17 Sep 2014

Yes or no, this social movement is unlikely to go away

“Fifty-one per cent is not enough” – the speaker is a senior Labour politician. An hour later I put the idea again to another Labour strategist: 51 per cent no by the time the votes are counted. Again the response comes: “Not enough”.


Nobody will tell me what they plan to do if the Scottish people vote no by a narrow margin, but the implication is clear.  If, with the help of nearly every newspaper, and after 10 days of “Project Fear” the yes vote is firm in the high 40s, Westminster’s mandate to govern Scotland is highly questionable.

First because of what the markets will see. Yes, markets might turn an independent Scotland’s credit rating to mush. But they may also look at the UK and say – with yes dominant among the young, and a critical EU referendum coming – this is only going one way. All long-term and strategic investment decisions will be taken asking: will this state still exist in 10 years’ time?

Second because, whatever you think of Westminster politicians they are democrats. When David Cameron lost the vote for military action in Syria, there was no EU-style “vote till you get it right”.

In Conservative circles, a high-40s vote would be taken as signalling the need for a rethink bigger than tax variation powers.

And that is because of a third factor Labour strategists find it harder to deal with than the rest.

As Robin McAlpine, director of Common Weal, tells me: “The Scottish working class has broken with the union. All the key issues – poverty, Trident, the NHS – are irrevocably aligned to the idea of independence.”

That may be an exaggeration, but it is true for enough of the Scottish workforce, the marginalised and the poor to matter.

Like many in the yes camp today, Mr McAlpine says yes can win only if an “armada of working class voters” who have never voted troops off the estates tomorrow and votes.

In the no camp, above all a Labour party punch-drunk and bitterly complaining about pressure and intimidation, they cling to the idea that the electorate, roused to the streets, will now surge into the official party system.

“We have to tell them change is coming, and that by voting no they are triggering that change,” says Michael Mara, strategist for Better Together.

So that’s why both sides are hoping for a decisive vote – a five-point difference.

On George Square last night I had a taste of the anger, enthusiasm and at times hostility of the yes grassroots.

If it’s rough, and profane, it’s because that’s what street politics are like when ideologies collide. That’s what it was like when class defined British politics and if it makes a few technocrats upset, get used to it.

Those people on the streets for yes have become something like a social movement. It is unlikely to go away.

Once out of the box, it’s unlikely to subside. If, as the polls predict, no edges it, it will take massive statecraft to keep both Scottish society and the markets calm.

If yes edges it, the Scottish government too will have to respond to the aspirations of this movement – which goes way beyond activists and reaches into many areas that feel abandoned by the system.

I put it to Mr McAlpine: “Don’t you fear this Jacobin-style movement on the streets getting out of control?”

“Oh please, please give me an uncontrollable movement from the streets,” he smiles. “Nothing in history has been achieved without them.”

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14 reader comments

  1. Wilma Miller says:

    Please don’t romanticise this. It is orchestrated and it’s very threatening. I worked all of my life in comprehensive schools in this city of Glasgow so I don’t fit your rubric. As it happens I was born in the Gorbals too so my cred should be good but I am voting No -the Yes lot haven’t answered the questions, haven’t acknowledged the issues and have made ridiculous promises -impossible to keep- to each and every group no matter how widely divergent.
    It is sad and frightening

  2. Josie says:

    To be fair, you could find those same people on any council estate in England too.
    Those who feel abandoned, ignored, dismissed and who know that even if they vote, debate or march, in the end it’s all futile because the clones that run our country stand for all the same stuff, whatever the colour of their rosette.
    The referendum has given those people a voice for once in a generation and they’re using it.
    I wish there’d been a way of harnessing it that didn’t ultimately mean breaking our island apart, which this campaign has done, whatever the result happens to be.

  3. Jack Skinner says:

    I think you are right. The Scottish voter is now abandoning Labour and has been for some time. Labour does not represent ordinary working people any more. Its obeisance to the unnecessary and irrelevant totem of Trident and continuing subservience to the City of London coupled with its self-seeking link-up with the Tories and Lib-Dems just to preserve its Westminster MP’s, are destroying its roots in Scotland.
    Gordon Brown must also think we in Scotland are stupid when he says a Labour party,which is in opposition, can protect the NHS. It might also be worth mentioning that, as far as I recall, it was Labour who introduced or continued with the “internal market” in the NHS.

  4. Gavin says:

    Hi Paul. Congratulations to you and your colleagues. Despite having no intuitive connection, you have done quite well in understanding and reporting what is going on in Scotland, and in grasping the consequences. Certainly you have done better than the majority of your competitors.

    I suggest though that the anger, hostility and profanity you reference may simply be simply the cultural mannerisms of the people you have encountered and not the result of “when ideologies collide”, though that is a tidy turn of phrase.

    I think you are right about the markets. I hope you are right about Cameron. Capitulation on the issue of a post-Iraq bombing of another foreign land is likely far easier than capitulation in the face of becoming the greatest Prime Ministerial failure in the history of the United Kingdom.

    I predict a narrow Yes win will be disputed on the grounds of lack of electoral authority. Even if Cameron hasn’t a taste for it, he’ll be made to develop one by those more determined and strategically-minded.

  5. TC says:

    Tomorrow, vote yes. I will.

    But understand what a nation-state is. The rule of the state in the name of the people, for the interests of the economy within its territory. It is not ‘for the people, of the people, by the people’ – no state can be for us. No economy based on capital can be for us.

