19 Sep 2014

Ten conclusions from the #indyref

There’s enough results in to say a victory for no looks highly likely, so here are some initial thoughts…

BRITAIN-SCOTLAND-INDEPENDENCE-VOTE1. Fear works. If the entire media and all major political parties tell you doom is coming it can mobilise people to vote. I see the big turnout areas – Falkirk, Stirling- as delivering the no victory. And as I’ve pointed out before some of the fear was justified economically, especially on light of the interventions from Mark Carney.

2. The SNP could not mobilise anything more than its base. What swung the yes vote from the mid-30s up to where it ends up was a) some big city Labour heartlands swinging towards yes and b) the youth mobilisation in urban areas. The SNP basically failed to offer a radical vision that convinced people and the other, radical yes campaigners were only strong in urban areas. Combined, they did not produce an Obama effect for the simple reason Salmond is not Obama. Labour meanwhile stemmed it’s losses by delivering the vow of more fiscal autonomy and no change to the Barnett formula. Basically there are two kinds of Labour heartland now – the salariat which stuck with no and the excluded urban areas which partly went yes, especially in Glasgow. (I may be simplifying so let’s see the breakdowns)

3. The two key variables at Westminster now are how much tax autonomy Scotland gets and how much voting rights Scottish MPs lose in return, the reciprocal trade offs involved in both mean there is a constitutional question looming: not a crisis but certainly a turning point. There’s talk of a “constitutional convention” here – over land rights, smaller councils. Maybe UK will need one to pull off “the vow”.

4. If what really matters to London is fiscal stability then we might see a bigger offer on fiscal devolution than people expect, combined with a ban on Scottish MPs voting on English issues. Both things hurt Labour, who have the most Scottish MPs and the least radical programme on tax devolution.

5. This is just act one in a political drama. Next come the conferences then the election, then the Euro referendum. In all of them the plebeian anger and energy unleashed in Scotland has the potential to happen in England too. I’ve commented before on how potent the Dan Snow/Eddie Izzard thing was, so it may not only be UKIP that benefits – and I am not just talking elections here. Politics is about more. Yes, weirdly, prefigured what the Euro-out campaign could look like in 2017 in England.

Keep up with the #indyref results – live updates here

6. About two weeks ago Britain appropriated the referendum as a British story. It subsides now – but there is still a Scottish story. That mass activist movement – on the streets and online – will flow back into specific issues; bedroom tax, ATOS, NHS. Fairly certain there will be a Scottish Syriza/Podemos formed that will chip off Labour support – and that adds to an emerging problem for Labour. Basically, Scottish electoral dynamics become very fluid: if Scot Labour MPs can’t vote on English issues, the point of having them slightly wanes.

7. People asking: will we get the never-ending referendum? No. The size of the victory should ensure that. But to avoid a rerun of this in ten years time needs some kind of permanent solution that I’m not sure a flaky coalition can deliver by May 2015.

8. If yes had won, the British state and the political establishment would have been shattered – physically and morally. It would, people said, have allowed a Scandinavian style social democracy experiment onto the British Isles. The lesson of this referendum is you don’t get such major changes for free, or overnight. In fact they rarely happen. But the talk of Nordic style transformation masks the fact that, especially after “the vow”, Scotland will be a big- state, welfare-ist society with relatively high social cohesion. It will be very different, approaching qualitatively different, to England. And it will be successful; so you will have two models on one island  – the real problem will be for the non-prosperous areas in-between.

9. People understood the issues – especially young people. The education system was a continuous space for discussion of the economics: by the end they were well mapped in people’s minds. I suspect the internet generation was a transmitter of arguments in all directions, and no fairly clearly caught up with yes in use of social media towards the end.

10. Scotland is a brilliant place. It’s cities are full of young, polite educated people, unique businesses, and on top of that now vibrant political debate. Where the crowd in George Square goes now I don’t know.

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26 reader comments

  1. Catriona Grant says:

    Very disappointing result so far. Just hope Better Together keep their “vow” and deliver the change Scots want and need

  2. pb says:

    Well done on you and channel 4’s excellent coverage of the referendum unlike some of the dreadful newspaper coverage.

  3. Catriona Stewart says:

    With increased powers for Scotlan and talk of English voting for English matters my worry is the South East will continue to dominate England. Northern England is closer in mind and heart to Scotland and Wales than it is to London and the South East.

  4. Howell Harris says:

    Paul, can you please overrule your predictive spellchecker and write ITS correctly in an otherwise lucid piece of analysis? Please.

