On the 18th of September 2014 the people of Scotland committed what George Monbiot accurately referred to as an “astonishing act of self-harm”; having decided that they do want to see change, the majority of voters elected to have the arrangements made by a “remote and ignorant government” rather than trusting themselves to achieve their aims. The result was clear long before it was officially announced (the Aberdeen declaration was a fatal blow to the hopes of many) and by 7am I was, though utterly devastated, in a remarkably positive and conciliatory mood – the movement would endure, and some change (although far short of what we had dreamed of) would come eventually.
As the dust settles, however, I find that the strongest feeling about the events of yesterday – the one which reappears again and again – is, simply, anger. I make no apology for this. Anger, for many, was the wave on which the Yes campaign charged forward: we were (we are) angry with the lack of democratic accountability in a country which shamelessly proclaims itself to be one of the world’s great democracies; we are angry that the wealth of our nation has been (and continues to be) squandered on aircraft carriers with no aircraft, on high-speed train lines which come nowhere near our border, on grand civil engineering projects for a capital city hundreds of miles away, and on nuclear missiles which will never be fired; most of all, we are angry that, although we live in one of the richest, most developed countries in the world, thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens, and a heart-breaking number of our nation’s children, are condemned to lives blighted by the sort of poverty which should keep every single one of us from sleeping at night.
To be clear, I am not angry at particular No voters, the media or the politicians involved (although I doubt I’ll ever be able to forgive the Labour party, whose complicity in all of this could be the final nail in their coffin). No, my fury is rooted in one, single, inescapable, devastating fact: the Scottish independence referendum was a chance for this nation to show its commitment to helping the most vulnerable members of our society and, in that regard, we have failed completely. The four regions which voted for independence contain some of our most poverty-stricken areas, and there was a clear correlation between unemployment and the tendency to vote Yes – this tells you all you need to know about who won, and who did not, on the 18th of September. If more evidence is needed, look to the newspapers’ triumphant announcements that the almighty international markets are happy with the outcome, and that the value of the pound has risen.
Nonetheless, the morning after the night before almost every politician was working hard to stress that, whilst the people of Scotland had voted no, they had still indicated a desire for change, and that, as a consequence, the status quo could not endure. Almost immediately, however, this facade began to crumble.
David Cameron may have appealed to all of us to ‘build a better Britain together’ but let’s keep things in perspective – this is the man who, as Prime Minister, has presided over a system of devastating austerity which has increased poverty, not decreased it; who promised that the NHS would be ‘safe’ in his hands before selling it off. It is probably safe to say this his interpretation of a ‘better’ country is markedly different from many people who live without his privileges, and the same can be said of the vast majority of millionaires currently sitting both houses of the UK parliament.
And then came the hammer-blow. In response to the greatest grass-roots movement in modern British political history the establishment has seen fit to appoint Lord Smith of Kelvin to oversee the negotiations which will determine which powers are “granted” to the people of Scotland as their reward for voting No. It is bad enough that an unelected ‘Lord’ has been given this role (especially when you hear the politicians who appointed him praising the people of Scotland for their demonstration of democratic engagement) but things only get worse when you remember who, exactly, Robert Haldane Smith is.
Yes, he oversaw a very successful Commonwealth Games, but over the course of his career Smith has worked for asset management companies, banks, an energy company and the BBC and, as if to add insult in injury, currently owns the island of Inchmarnock. It would take a remarkable act of doublethink to accept that a man so clearly representative of the established ruling elite is also an appropriate choice to oversee the political and constitutional changes which will help the most vulnerable people in our society. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the status quo looks like – power concentrated in the hands of those at the top of the pyramid, with nothing but contempt shown for any attempts to redistribute control of our country.
Nothing has changed. The same system which drove 45% of Scottish voters to demand the most radical constitutional change possible has survived, even if it does change it’s double-breasted morning suit for a ‘simple’ shirt and tie. Once more, the needs of human beings will be ranked behind the needs of all-powerful international businesses and money-men. The Golden Calf of neo-liberal economics will be protected, even if the obvious cracks in its edifice must be repaired by melting down the lives of those who shiver in its shadow rather than bask in its glow.
I still stand by my belief that “the genie is out of the bottle” as far as the broader aims of the Yes movement are concerned, and that it is imperative that every single one of us is willing to rise to this new challenge, but there is no escaping the reality that the people of Scotland have spurned their one chance to deal a serious blow to an established order which we must, surely, rid ourselves of if we are ever to make real strides towards genuine social justice.