The Vitality of Yes
At the end of this remarkable year, what stands out most clearly for me is that the Yes campaign has changed Scotland in ways that will continue to shape our politics and indeed our lives. People stop me in the street almost every day to talk about their own experience of the referendum campaign. The word they use most frequently to describe the process is ‘awakening’. The word most often used to recall how it felt is ‘uplifting’.
The referendum has given us a stronger sense of who we are and what we value. I believe democracy itself is stronger now in Scotland. So what are the signs of this change and of the vitality of Yes?
Perhaps most importantly, many of those who were previously disenfranchised and disengaged now feel quite rightly that they have an equal part to play in determining the future of their country.
And while that future is still under discussion, the direction of travel is clear. People want the important decisions that affect their lives to be made in Scotland – how we create new jobs, protect the vulnerable, share our wealth. I accept that a majority voted this year to try to achieve these new powers and these better outcomes while remaining part of the UK. Time will tell if that is possible. I don’t believe it is, and I believe that many more people will come to that conclusion in their own time.
Young people are now much more engaged in serious political debate – not just the brilliant young speakers who emerged on public platforms all around the country, but the many others who turned out to campaign, to converse, and finally to vote.
The Scottish independence movement has broadened and deepened in dramatic fashion. The SNP will always be central and prominent, but lots of people joined the campaign from all sorts of non-political backgrounds and the issue became much bigger than party politics. In that sense alone, Scotland has changed forever.
Those many thousands of Yes Scotland volunteers and supporters are still possessed of conviction and determination, the belief that change is necessary and possible. People felt – some for the first time – a confidence in their country and a renewed commitment to the wellbeing of their fellow citizens.
There is a mass movement now convinced that real change can happen if we work to make it happen. That is why the Yes parties and groups seem to have all the enthusiasm and the energy, and almost all of the ideas.
More people than ever before now believe that Scotland has the resources, the wealth and the talent to flourish as an independent nation. There is a new self-confidence around, more than strong enough to survive the disappointment of defeat in September.
The referendum has left a great legacy for Scotland, a population that is energised and enthused by the prospect of a better nation. And that is largely attributable to how the broad and diverse Yes movement conducted itself.
We talked passionately and peacefully for more than two years about what we cared about as a society, what kind of people and country we are. We talked about stuff that matters.
People of all ages, cultures and backgrounds got involved. It brought folk together, giving them a sense of community and of being part of something bigger. It was a team game. Everyone in the Yes movement played their part.
The people embraced the grassroots campaign and took ownership of it. Very significantly, power has now shifted to the people and politicians of all parties will have to adapt to that shift. There will be no more of the old deference, no more leaving things to the wisdom of either the experts or the elected.
The positive tone and democratic conduct of the campaign were important. I know it was the generous, open and inclusive nature of Yes that brought in people whose starting position was sceptical towards independence. That spirit has to be maintained.
Another big feature of the campaign was perseverance. People did not lose heart when the polls didn’t shift much in 2013, at a time when no one outside the Yes campaign (and not everyone inside it) believed we could get to 40% let alone 50%. People trusted their own judgement that there was movement towards us as a direct result of their own campaigning. From this experience, I think the belief in conversion through conversation is now hard-wired into the broader Yes movement.
The many parts of the campaign created many different spaces for participation. It was a social as much as a political movement. There was a lot of confidence and creativity – and diversity. It became a campaign characterised by self-expression just as much as self-determination. And people enjoyed it!
It is already clear that the grassroots nature of the Yes movement will continue, that the sense of purpose and direction holds strong, and there is a determination to keep that energy going.
We cannot make progress by leaving half the population behind, which is why continuing dialogue is essential. And from my own experience before and after the referendum, I know there were many No voters who came close to voting Yes. We have to continue to find common ground with them.
The dream of Scottish independence that was once a marginal preoccupation has now become not just a mainstream aspiration, but something very close to a majority view in Scotland. Perhaps it already is, if recent polls are to be believed.
I’ve spoken to lots of folk since the referendum – journalists and academics, Yes voters and No voters, observers from other countries who looked on with great interest and a degree of wonder. I have certainly met people with widely differing explanations as to why the result went the way it did. But in all those many conversations, I have yet to meet anyone who believes there will not be a second referendum.
I wish everyone in the Yes movement a very happy Christmas and New Year. We should be proud of all we achieved in 2014, and look forward to next year with great hope and determination.