Tuesday, 23 September 2014

So project fear has won.....for now

In the final days of the Scottish referendum campaign the 'No' camp expended a fair amount of energy complaining on social media about 'intimidation' from supporters of the Yes campaign. But the bits of graffiti I saw, in photos, sprayed on polling station walls, whilst reprehensible, were trivial compared to the sustained programme of dire threats delivered by what was dubbed the 'Project Fear' approach of the Better Together campaign - vote yes and you'll loose your jobs, pensions and homes.

After the polls had closed, on Sky TV, Peter Kellner of YouGov, who produced what turned out to be a pretty accurate exit poll on the night, said that he thought there had been a late swing to No from people not wanting to 'take the risk' of independence. In the end the bankers, politicians and the market got what they wanted - the 'correct result' - which I referred to in my last post, a result which was intended to retain 'business as usual' and prevent Scotland developing a progressive alternative to neoliberal austerity - not to mention keeping the oil and Trident.

So in the end 'Project Fear' delivered a 'no' vote by 55% to 45%. This was presented as a 10 point gap and a veritable landslide. Whilst that might hold true for a general election, the fact is that Yes failed by 5% + 1 vote to make Scotland an independent country. What's more Yes turned out to be much more heavily skewed towards the younger voter, which means that independence is more or less inevitable in the not too distant future unless those who want to keep the union can come up with some much more compelling and positive messages. 

Where did Yes go wrong? Maybe Salmond and the SNP were too careful for their own good. The biggest single mistake was the currency. Although currency union was possible, despite what the No side said, it was never desirable. To be independent a country needs its own currency and central bank, and that is the option they should have gone for. As it was Alastair Darling used 'currency union' and 'lack of a plan B' as an effective club to beat Salmond with in the first televised debate, something that Salmond should have handled much better, and never quite recovered from. Despite the failure of the Yes campaign, Salmond has had a remarkable political career and has achieved far more than most politicians. His will be a lasting legacy.

For those who saw the Yes campaign for what it was, a fight for democracy, not nationalism, it's not all doom and gloom though. The Yes campaign energised and radicalised thousands of Scots, many of whom are determined to remain politically active and punish the 'No' parties. Membership of the SNP has soared as has that of the Scottish Greens. This bodes ill for Labour, who are seen as the main culprits for defeat by the Yes voters. If they can maintain momentum up to the general election, Labour will have a real fight on its hands and could loose seats.

Not only that, but there is a big shake up coming South of the border, where it's recognised that more powers for Scotland must lead to constitutional reform in England, because of the 'West Lothian question' - Scottish MPs voting on legislation which affects England only. But the effect of the 'West Lothian question' has been exaggerated, there are relatively few laws in Parliament which affect only England and there is no real reason why Scottish MPs elected to a UK parliament shouldn't be able to vote on all bills. And, according to Will Hutton in the Observer:
'... mySociety finds that of 5,000 votes in the House of Commons since 1997, only 21 depended on the votes of Scottish MPs'
Its much more difficult to disentangle 'English' legislation from that affecting other parts of the UK than you might think. Despite that, after the referendum result, the Tories and UKIP immediately jumped on the 'EVEL' bandwagon and sought to bounce the other parties into a settlement that suited them alone by making more powers for Scotland conditional on Scottish MPs becoming second-class members of the House of Commons.

As far as constitutional change is concerned there is still all to play for. It couldn't realistically happen without a constitutional convention being set up, and that takes time, making it something that will have to happen beyond the next general election. As someone who lives in the North of England it could only work for me if there were regional devolution for the Northwest, and I'm sure the same is true for many others in the North and West of England. An English parliament offers us next to nothing. And so, despite the victory for Project Fear UK politics is having a good shake up and will never be quite the same again. The 45% have ensured there can be no return to 'business as usual'. Real change has to happen.

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