We’re living in exciting times, Scotland has changed for the better. Nothing’s changed but everything’s changed. The referendum has been recognised by most people as an exercise in peaceful democracy. It’s true.
In terms of the vote itself, the huge level of popular participation and the technical and legal agreements, it was incredible.
97% of the voting population registered to vote. 16 and 17 year olds enfranchised for the first time, an 85% turnout. A true Scotland-wide debate. More information, slogans and facts flowing like never before. All this over an extended timeframe, far longer than any election.
We should genuinely celebrate this achievement. Only with historical perspective will future generations understand how powerful it was, an independence movement without bloodshed is virtually unheard of. A few bad eggs are as serious as it got.
But there’s another side to this exercise in direct democracy. The environment of the wider society that it took part in was very much anti-democratic. The dominant state narrative of Britishness is ever-present in every aspect of our lives. In this context it’s nothing less than a miracle that 45% of those voting wanted independence.
Much of the mainstream corporate media was of course a blatant case of misinformation, bog standard bias or agitprop. Years of daily, unrelenting, anti-independence news from nearly 100% of the print media can’t be dismissed. Broadcasters often struggled with their values and biases in favour of the status quo. Any media “neutrality” simply means that a story includes views from both sides – it doesn’t cover the decisions to include/exclude certain stories in the first place.
Similarly, large corporations making even vague anti-independence statements, while wielding huge economic power over jobs and investment, were leapt on by the mainstream media. The very fact of the unequal economic power balance in favour of big business meant that any potential relocation was a huge threat (genuine or not).
Indeed without straying into silly conspiracy theory territory, it would be naïve to suggest that HM Government and all the apparatus of the British state, were not deployed (under the radar) to save the state itself in its most critical moment of need. Would you lie back and allow your own power to be fragmented and taken away?
It’s also perplexing that the British nationalists of the far-right were absent until after the votes were counted. It was upsetting to see a mob performing Nazi salutes, singing Rule Britannia and burning a Saltire in George Square, Glasgow. They clearly didn’t get the memo about the “war against nationalism”. Where were they in exercising their democratic rights during the campaign?
It’s certainly unfair to suggest that every no voter was simply fooled or voted out of fear. Some were emotionally dependent on the British narrative and some were basically happy with the way the UK had turned out. Many people voted no because they didn’t think that the economic case had been made. They just disagreed with the other side. Acceptance of the referendum result is vital; we can identify flaws while still abiding by it. It’s all relative. We must move on. But getting back in the box is not an alternative. “One Scotland” unity, while well-meaning, is easily abused. Orwell’s Unity is Strength springs immediately to mind because unity is often a code word for compliance and conformity. There’s no place for eat your cereal politics.
There is only wisdom in crowds, not in elite decision-making. The huge participation wasn’t simply because of the subject, it was because we, the people, were making the actual decision ourselves. Unlike in elections, we were not voting to choose other people to make decisions for us. One of saddest things I read on 19 September was Happy Dependence Day, a slogan but also a defiant recognition of the need for autonomy.
We’ve been too conservative in using the powers that The Scottish Parliament already has. By using current and newly devolved powers a real difference can be made. From the missing link of radical devolution to local communities, land reform, community energy and building our own community organisations to real public sector reform. We need creativity and commitment. We also need to drive forward social media and democratic, inclusive, unbiased media. We don’t need alternative media that just reinforces our own views without challenge.
There are many incredible people-led movements across the world and there’s also a wider war against democracy. We should be aware of these many campaigns against elite, minority rule and for direct people power. It’s only with mass and persistent action that fundamental change happens.
While the UK state infrastructure remains powerful, the unionist campaign was temporary. The Indy infrastructure is now thriving. Energised, motivated and determined, they’re going nowhere. Much of this has thankfully gone beyond narrow nationalism and indeed beyond narrow independence. It’s not about the 45%, it’s about the 100%. We now need this to be a democracy movement.
But forget the challenges, the truth is self-evident. Autonomy and authentic, direct democracy is addictive. One taste and people want more. This vote was important but it was just one step as part of an ongoing journey.