26 April 2015

Harnessing the 55%

While toddling through Shawlands this week, I chanced across the Labour's Glasgow South candidate, Tom Harris, campaigning outside the local Co-op. Having politely explained that I wasn't with him in this election, I took the opportunity to ask him about a letter which has been circulating in the constituency, inviting folk who voted No on the 18th of September 2014 to save his bacon on the 7th of May. 

"I thought Jim had said that Scottish Labour isn't a unionist party?" I enquired. "But I'm a unionist," he said. In his affably bluff way, Tom explained that he needed every vote going, and if that involved putting the fear of god up the Tories of Newlands, he'd make no apology for doing so.  "And I suppose you're pretty right-wing too, so - " I quipped, for villainy - "I suppose I am," he responded, with unexpected candour. I sidled on. Good luck to him. He'll need it.  

But the encounter made me think a wee bit about the assumptions lying behind Tom's letter, and being pushed nationally by Liberal Democrats in tight spots, that the Better Together alliance can be cobbled back together to save their skins."55% of people voted no, back me to stop the Nationalist juggernaut." John Curtice has been pouring buckets of icy water over the idea that tactical voting represents an effective anti-Nationalist strategy over most of the country, arguing that the sums just don't add up. As Professor Curtice points out, there aren't enough Labour, Tories or Liberal Democrat voters in the overwhelming majority of seats to make a decisive difference, even if folk were inclined to lend their vote to a Better Together ally. 

But the thinking behind this isn't just numerically problematic - it also flies in the face of what the referendum taught us about the reasons and attitudes lying behind the No vote. Tom and the Liberal Democrats seem to have forgotten who the 55% are, and why they voted against independence last September. The recent findings of the Scottish Election Study suggest that the No lead did not come down to British identities, or optimism about the Union, nor widespread pessimism about independence, but fear, risk and uncertainty. 

The study concludes that identities - Scottish and British - provided core support for both Yes and No campaigns, the outcome was decided by perceptions of economic risk. The most recent tranche of survey data from the study suggested that feelings of Britishness or attachment to the Union account for just 29.5% of the No vote. To put a more concrete number on that, just 590,568 of the 2,001,926 votes attracted by the No campaign seem to have hinged to any significant extent on British identities. 

This chimes with my own experiences. If this referendum has revealed one thing, it is that Scots allegiance to the British state is - perhaps disturbingly - provisional. A popular, winning, organic unionism has not emerged. If anything, the Conservative and Unionist Party seems hell-bent on salting the earth across the border, to ensure no sprouts grow. 

For some folk, a sense of Britishness is essential, a part of their identity, the object of passionate attachment. Some of the best pieces from pro-union writers during the dying days of the campaign spoke of these themes in a way that the cynical, anxiety-generating apparatus of the official campaign never even attempted. But like the identity ultras on the Yes side, these are minority enthusiasms. The Better Together parties looked deep into the eyes of the Scottish people, and found dealer's eyes peering back at them, unsentimental, commercial, counting the pennies, weighing the odds -- and won the game on that basis.  

A gulf of feeling separates this dicing of the economic odds from the anti-Nat ardency which this new Better Together alliance hopes to ignite. And if you voted against independence on the basis of these cool calculations, what the devil are you to make of the plaintive efforts of candidates like Christine Jardine and Tom Harris, addressing you like a union fundamentalist, a loyalist, re-running September's poll? 

This stands at odds, not just with the numbers, but what we know about the key motive forces of the No vote. It may peel off ultra montane No voters, for whom the national question has acquired new and critical salience, but seems likely to strike a dud note for those opposed to independence who do not share these intense attachments. It is a case of pro-union political leaderships, projecting their own antipathies onto a more ambivalent, less ferociously negative, public. Scotland is not a land of Effie Deans

It is a phenomenon which surprised SNP canvassers are experiencing on the doorstep. Over the weekend, I was having a blether with one of the SNP candidates in the city about what, if you read the media, you probably regard as an improbable phenomenon - the No voting SNP supporter. Why? For some, it is buyer's remorse. But for many more, they voted no on a more conditional basis: "not yet", "not ready", "not convinced by the arguments" - but none of this is proving decisive in determining which party they believe will best represent them in this parliament in Westminster.

