There is no doubt Scotland can be an independent country, but a Scotland that fails to deliver something radically different for ordinary people from what is currently on offer from Westminster will only ever be London rule by another name.

Seeing as the Faroe Islands have survived since the late 1940s with a Home Rule constitution that leaves our measure of devolution looking rather pathetic, and that other small European countries the likes of Ireland, Norway, and Denmark manage well enough without Westminster supervision, we can dispense with the suggestion that Scotland can’t be an independent nation. Whether we are able or not was never the real question. The real questions are whether we should, and if we have the strength of will to forge in our own nation a true independence from the structures that make the United Kingdom one of the most unequal and economically unjust societies in the developed world.

No fewer than one million registered voters failed to cast their vote in the 2014 independence referendum, and, as the case was, those voters had in their grasp the power to deliver an altogether different outcome. It’s fair to say that fear played its part in convincing no small number of older voters to say No, and we mustn’t blame them. Security means so much more to the elderly than it does to the young. It may also be fair to suggest that it was indifference that kept over a million away from the polling stations on the day – and can we blame them?


What we know, for the most part, is that this lost million was from the most socially deprived working class areas of Glasgow and the western central belt of the country. Here is one of the great paradoxes of the referendum: Yes Scotland was an overwhelmingly working class movement, and yet it was the lost potential of the working class vote that led ultimately to the electoral defeat of the campaign. This is a sobering reflection, and we would all do well to reflect on it.

Scotland’s working class people – wage workers, the growing precariat, the unemployed and underemployed, the working poor, and those relegated to the extreme fringes of the economy and society – have the most to gain from independence. London rule – the rule of a privileged and corporatist élite – has not been good for them. Those securely in the middle class, the class of socio-economic survivors, would survive no matter the result. Inherited wealth, significant savings and assets always guard against the ill effects of social and political wind changes. The working class, especially its most vulnerable members, have always needed a political change to guarantee them and their families a modicum of social and economic fairness.

Knowing this, then, we have to ask why so many registered to vote and then failed to actually vote. The answer, at least in part, lies in the pragmatism of the socially insecure. What does independence matter to such people when the realities of life before and after remain the same? Ireland won its independence from Britain in the first half of the last century, and yet the reproduction in Ireland of a British class system, the self-serving economic policies of the ruling class, and crony capitalism have always conspired to keep a proportion of the Irish population in abject poverty. Would things be any different in an independent Scotland?

At the helm of the independence campaign, leading a newly energised working class movement, the personalities and groups were – and continue to be – solidly middle class; professional, university educated, and economically secure. Who would lead an independent Scotland, and which class agendas would they serve? We need an educated, professional, and secure middle class. In fact, we should be working to expand the privileges enjoyed by the middle class, but – as it is – class is still a reality, and consciously and unconsciously leaders act in their own class’ interests.

We would be fooling ourselves to imagine that this wasn’t in the minds of many working class people who decided not to vote. Independence for Scotland, for it to have any appeal to them, has to be substantively different from what Westminster presently offers. If we are to make independence appealing, not so much to the No voter, but to the non-voter, then the ongoing conversation has to involve a concrete transformation in Scottish society; one that makes real the rhetoric of fairness and equality. Self-determination which fails to commit to something different from what is already on offer is only ever going to be London rule by another name.


Jim Sillars on the Scottish Working Class


030 029 008

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