Scottish Independence Referendum - Ruling class panics as Scottish youth and oppressed show the way forward

On 19 September, the British ruling class breathed a huge sigh of relief when the results of the previous day’s referendum on Scottish independence were announced. The possibility of a Yes victory had caused widespread panic in the days beforehand. But on a massive turnout of 84.6%, 55.3% had voted against independence, with 44.7% in favour – two million as against just over 1.6 million. Within hours of the result, pledges by the three Westminster party leaders offering more powers to Scotland in an effort to bolster the No vote, were bogged down in petty party squabbles. Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Scottish First Minister, who had spearheaded the Yes campaign, announced his intention to resign his positions.

Reflecting on Irish acceptance of the 1922 Treaty which imposed partition on Ireland, the Irish revolutionary communist Liam Mellows said that the Treaty had been accepted not by the will of the people but by the fear of the people. Back then British imperialism threatened the Irish people with ‘immediate and terrible war’ should they vote against its proposals. That same imperialist British ruling class used more sophisticated means to threaten the Scottish people and in so doing exposed many to the limitations of bourgeois democracy.

Three months before the referendum, polls had shown a 20% lead for a No vote. But from then on the gap narrowed until, on 6 September, a YouGov poll showed 51% in favour of independence as against 49%. Panic ensued. In the days that followed, the British ruling class went into complete overdrive in order to secure a No verdict. To sow fear and uncertainty, it mobilised the media to run a torrent of scare stories about the consequences of a Yes victory. Bank chiefs claimed that banks would abandon Scotland and that interest rates would rise; Scotland would be left without a currency; food prices would soar; pensions would be at risk. Supermarkets were canvassed to oppose a Yes vote. 14 former armed forces chiefs said independence would completely undermine Britain’s security; Gordon Brown claimed it would put half of Scotland’s two million jobs at risk.

All 39 daily papers, national and regional, supported the No campaign. On 10 September, Prime Minister’s question time in the House of Commons was cancelled to allow all three party leaders to travel to Scotland to save the Union. They were joined next day by over 100 Labour MPs. Supporters of the Yes campaign did not take this lying down: anger at the relentless bias in BBC coverage led to a 5,000 strong demonstration outside its Glasgow headquarters on 14 September.

Analysis of the poll showed clear class and age divisions between the two camps. Those voting Yes were predominantly young and working class, those against independence were older, middle class or better off:

• 71% of those aged 16-17 voted Yes as against 29% who voted No. The pattern was reversed for those aged 65 and over: only 27% supported independence while 73% were against.

• Support for independence was highest in those areas where the poor lived: in the most deprived areas, 64% were for independence, in the next most deprived 58%, middle 45%, in the next most affluent 42%, and in the most affluent area, 35%.

• There were majorities for independence in the poor urban regions of the country such as Glasgow (53.5%), Dundee City (57.4%) and North Lanarkshire (51.1%).

• 57% of No voters regarded the preservation of the pound as key to their decision, as opposed to 7% who voted Yes. Disaffection with Westminster politics was a critical factor for 74% of Yes voters, but for only 4% of No voters. Preserving the NHS was crucial for the decision of 54% Yes voters, but only 36% of No voters.

The extent that Scottish people regarded the outcome of the referendum as important was reflected in the degree of popular engagement and involvement and in the huge turnout. Even in Glasgow, it was 75%; by contrast at the 2010 general election, turnout in seven Glasgow constituencies ranged between 49% and 61.6%.

The Labour Party in Scotland was the backbone of the campaign for a No vote. Scottish independence would mean the loss of 40 Labour seats in Westminster jeopardising the chance of securing a majority in a general election. It was fighting for its future, but despite this, 37% of its members were still prepared to support independence. In Pollok, the Glasgow constituency of Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, there were 26,807 in favour of independence with 22,956 against; there was a similar result in nearby Cathcart, the Westminster seat of Labour leadership challenger and former UK government minister Tom Harris. With the exception of Unite, every trade union campaigned for a No vote; 6,000 members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers resigned in protest at union directions to vote No. The Labour Party stands today discredited among a large section of the Scottish working class people; the Better Together campaign did not hold a single open public meeting in Glasgow during the campaign.

The Yes campaign was able to make important gains as thousands of activists campaigned in poor working class communities, arguing that a better, more socially just Scotland is possible. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters campaigned for a Yes vote, against British imperialism, arguing that working class interests must be to the fore in Scottish politics. Against the tidal wave of propaganda, a significant proportion of the Scottish people voted defiantly for independence.

In Westminster, Labour leaders are now faced with opportunist calls by Prime Minister Cameron for Scottish MPs to be excluded from votes on English matters – this would give the Tories a comfortable majority. The SNP has seized on Labour’s appalling performance and is calling for Scotland to be a Labour Free Zone at the 2015 general election. However, this is no less opportunist: in a few weeks’ time the SNP Scottish government has to present a budget which may involve cuts of £2bn. This will have a devastating effect on many communities and on better-off workers employed in local and Scottish government.

That politicians like Tommy Sheridan are calling for an SNP vote next year provided each candidate pledges to oppose all cuts and austerity, shows how deep this opportunism will run. There could never have been a constitutional solution to social questions; the battle was about political power and basic democracy. There is no time for despondency; the ruling class has gained a renewed mandate to continue its offensive against the entire working class in Britain – all progressive forces must organise against them. The engagement of so many working class and young people in the campaign shows that new possibilities exist.

Paul Mallon and Michael Macgregor

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014