Polling day

14241362601_da5ff641cf_mLike the French Revolution it’s a bit early to say what the referendum result means. The next steps need to be open, inclusive and fast but more of that in another post. In this I thought I’d talk about the day itself.

I’ll start at the end: ultimately the result was a slightly pyrrhic victory for me. Despite a clear, decisive and consistent No across Scotland we just as clearly lost Glasgow. If you’d told me at the start that we’d stay competitive in Kelvin (which was Yes by approximately 2000 votes) I’d have been very happy with that: we’re one of the few constituencies which voted for AV in 2011 and are a close 3 way marginal between Labour, the Greens and the SNP. We still lost though, and clearly need to do more work.

The count started ok, I met a lovely Green while sampling who was good company during the bits we weren’t staring at piles of ballot papers. Feel very sorry for the staff on our table who had to recount one box three times because somebody had put their polling card in as well which buggered up the numbers.

It didn’t stay friendly though. Once the overall result became clear the SNP contingent went quietely up the back of the room and the Greens seemed to dissapear leaving the front by the stage to the RIC crowd who began chanting in an increasingly aggressive and antagonistic manner. Classy.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with friends old and new, some of whom I’d met that week or that day, in the Emirates with a lump in my throat and a lack of feeling in my legs waiting for the news we knew was coming that we’d lost Glasgow was a really powerful experience. Not one I want to repeat again.

But that was the end of polling day. The day had started for me at 6.30 when, having managed to avoid the early morning leaflet run, I got up to stand on my local polling station for 2 hours.

When I got there one of the many non-party Labour No activists who turned up in the final run in was there, along with 3 Yes people. My heart slightly sank as I recognised one of them.

The Saturday before we’d run a stall at the local farmers market which had gone well (turns out people appreciate it if you pay for a proper stall rather than setting up your own trestle table at the edge) and had been harrangued by her because the only reason she could think of for me not supporting Yes was because I hated democracy. Having tried to explain to her, actually, I thought Yes would reduce our democratic control she moved onto arguing that a Yes vote would mean we had the power to reform local government. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it had been devolved in 1999 and substantially reformed by the second Labour / LibDem coaltion.

A few cheery exchanges and a Brady Bunch-esque mantra of ‘morning!’, ‘morning!’ from the assembled politicos to each and every voter one of said voters explained she was voting No because she didn’t want the years of economic turmoil that would follow. Which is surely a fair choice, but elicted a rather petulant “well we don’t want the votes of rich people anyway!” shout from this Yes woman. Perhaps not the wisest thing to shout out in Hyndland…

A providential supply of biscuits from a passing voter were duly shared before a phone call informed me that CNN were at the polling station around the corner. Turns out one of the Labour stalwarts staffing it probably ended up on media in at least half a dozen countries.

When the second shift arrived I took off for a shower and breakfast before we started the GOTV. Didn’t really have any idea if that was going to be necessary or not given the predicted turnout but, as it turns out, I’m very glad we did.

After an initial run at some of the social housing around Whiteinch we decided to throw the strategy in the bin (I mean take a tactical decision at grassroots level) and just knock every door in the tower block. That worked out pretty well: a few yes voters who were going to vote anyway were outnumbered by a few “well, I don’t know if I’ll vote but if I do i’ll vote No”. That turned out to the theme of the day.

Based on that I made a run into Bath St to get some wider ranging contact sheets that had everybody except confirmed Yes voters on them and it was around then that, in retrospect, I lost it.

It started innocently enough. Having leapt out of a car, up some stairs, grabbed some folders, waved at the phone bank and leapt down a woman standing on the street introduced herself, said she was a visiting MP and asked if we were going to campaign rooms. I didn’t quite bite her hand off as I bundled her into the back of the car but it wasn’t far off.

Not long after I was balancing a phone between my ear, clipboard in one hand, pen in another dispatching her and others to the doors of pensioners (it was 2pm, they’re the only people reliably in at that time of day in numbers in Partick) 3 stories up. I wasn’t quite inhabited by the spirit of Jamie the angriest man in Scotland but it wasn’t the most dignified thing I’ve ever done either.

