A victory for the Yes campaign: now the SNP must be challenged
Remember the bright colours of the Yes Scotland campaign? The red flags of the SSP. Black-t-shirted anarchists. Greens wearing rainbows flags. The vibrancy of new networks: Women for Independence, Common Weal, Radical Independence, National Collective. Readers of new media like Bella Caledonia, The National, Common Space. Yesterday the vast majority of all these people voted for the Scottish National Party.
In doing so they produced an electoral result like no other in this Scotland’s history.
That shouldn’t be surprising. General Election campaigns, usually a dreary affair with the power so far away from Scottish people, and lasting but a few weeks. Options are few and possibilities dampened.
The referendum on independence was a campaign of months and years. Options seemed infinite. Over its course it utterly redefined the landscape of Scottish civil society, social movements, and the media. How could the result of the General Election not reflect this legacy?
The SNP’s victory belongs not to Nicola Sturgeon or Alex Salmond, but to the Yes campaign.
Friends tell me on the doorstep many voters say they wanted to vote Green, but were voting SNP because they couldn’t bear to see Labour unpunished for their dismal offer to voters. They wanted to vote for the radical alternatives of Yes, and saw the SNP as the best hope they had.
These Yes voters are now being told by the UK media that they voted SNP out of a nationalist fervour that has made social justice, economics and democracy irrelevant in our political debate. “All we care about is where the border is.” The same London media made this claim during the referendum campaign. It seemed ludicrous then. It still is. But a lie told often enough starts to sink in. Will the SNP and its supporters succumb to this wave of rhetoric? Will Scotland give in to nationalism?
It mustn’t and it needn’t. We have 12 months until a Holyrood election that can totally redefine the centre of gravity of Scottish politics. We have the opportunity to tug the debate back to the left. All those Yes groups above have the capability within them, and all have a part to play in keeping the SNP true to its anti-austerity pledges and building real bases for the left in the Greens and the SSP.
The left must remind Scotland of the kind of country it aspired to be as the independence debate reached its climax last summer: a country of social justice, peace, equity, and democracy with many radical visions of how to get there.
As further devolution of powers is debated this will be all important. Such constitutional changes might seem unlikely under this new Conservative UK Government, but the party pledged English Votes for English Laws, and with so little legitimacy in Scotland may be amenable to placating SNP demands, especially those which give them more powers with which they can trip themselves up.
Another prospect looms which makes strong alternatives to the SNP vital: a referendum on EU membership. Nicola Sturgeon’s proposed veto seems an unlikely concession, as it would probably be seen as the UK Government fixing the result against leaving. I happen to think a vote to leave the EU is unlikely. But if it should pass then Sturgeon’s test that another independence referendum wouldn’t be on the cards with out a “material change” will surely be met – and looking at the current state of Britain, how could Scotland be expected to stay a second time?
This may be an enticing prospect of sorts, but what kind of independence can Scotland have with one party holding so much of our political power? Our opposition must start now.
Mouths were zipped during the Yes campaign, and were quiet in the Westminster campaign. We now need to start shouting: an all-SNP Scotland will not deliver the change we need. Alternatives must be heard.
Today’s Westminster result is a tragedy for England and Wales. Mourn it.
But in Scotland all is not lost. Pause. Re-focus. Get organised.