Last year was easily the most exciting that politics in this country will ever get, and the run up to the referendum was one of the most fascinating displays of public engagement ever. Scotland came alive during the campaign, and the energy that was created back then hasn’t died down yet.
It’s hard to believe, but a year ago today that Scotland went to the polls to reject the proposal of independence. 55% of Scots preferred to stay within the UK on that day and say No to change.
But Scotland has changed since the 18th of September 2014, and done so in a way that almost no-one could have predicted.
Rather than the unionists taking the lead in shaping post-referendum Scotland, a newly galvanised SNP under their new leader Nicola Sturgeon has swept the board triumphant with an unthinkable near-whitewash in May’s General Election. Instead of cowering and licking their wounds after what was the most devastating and profound defeat for their party and their cause, they resolved to reach out to those Yes voters and seek a better Scotland in a more “traditional” way. The Conservatives, Lib Dems, and most notably Scottish Labour, have had no response since.
Just as was feared, the infamous “Vow” that the three party leaders announced just before the vote was a broken promise. Only 9% of Scots believe that this vow was delivered. Even Gordon Brown, who gave one of the most important speeches of the entire campaign on the eve of the vote based upon this vow, has said that it has not been delivered. We were promised a powerhouse Parliament and the strongest possible devolution all to be had by now, in reality we have a weak Scotland Bill, weaker than even the diluted proposals of the Smith Commission set up to provide further devolution, that hasn’t cleared its third reading in Parliament.
What we have got though is a further commitment to English Votes for English Laws by a majority Conservative Government that got 15% of the vote in Scotland. Instead of being given a stronger voice in the Union, David Cameron announced on the morning after the vote, whilst half of Scotland was still grieving, that their MPs wouldn’t get a say on areas that directly influence how much money goes to Scotland. Nothing from the Unionist parties since the referendum has showed any of the support for Scotland that they said would come by voting No, and the people will not stand for it.
Polls at the moment show the question of independence is still very much on the minds of people in Scotland and that they are split almost 50/50 on what they would do in the event of another referendum now. Two polls show a Yes lead of some margin while three show a No lead that has diminished since last September. Never before has Scotland been closer to leaving the Union than it is at the moment, which is something that almost no-one would have considered happening in the event of a No win.
A feeling that has stayed constant through this year is the enduring feeling that the No camp won the battle but not the war. The No campaign burned their bridges by running a campaign that wasn’t based on inclusiveness and of Scotland’s place as a major player in the union. The Yes campaign did much better at portraying the potential for Scotland and that’s why the goodwill keeps on coming for independence and the SNP. This all means that it’s more and more likely that the referendum was not just a once-in-a-generation event but a first-in-a-generation event.
Already Nicola Sturgeon has announced that conditions for a second referendum will be baked into the SNP’s 2016 manifesto, and with the uncertainty over the UK’s membership of the EU with that referendum on the way, it’s becoming ever more likely that 2021 could be the year for a re-match in the Scottish question. The next referendum would have to be won or precedent from Quebec suggests the flame would burn out, but with the current course of events it looks more likely than not Scotland will vote on its future again, and soon.
The reasons people voted for independence are all still true, if not more so. We still live in an unfair society and Scotland still doesn’t have the power to solve the problems of its people. Scotland has changed a lot over the last year, but the fault lines in policy terms and the ideas of what we want Scotland to be are all still the same. That’s why the independence question hasn’t gone away – because people across the country have seen that they do have the power to change things and the political system we have just now won’t bring that to us.
So one year on from Scotland’s date with destiny, and it seems that even though the intensity, the uncertainty and the all-round drama of the independence movement has gone, it might just be back soon enough. Salmond stood up on the morning of the 19th and gave his resignation as SNP leader and First Minister, rather than a stirring victory speech, and famously closed by saying that an independent Scotland is a “dream that shall never die”. A year on and it seems that it’s the only post-referendum political prediction that could be true.