For electors of this kind - the overwhelming majority of the 55% - the #indyref cannot be comprehensively "weaponised" in the way Liberal Democratic, Tory and Labour campaigners in East Dumbartonshire, Glasgow South and Gordon - increasingly desperately - hope, believe and pray. 


  1. Andrew: 'This chimes with my own experiences. If this referendum has revealed one thing, it is that Scots allegiance to the British state is - perhaps disturbingly - provisional.'

    Doubtless true, but I think we can say that about lots of allegiances. Bashir Maan - supposedly our leading Scottish moderate Muslim, whatever that may mean - switched his allegiance from Labour to SNP over Iraq, but since gay marriage flew through Holyrood he has now rang Hell's Bells on the SNP as well, and recommends that Muslims vote only for candidates who oppose gay marriage. He also suggested that Nicola Sturgeon would lose her Govan seat over the issue - what odds I wonder.

    For the most part, we vote on both principles and self interest and if the SNP romp home in a couple of weeks, well as Billy Connolly suggested over the Referendum, we will get the Scotland we deserve.

    I was taking pics at the lovebombing of Sturgeon yesterday and feeling slightly queasy, sauntered down to the Sheridan Circus in George Square, where there was plenty of compensating bile. Just like the Noes, the Yessers also have what Marxists used to call 'intrernal contradictions' and ah doot Milliband and Cameron dislike each other as much as, say Fox and Sheridan do - the main difference being of course that however Scots vote in any election, very, very few vote for either Fox and Sheridan.

    I've lost my train of thought damn it. Oh yes the EU is another example of an allegiance that depends for most of us on self interest. Our rise in nationalism is part of a Europe-wide thing I suppose. Everywhere, the old links are bending or breaking and the masking tape is useless.

  2. I have had a week of relentless abuse for daring to question the assumptions on which Scottish nationalism is based. I’ve received one good counterargument from one of the few SNP supporters who is actually willing to use reasoned argument. You, I imagine, could provide a good counterargument to some of what I write, but instead you “recommend a lime, a gin bottle, and soothing tonic” and now just more of your subtle form of insult. But subtle or not it’s just another version of Iain Macwhirter sharing a joke about Effie being John Mcternan’s sock puppet with his cybernat friends. He doesn’t have to get his hands dirty for they do it for him and shortly I get “Who the f**** is this mongoloid @effiedeans sounds like a proper zoomer probably being holed by McTernan for being a Labour bitch” The joke doesn’t seem quite so funny does it. So now you think it’s just the right time to have a go at me. Would you have done the same to Ruth Davidson after the abuse she was getting? Did someone give you an order? Or was it just following the crowd. There’s a person getting abused a person who you disagree with, but still a person. But no doubt you agree with your friend that “Pity is treason”

    1. Effie,

      I am sorry to hear about your recent travails, but I do not think it is fair to say that this article has a go at you, or does you any injustice.

      You are arguably the most prominent writer online, promoting the idea both of tactical voting against the SNP and - I think it is fair to say - a strong focus on Britishness in your rhetoric and vision for how the Union might be recovered and fortified. I cited your blog and your twitter for that purpose only. This seems to me entirely fair.

      My reasoned argument is that your political ideals, as I understand them, don't find the strong echo in public opinion, or indeed, among many of those who voted No last September. We can disagree about that -- but these are live issues now, in these last weeks of the campaign. It seems to me entirely appropriate to take you seriously, and to cite your work and output to make the point.

    2. Effie I read Andrew's comment as a borderline tribute to you, as a doughty antagonist. And after all, the comment could just as well be turned round - Scotland is equally not a land of peat worriers.

      It's only a couple of weeks and even if the SNP do get 50 seats - which I doubt - they will have more loose cannons than a Spanish galleon sinkng off Galway in 1588.

    3. Effie, having not heard of you before I read a bit of your blog. Well written, as Andrew writes well too. I'm not familiar with your previous exchanges, but simply on the point that most no voters aren't like you in terms of their ideological commitment to the Union and the Union as their primary national identity seems pretty uncontroversial. For you Scotland isn't a country, but a region of the UK. However, from the various polling conducted and all sorts of anecdotal evidence, most no voters don't just see Scotland as a region like Yorkshire or Aberdeenshire.

