Kevan O’Reilly: Scotland, I hardly knew ye


Blogger Kevan O’Reilly gives his reaction to the General Election result in Scotland

THE TORIES have 13 seats in Scotland. It’s the perfect ammunition for Ruth Davidson and her Conservative and Unionist party to appear on political programmes from now until the next election saying that indyref 2 is dead in the water.

They are hoping if they say “Scotland doesn’t want another divisive independence  referendum” enough times we’ll start to believe them.

I wrote an article a while ago, ‘The Tories are coming’, well, here they are.

Read more – Liam Muir: Why it was a mistake voting Conservative to stop the SNP

At this stage, we in the Yes camp may do well to remember the proverb:

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

But here we are faced with a problem, because if you want Scottish independence to remain on the table then the only champion you have is still the SNP.

While in Scotland the SNP has governed poorly, mostly notably on education, I thought its 56 MPs did pretty well south of the border. Coming from a position of such dominance, the only way can be down. 

I wrote another article a while ago, ’56 flew over the dodos nest, and in it I tried to express the problems with being separatists complicit in the systems of the union.

My constituency, Glasgow North East, changed from SNP to Labour in this General Election. I admit I almost voted Labour myself, because I like Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto, but a vote for Scottish Labour will be used by Kezia Dugdale as a vote against independence, so I stood strong. I was sad to see it flip.

Read more – Robin McAlpine: What the indy movement needs to do next

I don’t understand the position of those who are pro-Scottish independence and voted for Scottish Labour. Not because I don’t see the attraction to the manifesto but because it plays straight into the hands of what in Scotland was a constitutional campaign run by every party bar the SNP against independence.

Part of the problem we have is that our newly engaged population have no concept of realpolitik. The same people who have just voted Labour, as an alternative to the SNP, will be the same people complaining that we are unable to hold another referendum.

When the Scottish Government applies for a Section 30 order, to legally hold a referendum, not only does it need to get the signature of the prime minister but it must be debated and voted on in parliament. How many of the Scottish Labour candidates would be willing to pass that order?

The significant rise in votes for the unionist parties in this election, even in the seats they haven’t won, will be cited as the ultimate opinion poll that supersedes the Scottish Parliament elections of 2016. 

It may be true that the SNP did not make independence an issue in this General Election, but the other parties did and they picked up votes. It is frustrating that at least some of those votes that went to Labour were from Yes voters who couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Read more – John Curtice’s four possible scenarios for why the SNP lost out in #GE2017

Worse still, by splitting the SNP vote they have, in many areas, opened the door to the Tories. One of the arguments I would use to try and convince people to vote Yes was that it is very rare for Scotland’s elected representatives to affect who governs the UK. Now that Scotland has actually allowed Tresemmè to stay in power I guess I won’t be making that argument again.

It’s the best Tory result in Scotland since 1983, when Scotland had fewer people and 72 seats. To put it another way, proportionally Scotland gave Theresa May considerably more seats than it gave John Major or Margaret Thatcher’s last attempt. These voters, along with many, if not most of the Labour voters, are the people who do not want to see another independence referendum.

Up until now they have lacked real evidence for their claim that Scotland doesn’t want it. Now that they have that evidence, the ball is back in our court. It has been too easy for us in the Yes camp to pat each other on the back and remind each other to be patient while we wait for our chance to come back around.

Perhaps it was the SNP’s lack of mentioning independence during this campaign that caused us to lose our direction on the march to autonomy, but whatever caused the collapse in pro-indy votes it is about to be used against us. Considering they have, up until now, held us at bay with a margin of 250,000 people, the unionists have just become much more comfortable.

I have always felt that the SNP and the Yes movement were separate, I started to get concerned when I saw the SNP membership sky rocket on 19 September 2014 because I feared, as we see now, that damage to the SNP would be damage to the case for independence. I remember a simpler, more beautiful time when support for Scottish independence did not mean support for the SNP.

