Glasgow September 18th may not already be circled on your calendar but it’s a huge date in Scotland when the vote will be taken on the referendum of whether or not Scotland will be independent of the United Kingdom. The papers are full of charges and counter-charges about the impact of the vote and speculation about who would control the oil reserves in the North Sea, whether or not Scotland would be able to use the pound sterling, and what in the world either a “yes” or a “no” vote might mean.
It’s not fair to say that I have heard the discussion on everyone’s lips over my days in Scotland, but it is fair to say that in the 9 months since my first visit to the country, the conversation has become much more serious as both the date of the election and the margins on the polls have tightened. Last year even among advocates of independence there was more of a “keep pushing” attitude than a sense that victory might be possible. Now with many polls saying that the margin may only be 9% with “no” leading, but “yes” closing the gap, supporters are anything but overconfident, but there is a lot more discussion of “when,” rather than “if.” In Glasgow, after a meeting of the organizing committee for ACORN International’s Glasgow affiliate, I heard about the work of the Jack Reed Foundation in funding and doing research now so that there would be plans and policies ready for muster in the event of a victory.
Much of the initiative for the referendum has come from the Scottish National Party (SNP), a nationalist outfit, which is by far the largest political party in the country and operating widely at the local governmental levels. The vote is especially complicating for many of our union allies because they are strongly wedded to the Labour Party and therefore strong “no” voices in favor of the continued bonds of the United Kingdom, even realizing that many of their members and their activists are more inclined to vote yes. Some of the organizers expressed frank worries about the future of the Labour Party in Scotland, win or lose, because of this position, and the increasing dominance of the SNP, given their leadership on the referendum, once again, win or lose.
Talking to professors at the University of Glasgow after a fun couple of hours with almost 50 folks who had crowded into a room and filled every chair to learn about ACORN International and our work around the world and in Scotland, they reported that students and the campus itself was very quiet on the issue of Scottish independence. I found that surprising, having assumed that students were probably a natural constituency for a “Yes” campaign. In fact listening to some of the organizers later who had been on the doors, it was also surprising to hear that in talking to older people there was also a strong “No” vote that just didn’t believe that the Scots were really capable of self-governance, which might have been a predictable sentiment from some in a developing, post-colonial nation, but caught me looking when it came from a sophisticated, modern democratic entity.
Who knows, and passing through, I was hardly able to have a straw poll in my several days of careful listening, though it seems a close vote is likely, the “yesses” have the more uphill climb. What was certain, speaking simply as an organizer, is that air of change, transition, and uncertainty provides the kind of unsettling political climate that is made to order for putting the pedal to the metal in building organization to force issues to the forefront.