Pete Cannell reflects on a momentous referendum campaign, the significance of which goes far beyond the result.
The enduring legacy of the last few weeks and months in Scotland will be the energy, clarity and vision of all those grass roots campaigners who campaigned for a Yes vote. This is what a mass movement looks like. There have been hundreds of meetings across Scotland in big urban centres and in small towns and villages. Everywhere you went there was evidence of local, individual and collective initiatives. The contrast between the mass Yes campaign and the establishment politicians who headed up No couldn’t have been more stark. Worst of all in my mind was the late appeal of Gordon Brown to Old Labour values of solidarity and sharing: utter hypocrisy when, as chancellor and then prime minister, he set the framework for the effective privatisation of education and health in England.
We may have lost the vote, but we’ve seen a glimpse of what another Scotland and another world could look like when the imagination and creativity of “ordinary” people are set free. It didn’t have to be like this, but as the campaign grew it captured a spirit of resistance grounded in the popular view that the Westminster government was discredited. National consciousness and a desire for change have grown and developed together, through disgust with military adventures abroad and their consequences and through opposition to austerity. The effective defeat of the bedroom tax this year, and the defeat of Edinburgh City Council’s attempt at wholesale privatisation of services a year before, heralded this mood.
The vote was emphatically a vote against neoliberalism, against austerity and for real change. There is an urgent need now to keep the strength and insurgent spirit of the Yes campaign together. In particular, the people who engaged with and were influenced by the Radical Independence Campaign will be critical in shaping the future direction of the left. There is the best opportunity in a generation to organise collectively to build a movement against austerity and for radical change, based in the workplaces, schools, colleges and working class communities.
Let’s make it clear that Cameron, Clegg and Brown may have secured the vote – but they haven’t won hearts and minds.