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Author: Gerry Mooney
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  • 5 minutes

Why I believe 'yes' is only a matter of time

Updated Tuesday, 19 September 2017
Despite voters in 2014 choosing to stay in the United Kingdom, Gerry Mooney believes that in the long run, an Independent Scotland is inevitable. He explains why.

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Signs from the Scottish referendum campaign 2014



Gerry Mooney, in your presentation to OpenSpace Research Centre, you talk about the Scottish Independence Referendum held on the 18th of September 2014. You focus on how questions of class, nation and political geography came together to produce a no vote. You go on to argue, however, that the results point to a future in which a majority will vote yes to an independent Scotland.

Gerry Mooney:

Well, as is well known, Joanna, that the overwhelming decision of the Scottish people was a no vote at this particular point. But the first thing to sort of highlight is that no-one could have predicted that we would even have got 45% voting yes. So the fact that we have not far off half the population of Scotland saying yes to independence is something that we would not have even believed two, three, four, five years ago. It was just beyond anyone’s imagination that that could happen. Reflecting on the Independence Referendum, what is clear is that there are major divides within Scotland. Scotland is not a homogeneous region. It’s not a region at all. It’s not a homogeneous nation, but there are major social, political, cultural, class, gendered divisions within Scotland itself, so very different parts of Scotland voted in different ways. What stands out in terms of the highlight points is that areas that tended to be more deprived voted yes; areas that were more affluent tended to vote no.

Now, of course, there are examples that maybe cut against both, but the overwhelming evidence points to a classed geography of voting. Now, that’s not to say everyone who was in a working class situation, a working class background voted yes, or everyone who was middle or upper class voted no, but the evidence is there that shows that there was a major division between some of the cities and rural areas, between some small towns and suburban areas, but then we have the situation where all of Glasgow, all the constituencies in Glasgow voted yes; 40-odd miles to the east every constituency in Edinburgh voted no. So it’s not just an urban/rural division or city/town division, there are divisions between different cities. And when you look within particular cities, you find that in the areas where the big working class housing estates are, overwhelmingly there was a yes vote in those areas. Now, those areas tend to have a younger population. So age comes into it and other aspects of social inequality come in there as well.

So, for me, the idea that often existed of a homogeneous unified Scottish society has been blown out the water by the results of the Independence Referendum. So we see issues of geography in terms of the spatiality of results, notions of nation were obviously part of people’s likelihood of voting yes or no, but class also played a huge factor. And I don’t think it’s possible to differentiate the three of them; they overlap and interrelate in different ways.


I see. One of your core arguments is that the Scottish Independence Campaign was never about nationalism in the narrow sense of the term, rather that the campaign was driven by demands for social justice. Could you expand on that?

Gerry Mooney:

Yes, absolutely. I think one of the reasons for emphasising that is that I’m aware that some people in Scotland or people elsewhere in the UK, Ireland and beyond had this view that it was all about national identity. It was all about creating a free Scotland. Now, it would be wrong of me to suggest that national identity and issues of Scottishness played no role whatsoever, I think that’s mistaken. They were there, but they weren’t to the fore and were not key aspects of the Yes campaign. The Yes campaign of course is an amalgamation, a coming together of different political parties, different groups, from very different political and theoretical traditions.

You had the SNP as the key, and of course they’re the Scottish Nationalist Party, they’re committed to an idea of a free Scotland for national and nationalist reasons, but groups like the Greens, the Scottish Socialists, the Radical Independence Campaign, they were not campaigning around issues of national identity. And what gave the Yes campaign its strength and its richness was the fact that it was able to bring together in a very wide coalition a large grassroots movement that was opposed to issues about austerity, privatisation, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons based in Scotland, about the policies of the UK government, about tax and welfare, public sector cuts. Those were the real issues that people were debating and those were the issues that the Yes campaign were putting forward as things that an independent Scotland could address, and we would have in Scotland the potential to address that.

So those what I would call social justice issues are of course entangled with issues of nationalism and national identity, but nobody was disputing that there is a country called Scotland, that there are a group of people called the Scots or the Scottish, so that wasn’t up for grabs. So the idea that this was all about some kind of Braveheart image of national identity is far from the mark. Very rarely was that to be seen. That’s not to say it was never there, particularly in blogs and on websites, but as part of the fundamental campaign it was not an issue.


Is there a specific issue through which or a group of issues through which the intersecting geographies of class, nation and political outlook have implications for the future of Westminster’s main political parties in Scotland?

