Last September, the people of Scotland made their collective choice in the independence referendum. Although 45% of those eligible voted Yes for Scotland to be an independent nation, 55% voted No. That, it seemed to me at the time, was that. Scotland had a chance to become independent but the majority of its people didn’t want it.
Last Thursday, the UK General Election produced an astonishing result in Scotland. At the last UK General Election in 2010, the Scottish National Party (SNP) took 6 seats as the Labour Party was kicked out of office, effectively bringing to an end the New Labour years of firstly Tony Blair then Gordon Brown. It seemed to me that Brown, then Prime Minister, suspected his party wouldn’t be elected with a majority and gambled on Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats joining him to form a coalition government. Clegg did form a coalition government – but with David Cameron’s Conservative Party – a party despised in Scotland, a legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s regime and its intention on destroying a working class nation.
Two days ago, the SNP took 56 seats in Scotland in the UK General Election. As there are only 59 UK Parliament seats in Scotland, this was a phenomena not witnessed before. The Labour Party were routed north of the border. For decades, Scotland has been a Labour stronghold, particularly the central belt where it was widely believed that the way to rid the UK of a Conservative government was to vote Labour. Now, this view has changed – and in dramatic circumstances.
It has always been the case that, no matter who the people of Scotland voted for, they would end up with a government the people of England chose. During the Thatcher regime most of Scotland voted for Labour, hoping leaders Michael Foot then Neil Kinnock would save them from Thatcher’s anti-Scotland policies. It didn’t happen. The Labour Party in Scotland were powerless to prevent the affluent south east of England electing Conservative governments with their policies aimed at the free-market and ignoring the poor.
Gradually, the people of Scotland have realised this. Scotland is a different country to England. Socialism still means something here. Thatcherism stoked the feelings of fury felt by Scots and a determination they would no longer be treated like second class citizens. As New Labour moved from a left wing, socialist movement into a pale imitation of the Conservative Party, Scots realised the SNP could be their saviour. The idea of Scotland going it alone and becoming independent has been touted as romantic idealism but, gradually, this idea has gained credibility. The prospect of Scotland ridding itself of a Conservative government for ever is very much an appealing one.
In 1999, Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair recognised Scotland was different and a Scottish Parliament was set up with some – although far from all – powers devolved to Scotland. If New Labour thought this would appease the Scots they were to be proved wrong in the decade and a half that followed. While the Scottish Parliament has proven to be a success, it’s the SNP government north of the border that has driven real change – and for the betterment of the Scottish people.
Scots now realise that their country should be governed by its people. However, it’s reasonable to say that while many admired the SNP, some were unsure about independence - and some disliked the first SNP First Minister Alex Salmond.
Salmond is a gifted orator but there was a Marmite effect about him – people either loved him or hated him. Salmond drove the independence referendum and no sooner had the SNP formed a majority government in 2011 than the referendum was in its plans for governance. Some thought the referendum was pushed too soon. Perhaps it might have been better to let the nation see what a SNP government could do for them first before deciding on whether our country should become independent. Nonetheless, the independence referendum went ahead in September 2014 – and while it was a close run thing the result was a ‘No’ vote. That, then, was surely that for independence for Scotland? Not quite.
Salmond stood down as First Minister and Leader of the SNP. His place was taken by his deputy Nicola Sturgeon. And what an impact she has had on not only Scotland but the rest of the UK.
Sturgeon is as equally gifted a politician and orator as her predecessor. And she is tough, a no-nonsense leader who will do things her way and for the good of her country. She has been mighty impressive since she took over last September and outshone and out-manoeuvred the likes of Labour’s Ed Miliband and Jim Murphy in the build-up to the general election. She spoke from the heart and Scotland knew she understood the needs of the nation. The Labour Party was hopelessly out of touch with the people of Scotland; Sturgeon recognised this and appealed to Labour’s core supporters to support a party that understood them and fought for their rights – the SNP.
While Alex Salmond spoke passionately, he could, as we say in Scotland, start a fight in an empty room. Nicola Sturgeon respects others while getting her forthright views across. As well as knowing what to say, she knows what not to say – and her views, passion and determination to fight for the working class people have resonated with the people of Scotland – and beyond.
Scotland is now a changed country. Last September, its people stepped back from choosing independence, some influenced by the scare tactics of the unionist parties with Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown making the now infamous ‘vow’, promising there would be more powers for Scotland if the people rejected independence. The day after the result of the referendum, Cameron stood outside Number Ten Downing Street and spoke about more powers for England. Scotland had been metaphorically booted in the balls by a Tory Prime Minister – not for the first time.
This week, Scots have at last seen through the unionist claptrap. They want the SNP to make decisions that will affect their lives. However, as is usual, they are stuck with a government that England has voted for. David Cameron, though, will ignore the views of Scotland at his peril. He spent last summer telling Scots how they would be ‘better together’, how better they would be as part of the UK. If he does as Margaret Thatcher did before him and ignores the Scots, it could be calamitous for him and his party. The thorny issue of membership of the European Union will soon be the next issue he has to deal with. And the decision Cameron has to make is whether to appease the views of many Conservative backbench MPs. If the UK leaves the European Union it will be because middle England wants us to. And the wishes of the Scottish people will be ignored. More powers for Scotland? The Scots language famously has two positive words coming together to form a negative phrase – ‘aye, right’.
The European Union referendum could have far-reaching implications for Scotland and the rest of the UK. Scotland’s First Minister has already shown she is a formidable opponent and will fight for what is best for Scotland. The Scottish people have backed Sturgeon and have elected an army of 56 MPs to make sure the fight is won.
As this week has proved, no one would back against Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP. A woman of substance, a party of substance. Independence for Scotland is back on the agenda. The message to Prime Minister Cameron and his Conservative government is – you’d better believe it.