I have campaigned actively for Yes. Not as much as some, but I have done as much as I felt I could. My wife was looking forward to seeing me again on Saturdays once the referendum was over, and I was looking forward to seeing her again on Saturdays! Many, many wonderful people have given hugely of their time, energy, talents and commitment. At the Stirling count last night, I was surprised to meet one of them in person: you. I recognised you from your Twitter profile picture, and you had already made an impression on me before I met you.
I first knew of you online: someone tweeted a video of you giving a talk. I have watched relatively few of the videos that have come out during the campaign – I can read most blogs and articles far more quickly than the 5, 10, 20 minutes that it might take to watch a video, and I am impatient when engaging on social media. But for some reason I watched your video, describing why you wanted to vote Yes. Miriam, right now you have time: you don’t have to go out canvassing, so watch yourself inspire this audience:
I tweeted a link to this video, and shortly after that you followed me on Twitter. I added you to my #IndyRef list and followed your tweets and engagement. I was already an admirer of your energy, optimism and commitment when we met by chance at the count on Thursday night.
Last night was an emotional roller coaster. We heard quite a bit of bad news coming through, and we heard some good news (Dundee, we love you!). When you found out the disastrous results for Stirling, you were close to tears. I spent much of yesterday in tears.
I was so tired, so very tired, as you and countless other Yes campaigners up and down the country will also have been. And yesterday I was constantly fighting back tears of both sorrow at what we potentially had and have (for the moment, at least) lost, and rage at the way it was lost – and we lost to the overwhelming might of a state structure devoid of any integrity (which is precisely why we took it on!). I think there are two colossal divides that have been highlighted by the results, and which we will need to address with urgency.
The first is age: surveys show that the No vote was carried by the over 65s, and that is a social disaster: 71% of 16-17 year-olds voted Yes, 73% of over-65s voted No. The aspirations of the newly motivated and engaged young people in our society who were busy creating the future they wanted – people like you and your friends – have been stymied by the threats, fears, comfort or complacency of the old. Secondly, there is a class division. The poor, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, broadly voted Yes, whereas the rich voted No, and too many of the middle classes also voted No – was it also threats, fears, comfort or complacency that drove those middle class No votes? I am not sure I like this term, but ‘class war’ comes to mind. These are divisions we will need to find a way to address in the future.
Miriam, I watch that video of you and I feel old! I’m actually twice your age; in the video you said you were 11 when Tony Blair lied and led the UK into an illegal and unjust war against Iraq. I lived in London in 2003 and protested that war in countless ways. My mother came with me on the first large demonstration in her life, and with over a million other people we marched through London to try and stop the war. As you know, it was ineffective – and thousands of people have died as a result.
But you are part of a movement that has shown us older lifelong campaigners the way forward. Tony Blair and the Labour party, hellbent on war, ignored us and pretty much got away with it. The Yes movement, with people like you in it, have terrified the establishment: why else do you think Cameron, Miliband and Nick-pledge-Clegg came to Scotland in these last weeks? You and all of us nearly overthrew a state power. (Read that sentence again and take it in: You and all of us nearly overthrew a state power.) And how did that happen? It happened because people like you did amazing things – when you watched that video just now, did you notice that over 10,500 people have watched it? You told me on Thursday night that you had spoken in countless school debates, frequently with misogynistic and patronising Labour/Better Together opponents, and more often than not, you convinced the young people of your case. You did that. You and your friends in Generation Yes, Women for Independence, National Collective and so on – you did that. I might have convinced a number of people of my generation to vote Yes, but I don’t think I really did much for the younger generation – that is something you can all take credit for, and it is amazing.
On Thursday, the age and class divides defeated us. We can fight for our vision another day. There are, as you said in the video, good people who sincerely voted No. We need them. Not in some pathetic pseudo-peace nonsense about unity and harmony, but in a context of hard questions and soul-searching. Some are good friends of mine and I want to say to them: “Iain, Iona, Ewan, Hilary, Francis and others – I need you now, and Miriam and her friends may need you even more than an old duffer like me needs you. We are hurting in ways that you maybe cannot even imagine. We need you to accept that – seeking social change on this scale has meant a huge personal investment. You voted No because you believed that this was the best way to achieve social justice. Prove it. Prove that this is actually going to work, and that the downtrodden in Scotland, in rUK and around the world will not be penalised by a No vote, as so many of us fear. Prove that it will not simply be an old Labour-Tory stitch-up, which is what appears to be happening already. I will work with you, but you need to really grasp this nettle. And if you want the likes of Miriam on board (and believe me, you really really do), you had better find a way pretty fast of proving this, and listening to her – not ‘enabling her and young people’ but putting her and her friends at the heart of change.”
As you will know, in all this we are not alone. I asked for some reactions on the referendum from some friends on Twitter. Here are the responses (I’m afraid ‘countrymen’ appear a couple of times in notes from men and women, but these are good people, and I’ll blame Twitter character limits for the missing countrywomen!):
- “It felt so good to cast a vote that counted for a cause that mattered. Today I feel terrible. Defeated by greed, self interest and fear of change. The No vote was an awful reaffirmation of the ‘I’m alright Jack’ mentality.”
