The next big step on the road to independence is underway: a national survey with the aim to reach as many Scottish voters as possible with their views on Scotland, independence, the European Union, and several other issues. Before the independence referendum, we were asking how they might vote: this time, we’re asking them why they voted the way they did.
It’s a crucial difference, and I’ll wager this is a primary reason it’s received such vigorous, diversionary opposition from avowed British Nationalists like Adam Tomkins:
… Mr Tomkins, we’re asking people why they voted No. It’s not a question with a binary Yes or No response.
Activist: (to voter) Why did you vote No?
Mr. Tomkins: We said No.
Activist: Actually, Mr Tomkins, I was talking to this voter, not you.
Mr. Tomkins: Yes, and we said No.
Activist: (turns to voter again) So, why did you vote No?
Mr. Tomkins: Didn’t you hear me, we said No!
Activist: (ignores Tomkins) I would just like to know what were your reasons for voting No?
Mr. Tomkins: WHY WON’T STURGEON LISTEN! WE SAID NO! NO MEANS NO! WE ARE THE PEOPLE!
Here is the Scottish Government actively engaging with No voters. They’re looking to ask them directly what they think. They want to know the reasons they voted the way they did, their fears, their hopes, their concerns, their ideas… And the response from one of Scotland’s MSPs is to butt in, answering for the voters. For someone so determined that the People of Scotland be listened to, why be so dismissive of this dialogue? Surely one would want the people of Scotland to say, en masse, exactly what they think of
Alex Salmond’s Nicola Sturgeon’s separatist dream, embarrass and humiliate and mortify her, so there can be no doubt whatsoever that the cause of separation is dead in the water? If the case against independence is so unassailable, then why not prove it – better still, let the people prove it, once and for all?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter to him and his party. As long as they put the cross in the right box, the reasons didn’t matter: the result was the same, whether voters were British Nationalists like himself, or people aching for a Federal UK run by Keir Hardie’s successors. No means No – and his party gets to decide what No means, regardless of what No voters might actually have wanted. Even if the majority of No voters voted explicitly for the former Prime Minister’s Home Rule promises, that doesn’t matter – Westminster decides what No means. Anything beyond that’s a waste of time. Get on with the day job, Nats.
Or is there more to it than that?
The independence referendum was marked by Better Together’s curious reluctance to debate. You would think they would relish the opportunity to tackle the Separatists head on before a crowd of potentially undecided voters – after all, the case for independence has apparently been in tatters for decades. Yet I can’t count the number of times someone from Better Together simply wasn’t available for a debate, or had to cancel, or simply refused to share a platform with some vile cybernat or another. For anecdote’s sake, I’ve found that while a fair number of the firmer British Nationalists I’ve talked to on the doorstep were more than happy to just rant a bit about Separatism and Deficits and Black Holes and whatever else, there was also a significant few who refused to even talk about it. That’s their prerogative, after all: we can ask to listen, but they don’t have to say anything, do they?
This all goes back to what I was saying recently – a significant number of No voters are genuinely frightened of independence and their supporters. They truly believe the horror stories about an independent Scotland, and have the impression the Scottish Government are sinister, malevolent insurrectionists only a few steps away from putting English people into camps and declaring war on England. They’re usually elderly, receive all their information about the world from television and newspapers, and faithful voters of the Other Party. They’re the ones who were told they would lose their pensions, that they would have to stock up on supplies, and that they must never ever open your doors to those dangerous Nationalists. They must make up a considerable proportion of the 70-80% of over-65s who are so strongly opposed to independence that they’ve completely tipped the scales of the pro-independence under-65s.*
It sounds unbelievable, but I’ve met these people. Sure, some of those over-65s are British Nationalists, or vote for the UK Government Party, or are risk-averse, but we shouldn’t underestimate just how frightened a lot of them are. Inverclyde has one of the largest elderly populations per head in all of Scotland. Many of our care homes were off-limits: we simply weren’t permitted entry. An elderly gentleman demanded I remove myself from his property before he called the police. One night, campaigning with my Mam, I heard a scream. I turned around from the door I was about to knock, to see Mum saying hello to a tiny shaking woman, absolutely scared out of her wits. After Mam tried her best to present a calm, nonthreatening manner, the lady gasped “No! No thanks!” before slamming the door shut. And, again, I can’t even count the number of people who came into Yes Inverclyde utterly terrified that the SNP would “take away their pensions.”
If I were a more cynical man, I might suppose that it is this is what the likes of Adam Tomkins are worried about: they’re concerned that the lies they told pensioners about the Scottish government, their money, their homes, their lives, and their futures, would come back to haunt them, just like all the other things they said. For now, the “Silent Majority” is useful to British Nationalist politicians: if No voters don’t tell the Scottish Government why they voted the way they did themselves, then the politicians can speak for them. Put words in their mouths.
It’s going to be tough. I already spent most of the referendum campaign – and a fair chunk of the subsequent elections, too – listening to prospective voters’ stories. It’s a different animal listening to someone saying that they voted No – past tense – knowing the official result. Even worse when they say they’d vote No again, and it wasn’t because of their love of Britain, so much as their fear of Scotland. Tough it may be, but it needs to be done.
British Nationalists love to say they speak for The Majority, yet they belong to parties that the majority of Scots did not vote for at all: indeed, the majority of Scots who voted in the past two elections voted for explicitly pro-independence parties. When the official result of the referendum came in, the minority of Nevers – British Nationalists who would never vote for independence under any circumstances – took that as a majority endorsement of their ideals. They thought No meant Never, and so stridently crow about it, as if every one of the 2 million people who voted No were just as Britophilic as they were. That’s the problem we’re seeing right now with the Leave vote in England & Wales: the extreme British Nationalists are emboldened, and decided that they will speak for the majority, even if only a fraction of Leave voters did so for the reasons the more odious politicians extol.
The British Nationalists have had their say – indeed, they won’t shut up about it. We know what they think. But there are not 2 million British Nationalists in Scotland. We want to know what they think. Perhaps it isn’t just the independence movement who should shut up and listen to them.
*Also, note the lack of 16-17-year-olds in that poll.