I can understand why some people voted No in 2014. Perhaps independence did look like too much of a risk. What has become clear since then, however, is that staying in the Union was a risk as well.
There’s no doubt that the Boris Johnson majority resulting from December’s General Election is a watershed, but what exactly is on the other side of it for Scotland? The most right-wing government the UK has seen in living memory, spearheaded by a conniving, elitist buffoon, who unlike David Cameron feels no need to pitch to the centre, and ideologically-puppetered by Nigel Farage, given a mandate to pursue Brexit towards its disastrous destiny? The opposition – in the form of Remain, Labour and the Lib Dems – utterly routed and demoralised? All of it wrapped up in a newly-triumphalist English/British nationalism?
It’s not what exactly what you’d call a good outcome from that No vote, is it?
Indeed, if many of those who opted for ‘safety’ in 2014 had been given a crystal ball into which they could’ve peeked just five years ahead they would have run screaming. What we face now is more dangerous than even we on the Yes side could’ve imagined.
Emboldened finally to start a roll-back on devolution, Westminster’s centralising and authoritarian tendencies will come fully to the fore. The marginalisation of the Scottish government during the Brexit process will shortly turn into an attack now that we are out of the EU. We can expect to see Holyrood undermined, hollowed-out and downgraded into little more than a glorified council building, so that no challenges to London’s authority can be mounted again under the auspices of Scottish democracy. The mandates given repeatedly by the Scottish people to our government for a second independence referendum – now that the consequences of the No vote are fully apparent – have been ignored thus far. The Tory aim will be to weaken Scotland, politically and economically, to the point where any kind of resistance, whether independence or otherwise, will become unfeasible.
Or so they believe.
The flipside of this instransigence is that the mask is, finally and forever, discarded. The smiling face of liberal Britain worn by the Better Together campaign has been thrown in the bin. There was a reason why David Cameron let the Unionist left do the dirty work of actual campaigning in 2014, had Scottish Labour been canny enough to see it: to conceal who would really benefit from the No vote. Fast-forward five years and here we are. Labour have been wiped out and a right-wing, Tory-driven English/British nationalism, with little regard for the ‘parochial’ needs of the devolved, so-called nations, has emerged as the dominant credo of the day.
There is no British road to socialism anymore. The strategy of the Unionist left – trust in Labour, and ensure solidarity between the working-class across the UK – has been shattered into a million pieces. Labour are finished and the English working-class, even in once-impregnable mining strongholds, has turned Tory. The Westminster system, which has impoverished the lives of so many millions, is beyond reform. In fact, it is getting worse.
There is nothing left to bribe Scotland with. No-one believes Labour’s half-hearted, empty rhetoric about ‘federalism’, which Gordon Brown promised us in 2014 but which he failed to deliver because he was a backbench MP with no real authority. Instead what we hear from the new Labour leadership contenders are the same high-handed ‘eat your cereal’ platitudes which led to their decimation in Scotland in the first place.
Likewise, the fantasies of the right – about a wonderland awaiting us all once Brexit is done – will come crashing against the shore of reality for all to see. Britons will still be struggling, but the NHS will have been dismantled and sold off to American multinationals to appease Donald Trump, workers’ rights will have been shredded, and there will be no evil EU left to blame. By that point, of course, it will be too late.
I said earlier that I can understand why some people voted No. I can even just about understand why some might feel that independence is still a risk, in tumultuous times.
What I cannot understand is why, if you call yourself either a Scot or a democrat, you would fight against Scotland being given another chance to decide for itself.
More than ever before – more even than in 2014 – we need hope.
Back our right to choose.
Photograph by Angela Catlin