One year ago today the people of Scotland were voting in the most important democratic vote in the history of the United Kingdom. For two and a half years both the Yes Campaign (headed up by the SNP and Greens) and Better Together (run by the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems) campaigned hard about an issue that has raged not for decades, but for centuries. At the start of the campaign proper the No votes was so far in the lead that the UK establishment complacency was tangible at times, because you’d not put someone like Alistair Darling in charge of such an important campaign if you weren’t so cocky that you thought ‘even this dick can convince the Scots to stay’.
Yet over the years that lead came down, and down and down to the point where around the start of 2014 the Better Together campaign started getting nasty (well, nastier) and that summer saw something quite extraordinary happen:it suddenly felt that the Yes campaign wasn’t just catching up massively, but winning more and more arguments for independence. Then late last summer the Yes campaign sneaked into the lead in the polls which sparked the sort of panic that saw Project Fear (the name insiders gave Better Together’s campaign) go into overload with endless ‘vows’ from the likes of Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg (it’s odd how looking at how important the Lib Dems were because they’re fuck all now. Serves them right for lying with dragons) and endless celebrities who pleaded with teary eyes for Scotland to stay, even though most of these people hadn’t given a toss previously.
In the midst of this the Daily Record (the official mouthpiece of Scottish Labour) printed the above cover that at the time must have been a great idea, but now hangs over the heads of the British establishment like a massive Sword of Damocles because this changed the question from ‘should Scotland be an independent country?’ to ‘should Scotland be an independent country or should it sort of have more powers but you won’t get them unless you vote no?’.
And people voted No. All the months, years even, of slurs, smears, lies and attacks ended up with the British establishment throwing everything they had at Scotland and getting a 55% to 45% result. Yet this was the very definition of a Pyrrhic victory.The Yes movement got behind the SNP who burst into being a major party and led now by Nicola Sturgeon was a loud, and strong anti-austerity voice in the UK elections the following May that saw the SNP win 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland. A feat Labour at their pomp couldn’t even dream of. Now a year on. the left in England have something for themselves in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn and may at some point finally catch up with the debate in Scotland
Polls at the moment put the Yes and No votes neck and neck, while everyone knows that at some point a second referendum is going to happen with a probably very different result, hence the ongoing Project Fear, but the Unionists are running out of abuse and things to say. They realise they’ve burned up everything they had and I think within 10-15 years tops, Scotland is going to be an independent country.
But why is a Scot living in England, as I am, so transformed by what happened during the referendum? In fact for most of my life I’ve either supported the Union, or latterly federalism. Why did the events of the 19th September 2014 in particular become one of the most defining moments in my life, and I imagine a hell of a lot of other people’s lives?
I came on board late to the cause of independence. To be honest, living in England provides an insulation to Scotland’s inner workings, plus it’s remarkably easy to lose touch but lose touch I did until around 2011 when friends came from Glasgow for their first ever Glastonbury Festival. Over that week or so at the festival I got up to speed with the situation in Scotland, and it married with my own position which had long since moved on from supporting the Union through to federalism through to not quite knowing what to do but I was by the start of 2012 convinced the UK was failing but I had too much going on in my own life to worry about events back home in Scotland.
And it falls to cartoonist Steve Bell for jarring my complacency thanks to this cartoon published in The Guardian.
I’m a Guardian reader. I emailed to complain. Like others I was told this was Bell’s own opinion and at that moment I saw Project Fear and the British establishment close ranks and go for Scotland’s jugular.
As a left winger I was expecting something better, but after seeing Labour turn into a pale shadow of the Tories over the previous 20 years, and democratic options become less, it struck me that the best way to break up the British state to the point where it has to re-write itself was Scottish independence, and Bell in his defence of a tired old Labour Party with nothing to offer had jarred me to start considering things I probably would never have living in England. At this point I have to wave a finger at the English left. They as a whole failed to support Scotland and I know friends at home complained of this, but barring a few notable figures, most just dismissed or even attacked the idea of Scottish independence.
Indeed even the likes of Owen Jones came swinging into Scotland bleating the same old straplines out of the big British Establishment Book, and promised a Labour victory in May 2015 that would transform everything!
Over the next couple of years massive things happened to me to make me firmly, and strongly not just support independence, but by the start of summer 2014 I’d decided that as soon as possible, I’d move back to Glasgow. At the time of writing this that looks like the start of 2016 once I get a few things sorted out.
