Antipathy to UK ‘neoliberal policies’ drove many to vote for Scottish independence

Analysis: desire for social justice and yearning for independence made potent mix

Dejected Yes supporters in George Square, Glasgow, last Friday. Photograph: EPA/Robert Perry

Dejected Yes supporters in George Square, Glasgow, last Friday. Photograph: EPA/Robert Perry

 

Antipathy towards the politics of successive London governments was a key driver of the impulse towards separation evident in Scotland last week.

From the Shetland Islands, more than 100 miles north of the Scottish coast, to the well-to-do villages around Balmoral in the Highlands, to the working-class city of Dundee, dissatisfaction with UK politics was referred to repeatedly by supporters of a break with the union.

“Personally, I believe that Scotland is a more left-wing country than England,” said Mike Strachan, a businessman, who took two months out to work full-time for the Yes campaign in Dundee.

According to him, the push for independence was a response to the progressively more right-wing policies of successive London governments. A former Labour voter, he said he switched to supporting the Scottish National Party (SNP) when Labour drifted to the right, in pursuit of votes in England, and the SNP moved to the left.

“I see us going back to more left-wing values where we can look after the elderly, the disabled, the weak and the poor equally, as opposed to making them suffer for the crimes of the richer classes,” he said the day before the referendum.

If the politics of successive London governments had been more left-wing, he added, “then we wouldn’t be having this conversation”.

View from the Shetlands

The same point was made in the Shetland Islands by politics graduate and public relations officer Louise Thomason. What attracted her to the idea of Scottish independence was the idea of greater democracy, she said.

“It seems like you have to vote for the least right-wing party. It’s not really a choice,” she said. She added that she didn’t so much want an independent Scotland as an escape from London’s “neoliberal policies”.

Even up in well-to-do Ballater, in Aberdeenshire, a small town adjacent to the royal family’s Scottish estate in Balmoral, disaffection with London governments was cited by those supporting independence.

College student Alistair Vincent (22) thought separation might bring change to the political situation, which, he said, was currently “stagnant”. Retiring mental health nurse Susanna Peterson said that she wanted independence because “I don’t like the capitalist system and the only way I can see to change it is to have a completely different government.” It was her hope that, over time, an independent Scotland would produce more representative and egalitarian politics.

In Dundee, activist Glen Millar said his desire for independence was part of a desire for social justice. “The UK isn’t okay. The UK is messed up. It’s been messed up for decades.”

This desire for social justice mixed with a yearning for independence made a powerful mix. In Dundee, it was easy to feel the exciting but vaguely intimidating atmosphere that the referendum had created. Saltires were a common sight on buildings, being carried by people on busy afternoon streets and flying from passing vehicles. Members of the No campaign said they did not feel they could as freely express their views.

Grayling polemic

In a column in Glasgow Herald on the Saturday before the poll, the philosopher AC Grayling referred to the “ghastly, divisive and false ideology which springs from tribalism, namely nationalism. As an ideology, nationalism has a history as fertile as it is disgusting. It is about building walls.”

One way of looking at the referendum was that, for some, it represented a way out of a situation in which they felt abandoned politically.

The Yes side lost, and many of its supporters, who put so much into the independence cause, are shattered. They have been led up the hill, and now have to wearily walk back down. Where they go next to get their concerns addressed will be interesting to watch.

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