There have always been good reasons for voting yes in the independence referendum, and for voting no. Personally, I wanted it to be a yes, but at the same time I was not at all confident that a majority of people in Scotland would make that choice. There are plenty of people who just want to be British, or who believed that would have had too much to lose, financially, in an independent Scotland. There are lots of angles on all of that, which will no doubt be dissected and discussed at length over the next few weeks.
But what I woke up with this morning, was the concept of betrayal.
I am not using betrayal in a loose sense, or as a casual emotive metaphor. I am talking about a literal, precise definition of the meaning of betrayal. An act of betrayal occurs when a person has the trust of others, knows that this trust has been invested in them, and then lies to these other people for the purpose of furthering their own narrow self-interest.
In the fullness of time, it will become apparent that some contributors to the referendum debate will turn out have been ill-informed, deluded, or quite simply wrong in their analysis and arguments. These politicians and commentators cannot be accused of betrayal, because their statements were made in good faith. Betrayal is different from this. Betrayal is a conscious act of bad faith.
I believe that the Scottish people have been betrayed by the leaders of the Labour Party. I am sure that there were many occasions in the referendum when the leaders of the Labour Party made statements that were ill-informed or exaggerated. That is regrettable, but it is not betrayal. There exists clear evidence of betrayal, in the form of the ‘vow’ that was published on the front page of the Daily Record (the newspaper with the widest Labour readership in Scotland) on 16th September. This document stated that ‘extensive new powers would be delivered to Scotland’, following a no vote, in accordance with a tight timetable.
The ‘vow’ is signed by Ed Milliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. It seems reasonable to assume that other leading members of the Labour Party in Scotland were closely involved in formulating this statement: Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, Douglas Alexander and Johann Lamont.
We can disregard David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Few people in Scotland would invest much trust in anything they said or wrote. But in Scotland there remains a powerful reservoir of trust in the Labour Party. Historically, the Labour Party has stood up for the working people of Scotland for 100 years. Gordon Brown was a leading figure in radical socialist politics in the 1960s, and in the renewal of Labour as a party of power (and hope) in the 1990s. Even among people who do not vote Labour, there is an underlying sense that the party is on the side of social justice, fairness, solidarity and equality – key values within Scottish culture.
So, these people, under the signature of Ed Milliband, solemnly and formally stated that substantial new powers would accrue to Scotland following a no vote.
This was a betrayal.
It was a betrayal because (a) they knew that what they were saying was not true; (b) they understood the trust that people had invested in them, and (c) they acted in their own self-interest (to save or serve their careers).
They knew that the promises in the vow could not be delivered. These are people who have spent a lifetime in Westminster politics. They knew what would need to be done to pass such legislation. They knew that there was not enough parliamentary time to get this through before the 2015 general election. They knew that there was not a parliamentary majority that would support and enact their proposals. They knew that, within the timescale, there was no possible mechanism for ensuring what was being proposed was supported by the Scottish electorate, or that the people of Scotland would have any meaningful input to the process of working out the details of the package.
All of these things, they knew. But the most important of all was that they knew that what they were saying would never be approved by the Westminster Parliament. It was a deliberate, calculated, non-trivial, act of deception.
The ‘vow’ could never have been published without the explicit support of the leaders of the Labour Party. Eventually, we will find out who else in the Labour party, outside the inner circle, was consulted, or objected to what was being done.
I call on these individuals to speak up.
I call on the rest of us not to forget this act of betrayal, and the many other betrayals that lie behind it and are associated with it. When these people appear at local meetings, on TV debates, in newspapers, asking for our support in the next general election and Scottish parliament election, let us remind them of their solemn vow. Let us ask them how they could say such things, in the full knowledge that they were not true. Let us ask them what it is like, as a person, to operate from such a depth of utter cynicism and disrespect for others.
I wondered why I felt so bad this morning. It was more than disappointment. Disappointment is when you take part in a fair contest and don’t win. It was more than powerless and frustration at the power of the mainstream media and the state. It was more than the wish and regret that I had not done more and worked harder to promote my beliefs. It was more than deep sadness – all the great things we could have done in the making of a new country.
As well as all these things, it was anger. Betrayal, trust lost, is never forgotten. Betrayal divides people in ways that take a very long time to heal, and may never heal. Betrayal makes it harder to trust again. The one who betrays is left with an awareness, inside, of being false and empty.
But this is the world that we live in. We are spoiling the world of nature. We casually poison that world with our waste. So much of the referendum was about creating and nurturing – learning how to talk to each other about the society we want to build for ourselves and for future generations. That kind of conversation sustains the many points of connection between us, no matter which political positions we espouse. Acts of betrayal spoil our cultural world, poison our relationships.