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Reflections on a No Vote: The Scottish Question Is Far From Settled

24/09/2014 12:08 BST | Updated 24/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Last Thursday night was a horribly depressing one for those of us who support Scottish independence.

I spent it at a count in Dundee, which began with jubilation as we saw the local results, but ended in tears and when it became apparent that they weren't being replicated elsewhere.

The night was a painful one for the simple reason that, at the risk of sounding pretentious, those of us on the losing side had lost more than just a vote.

This wasn't like watching your side lose an election, it was far worse than that. The sad truth is that for many people the question of which government runs the country for five years often feels inconsequential. However, the referendum was about more than what party is in charge, it was about the nature of power and where it should lie.

The movement may have been broad enough to include both the Scottish Socialist Party and gay-bashing billionaire Brian Souter, but for most of those who were pounding the streets for a Yes vote, including over 400 in Dundee alone, it was part of an anti-establishment and pro democracy project.

The referendum was empowering for a huge number of people; some mobilised through social movements and interest groups, and some via political parties. The size of the Yes vote is testament to their hard work and proof, if ever it was needed, that word of mouth and a bold message can be just as important as a sympathetic media.

On the campaign trail I met great activists from all political parties and none. The group that stands out most is Stobbie 4 Aye. Stobswell is a working class area in Dundee and played home to a team of local activists that mobilised and radicalised hundreds of voters, contributing strongly to why Dundee enjoyed the highest Yes vote in the country.

There was even a fleeting moment on the afternoon of the vote when, after a particularly successful canvas in the Kirkton estate, I bought into the hype and thought that we might win. I had just spoken to a 45 year old man who said he had never voted before, but was voting Yes. 'This may sound deluded' I said to my equally optimistic friend, 'but if the estates in other parts of the country turn out and vote the same way then I don't see how we can lose.'

Unfortunately they didn't. For whatever reason, large numbers of working class voters across Inverclyde, Falkirk, Ayrshire and other parts of the country joined pensioners and the middle classes to turn out in even larger numbers to vote No. They may have been quieter and kept a lower profile throughout much of the campaign, but their votes were just as valid and they won the day.

YouGov's analysis suggests that the class dimension didn't really run as strong as we expected (it did in some parts, like Glasgow and Dundee, but didn't run as deep nationally) and that NO actually won in almost every single age-group (with 25-39 providing the only exception).

So what do you do when you watch a political project and worldview come crashing down from the widespread rejection of the masses? You mourn, and, needless to say, I made for pretty bad company for the next few days.

The morning after the result I ran into a tall, abrasive gentleman who wearing a kilt. He saw my Yes badge and stopped to tell me that the British State had rigged the vote and he would see to it that there would be a full investigation and a re-run of the vote. I didn't know what to say. Unfortunately he is representative of a wider streak of the movement, with over 80,000 people signing a petition to demand an investigation into vote rigging. Perhaps they have a point, but is it really so inconceivable that 55% of the electorate simply disagreed with us?

Amidst the disappointment there are strong grounds for optimism. The No vote came following a campaign that relied on the full weight of the British state, but even so the prevailing mood is for devolution to be extended. There are some calling for another referendum as soon as possible, but another No vote would almost certainly kill the question for a generation. Certainly, in the short term, the Scottish Government has to work with the 45% who voted Yes, and many of those who voted No, in holding the Westminster party leaders' feet to the fire and ensuring that the ambitious timetable for change is delivered.

There is definitely a strong mood for doing so, with SNP membership increasing by almost 20,000 since the results were declared and the party on route to another landslide election win in 2016. Outwith the narrow confines of party politics, Scotland has seen the politicisation of a new generation that is hungry for change and want something better than business as usual. The campaign groups will no doubt continue in different forms, but in the meantime the General Election in 2015 will undoubtedly serve as a referendum on Westminster's progress. If the SNP continues eating into Labour strongholds, as it did last week, then it may even result in a minority Labour government that is dependent on Nationalist votes to pass legislation.

The expectations have already given Westminster a political headache. Gordon Brown has reiterated his commitment to enhancing devolution, but especially with Labour in opposition he is in no place to deliver it from the back benches. In contrast potential future Tory leader Boris Johnson has condemned the cross-party vow to give more powers and David Cameron has used it to snare the Labour Party with attempts to tie the issue of devolution to the question of English votes for English laws.

The short term heat may be on Labour, but in the long term it will be turned on the wider political class. The stakes could not be higher. The successful implementation of devolution could entrench the union for another generation. However, the election of yet another Tory government that is unaccountable to Scots, and a failure to deliver on even the basic pledges, would result in a widespread and fully justified sense of disillusion and disappointment, and very possibly another referendum.