The Vole is rather well educated and was lucky enough to be taught by the noted writer, John Aberdein who was kind enough to hand over this piece.
We’re now up to our ears, eyes, nose and throat in the most complex and dynamic phase of Scottish politics that any of us have ever seen. I want to freewheel with that metaphor for a moment because a) I was born before the NHS was founded; b) my life was saved in a fever hospital at age 5 by the NHS; and c) less than 3 months ago, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown – a man identified 100% with the party that as its most important, single, cherishable deed, actually founded the NHS – uttered such a pack of lies about its current and future funding that the Labour Party will never be trusted here again. The Labour Party chose to parrot the Tories in the referendum, and as a direct result has classically snuffed it. There it lies, blue-plumed, claws limp, on the foul sandpaper of its cage. Perhaps it misheard what we were saying about following the Norwegian model …
Invective is easy. Constructing the future less so. The political landscape is changing so fast that no-one can obtain more than a partial overview. There are characters like Alastair Carmichael – and I mean comic characters – who solemnly swear and aver that the landscape is now flat – and that the referendum settles matters for a generation. If Orkney and Shetland voters in May 2015 are seriously prepared to return this dastardly agent of the undermining of the English NHS – and ultimately of the Scottish NHS if we don’t get freedom – then they really do need to get their bumps felt. From being an admirably diligent and well-meaning constituency MP, Mr Carmichael has slid down the slippery slope faster than one of the Gadarene swine on an away day.
Then there are characters like Jim Murphy, who thinks he can mould himself to the new landscape by mouthing off about social injustice, and inveighing against Miliband treating Scotland as a branch office. Not that we heard much of a cheep about these when he was stomping around on his Better Together Crate Britain tour of 100 Scottish cities. Murphy is a careerist shape-shifter, not a shaper of futures.
But then there is Nicola Sturgeon, a woman of outstanding political and human gifts, who has, for example, immediately tackled the thorny question of land ownership, and in doing so shows she understands the need for much more rapid change right across the political landscape.
What should we ourselves do? My perspective is as follows. It derives from chapping 2,000 doors in Northfield, the Aberdeen post-war council housing estate where I used to live as a teenager. I was there for the last month of the referendum campaign. It was good to go back. Support grew and grew. From about 65% declared support for YES in mid-August, I found the response rising to 85% declared support in referendum week. I had one or two doors slammed in my face, but far more it was a case of long conversations with people open to the possibilities of real politics for almost certainly the first time in their lives. The day before the referendum the momentum was amazing: at the shopping centre people were coming up and saying things like have you any posters left? All my neighbours have got theirs up. In the whole of Northfield, there were only about 6 Better Together or NO stickers. The area duly delivered the highest YES vote across the city: just under 70%.
But the larger point was that this was replicated, in varying measure, right across Aberdeen, across Scotland, and especially in Dundee and Glasgow. The areas we can still broadly define as working-class voted YES, some more tentatively than others, admittedly: whereas the leafy suburbs and the comfily-off, much more confident of their own perceived interests, voted a quite resounding NO. Well-heeled SNP areas in Angus and Moray voted NO.
I was canvassing using a combination of YES and Radical Independence Campaign materials. YES materials were better, but RIC’s diligence, both in upping voter registration and in speaking with the disenfranchised, was a significant factor in the overall result. RIC is now trying to set up area groups, not affiliated to any party, but seeking to build political confidence through discussion, action and campaigns.
In my view, abiding nationalist sentiment and a strongly-performing SNP will not be enough, in and of themselves, to win the next referendum. The neglected social justice agenda: the need for a statutory living wage; the imperative to build a new generation of public, affordable housing; the urgency to make the renewables increasingly publicly-owned so as to draw benefits not just for the planet but into our society – all these and more must be the focus of our political drive across the changing landscape.
But then – as a lifetime democratic green socialist – I would say that, wouldn’t I?