By a 10% majority, the inhabitants of Scotland voted No to the question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" The first reaction of Alex Salmond, the leader of the Yes campaign, was to admit defeat and resign as head of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and as First Minister of the devolved Scottish government. Within a day or two, however, he began urging the minority of Yes voters to delegitimize the majority and to work for a seizure of independence in the future by any available maneuvers.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Greek Civil War (1945-1949), not to mention the whole history of Yugoslavia, showed that Europeans are as capable of treating one another vilely as Muslim fanatics in the Middle East. Some five times more Spaniards perished then than all the victims to date of the current fighting in Syria. The red terror and the white terror in Spain were as murderous as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Salmond's legacy may turn out to be the spark that kindles similar misery in Scotland.
Salmond's post-referendum musings started from the premise that the No voters were "tricked" and so their opinion should be disregarded. He went on to suggest that a future Scottish Parliament could simply declare independence without bothering about a fresh referendum. A close associate, Jim Sellars, claimed that the SNP could do this immediately if it wins the next Scottish elections in 2016.
That is, an SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament would declare itself the government of an independent country and defy the sovereign UK government to do anything about it. It would also defy the wishes of a majority of Scotland's inhabitants to remain in the UK. Remember that this time about 14% of SNP voters chose No to independence: they had voted in 2011 to put the SNP in charge of internal government in Scotland, not to break up the UK. So Salmond is ready to delegitimize even his own local voters if their wishes offend him.
Such a decision by an SNP government to exceed its powers would be both a rebellion and an attempt to impose the will of a ruling clique upon a vast number of unwilling Scots. In short, a recipe for civil war as well as for forceful intervention by the UK to check a violation of the constitution. What would follow, no one can tell. But it took less, for instance, to start the Lebanese Civil War in 1975: shots fired at a church from a passing car, to which a Christian militia responded by firing on a bus carrying Palestinians. Hostilities spiraled and the war went on for fifteen years.
Another suggestion of Salmond focused upon two polls which examined the breakdown of voters for and against independence, one by YouGov and one by Lord Ashcroft. The pollsters questioned 3188 and 2047 individuals respectively about how they had voted. In a typical massaging of the facts, the 59-year-old Salmond claimed that it was only "old people" like himself who had registered a majority No vote, so they were imposing their will on younger generations that would outlive them.
This was a disgusting attempt to pit the young against the old in Scotland, as if pensioners had no right to an opinion, let alone to worry whether a Scottish government could guarantee the pension levels provided by the UK as a whole. That is, it was another attempt to create civil strife in pursuit of Salmond's aims. In addition, his facts were wrong. According to YouGov, it was all age groups above 39 that gave a majority to No, so for Salmond it is not "life" but "old age" that begins at 40. Moreover, the age group 16-24 also voted No by 51% to 49%. Lord Ashcroft's poll had given a majority to Yes in this age group, but based on only 14 persons asked, which is far too low for reliable conclusions.
An apartment building in Leith, Scotland with both YES and NO referendum posters and Union flag. September 2014. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons/Brian McNeil)
Prevarication about the facts characterized Salmond throughout the run-up to the referendum and especially during the two television debates with Alastair Darling, a former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (secretary of the treasury) who led the No campaign. General opinion awarded victory to Darling in first debate, staged by Scottish Television, as reported here and here. Darling argued convincingly that the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh already controlled most internal affairs in Scotland, but that the creation of any barriers between Scotland and the rest of the UK would hamper Scottish economic activity. In particular, Salmond had no coherent answer when Darling pointed out that if Scotland continued to use the pound sterling – as Salmond wants even after independence – then Scottish financial policy would be dictated from a London where Scots no longer had a say.
Salmond's main argument was that the oil fields in Scottish territorial waters would provide an endless source of riches to subsidize all Scottish dreams. In fact, tax revenues from the oil have been falling, the fields are running down and they may not survive another forty years. Amazingly, Salmond received a degree in economics in 1978 and was employed as an economist for several years. For sure, economics has been revolutionized by developments in Game Theory in the meantime. But Salmond should still have learned enough to know that there is no economic argument for Scottish independence, but rather the opposite.
For the second debate, staged by the BBC, Salmond changed his tactics. Instead of listening to Darling's arguments, Salmond started interrupting him in mid-sentence whenever he opened his mouth and generally shouting him down, to the enthusiastic applause of part of the studio audience. So while Darling politely listened when it was Salmond's turn to speak, he could not even be heard when it was his own turn. Whereas the Scottish Television moderator had strictly enforced the rules, the BBC moderator abandoned his task and simply watched the spectacle. As a result, popular opinion gave victory to Salmond.
