Wha’s like us…

21 09 2014

…. damn few.
Well not quite, but not enough of Scotland’s 5.5 million people were like like us.

So what, if anything, happens next? Social media has been filled with new groups rallying the 45, that is the 45% of people whose argument failed to win the day. The appeal to the 45 reveals a lot about what went wrong with the campaign. We were talking to ourselves.

We have to look at the reasons people voted yes, and no, before deciding where to go next or we will spend the next however many months and years just talking amongst ourselves.

The nature of the question on the ballot form, a simple yes or no, made it easy to rally behind one side or the other but the reasons people voted yes, and indeed no, are complex.

For me the question was one of governance; decisions should be made by the people who those decisions effect or as close as possible to those people.
Independence could deliver just that and only that; an independent government. The nature of that government, left, right or centre would be determined in the Scottish elections of 2016.

However the yes campaign led on creating a better society. Now, I happen to agree with a lot of the social justice arguments of the yes campaign. After all who wouldn’t want a fairer society? It’s a mums and apple pie thing surely? But that was not the question being asked and anyway, do people put the interests of society ahead of their own interests? I think not. The UK has a right wing government promoting divisive austerity measures not because the ConDems fell from the sky and took control, but because 60% of the people in the UK voted for them.

Way back in June, only 3 months and yet a lifetime away, I argued that relying on the feeling that people in Scotland are somehow so very different to the rUK might be misplaced. The no campaign were very successful in persuading some people that their immediate interests; their money, their jobs, their personal safety, would be best protected by voting no. Call it a campaign of fear if you like but it successfully appealed to self-interest.

Take the case of one young woman who intended voting yes and then had a very last minute change of mind for fear of having to carry two sets of currency and, since she lived in the borders, didn’t want to risk the hassle. Alex Salmond repeated ad nauseum that Scotland would keep the pound. Of course it would have, the economic argument is overwhelming, but the case wasn’t made in a way that convinced the fearful. And I’ve already heard apologies from women whose hearts were for yes but voted no as they were unsettled enough by the fears raised by no campaigners. Gordon Brown wading in at the last moment probably persuaded some that the UK government would pay more attention to the needs and desires of the Scottish people, but quite how the backbench MP for Kirkcaldy & Fife is going to compel the UK govt to do anything is another matter. What is the correct response to those women. Hell mend you? I think not.

I am on the steering group of an organisation working for increased diversity in Scottish and rUK boardrooms; particularly but not exclusively getting more women on boards. A fantastic peer-to-peer support network with women, and men, working to change the make-up of public and private sector boards in order to change the way organisations work. Equality legislation is currently not a fully devolved matter. The Scottish Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission reports in to the UK government equalities office. For example, should the Scottish government wish to introduce quotas to speed up the introduction of more women on boards it could not. An equality issue if ever there was one so surely most of the women involved in this network would vote yes. For most the answer was no. To many of the women involved in the group equality is important but not overridingly so. Many work for legal and financial companies who threatened to move HQ’s from Scotland should the vote have been yes. The women were not scared of this prospect and frightened into voting no. These women agreed with, and fully supported, that position. An appeal to social justice was never going to win those voters over. Finding ways to include people to the right of the debate is going to be a challenge but there is some common ground and we have to find ways of changing the minds of these women and men if we are going to build a better society.

I know many people who intended voting yes who have their children educated at private schools. That does not fit in with my view of equality and social justice so their reasons for voting yes were likely to be very different to those to the left of the campaign for yes.

In knocking on doors to get the vote out on Thursday I spoke to very elderly women who were almost in tears at the prospect that, after 50+ years campaigning for the SNP, Scotland might actually become an independent nation state. I feel that I have let them down at a personal level, that I couldn’t deliver their dream. But it wasn’t my dream. I’m English, after all. I’m not a nationalist, but many are and that was their reason for voting yes. Whatever might have happened to the country after that was of lesser importance than the fact of independence. I was advised by local SNP activists that they used to be dubbed the tartan tories. I’m not a political historian but suspect that the nature of the party has changed beneath the feet of these long-time supporters but the notion of independence has held them in one camp. What now for the SNP?

Just yesterday I showed a woman around my flat, which is for sale right now. She mentioned that the local church seemed to be having a service of reconciliation; as she put it, “something to help those upset by the result”, adding with a sneer, “not that there are many of them.” She was probably correct in that not many people in my bit of Crieff voted yes but it was the way she said “them”. I was sorry that the yes poster had already been removed from the window but suggested that there were more of “them” than she might imagine. She saw me as one of “us” not “them” as I live in a very nice, well appointed apartment in a very beautiful part of Crieff. It would be wrong to speculate on her reasons for voting no but I suspect class has something to do with it.

To paraphrase Tommy Sheridan, look at the people who are voting no and ask yourself why. We didn’t do enough of that before the vote. Neither did we look at the diverse reasons for people voting yes.

There were some fantastic groups that rallied the people of Scotland for yes. Many are now looking to find a place for themselves going forward. The first thing to do is to acknowledge that we lost. Those groups and that message was not effective or, in fairness, not effective enough. The yes campaign also raised the profile of many individuals, some of whom are also active in trying organise groups to head up the next steps Doing the same thing and with the same people will not deliver social change. I have huge respect for what Lesley Riddoch, for example, has to say but was swayed far more my the arguments made by individuals who I’d never heard from before. Lots and lots of voices all talking for ourselves being supported in having our voice heard rather than being filtered through groups or personalities.

There is a real danger that the energy released by the debate, energy which encouraged thousands of people who had never before engaged with the political process to go and vote, will be lost in the feeling that it made no difference. We have to find out all of the reasons that the 45 voted yes and find ways of bringing in the many people who now regret having voted no. We cannot just keep talking amongst ourselves and assuming that we all had the same reason or voting yes. In particular we must deliver for the thousands of young people who we let down. My own son was interviewed on Radio 4 as the results came in, just after the Dundee declaration. He spoke eloquently and clearly about his own reasons for yes and I’m incredibly proud of him. My life has been enhanced beyond measure in the last months by being able to talk to him about the issues that matter to us all. My suggestion is that all of us that already have a profile should stand aside and let the next generation through. Let them talk about the next steps and how they would like to see Scotland develop. And if we need a spokesperson I know just the man!



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