Another run to Bath St to set phone bank strategy for the evening, a sit down and a quick passive smoke. By this time it was quite clear don’t knows and undecied and uncontacted Labour voters were breaking pretty heavily for us. Which felt pretty great, I have to tell you. It’s easy to know, but not to feel, that you’re not talking to the opposition at this point and I had no idea how that would translate overall picture. As I mentioned, Kelvin is a weird constituency.

I headed to Thornwood primary school for the evening rush with some apprhension. For the previous fortnight two stalls had been at Partick station, one Yes, one No. Neither associated with the main campaigns – Yes Partick West had a private facebook page and a locked twitter account and was hadning out Green Yes and A4 photocopies about secret oil fields. The No stall was run by Labour councillors from the very distant past, the communists and the lodge. Police had stepped in at least once during the previous week. Fortunately neither had shown up at the polling station as we’d feared: the biggest threat was apparently the drivel being talked threatening to lead to fatal boredom.

Having gathered another volunteer I headed off for the last run of the evening. One of the things they never tell you how much of politcs is that quite a lot of it involves hanging about on street corners with a clipboard waiting for other people to show up. When everyone had arrived, sorted out who was going where and divvied up the last of the material I set off with two people: one of whom I’d known for less than 12 hours, one for less than 20 minutes (both lived up the road, albeit across a cruical constituency dividing line). Polling day is weird like that.

I’d say I’d never known a final knock up like it but I’ve only really known half a dozen so it’s a small sample set. You could have built a house on it it was so solid. Low rise blocks of mixed social housing, some shared equity some socially rented. When we got to the top of the first block I thought we were in trouble. One of the “I’m voting No” out cards we’d put through when canvassing a few days previously was lying on the mat. Wondered if someone had pushed it back through. Happens sometimes. Marked them down as “Voted, Yes” and moved on. Same thing on the the floor below except it was outside a door of someone who I knew had already voted No but post. So we knocked the others anyway.

Turns out the residents in that block had gotten so fed up of Yes canvassers they’d put them the cards out to ward them away. Same in the next block. A few people were voting Yes (and one who had done so by post said she’d regretted it now) but I was feeling pretty good by that point.

Then we got outside. One block left to do, and a group of half a dozen small kids aged between maybe 6 and 10 come up to us and slightly suspiciously ask what we’re doing and what side we’re on. When we explain we’re No it changes.

They go utterly ballistic, we give out the last of out stickers, posters and anything else left in the bag and demanded we go to their houses as their parents had already voted No. The rosette I’m still wearing from polling station duty causes some infighting as I try to explain they need to share. In retrospect “polling and sharing resources” was perhaps not the best phrase to use but I was phyiscally knackered and emotionally all over the place having wildly swung between feelings of “this is going OK” to “we’re going to lose badly” previously.

It was a very good note to end the GOTV stuff on though.

What it is and what it isn’t

Green v LabourFirst things first. We lost. We know how and why we lost, too. There was a solid base of natural No voters for them to build on, and their demographics have been well analysed in the aftermath. Many people just feel British and think their governance should reflect that: personally I don’t really feel national identity either way, but so be it. Beyond those groups, enough of the swing voters were secured for a flagging No campaign when they played two cards. First, a campaign of fear and lies, run by Number 10 and their media cheerleaders, using banks and big business to quash change. Second, of course, that promise of more powers.

We may abhor the first, and we may be convinced that the second will prove to be a sham too, but we still lost. And we need to accept it. That doesn’t mean going cold on the idea of independence, mind, any more than you should give up on any other principle or objective when you hit a setback.

The nationalists I know won’t do so. But, perhaps more importantly, I don’t think we non-nationalists for Yes will either. The ones I speak to are, like me, much more committed to independence than we were a year or five years ago. Friends who came over to Yes in the last week or month sound like they’ll never go back.

A large majority of the Scottish Greens’ membership joined in the last few days, too. Most will be Yes voters, but many will be No voters who want a radical slate of additional powers. The party has changed, and it’ll also be a lot closer to a “big party” electoral force on the ground in areas across the country where we simply didn’t have a decent activist base.

