There was a byelection in Cowdenbeath yesterday. Nobody paid much attention, least of all the electorate of Cowdenbeath, only 38% of whom could be arsed enough to vote. A byelection in a rock solid Labour seat doesn’t generally qualify as interesting. Labour won, as you’d expect in this part of Fife, and that was the least interesting part of the entire process. However there was a genuinely interesting result, although it had little or nothing to do with any of the candidates. It’s a result that will have put a shiver up the spine of Better Together, assuming it could find a spine to shiver.
The SNP revealed that during canvassing, they had asked over 11,000 local residents how they intended to vote in the independence referendum – and the largest percentage said they were going to vote yes. Of the 11,727 people who gave their opinion, 41% said yes, 36% said no, and 23% said they were still undecided. Ignoring the undecideds, although it’s terribly unscientific and everything but who cares, that would give a notional referendum result of 53.2% yes, 46.8% no.
The referendum is 8 months away, and the supposedly overwhelming majority for no that we keep hearing about has vanished like a stain that’s not so stubborn after all. Cowdenbeath shows that there is a large number of people who traditionally supported Labour, but who nowadays can’t always be bothered to vote because Labour in its current incarnation is not a party worth voting for. They know that Labour wasn’t listening before, isn’t not listening just now, and it’s not showing many signs it will be listening at any point in the near future. And by and large they have come to the conclusion that the only hope of anything changing is through a yes vote.
This point was all too clearly illustrated by the three nodding head Unionist politicians commenting on the byelection on Newsnicht on BBC2. Naturally it turned into a discussion on the referendum, so we had the spectacle of three Unionists and one person from the SNP to put the case for yes. It wasn’t biased though, because it was really a programme about a byelection that most people, including most people in Cowdenbeath, didn’t think especially significant.
Gordon Brewer asked all three whether Labour, the Tories, and the Lib Dems get a better devolution proposal together. But Better Together exists only as vacuous sloganeering. Its constituent parts are incapable of coordination, they can’t work together at all never mind better together. So we got a lot of uhming and ahhing instead, as all three swore blind they were listening to the electorate – but none thought there was much prospect of a joint proposal on enhanced devolution from the three headed guardian of the gates of Westminster.
And that is why so many people who would never dream of voting SNP are now deciding to vote yes. While many, perhaps most, would like to see change happen within the United Kingdom, some version of devo plusextrasuper, it’s clear that it’s not going to. In September we can either send Westminster’s politicians a message that they will have no choice but to listen to – that message being “here’s yer jotters” – or we can roll over and allow them to do as they please, uhming ahhing austerity and selling the contract for your listening services provider to ATOS.
Of course Cowdenbeath is not representative of Scotland as a whole. But it is representative of a very large segment of the Scottish population. That’s the segment that lives in the Labour heartlands, the segment which is most likely to be disengaged from the political process. But those who have fared the worst under the Union are also those who are most likely to see the need for change that can only happen if Scotland is independent. If that important – and large – constituency can be mobilised in support of a yes vote, independence is secured.
Cowdenbeath shows that they are being mobilised in support of a yes vote. There is every indication that the turn out for the referendum will be high, and those extra voters will be the people who are pissed off and fed up with our current system of politics and see little point in voting in elections. Like the 62% of Cowdenbeath voters who didn’t vote in the byelection. They’re not going to turn out to vote no in order to keep a political system that they feel so alienated from that they don’t think it’s worthwhile voting. They’re going to vote yes.
Project Fear must be very afraid.