The Scottish Fifth Estate

One of the most interesting developments to come out of IndyRef was the role of the Fifth Estate in the Yes side.

Often operating without any connection to the official Yes Scotland campaign they went about their business online unfettered by any party political considerations.

Probably the best example of this was Wings Over Scotland.

Their ‘wee blue book’ had, in print and download, 500,000 distributed to a country with around four million adults.

The man behind this is the Rev.Stuart Campbell and his zeal to break up the United Kingdom would certainly lead to some cultural confusion among the Fleg protesting classes.

Even today ‘Wings’ broke  a story on ‘the vow’ made by the three Westminster leaders in the days before IndyRef pledging more powers to Holyrood in the event of a NO vote.

The online activity during the campaign was mirrored by boots on the ground.

I saw for myself on the streets of Glasgow the impromptu ad hoc efforts like voter registration that the official Yes campaign had no idea was going on.

After the disappointment of the vote on 18th September some of the people who were central to this effort now appear to be digging in for the next phase.

And that is exactly how they see it.

Probably the best example of this is the Common Weal.

They are currently professionalising their operation by recruiting high quality fulltime staff.

The aim appears to be the consolidation of the gains made in IndyRef and to build for the future.

I had interviewed Robin McAlpine of the Common Weal during the campaign and I posed to him the scenario where the Yes side lost, but got 45% of the vote.

I asked him if this YES campaign would create a permanent movement.

The professionalization of the pro-independence Fifth Estate seems to be powerful manifestations that this is just the beginning.

Only a month after the result the victors No side look like the losers.

The main defender of the Union in Scotland is, of course, the Labour Party.

Johann Lamont has just resigned and the scéal from within the Party in Scotland is one of angst and turmoil.

They are, quite frankly, in a terrible mess.

The fact that their heartlands of Dundee, Glasgow and North Lanarkshire voted YES does not bode well for them.

They’re now seen as tied to the Tories and that makes Labour in those areas rather toxic.

The Scottish Green party now has more members that the Labour Party does in Scotland.

It is undoubtedly a fact that the Westminster tribe panicked for about the last ten days of the IndyRef campaign.

Suddenly they thought they would lose.

They won so they can now go back to forgetting about Scotland.

Several Scottish commentators have said to me that they believe that there will be a cull of Labour MPs Scotland in the 2015 British General Election.

For many in the Scottish political village the only matter for debate is the scale of the bloodletting at the ballot box that Labour will suffer.

Of course that will be decided by the electorate, just as IndyRef was.

However, if this comes to pass next May then it will be fair to say that something generational has taken place,

The comparison with the Ireland’s revolutionary generation has already been made, but I think this piece by Martin Kettle overstates the case.

I found that many of the young activists in the Yes side during the referendum campaign were utterly convinced that they would win.

I think they found my questions about what they would do if they lost to be annoyingly pointless.

The disappointment of defeat will undoubtedly make some go away and get on with their lives.

However, others seem committed to create a permanent momentum towards independence.

Lesley Riddoch states it here in her podcast that the NO side got the vote, but the YES got a movement.

Moreover it is wider and deeper than the rapidly expanding SNP.

These developments will ensure that the political scene in Scotland will continue to be most fascinating within these islands for some time to come.

  • eireanne

    agree the labour party in scotland is in rather a mess with regards to support and votes. That will affect the results of the May 2015 general election as loss of scottish labour MPs will impact severely on labour’s chances for forming a new UK governemnt, whether alone or in coalition – with whom?

  • Scots Anorak

    It’s still a while to go until the general election, and nothing is certain in politics. Some commentators have suggested that metropolitan media coverage of the UK campaign will lead to at least a modest rebound for Labour, and electoral breakthroughs under the first-past-the-post system are notoriously difficult.

    That said, at the moment the mood music is absolutely awful for Labour. The Yes parties now have the advantage in numbers, and the SNP in particular will also have gained an enormous cash injection from its new members, each of whom is paying at least £12 a year into the party coffers.

