We have been here before, of course, with the failed (albeit rigged) devolution referendum of 1979; with the imposition of successive Tory governments which Scotland had voted against; with the shocking deindustrialisation of our industry and the atomizing of communities; with the smashing of the working-class in Thatcher’s victory over the miners; with Blair and Brown’s betrayal of the Labour movement after 1997; and with, despite massive public outcry, the calamitous invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Sometimes being on the left feels like one long chain of defeats. But if there is another thing which history teaches it is that neither the need nor the hunger for socialism die easily.
Just as the forces of the right believe they have delivered the fatal stroke, some fresh willpower lifts us again to face the next crisis of capitalism, or Unionism, or whichever bourgeois ghoul flits before us. As that refrain from the anarchist pop-group Chumbuwumba goes: “I get knocked down, but I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down…”
Since that awful morning of 19 Sept, the Yes movement has shown spadefuls of this grit. A No vote was supposed to destroy us, cement the Union and confirm the right of the British ruling-class to keep us in our place.
The entire upper layer of society—the Westminster parties and their puppets in Holyrood; the UK media; the financial class; even figures from the international bourgeoisie such as Barack Obama, the Pope, EC President Manuel Barroso and Australia’s hawkish PM, Tony Abbot—threw every conceivable threat at the Scottish people, but the polls kept rising in Yes’s favour. Only when they attempted the carrot rather than the stick, with the infamous ‘vow’ promising “substantial new powers”, were Scots persuaded to give the Union another chance.
The No vote, however, has left a biter aftertaste in Scotland’s mouth. The day after the referendum fascist thugs ‘cleared’ George Square of Yes supporters. ‘The Vow’ has descended into a power struggle between Labour and the Tories, and there is little confidence that the Smith Commission will be able to deliver something “as close to federalism as possible” (promised by Gordon Brown).
The UK has re-entered a war footing in Iraq and Syria, Central Scotland is being opened up by Westminster for shale-gas fracking, new oil wealth has been suddenly discovered in the North Sea, and the Bank of England have revealed their plans to calm the markets should Yes have prevailed.
The influence of UKIP in England grows ever-greater, with Ed Miliband now ‘talking tough’ on immigration, and a Tory victory in 2015’s Westminster election seems ever-more likely. To quote another pop anarchist, Johnny Rotten: ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’
There is evidence that even many No voters have realised their mistake. Two successive polls have shown support for independence now at over 50 per cent and a majority of Scots back another referendum within ten years. Membership of the pro-Yes parties—the SSP, Greens and SNP—has gone through the roof, whereas Labour, who worked hand-in-glove with the Tories throughout the campaign, has seen its support north of the border slump to unprecedented levels.
All the signs are that the Unionists may have won the battle but lost the war. No supporters have gone quiet, as events disprove their case, reduced to pleas for Yes activists to simply ‘let it go’. The Yes movement, however, is regrouping and renewing its strength, with not one but two enormous gatherings in Glasgow.
Nicola Sturgeon’s address to the SNP at the Hydro and the Radical Independence Conference in the Clyde Auditorium, where the socialist issues of nationalisation, anti-austerity and gender equality will be very much to the fore.
Let’s stop to take stock of that: a radical and (relatively) unified movement has managed to sell out one of Scotland’s largest music venues—a mammoth 3000-seater—while another meeting of 12,000 people, who share many of our aims, takes place at exactly the same time next door. This is the Scotland we are living in now, inconceivable three short years ago. Such is the Unionist ‘victory’.
The Yes campaign saw disillusioned, marginalised, working-class people become re-energised by left wing issues, meaning Scotland now has one of the informed, engaged and politicised electorates in Europe. The ground from which an independent, socialist republic can grow is more fertile than ever. It becomes evermore clear that the visible consequences of a No vote were simply another precondition for the eventual triumph of Scottish socialism.
We get knocked down, but we get up again. You’re never gonna keep us down.