IndyRef aftermath: First thoughts, and what we might learn in Northern Ireland?

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!

– Rabbie Burns

So, the people have spoken. Followed by good speeches this morning from Alex Salmond (bullish as ever in defeat), and in particular from Johann Lamont, the leader of the Scottish Labour party this morning who took the time to pay homage to the man of the Scottish mountain, his career and his achievement in bringing Scotland to brink of answer the question that had driven him to near success.

Good politics from both. Alex vigorously pointing to 1.6 million Scots who said Yes, and Lamont, the winner for once, saying how important it was that Labour not ‘retreat to barracks’ but would need to open their minds to what others were trying to tell them. Not to mention an attempt to frame this as the end of business for wee Eck.

Michael Forsyth the last Tory to switch out the lights before its Westminster annihilation quoted another piece of Burns last night to the effect that he and others had had chance to taste just cynically voters view all professional politicians.

His view was that things must change, if only because if democracy is to thrive in the longer term  politics must do something to get closer to the people.

This is where in a sense, as I argued back in February, the SNP benefited over all other parties. They have established sympathy with the younger segment of voters where there has been a preponderance of Yes voters, the youngest of whom they gave the vote for the first time.

The flaws in the Yes case were apparent two years ago. The currency problem may not have played popularly, but currency (which is one of the highly significant inhibitors to an all island market in Ireland) did have a galvanising effect on the business community, and the affluent middle class.

The SNP and the Yes camp aroused long term aspirations, that were denied or spurned by the No campaign. They were also better prepared, better funded, better supported on the streets, which their supporters pretty much ‘owned’ (of which more later). In short they knew they were in a death match right from the start.

The No campaign on the other hand only began to engage emotional arguments when that fateful poll was announced:

A fat lead led to complacency, and to some extent perhaps internalising pre prepped Yes messages a sense of fear that
also comes of being the long term favourite. This was always No’s to lose.

The release of Gordon Brown (which whatever his limitations as a Prime Minster and Chancellor sits head and shoulders over his rivals in the smarts department), and in the very last days the supplanting of the near neanderthal “Vote Naw” badges with heart shaped “Love Scotland, Vote No” only came in the dying days of the campaign.

Ironically, it was a wake up call for Scottish Labour. We’ve seen this sort of thing in Northern Ireland before though, where voters seem to give you a last minute reprieve for old times, sake or some deep felt enmity towards the SNP.

So many years after the devolution it brought to Scotland, Labour whilst it still retains some technocratic nous does not seem to know what to do with that power in the political sense. What is it to be ma Scottish Social Democrat? By what works will know ye? It itself needs to follow the Fraser plan, and follow a more formal federal break (like the Quebecois) into sister parties to manage the increasingly divergent political cultures of UK and Scotland.

Salmond feels like he’s been around since the year dot. But he’s still only 59. Having lost this referendum he knows he cannot put the Scottish people through this constitutional trauma again. That will fall to another generation in 10 or 15 years time when demographic progression moves on and perhaps the transition to another currency might not be so traumatic.

But he has still fish to fry. Taking concessions off a clearly spooked Ten Downing Street keeps him in the game. You might even be forgiven for rather thinking this was a nice little fishing trip to try and filch a few more powers off the wee boys in Downing Street?

When you are in touch with your grassroots and can couch yourself endlessly as the enemy of money and power (even whilst quietly accommodating yourself to it when the need arises) you can move quickly and take people with you.

Salmond’s brand of populism is not quite the sort we are accustomed to seeing in Northern Ireland. It comes with a proven capacity to perform in government (see the SNP’s education reforms), and one that understands the need for creative opportunity to build beyond its traditional base.

For us, well unionists will be relieved. When people are asked about their futures the middle class will always ask the question about money and the short term implications for their children.

In this case it was the Yes that was responsible for almost all of the movement in Scottish opinion, both in the surge forward a week and a half before the poll, and the retraction of sentiment in the poll itself.

Harsh lesson 1 for republicans looking a border poll: Make sure your business plan is shipshape and water long before you call a poll and meet the Dragons. You must have broad support, and credibility with the middle class.

Right now, we are in a position where everyone else (including English councils) are looking for more powers, except for us, whose politicians have yet to demonstrate they know what do with the powers they already have.


Facts do not cease to exist just because you ignore them.

Aldous Huxley


  • Morpheus

    Looks like I was on the money with a 55:45 win for the No campaign but it has to be said that the fear tactics employed to secure the win were incredibly poor and distasteful. Taking on the Tories in Scotland is relatively easy – just put up *that* picture of Cameron in his tails – but also taking on the BBC, the UK Media and Corporate UK was always going to be near impossible, hence why I went for a No win.

    For me the BBC coverage in particular over the past few weeks was infuriatingly unbalanced and unwatchable for the most part – the tactic seemed to be save the Union at all costs and then write off the impending onslaught of complaints as sour grapes. Looks like it has worked. It shows that the elites still run the show (no surprise but still worrying none the less) and that the mainstream media still trumps social media…which is where ‘Yes’ got it wrong in my opinion. They got the young vote, they could get their message into every phone or tablet in Scotland, but to me that was at expense of the pensioners who don’t, generally speaking of course, embrace change or technology all that well. Not enough was done to convince them about pensions and health and the price has been paid.

