I’ve spent the last couple of days not just in mourning, but in wondering what kind of person votes against their own independence. To say no to being in charge of your own future seems to me like saying no to babies or freedom or the scent of roses. It’s like a turkey voting for Christmas.
In the bitterness of defeat it’s easy to say the No voters were selfish or stupid, scared of the future and more concerned with their own comfort than with the common good. It’s easy to point at the unionist neds doing the fascist salute in George Square and say, This is who you lined up with. It’s easy to watch Cameron sticking the boot into Labour or Miliband taking a step back from the so-called ‘vows’ and think the Nos have got what they deserved.
Easy but not true. I have many close and dear friends who studied all the evidence, agonised over their decision and voted for the union. They’re some of the kindest people I know and certainly not stupid. Moreover, the turnout was exceptionally high, 84.5 percent, a record for any UK election since (almost) universal suffrage was brought in in 1918. (Women were granted the vote then but had to be over 30 and meet certain property requirements. Not until 1928 were they finally on a par with men.)
I saw a snide comment about the people who went into the polling booth and put two crosses on their forms - Is ‘stupid’ just another word for Scottish? - but I think it’s admirable that people who genuinely couldn’t make up their minds didn’t just stay at home. Instead they went to the trouble of going out to take part in this historic event and recorded the fact that they could see both sides of the argument. No-one could say the Scots didn’t care about their country.
From a Yes perspective it’s hard to see why No voters weren’t repulsed by the blatant scaremongering tactics of the government in the last week of the campaign, hard to see why so many who support unilateral disarmament didn‘t seize the opportunity to force Westminster to think again about it, hard to understand why people weren‘t more concerned by the potential loss of the National Health Service through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between Europe and the US.
But they voted in such huge numbers for No that it couldn’t just be about fear and the economy. People were scared, despite the many economists who said Scotland was a rich country, not so much by the threat of the banks’ withdrawal (if you haven’t any money in the bank, that doesn’t particularly matter to you) but by the threat of rises in supermarket prices. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, of course that’s a scary thought - even many working people barely make it to the end of the week as it is. I laughed when I heard Marks and Spencer were threatening to put up prices - lots of people never go in there because it’s too dear already - but Asda was more serious. In fact I recently heard Lesley Riddoch talking about her Africawoman project, which gave African women their own online newspaper and which I had the privilege to work on in the 1990s. A group of the women came to Edinburgh where, despite the Castle and the historic buildings, the place they really wanted to go was Asda. They were much poorer than us but could still afford to shop there.
Despite the economic element, I think the No voters were just like the Yes voters in that they too were voting for something bigger. It was just a different concept of what’s important. For No, it was the sense of being part of a historic partnership. One lady my sister talked to said she thought of her great-uncle, who’d been killed in the war, and she didn’t want to let him down. Many people feel proud of their part in two world wars and, indeed, in building up the British Empire.
And perhaps even more feel a class kinship with working people all over Britain. Having been through the turbulence of Thatcher’s breaking of the miners and reduction of trade union powers, many Scots wanted to express their solidarity with the poor and disaffected through the UK. Those of us who voted Yes thought the break-up of this unequal partnership could only lead to a fracturing of the political status quo and a re-making of the whole country, but the No voters thought there was more chance of effecting change if people banded together. I respect and honour them for that but the irony is that David Cameron didn’t even wait 24 hours before seizing his opportunity to curtail the power of Labour.
I believe the population of England and Wales is so much greater than ours that we will never be able to control our lives while the major decisions are made in their interests. Is it really so selfish to want to control your own resources? I was at dinner with friends last night and one suggested it was, that if oil had been found in Lowestoft, we would expect the profits to be shared throughout the country. That’s a fine thought, but I don’t believe the profits have been shared. They’ve been used to fund illegal wars and the legal gambling of the banking system, used to foster the interests of the Westminster elite, used to favour the south east over other parts of the UK.
I was hoping to see the might of the US curtailed by a small nation. Hoping to see the might of big business controlled. We may have shaken Westminster but we had a chance to shake the world.