Scotland votes No but it's still not over

By Scott McDonald

The dust has still not settled following the Referendum on Scottish Independence and will not settle for some considerable time.

The “Vow” made by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to give extra powers to the Scottish Parliament in the event of a No vote has resulted in the establishment of the Lord Smith Commission. This Commission has the remit to reach consensus on the extra powers for Scotland with a view to publishing a Draft Scotland Bill on 25 January to be included in the Queen’s Speech in May 2015.  

The Coalition Government has set up a Cabinet committee, under William Hague, to look at ‘English votes for English laws’ and if the three main parties do not reach agreement then the Conservative Party will make it a General Election issue.

Notwithstanding this, nor the Edinburgh Agreement of October 2012 in which all signed up to respect the result, the SNP have made it clear that they intend to continue their quest for an independent Scotland whilst participating in the Smith Commission; and the Yes campaign continues to mobilise. The SNP and the Yes campaign don’t intend to let the dust settle until they achieve what they failed to do in the referendum.

The constitutional questions will run and run. Meanwhile, austerity and cuts continue and Britain (including Scotland) is at war.

There has been much analysis of the result including by Professor John Curtice, the psephologist. According to Curtice four patterns were evident in the polls throughout most of the campaign and in the result itself. Those who were relatively reluctant to vote Yes were:

  • women;
  • older people;
  • those who were somewhat better off;
  • those who were born elsewhere in the UK

Curtice commented, “nothing seemed to matter more to voters in deciding whether to vote Yes or No than their perceptions of the economic consequences of leaving the UK. Doubtless those who were less well-off were more easily persuaded that independence might hold out the prospect of a better tomorrow…”

He also wrote, “Nothing was more strongly correlated with the level of Yes support in each council area than the level of unemployment. In those areas with relatively high unemployment Yes support averaged 51%; in those with low levels of unemployment it was just 39%...there were similar differences between places with a high (51% Yes) and low (40% No) proportion living in one of Scotland’s most deprived neighbourhoods…” (What Scotland Thinks, “So who voted Yes and who voted No?”, Sept 2014)

There were two polls conducted after votes were cast and, according to Curtice, “neither polls contain enough 16 and 17 year olds for us to make a definitive statement about how this newly enfranchised group voted. What we can note is that in both polls the highest level of recorded support for Yes was amongst those in their late 20s and 30s rather than those aged between 16 and 24. (So How Well Did the Polls Do?, 22 September)

However, neither a sociological perspective nor simple demographics fully explains the result. For example, assuming it is correct that a majority of the over 55s voted No, is it because they are more risk averse or have longer memories or other reasons?  In some cases it was certainly because older people remember that it was the SNP who brought down the Labour government in 1979 and ushered in 18 years of Thatcherism. Whereas, the late 20year-olds and 30 somethings have only direct experience of New Labour and the Tory/Lib Dem coalition at a UK level and seven years with SNP as the Scottish government. 

The Campaign

The SNP had included the intention to hold a Referendum on Scottish Independence in their election manifesto for the 2011 Scottish election. They had gone into the election as a minority Scottish government with one seat more than the Labour Party and then, after winning an overall majority they were able to carry out their intention to hold a Referendum.

This involved negotiations with the UK Government. The UK government allowed the SNP to decide the question to be put to the electorate,  to lower the voting age to 16 and to set the date for the referendum  but were unwilling to allow a third question - something short of independence but more devolution than that currently exists- on the ballot paper.

It was widely believed that the SNP didn’t think they could win a vote for independence and so wanted a third question, as a fall-back position, to give more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP decided to hold the referendum in 2014, giving a long time for campaigning and coinciding with the anniversary year of Bannockburn, the year of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Scotland would be on the world stage.

The SNP also decided the question to be put to the electorate and the UK government, or more particularly David Cameron, accepted it The question was “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”  

Bill Paterson, the actor, writing in the Scottish Review, noted that, “…you don’t have to be deep into conspiracy theories to feel that whoever was able to frame that referendum question loaded the dice right from the start.”

