The Mirror of Elections

I often think Elections can act as a mirror reflection of who and what societies are at that moment in time. Reflections that we perhaps didn’t even recognise in ourselves. The General Election on Thursday certainly did that and, for Scotland, it has shown us something really quite remarkable. It reminded us of what our modern Scotland now wants. We want to be European, we want so much better than austerity politics, and we want to make our own decisions.

Equally importantly, however, the election results down south have allowed us to see an England that is pretty much the exact opposite of the kind of society we want. England voted Brexit and they voted the party of austerity. These two election results, then, raise one of the most fundamental issues in the history of our Union: What Scotland wants is now completely incompatible with England, and the strength of our vote means we are clear, solid and confident in what we want.

I think Scotland made the decision to become independent last Thursday. I don’t think we have realised that yet, but I think that’s what we’ve just done. I am not saying that people went to the polls and actively ticked a box hoping that would make us independent. Some did, but that is not the case for most of us yet. But the momentum now gathering in Scotland means that something shifted last Thursday. A combination of intentional decisions and uncontrollable political circumstances have created a Scotland that has now changed to its very core.
Looking through a historian’s lens, I can’t help but see ideas and societies as they shift and evolve over time. It is the psychology of a nation I am fascinated about, as they grow and change, without us even realising those changes are happening. Sometimes societies trundle on, slowly moving and at other times they seem to explode with huge seismic change, shooting societies into all types of directions.

Over the past 5 years, Scotland and England have experienced such seismic change. And these changes have jolted our nations forward into very different positions to the point where – at its most fundamental level – we cannot occupy the same political or social space anymore. Our countries have, quite literally, shot off into different directions to the point where we hardly know each other.

Scotland decided that the Trump-dealed, post-Brexit future of England is simply not for us. I felt grief the first few days after the election and it’s a grief for a lost UK I think. A destroyed NHS. A punishing welfare system, work till yir bones break. no rights. Deep, structural, explosive crisis. It’s a country in turmoil and our friends down south will suffer from those ravaging punishing policies as a result. I grieve for the people who will be victims to these punishing cruel policies.

But the grief was also a recognition that there is now no going back for the Union. Scotland and England voted so differently that there seems to be no event or shift that can re-align our nations back within this Union. Scotland rejected what England wants. We rejected austerity. We rejected the decimation of our social services. We rejected the sell-off of our NHS. We voted to protect our people. Had events been slightly different – a Labour government say – then this election might have been less definitive for us. But the Brexiteering Tory government that England elected means there is no going back for either country now.

We simply want very different things. At a basic constitutional level, Thursday showed us – for the umpteenth time – we want to be European. As sure as England and Wales voted to Brexit, Scotland voted to remain. And we have been clear on this time and time again: the referendum, the European Elections and again at the General Election last Thursday. We want to be part of Europe. And large parts of England don’t.

But here is the thing. Scotland voted for Europe knowing full well that we might have to do this without the UK. We knew this when we went to the polls. This was not a choice we wanted to make. Had England not gone down the extreme Brexiteering path, we might have made different choices also. But that election forced us to choose between the UK and Europe and we have just emphatically chosen Europe. For Scotland, it seems, being part of Europe is more now important than being part of the UK. And given how the UK election results panned out, the UK option has all but disappeared for us now.

And this takes us to the final most important point about Thursday. Because we voted for something much more fundamental than staying in Europe. We voted to make our own decisions. That is exactly what we did, and it should not be underestimated. The implications of this decision are huge. Scotland’s biggest decision in modern political history was the emphatic demand that we make our own decisions. And asserting that within an increasingly totalitarian Union of Nations is a fundamentally nation-changing act.

We knew this was a make or break election; for all nations, and it consolidated deep- seated changes for us all. England finally broke its European bond. For Scotland, however, it broke some of the last bonds of our 300-year -old Union with England. Because this election saw Scotland considering our position within the world and, as a consequence, our position within the Union. And what we did on Thursday was to stand outside the UK system and make a simple decision: Scotland now makes its own decisions.

