Back in the months leading up to 2014 there was no doubting the alliance between the SNP, the SSP and the Greens as they came together to ensure that there would be a positive outcome in the referendum. Working together within the Yes campaign along with other smaller groupings, in public at least, the idea was out there that the SNP were not the only political party seeking to embrace the changes that would arise with the rebirth of a once again,independent Scotland. No matter where you travelled in the country, the signs were there that people were coming around to the idea that not only was independence possible, it would actually be advantageous; the belief took root and slowly began to spread. Conferences, conventions and confabs took place and attendees from all over the country would converge upon cinemas and gathering places to watch as the next new initiative to persuade the undecided was unveiled. At all these events, it was impossible to dismiss the euphoria and excitement that filled the air; joined together in a deeply held conviction, political differences were, in general, overlooked and new solidarities forged.
Two parties in particular stood separate; the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. Although both had strong, longheld footholds in the north and south of the country respectively, neither were truly autonomous in Scotland with Labour being the brunt of many jokes of only being the local branch office and not a party in its own right. The Conservatives were never an issue; their voters were never going to be turned because of party ideologies but there was a huge number of voters within the Labour and the LibDems whom you would naturally suspect of being left leaning, progressive and egalitarian – therefore instinctive Yes voters. The reality however was that although the natural inclination was for independence, because they were UK wide parties, the stance was taken that the union was sacrosanct. Privately many high profile members of both parties disagreed with this policy and it was an open secret for those interested in politics as to who they were; I personally remember with fondness the occasion when the son of an extremely vocal Labour Peer filled out an Independence pledge card; the empowerment taken from that moment was great, watching his father on TV later that night and knowing that oppositional pundits did not speak for all regardless of the impression being proferred.
Both parties rapidly lost their strongholds after the events of 2014. Although the referendum had been lost and that the people had voted to remain the United Kingdom, the General Election the following year proved without doubt that people wanted change; they wanted the promises of 2014 that had failed to materialise and they showed this overwhelmingly. The shock defeats suffered that night should have been a wake up call but nobody listened; Scotland was yet again, not important enough. The following year, further annihilation of the unionist parties occurred within the Scottish Parliament; the atmosphere at the count in Dingwall that night was wonderful; from very early on in the night, it was apparent that the SNP were doing well locally and from the early hours of the morning, result after result started coming through, all with the same outcome. Yet still, the result was not accepted nationally; declarations citing percentage of population voting were opined to attempt to belittle the magnificent gains made and “she” doesn’t speak for me was a common retort on social media in relation to anything Nicola Sturgeon said.
Over time though, as austerity began to bite and decisions were made at a national level that directly impacted Scotland in the negative, the divisions between voters and party hierarchy chasmed. The once unbelievable idea of Labour and LibDem having such small representation in governance is now assumed normal and the demise of both parties is beginning to be seen south of the border. After the 2019 election defeats, both parties have found themselves requiring new leaders. As the Labour candidacy process gathers momentum, I watch with incredulity that even now, all these years on, nothing has been learnt by those at the top. As Scottish Labour become more comfortable (or perhaps desperate) in calling for a second independence referendum, monitoring the mood of their core support, those who would wish to be their future leader still ignore the insights offered. Once again, we find ourselves being dictated to by those who simply cannot understand; Scotland should not be independent because the rest of the UK say so. The candidates who were part of the establishment can possibly be forgiven for their diatribes as they know no better; to watch those who are classed as a breath of fresh air or the new wave acting like a feudal overlord is truly despairing. The only candidate who stated that it was not perhaps the worst idea in the world, received little support and was knocked out of the process.
I believe that we will see Scottish Labour cease to exist in its current form; its only hope of survival is to reinvent itself and do the same thing that we need to do as a country to ensure our own longevity and prosperity; embrace independence. The irony is sweet but sadly, the outcome could so easily have been avoided had only Scotland been treated as the supposed equal partner and not a lightly tolerated enclave.