(Paterson B., “Scottish referendum: oh, to belong to this clamjamfry of yes voters”, first published in the Scottish Review. An edited version was published in The Guardian, 28 July 2014.)

If the question had been posed as “Do you agree that Scotland should remain part of the UK?” then those seeking independence would have been campaigning for a No vote.

As it was, the SNP were handed the advantage of a positive message.  There is a big advantage in saying Yes rather than No as the SNP well understood.

SNP Elections/Referendum Strategy

The SNP prides itself on the positivity of their election strategies. This began before the 2007 election following a workshop with the Really Effective Management Company (REDco) where they learned about Martin Seligman’s research on how it’s the most optimistic candidate in American presidential elections who usually wins.

According to Paul Hutcheon of the Sunday Herald, the SNP MSP Brian Adam revealed the strategy for ensuring candidates remained upbeat: “We were all presented with a bag of pennies. Every time we said anything negative we had to put a penny in the middle of the table. This was to stop us saying negative things. It was a major change in approach.”

The SNP continued successfully with this approach in the 2011 campaign and continued with this type of training in the referendum campaign with Alex Salmond receiving performance coaching by Clare Howell REDco’s Chief Executive Officer.

Angus Robertson MP, the SNP campaign director, said, “The SNP has learned the importance of positive and optimistic campaigning, and the language by which we communicate our messages.”

Ewan Morrison, the award winning writer and director, explained how he had switched from being a Yes to a No supporter in a blog that described the independence campaign as self-censoring, conformist and cult-like. Morrison said, “The conformist dumbing down has been acute and noted by those outside Scotland who wondered where all the intellectuals went.” Recalling his time in the Socialist Workers Party in the 1980s, he added, “The Yes movement started to remind me of the Trotskyists – another movement who believed they were political but were no more than a recruitment machine. The Yes camp…have created an illusion of a free space in which everything you ever wanted can come to pass – overnight,” said Morrison.

It was reported that “SNP MSPs have been urged to drop the word ‘independence’ because the concept is off-putting to voters, and to talk instead of an ‘independent’ Scotland…The theory is that being ‘independent-minded is a positive personal quality voters like, whereas ‘independence’ as a concept for Scotland is associated in voters’ minds with risk”

(Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon, Sunday Herald, 18 June 2012) Earlier, it was reported that they should ban the word ‘freedom’ (Sunday Herald, 8 January 2012).

All of this helps to explain their approach to difficult questions such as the currency options or membership of the EU. Throughout the campaign the SNP insisted that an independent Scotland would use the £ sterling even although the three parties (Tory, Lib Dem and Labour) repeatedly made it clear that this would not be agreed by any of them. Alastair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign, kept asking for Alex Salmond’s Plan B, most notably in the first television debate between the two. Salmond refused to present a Plan B insisting that it would be in both Scotland’s and the rest of the UK’s interest to accept a currency union. He attacked the “Westminster parties” for their “bullying” and their “bluff and bluster.”

Similarly on the question of EU membership the SNP did not accept that Scotland’s membership would not be straightforward contrary to the views of many leading EU politicians and bureaucrats. They dismissed any and all suggestions of potential difficulties as negative.

The senior Yes people set out their agenda for Scotland and then simply expected the rest of the world to comply. Indeed, they never acknowledged that others - eg rUK or EU member states - might have their own agendas or interests.

When difficult questions were raised their answer was that this was “scaremongering”. They dubbed the Better Together campaign as “Project Fear” and often referred to it as not having confidence in the Scottish people to run their own affairs. The notion that “Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid” to become independent mainly featured in the campaign via the Yes side. Often, it was the likes of Nicola Sturgeon who set this idea up as a straw man to be knocked down.

Throughout the campaign they branded the Better Together campaign as being negative. This was very successful with even some of the leading people in Better Together - eg Charles Kennedy, former Liberal Democrat leader and Gordon Brown - going public about their concerns with the negativity of the Better Together campaign.

All of these labels, ‘scaremongering’, ‘Project Fear’ and ‘bullying’ fed into their characterisation of the Better Together campaign as negative whilst they described themselves as optimistic, confident and positive.  