    And that’s before one considers the structural mess that Labour has got itself into, with the talent still heading south long after — as Johann Lamont pointed out — Holyrood became the centre of Scottish political life. The MPs see the MSPs as second-raters, while for their part the MSPs are much more likely to understand Scots’ appetite for Home Rule, something that the MPs, who ultimately hold the power, will not countenance, as it would affect their voting rights and perhaps their pay and expenses, not to mention their hopes of attaining the great offices of state in Whitehall.

    I had to laugh when I heard that London Labour had said that Johann Lamont would have been sacked had she not resigned — thus unintentionally, and without the slightest understanding of the irony involved, summing up the whole problem with the relationship. Scottish Labour’s best hope now would be to found a separate party along the lines of the Bavarian CSU and have its prospective Westminster MPs sign some kind of devo-max pledge or face deselection. But they won’t, of course, and they’ll suffer for it.

  • Phil MacGiollaBhain

    @ScotsAnorak. Fully agree. The mess that Scottish Labour are in is entirely of their own making.

  • Phil MacGiollaBhain

    @eireanne Yes a bad showing by Labour in Scotland in the 2015 GE could have huge Westminster implications.

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    Don’t all rush to accept Phil Mac Giolla Bhain‘s argument. Try alternative views, such as Flying Rodent or Shuggy’s Blog for a start.

    The heavy stuff about “Scottish Labour in disarray” (i.e. the common front of Tartan Tory SNP and the rump Tory Party in Scotland) ignores the way politics works. For every up there is a down. I wouldn’t assume my counted chickens, so quickly assembled, stay in the coop till next May — or the 2017 Holyrood election.

    Nor would I assume that the SNP spendthrift budget is sustainable — and enthusiasm for independence has been strongest among the less-affluent, most deprived (and most bribed) parts of the community. Already higher education and other heads are being pillaged to underwrite vote-catching welfare.

    Then there’s the small matter of SNP “unity”. During the Referendum campaign — and now with the Smith Commission as a hang-over — a remarkable, though I suspect deceptive, unity existed in the SNP. Yet “independence” and the SNP are not, definitely not, an all-Scotland thing.

    Might one superimpose Labour’s heartlands of Dundee, Glasgow and North Lanarkshire [which] voted YES with the territory where the tricolour is found on football terraces? Where the 16% of Roman Catholic Scots are most usually found? Where the prime electoral mood has been “anyone but a Tory”? Salmond presented himself to this constituency as the anti-imperialist — and needed to, because the “old” SNP was associated with “an assertion of militant Protestant values” [source: “The Commentator”].

    And then there’s Westminster’s ace-in-the-hole, the Scotland Act. As Lallands Peat Worrier (SNP stalwart) noted:

    without Westminster’s 2013 section 30 order under the Scotland Act, the legality of the 2014 referendum hung by a very shoogly legal thread. Calling a referendum was arguably within Holyrood’s powers, but no higher than that. Without getting the nod from Westminster, the referendum was vulnerable to legal challenge, the outcome unclear, and risked putting the Presiding Officer – who must certify that Bills fall within the Scottish Parliament’s powers – in an impossibly difficult place.

    Even kicking the referendum can several years down the line, with September’s defeat, these issues return with a vengeance. If there was an arguable case that the referendum fell within Holyrood’s devolved powers before the Edinburgh Agreement process, that case is now much weakened. The UK government imposed a number of restrictions on the 2014 poll. Firstly, they insisted that the referendum should be an either/or affair, a Yes or a No to independence. They also time-limited Holyrood’s authority to call such a poll. It lapses on the 31st of December this year. Bottom line: on the current law, future independence referendums called by Holyrood, without securing London’s agreement, are now almost certainly unlawful.

    Don’t write off Scottish Unionism or the Glaswegian Red Tide yet.

  • Phil MacGiollaBhain