That "victory," however, galvanized the Scottish business community, which had previously kept quiet in order not to annoy anyone. Leading figures in the oil industry denounced Salmond's claims of inexhaustible riches. The four main Scottish banks announced that in the event of Scottish independence they would move their headquarters to London. The big supermarket chains stated that food prices would rise because they would no longer subsidize higher distribution costs in Scotland from profits in England. Even Irn Bru, the iconic Scottish fizzy soft drink, now sells less in Scotland than from a factory located near London.
Take the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of those four main banks. Its holding company bought up the National Westminster Bank in 2000, so it has vastly more customers south of the border and could not afford to have its headquarters outside the UK. In 2008, moreover, it ran into a crisis after the ill-judged acquisition of a Dutch bank. Thereupon the UK government had to arrange a massive bailout, a financial burden that Salmond's Scotland could not have managed on its own.
Moreover, the UK Prime Minister at the time happened to be a Scot, Gordon Brown. As the date of the referendum approached, Brown came out of semi-retirement with a proposal for greater Scottish devolution, to which the leaders of the unionist parties quickly agreed. He then went on campaign in Scotland and gave a brilliant last-minute speech: he listed the advantages for Scotland in the UK, something he knew only too well, but also reminded his audience how the four home countries had constantly fought together for the liberty of Europe and great things in the world. A late surge for No was credited to this, "the speech of the campaign."
Lord Ashcroft's poll indicated that it was above all economic concerns that impelled the No vote. So Salmond may have won the second debate, but he lost the argument.
Realizing that they could win the referendum only on emotion, the Yes campaigners turned to systematic intimidation of everyone who revealed any inclination to vote No. This had already begun earlier, when the so-called "cybernats" emerged as internet trolls showering abuse on prominent personalities, such as Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who supported the No campaign. After the television debates, however, the aggression intensified, as can be read here, here, here and here. Businesses were threatened with nationalization after independence, farmers were told their cattle would be let loose, and people who put No posters in their windows were threatened that their houses would be torched. Campaigners for No, besides suffering personal abuse, reported that people were whispering their intention to vote No, but refusing to take publicity material. Despite the BBC's inadvertent contribution to this phenomenon by way of the second debate, it too came under attack and especially its political correspondent, Nick Robinson, who insisted on asking the questions that Salmond wanted to suppress.
A fascinating account from inside the Yes campaign was written by Scottish author Ewan Morrison, who joined it and was ultimately impelled to vote No by the authoritarian character of the campaign. He "noticed that whenever someone raised a pragmatic question about governance, economics or future projections for oil revenue or the balance of payments in Scotland, they were quickly silenced by comments such as 'We'll sort that out after the referendum, this is not the place or the time for those kinds of questions.' Or the people who asked such questions were indirectly accused of 'being negative' or talking the language of the enemy." All this reminded him of his youthful flirtation, like Salmond's, with a Trotskyite group, where unquestioning conformity with the party line was combined with ruthless activism.
Morrison does not notice that the tactics of the intimidators were also typical of fascists. He saw, however, that the Yes coalition, made up of nationalists, greens and the far left, had contrary visions for an independent Scotland. The coalition would have dissolved into mutual warfare if independence had been achieved.
The referendum gave a clear majority to No, despite the impression of a close vote suggested by the noise of the Yes campaign. But this has not deterred the intimidators. They have adopted Salmond's attempts to pit one part of the population against another: not just young against old, but manual workers against the middle classes, city slum dwellers against country people, men against women, any section of the population that preferred Yes against another section that did the opposite. (In fact, contrary to expectations, Lord Ashcroft's poll suggests that a majority of men as well as of women voted against independence.)
Almost 100,000 infuriated Yes voters have signed a petition claiming that the vote was rigged and must be repeated. A group has emerged calling itself "The 45" and announcing a boycott of all firms, media and institutions that supported a No vote. Echoing Salmond, they trumpet that they "were not fooled by their dirty tricks." Never mind if the boycotters have to give up their bank accounts, avoid supermarkets and stop consuming famous Scottish brands. And stop watching BBC television and reading any of the newspapers that Salmond excluded from his post-referendum news conference.