Gerry Mooney:

Yeah, that’s a good question. They don’t have implications only for the future of the Westminster parties in Scotland, but the Westminster parties on a UK-wide basis. And of course what we have here, there’s different nationals at work here. There’s a Scottish National, there’s a UK National, there’s a relationship between Scotland and England, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland and England. All those things have been thrown up into the air as a result of the Scottish Independence Referendum. Now, the party who in some ways had very little to lose from Scottish independence was the Conservatives. They have one seat in Scotland. They’re deeply unpopular. So the idea that Scotland represents to them anything more than the legacy of the United Kingdom or a vision of a coherent United Kingdom, there’s nothing there to support anything else. I mean, one seat, they haven’t got a political investment in Scotland in that sense.

The Labour Party has a huge problem. Because Labour was the key party in the No campaign, it was ex-Labour Leader Gordon Brown, ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was instrumental in the final days in helping to swing the no vote. So Labour have now found themselves in the position that they won the battle, but maybe have lost the war, because there are many people now saying they will never, ever vote Labour again. And the problem for the Labour Party in Scotland is that the big areas that voted yes have tended to be historically Labour traditional heartlands in Scotland: Glasgow, West of Scotland, to some extent Dundee. So Labour in appearing to secure its UK electoral base, because it relies on Scotland, can generate 40 MPs from Scotland, in appearing to secure that on a UK-wide level, it’s also lost that. So Labour needed Scotland to help make it more electable to the UK government next year, 2015. But it now looks like what it’s done has alienated a lot of its core vote in Scotland. So we could have a situation where Labour actually in May next year at the general election loses very heavily in Scotland and all the evidence is pointing to that already.


You’ve publicly declared that you voted yes yourself. Why do you think it’s just a question of time before the majority in Scotland votes yes to independence?

Gerry Mooney:

Well, I normally preface my answer here by saying I’m not a Scottish nationalist. And I think the majority of people who voted yes would never see themselves as Scottish nationalists. You know, I’m not a nationalist of any shape or form. It’s not a tradition I come from. It’s not a tradition I’m comfortable with. I don’t see nationality as being the fundamental divide within Scotland or any other society. I think there are other issues that are much more fundamental. But I voted yes for the same reasons that many other people voted yes. One, that it was an attempt to create something different within Scotland. We might want to call it a more socially just, fairer, equal society. I know those are quite ambiguous terms, but nonetheless that’s what many people thought we would be able to achieve. So for me voting yes was a means to an end. For the SNP voting yes was the end in itself of course, it was Scottish independence. Not for the majority of people, it was about trying to create a different kind of Scottish society.

Now, I think it is a question of time, because one of the fallouts, one of the continuing fallouts from the Independence Referendum is that suddenly this thing England has been discovered, and something has been discovered about the English nation, and we’re starting to hear quite a lot of noises from both the Conservative and also the Labour Parties about we need to do something for England. There’s no English Parliament, there’s no English devolution, so how do we address what has become called now the English question. So one of the big ironies of the Scottish Independence Referendum is it’s resulted in a huge debate about this thing England and Englishness.

Now, the party who has got most to gain from that in Scotland is of course the Scottish National Party, because the more that England starts to behave as England and looks for devolution in England - whether there is a big demand for that I’m not really sure beyond some political parties - but the more that that English question is thrown up, the more it makes the bonds of the UK appear even less solidified or secure than they once were. So the argument I would suggest is that I think Scottish independence is increasingly inevitable, but it’s largely now a result of not only issues within Scotland, but issues taking place outside Scotland i.e. the rise of what we might want to refer to as English nationalism, very much encapsulated by UKIP, who have risen to prominence in parts of England of late.

Now, I’m not saying there’s a huge demand in England for English devolution, but the idea of England being treated unfairly, that has now got quite a lot of media and popular commentary in parts of England. So the SNP are the main winners of that. They’re looking and saying right, fine, act as England, become England, become an independent England. Why? Because that obviously means then that Scotland would be independent as well.

So I think it is a question of time. The Labour Party, as I said already, is in disarray in Scotland, but there’s also some evidence that a lot of people who voted no are now having regrets, because their no vote was secured on the basis of the promise of more powers to Scotland. The famous vow that was made by Cameron, Clegg and Ed Miliband a few days before the referendum, it appears that they’re already retreating on that vow. So the SNP are in a position to capitalise on this in different ways and for me then I think it’s inevitable. Not maybe in the next five years or ten years, but I think Scottish independence is now very much an inevitable thing.


You’ve just returned from a lecture tour in the USA and back here at the Open University we heard that you kicked up a storm. What is it about the Scottish Independence Referendum that caught people’s imagination in the United States?

