In the two years since the Independence Referendum the politics of Scotland has changed beyond recognition. Although the realities of inequality remain very much the same, it is worth noting just how different our country is as a result of the referendum and its aftermath.
Scotland entered the referendum campaign in 2012, very much like England – while we voted differently in Scotland, our attitudes to political questions were very different. Scotland now stands politically very much apart from England. The citizens of nations aren’t born with a particular political outlook, be that left or right. The idea that the politics of Scotland’s people was formed with loch and glen is simply wrong. It’s the product of our history, geography and society. But that politics can change. And the referendum shows it can change very quickly.
While Scotland didn’t vote for independence, our changing politics is eroding the UK’s political unity. What is perhaps most interesting was the way in which change happened. It wasn’t the result of media headlines, press officers, or any of the tools of the late 20th century. It was a mass movement – people convincing other people. And it is this politics that is beginning to change the world, from our political parties to the US presidential race.
The tide that transformed Scotland has seen changes in politics across the world. Radical candidates surge into the leadership of previously centrist parties. Radical parties perform better than over the last 3 decades. This is because of a change in the structure of the economy, a change to how we communicate and on the entry of a new generation to the electorate.
While Margaret Thatcher sought to ‘change the soul’ by making money the dominant relationship in society, the outcome seems to be a generation of people who reject the tyranny of the market. It’s not really a surprise when that market has forced people to take on huge debt to get education, a jobs market that offers little security and often poverty wages, and housing that costs three times (and often more) than what it did for their parents.
But those material changes only sow the seeds for political change. What made the Scottish experience unique was that it was a transformation in a national political debate driven not by a crisis like in Greece or Spain. Instead our change came from the desire to redefine our politics with social justice and equality at its heart. And it came from ordinary people arming themselves with facts, arguments and that desire to make Scotland a better place.
The Green campaign in the 2014 European Parliament election focused on how we could create a just, welcoming Scotland. As anti-immigrant rhetoric from Westminster politicians and tabloid papers sank to new depths our aim was to change the nature of the debate around austerity, immigration and our future. We didn’t win, but we I like to think we profoundly changed the debate.
And we carried that approach into Green Yes. Far from being the ‘narrow nationalism’ derided by our opponents, we willed into existence a Scotland that looked to the world for the best ways to do things. A Scotland that looked to change the world for the better. A Scotland for those at home with freedom.
The contrast with the EU referendum could not be greater. Where our referendum became a cauldron of ideas, energy, excitement and resolution to change the world, the EU referendum was a grand exercise in cynicism. Driven by a narrow nationalism that sought to return England to its status as an imperial power, the debate often felt like a demand to stop the world, so England could get off – taking the rest of us too.
Of course, for many of those shut out of education, housing and secure employment, this was entirely understandable. Just as it was understandable for many to vote to stay in a United Kingdom they little expected to behave so self-destructively. And just as we in Scotland have decisively shifted the debate on immigration, so we need to shift those in the UK who still blame foreigners for the economic impact of Thatcherism and the banking crisis.
We must not cease from our work in creating Scotland anew. We face ever greater challenges. It is not just Scotland we must recast. We have communities, cities, workplaces to change. We have the tools that can make that change, it is a matter of finding the opportunities to use those tools. By defining our identity as egalitarian, internationalist and committed to saving our planet we can claim back our souls from Thatcherism. The referendum was only the beginning. Its spirit lives on, and we can and will use that spirit to create the Scotland we all deserve in the world we all deserve