Read more – Ben Wray: Don’t capitulate on ScotRef, Nicola: It’s time to learn the real lessons

This situation was not our own making, the SNP remains the only major party in Scotland in favour of independence and so there is literally no one else to vote for. But now, if our political movement does not evolve it may crash with the wagon we have hitched it to.

The next Scottish Parliament elections are in 2021, and I believe this will be our next chance to give a mandate for another referendum. The Brexit negotiations are going to take at least two years, by which time we are in 2019.

Cameron signed the Edinburgh Agreement in October 2012, and it was almost two years later we held the independence vote. While it could be carried out in a shorter time frame, at best we’re still looking at 2020 and, in those circumstances, and given the new voting patterns in Scotland, it doesn’t seem likely that they will have the clout to demand it based on a vote that happened four years ago, especially if the more recent general elections show them losing support.

When 2021 comes around, now four years in the future, we will have the choice of pro-union parties or the incumbents with (assuming it doesn’t improve) a shaky record of governing. That’s not a fair position to be in. I don’t want to to be forced into voting for a party I don’t like because of lack of representation.

If public services continue to suffer in the way they have done, and if the SNP remains unable to demonstrate how the cuts in the Scottish Government budget are directly affecting this decline, then it would be irresponsible to vote for them again.

Read more – Scottish Greens reassert independence referendum support in wake of General Election

It can no longer be just a means to an end for getting independence. As the process gets dragged out, more of its political character and flaws will be exposed both in Holyrood and Westminster and eventually it will become unelectable, as happens to all ruling parties or ineffective opposition.

The times have changed since 1979 when the first Scottish referendum was lost and the SNP did for Margaret Thatcher what the DUP now does for Theresa May. James Callaghan called it “the turkeys voting for christmas”, and based on the result for the SNP in the subsequent election, he was right. The times are always changing and soon it will be we, the electorate, who must not be turkeys.

We are being fractured by the moral problem that blindly supporting our only option creates, by our differing positions on EU membership and our opinions on how to go about getting what we want.

The Yes movement was never whole, it was different groups of people, with differing ideas of how an independent Scotland should look coming together in the hope of getting that chance.

Even within our own wider movement, we are just a coalition of minorities. To find a party which can represent all those groups is nigh on impossible; to maintain it for any length of time clearly is impossible.

Read more – Andrew Smith: 10 thoughts on #GE2017 from a London-based leftie

We all have our own ideas of what we want the SNP to do, how it should respond to problems, how it should represent us, and it can’t please all of the people all of the time. I

f this is the state we’re in just now, where will we be in 2021? The battle is changing from “let’s win the next referendum’ to “let’s get the next referendum”.

When I imagine a Scotland governed entirely from Holyrood it doesn’t include the SNP; rather, it disbands on the first day of independence into three or four smaller parties, Jeremy Corbyn is elected as first Scottish prime minister and ATM’s give out free money in a Scottish accent.

In this same dream, there is an independent Labour party, based on the same principles that Keir Hardy founded it on, and that’s what I vote for. It all seemed so possible – it was almost real just three short years ago.

Now, seeing the vote fracture – as if the electorate were a child who can’t concentrate on anything for more than two years – the unionists get the endorsement they’ve been waiting on and knowing we’re going to be locked in process for at least the next three years, it’s beginning to feel much further away.

Read more – Jim Sillars: Here’s what the SNP and the Yes movement now need to do to build the indy case

I used to think of this country, its land and most importantly its people as being the same as the history books. The place where riots that lasted weeks were thrown when the Act of Union was signed against the will of 95 per cent of the people; where rocks and manure were thrown at Such A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation; where a great injustice, that 300 years ago was known to have taken place, may one day be righted. 

But this is not that country, it’s identity is not one of self-belief and pride.

The words of Billy Connolly keep ringing in my ears (speaking from America): “I think they’ll get what they deserve.” 

Remembering the unionists celebrated their win with a riot, remembering the “stick yer independence up yer arse brigade”, and now seeing Tory MPs emerge to represent Scotland, maybe he was right.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is: Pledge your support today.