Gerry Mooney:

Well, can I start by blaming Mel Gibson, yes, and you obviously have an Australian connection, so you’ve probably got some idea why I’m criticising Mel Gibson, because when I speak to people across America there’s a number of different things come out. One, they have a Braveheart image of Scotland: this downtrodden oppressed country of 5.2 million people that has had centuries upon centuries of rough treatment from England. There are also a lot of people in America of course who would claim to have a Scottish connection. The number of people that asked me what clan I’m in or what clan I belong to was quite astonishing. So I blame all that sort of romanticised Braveheart mythical notions of contemporary Scotland. However, what that also does is put Scotland on some people’s minds in ways that it hadn’t been historically. The US media certainly picked up on this, because you had key US politicians and stars saying that we should vote no because the UK is a very close ally and partner of the United States. We need a unified United Kingdom said Obama. Sarah Palin, the other great theoretician of our time came out and said a yes vote would be bad for all the children of America for some strange reason.

So it was very much in some people’s minds. What people were interested in finding out was why was it that people in Scotland were moving towards some degree of independence, why have we become more nationalist, why is our greater sense of Scottishness, and what I was trying to say to them, going back to one of your earlier questions, was that it wasn’t about national identity. The Braveheart idea is a film that most people from Scotland would laugh at for a variety of reasons, not least it’s historically nonsense and Mel Gibson’s accent is pretty dodgy as well, but it means nothing in the context of people fighting against austerity, wanting rid of nuclear weapons. So when you start to say those things to people in America, they end up with a very, very different idea of what the issues are. And people would say to me, oh Gerry, Scotland looks like some kind of socialist country to us, and I’m saying well I would like it to be a socialist country, an independent socialist country. So I was challenging a lot of their misconceptions, but there was certainly interest for a variety of different reasons, but primarily from people who would claim to have some historical connection with Scotland.


Following on from that question, what other factors played a part in the uneven geographies of the ballot?

Gerry Mooney:

Yeah, there were a number of different factors at work here, Joanne. The first one of course is the economic basis of different parts of Scotland. It’s not a unified country in terms of having a single economy in that respect. It’s measured as a single Scottish economy, but different parts of Scotland’s economic fortunes are based upon very different industries and different histories. So, to give you a few examples, one of the areas that stood out as having voted no and this was a surprise to a lot of people was Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Now, it’s a surprise on one level, because Aberdeenshire, North East Scotland has for much of the last decade or so been an SNP heartland. What’s interesting is that even some of its heartlands, some of the core SNP vote didn’t turn out to vote yes, indeed voted no. Now, there are a number of factors at work there, so if we take just as an example, I don’t have time to go into the others, but if we take Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City. Aberdeenshire was full of very small rural agricultural towns, very small towns. It’s a largely conservative population, small c, and Conservative, it has historically returned Conservative councillors to local authorities, and the SNP rhetoric of social justice and fighting inequality doesn’t necessarily play there in the same way that it would play for example in the West of Scotland or Dundee.

So there is an issue there about the class nature but also the age factors. So North East Scotland, you know, the age of the population is more, it’s a higher age population than some of the bigger urban areas. Aberdeen itself, well, one of the fears there was that the oil industry had already come out and said were Scotland to vote independence and start to put more taxes on the oil industry then they would have to relocate elsewhere and not be based in Scotland in some sense.

So there were fears, widely expressed fears in different parts of Scotland, Aberdeen being one example, that the consequences of a yes vote would be economic turmoil, economic crisis, loss of jobs and so on. And that played a part in Edinburgh, because a lot of the financial institutions had come out and said well if there’s a yes vote in Scotland, we will have to leave Scotland, like the Scottish banks like the Royal Bank of Scotland, nominally Scottish I might add, saying that if Scotland votes independence we’re going to have to leave Edinburgh, so that had a knock-on effect.

So there was an issue there about the economy and the history of the industrial base of different parts of Scotland. But again that’s also related to issues about age. We find that this was the first time in any referendum or election in the UK that 16 and 17-year-olds were given the vote. And there seems to be a lot about contradictory evidence out there, but there was considerable evidence that a sizeable proportion of the 16 and 17-year-olds voted yes, but by a slight majority it might have been a no vote; whereas those in their 20s voted overwhelmingly yes. And as you go up the age bands you find that the no vote begins to increase, so the over-75s, over-65s I should say, particularly the over-75s tended to be a no vote, and we find that those tend to be more concentrated in particular parts of the country as opposed to others.

So once again you have this coming together of a whole number of interconnected reasons that play out in different ways in different parts of Scotland. But again for me what it again problematises is any idea of Scotland as this homogeneous society: we’re all Scottish together and we’re all on the same wavelength about things. I’ve never believed that and the referendum results show that it’s complete and utter fabrication to even claim that that’s the case.


Thank you.

Gerry Mooney:

No, thank you.


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