    The nation-state pretends we all have a stake in the national economy – that its growth is good for us, that when the rich win, we win. It pretends that because we are ‘Scottish’ or ‘English’, then we belong to Scotland or England – and that Scotland and England belong to us. But it guarantees our exclusion from the wealth of society, by making laws where property is private. The state jealously guards its economy, and will not let us share any wealth unless it is forced to. The logic of the state resists its capture – it captures us, we cannot capture it.

    This applies to a Scottish state just as much as a British state.

    So vote yes – with eyes open.

  6. Sydney Bangham says:

    You’re right. Whichever way it goes politics in Scotland will never be the same and this groundswell could well rise into a storm.

  7. Anti Matter David Cameron says:

    Not convinced there will be a significant market reaction even for a narrow no vote. 10 years is a very very long time in geopolitics at the moment and pricing in 10 year risk now on Scottish independence seems likely to be pretty pointless in the context of everything else that could happen in the world between now and then.

    The markets are still operating in a bubble anyway and, as far as I can see, have little relationship to true underlying risks anymore, the markets are mostly a money laundering system for QE. If there is a market reaction it is probably because someone is making some money out of there being a market reaction rather than genuine priced in risk being part of the equation.

  8. Boffy says:

    I just wanted to appreciate the Northern Soul tracks, as I don’t do Twitter. Perhaps you should find a way of incorporating some links in to the blog as well.

  9. Philip Edwards says:

    “That’s what it was like when class defined British politics.”

    When? WHEN?!

    Class has ALWAYS defined politics in every nation throughout history. It has never been any different and never will be.

    How, for instance, do you think the tiniest percentage of this and other countries end up owning the vast majority of wealth? By “divine right”?…………….No, it is done through political manipulation, through corruption of democracy, through evil legislation, and often through military power by governments.

    This is why it is important to create an atmosphere of distrust in the political process. If enough people realised the power of organised common good it would overwhelm even the most evil of systems. At present our citizens look at Parliament and see nothing but a gang of expenses-fiddling, warmongering yes-men in the pay of the tint percentage: good individuals are outnumbered by scoundrels.

    But it won’t stay that way. It only seems like it.

    If you want to see social class in action take a look at Jon Snow’s interviews of Cameron and Heseltine a few weeks ago . It was embarrassing, craven even, to see him assure them both that, “I’m of the same social social clarss as you and we’re alright.” You could also check out Thatcher’s Them and Us and Enemy Within hatred, and The history of the Bullingdon Baboons. So much for the “death” of class.

    The definition of class is not where you live or what you earn (though all too often it does play a part), it is a matter of consciousness, of the values you identify yourself with, of your concept of fairness, of what matters in society. That is why the great majority are de facto working class, however much some may fall for the Daily Mail/Murdoch media claptrap about a “middle class.” Sooner or later the latter propaganda is bound to fail as suddenly as it has in Scotland.

    Class is not a past issue. On the contrary it is eternal. It ebbs and flows, but it never goes away. And it never will as long as capitalism holds its evil sway.

  10. A says:

    When theses ‘senior Labour figures’ say, “51% is not enough”, are they really talking about a NO victory by that margin? A few weeks ago, Mrs Margaret Curran, shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, expressed the view that a win by one vote was enough. So, are they really talking about a 51% YES victory? Is Labour hinting that they might not accept the result?

  11. les in Inverness says:

    Don’t know what tonight will bring but many thanks to you and your C4 News colleagues for your insight and balance in your broadcasts over the past few weeks. You deserve a special mention in a New or a continuing Scotland

  12. william says:

    The media scare stories and obvious anti-independence bias is nothing short of a subversion of democracy. Nick Robinson’s stark deceit was characteristic of it all. Plus the overblown hype about ”intimidation”. To my knowledge not a single person has been arrested or charged in that regard.

  13. william says:

    I’m happy this reporter acknowledged the negative scare campaign by the ‘no’ proponents. Despite that, I predict a YES win. Time will tell.
    I believe Scotland will come together under a narrow YES win but will feel bitterly cheated if there’s a similarly narrow ‘no’ victory. Why? Because everybody with a functioning brain knows the debate was grotesquely skewed. Even to the point of bare faced lies.
    Democracy was subverted and even if the YES camp wins, it will be despite journalistic coverage and not because of it.

  14. Nigel Wilson says:

    Unlike the above I have the luxury of writing after the event.
    Having lived through nuclear disarmament, the Sixties revolutions, the 1970 election and about three Liberal revivals in the Seventies I know all about political emotion. At some point a political movement becomes so buoyed up by its own enthusiasm it slowly separates from the everyday reality of life. Thus it becomes a self-fulfilling idiocy. Towards referendum day it was obvious the Yes campaign were in such a mode. It is a pity seeing the end of such affairs as many participants, particularly the innocent enthusiastic young, are just blown out, lost and completely devastated. They never participate again as the hurt is too much. So, I am sorry to have to tell you, Paul, this movement will collapse and die.
    I expected a No win of around 5% of the vote plus a further proportion based on a 10% overstatement of the Yes vote in the opinion polls. On balance I got it about right. It is a pity the Yes campaign believed there own propaganda but the success of any political movement has to be based on realism rather than optimism. It has to be rooted not in emotion but in hard economic fact.
    Real change comes when things are getting better: at the moment they are not.
    Seeing the kids crying in Glasgow, cuddled miserably on the floor I was minded of Victorian romantic paintings of the defeated after the collapse of the ’45. The consequent Highland diaspora is part of my origin so this hard Unionist heart found a fellow feeling in their loss. Despite all we are a common folk.

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