Meanwhile, the Yes activists on the ground, the true heroes of the Yes side, are networked, experienced, motivated, and informed like never before. The SNP had a great machine already, sure, but the breadth of the Yes movement eclipsed them. The No side, on the other hand, predominantly activated their existing operations.

But. But.

This is not the time to talk about another referendum, or even to spend too much thought on the last one. The specific circumstances which made the Scottish electorate into the 45% and the 55% has passed. There may be a time for another referendum, but only when the circumstances permit it, demand it even. Right now it is totally inappropriate. And there’s much more to be done right now.

Besides, in many ways we won. It certainly didn’t feel like it on Friday, but over the weekend, as the dust settled, I became more Tigger than Eeyore. Let the No side have their triumphalism, their sense that Scotland has been put back in a box: we haven’t been, and we can’t be. For one thing, it might have been less close than we thought a week out from the vote, but it was still way more close than anyone predicted a year out (aside from some of my more enthusiastic SNP friends). Whole cities voted to leave the UK. Even in our worst areas almost a third of voters backed independence.

That 1.6m people voted Yes is extraordinary. At the beginning of the campaign Yes Scotland set a target of a million pledges: bear in mind the total Holyrood turnout in 2011 was less than 2 million. A chunk of SNP voters were always going to vote No (the stereotype being the anti-Labour Perthshire resident who does well from the council tax freeze and loves John Swinney’s reassuring managerialism), and a bigger chunk of Green voters did so too: both offset by the Labour voters who came over to Yes. That vast Yes total should therefore be regarded as extraordinary and significant. Sure, less than the No vote: I can add up, but extraordinary nevertheless. Remember how far away even having a vote looked just a decade ago.

Back in the day, the 1998 devolution settlement was described as the settled will of the Scottish people, but less than two decades later the debate was being framed by the Westminster parties themselves as more powers versus independence. The 1998 settlement, and the weak post-Calman additions to it: they’re dead already.

The reality is the settled will changes. It moves slowly, perhaps, but the last twenty years have seen it move in one direction: in favour of a higher proportion of decisions being made in Scotland. The centre of gravity is now devo max, unquestionably. It’s not my first preference. But I’ll take it if I can.

Tam Dalyell opposed devolution because he thought it was “a motorway to independence with no exits”. To have arrived at our destination this week would have suggested a proper German autobahn with no speed limits. We may not even be in the fastest lane on the motorway. It may even just be a modest A road. But I think it’s likely we will eventually get there.

Right now, though, those who campaigned so hard for a Yes vote have a substantial task to work on. As some will know, on a personal level I’m not a Salmond fan. I disagree with him on a wide range of policy issues, from oil and Trump and road-building to the Council Tax Freeze and the centralisation of Police Scotland. However, I admire his professionalism and I’m extraordinarily grateful that he got us to where we were last week. I also believe he hit the nail on the head in his resignation speech. In it he said:

We now have the opportunity to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire on the “vow” that they have made to devolve further meaningful power to Scotland. This places Scotland in a very strong position.”

This is where the work needs to be done now. And that’s a project which reaches out beyond the 45%, and especially allows the Yes side to make common cause with those in the 55% who voted No because they believed the pledges of more powers. After all, the Record’s front page used Photoshop to engrave them onto a parchment, so they must be real. Are they, though? We don’t know at this stage. The disarray and machinations between the Westminster parties suggests nothing real will happen. They think it’s time to worry about England now (and they’re half right – they should be worrying about both Scotland and the rest of the UK).

They offered a lot, albeit incoherently. They made it all sound substantial, and they said it would be quick. They promised to involve us. On all of those things we should both take them at their word and not trust them an inch.