  5. David Robinson says:

    Have to disagree with the first point Paul. Fear and negative campaigning led to the No campaign blowing a 22 point lead, and the Yes campaign taking over in the lead. OK, fear may have just managed to swing it back, but you could very well argue that a positive campaign wouldn’t have blown that lead in the first place. If you ask a lot of people who did change from No to Yes, they’ll tell you that the reason they did was because of the doomsday, worst case scenarios being painted by Westminster and big business,

  6. Jonathan fanning says:

    The big winners are Cameron and Farage, the big losers labour and the liberal democrats, Milliband will lose the next election, Cameron might be in an alliance with UKIP, the defeat is far reaching, and like all serious defeats largely self inflicted by the “moderate” left.

    Funnily enough Salmond and the right of the SNP are also winners, he will get Devo Max as money and powers are thrown at Scotland in return for cutting Scottish voting rights in Westminster and this will suit him.

  7. Hortense says:

    Paul, thanks for your incredible reporting. Your analysis is, of course, spot on. Scotland will still flourish, our activists will make sure of that!

  8. sackcloth and ashes says:

    ‘Fear works’.

    In the case of the SNP – which told people to vote ‘Yes’, or they’d lose the NHS and be forced to leave the EU – it did not.

  9. Terry Craven says:

    To football supporters England and Scotland have always been separate entities. To Westminster politicians the opposite. This vote is a victory for Scotland. The losers are the politicians who think the south can continue to rape the north. Full Devolution for Scotland can mean mean devolution for other northern areas whose interests are not served by Westminster. Merseyside, Tyneside, Manchester, Yorkshire and Humberside. A North South divide has been heralded but this time it favours the North. Bye bye Westminster

  10. keith s says:

    “Basically there are two kinds of Labour heartland now – the salariat which stuck with no and the excluded urban areas which partly went yes, especially in Glasgow. (I may be simplifying so let’s see the breakdowns) ”

    I had a look recently at the SSP votes in early 2000 before it blew up. It was getting in Glasgow about a third to a quarter of the Labour vote; and about a fifth of the labour vote overall in Scotland.

    Strikes me that since the Poll Tax (and maybe before) part of the working class has tried to find a way to a radical future – and last night’s vote was another attempt. But the official Labour leadership have been loyal to the union and capital and even covered for the Tories (all this rubbish about the SNP threat to the NHS when it’s being sold under our noses).

    So a Podemos style alternative is certainly an option. So is a constitutional convention, but can you imagine the Tories acceding to demands for land reform? The movement for a more socially progressive Soctland will continue in some way or another and will continue to challenge London.

    What I would like to see is its influence on the rest of the UK. But given the English Left’s innate skill for factionalism, self-delusion and risible attempts to challenge governments I expect another squandered opportunity. Interesting times nonetheles.

  11. muriel says:

    I still haven’t seen the content of ‘the vow’ in full despite searching online. I am appalled that shoddy fear mongering late interventions were the best mainline political parties could come up with.I think the key question Paul Mason asks is the last one.Where do the galvanised go?There are some grassroots movements like poverty truth commission in Scotland where those with power and those relatively powerless can collaborate. For the planet,for young, and for old we need to keep the conversations going.

  12. Ed Gibson says:

    As an Englishman who recently abandoned ship (emigrated) I do see one tiny sliver of hope here. Perhaps, just perhaps, all those English people who like me would’ve been voting YES if we were Scottish, will be energized by the hope and change that the YES support demonstrated is possible. Perhaps they will lose some of their resignation, perhaps they’ll get out there in the streets and start demanding to live in the kind of country they want to live in. Maybe this will energize British politics overall. As ever, expect the unexpected Paul and keep up the great work!

  13. Alistair M says:

    Really interesting insight, you’ve consistently had the best coverage throughout this whole amazing process.

    Can reduced voting rights for Scottish MPs be delivered in such a way that won’t exclude them for future leadership roles? Will it just be voting or will they be excluded from discussions two days a week? I.e. We want a PM who can deliver a rousing speech advocating policy changes, but if a Scottish PM can’t vote on that policy, how much authority will she/he have? No UK region should become unable to provide leadership roles.

  14. CWH says:

    “”The SNP could not mobilise anything more than its base””

    Firstly, the YES campaign was not just the SNP. Secondly at the start of the campaign support for Independence was around 25-30%. To then get a vote of 45% from that low starting point shows that it was much more than the SNP vote which re-enforces my first point.
    Finally, to reach that percentage vote when not a single paper, apart from the Sunday Herald and then only in the closing weeks supports you is truly amazing.

    1. Jon Fanning says:

      “Firstly, the YES campaign was not just the SNP. Secondly at the start of the campaign support for Independence was around 25-30%. To then get a vote of 45% from that low starting point shows that it was much more than the SNP vote which re-enforces my first point.”