    Coming up to Scotland in a blind panic, promising all sorts, embarrassed the No campaign in my opinion but I thought Gordon Brown did a great job in his speech. Two question: where has the side of him been hiding and why the hell was the Prime Minister of the UK not giving that speech?

    Introducing the 16-18 age group into the voting pool could go either way – they had a massive turnout but the disappointment to all those people of losing this vote could put them off politics or it might spur them on as no doubt they will be the generation that get the next bite at the cherry. Who knows?

    But hey, that’s democracy. The people have spoken and they will now get what they vote for. Personally I don’t think Cameron will deliver on what he has promised judging from the recent comments from his backbenchers but we’ll see. It could be a fresh start for the UK with all constituents parts given more power over their respective regions – but I highly doubt it.

    As for Northern Ireland then I just checked and the sky is still up there – but did we expect anything else? It wasn’t ever going to have a huge impact really. I agree with Mick when he says any nationalist case has to be watertight but at least they don’t have to worry about currency eh? 🙂

  • Morpheus

    I am a bit confused about this whole West Lothian Question, maybe someone could shed some light. Is the plan to set up a new English assembly (like Stormont, Holyrood or Senedd) which deals with England-specific issues and then having Westminster just for UK wide issues?

  • mickfealty

    I think Carol Craig pointed out the proper verities of proper pessimism.

  • Annie Breensson

    AIUI there will not be a new English only assembly. England will still be administered from Westminster, but Scottish (and Welsh and NI ??) MPs will not be eligible to vote on matters that impact only on English constituencies. I don’t think a there will be a significant impact on existing arrangements.

  • barnshee

    “whole West Lothian Question”

    The suggestion appears to be that after “DEVO. MAX” (whatever that is) the Scots, N. Irish and Welsh MP will be excluded from voting of matters which pertain to England only. No need for an English Assembly mind you the English regions may feel different about that.

  • Morpheus

    Thanks guys, I am trying to visualize this in my head. In the morning the English MPs could be debating, for example, a train-line between London and Manchester – I get that – but what kind of issues would they be bringing in the Scottish, NI and Welsh MPs in for if all 4 regions have DEVO MAX?

    The anti-DEVO MAX brigade are on the move I see, didn’t last long:

  • Robin Keogh

    The biggest lesson to be learned from the whole referendum exercise as far as we are concerned has to be the one where the Scottish people with dividing loyalties and aspirations have managed to settle the matter peacefully and respectfully with zero violence, moreover both the winners and the losers have been graceful and magnanimous. Whether or not there is any truth to the claims that there was some voter fraud, we know for sure that the Scottish people will resolve any outstanding issues with dignity. Can we learn that lesson? Will we ignore the lesson and continue to tussle over our own constitutional question aggressively and obtusly? Time will tell. If we get a chance to vote here on Irish Unity we can see from the recent debate that the scenarios could hardly be more different. For Ireland there is no question on currency, no question on who will own Irish natural resources, no question on who would control tax and welfare etc. No question on who would be rsponsible for protecting health and education. The only debate we will likely have is around the area of economic cost and whether or not we will continue on a neo-liberal agenda or move left towards social democracy. In any event, the pressure Scotland faced in considering all the above will not apply in a UI referendum. Further we also know that neither London od Brussells will be pleading for the north to stick with Britain, on the contrary it is safe to assume that the opposite is more likely to happen. London would be happy to see the back of the boil while Europe would not have to concern itself with negotiating the entry of a new state into the Euro fold. And finally, other countries in Europe such as Belgium, France and Spain would not have to worry about Irish Unity triggering an upswing in seccessionist sentiment in the way it would likely have done if Scotland seceded. Nationalists can continue to plan for a possible future referendum safe in the knowledge that they will not have to contend with a Metropolitan base struggling against them backed up by a largely hostile media and unsympathetic international community. It will have to contend with violent Unionism, unless of course the Scottish message sinks in, on that fron sadly, I am not very hopeful.

  • Morpheus

    Only a small minority have said that they couldn’t live with the idea of a UI RK, even fewer would resort to violence. I think we need to learn from Scotland and have a bit of faith in ourselves and our ability to have an open, honest debate/vote without resorting to violence.

  • Morpheus

    Thanks Barnshee. So if we all get full fiscal autonomy does that mean that whatever we generate in our respective countries stays in our respective countries and we have to cut our cloth accordingly? Or are things like tax collection, defence, welfare etc. off the table for the devolved assemblies and still controlled from Westminster?

  • Reader

    UK matters: Foreign policy, defence, financial regulation, an occasional bit of direct rule (E.g. if SF asks Cameron to issue a slap-down to the DUP). And the base tax policy from which tax adjustments would be devolved. It may be for instance that the EU wouldn’t allow the VAT rate to be devolved to the regions, whereas a plastic bag tax is OK. Devolving Corporation tax is apparently a bit of an issue.
    I think the current idea is that one or two days per week at Westminster could be given over to exclusively English business so that other MPs don’t need to waste their time hanging around all week for the sake of fewer votes. No English Assembly required.

