By 6am, Friday 19 September, the results of Scotland’s historic independence referendum were in. Despite uncertainty right up to the last moment, the Scottish electorate said ‘No’ to independence by 55 per cent of the vote to 45. The BBC coverage flashed to the celebrations and commiserations. Parties filled with well-dressed Better Together and Scottish Labour campaigners – waving their #LabourNo posters fervently in the air – provided a crushing contrast to the glum faces of Yes Scotland and the tears shed in Glasgow’s George Square. Supporters of Scottish Labour could be forgiven for seeing this as a chance to celebrate. The result had gone their way, some would think that Scotland had spoken, that they had beaten the nationalists once and for all and could look forward to dominating Scottish and UK politics once again. However, underneath the façade of the referendum is the cold reality: Scottish Labour are in trouble, deep trouble.
Far from being finished, the SNP and the other ‘Yes’ parties seem to have been galvanized by the referendum. On the eve of the referendum results, the SNP had around 25,000 members compared to Scottish Labour’s 13,000. Since then it has undergone an unprecedented surge, leaving it with 65,000 members – making it comfortably the third biggest political party in the whole of the UK. The momentum continues. The Scottish Greens, another prominent ‘Yes’ party, have had their own membership surge, going from 1,000 to 6,500 since the referendum – it may soon be snapping at Scottish Labour’s coattails. However, the biggest surge for the Greens has been on social media. The Greens now have 20,400 Twitter followers and 31,800 Facebook likes as opposed to 13,500 and 5,900 for Scottish Labour respectively. Combine this with a new poll that shows the SNP to be on 49 per cent, far ahead of Labour on 33 per cent, and ready to draw up an electoral coalition with the other ‘Yes’ parties, and you start to see a certain picture. It is a bleak one for Scottish Labour, a party that is perhaps held together by the loyal over-65s, who voted ‘No’ by three to one.
Something has happened in Scottish politics: those people who were engaged by the ‘Yes’ campaign are not going back to their sofa. The lasting power of the ‘Yes’ campaign shouldn’t be underestimated. Before the referendum, many had been ignored, disenfranchised and chucked on the political dustbin by political parties who focus on wooing swing voters in swing seats at the expense of those in ‘safe seats’ like Glasgow or Dundee. In this referendum their vote and their voice genuinely mattered. The power to build a better future for themselves and Scotland was – for a time – genuinely in their hands. If you think they are going to go quietly, think again.
Scottish Labour’s attempts to crush these hopes with signs that read ‘It’s not worth the risk’ seemed pathetic and desperate. Many ‘Yes’ voters in Labour heartlands will not forget this. The seats of prominent Scottish Labourites, both MPs and MSPs, are under threat from a seemingly unshakeable momentum. The Labour movement’s heartlands are slipping away: a movement without a heart is in trouble. Unless they take notice, Scottish Labour could go the way of the once dominant Liberal Party. The day of reckoning may still come for Scotland’s once dominant Labour Party.