      As Paul shows, the SNP got it’s core vote out, the other 15% came from labour voters wanting social reform, the SNP did not win many beyond its core vote to its national vision. This is how national revolutions work – social progressives allied with national bourgeoisie, the state of the modern world though suggests a majority for independence will be won via social reform as there is not a significant oppressed national bourgeoisie in Scotland, so I am not sure what you are criticising in your comment.

  15. SM says:

    Just a few points:

    – It’s a hell of a lot more complex than just ‘fear works’, which is a pretty simplistic analysis (and actually very generous to the failures of Yes); one of the main strategies on the ground up here, growing in pitch towards the start of this week, was the assertions that maintaining the union would see a forthcoming destruction of the NHS north of the border, and that a ‘No’ result would provide Westminster the cart blanche it needed to rip our public sector to ribbons. Following on from a previous commentator, I’d want to argue that it’s the emphasis on scaremongering from both camps that saw each drop in the polls when they did. Uncertainty only transforms into fear when there isn’t a response to it that people feel adequately addresses the concerns. Neither Yes or the SNP were able to work those uncertainties into a dialogue capable of convincing people, and if we’re being honest, there was no real attempt by enough key individuals to translate the economic arguments in any kind of range or depth outside of clinging to oil reserves.

    It’s not just that the radical elements of the Yes campaign were almost exclusively based in urban areas; they represent only a limited sub-section of the urban demographic, and were clearly limited (apart from Dundee) to the west-central belt. There are two key points here:

    1) It’s curious that of the Yes majority local authorities, two urban areas had the lowest turnout (Glasgow and Dundee); perhaps the Yes/Radical Independence organisers and supporters aren’t as representative of the marginalised as they’d like to think they are.

    2) There’s long been a foggy notion in the minds of people from the central belt that Scotland is a centre-left socially democratic deeply concerned with inequality. That consensus has never been genuine, and is gradually being eroded – see the poll from earlier in the year about the percentage of people supporting basic UKIP immigration policy rhetoric.


    “That mass activist movement – on the streets and online – will flow back into specific issues; bedroom tax, ATOS, NHS. Fairly certain there will be a Scottish Syriza/Podemos formed that will chip off Labour support – and that adds to an emerging problem for Labour.”

    – The problem with this view is that this will only arise from certain elements of the Yes vote. The broad base ensures that; the message post-referendum will be streamlined as folk with less of a commitment to social justice outside of the part it formed in the independence argument fall by the wayside. Yes was always too broad to maintain coherence post-referendum (i.e. how do radical and ecological activists sit in Business for Scotland and the Souters?), and so the left will return to their regular stable. A ‘Scottish Syriza/Podemos’ is a lazy and not entirely useful comparison – but nonetheless it’ll more than likely replicate the older patterns of platformism that the SSP had upt until the Sheridan affair, if it doesn’t collapse back to the infighting of yesteryear. That isn’t moving forward – it’s actually backward. Notheless, I do hope the opportunity to return to communities, work with people, to build a civil society that can build into an actual grassroots movement for change (rather than just a ‘grassroots’ support to a movement funded and run by members of the elite and scottish political class – which the Yes Campaign was) is taken up.

  16. Bruce Whitehead says:

    Proportional representation was a benefit of independence never used in the campaigning. It is so much fairer than the UK 21st past the post system which ignores so many votes, yet the Yes campaign hardly mentioned it.

    Also the awful record of Westminster politics – mired in sleaze, illegality, racism and with a tiny legitimacy from its routinely low turnouts – was played down. The media must take a large share of the blame for this failure, along with lying bankers, retailers and mainstream political leaders, Brown in particular whose deregulation worsened the financial crisis and yet was allowed a powerful media platform to scare voters.

  17. Matt Wardman says:


    I’d like to see you deal with the fallout from the many false claims made by the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon was national TV about eg the claimed inevitable Currency Union only yesterday.

    What now happens to the legions of people who still believed this stuff and are now clutching at conspiracy theories?

    Or to the 35k delusionals now demanding a revote because it was “rigged” by some undefined means?


  18. JayPee says:

    I think Scotland dodged a bullet last night. Yes never confronted the very real short-medium terms costs that would come with independence. They never acknowledged the asymmetrical risks associated with differences on whether Scotland would/would not achieve currency union or speedy EU membership. There was just too much hope-over-reality about them

    However, I do not know a solitary No voter who sees the status quo as a viable alternative either. We all want more autonomy. So, if not delivered by the time of the next Holyrood election, I’m fine with SNP running on a platform that includes another referendum if they are re-elected. It’s clear that nobody here wants to be governed by Cameron’s Etonocracy. And we see Milliband as being of a similar mould, just not an Eton old boy.

