Some thoughts on the independence referendum
With due apologies for the click bait style of this post, being awake for too much of the past 2 days makes coherent blogging difficult!
1. The results show that it’s material concerns that influenced how people vote. Older and wealthier people voted no in the largest numbers. They suffer least from austerity and the rolling back of the state. Meanwhile 16 and 17 year olds and people in poorer areas voted overwhelmingly for independence.
2. Further powers is a difficult thing to deliver for the UK government. Already the First Ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland are demanding a part of the changes. This makes it much more difficult to manage expectations that the powers Scotland might get will be a good thing.
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones is especially keen to see Scotland’s funding decreased. It’s unclear how Westminster will manage this process, and it seems like the ‘timetable’ is slipping already. The complexity makes it very difficult to see a resolution any time soon, and given that it will take 9 years from inception to enactment to devolve power over stamp duty, landfill tax and air guns the chances of this process getting bogged down are very high.
3. I’m still unsure how the Westminster parties square the circle of more tax raising powers for Scotland with their claims that they won’t end the Barnett formula, which is based on spending in the rest of the UK. Either you have a block grant based on spending or you raise your own taxes. Unless substantial borrowing powers are also devolved (which no one has proposed and is very unlikely) this settlement will result in a great deal of instability in government income in Scotland. Which may be aim of the Westminster parties keen to make Holyrood make difficult decisions. But it may also blow a hole in any settlement at the next recession as tax incomes and private spending drop and borrowing is required to make up the shortfall through counter cyclical spending.
4. A price must be paid for Holyrood’s temerity in challenging Westminster. We shot at the King and we missed. It’s likely to be the poor and possibly the old that bear the brunt of this. There is no way that the Westminster parties will forgive the Scottish people for making them crawl with the offer of more powers. This price will come in the form of cuts to benefits for older people (currently untouched by austerity) and more cuts to social security for the working poor and those out of work. With huge tranches of austerity still to come there will have to be cuts in different areas of public expenditure. Sadly this could have been avoided with independence, but it wasn’t to be.
5. It’s almost certain that the ‘solidarity’ argument will be destroyed by Conservatives curtailing the right of Scottish MPs to vote on ‘English matters’. Many arguments against independence focused on keeping Westminster MPs to ‘save the north of England’. But the Conservatives have a very obvious way to circumvent this. By defining what is an ‘English issue’ very broadly, Scottish MPs will be reduced to voting on finance bills and little else. That really would build in a permanent Conservative majority at Westminster. Especially if the number of Scottish MPs is reduced in light of their reduced role.
This will be so popular with an English electorate that already feels disenfranchised and occasionally vengeful towards Scotland that Labour will find it very difficult to oppose.
6. It shows movement politics can work. In contrast with point 1, it seems that the opportunity to create a new politics motivated people like no other issue. The ability of the Radical Independence Campaign, Common Weal, National Collective and Green Yes to create mass engagement was unprecedented. It shows that we need to work hard on our vision of a new politics to engage people.
And that engagement needs to start now.
Where some thought we were sovereign between 7am and 10pm on the 18th September, we’ve been sovereign for over 2 years. We need to keep that sovereignty alive though our mass movement. The struggle continues: our day will come.