The Yes campaign also used the deep anti-Tory sentiment in Scotland to tar the No campaign with that toxic brush. This also partly infected the Labour Party, now in alliance in the Better Together campaign with the despised Coalition Westminster government. Gordon Brown’s tacit refusal to join Better Together but rather to campaign under a Labour banner was a reflection of his and others disquiet.

Appeal beyond SNP

The Yes campaign, while led by the SNP, also included the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). A number of groups supporting Yes emerged during the campaign including  Radical Independence  (involving Greens, SSP, some Labour Party members, ex-Communist Party members, various Trotskyists); Women for Independence; the National Collective of writers and artists and Common Weal, a project which had an acrimonious split from the Jimmy Reid Foundation .

Scottish CND came out in favour of independence largely because of the SNP’s commitment to remove Trident from Scotland.

The trade unions, as a movement, were effectively neutralised because of the divisions within. Two unions, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) and the Prison Officers Association, came out in favour of Yes. In the case of RMT it was by a very slender majority in a ballot in which members in Scotland were asked to vote on three questions (Yes received 1051 votes; No 968; Neutral 365). Other unions took a neutral stance as did the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). 

Many on the Left, disillusioned with the Labour Party, supported the Yes campaign, often arguing it was about democracy, social justice and equality, not nationalism.

The SNP have also been wearing the Labour Party’s social democratic clothes since the advent of New Labour. Repeatedly during the last weeks of the campaign the SNP appealed to Labour voters to vote Yes and specifically to Labour Party members to see a Yes vote as their opportunity to reclaim the Labour Party from the Westminster elite.

The Yes campaign was very visible throughout with posters in windows, flags and banners. The No campaign was muted. There was a nasty side to the Yes campaign: very much in your face; intolerant of other views, eg the barracking of Jim Murphy MP and Ed Miliband; and somewhat messianic.

When criticisms were made of the Yes campaign’s behaviour, their response was to say that there was inappropriate behaviour on both sides. Some would point to the Orange Order’s support for No and the violent scenes in George Square following the vote involving the extreme right. However, it was accepted by most neutral observers that those voting No were a very silent majority.

Kenneth Roy, wrote in the Scottish Review, “The inexcusable failure of the first minister to control or condemn the excesses of their supporters has created an atmosphere in which hatred thrives out of sight. I’ll give one example which I know to be true. I have no doubt there are many others.

In a small town in central Scotland – for the protection of the people involved I do not intend to name it – a couple put a No sticker in the window of their house. A neighbour – a woman they ‘knew’ – came over and said: ‘Oh, I didn’t realise you were moving home’.

‘We’re not,’ said the man, surprised. ‘Well, you will be after we win,’ she told him. ‘You won’t be welcome in this street.’

I hold the first minister personally responsible for such intolerance. Had he chosen to utter a few statesmanlike words months ago, the nastiness of the present mood could and probably would have been avoided. He chose not to utter them. (Roy, K., “My country has been broken by the hubris of Alex Salmond, Scottish Review, 17 September 2014.)

The SNP and the Yes campaign claim that the campaign has been enriching, energising and has brought many people into politics for the first time. Whilst some of this is true for some people, it has also been a most divisive campaign for the country and its trade unions.

One Poll, Big Panic

The polls had fairly consistently given the No campaign a 20% lead over the Yes campaign until nearer the referendum date when the polls began to narrow. Then, on Sunday 7 September, ten days before Polling day YouGov published a poll in Murdoch’s Sunday Times giving the Yes campaign 51% and No 49%. This was the first and only poll to give Yes the lead.

The poll, plus the clearly panicked reaction from Westminster, caused the pound to plummet and £2.3 billion was wiped off the value of the six FTSE companies based in Scotland. A frantic operation was mounted. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband missed Prime Minister’s Question time in the House of Commons and flew to Scotland. Gordon Brown re-entered the fray, promising extra powers to the Scottish Parliament and setting out a timetable for this. The aim  was to persuade a large proportion of traditional Labour voters, who had looked like voting Yes, back into the No camp. Brown’s answer over the years to defeating the SNP had always been more and more Home Rule so this was just a further step in that strategy, albeit a desperate one.

