For over 700 days, the people of Scotland were hammered by a fear campaign orchestrated by the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and of course, the Labour Party. If the working class were the only ones to vote in the independence referendum, there would have been a Yes vote on September 18th. In Scotland’s poorest areas, all of which are traditional Labour heartlands, the argument for independence to create a socially just Scotland was won. A Yes vote became a revolt against the alienation of the British state and the British economy.
All analyses of the referendum result have agreed that there is a linear relationship between unemployment, poverty and a higher Yes vote. That relationship is much stronger than, for example, the difference between men and women or between SNP areas and Labour areas. Four out of the six poorest constituencies in Scotland voted yes.
The voter turnout was so high because for once, how you voted actually mattered. The referendum proved that when people are given a vote which genuinely makes a difference to their lives and to those around them, they reached out and not only voted but shaped the entire substance of the debate.
Working class people in Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire and Dundee are now acutely aware and have made it explicitly clear that Labour does not improve living standards, while the party’s commitment to continued austerity has caused the party’s traditional base in Scotland to collapse. For two years, Better Together told people in Scotland that we would lose our jobs, homes, pensions, and that the cost of living would rise. Yet over one and a half million still voted yes; so many in the poorest areas voted yes. In spite of this fear, people had hope.
The real cutting edge of this debate was democracy – focusing on disengagement, disenfranchisement and the so-called “missing million”. Well, the missing million aren’t missing anymore and it is a safe bet to say that they won’t be voting for the Labour Party anytime soon. A full 70% of those voting Yes ranked what is essentially the principle of “home rule” as their primary reason for their decision.
Gordon Brown has whipped up the notion that Scotland can achieve home rule with a no vote. But very quickly, we’ve seen the cracks appear within the Labour party on this very issue. Labour cannot deliver on this basis. In the same way it cannot deliver on social justice, it cannot deliver democracy for those who have been shut out of the political process for decades.
The movement for change must remain, and in the context of a No vote, we must demand Home Rule for Scotland, not the devolution of austerity from Westminster to Holyrood. David Cameron is quickly trying to consolidate Conservative power in Westminster. His promises of devolution mean devolving the axe. There will be no increased revenue intake or new borrowing powers for Scotland. But again, this goes beyond an economic argument – Home Rule is the notion that people in Scotland can at least make decisions over their domestic affairs.
For those of us on the left who campaigned for a Yes vote, our case for independence was not that it was a vote for a flag but a vote for radical transformation of the lives of ordinary people in Scotland. That is as relevant today as it was on the 18th of September. We won the traditional Labour heartlands, and we’re not going to give them back to Labour without a fight. The battle for ‘Red Clydeside’ has only just begun.
Paul Mason (writing in the Guardian last week) is right: there is a generation of young people looking for a political home. And there are also thousands of working class Yes voters looking for a political home, too: they wont find it in the SNP nor in Labour.
Because, for me, what we need is a further expression of the amazing, youthful energy of the grassroots independence movement. This must be a political expression which captures the very essence of the fight for democracy that shaped it. None of our existing organisations are capable of doing that, so we need a new radical party. If the left fragments again into its constituent parts, then it will let down all those new activists who have created the most incredible social movement that Scotland has had for decades. And if we want to keep the debate about democracy flourishing in Scotland, as we have seen over the past 2 years, then we must create a more diverse polity in Scotland with the views of those who want to radical redistribution of wealth and power properly represented, not just in Holyrood but rooted in communities.
To do this we will look for inspiration from home and abroad. We need to learn from the likes of Podemos in Spain who emerged out of the Indignados movement and is currently unseating the Spanish Labour Party all over the country. We need to tap into the old labour radical traditions of the Independent Labour Party in Scotland who, led by Keir Hardie then James Maxton, had a vision for Scottish home rule to create a socialist Scotland and eradicate poverty and hunger.
Labour have given up the right to their own history and now, we will reclaim the best parts of that radical tradition. It was not nationalism, nor Scottish identity, nor certainly the SNP that powered the momentum behind the Yes campaign. The truth is that the movement for Yes was powered by class politics. And as the Labour party has turned its back on these ideas, we will challenge them on it in the heartlands, and undoubtedly, we will beat them.
From Bella Caledonia