Let’s rally round this next task, the one Alex Salmond rightly set out. Let’s have a debate, an open debate, and then tell them what we think their promises mean. What we heard them say. Quote their own promises back to them. Define what Devo 2.0 looks like, not wait for them to see if Devo 1.2 is sufficient for us. Not settle for a bunch of tax powers designed to be as likely to be used as the 3p Scottish Variable Rate of income tax, let alone powers designed to push Holyrood towards austerity. Not just tax powers, either: primary powers over every domestic policy area that can be done differently within one nation state. Let’s push in the same direction on that, and bring in No voters who wanted those powers but who also felt independence was too big a leap. Aim to include not only the Greens who went for No but perhaps also the 10-15% of SNP voters who did the same. And the newspapers who opposed independence so vigorously but argued for devo max: let’s see if they meant it.

Let’s also concede something. Cameron wants English Votes on English Laws out of self-interest, but I want it out of democratic principle. I have English friends on the left who are as infuriated by the failure to answer the West Lothian Question as any ‘kipper. There’s only one democratic answer to “should Scottish MPs with no remit on policy areas devolved to Holyrood be allowed to make decisions on those same policy areas for England and Wales?”, and that’s a no. It applies in spades if we get devo max as well, and that should make it clearer which Westminster laws don’t affect Scotland. There may be some more sophistication required with drafting, but it’s not impractical. And if you’re a partisan thinking that bloc of Scottish MPs in some way helped deliver more left policies, you’re wrong: read this.

What’s more, the same logic applies to Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, in line with either the current devo settlements for them, or with whatever may follow. Being an MP for a non-English seat may become a part-time job, voting on defence, foreign affairs, a few similar issues. But the jobs will still exist, which should be a consolation for Labour. In fact, there’d be no reason to continue with the smaller number of MPs per capita outside England either. We all deserve an equal say on defence, on foreign affairs, etc.

How the rest of the UK governs itself (for England is that just the same old English MPs? Is it a separate English Parliament? Devolution to English regions?) must be up to them. I hope to see a Yes-style movement for radical constitutional change take to the streets of the rest of the country, adopting the same spirit, agitating for Westminster’s semi-democracy to be reformed out of all recognition. But that’s a matter for them, even if we might feel able to go and help support their campaign, just as many English radicals came here to help us. The problems they face, after all, overlap extensively with the ones we’ve identified in Scotland.

But we must continue to have our say about the powers we believe Scotland needs, the powers we were offered. That’s up to us, and we must redouble our efforts to secure them.

We also have the perfect vehicle for holding the Westminster parties to account for it all. The timing couldn’t be better: the Westminster election in May. In Scotland, much as some will wish it not to be, much of the debate will be about whether the Vow has been met, whatever we do. This process, whatever it becomes, will determine what powers the next Scottish Parliament will have, elected a scant year after that. Sure, I wanted all power to come to the Scottish Parliament, to the Scottish people. But let’s see if we can go a good way further down the road away from a centralised British state. I may think that leads to independence, but for now it doesn’t matter whether it does or not. There’s a natural majority for devo max, at least as the next step, and the polls show it. If we get it, and it just works, maybe that’s where we’ll stay: maybe there’ll never again be an appetite for an independence vote. It’s possible that devo max could indeed be the end destination for that settled will of the Scottish electorate. But if the Westminster parties let us down and we don’t get those powers, or if whatever gets devolved clearly doesn’t work in practice, there will be another vote on independence soon enough. I’m convinced in either of those circumstances another vote would be justified, and we could walk a Yes with the support of many who voted No last week.

So let’s go with the grain. Let’s make securing devo max the focus of the Scottish part of the next UK General Election, alongside resistance to the Westminster consensus on welfare, immigration, and the rest. Use the ballot box again to force them to deliver the powers we want as an electorate. Let’s be clear that they can’t fob us off with something weaker now the referendum isn’t hanging over them. Accept that independence is off the table, maybe for now, maybe forever, and respect the will of the electorate. If we get what we’re promised then many of the other issues I care about, from climate change to inequality and decentralisation, will be in the hands of the Scottish electorate at the Holyrood election a year later. Issues where the SNP and the Greens disagree profoundly. Before that, in May, though, the aim of those parties who argued that the current arrangements are too weak should be to hold the Westminster parties rigorously to account while they squabble with each other and try to forget about us. We’ll be fired up with that massive influx of new and activist members, many of whom will be new to party politics altogether. The Greens and the SNP should be aiming to take not just the 1.6m with us into Scottish polling places in May, but many many more from the 2m who voted No on Thursday. That’s a formidable set of forces.

