There’s no getting away from it, the result in the independence referendum is a crushing disappointment to the Yes campaign. Over the last two years, activists have worked tirelessly to articulate a vision of Scotland which is hopeful, focusing the argument on the belief that only through independence can be ever have a real chance of addressing the social, political and economic challenges facing our country. In the end, it simply wasn’t enough.
We were, it should not be forgotten, up against the combined might of the entire British establishment, with almost every single media outlet and political party overtly hostile to independence throughout the campaign. In the final days we were also subjected to an enormous onslaught of fear-based campaigning, with warnings about increased prices in supermarkets (dismissed by the supermarkets themselves) and ludicrous suggestions of a new Great Depression. Under such circumstances the final result is perhaps unsurprising.
To be clear, many people have voted No for genuine reasons: issues of identity, or the belief that inequality can be best combated as a unified Britain are, whilst contrary to my view, not invalid, and we should remember that; however, a lot of people have also voted No either because they were too afraid to vote Yes, or because – deep down – they simply cared more about themselves than others. Let us never, ever lose sight of the fact that one of the starkest outcomes of this vote has been the correlation between poverty and a Yes vote.
The important question now is: where do we go from here?
On the evening of the 18th I spoke to a journalist in the USA who asked what the Yes campaign would do if the result was No. My answer was simple: having failed to achieve independence, the Yes campaign must turn all of its (incredible) energy towards Westminster. No matter how you analyse the overall result in the referendum there can be no doubt whatsoever that the demand for substantial change is very, very real in Scotland, and there is no reason to believe that the same does not apply across the UK. Now, more than ever, our future can not be left in the hands of politicians, and this is where the spectacular popular engagement driven by the Yes campaign can now use it’s undeniable power. Even in defeat, there is pressure on the Yes campaign to continue to fight for a better Scotland, and that is a challenge that we should willingly accept.
There is also, however, massive pressure on the Labour party. Having campaigned alongside the Tories in a country where such associations are toxic, it is absolutely imperative that they are seen to deliver the sort of change demanded by not just the those who voted Yes, but also a significant number of those who voted against independence. This is especially true because Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and – for many – the symbol of working-class Scotland, voted 53%-47% in favour on Yes.
One massive positive on results night has been the sort of language being used by the Scottish Labour party (with the notable exception of Johann Lamont’s ill-advised claims of “victory”) – they have not treated this like a win, and know that the people of Scotland will now be watching them very closely. If this campaign – even in defeat – shakes the Labour party from their disgraceful complacency in recent years then it has been a success.
At the end of all of this there are two things that I will take away with me: firstly, for 15 hours on the 18th of September 2014, I lived in a country which had complete control of its own future, and I will never forget that; second, my determination to be involved in building a better life for the people of Scotland has never been stronger. Make no mistake – the Westminster establishment are afraid, and they are right to be.
The genie is out of the bottle, and we must make sure that it never, ever goes back.