Johnstone’s View - Moving forward together

After more than two years of campaigning, the SNP’s raison d’etre was put before the Scottish people who exercised their choice at the ballot box.

The boxes have now been opened and the votes have been counted. In Stonehaven, the vote was better than two to one against. On Deeside it was three to one. Across the whole of Scotland, only 37% of those eligible to participate voted yes.

In recent months we have heard a lot from Alex Salmond about the ‘sovereign will of the people’. It’s a phrase that has been trotted out relentlessly and one which quickly found traction with the online Yes campaign.

Well, we have the result, and the clear majority of voters decided we are better together. The historic Edinburgh Agreement signed by the First Minister and the Prime Minister should have ensured that the Referendum would deliver a fair test and decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.

It certainly delivered a fair test, and indeed a decisive expression. What is missing, certainly from the losing side, is that everyone will respect the outcome.

By now the dust should have settled and we, a united Scotland having made our decision should have been moving forward together to build the fairer society that we all want to see.

Instead, we have accusations of vote rigging, trickery and all manner of suggestions, some of which have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Conspiracy theorists, giving Area 51 a well-earned rest, have had a field day with video footage that ‘proves’ their ludicrous claims circulating widely on social media. The Chief Returning Officer has subsequently stepped in to easily explain these so called incidents.

Of course, the SNP and the First Minister himself could have done the decent and appropriate thing by acknowledging the sovereign will of the people and accepting the result. Instead they have chosen to add fuel to the fire.

Perhaps, of course, we should have seen this coming. An acrimonious campaign saw elderly women shouted at in the street by Yes campaigners and No activists called Quislings, traitors and a lot worse to boot.

Posters erected by No campaigners vandalised or destroyed, and property attacked. Anonymous calls to people advising them to take down their No posters, and threats to farmers that their livestock would be let out onto the roads if they continued to display campaign material. Businesses too were in the firing line. There were many calls to boycott firms who expressed reservations about independence. It didn’t matter that jobs could be lost and people put out of work, because for some the end justified the means. Let’s not forget the chaotic scenes outside the BBC headquarters when flag waving Yes campaigners decided to descend on Pacific Quay because they didn’t like the BBC news reporting.

Decent people with every right to express their view were silenced by a loud campaign that was delivering considerably more heat than light.

For many on the Yes side, it seemed inevitable that they would win. Even before a vote was cast, they celebrated on the streets of Glasgow and the sense of triumphalism from the SNP was palpable.

But it was all in vain. The citizens cast their ballots and the sovereign will of the people of Scotland was expressed. But now it seems that this sovereign will only counts if it agrees with Alex Salmond. If it doesn’t, then we have, according to him, been tricked.

But that really isn’t the case. For many who were undecided as the date of the vote grew ever closer, the kinds of scenarios described above were giving people pause for thought.

The unanswered questions, the ‘It’ll be all right on the night’ and laissez faire approach by a Yes campaign dominated by the SNP were driving people who were concerned about the future, concerned about currency, pensions, international relations and all the other topics that were swept aside by a campaign which seemed to have all the momentum, were in fact being driven towards the No side by growing uncertainty.

We can take stock of these recent events and reflect on what has been said. There is no question that we must have change in Scotland, and I am certain that Westminster will deliver it. It is imperative that we do everything possible to keep those people who were engaged in the political process for the first time enthusiastic and confident that their views matter and their vote counts. We must move forward, because in reality, languishing in defeat and conspiracies will achieve nothing for society. Only a positive response to the result will pay proper respect to the effort which went into achieving this vote of confidence in the United Kingdom.