Time to respect the people’s decision and use the powers we have

ElaineSmithMSPPortraitElaine Smith, Labour MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, reflects on the independence referendum. This article first appeared in The Morning Star.


One year on from the independence referendum campaign, Scotland is again reflecting on it and asking whether there should be another referendum any time soon.

The referendum was a momentous exercise that saw me personally speak to a countless number of my constituents last year on the doorsteps, and it was a process that saw unprecedented numbers of people taking an interest in voting.

However, it was a process that also caused tensions and provoked some nasty behaviour on both sides.

In the weeks leading up to the independence referendum families were split between Yes and No, friends, work colleagues and even strangers had bitter arguments and indeed some relationships broke down never to be the same again.

In the aftermath, many who voted Yes feel cheated out of what they perceived as a better future and many who voted No feel that they are being viewed as less Scottish.

There is also an issue that the national flag is used by the SNP as a political symbol and the tensions remain while the “neverendum” hangs over us.

Still, for me the most concerning issue is the complete disregard by the SNP for democracy.

There was a massive turn-out to vote on September 18 last year so there can be no doubt that this was a democratically representative vote. The engagement of so many people in the vote was, of course, a positive outcome of the process and there was a clear 10 per cent differential, which resulted in a decision to reject independence.

There had also been clear statements by the then First Minister and others in the Yes campaign that this was a “once in a generation” or “once in a lifetime” decision and that the result would be respected.

The No side were also challenged to respect any decision and the irony is that had this vote gone the other way, even by 1 per cent, then we would have been independent by next April with no second chances.

The No campaign has been accused of scaremongering on issues like the currency, pensions and oil prices. Since there was no clear plan I actually found these issues, along with many others, very worrying and, of course, we now know that concern about oil prices were certainly no scare story but all too real in their predictions of the possibility of the price plummeting.

However, having thought long and hard about it, my main motivation for voting against separation was a class-based one. I believe in solidarity and I have more in common with people in Blackpool than those in Braemar.

It’s not a change of constitution that is needed but a change of government to achieve the fairer, more equal and redistributive society that I want to live in and that Labour would implement.

Ironically the success of the SNP in Scotland and the threat of some kind of coalition down south was enough to deliver a return of the Tories.

There is an argument now about whether the so-called “Vow” is being delivered in full, although later analysis shows that it seemed to have had little effect on the vote.

The Scottish Parliament always had vast powers which were never fully used and we were getting major extra powers over tax prior to the referendum campaign even starting. Like others I expect the Smith Commission recommendations to be fully implemented since they were agreed to on a cross-party basis by all the main parties in Scotland including the SNP.

Even if the so-called Vow is not implemented in its entirety we will still have one of the most powerful devolved administrations anywhere in the world.

When Labour delivered the referendum to establish the Scottish Parliament there were two clear votes: Yes to devolution and Yes to tax varying powers. The latter issue, therefore, had a mandate of the Scottish people agreed to by a democratic vote.

Interestingly, the SNP disregarded that democratic vote when John Swinney their finance minister gave up the ability to use the tax varying power in 2010 without even consulting the Scottish Parliament, never mind the people.

The vote for the SNP last May was undoubtedly in part an anti-establishment vote and an expression of displeasure with the perception of Westminster politics. Added to this their very effective propaganda machine was working overtime on the theme of “Standing up for Scotland.”

The reality is that there were always 59 Scottish MPs in Westminster but you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

What amazes me though is the SNP’s ability to act like the opposition when they have been the government in Scotland for over eight years. Given the chaos in the police service, the savage cuts to local government, the problems in education and the crisis in our health service to mention just a few areas I am amazed that any police officer, teacher, lecturer, nurse, doctor, paramedic or any other public-sector employee votes for them.

It will take time for Labour to regain the trust of the Scottish people but we have made a good start by electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

The negative tag of “Red Tories” was always nonsense but it was SNP spin that stuck with some people — it clearly cannot be levelled at Labour now.

In Scotland, Kezia Dugdale has started to further democratise the party, giving power to ordinary members and changing conference. Together our labour leadership team can show that, unlike the SNP, we don’t just talk about socialism, we act. The SNP have not implemented one single policy to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor in society and have actually done the opposite with their damaging council tax freeze and vicious cuts to council budgets.

Rather than spend time, energy and another £15.8 million on another referendum, the SNP should get on with sorting out the problems they are fully responsible for here in Scotland with the vast swathe of powers they now have.

Scottish Labour will get on with our job of holding the SNP government in Edinburgh accountable for their many failures.

And given time maybe the wounds can heal in families, with friends and across the country and we can all once again be proud confident Scots, living in a tolerant, friendly and inclusive nation.

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14 thoughts on “Time to respect the people’s decision and use the powers we have

  1. “I am amazed that any police officer, teacher, lecturer, nurse, doctor, paramedic or any other public-sector employee votes for them”.
    Typical sentiment of old school Scottish Labour. It is that presumption of ownership of public service workers that is the biggest change in Scottish politics. Labour used to think that the public sector workers were theirs, but they are not. Public sector workers know whose side they best interests are served by.

  2. For those who want to skip this too-long article and just get the general gist, here it is:

    “The SNP are bad and the Scottish Labour party – and me – has learned nothing from our recent disaster. Oh, and the SNP are bad. Bad!”

  3. Time to stop denying that you’re lying about the fact that the decision hasn’t been respected and the Scottish Government is performing better for the people of Scotland than any of the opposition can be trusted to because only they are a political party of Scotland for Scotland while the rest are political parties controlled and directed from London and are of London and for London.

    Disregard for democracy she says! Referendum is the very epitome of Democracy and to deny one is the very epitome of opposing democracy.