- “Very proud of Scotland conduct in the campaign. Totally turned off by the No campaign… as a non-SNP voter I am thoroughly impressed by Nicola Sturgeon and Salmond and am very disappointed in my fellow countrymen. Excited by level of engagement in the country. Trying to curb my disappointment. Wanted to waken up in a more just Scotland.”
- “I voted Yes because this is Scotland – I don’t feel represented by Westminster politicians of any stripe, on both a national & a personal level. I voted Yes because I will probably never have another opportunity to be a part of such a positive and hopeful campaign. However, I have to say that from the start I felt that the result would be as it is & I also thought that the gap between Yes & No would not be as narrow as Yes hoped. So, this morning when I heard the result it did not come as a surprise. But, I am still glad I voted Yes and feel that Scotland did themselves proud with voter turnout – am left thinking that most of us up here feel distant and marginalised by politics in England/London and also unrepresented by them – hence voter apathy in elections.”
- “I wanted to help build a stronger people’s democracy, the first in this island, free of Lords and privilege. I thought my fellow Scots wanted the same, to raise their countrymen out of poverty, to rid themselves of nuclear weapons and foodbanks. We must now wait a generation until the old ones are gone. I am heartbroken, and worry about the next few decades in which I will raise a family in this country, one which rejected compassion in favour of its own self-interest.”
- “I voted Yes for building an egalitarian Scotland with developmental policies (not identity politics) at its core. I’m disappointed that older generation have let us down due to fear of change. However, this is a wheel set in motion. We’ve seen participatory democracy at its best – grassroots movements. It is not over and will resurface again.”
- “One long term story is the decline of Scottish Labour and all its implications. The 4 authorities to vote yes have the worst poverty levels. Scots are a bit like people who get a rare disease – you quickly become an expert. Waiting for England to catch up will be frustrating. Average Scot now understands constitutional issues better than average English MP. It was, of course, really about social justice. Scotland’s not the real threat to UK – it’s the City of London, driving inequality.”
- “I hoped Scotland would have collective confidence and self-belief to become fully empowered. Today struggling between deep disappointment and anger and shock. The Yes campaign has been inspiring and my aspiration is still that Scotland becomes an independent state where people are empowered, equality is embedded in our social, cultural and political lives, and the talent and creativity of our people nurtured. Today is difficult, but I still believe Scotland’s future lies in independence and participating in the global community of nations.”
Let me conclude with some words from beyond Scotland. Firstly, a Welsh friend, Rob Hudson: he’s been 100% behind us, and stayed up most of the night watching the results with excitement and in solidarity:
Here in Cardiff, today seems somehow greyer than the day before the referendum. I felt inspired by Scotland, I was even heard to say it was the most significant moment in my political consciousness since the miner’s strike when I was no more than a teenager. And I meant it!
I’m now 46 years old and considered myself reasonably politically aware, but looking back from the perspective of the past few weeks I’m shocked by my own complacency. Inaction meant I conspired with the apathetic and those who would wilfully promote a more unjust and unequal society.
I know full well that my Yes Scottish friends did not vote out of nationalism. The vote did not rise from it’s low of 24% to the end result of 44% because people suddenly discovered their inner Braveheart. What nonsense! It was because they realised that the only way to achieve a fairer, less divided and more accountable society was outside the UK state. Labour had three election victories in which to correct the devastation wrought by Thatcher that has caused such terrible poverty and inequality. And they did little more than tinker at the edges.
I am crying as I write this, sometimes grief takes time to filter through our tough outer carapaces. So, my friends, independence is denied, but those beliefs that drove the swing to yes will not easily be put back in their box. You and I will take some time to recover after losing the referendum, but our ideals are not defeated. Together we have discovered something worth believing in, policies that can bring real change.
If democracy is defined by how we treat those less fortunate than ourselves, then our democracy has failed. We need to find new ways to express the hope that this will change and new structures building on the groundwork of the brilliance of the Yes campaign to keep these ideas to the fore. We may have to regroup, there may need to be a new party of the radical left. But what other choice to we have to bring hope to others?
And Mark Tweedie, from Coventry, said to me:
for me this was more than just the independence question. As an English voter I was hoping to see the symbolic overthrow of a corrupt political elite in favour of fairness, progressive policies and what is right for the population and not just the corporations. A victory would have been a triumph not just for Scotland but for right-thinking people in England, Ireland and Wales too. Now I hope we can keep the momentum going and see this as a pause not an ending. The spirit of the Yes campaign will be an inspiration for years to come because it has broken the mood of political apathy which has engulfed the UK. Political idealism has been withering away since Thatcher took a hatchet to the notion of collective well being and this spirit feels like a Phoenix rising, in spite of the defeat. Anything now seems possible!
Miriam, cry and cry some more if you need to. But please don’t wallow and despair. We need you: my friends who wrote back to me on Twitter need you, and Rob and Mark and I need you. I look forward to seeing you continue to work at making the world a better place – it sounds trite, but we both know it’s not! – and I hope our paths will cross again.