Scottish Independence -Why We Lost

The reason we lost, and it is strange to have to say it, is because only 45% of the voters voted Yes for independence, with 55% voting No.

Les evenements since the referendum, with the SNP’s membership and poll ratings soaring, have allowed a lot of people (on the Yes side) to ignore those inconvenient facts, but as we know, facts are chiels that winna ding and canna be disputed.

To these strange events, I will return, but first — what happened.

The Recent (Yet Seemingly So Distant) Past

The SNP went into the referendum on a core base of about 30% of the population minded to vote for Independance — and the very notion of an independent Scotland being slightly nebulous and unreal. The campaign made independence tangible, imaginable and normal — and produced a vote that nobody expected 18 months ago — and fair play to Alex, Nicola, Stephen Noon and all the rest.

But the No campaign read their tea leaves, identified their core vote for the Union at about 40% and professionally and ruthlessly went about securing their victory.

We can divide the electorate roughly into 5 categories:

  • Yes At Any Cost about 23ish % of the electorate who would vote for Independence under any circumstances.
  • No Way — about 16ish % of the electorate who simply don’t regard themselves as Scottish in the sense of a state-people — cheerfully British politically — happily Scottish in a range of other ways
  • Heart Yes, Head Yes — another 20ish % of the electorate.
  • Heart Yes, Head No — about 33ish % of the electorate.
  • Non-Scots And New Scots — about 8ish % of the population who weren’t born here (predominantly English — approx 3 Nos to 1 Yes)

Lets get the best bits out of the way first, the Yes campaign went out of its way to welcome and New and Non Scots into the body of the kirk during the campaign which was refreshingly free of ethnic language — and also, critically, from blaming them in the aftermath. There has been a (distressing) amount of rhetorical violence over the last year — but is has been Scot-on-Scot — and confined to Twitter blowhards and the below-the-fold/never-read-the-comments regions of the internet.

So the question of Why We Lost? is really why did 33% of the electorate who are Heart Yes vote Head No?

The Answer Is ‘The Economy’

Yes’s policy on the currency was simply not credible — you might believe that a currency union was the right policy — but it wasn’t a credible policy when the 3 major Westminster parties said they wouldn’t back it — and it won’t be credible next time.

In order to have a winning story on the currency next time (and there will be a next time) work has to start about 3 years before to develop, establish and socialise the currency plans so that they are seen to be bulletproof.

This leads to a couple of problems for the SNP:

  • the Euro — or rather not the Euro
  • the banks

It is fairly clear that the Euro doesn’t have its troubles to seek. Clarity on continuity of membership of the European Union — in particularly with regard to the Eurozone would be helpful. But given that a number of European states have their own independence movements that clarity is likely to elude us — but we need to have a more active and longer-term approach to flush out our opponents and achieve as much solid ground as we can.

One of the key benchmarks which will determine the value of the currency is the levels of state and private debt in an independent Scotland. Scotland’s story is somewhat mixed on this — we will have OKish state debt and lowish personal debt. However, were the entire Scottish Headquartered banking sector (and incumbent liabilities and customer-base) be transferred to an independent Scotland it could present problems.

We would be better cutting the knot — breaking the Scottish retail branch networks off RBS and LloydsTSB (maybe breaking them up further) and letting the rest go — liabilities, wholesale banking and all.

Our banking sector isn’t fit for purpose. Retail banking should be boring and moderately profitable. We need, but don’t have, a business and investment banking sector that can actually help business customers (and crucially whole sunrise sectors) build their businesses.

The Scottish banking sector, despite the high-paid jobs it offers, is a busted flush — and it ties us to the overheated London property market. Breaking the link with that, and putting in place tax and welfare policy designed to dampen house price inflation (and the concomitant household indebtedness that comes with it) will give us a more stable and prosperous economy longer term.

That’s a tough sell.

Strange Times

The strange times we live in flow from the relative strength of our position.

The No Ways are despondent at their seeming inability to actually win, pace, Alan Cochrane:

The referendum has been won. Alex Salmond has resigned as First Minister. It’s over. Isn’t it?

The root of these strange times is the large division between the no voters. On the one hand there is the group of people who predominatly define themselves as British. Prof Adam Tomkins summarises their view:

It was divisive. Oftentimes it was bitter. It was hard-fought. I make no complaint. I fought. And I fought hard. But let’s not delude ourselves about it all being rosy and cuddly and lovely and friendly. I never want to have to go through it again.

For them the referendum was an existential crisis. But then there are the Head Yes, Heart No’s — as Ben Riley-Smith pointed out re Better Together:

There was, one strategist remembered finding with a shock when he joined the team late on, almost no emotional attachment to Britain in the 20 per cent of voters undecided on independence.

These people’s memories of the referendum is much more the Yes campaigns — intense engagement, a feeling of empowerment, admiration of the positive view of Scotland that the SNP espoused — except they didn’t buy the economics and just voted No, or in some cases Not Yet. They don’t mind the SNP Government — indeed may well be minded to vote for it at Holyrood, and even for the SNP at Westminster.

The strategic problem for the No side is that there are few mechanisms for creating more cultural Britons — and their campaign was entirely predicated on not trying to do so — although they are unlikely to be fighting that style of war again, as Brian Monteith pointed out. It is a lesson that the Scottish Labour Party have also learned, and learned hard — and which they will respond to. How successfully in a short timescale, we shall see.

Stands Scotland Where She Did?

Definitely not. We lost the first round of this war — but we lost decisively — and if the vote were to be rerun tomorrow on we would lose by a bigger margin.

The initiative is with our opponents — we have to hang on the ropes until after next years Westminster election — in which we may do very well indeed — but where we are not in the position of being rainmakers but rather scavengers.

The biggest threats to us now lie with us:

  • complacency — “ooh, look at all our new members and our opinion polls”
  • idiocy — “all Jim Murphy has ever done is make a safe Tory seat the safest Labour seat in Scotland”
  • self-rightousness — “No voters hate themselves, and Scotland”

In the mad last week of the referendum when there were giant parties in George Sq and other lunacy, all the Nats in my Twitter stream went super-Brit — Steady The Buffs! Keep Calm And Carry On Campaigning.

The watchword of the moment is Stiff Upper Lip — there’s work to be done, a sizeable meal in the form of Smith Powers to be disgested, No voters to be wooed, a Westminster election to be won — and a watching eye to be kept open.

We may not be back for 4 or 5 years, or longer, but back we will be.

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