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Scotland may have said No but the vibrancy of the Yes campaign was a victory for collective imagination. And it was groups on the independent left who played a huge part in bringing a seemingly impossible victory within touching distance. On foot and on Twitter, in pubs and village halls, there was a mass engagement of people who are often too disillusioned to vote in our broken democracy. And people didn’t just vote; they also became Yes campaigners – arguing in their workplaces and with their friends and families that ‘Britain is for the rich but Scotland can be ours’.
These campaigners found a way to rip apart the neat neoliberal seams that so convincingly sow our world together. ‘Aye. Have a dream’ was the oft repeated phrase of the Yes campaign. Socialists are good at having dreams: a fairer, more communal society, imbued with humanity, motivated by hope. But too often such society-wide visions seem like fragmentary reflections, a destination obscured in a hall of mirrors. The Yes campaign dared to believe in their dream. They took a hammer to the mirrors and found a clear path.
The English left were slow on the uptake. But by spring this year the wild fires of Scottish imagination were impossible to ignore. Red Pepper and openDemocracy held an event in Westminster where a suffocating committee room came to life as radical independence campaigners such as Cat Boyd described a country electrified by democratic engagement. Two weeks before the vote we organised a Yes train coach to Glasgow where we joined Yes leafleters and experienced the excitement of the movement.
This is the first moment in my lifetime that these islands have seen such popular support for radical social change. The same must be true for many thousands of socialists who grew up under Thatcher or her successors. It’s a shocking observation. Neoliberalism’s stranglehold is cutting off the oxygen of inspiration. We are losing the ability to change our world, because we no longer believe it can be changed.
Despite the defeat the gains made by the radical left will not be easily undone. The prospect of a serious transformative force in Scotland is tantalising. So many exciting ideas were created during the campaign, from reorganising energy production and ownership, to a radical redistribution of wealth. These must continue to be articulated, possibly through a a Podemos-type party, mirroring the development in Spain, to give this new movement electoral expression in the Scottish Parliament. The SNP and Scottish Labour will see these new energies as a threat and in the wake of defeat momentum could quickly be lost.
The No vote is also a blow to those outside Scotland looking to break up the neoliberal union. The entire UK establishment backed No because it recognised the threat self-government poses to the British state and the elites its opaque, unwritten constitution protects. This time the establishment won but the door’s ajar; we must hurl our bodies against it and push.