TWELVE months ago Scotland voted No to independence by a margin of 55 to 45 per cent. In Shetland two thirds voted against breaking away from the UK, but in the past 12 months the political landscape has changed beyond recognition. Here, Yes Shetland chairman Brian Nugent reflects on a year of seismic change and what it could mean for the future.
Last September, the answer in the referendum was No. Since then what has happened? The membership of independence-supporting parties soared, opinion poll ratings soared and these turned into votes and seats.
Only three Unionists MPs were elected out of 59 in the May general election, with the unionist parties’ vote percentage share dropping. Opinion polls are showing well over 50 per cent intend voting SNP in the Scottish elections next May. So who really won?
People woke up on 19 September last year and more than Yes voters felt cheated. Otherwise, how can you explain what has happened since?
What of the Vow? Read the words, it means nothing or whatever you want it to mean. The Vow was issued two days before the referendum by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, the then leaders of the three unionist parties. The perception among voters, intended or otherwise, was that extensive new powers were to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
As a result of the Vow, the all-party Smith Commission thrashed out new powers for the Scottish Parliament. The Smith Commission report was sent to Westminster where it was supposed to be built into the Scotland Act.
The perception now among voters is that the powers in the Smith Commission have been much reduced or lost completely in the Scotland Act.
In the last few days, I have heard several journalists say that David Cameron is correct in saying that he has fulfilled the Vow. Given that the wording means nothing, they could argue that they are correct, but sophistry from unionist parties and journalists does not wash with voters in Scotland.
Giving evidence in Westminster to a parliamentary group on devolution last week, the architect of the Vow, Gordon Brown, said that the Scotland Bill was not fulfilling the recommendations made by the Smith Commission.
Is it any wonder that only nine per cent in a YouGov poll said they believe that the Vow has been fulfilled? Alun Evans, who was in charge of the Scotland Office last year, has suggested that a “big, bold and generous offer to Scotland” was required, dismissing what is currently on offer.
On the morning of the result, Prime Minister David Cameron did not help his side of the argument with his crass, cynical linking of English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) with the Scottish referendum. To belittle Scotland’s referendum campaign in this way has hurt the unionist side; Cameron, by being so smart instead of being a statesman, I believe, has cost his side the union.
Voters in Scotland spoke in May. Was anyone listening? Labour voters deserted in droves, leaving them with one seat and an 18 per cent drop in voter share, the Liberal Democrats dropped 11 per cent voter share and 10 seats. Even the Tories dropped two per cent in retaining their one seat.
All of this has come about because the unionists lost the plot in the referendum and after.
Brian Nugent (Yes Shetland chairman)