During a general election, the electorate will cast their vote based on conflicting ideologies. Alternatively in the referendum, there are people who share with ‘Yes’ voters the same disdain for shameful levels of income inequality, a loathsomely skewed wealth distribution, and a host of other flaws of the British state, whilst voting ‘No’. ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ voters can share the exact same objectives; where the difference lies is strategy.
Groups like the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) have successfully managed to engage a previously disillusioned electorate. This form of enfranchisement should be considered a resounding success of the independence debate as a whole. Nowhere else in the rest of the UK is engaging in the political discourse as much as Scotland. However, despite the just condemnation by groups on the Left of zero hour contracts, welfare cuts and the growing need for food banks, they fail to articulate exactly how a ‘Yes’ vote will achieve such radical social changes. How will we redress the inequalities that the neoliberal agenda has created, especially when the dominant political force shaping an independent Scotland will be the Scottish National Party (SNP), a party promoting a more deregulated, low-business tax economy?
A ‘Yes’ vote, despite being supported by a wide range of groups on the Left, will ultimately be a vote that is on the SNP’s terms. During the period immediately after the referendum, constitutional arrangements will be made, and heavy-handed negotiations with Westminster will take place. One could argue that due to the plurality of different political groups campaigning for independence, a broad range of political ideas will be manifested within a post-referendum Scotland. This view however, given the mandate of the White Paper which is the basis of this referendum, ignores the conflict of objectives amongst these groups. Achieving social justice cannot be reconciled with a fall in the rate of corporation tax as set out in the White Paper.
A ‘No’ vote can outwardly be understood by many as a vote for the status quo. Such has been the nature of the ‘No’ side’s campaign that it has focused on technical reasons in opposition to independence; issues like currency, pensions and oil are naturally a cause for concern. Significant as these issues are, the perception has developed that the ‘No’ campaign has failed to provide an aspirational vision for Scotland. This view fails to recognise that the Left can support a ‘No’ vote and strive for social justice, within the parameters of the UK.
For example, alternative strategies for Scotland following a ‘No’ vote include most importantly a further devolved government, with greater fiscal autonomy for Holyrood. The referendum has acted as a catalyst for change, and with such an overwhelming surge in political engagement, reform will follow. Moreover, we can even push for a United Kingdom that incorporates a radical federalism. Although this idea has barely been touched upon, and of course it is a long-term prospect, there is no reason why we can’t consider alternative structures of governance, especially when ‘Yes’ supporters can equally hypothesise about the future of Scotland.
Some people will propound the notion that ‘Yes’ voters are seeking nationalism as an objective itself, yet we should not undermine the many who reasonably feel disillusioned with the Westminster machine. Equally, those voting ‘No’ should not be castigated for their alleged affirmation of the status quo. The capacity to embody change and aspiration through a ‘No’ vote is present, difficult though it may be. There is an urgent need for reform, but independence is not the only strategy through which the Left’s objectives can be achieved.