Quite a year for us all, I think. Independence supporters across Scotland, with their hearts still broken, immediately turned around and shook the foundations of UK politics by electing 56 SNP MPs – only three of the unionists left, almost symbolic in the irony.
It’s been tough, too. For all the SNP’s success, Scotland still – predictably – got another government we didn’t vote for. Heck, the UK got a government 63% of voters didn’t vote for – a democratic mockery that’s only been exceeded once in the UK Parliament’s history.
So, what’s next for me?
Work On Your Art
Perhaps understandably, my artistic output rate has suffered in the 15 months since the referendum. I poured everything I could into getting an SNP MP elected, and after months of work and campaigning and canvassing, on the 7th of May, Ronnie Cowan joined 55 others on the tidal surge of independence supporters harnessing the Scottish peoples’ desire for more control over their own destinies.
After May… well, there wasn’t much we could do. We had a whole year until the next election, and we couldn’t keep up the same level of activity – not just for our sake, but for voters. The last thing we want is for a newly-engaged populace to get sick of politics: – that’s how we got into this mess in the first place, and why England and Wales are having such a tough time of it.
In the meantime, I was working on my art. I joined an art class to keep in practice, I kept going back and forth on my comics, I kept writing. For 2016, while I will certainly do my damnedest to get Stuart McMillan in as Greenock & Inverclyde SNP MSP, I will plan things better for what happens in the months after, before I start thinking about the 2017 Council elections – and whatever might happen in 2018.
Since 2010, I’d been going to Cross Plains in Texas. It’s the biggest extravagance I took part in each year, owing to the sheer expense of flights to America in recent years – to say nothing of the security gauntlet. The last time I went was in 2014. There were only a few months left until the referendum. I left Scotland for a month. The final result was decided by 86 votes.
Most of the campaigners I know still wring their hands – if only I did more. Everyone felt that. “If only I didn’t take that night off from canvassing on Sunday.” “If only I helped out at the stall more.” “If only I helped deliver more papers.” If only I stayed this year – of all years. Instead, I went to Cross Plains. I saw all my friends and relatives. I talked about the referendum any chance I got. I was sure we’d win, and win comprehensively. I was itching to get back home, to continue campaigning – but I figured I wasn’t that needed. Everyone at Yes Inverclyde worked hard. A recharge, a break, to come back rejuvenated and revitalised, was my justification.
Would it have changed anything? Would my mere presence in late May and early June in this most important year in Scotland’s history have had any effect on the official count? Nationwide, I doubt it – but it’s hard not to think that a constituency decided by 86 votes might have been affected by even the smallest nudges in a different direction. Would it have turned 86 more votes for No in the official count into a Yes result? Who knows.
I can never go back to America – not without Scotland’s independence assured. Every time I think of how optimistic and determined I was talking to my friends in America, I cannot help but feel the most profound sense of shame. Shame in so many of my countryfolk politely and democratically refusing what scores of countries fought for with every nerve and sinew, sure. Shame in my own misplaced confidence and naivete, that the British Establishment could be so easily defeated, undoubtedly. But most of all, shame in myself. Even putting aside any influence I, or any one individual, may have made on the result locally, what matters is that I left my people in the most important time of my country’s existence. There are people I can hardly bear to talk to online anymore, so deep is my personal sense of failure and mortification. How could I bear to show my face outside Scotland ever again?
I have two choices: either slink back to America with the contrived, pathetic, false nobility of the Dying Gaul, or I stride back with the assurance that my people were not the dog who handed back the leash to its master as soon as we were given the choice of freedom. I don’t want to keep my pals in America waiting much longer.
Enough is Enough
Just think: this was me being nice until now. I was accommodating to the sort of people who cheerfully misrepresent, undermine, and attack the very idea of Scottish independence. But Wings’ poll finally solved a problem I’d been struggling with: how can I, in all conscience, even consider engaging with No voters post-referendum? The logic is impeccable: given the official result, we clearly need to convince more people. Such was my desire even before the referendum: the idea that anyone in Scotland could vote No was unfathomable to me, and anything below 80% would’ve been a profound disappointment. Such naivete, I know.
After the referendum, I didn’t know how I could engage with my fellow Scots who voted against their own self-determination. How could we possibly win over even a fraction of 2 million people who chose Westminster over themselves? And yet if there were indeed 2 million people who heartily voted for the UK, why was the land not awash with relief and joy befitting such a result?
