I managed to make it until about half 5 in the morning before calling it quits and going to bed, accepting that Scotland had voted No to independence. To be honest I was okay with it at that point, the steady stream of results that had come in from YouGov’s initial poll to the actual council-by-council results began to show rather quickly that it wasn’t going to be Yes’ night.
But when I woke up a few hours later, to catch the end of the results and the final announcements, I just couldn’t summon the energy. It was more than just being tired after staying up late. It felt like there was emptiness, a certain thing missing from me, something that would have willed me on to indulge in more referendum news even though I’d had my fill. It is this gut punch of regret and loss that I, and am sure many hundreds and thousands across the country and the world, felt this morning when I woke up – realising that Scotland had given away its’ chance to be the master of its’ own fate.
The result was a little more emphatic than the polls had predicted as 55% voted No to independence with 45% backing it. The fact that only 4 council areas out of a total of 32 shows the real scale of the defeat, although the stat that these 4 areas (Glasgow, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire) are among the most deprived in the country is not welcome reading for supporters of the Union, showing that those who really suffer in Scotland felt like a change was needed to improve their lives. It’s also clear from exit polling and recent data that although young voters below the age of 55 supported independence, the older generations opposed it and eventually carried the day. There is an irony that those that have, without any disrespect, less of a future have decided against the wishes of those who have more of one, but that is the gamble of elections and referendums. Older people are more conservative, and tend to be less prone to changing their minds, and it is clear that despite the Yes campaign’s considerable and laudable efforts in turning the tide among younger voters in their favour they have obviously failed to do as well amongst those over 55 and that may have lost them the referendum.
In the end, it was a decisive verdict in the referendum that sets a clear tone for the will of the Scottish people, and despite the massive sinking feeling that Yes supporters are feeling, it is something we will grow to accept, however grudgingly. Rather than having the drama and conspiracy of close votes that could have plagued Scottish politics forever, regardless of who won, it is certainly a good thing that Scotland’s choice was clear – so that we can begin the process of moving on from the campaigns into actual action. Today, in theory at least, should see the launch of Gordon Brown’s much-vaunted timetable for further devolution as was promised during the Wacky Races-esque mad dash to the finish line by Better Together. These new powers are meant to be bound in legislation and fast-tracked through Parliament before next year’s General Election in early May – and although it’s certainly worrying to think that such major constitutional change might not undergo the scrutiny and analysis that it should, it is certainly a kind gesture to give Scotland what it wants in a much more timely manner than we’re used to.
However, developments this afternoon have seen this promise look far weaker than it did before. Alex Salmond has announced he will resign as leader of the SNP and subsequently as First Minister, meaning Scotland loses its’ best politician and most prominent supporter of independence/further devolution. In his resignation speech, he said that the Prime Minister had told him that the second vote on the “new powers” bill would be “meaningless” as he cannot command support from his own party (with over 70 Tory MPs already having spoken out against further devolution). Labour leader Ed Miliband has also stated that the does not support the Conservatives’ timetable for devolution, that was put forward by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, instead favouring his own proposals for a national constitutional convention next Autumn, if Labour win the General Election. To me it is a clear sign that the Westminster Government cannot be trusted to deliver the powers Scotland craves and in what was already a day full of disappointment, and even despair, this news has compounded the crushing regret that I feel about Scotland voting No.
But while the eyes of the nation are surely on how quickly and how ably these mystical “new powers” are delivered, if at all, they are also turned on ourselves in what needs to be a considerable period of self-reflection. As much a “triumph of democracy” as the referendum was in engaging as much as 84.5% of the electorate to get out and vote, it did also prove terribly divisive among the Scottish population and tensions became increasingly frayed towards the end of the campaign. There were threats, assaults and even a fire-bomb attack on a Yes office which are all not acceptable by any means regardless of the stakes involved. Social media has been an exciting new conduit of information throughout the referendum but has also been used for some personal attacks against people simply because of their voting preference. These attacks are continuing today as people express their happiness/disappointment in the result, with the high emotion of the situation exacerbated by sleep deprivation that comes along with staying up to see the results come through. These nasty streaks have a danger of becoming engrained in our society if we do not collectively and uniformly work together to overcome them, so we must do what we can to mend our society back to where it was even just a few months ago.
What Scotland needs now is to unite again and take on the common goal of the majority of the people, which is getting more powers devolved from Westminster. There is no Yes side or No side now – we are all Team Scotland. We’re all capable of making our nation better, and if we can harness some of the passion that we showed while campaigning we can really make a difference. I’m as disappointed as any Yes voter, and I still believe that a Yes vote would have given us much more of a chance to have a real change in our country, but we have fallen on the wrong side of the democratic bargain and should accept it – just as Alex Salmond implored us to do in his concession speech early this morning. There’s not going to be another independence vote for perhaps a generation, and even then the stars will need to align with an SNP government in Scotland, a willing government in Westminster and enough support in Scotland that the referendum might turn out as a Yes. Our chance is gone, and as tough as it is to say it, we need to move on. The reasons we voted Yes have not disappeared: there are still food banks in our country, there are still nuclear weapons on the Clyde, there is still no faith in the Westminster government. It is much harder to change these issues as part of the UK, but just because it is difficult to do doesn’t make it not worth it.
I’m truly devastated that it wasn’t a Yes vote, and am sure that I will continue to believe that Scotland would have been better off had it gone it alone rather than stuck with the United Kingdom for a while. But although it’ll take time to get over what is a tough loss to take, I will; and I hope Scotland will in time regain its’ resolve and desire and do great things. We got what we wanted, but not what we deserved in the referendum. A No vote doesn’t have to be the end for change in this country; it just means that we have to fight harder for the things we want and be the change rather than be part of it.
The referendum campaign may be over, but it was only ever about picking which path to take towards our future. The decision’s been made, so let’s try and enjoy the journey as much as we can, even if we might always wonder what was down the other way.
To sum up is a song that’s stuck with me through the campaign and still rings true after the vote, “Alba” by Runrig. It’s a song that covers how brilliant Scotland is, how it needs more powers for itself but, after all, how great it is to live here. And that’s exactly how I feel: