Here's my latest column for the Caledonian Mercury - the second part of my consideration of the SNP's victory in the last Holyrood election. This one looks at the below 50% turnout on May 5 - and asks how independence politics can reach out to those, particularly at the poorer end of society, and connect full sovereignty to better life-prospects. All comments welcome.
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The big speeches have been delivered, the seats are being generously warmed, the gears of Scottish government crank back into action. The second SNP administration, having democratically secured a working majority in political system designed for rule-by-coalition or minority government, finds itself in a unique position.
In the campaign for office, many winning political parties find themselves almost instantly lacking in credibility. Manifesto promises that claim to be tightly connected to governmental levers can loosen and unravel, as the black (and evenly mildly grey) swans of economic turbulence swim into view.
Yet the SNP government has a unprecedented political mandate to seek extra levers of economic and resource power in Scotland - and it seems that the British state is rattled enough to concede at least some of those. So the SNP resoundingly win the electoral game of policy ambition in Scotland - and then get the chance to change the rules of the game, so they can increase economic revenue and reliably answer those ambitions.
Short of their magical majority, trapped in a minimally reformed devolution, how quickly would they have run into a hailstorm of broken promises and manifesto retrenchment? Salmond is a noted gambler, but this is brand new territory: on May 5th he didn't just win the bet, he got the option to change the lease on the betting shop at the same time. As a spectacle of political achievement in a media-and-marketing age, as I wrote here last week, the SNP victory will be a sophisticated case-study for ambitious parties throughout the world.
But as I also mentioned last week, it was too much of a spectacle also - a political majority resting on around a quarter of the total possible electorate, in a plebiscite where just under half of those able to vote (49.8%) could be bothered to do so.
In the mid-90s, under James Boyle's dynamic era at BBC Radio Scotland (ochone, ochone), I was sent to Harvard to interview the great Scots-Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith, about his 1992 book The Culture of Contentment. His rumbling anxiety was that levels of political participation in US politics were worryingly correlated with class benefit. Those who did vote were responding to appeals to their evident economic self-interest - low taxes, strong on law and order, protectionism for US industry.
Those who didn't were either literally disenfranchised (due to the US's appalling rules on criminality and voter registration, which Obama's 2008 campaign determinedly overcame). Or if they were franchised, people were disgusted with the whole institution of politics, their civic will corroded by the general downpour of stories about political corruption and scandal - and so chose not to exercise their democratic right.
I hope that people vastly better equipped in political science than me (and less in a freelance hurry) are planning to examine the mind-set and attitudes of this 50% of non-participants in the Scottish Spring. What is the balance between Scots unregistered to vote, and Scots registered but choosing not to? I'm guessing we don't have US-style barriers to registration in Scotland, but I'd still like to know the rates.
And as for the rest of this slight-but-silent majority, which of them gaze upon the operations of the Scottish Parliament (hardly free from scandal politics over the years) with the same general jaundice and cynicism as, say, the residents of Detroit or Cleveland?
I've only one family anecdote to bring to this doubtless empirical question: the despair of a relative who was delivering (and urging the completion of) census forms around his Lanarkshire neighbourhood. "So many of them were angry at you, chasing you from the door. Or they were just so totally out of it with drugs or depression that they simply couldn't get it together to fill it in. I had no idea so many people in this area were so basically incapable of functioning."
In my dispute with Jim Sillars in the Scotsman last week about his concept of "independence-lite" - where we decide, in advance of any constitutional vote on independence, to agree certain shared powers with the UK government - I objected to his notion that "social security" would be one of those "cross-border" functions we'd be happy to cede.
Are we really so happy to fall in with two decades of neo-liberal or Third Way workfare policies? Do we want to continue to compel the armies of surplus labour in Scottish society to take low-paid service jobs in a retail-led, hyper-consumerised economy - hundreds of thousands of Scots acutely aware of their low social status, in an already very unequal society? As we now know from studies like The Spirit Level, self-perception of lowly social status literally degrades the minds, bodies and health of the poor.
Might it also unravel their willingness to be involved in a once-every-five-years plebiscite, of any kind?