Scotland’s psychology has shifted. That demand to take control and decide our own future shows a nation that’s already making its own decisions: completely independent from the UK’s. I think the vote on Thursday showed a nation that is now thinking and acting independently. And that is an absolutely pivotal – no essential – event for a country thinking about independence.

Now that doesn’t mean everyone in Scotland wants independence, of course. I am talking more about the shift in our collective psychology as a nation. And we are not quite there yet. But if we think of the rapidly changing nature of the UK over the last 5 years, Scotland was forced to make a decision, and we instinctively recoiled against the UK and everything that it now represents. I don’t think we know quite what that means for us as a nation just yet. But the marriage analogy suits us well: Scotland might not be sure about being single again, but it definitely doesn’t want to be married anymore.

Political circumstances have created two vastly different nations on vastly different paths. I think, when all is said and done, England voted for Brexit knowing they may lose Scotland. Scotland voted for Europe knowing we may lose the UK. Scotland has just made a bracing decision, and political circumstances now mean that there is no going back. And Scotland’s only way of moving forward is to reflect on what has just happened, decide what that now means for us and what we will now become.

For us Yes supporters, of course, it’s good news mainly. It doesn’t mean we inevitably win independence. It just means that it is ours to lose. Because there are many that sit on the cusp of knowing they don’t want the Union but scared of the implications of that. For many others the ties to the Union are still strong. As a nation Scotland must coalesce around the decision that we have just made, debating, deciding and planning for what this all now means for us. And we must be sympathetic to those who struggle with the path we have just taken.


Comments (23)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I wear a prominent SNP badge on my Jacket. Today, as I walked down the road, I was stopped by someone who told me they had just moved from England. His story mirrors this piece almost exactly. His wife is Russian and she has been subject to negativity in the South and he was appalled by what he saw as the gullibility of the English people, particularly those in the North that are even more disadvantaged than we are.

    Jeremy Corbyn’s heart is in the right place but he could not lead a Boys Brigade troop; Jo Swinton falls into the same category.. In England they had little choice and I’m sure that, given the chance, a significant number of those with any sense would have voted SNP.

  2. Tim says:

    I cried Friday afternoon for the misery the Tories have and will continue to cause. When we couldn’t afford to buy property in the South East of England, my family moved to rural Normandy where between two parents, two sons and the wife of one of the sons, we could afford a house and land for the cost of a 1 bedroom flat in Southern England. Brexit threatens our choice to be here, the French are pragmatic and social, but will follow the lead of this despicable government and only extend what is extended to their overseas citoyens. Prepare yourself Scotland, support for an Independent and European Scotland may be stronger than you think amongst your tired, destitute, brothers in the South.

  3. Daniel Raphael says:

    Thoughtful, well-written piece

  4. w.b. robertson says:

    Scots may want to be independent. Scots showed they wanted to be rid of Boris. But where is the hard evidence that Scots want to remain (or indeed rejoin) the EU?

    1. Dougie Blackwood says:

      Given independence that is a decision that we can make and I am sure the Scottish government will ask us but since 62% voted to remain I suspect that answer is clear.

    2. Marga says:

      What choice is there, England or Europe, or … you full the gap.

    3. Julian Smith says:

      The 2 parties that campaigned specifically with the message “Stop Brexit” won 51 out of 59 seats. Put another way, the Party that wanted to “Get Brexit done” won only 6 out of 59 seats. That sounds to me like pretty solid evidence of a desire not to leave Europe.

    4. Judith Brennan says:

      An interesting question. The electorate in Scotland voted against Tory policies, foremost among which is leaving the EU. The SNP’s stated aim is to remain a member of the EU, and Scotland voted predominantly for that, in the same way that England voted to ‘get Brexit done’. I’m not sure that is hard evidence, given that voter motivation is complex, but it may add weight to the notion that the Scottish electorate are pro-european.

    5. Scott McIntosh says:

      I would think our 62% vote to remain and the support for remain parties at the recent G>E> was pretty solid evidence Mr Robertson

  5. Jo says:

    I read this today from MacWhirter and now feel more depressed than ever.

    This Bella article by Siobhan is beautifully written but I see more very troubled times ahead.

    1. Marga says:

      Frankly, MacWhirter doesnt know what Europe will do. Europe doesnt know what Europe will do. The Catalán situation is pure corporativism, backing states instead of human rights, as usual but since the UK is leaving the club … strategic interests will probably prevail.

      1. MBC says:

        One big difference between us and Catalonia is that Spain has a written constitution. It’s quite recent, since Franco. But it states that Catalonia is an integral part of Spain. As are the other provinces. This means that it cannot unilaterally secede.

        But the UK doesn’t have a written constitution. We are only voluntarily bound by an international treaty.

  6. David Ross says:

    Emotion provoking writing. The one thing which I’m less sentimental about is that with Brexit undoubtedly being about English nationalism/independence (the percentage of England’s voters who thought anything at all of the other nations of the Union and the Union itself when voting for Brexit and then voting for ‘Let’s Get Brexit Done’ has to be pretty low). I can’t help feeling that if English independence is actually what they get then they really can’t complain. Seems to me that England has been on a journey to independence too.

  7. Craig P says:

    My no voting wife cried on Friday. It wasn’t just that we got a Conservative government. It was the start of the grieving process for the union. It was an emotion I recognised from 19 September 2014.

    Back then unionists, with UK assistance, defeated Scottish nationalists. But they will find English nationalists a more intractable foe, their actions made all the worse because Scottish unionists always believed the UK government was on their side. It isn’t, and that will become increasingly apparent to all but hardcore unionists in 2020.

    1. Susan Smith says:

      Indeed, Craig. Some of my friends are in the same boat as your wife. We need to give everyone like them to time to grieve

    2. Jo says:

      I cried last Friday too and I support independence. I sat up watching the results and couldn’t believe what was happening.

  8. MMT is right says:

    It reminded us of what our modern Scotland now wants. We want to be European, we want so much better than austerity politics, and we want to make our own decisions.

    So how do you do that in the neoliberal globalist EU ?

    No mention of that in the article.

    Scotland runs a 8% deficit in the UK. Which is Not austerity.

    Europe allows 3% which is austerity

    Have you thought this through ?

    1. Wul says:

      FFS Derek…you won! Get over it. We are leaving the EU. Haven’t you noticed?

      We may even create an independent Scotland soon. A country not in the EU. You will be able to make your anti-EU case in this new country where what people vote for actually matters. What’s not to like? Chill.

  9. Ross K says:

    I also cried on Thursday night but for different reasons – the prospect of endless requests for a 2nd referendum. I need a rest from politics.

    Me, my direct family and many friends all voted remain in the EU referendum but none of us voted for independence or for SNP. So to say that we belong to some group that is moving in a different direction from England is simply incorrect and you have no right to assume all EU remain voters are somehow part of this movement and therefore somehow support independence – we don’t.

    And to suggest there is some English nationalist movement is equaly inaccurate. If you look at the EU results Greater London was as much remain as Scotland and cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol were also remain – so there were regional variation all over the place. Is London heading in a different direction from the rest of England. Many areas that voted leave were voting against how deprived and poor their lives were (for many reasons) and the EU got the blame.

    Regarding indyref2 – why is there now such a mandate – there were more SNP seats at the 2015 election and the SNP polled 45% of the vote – similar to indyref1. Yes they have a large majority of seats but they already had this. This takes me back to the assumption that EU remain somehow means we want to become independent – it is clearly not the case.

    My final point on independence – the economic case. Please don’t talk about independence without at least recognising the economic case or lack off. It would be foolhardy to incite people to vote for independence without recognising our current economic position and suggesting that we are hard done by relative to the rest of the UK – we are not. Scotland currently spends an extra £1600/person on public services compared to England – ie we get more. However as a standalone country we run at annual deficit of 8% of GDP – 4 times the UK figure. This is not good and don’t try and blame it all on Westminster. If we were independent we would be faced with a very challenging financial position that would require spending cut backs, higher taxes or more borrowing or a combination of the three. Lets have an honest debate on this and not bury it from the public – they won’t thank you in ten years time when we become the next Greece.

    1. Julian Smith says:

      I would suggest that the debate you want has been under way for some time amongst those who have made an effort to examine the arguments for and against Independence. You have cited a number of factors, all of which can be argued against. The Sustainable Growth Commission Report accepts some of the handicaps you mention and proposes ways to overcome them. Others don’t accept that an independent Scotland would have any debt, nor that it would need to have a deficit. I won’t go into the rationale for creating a lack of self belief in a population but it wouldn’t do you any harm to get a different view of Scotland’s economic and financial potential by getting a copy of Scotland the Brief published by Business for Scotland at

      1. Ross Kinnear says:

        Thanks Julian – just read this today

        I did have a look at the link you sent – new territory for me but clearly a bit of an independent propaganda site – lots of optimism (for index that is). It confirms my fear for any chance of a reasoned and factual economic debate if we have an inde ref 2. There seems to be an amazing ability for people to take the same “factual” information and interpret it in very different ways to suit their views. When i first read the GERS report I hoped at least it would be viewed as an accurate point in time statement of Scotlands current finances although clearly it is does not attempt to take any view on the future. I see some people in other sites trying to discredit GERS so is there any factual position on Scotlands current financial position that people can agree on. There is clearly an agenda from some to create confusion and a false optimisim among the public based on non facts. As I have said on my other response I fear that there is potentially a horrendously bumpy path ahead for us if we were to go indy ref 2 and it were to vote YES. There could be 10 years of turmoil and for what. Ah maybe thats what politics is about – not for me.

    2. Douglas Wilson says:

      Ross K, I feel for you, I have more in common with NO / Remain voters than YES/ Leave voters I think. At least No / Remain are people who live in the real world.

      But here’s the deal: there’s no going back to the Union which was on the ballot paper on 18/9/14. That Union has gone. Where Scotland is now is on the fringe of a turbo-charged English nationalist project set to reconfigure the UK….

      No EU regional funding for example, all the current EU powers repatriated to London, not to Edinburgh. And, I fear, there are some very sinister people leading this project, people who, it is my suspicion, are looking for a head on confrontation with the EU and probably a US/UK trade war against the EU: They may even have a plan to try to bring down the Euro. Think how much money they would make doing that, breaking up the EU and privatizing the whole of European healthcare. That, I fear, is what some of them want – guys like Steve Bannon for sure.

      So, if people like myself want another referendum in Scotland, it is because an indie Scotland in the EU is much preferable to that, for all the ifs and buts you want to tack on to that proposal.

      The European Union is by far and away the most successful and progressive political project in the history of humankind… nothing comes close to it. And people who criticize it always forget what Europe was like before it existed…

      We are faced with a choice – indie ref II will offer us that choice – between two projects and you might not like either of the options in comparison to what we had before, but that I am afraid is not the fault of the citizens of Scotland…

      As for all of us being sick and tired of referendums etc, yeah, sure, we all are. But remember, our grandparents had to go through world wars. Can we really complain if we are asked to come out and vote again for Scotland to remain part of the most successful and progressive political in history, the one which was designed so that Europeans would never have to go through what are grandparents went through again, which is to say, the horror of war?

      1. Ross K says:

        The problem is that whatever we think of the past it is now done or almost in terms of leaving the EU. Whilst I didn’t vote to leave I am not sure how bad or good it will be and it may take an awful long time before we know and then nobody will agree anyway as there will be so many other factors at play. So it is done. To look forward to a path that takes in another indyref and on the basis of a Yes vote then a very complex path where we would have left the EU then leave the UK then try and rejoin the EU.

        Can you imagine the complexity of unravelling ourselves from the UK (look how hard it has been to disconnect from the EU). Then when we rejoin the EU (if allowed) we then become the border between the EU and England (non EU) – well how does that work. I have heard a few SNP politicians try and bounce this question as if its not a big deal – really? My head is bursting at the prospect of navigating this path and to reach what hallowed ground. This has massive risk written all over it and I fear there will be more spin over this than the EU ref or last election and yet the people are owed some factual analysis on the possible outcome – will we get that from our politicians. Do our SNP politicians really believe in a better economic future or just independence.

        Not sure where the likes of Steve Bannon feature in our future – a bit of scare mongering here.

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