    4. Thanks for the replies folks. Much respect to Andrew for a great comment. Much respect to the rest of you for replying in kind. This is how we must debate in Scotland. My very best wishes and good luck in the election.

    5. It's interesting Effie that your comments here, other than the faintly hysterical original attack, are considerably more temperate than those in your own blog in response to those who disagree with you? Nobody sane on either side of the debate endorses the kind of abuse which is sadly all too common in the cybersphere. For you to make a wholly unjustified attack on Andrew for having a go at you (which he didn't) or of treating you differently (for which you have zero evidence) is entirely in keeping with your modus operandi on your blog comments; you complain about people abusing you where in fact they have simply disagreed with your assertions, and provided counter arguments which you simply refuse to engage with.

      The fact that a few zealots DO abuse you is shameful, but your considered response is to damn all those on the opposing side of the debate. If you don't like extremism, perhaps you'd start by justifying your attack on pro-independence immigrants as "treacherous", or refuting the argument that your calls for future referendums to be banned even where the majority of Scots vote for one to be held, are anything other than deeply undemocratic and actually quite sinister. I have my doubts you will engage, because despite numerous calls to do so you simply don't respond. So much for your attachment to reasoned debate, huh?

  3. Excellent article and excellent despatch of the nasty little Ms Deans. She doesn't deserve the quality of your response

  4. As Blair McDougal said himself they were shocked at how little attachment there was to the Union and how few felt British
    To win they had to use fear
    And as for it being a patriotic vote
    Remember Westminster went to great expensive to get a legal view " that Scotland ceased to exist on signature of the union no doubt" and went on to say Scotland had been absorbed by its greater neighbour
    Whats patriotic about voting "your" country out of existence
    You were asked if Scotland was a sovereign nation or a region that was the choice

  5. I never realised how close the Westminster cabal was until Norman Tebbit said he would vote Labour Scotland,worse no Labour reply we don't want his vote.

  6. As I see it there is huge pressure coming from the Unionists for the SNP to make a declaration on a referendum. I, like many, felt it was too soon and was anxious about being rushed into one. As a supporter of Independence I was overwhelmed by how close we came. The lessons have been learned though and I suggest that Nicola makes a clear manifesto statement that another referendum be held only if the SNP are elected by 50% or more. Obviously they might still form a government on less than 50% but the mandate for another referendum would be clear.

  7. Your article is on the money in describing how hopelessly Scottish Labour seem to have failed to understand the political demographic in the country. They jumped into bed with the Tories in the Better Together campaign, completely unecessarily, believing that a cosy union of Unionists would unite Scotland in eviscerating the SNP for a generation.

    As you pointed out, the sense of Britishness just wasn't strong enough to carry that strategy, and instead Labour ended up being seen to be in economic alliance with the toxic Tories, and by extension, to be acting against Scotland's interests.

    Many pensioners voted No having been told by the Labour party that independence would threaten their pension. This was a lie, but they chose not to risk it, instead buying into the "Vow" to convince themselves they were not just being selfish, but also acting in the interest of their country.

    Now the Vow has been shown as the sham it always was, and many of them have had words from their own children about their No vote. The SNP in Scotland have protected their free bus passes and prescriptions. Unlike Labour, they will stand up for Scotland at Westminster. Suddenly No-voting pensioners are switching to the SNP in droves as a way of looking after themselves, and Scotland, and healing rifts within their own families caused by the referendum campaign.

    I have personally been astonished at the extent to which this is happening in my own personal circles. Several friends have commented to me in utter amazement that their died-in-the-wool Labour-voting granny is planning to vote SNP next week.

    And still SLAB don't get it... is it any wonder that their party is dying on its feet?

  8. I have met several who voted No last September, who will vote SNP next week. And generally the 'No' was really 'not yet'. In that regard the British press and the establishment as the flail around in their fear and desparation - are helping the cause of Scottish Independence greatly. More power to their poison pens. Where are Eddie Izzard and Dan Snow now?

  9. Read what Labour are planning: https://archive.is/PH0IE

    Scrap Barnett, after being promised it wouldn't be first by Broon and recently by Smurph. They ask where Sturgeon will go after promising not to support the Tories? To the electorate asking for a mandate for IndyRef2 with Scotland looking shoogly in the Union. Spin that one Better Together.