  • I think that Northern Ireland will benefit from this referendum. Thankfully it turned ou the right way.

  • Morpheus

    The ‘rewiring of the UK constitution’ makes it looks remarkably like the old one then

  • Robin Keogh

    Thats one of the most disgraceful posts I have seen in a long time, i would prefer to have a dirty migrant living beside me over a dirty racist any day.

  • Robin Keogh

    I would like to think thats possible, honestly. But the loyalists reaction to a flag leads me to suspect that the prospect of Irish Unity might trigger a more violent reaction. I hope to be proved wrong.

  • What ! Haven’t you seen the images on the news ! These migrants are physically dirty because they’re living in the streets. It’s not racist to point out if someone is physically dirty ! And let’s face facts (if you can) why are so many migrants coming to England ? Why are so many illegally coming to England from France ? And don’t say oh they’re escaping their own country because why would they want to leave France ? France isn’t in war. France isn’t poor (most of it). Catch yourself on. I have no issue with a migrant coming in who is going to work 100%. Who is going to contribute to our economy, and not take from it.

  • barnshee

    “Or are things like tax collection, defence, welfare etc. off the table for the devolved assemblies and still controlled from Westminster?”

    Your question highlight the crock of shit/can of worms now in view.

    Take tax—Increase- and the region runs the risk of exodus of business /workers. Decrease– and the region suffer a loss of tax take and and may not be able to fund services.

    Welfare? Its devolved old chap- see tax (above) for funds (or not)

    Then we have business or workers based up in one region operating in more than one region -operating to maximise personal benefit at any cost to other regions?

    What about 4 (5 if you count the IOM) tax departments .?
    The opportunities for the employment of legions of more bureaucrats is there-but who will pay for them.?

  • Morpheus

    What’s this about extra devolved powers to cities within the UK? Do we read extra powers for London into that?

    Something stinks

  • submariner

    What a disgusting little racist you are Mr Lawson.Its precisely because of attitudes such as yours that 1.5 million Scots voted Yes

  • babyface finlayson

    I heard it suggested that while other MPs could still debate and vote on English only issues the vote could not be passed unless there was a majority of English MPS in favour. Not sure if that would work.

  • Reader

    It’s difficult to predict very much in advance. However, there is plenty of scope for devolution of more tax powers, more budget independence, and more local control of the NHS, planning, law and policing.
    There have been occasions when Scottish votes have affected non-Scottish matters, such as when Labour managed to introduce university fees across England using votes from Scottish MPs. It seems reasonable that England should have a bit of devolution too, and the only argument would be over the practicalities.

  • Starviking

    One person’s ‘fear tactics’ are another person’s reasonable worries.

  • Morpheus

    Of course people had reasonable worries but now that the referendum is over go back and look at the coverage, look at the interviews, look at the questioning. The ‘Yes’ campaign obviously deserved extra scrutiny because they are the ones pushing for major change but, as an example, if you get your hands on it you should look at how Sky News (I couldn’t watch the BBC coverage) handled the reports of electoral fraud in Glasgow on count night. The No campaigner was asked about all the smiles gone from the Yes campaigns faces and the Yes campaigner was grilled for the entire interview about electoral fraud, blue gloves (even going as far as walking about 10 metres to show the public what a blue glove looked like), if he thought it was rampant throughout Scotland, etc. as if he had sanctioned this even though no one knows who did the fraud, what they voted for etc. The implication was clearly that Yes need to resort to electoral fraud to win. It was truly awful and infuriating to watch.

    Look at Asda’s statement that their prices would have to “reflect its cost” – every business in the world is in the same position!!!!! Leaving aside the fact that Asda is owned by Walmart – an American company with operations in USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, India, China – and are well equipped to handle business in more than 1 jurisdiction the No campaign said that prices could be up to 16% higher (based on the RoI) a statement which Tesco confirmed simply wasn’t true. No mention of how much will go on the price of a loaf, milk, petrol – just “may increase” allowing the public to worry just how big an increase. Scare tactics.

    Look at this headline “RBS, Lloyds to move south if Scots vote for independence” then way way down the article it says “RBS said however it intended to retain a significant level of its operations and employment in Scotland to support its customers there and the activities of the whole bank.”

    Plus Lloyds have announced yesterday that they might move their HQ south anyway…even after the No vote!

    I didn’t have a vote and never really cared what way it went but I found the whole process unashamedly and worryingly unbalanced.

  • Starviking

    I was watching from the Far East, so I’m afraid the local coverage was beyond me (more for reasons of time difference than inclination). The Social Media stuff seemed very bad-tempered, and I don’t think anyone came well out of it.

    On plans, the Yes camp came out poorly. They had years to prepare – and yet, when confronted with advice which indicated that some of their hopes were pipe-dreams, they just brushed them off with poorly thought-out responses.

    Also, because of the Yes/No question of the referendum, the Yes camp could push a very starry-eyed vision. The No camp was forced to oppose the proposition, so opening themselves to the accusation of negativity. If there is to be another referendum, a better way of phrasing the question(s) has to be found.