Some thoughts on the 45

A quick guest post from Sarah Beattie-Smith, an activist with the Scottish Greens. Thanks Sarah! More post-indyref analysis to come.

Sarah Beattie-SmithI get it. I get why you might want to hold on to the fact that you weren’t alone in voting for independence. That 45% of the voters were with you. But I think it’s unhelpful. Here’s why;

1) Calling yourself part of the 45 harks back to Jacobites. They may have had super cool wigs and kilts and lived romantic (and short) lives fighting for Scottish freedom, but come on! It’s 2014 and we’ve just held the only democratic vote *ever* on independence for Scotland. We don’t need swords to fight for independence, we need an informed, engaged and pissed off electorate with the will and the means to change things democratically.

2) It’s divisive. A quarter of those voting no did so because they believed “the vow” that we would get more powers as part of the union. By focusing on being part of the 45% of folk who voted Yes, we cut off those people from being part of fighting to ensure we get as much power as we possibly can. A lot of them will be feeling pretty low right now. I know some No voters who really desperately wanted to vote with hope and optimism for Yes but just didn’t feel they could – whether because of attachment to an idea of shared struggle across the UK or distrust in the idea of an automatically better Scotland after a Yes vote. They need us as much as we need them if we’re going to build a better Scotland. Cutting ourselves off is just daft when we should all be reaching out – from both sides.

3) It makes us look like we’re wallowing in self pity. What do you notice about 45%? That it’s smaller than 55%. We lost. Let’s not do that awful Scottish thing of celebrating being the underdog and feeling contempt towards everyone else. If we’re ever going to win, we need to have a hell of a lot more people voting Yes and that means we need to look at why people voted no and help move them from No to Yes – just as we’ve done for the last 2 years. We did bloody well to get from 25% two years ago to 45% last week. Let’s not turn that number into a sad vainglorious symbol – it’s there to be built on, not to stand as a permanent memorial to the injustice of No.

For the record, I don’t think we need “reconciliation” – that’s what happens when both parties have done something wrong. But we do need to keep fighting for the Scotland that I believe the vast majority of people want to see – free of nuclear weapons, where poverty is a thing of the past and where we care for people and planet for now and into the future. The folk who want that are far more than 45% of the electorate. Now is the time to build that new Scotland, not to build a bunker.

Forget governance, Scotland is more of a nation than ever.


In the end it was a fairly even match, but not a question of right and wrong. The results meant tears for some in my living room, but by the end of this afternoon there were two emails in my inbox and three voicemails by people galvanised to do something as quickly as possible. They were no voters, yes voters and non-voters.

There were soft and hard nationalism on both sides, loyalties to structures and institutions and patterns that saw Labour councillors from England and Greens and secessionists from around the world shipped in to fight the good fight.  There was old-nationalist graffiti on polling stations and union flag waving, no-voting Gaelic crofters and yes voting English academics. The thing they shared was a franchise and residency in the same almost-country.

What the referendum has done is give Scotland a greater sense of itself. Calling in those councils one by one mapped the nation. There was a moment when it seemed the future of an entire country might hang on the RNLI lifeboat on Barra.

The last two years have put me back in touch with a country I thought I knew. I visited places I had not seen since I was a child, sometimes for journalistic reasons and sometimes because I simply felt the need to see it afresh.

The day before the vote I was in a tower block in Coatbridge, knocking doors with a Danish film crew and talking to disaffected Labour voters about whether they could be swayed. In the end not enough of them were, but a No does not mean that the empty shop units and discount stores on the town’s main street will suddenly  vanish.  Danny, a stair cleaner and former taxi driver tasked with rinsing down all thirteen floors of the sixties high rise, saw it not as a personal gain but as a step forward for his children’s children.

In the centre of Glasgow, people thronged to George Square in the expectation that something was about to happen. Independence was the question but nobody quite knew what the consequences of either outcome would actually mean.  The Yes/No dichotomy was a battle for different personal futures, but it is the process that means Scotland has changed.