Any forward movement in Scottish society has to deal with poverty, its distortions of the human spirit. And that's why the Galbraith thesis doesn't quite work for the 50% who did vote - and, to be honest, the vast majority of those who generally voted (between SNP, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens) for a broadly left-of-centre, Nordic-model platform of manifestos. Cross-party commitments to free education, free health and renewable energy are light years away from Galbraith's US affluent middle-classes actively using their vote to preserve their privatised privileges in each of those areas.
As I wrote last week, the SNP won their majority of votes by layering a psychologically-literate politics of hope and aspiration, in an authentically Scottish register, on top of this broad social-democratic consensus. But as Kenneth Roy's necessary article reminded us a few days after the election, the mandate is based overall on some gey few turn-outs. Glasgow shows alarming figures of participation, almost exactly correlated to poorer areas - only 43% for Nicola Sturgeon in Southside, 38% in the SNP gain of Shettleston, 35% in Provan, Even Salmond's own seat had 48% staying at home.
When Obama unlocked Galbraith's iron-cage of contentment, he did so in a way that clearly gave a campaign template to the SNP - a hopeful and socially-repairing message of national renewal. But he also constructed a huge program of voter registration, and then motivated those voters - meaning significant rises in black/minority, youth and working-class participation in the overall plebiscite, most of these rises going to Obama.
And in a nation often described as a deeply malfunctioning democracy (a "moronic inferno", in Martin Amis's famous words), note that voter turnout was over ten percent higher than ours - 61.7% in the 2008 US election. The only Scottish constituency that cleared 60% participation in May was the Tory-turned-Labour Eastwood - replete, let us say, with enough socio-economic ease that voters might enthusiastically consider their political options.
What does the electoral underbelly of the SNP victory mean for an independence referendum? Duncan Hamilton at the weekend restated the gradualist position for Nationalists: this was a vote for "more good government", with the extension of demands for more powers for devolution continuing that display of forward-looking competence. And a referendum on independence will be won, he suggested, "if the proposals emphasise a sense of national unity and consensus."
How much of the nation will be involved, though? And is that a consensus only among the "unco guid" of can-be-bothered, civically-conscious voters?
The post-Scottish-election debates about the exact definition of independence have been generated by many factors. But for me, it's all been about the need to ensure that a Scottish Parliament has as many effective governmental powers as possible, in order to reduce the shaming inequality of life-chances in Scottish society.
Yes, full fiscal autonomy will support a jobs-creating business environment in Scotland - and as we hope, jobs as part of a green industrial and infrastructural renaissance. My greatest hope is that there will be a renewed demand for the craft and technical skills that constituted the identity of the Scottish working class thirty years ago - but under brand new sustainable values of efficiency, ingenuity and useabilty, where workers have a much less alienated, much more intrinsic investment in the work they do. Not so much a work ethic, but a social-productive ethic - the construction needed for a better-founded society.
We need the entrepreneurs and business-growers who are riding this wave to also think about the quality of employment they're providing for the Scottish people - and where that employment can do most good. Local and national government, in its role as procurer and regulator of services, has much power here to shape green development - and make sure that it brings agency, dignity and resources to all those currently disconnected from the Scottish future.
So would a clear plausible link between the powers of independence, and a new vision of the labouring and productive life in Scotland, reach out to those un-citizens who stayed out of the polling both on May 5th? That link, yes, and perhaps many others in addition to our existing social-democratic menu - around housing, the quality of public space, local provisioning of food, greater voice and input into our mediaspace (ie, don't just sneeringly point cameras at the "cast-list" of The Scheme, but give them the cameras, and the skills, to render their own lives as an empowering narrative).
And for me, one reason to ensure a "full-independence" that has control over armed forces is to begin the demilitarisation of Scottish public life. We must reduce the position of the army as sometimes the only substantial career option available to young men and women in poorer communities, historically and currently. Not forgetting the foul waste of expertise and resources expended on Britain's military-industrial complex. Out of all the songs that we might sing to celebrate a free and fully sovereign Scotland, let's not forget Hamish Henderson's Freedom-Come-'a-Ye.
To make the most of an independence referendum, we need to start to build an independence society - what Gerry Hassan calls "self-determination at every level". Further notes on that anon. But half a country not bothering to decide its own future, even on a classically rainy day, is a warning bell that we must not ignore.