Ever since last September, it's become increasingly clear that there is a small but significant body of voters that simply hasn't been able to accept the referendum result and 'move on'. Stuck in the past, wedded to a romantic ideal, blind to any semblance of reality, they remain frozen in time at 18 September 2014, frothing and fulminating against anyone who had the audacity to vote differently to them on that day.
You can see them on Twitter, on the letters pages of our newspapers and writing on their blogs to audiences of probably as many as a few tens. Regularly berating others for their lack of political resolve, deficiencies of patriotism and their failure to see the true nature of their opponent, it seems that no-one is safe from their ire – not even their fellow 'No' voters.
‘But.. we won!’ is the plaintive cry. And it’s true enough, at least measured by votes in ballot boxes. The mistake was to assume that a ‘No’ vote meant a return to politics as usual and that with the scales having fallen from their eyes, that Scottish voters would forget all this self-government malarkey and return to the standard model of 3 party British politics.
It’s easy to understand why some would wish to cling to the referendum result, as it represents about the sole tangible political ‘win’ since 2007 against an otherwise dominant SNP. Nevertheless, crossing their fingers and hoping that Scots would return to the fold seems to have been Scottish Labour’s only post-indyref strategy. ‘If only we could persuade everyone to dislike the SNP as much as we do’, the thinking goes, ‘then we’ll be back in power before you can say Bute House.’
During the referendum, ‘Yessers’ enjoyed debating what they wanted Scotland to become, while the ‘No’ campaign never seemed to capture at any point a sense of optimism either about the present or the future. The whole debate, which most ‘No’ sympathisers had never wanted to begin with, forced many to think about things they didn’t want to think about. While for some it was an enriching and affirming experience, for others it was nothing short of an existential challenge - one to be resisted at all costs and shut out in the hope that it would all just go away.
A solidifying of a hard-core unionist vote, where even some prominent Labour activists now urge a vote for the Tories in certain seats to try and keep the SNP out so that an extra Tory MP can - er - help put Labour back in government, suggests that there is a couple of trends at play here. The 'No' parties' 'No' voters are mostly staying put or switching between them, while 'Yes' voters who previously voted SNP are sticking with the SNP. The interesting bit is that while large numbers of 'Yes' voters who previously backed 'No' parties have moved to the SNP, the very considerable tranche of SNP 'No' voters are remaining loyal.
Perhaps one reason why this might be is that up until quite late in the day, there seemed to be a complete failure on the part of unionist politicians to acknowledge publicly that support for independence wasn’t just confined to the SNP. In contrast, the SNP had long understood that many Labour supporters backed independence, just as many SNP voters were themselves uncertain about independence.
Armed with that intelligence, the official Yes campaign adopted a far more conciliatory line towards ‘No’ voters than was shown to ‘Yes’ voters by Better Together*, who were all about their pride, their patriotism, and a misplaced sense of conceptual superiority allied to bristling indignation that we were even discussing the matter at all. While you can see how this might rally hard core Lib/Lab/Con ‘No’ voters, you can also see how it might also have alienated the significant numbers of their supporters who went 'rogue' on Independence.
Meanwhile, the SNP has struck a note in tune with what voters want to hear in the post-indyref environment. The party has been positive, conciliatory and consensual, yet firm in demanding that pre-referendum promises are upheld and wherever possible, built upon. In reacting to its rapid growth in both members and Westminster support, the party has also so far positioned itself astutely to capitalise on any hung parliament situation.
And that’s what seems to be annoying some of our unionist friends the most. Just a matter of months after being reassured that Scotland was an integral part of the UK, we now find that it would be a constitutional outrage if Scottish votes were to influence the choice of the next UK government through electing enough SNP MPs to hold the balance of power. It almost seems cruel to remind Westminster’s Tories how they relied on the support of Ulster Unionists to keep John Major’s government afloat towards the end of the 1992-97 parliament.
Pathologising your opponents as some of Scotland’s unionists have done with the SNP is seldom a healthy or productive pursuit, so here’s some helpful pointers which I offer freely. The referendum is over, the SNP is here to stay, independence remains a legitimate and popular goal, and the SNP’s representatives still have a worthwhile and legitimate role to play in Westminster for so long as we remain in the union. The sooner the unionist parties confront those (for them) inconvenient truths, the better for everyone.
* Yes, I know - blah blah cybernats etc. I'm talking here about the official campaigns, not the seemingly endless idiocy and discourtesy displayed by cyberScotnats and their equally vociferous cyberBritnat counterparts.