Time to respect the people’s decision and use the powers we have
Elaine Smith, Labour MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, reflects on the independence referendum. This article first appeared in The Morning Star.
One year on from the independence referendum campaign, Scotland is again reflecting on it and asking whether there should be another referendum any time soon.
The referendum was a momentous exercise that saw me personally speak to a countless number of my constituents last year on the doorsteps, and it was a process that saw unprecedented numbers of people taking an interest in voting.
However, it was a process that also caused tensions and provoked some nasty behaviour on both sides.
In the weeks leading up to the independence referendum families were split between Yes and No, friends, work colleagues and even strangers had bitter arguments and indeed some relationships broke down never to be the same again.
In the aftermath, many who voted Yes feel cheated out of what they perceived as a better future and many who voted No feel that they are being viewed as less Scottish.
There is also an issue that the national flag is used by the SNP as a political symbol and the tensions remain while the “neverendum” hangs over us.
Still, for me the most concerning issue is the complete disregard by the SNP for democracy.
There was a massive turn-out to vote on September 18 last year so there can be no doubt that this was a democratically representative vote. The engagement of so many people in the vote was, of course, a positive outcome of the process and there was a clear 10 per cent differential, which resulted in a decision to reject independence.
There had also been clear statements by the then First Minister and others in the Yes campaign that this was a “once in a generation” or “once in a lifetime” decision and that the result would be respected.
The No side were also challenged to respect any decision and the irony is that had this vote gone the other way, even by 1 per cent, then we would have been independent by next April with no second chances.
The No campaign has been accused of scaremongering on issues like the currency, pensions and oil prices. Since there was no clear plan I actually found these issues, along with many others, very worrying and, of course, we now know that concern about oil prices were certainly no scare story but all too real in their predictions of the possibility of the price plummeting.
However, having thought long and hard about it, my main motivation for voting against separation was a class-based one. I believe in solidarity and I have more in common with people in Blackpool than those in Braemar.
It’s not a change of constitution that is needed but a change of government to achieve the fairer, more equal and redistributive society that I want to live in and that Labour would implement.
Ironically the success of the SNP in Scotland and the threat of some kind of coalition down south was enough to deliver a return of the Tories.
There is an argument now about whether the so-called “Vow” is being delivered in full, although later analysis shows that it seemed to have had little effect on the vote.
The Scottish Parliament always had vast powers which were never fully used and we were getting major extra powers over tax prior to the referendum campaign even starting. Like others I expect the Smith Commission recommendations to be fully implemented since they were agreed to on a cross-party basis by all the main parties in Scotland including the SNP.
Even if the so-called Vow is not implemented in its entirety we will still have one of the most powerful devolved administrations anywhere in the world.
When Labour delivered the referendum to establish the Scottish Parliament there were two clear votes: Yes to devolution and Yes to tax varying powers. The latter issue, therefore, had a mandate of the Scottish people agreed to by a democratic vote.
Interestingly, the SNP disregarded that democratic vote when John Swinney their finance minister gave up the ability to use the tax varying power in 2010 without even consulting the Scottish Parliament, never mind the people.
The vote for the SNP last May was undoubtedly in part an anti-establishment vote and an expression of displeasure with the perception of Westminster politics. Added to this their very effective propaganda machine was working overtime on the theme of “Standing up for Scotland.”
The reality is that there were always 59 Scottish MPs in Westminster but you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
What amazes me though is the SNP’s ability to act like the opposition when they have been the government in Scotland for over eight years. Given the chaos in the police service, the savage cuts to local government, the problems in education and the crisis in our health service to mention just a few areas I am amazed that any police officer, teacher, lecturer, nurse, doctor, paramedic or any other public-sector employee votes for them.
It will take time for Labour to regain the trust of the Scottish people but we have made a good start by electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
The negative tag of “Red Tories” was always nonsense but it was SNP spin that stuck with some people — it clearly cannot be levelled at Labour now.
In Scotland, Kezia Dugdale has started to further democratise the party, giving power to ordinary members and changing conference. Together our labour leadership team can show that, unlike the SNP, we don’t just talk about socialism, we act. The SNP have not implemented one single policy to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor in society and have actually done the opposite with their damaging council tax freeze and vicious cuts to council budgets.
Rather than spend time, energy and another £15.8 million on another referendum, the SNP should get on with sorting out the problems they are fully responsible for here in Scotland with the vast swathe of powers they now have.
Scottish Labour will get on with our job of holding the SNP government in Edinburgh accountable for their many failures.
And given time maybe the wounds can heal in families, with friends and across the country and we can all once again be proud confident Scots, living in a tolerant, friendly and inclusive nation.