My Scotsman column, 28 September, 2014
My side lost, clearly and incontrovertibly. Like many of my fellow Yessers, outwith matters of the heart or family, it’s probably the hardest loss of my life.
What makes the loss acutely hard - the defeat of the enthusiasm, innovation, commitment and idealism of the Yes movement - is also what will power the next stage of Scottish national progress and development in the world.
Yet we should give ourselves a few more weeks to work through our traumas, and let options and strategies emerge.
Make no mistake, a Yes would have had global consequences. Geopolitical mandarins rumbled about a Yes vote triggering a wave of other secessions. But what would have been deeply challenging was Yes’s political character, as much as its claims of territorial sovereignty.
An anti-nuclear, progressive-left social-democracy (the ideological midpoint between the SNP and the political diversity of the wider Yes movement) driving the break-up of an ex-imperial state, whose Westminster parties were thirled to the neo-liberal Washington consensus?
This would have inspired many other struggles and movements (whether national or not) to assert the rights of democracy and social justice, over and against the absolute rule of “the markets”.
No wonder the global establishment, never mind the British one, was mobilised to make Scots think again about the “apocalyptic” consequences of that simple cross in a Yes box.
“The 45” is a poor identity for Yes supporters: the relevant number should be “60-plus” - the target of a consistent, resilient majority for independence. However, it can serve a short-term purpose.
The 45 should never forget how powerful, and how disquieting to the powers that be, the character of their vote was - and is. Their continuing presence in the public spaces of the land indicates to me that they don’t - and won’t.
But the road to 60-plus only begins from where we are. And this means patiently reckoning with the complex motivations of those 55 percent of Scots who voted No. A huge topic, and this is only one activist’s tiny bite from the apple.
Lord Ashcroft’s post-ref poll showed around a quarter of the No vote as “culturally” Unionist - unwilling to break historic and sentimental ties with Britain. Fair enough, and fare thee well.
Another quarter were positively enthusiastic about devolution as a way to get the “best of both worlds”. No doubt the cross-party “Vow” on more powers, and Gordon Brown’s off-message preaching for federalism, pulled many of those Nos over the line in the final few days.
Devolution brings me out in hives. But for Yes-minded politicians, I do understand the opportunity. Out of the mess of Unionist proposals, rhetoric and timelines, hammer together a “home rule” prospectus, go into negotiations with that in one hand and the “45 plus 25” majority for change in the other, and see what can be hacked out.
And if they fail, punish them at two elections. For the political classes, in their usual operating mode, what joy! This is is all comprehensible and executable.
Yet for those of us who have been transformed by the Yes movement, and can see a very different way of doing politics from our experience of it, there’s other work to do.
The most interesting - and largest - No motivation in the Ashcroft poll was the 47 percent of Scots who agreed that “the risk of becoming independent looked too great when it came to things like currency, EU membership, the economy, jobs and prices”.
There a few uncomfortable truths lurking in this. The one less acknowledged by my side, so far at least, is that the SNP’s “Indy Lite” retail offer was designed precisely in order to assuage the perception that the “risks of becoming independent” might “look too great”.
The assuagement over Monarchy and NATO was almost certainly achieved; over the EU and the BBC, probably a scoredraw.
As for the rest… Yes, there was an extraordinary blitzkrieg of the last few weeks. An infernal combination of London-based commercial media involved in editorial groupthink, and the BBC abandoning its impartial public-service role and acting as a state broadcaster, promoting its master’s interests in pro-No headline after headline.
But it pounded at battlements that could have been stronger. At least among the more affluent and settled in our society, the basic confidence that Scotland had the resources and competence to make its way as an economically-independent nation, even under adverse opinion and conditions, crumbled away at the last. And with it, our majority for Yes.
I think this is one of the key questions for Yessers - and we need to answer it in a variety of ways, over a period of time. One answer is, straightforwardly, the education of citizens.
We must maintain and develop the Yes public sphere that has emerged over these last few years - finding ways to improve our platforms of media and meetings, fund them more reliably, and keep taking Scotland as seriously as we do.
But we have a new challenge. Yessers can do hope and optimism. Can we do a 10-year timeline for a separate Scottish currency, which involves some years of necessary stasis in socio-economic performance, while we build up both currency reserves and credibility with international markets?
Can we also imagine coming out the other end with our finances and infrastructures put to the service of a productive, sustainable, more equitable society, rather than the other way around?
We need to forge a new story of progress for Scotland which has a geopolitical (and geoeconomic) tough-mindedness, even dignity, about it. Systemic crises may force all hands, of course.
But indy people will need to have prepared a sounder, more adult argument for those nervous about Scotland’s nation-state prospects, than we had going into the polling booth on Sept 18th.
The world looked on, and drew universal lessons from our particular independence referendum. At the weekend, Francis Fukuyama noted that the “mobilisation” of Scottish voters in the indyref was valuable in and of itself. It would leave a positive legacy for any society.
But those of us who voted Yes should never forget what we were up for. We’ll maintain that energy, find diverse outlets for it, even share it with those (for example from the English left) who supported us in our campaign for a Good Society.
Yet alongside all this useful work, if the next viable democratic opportunity flashes up to fully empower the Scottish Dream, we will try to take it. In the meantime, we should get smarter, and stay ready.