How the UK’s Establishment Stamped on Scottish Independence
The reason Scotland did not win its independence is that the UK’s establishment saw to it that the country did not even get an independent vote. (Photo: flickr / cc / cam)
Just a month ago the UK’s London-based political parties looked positively disinterested in Scotland’s independence referendum, being comfortable voters would reject the idea. In fact back in 2012 David Cameron had the option of Devo-Max (maximised Scottish self-control within the UK) exempted from the ballot paper – presumably in the belief that Scots would be too scared to choose full independence, meaning he could completely avoid handing more power to the already-devolved Scottish government.
Initially, the independence referendum was a straight battle for hearts and minds, between the leading Better Together unionist campaign and the trailing Yes independence campaign, spearheaded by the Scottish National Party (SNP) – the current Scottish government. However, as polling day approached, a surge of enthusiasm for independence indicated London’s complacent attitude was ill-founded. Momentum was suddenly with the Yes camp and, if left unchecked, was making Scotland’s break from the UK a distinct possibility. London’s political class panicked.
What followed belied any idea that democracy operates within UK politics. The compromised BBC, the business world, military chiefs, a host of celebrities, and of course the Westminster political elite, acted out a broadside assault on the consciousness of the Scottish voters. From Bill Clinton to Paul McCartney famous but non-Scottish people all began weighing in over the voices of actual Scots. How and why they all suddenly flooded the UK media can only be imagined, but these outsiders mostly urged the No vote – almost in direct proportion to how closely they were aligned to the UK’s establishment. Meanwhile political anti-independence tactics were getting downright nasty.
People should of course feel free to express their opinions, but should outside opinions drown out voter opinions, just because they emanate from establishment and media-friendly figures? Imagine the uproar were Tony Blair or David Bowie to wade into a US election trying to sway voters one way or another. But poor little Scotland, with just 5.3 million people, was somehow deemed as needing all this outside help to make the right decision.
The lack of respect for a balanced democratic process in which a nation has its own internal discussion lies with many and is culturally ingrained – from the household names and celebrities who expect the media to headline their comments, to the media outlets themselves that dutifully comply. The resultant distortion that formed the UK media’s non-stop diet of anti-independence voices was central to the defeat of the Yes campaign, with most voices actually coming from outside Scotland.
The UK media handled the referendum as if it was a UK rather than a Scottish affair. And of course it was a UK affair. So the interesting question arises as to why the whole of the UK was not voting. Suppose the rest of the UK had a vote and requested Scotland to leave the union. Would it not then be democratic that Scotland was effectively pushed into independence? Should any nation be forced to govern a people they don’t want to govern? Such questions are universally suppressed as the political mind has no concept of too much power. In any case, the Westminster political elite could never risk such a UK-wide vote, knowing that its exposure of internal UK divides would have increased support for Scottish independence. Instead, the entire UK establishment just brought its full influence to bear on a supposedly Scotland-only vote, thereby creating a travesty of democracy.
In the game of numbers, the establishment knew exactly what it had to do. Given that more than 90% of the UK lives outside Scotland and that the UK establishment is by definition pro-union, all that was required was for the powers that be to make a big enough noise through the media to drown out Scotland’s own voice. This approach was augmented by a sudden last-minute and hypocritical pledge from all three Westminster party leaders in which they effectively changed the No vote into the Devo-Max option that Cameron had previously taken off the ballot paper. As SNP leader Alex Salmond put it, “We know the Westminster establishment will throw everything – the kitchen sink and probably most of the living room – at the Scottish people over the next week.”
Meanwhile, Scotland simply didn’t have enough big names to compete in the UK media frenzy. So the fact that many of Scotland’s own biggest personalities backed independence and were willing to do something about it didn’t matter for media outlets more interested in bigger names and audience figures, than in balanced reporting based on critical thinking.
Have no doubt – the Scottish independence project was wholly different from Europe’s rising tide of xenophobic right-wing nationalism – the SNP being significantly more open to immigration and multicultural values than Westminster. Other forward-thinking SNP ideas stamped on by the UK establishment include a rejection of the collusion between big money and Westminster’s politics, a rejection of Scotland being a subservient nuclear-armed pawn to the UK’s position within NATO, and a pro-ecology scrapping of Cameron’s Frack For Britain project. More positively, the SNP is committed to prioritising the basics like quality education and health for all – as opposed to economic profit and creeping privatisation of key social infrastructure. The UK’s conservative elite had plenty of the wrong reasons to panic.
In short, the reason Scotland did not win its independence is that the UK’s establishment saw to it that the country did not even get an independent vote.
It is notable that Glasgow, Dundee and other less wealthy parts voted for independence, whereas Scotland’s more prosperous areas voted against it. Given that Scotland is generally far poorer than England’s dominant South-East, extrapolation of this voting tendency only further emphasises how the UK establishment influence coloured the result. But already the UK media is busy burying that truth as Scotland’s decision.
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John Hopkins is a Scottish-born freelance writer currently living in France. Email him at johnhopkins [at] orange.fr