Interestingly, the polls conducted after the referendum vote suggest that ‘more devolved’ powers was the key issue for only some 20% of No voters. In other words, 80% would have voted No without this being offered.

John Curtice, commenting on the polls, said that towards the end of the campaign, they had all consistently underestimated the level of support for No.

Immediate aftermath

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum result being declared Prime Minister Cameron, on the steps of 10 Downing St., raised the issue of ‘English votes for English laws’ and stated that this would be dealt with in tandem with the issue of extra powers to Scotland.

Cameron’s proposal, with an eye to the forthcoming General Election, was designed to wrong foot Labour. The ‘Vow’ had never referred to anything other than extra powers for Scotland.  It is generally assumed that for Labour to win enough seats to form the government they would rely on their Scottish MPs. The ‘West Lothian question’ was back on the table and put Labour on the back foot.

Labour’s response was to separate the two issues: deal with the Scottish issue according to the timetable set by the three Party leaders but to establish a  Constitutional Convention to deal with the issues relating to rUK after the May 2015 General election.

In his response, Salmond declared that No voters had been “tricked” and that the SNP would hold Westminster’s “feet to the fire” if they tried to renege on the promise of more powers to the Scottish Parliament. He added that for Scotland to gain independence they did not necessarily need another referendum. He also announced his intention to resign as SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister in November 2014. His deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, is destined to be the next SNP leader and First Minister.

Lord Smith of Kelvin was appointed to convene a Commission, which would bring all the parties together to reach a consensus on the further powers to be devolved to Scotland. 

Detailed proposals are scheduled to be published at the end of October, consultation concluded by the 30 November (St Andrews Day) and a draft Scotland Bill to be published by 25 January 2015 (Robert Burns anniversary).

The timetable for consensus is so tight, and given the differing positions on extra powers, it is difficult to see how agreement can be reached unless one or other of the parties, Labour most likely, is bounced into acceptance. It is hardly a sensible way to make constitutional changes.

Implications of the result

The first point to make is that the SNP and the Yes campaign have not accepted the result of the referendum. Their approach will be to seek devo-max from the negotiations in the Smith Commission. Even if they achieve this, it will only serve as a further platform for their continuing aim of independence.

The Tories have gone the furthest towards devo-max of the other three parties. They have proposed all income tax should be returned to Scotland and that the Scottish Government should be responsible for all its spending. Accountability is their slogan. They know that this would mean austerity and cuts. They are not unhappy with that but the bonus would be that they think that Holyrood would have to take the blame.

The Tories will also hope to re-gain lost ground in what used to be Tory territory in Scotland. The sizeable No victory in Aberdeenshire (60-40 in favour of No), which contains Salmond’s constituency, and other defeats for the Yes campaign in SNP held seats indicates that a significant number of SNP voters said No.

The SNP are reporting a huge rise in the membership of their party since the vote. They are claiming that their membership has trebled to some 70,000 since 18 September. They have set their sights on defeating Labour in Glasgow at the General Election. Labour holds all the Westminster Glasgow seats but Yes won the referendum in all of Glasgow’s constituencies.

SNP aim to destroy Labour

It has been a long-term aim of the SNP to oust the Labour Party as the main party of working people, particularly in Glasgow and the west of Scotland.  Donald Dewar, former Labour Party leader and the first First Minister of Scotland, pointed out that “the SNP had made it brutally clear that its top political priority was the destruction of the Labour Party.”

(Quoted in Maria Fyfe, A Problem Like Maria, Page 161, Luath Press, 2014)

As reported by Paul Hutcheon in the Sunday Herald (21 September 2014), several SNP MSPs have called for the Yes campaign to stand in the forthcoming General Election. Edinburgh Pentlands MSP, Gordon McDonald, wrote in an email to all SNP MSPs: “The next round is GE (General Election) 2015. What about getting agreement with Greens, SSP, etc and stand as Yes Alliance? The unionist vote would split between Labour, Tory & LibDem. We would do considerably better than the small numbers of MPs we got elected last time. The SNP only got 491k votes in 2010 & referendum achieved 1.6M for YES!”