    I think we’ll see a bloodbath in Scottish Labour. I hope Gordon Brown will run for Holyrood and be leader-in-fact if not in name until 2016. I doubt even the Conservatives/Lib Dems/SNP could find anyone as useless to lead Labour as Johann Lamont. Basically, if we get further transfer of powers, then it really matters little whether Labour wins at Westminster. So maybe Labour should leave their A team Scots in Scotland (as SNP has done since devolution), and ignore the impact that has on Westminster representation. I suspect the only people who care about Labour’s Westminster challenges arising from any post-referendum settlement are Ed Milliband and the aparatchiks in Labour HQ. His “35% strategy” for the May ’15 GE looks pretty screwed anyway to me. Many Scottish Labour voters will vote tactically for SNP next year, to maximise the pressure on all UK parties in the event of a very close result. I think Labour will lose seats in Scotland next year. The “Labour Yeses” noted in Paul’s point 2 above, will vote SNP next May, and probably again in 2016. I’ve always thought Salmond’s real aim in this referendum was to chip away at Labour’s heartland for 2016. If Paul is right, then they have achieved that aim.

  19. Jim mc ginty says:

    Poverty and depravation must be tackled at a uk and worldwide level,if mps and world leaders are unwilling to do this ,then it’s time to move over,the people of scotland have a social concience .waving flags does not put food in people’s mouths ,and genuine good intentions cannot be purchased on any taxpayers funded expense account .time to change for the better good of all who need some help now.

  20. John C Batey says:

    Can we now look at
    1. Democracy (mentioned a lot by ‘Yes’ campaigners): Scots living in England could not vote, while EU members living in Scotland could? Also a poster campaign for ‘get rid of Tories forever’ when there hasn’t been a (democratically elected) Tory government since 1997?

    2.the issue of Holyrood allowing Scots and EU students to study in Scottish universities for free, while students from England have to pay full fees. Racial discrimination?

    1. Jon Fanning says:

      1 – that is democracy, those affected. i.e those that live there got to vote, that includes EU nationals, Scots living in England should not have the right to impose a system of government on those they left behind.

      2 – Racism? It is a perfectly logical situation, Scotland spends its money on education, so the Scots benefit, England spends its money on tax cuts and privatisation so why should English students get free education, England could provide free education for all by re-allocating moneys spent elsewhere if they wanted.

  21. Richard Baker says:

    Paul – what is really sad about this piece is that it is simply about the tactics and the politics – a very Westminster bubble assessment. I suspect that for most people voting – on both sides – this was a debate about the social and economic future of different parts of the UK. The real lesson I take from the referendum is that people do care about real political issues – it is just that they don’t get many opportunities to engage with it. Sadly, once the vote was done, it took about 10 minutes for the real issues to fade from our screens in favour of Westminster politicking – ho hum.

  22. Bartleby says:

    SM’s comments strike me as spot on. The fear vs hope thing was far too simplistic and anyway as he/she says the former was deployed by both. I suspect the analysis that large sections of the salariat stayed with the union while those with nothing to lose voted ‘yes’ is true (it explains my decision to vote No) – a decision I am not entirely comfortable with but as Paul’s earlier post suggested ‘economics is real and can destroy your dreams’. In other words ‘the fear’ was well founded.The assumption that Cameron et al were bluffing over currency union was a big gamble with few viable options if they weren’t, other than then blaming them for not bluffing.
    I don’t know what happens from here. I would have preferred not to have had this vote given the anxiety and difficulty it caused me and many I know but I guess that’s politics. Although I think that on the whole Scotland is to be congratulated for its civic nationalism in which genuine social and political alternatives were the subject of fantastic debate and argument and will hopefully continue to be so, UKIP’s mobilisation of English nationalism is unlikely to be so enlightened. Thus, one of the major dangers of the referendum wasis the awakening of nationalism/national socialism.

  23. An thony Shelton says:

    What now ?? Smart Alex has fallen on his sword. The cost of his twenty year rabble rousing has been enormous and divisive as he worked up Anglophobia and political sectarianism. Only the exhausting night in the rain watching the count avoided a ‘Bloody Friday’ in Glasgow . Egotism and grandiloquence weakens UK opposition to Tory Capitalists (who own everything) . Only a state owned by the people can distribute wealth and income equitably and any splintering of unity undermines the possibility. Goodbye Mr Salmon and thanks for nothing.

  24. Alasdair Allan says:

    It would appear that the London media establishment still hasn’t opened their eyes.

    There’s 45% *today* for independence. Basic demographics says that in 2 years and 4 months it is over 50%.

    As Labour in Scotland is finished, the SNP may have a balance of power at Westminster which would allow them to demand All Revenues Devolution. If they don’t get that, they will get a landslide in 2016 and then a second Referendum is back on the table in either 2018 or 2019. The Scottish electorate are demanding it already.

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