It is clear, of course, that there has been a material change in circumstances. But in what way have those circumstances changed?
Well, for one thing, support for independence is different. There’s more of it.
There’s something so strange about previously staunch No voters, campaigners, politicians, and advocates making such a profound about-turn. Even stranger that my instinctive response isn’t derision, or anger, or even sarcasm, but instant, unequivocal acceptance. How could this be?
Yet when you think about it, it isn’t strange at all. After all, we know how it feels to be on the losing side in a referendum about a union. I remember the feeling of the very world falling away beneath my feet; it seemed like the colours had drained from life, leaving only grey. I didn’t know what we could do. What that it? Over, for a generation, a lifetime, more? Would all the older people in my SNP branch, my friends, my family, even live to see independence? In time, the despair fell away: the realisation that we came close, the surge in SNP support, and the reality of a No vote made me more assured than ever that independence was not a dying dream.
But it wasn’t only Yes voters who had a dream. Many of those who voted No did so in the hope that the UK was capable of change, be it Federalism, Home Rule, Devomax, or even just the status quo with a more compassionate government. We in the Yes campaign often criticiseed Better Together for their assertions of wide-ranging new powers being delivered to Scotland, but even if we didn’t believe them, it’s clear that many did. And when nearly all the UK’s parliamentarians, & the entire press & media is on the same side, can you blame people for thinking this? No voters were not inherently stupid, or selfish, or duped – they were let down by politicians who didn’t treat them with the respect or dignity that the electorate deserves, and failed to carry out their promises. There is a fundamental difference between being fooled, and being betrayed.
So believe me, I know exactly how No voters who valued their EU citizenship feel right now. I think all pro-EU Yes voters can say the same. This, more than anything, is why I have seen little but eager, warm and genuine acceptance from Yes campaigners to their counterparts who have just come over: we didn’t love the same things when it came to the constitutional status of Scotland, but we do know what it feels like to have our hearts broken. The fact that a highly convincing majority of Scots voted to remain in the European Union shows that, if nothing else, more Scots can be united in their support of EU membership than anything else.
No voters, thus, have a lot of soul searching to do. An arrogant & foolish UK Government just ripped up one of the most important promises they made in 2014. While back in 2014 it was never truly certain what Scotland’s status in the EU would be outside the UK (no thanks to that same UK government), right now we can be certain that if the UK acknowledges the democratic mandate of the people of England & Wales, then the UK will leave the EU. The 2014 referendum was fought with the understanding that the UK was in the EU, and that independence would jeopardise Scotland’s place in the EU. A second independence referendum simply cannot be campaigned on that basis. How can a referendum result stand when the United Kingdom itself is no longer the same as it was in 2014?
Predictably, the most prominent Leave campaigners are steadfastly against a second referendum: Boris Johnson claimed there wasn’t “any real appetite” for indyref 2, Paul Nuttall claimed it a disgrace for 4 million Scots to “hold the UK to ransom,” and Nigel Farage supposed there would be “no point” in holding another referendum since it would just be another No vote. There is absolutely no democratic defence for this. You cannot say Scots voted in the knowledge that the UK might leave the EU in a referendum, as the UK Government party did not even have a manifesto in 2014 – much less the possibility of delivering it with a majority. You cannot say Scots must abide to a vote, when the circumstances of that vote no longer apply. You certainly cannot deny that more Scots may value their EU membership than their UK membership.
Consider: the official result of the Scottish Independence Referendum was 45% Yes, 55% No; 4 of 32 Council Areas voted Yes, and a fifth was a statistical dead heat; the highest Yes vote was 57.3%, the highest No 67.2%. The European Union Referendum in Scotland was 62% Remain, 38% Leave; every single Council Area voted Remain, with only one borderline; the highest Remain vote was 74.4%, the highest Leave 49.9%. The Independence referendum had a 10 point gap: the EU referendum had a 24 point gap. That’s a greater margin than the 1979 Devolution Referendum’s 52%, even the 1975 EEC referendum’s 58% result in Scotland, and not far from the 63% Yes-Yes vote in 1997.
(To bring it down to Inverclyde levels: while the borders of what is now the Inverclyde Council Area have seen many changes over the decades, we can perhaps gauge some of the popular sentiment. Strathclyde voted 57% Yes to the EEC in 1975; it also voted 54% Yes to a Scottish Assembly in 1979, the third strongest Yes vote in Scotland; and Inverclyde voted 78% Yes to a Scottish Parliament, 67% Yes to tax-raising powers in that Parliament.)
True, the 67% turnout for this referendum was much lower than the 85% for the independence referendum – considering we’d just been through 2 elections since the last referendum less than two years ago, you could forgive Scots for being a bit ballot burnt-out – but it’s still one of the largest turnouts for any referendum held in Scotland, including the 1975, 1979, and 1997 referendums of 62%, 64% and 60% turnouts respectively. Plus, is it not telling that this would be the second time in recent memory a majority of Scots voted for something in a referendum, only to not get their way due to decisions made on a UK level?
The Scottish Independence Movement is undergoing a metamorphosis. New voices, previously lukewarm, critical or vehemently opposed to independence now join in the chorus – and they do it on their own terms. The Rebel Butterfly laid its egg, the very hungry caterpillar hatched and ate, and now it gestates. When it hatches, who knows what it will look like? Yet if the warmth and love I have already seen from this movement is anything to go by, I’m sure it’ll be beautiful.