But 2014 was insane. I couldn’t campaign for the Yes campaign sitting in Bristol, but I could online as much as I could, plus I also worked on convincing friends here in regards the benefits to everyone of Scottish independence as after all, the problem is not the English, but the establishment. The people of England need freedom from that and self-determination too. Sadly a few in the week before the vote decided to believe the bullshit on the media and not the reams of information and endless hours of a debate that’s raged for generations. So they failed to get it, though they’ve since become supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and seem a bit sheepish about some of their opinions last year. Live and learn…
By July 2014 I’d been sucked into the cause and endured my ‘Cybernat’ initiation ceremony so that in the last months I could push as much as possible the cause. I dearly wished I could have been there in person but even from hundreds of miles away I could lock in on the atmosphere, and thanks to friends in Scotland who were all firmly Yes, I ended up with dozens of first hand accounts of how Scotland was transforming into something else. What that is I don’t know because it’s not over yet, but things were gloriously electric.
The last week was astonishing. Just over a year later I’m still in awe of this picture taken in Glasgow the last Saturday before the vote.
On that Saturday before the referendum I was in Cardiff at a rally in support of Scottish independence. I could not believe the pictures I saw coming from all over Scotland because for one fleeting moment I though ‘they’re going to bloody well do it!’. All the lies, threats, abuse and ‘solemn vows’ had been made and in that few days it looked like the people of Scotland were going to do it. In London puffy-faced city traders guffawed their support for the Union and it looked to be in vain, and I’d be remiss not adding the below video attacking our imperial masters…
Then came the day of the vote. Glasgow voted Yes, So did Dundee. Nowhere else did as No beat Yes 55% to 45%. I stayed up til the point when it was clear it was lost. I was on social media and friends were disconsolate. People were giving up, were angry, sad and there was a lot of tears from a lot of people. Then David Cameron made his speech, made the referendum about English Laws for English Votes, and at that point the old Johnny Rotten line of ‘ever have the feeling you’ve been had‘ couldn’t have been more accurate.
I had an opticians appointment in the centre of Bristol that afternoon, so I spent around 90 minutes getting things sorted out which meant I missed everything that was happening in Scotland. Wandering around in the bring sun of a late Bristolian summer the events of the Indyref seemed so far away and they were. Then I got to the pub, got sympathy from friends, and was told Alex Salmond had resigned, so with the figurehead and driving force gone it seemed all was lost, so fuck it. I got very, very drunk.
Then when I got home around 11pm I turned on my laptop, and on my Facebook friends in Glasgow were telling me of Unionists burning saltires in George Square in Glasgow, not to mention they were going round abusing people, and being racist and homophobic. In the midst of it all were two wee teenage girls and they stood their ground and did not falter in their belief.
If these girls weren’t going to give in as they’re in a middle of a horde of drunken, abusive racists then poor old me sitting comfortably hundreds of miles away wasn’t, and neither were hundreds of thousands of other people. I don’t think the Unionists realise just how much the events of September the 19th 2014 shaped the future and inspired people who were broken to get up, dry their eyes and carry on the fight.
You then had the entire Yes movement throw it’s support behind the SNP who were now led by the formidable Nicola Sturgeon and the fight carried on to the general election back in the spring when 56 of 59 Scottish seats were SNP. A landslide never seen in Scottish history.
And here we are. A year on. Scottish independence as an idea isn’t dead. In fact judging by the terrible panic from the establishment they realise it’s very much still a chance, and with polls showing a slow creep from No voters to Yes, it does suggest a certain inevitability to it, but that doesn’t mean people are sitting back because they’re not. Nobody on the Yes side want to feel like they did that morning last year. Nobody wants to see the likes of Cameron smiling in that way again. They don’t want that feeling and that helps drive people.
At some point there is going to be a second referendum, probably in the next decade, maybe sooner depending on the EU referendum which could throw up the situation where Scotland votes to stay in the EU, and is threatened to be pulled out by England. Then all predictions are off but til then the slow work of eliminating every single argument the No campaign had (which isn’t that many to be fair, it’s mainly currency) is continuing as people in Scotland still try to convince the other side to come over to independence. In the next decade that independence will I’m certain happen but it’ll be tough, but then the really hard work of building a new country begins.
In the meantime I’m continuing apace with plans to move back to Glasgow, not just the city of my birth and the place I want to spend the rest of my life in, but it’s a Yes city.
Here’s the thing, Glasgow will say Yes again, as will the majority of Scotland…….