of sadness

Scottish independence referendum resultsI'm absolutely devastated. We nearly won. We could have won. But we didn't.

We will respect the referendum result, which means we won't declare independence without holding another referendum, and we cannot hold another referendum without exhausting the alternatives first.

I'm still trying to gather my thoughts, which is hard when you feel tired, sad and deflated. However, I've listed below a few thoughts about what will need to happen now. Please leave comments with more suggestions for the future!

  1. It's completely clear to me that No only won because many voters got the impression we'd get Devo Max if we voted No. I've always been very cynical about this, but we now need to do out very best to achieve Devo Max (or Home Rule), and/or federalism in the UK.
  2. The Yes movement needs to be preserved in some form, primarily to guard over this journey towards Home Rule, but also -- if the No side reneges on its promises -- to campaign for a new referendum because the No side didn't deliver. It would be unfortunate if this became a purely party-political matter again.
  3. The SNP should rename itself -- the word "national" makes too many people jump to the conclusion that it's deep down an ethnic nationalist party (which it isn't). As I've argued before, "sovereigntist" would be a better word. It gets a bit tiring to state over and over again that the nationalists in Scotland aren't nationalists.
  4. We need more media in Scotland to represent the views of the 45% who voted Yes to independence. If the BBC's bias problems cannot be resolved (for instance by devolving broadcasting), we need to create a new Scottish broadcaster. We also need to convince more or the newspapers that it's in their own commercial interest to cater for the younger, pro-independence audience.
  5. We need to work hard on getting rid of the Scottish cringe. It would have happened on its own after a Yes vote, but now it'll be much harder. We need to keep showing people that Scotland is big enough, rich enough and clever enough to be in charge of its own destiny. We also need to make people understand that Scottish culture isn't inferior, and I think working on promoting the Scots language would be very helpful in this context, because it would show Scottish people that the traditional language of Scotland is part of Scotland's proud heritage.

I do hope the fact that 45% of voters supported independence will tell Westminster that something has to change. If 70% of voters had voted No, I've no doubt that Westminster would have thought it'd be a great opportunity to get rid of the Barnett formula and such things, but they must now be scared. They know they only won this referendum by the skin of their teeth.