As Scotland remains tied to the UK, sociologist David Miller says class rather than national identity can best explain the outcome of the referendum
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Hoping that voters would say yes to independence, the referendum vote for succession failed in Scotland. Opponents of independence won 55 percent of the vote, while separatists won 45 percent. There was a record turnout this election, with 3.6 million votes counted, meaning 85 percent of eligible voters placed a ballot.
Now joining us to help us unpack some of these issues is our guest, David Miller. David is professor of sociology at the University of Bath, and he’s the coeditor of the book Neo-liberal Scotland: Class and Society in a Stateless Nation. And he joins us now from Glasgow, Scotland.
Thanks for being with us, David.
DAVID MILLER, PROF. SOCIOLOGY, BATH UNIVERSITY: Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, David, why do you think at the end of the day the majority of Scots decided not to vote for independence?
MILLER: Well, there would be a number of complex reasons for that, but we can certainly say that the number of people who appear to want to vote yes increased in the run-up to the poll, and it seems to have, as a result, just after that, decreased that back to the levels that we then saw with a 10 percent gap in the end. One of the reasons for that will inevitably be that the Westminster elite, political elite, from the three main parties down there–Labour, Conservative, the Lib Dems–started to panic and started to, on the one hand, offer many concessions to Scotland which would allow more powers to the devolved Scottish Parliament, and on the other hand, at the same time, they orchestrated a number of people from big business to threaten Scotland, essentially, that business would leave, that prices would go up, that they wouldn’t be able to use their mobile phones in an independent Scotland. And so it’s a result of that, I think; that’s part of the explanation for the slightly lower turnout for yes than what had been anticipated in some polls.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let’s break down the vote for our viewers here in terms of the demographics, because, for example, the city that you’re in, Glasgow, which is known to be sort of this working-class city, voted in favor of independence. What’s the significance of that?
MILLER: Well, there are 32 council areas in the whole of Scotland. Four of them voted yes, and each one of those are areas where there’s high levels of deprivation, high working-class population. And that is quite closely correlated both with turnout and with the voting. So people who come from poorer areas were much more likely to vote yes, much more likely to see it as a way to combat the policies of austerity and neoliberalism being imposed down south and potentially imposed in Scotland, whereas if you look at some of the other areas, the areas with the highest turnouts were the more affluent areas, namely the areas which turned out and voted most strongly no. You can see that with the areas which–for example, the two areas which voted over 90 percent came out to vote, and they were very strongly know. And also I think you can probably say that for Edinburgh, where the votes were over 60 percent for no. And Edinburgh, of course, is an area which has a high proportion of children who go to private, fee-paying schools. Forty percent of the children there do that. And that’s an indication that Edinburgh is quite unusual in Scotland, and indeed the U.K.
So there’s a clear class dimension to how people voted, which perhaps you wouldn’t have expected if you had thought that this was about nationalism and people wanting to wait flags and wear kilts and eat porridge. And really it’s not been about that. It’s been about the question of democratic rights. So I think I’d really emphasize that, because if you look at the traditional Scottish National Party heartlands, the Scottish National Party being the government in Scotland, they had a real problem with them getting their vote to turn out for yes, and some 14 percent of voters who normally would vote for the Scottish National Party in fact voted no. And areas like the Western Isles, which have strong Scottish National Party heartlands, actually in the end voted no. And that was one of the key things which turned it from a yes to a no.
DESVARIEUX: And why did they vote no? What are the class damages there?
MILLER: Well, you don’t have such such obvious class divisions in those areas, but there are, of course, class issues and questions of poverty in rural areas. But I think what you also have is the sense of people being on the edge and being more vulnerable to the kinds of risks which are being suggested by the no campaign, the risks that they wouldn’t be able to have their pensions or that they wouldn’t be able to use, as I said, their mobile phones, or similar kinds of threats made that prices would be higher in the supermarkets, made, of course, by Conservative Party-supporting bosses based in the South of England.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let’s talk about those austerity policies that you mentioned. Can you point to specific examples of how those policies have affected everyday Scots?
