A pot half full – SNP looks to gains that can still be made

Poll post mortems cast around for culprits

David Cameron failed to look at the wall the day he signed the Edinburgh Agreement with Alex Salmond in October 2012. It set out the rules for the Scottish independence referendum.

On it, there was a map showing where dominance lay in Scottish politics – the largest swathes of it filled in the yellow colours of Salmond’s Scottish National Party. Today, Cameron will prefer another map: the one showing Scotland’s 32 local authorities and how they decided on Thursday’s referendum – with just four going Salmond’s way.

So far, the SNP, the dominant element in the Yes Scotland campaign that included a disparate group of "others", has maintained internal unity – as it has done for nearly all of a two-year battle. Remembering that politics is always about the future, not the past, the SNP is concentrating on the gains made and throwing its eyes ahead to gains that can now be made.

Minus the leadership of Alex Salmond, the SNP is transmogrifying into the party that will be the best to secure the best home rule deal for Scotland – or benefit most if the offer falls short.


The analysis of the campaign started even before the ink dried on the final declaration: what changed? Was it the dire warnings from the No side? Or something else? Rupert Murdoch’s name emerged quickly, not least because of the impact of polls for two of his titles that showed, first, that the gap had fallen to three points, and then that No had gone ahead by one.

The polls electrified the poorly performing, disunited No camp, propelling former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown to the centre stage. The poll destroyed the Yes campaign's carefully crafted image as the insurgent: "A week later, it would have been fine, because No would not have had time to fight back," said one campaigner.

Today, Brown will for many hold the mantle “as the man who saved the union”; but, in reality, he must share blame for not being prepared to co-operate on a common front much, much earlier.

Activation of voters

Most importantly, however, the polls brought to life those who wanted the union to continue, but who were not prepared to fight for it, or did not think that it was so threatened that they had to vote.

The Yes campaign made mistakes too, however: the loud protests outside BBC Glasgow’s headquarters turned off some; Salmond’s talk that there were no No voters, just “deferred yeses” was presumptuous.

Meanwhile, there was former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars’s warning that No-supporting businesses would face “a day of reckoning” after independence. Even if he could no more influence SNP policy than Tony Benn did in Labour during the Tony Blair years, Sillars’s word rattled windows in comfortable middle-class Scotland.

Following an often bitter campaign, the referendum marked an extraordinary engagement by the Scottish public, so much so that a 75 per cent turnout in Glasgow was regarded as a disappointment.

However, Glasgow’s figures were exactly that: the Yes campaign needed a tsunami of support from the city’s poorest districts and had invested much to bring it about. In the end, it got a flood, but not a tsunami.

The belief that a high poll would favour Yes was turned on its head because the existential threat faced by the union forced No-leaning bystanders to come off the fence.

Nevertheless, the numbers in Scotland’s biggest city hold dire warnings there for Labour – which has been damaged catastrophically by its temporary association with the Conservatives.

The opening salvoes of that were visible in the city yesterday, with rosette-wearing Labour supporters attracting irritated glances from passersby, not just from those long committed to Yes.

The divisions caused in communities and families across Scottish society by the referendum – and they have been many and deep – will take time to heal.

Illustrating the feelings shared by some, Rev Stuart Campbell, who runs the Wings Over Scotland website, tweeted in the early hours: “We gave it a shot, folks. Our countrymen and women bottled it and failed us all.”

Shortly after 6am, Salmond pointedly emphasised the 1.6 million who had voted for independence, rather than the 2.1 million that had voted against, saying that Scots “at this stage” had said No. His phraseology raised eyebrows, as he had insisted at the tail-end of the campaign that it would settle matters for a generation, though he muddied the waters quickly afterwards.

Minutes later, Cameron was clear: “The debate has been settled for a generation or, as Alex Salmond, has said, perhaps for a lifetime. So there can be no disputes, no re-runs – we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.”

Mirage of power

For now, Cameron is more in tune with Scottish opinion, exhausted as it is by constitutional arguments since 2012, though the appetite will return if more home rule proves a mirage, or weaker than promised, or if a UK exit from the European Union looms.

For now, the focus will turn to the question of more powers for Scotland and all of the complications that that will bring for Cameron. Within minutes, the SNP subtly changed the emphasis of its story of the campaign.

No longer had Scots been terrified most into voting No by an avalanche of business-led threats. Instead, they had voted on the back of promises to offer Scotland more powers over tax, welfare and guarantees of continued treasury funding, and that they should get them by next May.

Here, the SNP already has much fuel to sustain itself, given the differing emphasis and outright opposition to the plans that are already evident south of the border.

The referendum’s aftermath is filled with rhetoric that Scottish public life has changed forever; that a populace that in part had disconnected from politics is no longer so.

Perhaps so, but the reality could be different: “The poor were told that they could change the world by voting Yes. Now they find that it hasn’t,” says Peter Lynch of the University of Stirling.