Not this time, but it could yet be.
The assertion that the 2014 Scottish referendum was a victory for democracy has been repeated ad nauseum by both the two campaigns and interested onlookers at home and abroad. Comforting though this notion may be, in reality it is not only nonsensical, but extremely dangerous for the future of the movement for independence.
The democratic revival of Scotland which has been witnessed over the past years and months was solely and entirely a result of the passion, commitment and drive of the yes campaign. From nothing and with little resources, we built up and ran a campaign by the people for the people. We reinvigorated the nation through political empowerment and we engaged hundreds of thousands of people and their visions and hopes for the future, many of them for the first time. We spoke to our friends, families and colleagues and we spoke to folk on the bus, in the pub and on the doorstep. We campaigned with badges and stickers, blogs and social media, good humour and camaraderie. We held meetings in schools, churches and village halls across the country. The world looked on with astonishment and admiration.
With our humble resources but bold convictions, we took on the full might, wealth and influence of the British state, corporate and media powers. We took on those who fear democracy and the threat it poses to their privilege and status, those who fear an informed and engaged electorate with vision, hope and imagination, because they want us to believe that there is no alternative and that we are powerless to change anything. Apathy and ignorance were their most powerful weapons. 'If you don't know, vote no', they implored us. They called themselves 'Project Fear' and they set out to terrify us into oblivion, their scare stories and lies faithfully and unquestioningly disseminated by the unionist media and corroborated by banks and big business.
This was a fight between a truly grassroots democratic movement campaigning for democracy and a reactionary, anti-democratic campaign terrified of just that and doing all it could to prevent it. And we lost. Democracy lost. To speak of a victory for democracy is absurd. Ours is a story of failure. We gave all we had, but ultimately it wasn't enough against the power of the corrupt state, corporate and media elites. The unprecedented turnout of voters on Thursday was thanks mainly to those who turned up at the last minute to vote against democracy when it began to look likely that we, the empowered, the 45, might dare to vote for it.
Yes, we saw a glimpse of true democracy in Scotland this year. It was inspiring, it was beautiful, it was empowering. It offered so much hope and optimism that its failure on Thursday left many of us bereft and in the depths of despair. We have wept and sobbed at the scale of missed opportunity and the fear of what is now to befall us, once again a powerless minority at the mercy of an uncaring Westminster elite. We have fumed with frustration at the ignorance and fear and self-interest of those who voted no and we have seethed with injustice at the corruption, power and influence of those who drove them to do so.
Yet in all the disappointment, we have much to take great strength from. In the face of huge adversity, we achieved tremendously. Despite everything that we were up against, everything they threw at us, we came away with 45% of the vote on a turnout of over 84%, with solid wins in our biggest city of Glasgow as well as in Dundee, North Lanarkshire, and West Dunbartonshire, and excruciatingly close votes elsewhere (e.g. Invercylde 49.92/50.08). 1.6 million of us saw through the intimidation, scaremongering, sheer lies and empty promises of the no-campaign and voted for the ability to govern ourselves and the ability to build a better and fairer society. The young, the future of this country, and the working classes, voted overwhelmingly for change.
45% of Scotland experienced true democracy and empowerment and we are not going anywhere. We are devastated, we are hurting, but we are wiping away our tears, catching up on sleep and sustenance, and regrouping and planning our next moves. We will emerge from this period of grieving stronger, more knowledgeable and more determined than ever before.
But, as I wrote at the beginning of this article, not only is it nonsensical to speak about a victory for democracy this year, it is extremely dangerous for the future of our movement. We lost not because our cause was wrong or our arguments not strong enough, but because we were denied a fair and democratic debate. We lost because the people of Scotland were shafted by the unionist politicians and media and terrified and duped into voting no.
We must try not to direct our disappointment, anger and frustration at the no voters, but at those who fed them lies and treated them with contempt. If we are to win next time, it is imperative that we draw the attention of the 55% who voted no to the relentless lies and misinformation which came from the unionist campaign, and to the staggering bias of the media which printed and reported them unchallenged, whilst smearing the yes campaign and subjecting it to deliberate misrepresentation and omission.
We need to make sure they know that of the 37 national and daily newspapers which guided them through the debate, most of them were owned and/or controlled outwith Scotland and not one of them supported independence. Not one of them. We need to tell them that the BBC exposed itself as a national disgrace, a mouthpiece of the British state. Tell them that we tried to make them aware of this during the campaign, thousands of us even attending peaceful demonstration after peaceful demonstration outside their headquarters, but that this was never reported or taken seriously.
We need to tell them that the unionist campaign's dramatic announcement of a cross party commitment to new powers just days before the vote was politically illegal, breaking the rules of the immediate pre-vote period. During this period, it is morally forbidden, if legally unenforceable, to announce any new initiatives which could be advantageous to any side in the forthcoming vote, or which may commit any incoming new administration to policies which it wouldn't support. The no-campaign demonstrated complete contempt for the voters and for democracy.
Tell them that not only was this 'vow' politically illegal, but that it has already been broken. Where is the timetable for new powers that was pledged to published on the 19th September? Make sure that no voters know they have been lied to and tricked into voting no.
Tell them that the option of definitively voting for devo-max was denied to them by Westminster, who back at the very beginning rejected the Scottish Government's proposal for three questions on the ballot and demanded a yes-no, in-out referendum, fully aware that in doing so they were denying the majority in Scotland the ability to express their true opinion.
If we are to get the majority we need for the next referendum, we must stop indulging in vainglorious self-congratulation about how great a victory we have achieved for democracy and wake up to the fact that we failed, that democracy failed. We need to accept that although we achieved much, it wasn't enough this time, and that in order to make it enough, the no voters need to be made aware of just how much of a travesty of democracy the referendum campaign was. And we yes campaigners know better than anyone else that we have not had a fair and democratic debate. If it had been that, we would be celebrating a resounding victory right now, not waking up sobbing.
So let's say that the yes campaign sparked the beginnings of a democratic revival. Let's say that we demonstrated real grassroots democracy in action. Let's say that winning 45% of the vote was a tremendous and proud achievement and from which we should all take huge hope and encouragement for the future. But let's stop saying that democracy won. It did not win because the other side demonstrated contempt for democracy and did everything in its power to stop it. And it did. The truly democratic side, the side ran by the people and for the people, lost.
Far from a victory for democracy, the 2014 referendum was a profound failure. But it will win in the future and to ensure that victory comes as quickly and definitively as possible, we need make clear at every opportunity just how undemocratic and unfair this campaign has been. We need to make the 55% aware how they have been lied to and treated with contempt for the past 3 years. We might not even have to try very hard. It is already becoming clear that the unionist parties are not going to deliver on their promise of new powers. Many no voters will already be questioning their vote and what they have been told. And as the 55% become aware just how shafted they have been, 45% could turn into a solid yes majority much sooner than we expect.