MILLER: Yeah. I mean, I’m not sure how much your viewers will know about the history of Scotland, but briefly what happened in 1997 was that the incoming Labour government of Tony Blair offered a referendum for whether there should be a devolved Scottish Parliament, and there was an overwhelming vote for that back then. The parliament was created in 1999. And as a result of that parliament, what you saw was the ability of the Scottish Parliament to take decisions on health, on education, on some aspects of social welfare. And as a result, policies in Scotland diverged from those in England, so that in England, for example, the National Health Service became increasingly marketized, private money flowed into it, and it in fact has started to become privatized, whereas in Scotland that hasn’t happened at all. There was some involvement of private money when the Labour Party were in charge of the Scottish Parliament. But when the Scottish National Party won in 2007, all of that stopped or largely stopped, and so that you find that the health services have been defended, that students at university still don’t have to pay see fees and Scotland, whereas they do in England. And so you can see that there’s an ability of the Scottish Parliament in the process of devolution, as it’s called, to defend against both austerity and some aspects of neoliberalism. And that’s one of the key drivers for a vote for independence was to defend precisely against the attacks of the market and pro-market parties.
DESVARIEUX: But some of the opponents of independence, David, they’re saying is going to sort of it’s going to be business as usual in Scotland, and now there’s no fear of currency slides, and you mentioned, like, mobile phones and banks pulling out and potential economic disasters. Is business as usual necessarily a good thing for everyday Scots, though?
MILLER: Well, no it’s not, and that’s why, of course, 45 percent voted for independence. And, in fact, also a large proportion of those who voted no are people who are Labour voters, who would be opposed to many of the neoliberal policies of business as usual.
And so the question is what will happen as a result of this. In the closing weeks, when the Westminster elites started to panic, they offered new things, new powers for the Scottish Parliament, which both yes voters and many no voters would approve of. In fact, almost the entire population of Scotland approves of what’s called devo-max, which is additional powers for the Scottish Parliament short of independence.
But already since the votes have been declared we’ve seen the party leaders down south–Ed Miliband for the Labour Party and some of the Conservatives–going back on those promises. So it’s not entirely clear what we’re going to get. And I think that’s one of the key problems of this campaign has been that at the last minute, apparently, new promises were made, in fact were written down and signed, given as the vow by those parties, but it’s not at all clear what actually is going to come as a result that. And that will lead to a great deal of disenchantment in Scotland. But it may, as a result, lead to a continuation and a flowering of this new kind of politics which the referendum campaign has opened up.
DESVARIEUX: And that referendum campaign really has activated a lot of young people, specifically. Where do you see this going in terms of those who are in favor of independence? Where do they go from here?
MILLER: Well, I think that’s true, and I think it’s importantly reflected in that, that the poll breakdowns which we’ve seen today show that over 70 percent of young people, 16- to 17-years-olds, who were able to vote for the first time, over 70 percent of them voted yes. And there’s a real sense that there’s a new politics which came around as a result of this campaign for independence, which was–it was led by the yes campaign, which was mainly the Scottish National Party, but there were a whole series of other grassroots groups which grew up around that, including many young people, including Asian Scots for independence [Scots Asians for YES to an Independent Scotland (?)], Polish Scots for Yes, and all sorts of similar groups, also including the Radical Independence Campaign, which was saying, we don’t want a nationalist approach, we don’t want a neoliberal approach, we want a series of radical changes in Scotland. And that has really energized a generation of people in Scotland to involve themselves in politics, some for the first time as young people, but also people who have been alienated from politics by the holdout neoliberal approaches of the mainstream parties. So that’s all really important change in engagement with politics. And the question now is: can that be continued, can that energy be harnessed to maintain the pressure for reforms here to protect people in Scotland, and, hopefully, in the rest of the United Kingdom, from neoliberalism, from austerity policies?
DESVARIEUX: Yeah, that’s a question we want to keep on asking here at The Real News as well.
David Millard, joining us from Glasgow Scotland.
Thank you so much for being with us.
MILLER: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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