    Peoples minds change people like to have the flexibility to change whenever the need takes them. The decision and mandate for another referendum will be decided by the people voting to give or not the mandate for another Indyref and no amount of whining and whinging from the pro union cabal of lost support is going to alter that democratic necessity unless of course they want to deny democracy altogether which I wouldn’t put past any of you.

  4. Well-written and accurate article, Elaine. This SNP government are responsible for so much misery over the last 8 years. Their days are well and truly ‘numbered’. I look forward to this day with joy.

    1. Well Marie, be glad the SNP gives you so much joy,because you will be looking forward a long time.

  5. An article so predictable that anyone following Scottish politics over recent years could have written it. 1.Criticise the SNP for still wanting independence. They should have crawled away and died following the referendum result even though it was a close call! 2. Criticise the SNP where they seem to be failing, education, police, health service secure in the knowledge that he BBC will enthusiastically endorse this approach. 3. Accuse them of ignoring the democratic will of the Scottish people while at the same time Scottish labour ignores May’s general election result by continuing the nat bashing, unionist no change required approach that cost them all but one seat in Scotland. Labour must change or die in Scotland

    1. Hi Stewart

      I’ve been concerned about literacy and numeracy standards for a very long time and not just under the SNP. Standards had been falling for years and years. I’m 56 and by the time I left primary I was an avid reader. But I had parents who encouraged us all to discover books and they were also, though working class people, well able to support us in our learning. That isn’t always the case now with a significant number of parents themselves not strong in either literacy or numeracy. Employers have also been complaining for a very long time that the standards in literacy and numeracy they are seeing is just not good enough, even when job applicants are weighed down by qualifications in both subjects. Something is definitely wrong although I agree with you that the deterioration in standards did not start with the SNP. It started long before that.

  6. It really is astonishing that the political party, that last year campaigned with the Tories for a No vote and earlier this year voted in support of the Charter for Budget Responsibility and £30 billion Tory Austerity cuts, is now shedding crocodile tears about problems in Scotland’s public services!
    Of course it would help if its Scottish leader did not tell out and out lies about them. Last Sunday on the Daily Politics on BBC1 she told Gordon Brewer “I’m sure you’d be shocked to know that 50% of the poorest kids leave our schools unable to read.”
    Does she make this garbage up herself or does Labour pay someone to do it for her?

  7. This article is not helpful at all Elaine. It fails on so many levels that I lost count.

    Many of the SNP policies that came in were welcomed by the vast majority of Scots. Issues like prescription charges (which were being exploited by successive Westminster Governments, including Labour, as a handy means to raise revenue), tuition fees and Councils playing games with Council Tax hikes were all important to Scottish voters. At the time prescriptions started to fall under the SNP the price, per item, was almost £7.00. Many people could barely afford it. Prescription charges became an ever increasing charge on the sick and it was wrong to do that to sick people on low pay.

    “The reality is that there were always 59 Scottish MPs in Westminster but you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.”

    Yes indeed but the vast majority were Labour. How many do Labour have now? One.

    ‘The vote for the SNP last May was undoubtedly in part an anti-establishment vote and an expression of displeasure with the perception of Westminster politics. Added to this their very effective propaganda machine was working overtime on the theme of “Standing up for Scotland.”’

    Are you aware just how much you insult Scottish voters with that statement? The vote in May was a judgement of the Labour Party. And there was no “propaganda” involved. People made a choice. You just dismissed their choice by making up excuses, which are wildly inaccurate, about why they voted that way. You really need to take on board just how many seats Labour lost here and rather than mislead about why that was get your brain in gear and set about trying to win people back. Unless you do that then next May is going to bring even greater shocks.

  8. “There is also an issue that the national flag is used by the SNP as a political symbol and the tensions remain while the “neverendum” hangs over us.”

    Elaine, the most obvious symbol for the SNP is the national flag after all it is the Scottish National Party what would you suggest instead?

    Elaine take a tip from me the more that you go on about SNP bad bad bad the more people will vote for and support the SNP in their quest for Scotland’s Independence.

    I make a prediction that the Scottish Labour Section will in future breakaway from the Uk Labour Party and will then go onto support an Independence Referendum, and the outcome of the refurendum will be Scotland’s Independence.

  9. David- SNP failures are not made up by the BBC, as you seem to suggest. It’s about time the SNP started using the powers of Holyrood to try to reduce inequality instead of blaming Westminster for everything.

  10. Elaine, will the Scottish Labour section actually have a discussion on Trident at the Scottish Labour conference, put it to the vote and have a policy position on it or instead will it follow the head office lead and not even discuss it as was the case at the Labour Party UK conference? please can you let me know your views on this matter.

  11. The Union flag is not used as a political symbol of the UKs imperialism then or maybe is the Welsh flag political or the Irish
    Perhaps if David Cameron and others decided not to impose the Union flag on Scottish driving licences you might get away with a little tiny moan but it’s not going on the Irish licence, wonder why not

    People are entitled to whatever symbols they might choose the Labour party has the Red flag after all

    I could go on all day but what it comes down to is simple
    The right to self determination, Scotland is not a Region of anywhere as the Unionists seem to think, England is not Britain, it’s only a part of Britain and the Scottish part of the Britons will cease to be a part of the UK which is different from not being British, the UK is an English construct and they will still have it albeit what’s left of it, but it will be theirs and Scotland will belong to itself and be governed accordingly for, and by the people therein

    We can be friends and neighbours or not, that emnity seems to come from the Unionist argument not the Scottish side, we never threatened anybody

    The Unionist argument always is “You can fool all of the people most of the time and those are the ones we should go after”

    That argument is now lost, get over it

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