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

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty