And so a year has passed since Scotland’s referendum on independence.
We’re all a year older, and what a year..
And yet despite all that has happened, I find myself pausing now and looking back. As a co-founder of English Scots for YES I found myself flung far and wide across our land last summer; I gave speeches in St.Andrews, raised our banner in Dundee, debated with Tories in the far north-west where Fort William is a distant memory on a long bus-trip…
I visited places I’d not even heard of before; met so many people, made new friends along the way. It was an amazing time. Last summer to me, summed up one thing above all else though. Hope.
Those readers who attended any of the many thousands of events the YES campaign organised could not have missed it – the feeling of anticipation, of growing wonder at an idea whose time has almost come.
That idea is not a new one – it is as old as that of Scotland herself – the idea that we can govern ourselves for the betterment of all, that we can see to our own affairs, run our own welfare state, collect our own taxes, fund our own social projects, invest the resources from under our seas; in short, rise and be that nation once again.
That feeling grew slowly over the months that saw the National Conversation, the formal launch of the independence campaign and finally it blossomed last summer. We saw our towns and cities blanketed in saltires and YES banners; outpourings of such positivity and hope that you could literally see it painted on their faces. A movement that saw the once pariah word of “freedom”, so long derided in Scottish politics thanks to “that film” reclaimed for future generations yet unborn, and saw the square of an oft-forgotten King named anew in that summer of hope.
That hope did not die on September 18th. Over the autumn of 2014 and into 2015, much of Scotland woke up to politics anew, when their hopes were seemingly dashed by a narrow majority against independence, only to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. It saw them flock towards the SNP in droves so large now some 2% of the entire Scottish population are counted in its ranks. It saw the people of Scotland return an SNP MP in 56 out of 59 constituencies. It also saw many sit back and wonder what might have been had they voted differently. Many now seemingly would – polls are showing support for independence at an all time high, at 53% (IPSOS 1st Sept 2015).
The year saw other developments – as many of us predicted, despite “The Vow” which likely won the referendum for NO, not a single power has been devolved to Scotland thus far. And it looks increasingly likely that any powers that are devolved will be significantly less than those promised.
This betrayal of trust will, I predict, not go down too well with the voters. Indeed, those polls are testament to the reaction it is provoking. People confronted by doubts and economic uncertainties who decided to give this Union one last shot are now ruing that decision as once again London is showing it is unwilling, uninterested and unable to deliver real change. With the Tories re-elected for another 5 years, this time without even the slight restraint offered by their once-partners, austerity is marching across these isles, checked only here in Scotland where the Scottish Government has a few powers to delay if not defeat the deadly tide that has seen services reduced, schools & hospitals closed, welfare provisions removed and misery inflicted upon our poorest and most vulnerable.
But hope does not die.
Last week, I attended the unveiling of a monument to commemorate the 8 victims of the 1820 massacre here in Greenock; protestors in the oft-forgotten Radical War whose participants fought to govern Scotland themselves – not as subjects by feudal absentee-landowners, or by the uncaring rich and powerful in London, but by fellow citizens, selected by democratic mandate.
Ultimately, their murderers were never brought to justice. But the dreams of those Radicals were realised, though it took one hundred years and more. Universal suffrage was won for the people and democratic change is possible in Scotland not through bloodshed but through the ballot box.
Now Scotland stands once again at a crossroads, as the hopes and dreams of the People are pitted agains the entrenched interests of the rich and powerful in London. Times have changed; our protests peaceful, relying on the power of a cross on a piece of paper, but some things do not change. Those entrenched interests will not go quietly into that bright tomorrow; will not relinquish power willingly, and they will continue to fight with both fair means and foul to resist the will of the 1.6 million Scots who dared to dream last summer.
But it matters not. Because no matter what they throw at us, what lies they use their media to tell us, we shall not give in. In the words of our former First Minster, “the dream shall never die”. I do not know when the next referendum will come; whether our wait shall be short, or like those long-dead martyrs to freedom a long long wait whose end some of us shall not see.
But I do know this: the hope we saw last year is real. And hope doesn’t die.
The next time, Scotland WILL vote YES.