Scotland: Referendum and Addendum

3 years ago ccwa 0

140919-scotland-yes-voter-jsw-850a_d8bd936eff8cd4354c4ae0dc8d604189Barely hours after the results of the referendum were announced in Scotland, the streets that had been flooded with people only hours before had emptied, and the postmortem had already begun. The rhetoric around the referendum’s outcome seemed to be the same across the board; things in Scotland would never be the same, and the drum for Scotland’s independence will inevitably grow louder in the coming years.

The proponents of the “Yes Vote” returned to their daily lives alongside those who had voted “no” – the post-referendum commiserations and promises of renewed commitment to devolution seeming to fade faster than Prime Minister David Cameron on his way back to London.

But this is not where this story will end, nor where it began. In fact, the key motivating reason for the rise of the “Yes Vote” began years ago. I am of course, talking about the rise, fall and subsequent limbo of the Labour Party.

For much of the late twentieth century, the U.K.’s Labour Party was progressive, committed to social justice, welfare, and the main party for immigrants and the working class, the two groups that suffered the most under Thatcherite policies of austerity.  And yet this coalition was seemingly not enough to win, that was of course only until 1994, when a young Tony Blair declared the beginning of “New Labour”, moving the party towards the center and marrying the party’s commitment to social justice to a concept of modernism for Britain’s economy.  The move worked.

Labour won the 1997 general election in a landslide, picking up many disgruntled conservatives fed-up with the stoicism of John Major in the face of the young, energetic and modern Tony Blair. His enthusiasm for Britain’s future was contagious.  All across Britain people were energized, and Scotland was no exception.  A major part of Labour’s platform had been devolution of powers, a shrewd move by Labour to ensure that working class Scottish voters, who were historically to the left of Labour would not be alienated by the move to middle.  To Labour’s credit, devolution was not an empty gesture, Labour held true, and Scotland got its first Parliament in 300 years.

Fast-forward to 2014 and one will find the situation is not altogether different than it was before Labour’s 1997 win. The relative success of the “yes” vote in Scotland’s referendum had much to do with the rise of social inequality in yet another era of austerity. By tying his arguments for independence to narratives about issues of social justice, Alex Salmond was going after a demographic that, due to Labour’s 2010 loss, has been largely ignored and unheard. Perhaps more importantly, Salmond wasn’t going after the fans of New Labour, but those who had joined the New Labour movement only to be marginalized when the party lost on an extremely centrist platform in 2010.

It was these people, aching for the return of the policies of their parent’s Labour, who filled the streets of Glasgow, shattering records for voter participation, and filling Labour Party leader Ed Milliband with considerable anxiety.

There are many who believe that a “yes” vote would have spelled doom and gloom for Labour, and they were not without reason. Ironically, one could say Milliband is in just as difficult a place now after the “no” vote than he would have if the vote had been reversed.  If the referendum proved anything, it is that many voters are crying out for Milliband to continue moving the party back to the left, but ultimately those votes weren’t enough to sway the “no” vote, partly because while the working class have gotten poorer, the middle class in Scotland has actually grown in numbers and in wealth.  Milliband remains decently close to Cameron (albeit behind) in the polls ahead of next year’s election, but his party is still blamed for the economic crash and the spending and tax hikes that preceded it.  The spending increases and renewed investment in welfare are exactly what the “yes” voters of Scotland want to see (along with devolution of course), but Milliband cannot move his party back that far over to the left without putting his party’s chances in jeopardy.  Ed Milliband is a known lover of history, and it will not have escaped his mind that Scotland’s votes have never been the statistical difference maker for Labour in a successful election.  In that same line of thought, Prime Minister David Cameron, would not have needed to form a coalition had Scottish votes gone the way of the conservatives.

No matter how frustrating the scenario for Labour, one thing is clear; now, just as it was in 1997, “things can only get better”.


by Emmanuel Dzotsi

(photo credit: Rousseau Stefan / PA Wire via Abaca)