Joan McAlpine MSP, one of Salmond’s parliamentary liaison officers, said: “I was thinking along the same lines. We have some very talented people who could stand such as Richard Arkless of Business for Scotland.” Fellow MSP Chic Brodie commented: “Think Gordon’s idea is right. We intend to keep the campaign group together locally.”

Michael Coyle, an SNP councillor in North Lanarkshire, said he backed the idea of a cross-party alliance at the General Election. He said: “All political parties involved in Yes should sit down together and co-operate. We should try and get rid of every sitting Labour MP who was against the Yes campaign.” 

Bruce Crawford MSP, SNP Minister for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy, brought that discussion to a close, at least in public. He wrote, “…can we keep our own Counsel on these ideas at the moment.  Let’s wait and see what the next few days bring and let the dust settle before we start mapping for the General Election.”

The SNP with their big growth in party members, Yes victory in all Glasgow Labour constituencies and the long-term aim of destroying Labour, will be reluctant to share the spoils accrued from the Yes campaign.

The Scottish Labour Party, alienated from their traditional working-class support through the New Labour Blair/Brown years, and having lost hundreds of disillusioned activists, many to the SNP, could be facing a major loss of seats in Scotland at the General Election in 2015.

Colin Fox, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, wrote, “…next year’s Westminster General Election offers the independence movement the chance to take the fight to Labour. The referendum results in their so-called ‘heartlands’ show how vulnerable many of its MPs might be to a single independence candidate. Talks are now under way between the three Independence parties about establishing an Independence Alliance to stand candidates…” (Fox, C., ‘Independence Deferred’, Scottish Left Review, Issue 83, October 2014.)

If this were to happen then the possibility of Labour winning the General election and forming the next UK Government would be in severe jeopardy.

A Tory/UKIP government at Westminster would be regarded by the SNP as another boost for their prospects of winning independence for Scotland.    

THE QUESTION: Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?


THE RESULT: On a turnout of 84.59% of the electorate, 55.3% voted NO and 44.7% voted YES. Of the 32 areas, 28 voted No and only 4 voted Yes, namely, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire, Glasgow and North Lanarkshire.  


The votes - counted in the 32 council areas - are shown below:

Council                       Turnout                      Yes                    No











175,745      (81.64%)




206,486      (87.15%)




93,551        (85.77%)



Argyll and Bute

72,002        (88.15%)




39,972        (88.53%)



Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

22,908        (86.17%)



Dumfries and Galloway

122,036      (87.39%)



Dundee City

118,729      (78.75%)



East Ayrshire

99,664        (84.49%)






East Dunbartonshire




86,836        (90.9%)









East Lothian

81,945        (87.56%)



East Renfrewshire

72,981        (90.4%)




378,012      (84.27%)




122,457      (88.62%)




302,165      (84.04%)




486,219      (74.89%)




190,778      (86.91%)




62,481        (87.34%)




69,617        (86.68%)




75,170        (85.36%)



North Ayrshire

113,923      (84.34%)



North Lanarkshire

268,704      (84.37%)



Orkney Islands

17,806        (83.61%)



Perth and Kinross

120,015      (86.81%)




134,735      (87.23%)



Scottish Borders

95,533        (87.36%)



Shetland Islands

18,516        (84.36%)



South Ayrshire

94,881         (86.05%)



South Lanarkshire

261,157       (85.31%)




69,033         (90.05%)



West Dunbartonshire

71,109         (87.89%)



West Lothian

138,226       (86.11%)




"The SNP and the Yes campaign don't intend to let the dust settle until they achieve what they failed to do in the referendum."
"The Tories will also hope to re-gain lost ground in what used to be Tory territory in Scotland. the siezable No victory in Aberdeenshire (60-40 in favour of No), which contains First Minister Salmond's constituency, and other defeats for the Yes campaign in SNP-held seats indicates that a significant number of SNP voters said No."