The point is that the losers are declaring war on all who disagree with them. They received further encouragement when Salmond absented himself from the "service of reconciliation" that the Moderator of the Church of Scotland held in Edinburgh's St. Giles Cathedral on the Sunday after the referendum. Nicola Sturgeon, his deputy and likely successor, also stayed away, although some lesser SNP figures did attend.
A glance at the map of referendum results shows that there was a majority for No across all but two tiny parts of Scotland. The exceptions were the cities of Dundee and Glasgow, together with two small areas in the latter's hinterland on the Clyde (West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire). The oilfields, by the way, lie off the coast of Aberdeenshire, where Salmond has his constituency, and off the Shetland Islands. But Aberdeenshire, the city of Aberdeen and the Shetlands all voted against independence by margins of around 20%. If a Trotsky-Fascist Clydeside and the Dundee Strip were awarded independence, they would have to survive without oil revenues.
An interesting coincidence is that both cities have taken to flying the Palestinian flag on their town halls. Dundee has been doing this since 1980; Glasgow and neighboring West Dunbartonshire adopted the practice recently. Dundee has been twinned with Nablus since 1996; Glasgow twinned with Bethlehem in 2012; no other Scottish city is currently twinned with a Palestinian town. All three councils started this policy under Labour Party administrations, but Dundee is now in the hands of the SNP. The foolish devotion of Labour councilors to Palestinian militancy paved the way for nationalist mania. Certainly, the SNP now has its eyes on Glasgow. As in many instances, excessive enthusiasm for matters Palestinian is linked to trouble.
Edinburgh, by contrast, voted 61% to 39% against independence. Although it is the country's capital, independence would have meant mass migration of its financial sector to England.
Another Palestinian connection comes via Glasgow-born Humza Yousaf, a Member of the Scottish Parliament whom Salmond appointed as his Parliamentary Liaison Officer in 2012. In the meantime, although only 29 years old, he serves as Minister for External Affairs and International Development. That is, he would have been Scotland's Foreign Minister had Salmond achieved independence. Reportedly, he was once linked with the charity Islamic Relief and he "recently called for Scotland to take in Palestinian refugees, and urged a full arms embargo of the State of Israel." He has denied any intention of seeking to become SNP leader or even deputy leader after Salmond's resignation, but is well placed to seek the leadership at a later date.
The leaders of the UK's Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties, who hastily embraced Gordon Brown's proposal for enhanced devolution for Scotland, now think that their greatest problem will be fleshing out that scheme within the remaining months of the current Westminster Parliament. They seem not to realize that the deeper problem will be averting increasingly vicious civil strife in Scotland by Yes voters against No voters. They will also have to find safeguards against the scheme of Salmond and Sellars for a sudden grab of independence. For instance, the legislation could prescribe that if the Scottish Parliament should declare independence, then that body and the Scottish government would be adjudged dissolved ipso facto in virtue of that transgression of their powers.
One area that need not worry Westminster for the moment is any spillover of Salmond's agitation to Wales. In the wake of the Scottish referendum, a poll in Wales has shown that support for independence is at its lowest point of just 3%. Plaid Cymru (the Welsh nationalist party) currently polls less even than the fervently unionist UK Independence Party [UKIP]. This is not a big surprise. The big issue of national identity in Wales has always been the preservation and advancement of the Welsh language (this author is a Welsh speaker). The Welsh are, however, keen on further devolution.
In Scotland, the language issue is quite different, despite the appearance of bilingual English-Gaelic road signs in recent years. In Roman times, southern Scotland actually spoke Welsh, while northern Scotland spoke Pictish (whatever that was). The latter was displaced by Gaelic due to immigration from Ireland; elsewhere immigration from northern Europe led to the replacement of Welsh by the ancestors of English in Scotland and England alike. Scottish nationalism has only superficial connections with language. To the average Englishman, Shakespeare and Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, are similarly difficult – or easy – to understand.
During the last half century, Conservative governments gave much practical support to the Welsh language. The Welsh Conservative Party also quickly learned that the devolved Welsh Assembly was an opportunity to be embraced. This is why Conservatives are still second after Labour in Welsh elections.
Also in Scotland, the Conservatives still have voters, but many "natural" Conservatives vote for other parties because the Conservative Party became identified with hostility to the very idea of devolution. A Scottish Conservative Party that combined a genuine Scottish identity with unionism might have checked the dangers of Salmond. It remains a need – and an opportunity. They could learn from Gordon Brown.