I’m writing this shortly before the anniversary of people in Scotland voting overwhelmingly to remain in the UK. If I think back to five years ago, it was a time of great stress and worry, and not a feeling I’d like to repeat. However, it may still be worth revisiting that period, and pondering the lessons for today.
My first reflection is that nothing is certain in politics. Five years ago, nobody could be completely sure what result would be announced on 19th September. Since 2014, we have seen political turmoil, and some unexpected highs and lows for supporters of Scotland in the UK. Remember the shock of the 2015 general election, when none of us could quite believe in advance that the SNP would do so well? Or the relief of the 2017 vote, when none of us could quite believe in advance that the SNP would slump so badly? In a volatile world there is, to borrow from the ‘Terminator ’ franchise, “no fate but what we make”. More specifically, the 2015/ 2017 comparison reminds us that even if the SNP were to do well again in a general election, that would not be grounds for despair.
Dwelling on the situation exactly five years ago, I recall how the nationalists hounded and attempted to silence people who disagreed with them, from their overwhelming presence on social media to their intimidating occupation of George Square in Glasgow. Thankfully, I currently see a much more balanced (if still often unpleasant) situation on social media; and Scottish nationalist flag-waving marches are met increasingly with indifference.
I think the most important lessons from mid-September 2014, though, concern the continuing campaign to keep Scotland secure in the United Kingdom. One is the importance of prior organisation. Campaigns need to be flexible and reactive, but I remember some interventions by the pro-UK side in 2014 which felt distinctly as though they were thrown together at the last minute. One of the main reasons Scotland in Union exists is to be ready, organised and able to hit the ground running if there were to be another referendum on Scottish separation. It’s a vital role, and one which you can help by spreading the word and encouraging people to sign up as supporters.
Another crucial point is the importance of getting involved early on. I only became active in Better Together about six months before the referendum, going canvassing weekly and then doing more as a volunteer. I was a relative latecomer compared to many doughty campaigners, but thinking back five years I remember feeling like a veteran as a sudden panicky rush of volunteers almost overwhelmed our local organisers in the week before 18th September. All of these volunteers were hugely welcome, but I just wished some of them had got involved earlier – and I know that many of them wished the same.
This is the most important message from 2014, I think: don’t be too late, and don’t regret not having done more. If you value the UK, you don’t want to be standing there with a week to go before a (still hypothetical for now!) indyref2 thinking “If only I’d done more to help.” If you are a supporter of Scotland in Union, you are already doing something, and the team are very grateful for your help. Please continue to remember that some input now could save an awful lot of anxiety later, and most importantly please do your best to jolt others out of apathy or complacency. Encourage them to sign up to SIU; to volunteer for leafleting or to attend events; or to support SIU financially. The future is uncertain; nothing is inevitable. If we pull together and put the effort in now, we can keep Scotland secure in the UK.