What a difference a year makes.
In the dawn light of the 19th of September 2014 I drove to Edinburgh from the Referendum count in Lochgilphead feeling downcast. Despite what had been for me years of campaigning, despite the most positive and enthusiastic message and despite the goodwill of many across the world fear had triumphed over hope at the very last minute and secured what appeared to be a generational defeat for the idea of Scottish independence.
By ten o’clock I was in my Government office in St Andrews House and half an hour later I accompanied John Swinney to say thank you to the civil servants who had worked so tirelessly to provide good public information and to organise an impeccable referendum and who had been standing ready to undertake the enormous but wonderful task of transitioning to a new country.
Everyone was emotional and everyone was tired. It was not a time to make judgements about what had taken place or what would happen in the future.
I drive back to Argyll later that afternoon, listening on the car radio to the unfolding drama of Alex Salmond’s resignation and being moved beyond measure by his assertion that the dream would never die.
Within days that was the mood that gained the upper hand. People were not prepared to give up the changes they had seen taking place all around them as their fellow citizens engaged with politics and our national future, many for the first time. Tens of thousands wanted to carry on with the campaign to secure a better country .
Within a few weeks the membership of the SNP in Argyll and Bute had risen five fold. The unionist political parties found themselves under intense pressure to take forward ever more radical proposals for powers of the Scottish Parliament and the work of the Smith Commission, invented as a sop to stop independence, was challenged again and again by those who wanted real, not cosmetic, change. Wisely the Scottish Government worked with those who were proposing change, but always in the spirit of encouraging radical progress. In so doing they exposed the last minute UK Party Leaders “Vow” to the Scottish people as the cynical ploy it always was.
By the start of 2015 there was a new newspaper supporting independence, there were thousands of new political party members, there was an energy in community groups pushing for more powers at local level as well as at national level and vigorous campaigning had started for the Westminster election. Polls suggested a wipe out for the Westminster other parties, something that no one could believe until it actually happened in May. The biggest landslide in Scottish electoral history resulted in 56 SNP members being returned, leaving the other parties with a single seat each.
Yet the lesson of the referendum has still not been learned in London. All but two of Scotland’s MPs oppose Trident, yet the new Trident is coming with vast sums of money already being spent. All but one of Scotland’s MPs opposes draconian welfare reform that is penalising the poor and the disabled and driving people to an early death, yet these cruel procedures are being accelerated.
Key issues that need to be devolved, and on whose devolution there was agreement, are being pared back and commitments reneged on. And the Scottish Parliament is still being sidelined by a UK Government with no mandate and only one Scottish Tory MP.
Real democracy is still in deficit in Scotland and the Scottish people have woken up to that fact. Polls are now beginning to show a shift that may produce a majority for independence at any future referendum.
The Scottish Parliament elections next year will give Scotland another opportunity to strengthen its hand against the depredations of an unelected Conservative Government and will offer those living here a radical, achievable manifesto which will continue and build on the good work done over 9 years of SNP Government since 2007.
The referendum energised Scotland. What appeared to be a defeat on the 19th of September has become a springboard for greater success as we approach the Scottish Parliament elections of May 2016.
Working with my Westminster colleague Brendan O”Hara – elected with a massive majority just a few months ago – I am ensuring that the people of Argyll & Bute get the first class local service from their Parliamentarians that they demand and deserve. But we are also both focussed on ensuring a strong Scottish Government again next May and further radical changes that will improve the lot of everyone in this area.