"Where do we go from here?" That is a question much easier asked than answered. Was it the campaign; was it the question? I happen to think it was both, not that the question was wrong but that it was being asked of an electorate that for the past 25 years has become used to having independence downplayed by the supposed "party of independence". That same electorate was not fooled either, by the sleight of hand of the SNP, attempting to present an economic policy that quite plainly told them independence was not on offer. It was easy for the No campaign to highlight the dishonesty of the Yes side, despite their own campaign of blatant dishonesty and hypocrisy. Perhaps now, those dedicated and sincere people who desperately wanted independence, will accept that electoral success for the SNP is not the same as persuading Scots of the benefits of independence, so that however dishonest the Unionists are, independence will become the priority and will be delivered.
Perhaps instead of asking just "Where it all went wrong?" we should also ask "When did it all start to go wrong?" I firmly believe it started to go wrong long before the referendum campaign started; in fact I believe it started to go wrong for the SNP and the cause of independence some time before the 1987 Westminster general election. I realise that many of my critics will stop reading now, but many of them have little or no knowledge of the history of the SNP and how much the strategy and tactics of the party have changed throughout that period. Many others are not Nationalists, therefore the class politics, in which the SNP has indulged, chimes with their own view of what the party should stand for and how it should campaign. The failure of the referendum to achieve independence, should surely make them at least examine if the strategy of the last 25 years was correct.
The SNP did not fight a Nationalist campaign in 1987, it fought an anti-Thatcher campaign and did no more than talk up the Labour vote in Scotland. The 1983 campaign had been a disaster for the party, which spent more time dealing with the problems created by the activities of the 79 Group and the SNG, than it did campaigning. Prior to 1987, the party made a pact with Plaid Cymru in Wales, part of which entailed being prepared to keep a Labour government in power in Westminster in return for constitutional change, but rejecting any deal with the Tories for any reason. It was the first time the party had fought any kind of election on a purely class agenda and under the influence of Alex Salmond, who had been elected VC Publicity, the party talked up the likelihood of a hung parliament in Westminster, under the slogan, "If there is going to be a hung parliament, let it hang by a Scottish rope". There was strong internal opposition to the hung parliament scenario and keeping a Unionist party in power, as there was never any chance of a hung parliament. The strategy was a disaster and I wrote in the Scots Independent after the election, "Dundee East and Western Isles were sacrificed on the altar of anti-Thatcherism".
In his book, "SNP: The Turbulent Years" Gordon Wilson wrote, "...the central belt strategy had collapsed and with the loss of Dundee East in particular, we no longer had parliamentary representation in any industrial area." The vote was increased by 2.4% to 14% from the 1983 vote of 11.8% and the number of MPs increased from 2 to 3, so that the spin became, "We increased our parliamentary strength by 50%". Labour's vote went up from 35% in 1983 to 42.4% and their MPs increased from 41 to 50 (the famous Feeble Fifty). The vast majority of SNP supporters are unaware that the party has consistently failed to achieve the 30.4% of the vote won in October 1974 which returned 11 MPs to Westminster. In 2010 the party polled 19.9% which returned 6 MPs, the highest number elected under Alex Salmond's leadership. No one can deny the tremendous success of the party in the Scottish Parliament but it also has to be recognised that proportional representation gave it the kick start it needed. Under proportional representation for Westminster, the SNP would have returned 22 MPs in October 1974, a result which could have produced a much different outcome for the party in 1979. The class politics, which has been the strategy of the SNP during Alex Salmond's twenty years as leader, has obviously brought success in the Scottish Parliament but it has alienated the substantial number of natural conservative voters in Scotland and it has failed to convert Scots to the cause of independence. YouGov's latest poll shows that only 8% of Tory voters voted Yes while 20% of SNP voters voted No.
The campaign run by the No side was a travesty and was well named "Project Fear" but anyone who has been involved in politics in Scotland for any length of time, should have been ready to counter both that and the solid Unionist misrepresentation of the media, particularly the BBC and tabloids like the Daily and Sunday Mail. The Yes Campaign was hardly helped by the protestations of its Chairman Dennis Canavan, and others, when he proclaimed, "I am not a Nationalist" at every opportunity. He was aided and abetted by SNP office bearers like Humza Yousaf who regularly declared, "It is not about kilts, haggis, identity..." That proclaimed to the world that there was something wrong, pernicious and perhaps dangerous, with Scottish Nationalism and that it was better avoided, despite the fact that even the media was prepared to concede there had never been any hint of racism or sectarianism associated with the SNP and the independence movement, despite the best efforts of George Galloway to insinuate that there was. Ironically his colleagues and fellow Unionists in the Loyalists showed us where the racism and sectarianism could be found, when they attacked Yes supporters in George Square in Glasgow. The No side lapped it up, attacking the dangers of Nationalism at every turn. The Yes campaign was a class campaign, an appeal to the disadvantaged, pure and simple, an appeal to Labour voters, doing nothing to promote the culture and identity of the Scottish nation, the things that identify us as Scots to the rest of the world.
If there was one issue that sunk the Yes campaign more than any other, it was the currency. I have written about it at length and won't repeat the arguments now, as they can be read in several previous blogs. It was an insult to peoples' intelligence to argue that a currency union would give Scots control of the economic levers we need, in order to run our own economy when not just the opposition were pointing out, if a currency union was agreed at all, that allowing another country to control monetary policy, together with agreements on borrowing and spending, would deny us independence. The argument, "it is our pound as well as theirs" was infantile and demeaning. The failure to deal with the currency gave rise to several other concerns such as pensions, debt repayment, the flight of capital and companies to England, the EU and the euro. Supporters were reduced to claiming the currency union was merely a "short term measure", while the leadership was stating they expected/hoped it would last for many years. It is astonishing that the leadership allowed themselves and therefore the campaign, to enter the fight so obviously unprepared for the opposing arguments. The obvious answer for any country renewing its status as a nation state, is to have its own currency, which it can then manage as it sees fit. Why that option was never discussed, even to explain why the leadership rejected it, was never explained.
The one encouraging outcome of the referendum campaign is the energy it has released among the population, particularly the young. I have no confidence that Westminster will keep to the promises of greater powers for the Scottish parliament, particularly now that the English have realised what is happening. The timetable has already slipped and will slip further. I would be more encouraged by the enormous increase in the SNP's membership if I could be sure of the kind of strategy and platform the party will adopt. If it is more of the same, it is likely the result of another referendum will be the same. No nation that aspires to statehood can afford to alienate an entire section of its population by campaigning exclusively for another section, no nation can create a stable and successful society by fighting a predominantly class war.