Originally published on Novara Media on September 22 2014.
The day after the referendum, walking to university after two hours’ sleep, I was glum. I’d campaigned for independence and I’d been disappointed. Edinburgh was full of rainy pathetic fallacy and I passed people openly weeping in the streets. It was grim. On my way back home later that day, I saw some ‘yes’ posters in somebody’s window which had been added to over the morning. Silently, defiantly: ‘still yes’.
It would easy to look back at the campaign for Scottish independence and be filled with anger at Westminster and their empty devolution promises, lies and scare tactics, and be upset and pessimistic about the future now that the visions we all spent the last two years thinking, talking, and campaigning about aren’t going to come to light. However, there was always going to be life beyond the referendum, and yes or no, visions of the future aren’t much good when practical action doesn’t follow. Yes – we lost. But what we have won is an incredibly politically engaged population across Scotland, many of whom for the first time in their lives have felt like fighting for a better society might actually make a difference. And that is something we cannot afford to lose.
So rather than looking back, I want to look forward, and here are my top five recommendations for continuing the fight for a better society.
1. Maintain solidarity.
I can’t say this enough. One of the most amazing things to come out of the yes campaign was the conversations and bonds formed between people from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds and walks of life. From people who do quite well under neoliberal capitalist patriarchy to those right at the bottom of the pile, the project of imagining a future Scotland where all could prosper gave people who would normally never cross paths a common cause to unite around. Just because the referendum is over doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to do – political engagement goes beyond a lost vote. Whilst the temptation may be to concentrate on how to continue the independence campaign, the most disadvantaged areas of the country (not coincidently, the areas which did vote yes to independence) are suffering austerity, cuts and oppression. Working with these communities to maintain political engagement in a practical way is of paramount importance now, from encouraging workplace organisation to fighting cuts to essential services for women and parents. Continuing to learn how to stand in solidarity without crushing the voices we are trying to elevate must take priority as we move forward.
2. Focus on the issues.
Most of Scotland, myself included, probably never wants to hear the phrase “currency union” again. But many of the other issues debated on throughout the referendum remain keenly relevant, both in Scotland and beyond. Now that the referendum is over, issue-based campaigning on food banks, Trident, climate change, austerity and so on can continue anew; refreshed, because people have dared to imagine a society where these issues no longer exist. They don’t go away because the independence question has gone away (for the time being) – and a revived energy from people who now know what it feels like to believe they can change the future is exactly what many of these long-standing campaigns need.
3. Keep young people engaged and active.
71% of 16 and 17-year olds voted for an independent Scotland, which means that almost three-quarters of the 16 and 17 year olds in Scotland have just witnessed their dreams of a better future snatched away from them predominantly by the voting habits of older generations. This referendum was the first opportunity the UK has ever given people aged 16 to have a democratic say over their own future, and they have proved that they should not be patronised by ‘adults’ who believe that young people cannot be trusted to handle politics. The defeat felt by many teenagers in Scotland right now is crushing: keeping young people engaged, treating them with respect and allowing them to keep having a say in their own future is the only way we can ensure we don’t end up with a generation lost to a pessimistic apathy.
4. Form new alliances.
Yes, there are a lot of angry and upset yes voters in Scotland right now. But there are also a lot of no voters who are already watching in horror as Westminster reneges on its last-minute devolution promises. No longer having to split people into two camps is not a bad thing, and I would personally be wary of any movement that tries to maintain a division between groups of the population depending on how they voted on 18 September. Since the referendum, there has been no shortage of writing from throughout the UK on the broken state of the Union and Westminster-based politics. People across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are calling for more control over their lives and their futures. New alliances can be formed between grassroots activists challenging the status quo, and in a post-referendum society this is only going to be easier. Leave behind the grudges – show people that the fight can continue, and it can benefit everybody.
5. Don’t give up or give in.
When was the last time you can remember that an entire nation was engaged with political debate, and people felt like they had the right to comment on issues and envisage a better society no matter what their background was? When was the last time that the Westminster establishment ran so scared that Gordon Brown was forced to help out a struggling David Cameron? When was the last time that people really felt like they might be able to stick it to the power?
We can still do this – we can still make them run – and the yes campaign has shown that the way to achieve this is through grassroots engagement, collaboration across campaign groups, linking up the issues and refusing to give in to lies and scaremongering. We’ve spent the last two years imagining a better Scotland – and we don’t need to live in an independent state to start making it happen.