It is because – at most – only 30% of the Scottish electorate are so committed to the union that they say they would never vote for independence under any circumstances. In contrast, no less than 41% of people say they think Scotland should definitely be independent. As a result, there are really four subgroups of voters in the referendum: Yes, No, Always, and Never. And the number of “Always” voters is much greater than the “Never” voters. I believe these are significant distinctions in the context of the vote, and the constitutional question: it is why the official result was what it was, yet votes for pro-independence parties are greater than that for pro-union parties at the General Election.
It is thus not No voters as a whole with whom I have cause to quarrel, but the Never voters – who may or may not be synonymous with “Britnats,” “UKOKers,” “Yoons” or others. The problem is, just as Yes voters have been falsely caricatured as insular, racist “cybernats,” No voters have been equally falsely depicted as 100% Queen and Country North Britons – by Never voters as much as some Always voters.
The problem is that the Never voters have control of the debate. Consider: could you imagine the Mail, Telegraph, Times, or any of the other newspapers which openly advocated a No vote ever choosing to vote Yes? Can you invisage Iain Martin, Alan Cochrane, or any of the other openly No-advocating commentators changing their minds? Could you imagine Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson, or Willie Rennie ever crossing to the pro-independence side? The views of 30% of the electorate dominate, while the views of 41% are marginalised and excoriated – and they hide behind the 55% in the official referendum as their mandate to continue marginalising and excoriating the 45% who dared to vote Yes.
That some Unionists are still acting as if they lost the referendum bears testament to their concerns for the future of their precious United Kingdom. They constantly harangue the SNP about things that “would” have happened if Scotland was independent, completely ignoring the fact that Scotland was not independent. Prior to the referendum, they claimed the burden of proof was on those proposing independence. Well, despite our best efforts, we’re still in the UK: surely the burden of proof now lies on those who convinced those 2 million voters to vote for the UK?
When we were proposing independence, Unionists demanded we prove it’s worth it. Perhaps it’s time Unionists start proving the UK’s worth it, now that this “once in a generation/lifetime/epoch/galactic cycle” decision has been taken. Right?
We’re constantly told Scotland would be a financial basket-case as a result of falling North Sea revenues, while the UK government’s promises of a possible £200 billion bonanza if we just voted No are strangely forgotten – to say nothing of the debt. We’re endlessly browbeaten on how the SNP’s “failures” on education, the NHS, and the Forth Road Bridge “prove” we couldn’t have managed independence, even as we see the UK government letting England drown with a contemptuous lack of concern – this, barely two years after the last time this happened. We were assured that we Scots could “lead” the UK, that we would be loved and appreciated by a grateful UK, only for our chosen democratically-elected representatives to be undermined at every turn.
We keep hearing about the SNP’s “broken promises” – on oil revenues, on childcare, on defence – as if we had actually become independent, and the SNP somehow needed to be held to account. Yet it hasn’t happened. We’re not independent. You saw to it. So why are you still banging that drum? Why are you still fighting a battle you claim to have already won so decisively? Maybe because you realise just how fragile – and temporary – your victory truly was?
So I finally think I’m ready to talk to No voters – because No meant just that, No. It doesn’t, and didn’t, mean never – no matter how much the histrionic Unionist fringe proclaim. And I’m fed up with the 30% bossing the rest of us around.
Above all else, I will keep going. After the referendum, I was seized by a kind of resolve in my political outlook. I realised not only that politics was important, but that contrary to the constant refrain, you can make a difference. Every one of us at Yes Inverclyde made a difference, and every one of us who joined and campaigned for the SNP in May made a difference. Yet for all the elation of hearing 24,585 voted for Ronnie Cowan, it was still a UK government election – we were still in the UK. I knew even voting in 59 SNP MPs would be no panacea, it wouldn’t lead to an instant change in circumstances regardless of the seismic impact such an event should have on the Scottish constitutional debate. Yet even I was amazed by the sheer contempt shown to us.
The next six months are going to be tough. Free from a UK-wide election campaign, all of the Other Party’s resources and coffers can – and will – be poured into preventing the SNP from gaining a majority, and thus, a third term. They can rely upon UK-wide resources to fight a Scottish election. So too can the Blues, who are audaciously battling for position as Scotland’s Second Party after their worst General Election result in Scotland for a century and a half. Even the Oranges, a spent force throughout the UK, can rely on regular appearances in Scotland’s media entirely disproportionate to voter interest or support.
Well. Let’s see how it goes.