Time for policy rather than politics?: harnessing the 45%

Published: 23 September 2014

Over 1.7m Scots were energised enough about the future of their country to campaign, research and turn out to vote for radical change on the 18th September.  And according one of the first post-result polls, 25% of No voters voted that way because they believed that Scotland would receive significant additional devolved powers whilst remaining in the UK. So that’s over 2 million voters wanting policy decisions for Scotland to be taken in Scotland.

I challenged the Westminster politicians to provide some way of harnessing that civic engagement in the process of negotiation over further powers but met with no response. It is unclear what, if any, settlement Westminster will offer, whether the main political parties will agree or commit to its delivery, and as Professor Charlie Jeffery has pointed out, whether the Scottish Parliament would be involved or agree to any settlement offered.

The presence of the Yes coalition has transformed itself on social media: there has been some fragmentation into the different grassroots groups that were behind the campaign, but there is still an overall cohesion behind the ‘We Are the 45%’ banner

The Ashcroft poll showed that 47% of No voters were worried about the risk of independence when it cames to issues like the currency, EU membership, defence and the economy. The last one could never be settled: it is not possible to predict accurately what might have happened to the economy of an independent Scotland. But the first three could have easily been settled by agreement between Westminster and  Yes Scotland prior to the referendum, just as the question of Devo Max and what that actually would entail *could* have been on the ballot paper. Voters would have had much more accurate information on which to base their voting decisions.

In the 36 hours after the referendum result was announced, over 4,000 disaffected Labour members switched their membership to the Scottish National Party, and the Green party reported a similar rise in membership (details on membership growth). Although clearly not representative of the whole population, Twitter also saw a deluge of No voters claiming they regretted their vote in the light of Cameron’s apparent ‘reneging’ on the promise of more powers to Scotland until the question of more powers to English MPs had been settled, and question marks over any of the main political parties having the capacity to promise and deliver powers to Scotland against the wishes of its own backbench members.

If the Scottish Nationalist Party are going to remain the leaders of a campaign that is now focused around a fairer future for Scotland rather than independence, it is clear that their mandate will be much stronger if they can maintain the disparate elements of the Yes campaign with them: the disaffected Labour voters wanting to get rid of the Conservatives at Westminster, the Greens, the feminists, those concerned with the future of welfare and the NHS, and those believing in localisation of government and bringing politics and policy closer to the people. Their mandate to achieve a fairer Scotland would also be hugely strengthened if they could bring a proportion of the disaffected No voters as well as the Yes voters with them.  This would probably involve a shift of their political focus and priorities away from full independence at all costs, and towards a greater focus on social justice for Scotland, addressing some of the key issues that voters on BOTH sides of the referendum debate thought they were voting for:

Government closer to, and more accountable to, the people of Scotland

Policies that reflected the values, aspirations and priorities of Scottish citizens, particularly:

  • A commitment to social justice
  • A commitment to equality
  • A commitment to universal welfare provision
  • A commitment to sustainable, green economic growth
  • A commitment to tackle poverty, health inequality, and social division
  • A commitment to invest in the infrastructure of Scotland’s economic future, including investing in childcare and long-term care services

Greater involvement in civic society in the process of politics

One place to start would be not to sit back and wait for Westminster’s offer, and allow the politicians to decide the future of Scotland behind closed doors. A radical and possibly long lasting change to politics in Scotland the rest of the UK could be achieved by harnessing the power, knowledge, energy and commitment of the 45% (and the rest) who were in no doubt that their vision for a fairer Scotland would take a lot of hard work. The networks and the relationships between the Scottish Government and civic society are already there, waiting…..Could a People’s Convention on a Fairer Scotland not be convened, with cross party support and involving grassroots campaigners, academics, constitutional lawyers, the third sector (and possibly even, through a lottery as Iceland did, members of the general public) to establish THEIR vision of what a fairer Scotland within the UK could, and should, look like. Informed decisions could then be taken about the kinds of powers that Scotland needs to achieve those goals, and the Scottish Government would have a clear, civic-led mandate for a different kind of future for Scotland.

And this could serve as a policy laboratory for civic engagement and federal government in the rest of the UK. What works in Scotland could work for the disenfranchised people of Wales, Northern Ireland and England too.

But that would be a *significant* challenge to the political elite in Westminster AND Holyrood.  Are they really ready to listen to the people and change politics forever?

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