For me, May 6 will always be remembered in quotes: from Mike Russell’s magnanimous victory speech to Labour apparatchiks’ tired attempts to wish the result away on-air, right through to the choice words from Tom Nairn, Alasdair Gray, Hugh MacDiarmid that dominated my Twitter feed yesterday. This was a day for memorable turns of phrase, for noble sentiments proudly enunciated, but the words that really resonated, that will stay with me long after the dust, didn’t come not from the great and the not-so-great. They came from those closest to me.
‘I felt like I was walking into a different Scotland,’ a good friend in Edinburgh – who, like myself, is an Irish émigré here – texted yesterday morning. That afternoon I bumped into an English guy I play football with. We’d never talked about politics before, we might never do so again, but yesterday we did. He’d voted SNP in both votes, yet doesn’t support independence: ‘I’m English, for god’s sake. But I like what I’ve seen here in the last couple of years.’
There has been countless column inches dedicated to why the SNP won such a huge victory – doubtless even as I type this more shotgun analysis is being sprayed across print, the web, radio, television – so I’m not going to bore you here with my own tuppence worth on that. Likewise, I think the psephologist’s view on the prospects of a ‘yes’ vote in an independence referendum are hardly worth the iPad they’re printed on given the SNP’s performance on Thursday. Instead here are a few chaotic impressions from the worse kind of emigrant, the indolent hack, on what yesterday – and tomorrow – might mean.
First off, this could be a start – but not the end – of a victory for what Hardt and Negri would call ‘subaltern nationalism’ in Scotland, a vision of a society based not on exclusive notions of belonging and identity but on open-ended dialogues. A future Scotland based not on ethnicity, on romantic notions of Braveheart and Bannockburn, but on social justice and sustainability. A Scotland not of rabid Anti-Englishness but of myriad cultures and creeds. The ‘could’ at the start of this paragraph is intentional – yesterday’s stunning result, and even a successful independence referendum, are a sine qua non but not necessary and sufficient, to borrow the language of logic.
This future Scotland is in no way inevitable, it will have to be fought for against the forces of conservatism, both within the SNP itself and across the Scottish political system. It will also need a credible, coherent vision that can unite all those who live in Scotland – and not just all Scots (again that’s the émigré talking) – to create a genuinely democratic, post-national space, separate and distinct from the increasingly lopsided pull of Westminster.
Arguably the most remarkable aspect of yesterday’s vote, from where I was watching in the centre of Edinburgh, was not the scale of the SNP’s victory, nor the rush of the London media north of the border to cover what I’d been assured was a ‘dull’, ‘uninteresting’ election whenever I pitched an idea to an editorial desk south of the Watford Gap. Instead it was the intangible, but marked, change in atmosphere that seems to permeate the city, a intravenous shot of self-belief that I had never felt before in over seven years, on and off, of living in Scotland. As another Irish emigrant friend (yes, there’s lots of us!) said, ‘I didn’t even vote for the SNP but you can almost feel the sense of something big happening, something changing, as you walk around the streets’.
Scotland has shown that it is no longer content to be a second-class satellite of a union that is built on a global city and a depressed, and increasingly unloved hinterland. Now is the time to start defining what it wants to be instead.
The SNP won this election on a positive vision for Scotland, winning independence (I know I said I wouldn’t write about it but…) will require this and then some. The squeezing of the Greens on Thursday was one of the rare downsides of the day, but their message must not be lost. An independent Scotland is worth nothing if it is built on smoke and mirrors finance and rapacious multinationals attracted by rock bottom corporation tax rates – only a sustainable, green Scotland, one in which the fallacy of continuous growth is finally abandoned, can actually succeed in building on the change that so many voted for on Thursday.
Finally, I would hope that this election, paradoxically, brings the dissolution of the SNP one step closer. There is no place for a nationalist party in an independent nation, and I look forward to the day in which the various strands of the SNP, left, right, green, pro-business, separate out into their constituent parts in an independent Scotland. For now, though, the challenge is constructing and articulating a compelling vision of Scotland based not on oil and banking but renewables and community. Impossible? Well, that’s what they said about an SNP majority in Holyrood.