A defining memory is running into Jim Murphy in the grey drizzle of the quayside on East Loch Tarbert, waiting for the boat to Uig. He looked like a city boy uncomfortably forced to spend time somewhere he would much rather not be, standing there without a jacket next to a No Thanks banner designed for a windless community centre in Lanarkshire. It was jammed against a recycling bin for support, bright red against the grey pebbledash of the tourist information.

Until David Cameron visited Shetland to talk about oil as the campaign clock ran down, the most important political visitor had been the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. On the side of the museum in Scalloway is a small plaque commemorating the event. Shetland has been able to use the referendum to argue for itself, but like elsewhere in Scotland the edges have also been put in firmer contact with the centre.

I watched otters diving in Sullom Voe in the shadow of the huge oil terminal, dolphins off Arisaig, and deer in an unharvested field of beans in the shadow of the RBS headquarters, set against the perimeter fence of Edinburgh airport. I climbed the Fintry Hills and saw the turbines scything out of the mist in pure silence, followed a fox down Leith Walk at rush hour and interviewed teenagers and committed treason with schoolkids on the shinty pitch in Fort William by playing football.

I talked to the guys in the changing room at the local swim centre in Scotland shirts with No Thanks badges on. We stood there drying off as the noise of Britney Spears’ Toxic boomed through from the women’s aquafit next door and talked about where Hibs could go next. I climbed Ben Vrackie in deep snow and crouched just below the summit with a group of Glasgow mountaineers talking about land reform, listened to people visiting Eigg hatch plans to buy out a bit of their own local estate and was told by a farmer in the Borders to get off his land.

I saw London-based journalists mispronounce place names and recycle the tropes of the nineties, I sat drinking tea in a Conservative Club listening to someone lament the decline of industry, and I saw a gulf open up between Nationalists and unionist party hacks to be filled by people fowhom the question they were asked was not always the one that needed asking.

This is the new Scotland that the referendum made. This is where we are.

A natural majority for Yes

It’s a phrase I believe Nicola coined last year, and I admit I was sceptical about it. There’s rarely a natural majority for anything, even a binary choice like independence. But I’ve come to agree with her, and now I have polling that demonstrates what she means. Using my regular pollsters Survation, I asked a series of nine trust questions. These are the results with the Don’t Knows excluded (full tables here).

Who do you trust more on each of these issues? Holyrood Westminster Net Holyrood
Doing what is right for Scotland * 79.9% 20.1% +59.8%
Representing our views * 76.7% 23.3% +53.4%
Having our best interests at heart * 72.5% 27.5% +45%
Improving the lives of the most vulnerable * 70.2% 29.8% +40.4%
Keeping public services in public hands * 69.6% 30.4% +39.2%
Making the best choices for me and my family 64% 36% +28%
Protecting our environment 60.3% 39.7% +20.6%
Delivering a fairer economy 59.5% 40.5% +19%
Playing a responsible role internationally 42.7% 57.3% -14.6%

So, on eight out of nine “values” issues, voters in Scotland trust Holyrood more. Only on one (which I admit baffled me – *cough* *Iraq*) was Westminster narrowly preferred. On the first five, indicated with an asterisk, there’s an absolute majority for Holyrood even when you include the Don’t Knows. And that’s on what this question is really about: where should decisions be made? As now, split between Holyrood and Westminster, or entirely at Holyrood?

It’s no wonder, either. The last decade plus of Westminster’s decision-making could have been designed as a campaign to make the entire institution as unpopular as possible. A system of bank deregulation in favour of the City led to an extraordinary crash. The aftermath of that crash was used not to fix banking and tackle inequality, but to build a three-party consensus for a war on the poor and disabled, the demonisation of immigrants, yet more tax cuts for the highest earners, and a continuation of the ideological privatisation agenda. How could an ever harsher Union not have been designed to alienate Scottish voters?

Maybe the extraordinary scare campaign against radical change, coordinated from within 10 Downing Street with their FTSE 100 allies, will win. Maybe our superior ground campaign will win. But sooner or later we will be independent. There’s a natural majority for it.