On the Thursday after the Election I went into the Scottish Parliament for First Minister’s Questions, and the first person I bumped into was Jean Urquhart, Independent MSP for Highland Region. “How are you feeling today, Jim?” she enquired. After reflecting a moment or two I replied “After 49 years of being patronised by the Westminster parties, this morning I am smiling”.
I have to say, to quote Johnann Lamont’s most repeated phrase at First Minister’s Questions, I have always been wary of opinion polls. These polls for probably the last six months have been forecasting an SNP win, but I kept repeating to myself polls are not votes, and people lie. However the steadiness of the figures made me doubt my judgement. Even the exit polls on polling day itself seemed dubious, as no one seemed to emphasise that these took no account of the postal votes which have increased significantly over the past few years.
In any event I have been a pessimist as for too many years I have seen swings disappear as polling day approached, or as I put it rather crudely, used to being kicked in the goolies by an uncaring electorate time and time again. So that is my only girn as I am astonished, astounded and highly delighted at the outcome of 7th May 2015.
Just think – before the days of a Scottish Parliament Scotland had 71 Westminster seats, and if we got 36 seats that would have been a mandate for Independence. Scotland’s seats are now reduced to 59, and we hold 56 of them.(We also have an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament in a voting system specifically designed to block that happening.)
How did this 56 seats come to pass? When a referendum was announced and a Yes campaign was launched I was a bit wary. I passed a Yes stall in my local area, nodded politely, and carried on walking. I stopped at the corner, and said “You’re an idiot – most of your adult life you’ve been preaching independence for Scotland, and you’re walking past!” So I retraced my steps, picked up some leaflets and started handing them out. When I got home a couple of hours later my wife said “Where have you been – I thought you just went out for bread” At least I remembered the bread.
That started me on the Yes campaign trail, and I spent quite a bit of time, some on stalls, but most of it canvassing. Being on the doorsteps with other campaigners was revealing and inspiring, the enthusiasm of people from other parties and none was amazing. A lot of the times I was with non SNP members and was able to put in my twopence worth based on experience due to my length of service, eg the demand for independence has been around long before my time, but a lot were unaware of that.
As Referendum Day approached support went up and then down; two weeks before the day the Sunday Herald had us in the lead, but it was too early. The No campaign imported the Westminster Cabinet, woke up Gordon Brown, and got big business to threaten the loss of jobs, no right to use the pound and every other scare story they could imagine, culminating in “The Vow”. This formed the front page of the Daily Record, signed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, solemnly pledged near enough full fiscal autonomy; this vow was enhanced by Gordon Brown, the retiring back bench MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, who said “Near federalism”. The people were afraid, and voted NO. Incidentally, after the publication of the Vow, a researcher for Tom Clarke, at that time Labour MP for Coatbridge and Chryston, sent an email to the Office of Ed Miliband asking for a copy of the Vow. The response was that they did not have one, it had been made up by the Daily Record!
On the morning of 19th September, David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, addressing the Press outside No 10 Downing Street, stated that he would put in, as a matter of urgency EVEL – English votes for English laws, thereby making every Scottish MP a second class one, and barring any of them from ever holding ministerial office. Scotland had voted NO – job done. On the same day, Alex Salmond said he would resign as leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland saying “The Dream will never die”.
The nation – Scotland – drew in its collective breath. Far from a feeling of defeatism, the Yes campaign moved over, virtually wholesale, to the SNP. There was no membership drive, rather SNP Headquarters was engulfed by a tidal wave of recruits. Nicola Sturgeon became leader of the SNP, First Minister of Scotland, and continued to tour the country as she had done in the Referendum Campaign. The Referendum campaign was continued by the grassroots of the people of Scotland – they had been fired up and wanted more.
The astounding rout of the Westminster parties took place with great delight, leaving one Liberal, one Tory, and one Labour MP – the latter a self inflicted wound for us. Now we have to face the fact that England voted Tory and that Mr Cameron has an outright majority; it is also undisputed that if every one in Scotland had voted Labour Mr Cameron would still be in Downing Street.
What is incontrovertibly true is that this situation emphasises the urgent need for Independence; in May 2011 the Scottish people gave an overwhelming vote to the SNP, a majority in impossible conditions. In September 2014, the naysayers lied and cheated to frustrate the people of Scotland, and in less than 24 hours after the Referendum the Unionists betrayed their “Solemn Vow”.
The haste to appear to implement that “vow” resulted in the Smith Commission being set up, with 10 members, an outright majority of Unionist members, who managed to water down the proposals. As far as can be ascertained, a new Scotland bill will limit these further.
Now we have an almost total wípe out of the Unionist parties, but because England voted Tory we will be ruled by it, the negation of democracy, and Westminster proceeds apace with antique invented procedures and meaningless pomp and flummery. Scotland continues to be ruled by a party it did not vote for.
Our gallant 56 MPs will have to cope with seeing their powers cut, seeing the onslaught of the repeal of human rights, which will be fiercely resisted by Scotland, the renewal of the flawed , unusable and immoral nuclear weapon that is Trident, a European Referendum, as the Tories rush towards the exit like the Gadarene swine, policies to shrink the welfare state and inhumane attitudes to refugees and asylum seekers. The collapse of Labour in England is not good news for Britain. Independence for Scotland will shake that selfish introverted society, and lead to a better United Kingdom for all in these isles.
Verily indeed, Scotland has woken and the people have spoken.