To the victor belong the spoils is a phrase attributed to New York Senator William Marcy after Andrew Jackson’s presidential election victory in 1828.
However, it applies not just to President Trump’s favourite political leader, but more widely in politics and Scottish politics is the same as across the Atlantic.
Triumph brings reward, as defeat comes at a cost. In elections people go into government and others lose their ministerial posts. Referenda are slightly different entities but still possess a victor and a vanquished. The Scottish Independence referendum was the same, with the No campaign celebrating while those of us on the Yes side commiserated.
Yet since that outcome there has been a change in some aspects of received wisdom. The Yes campaign, far from shrinking and disappearing has remained strong. Opinion polls show little shift though no discernible decline in support for independence. It might not be coming any time soon but it most certainly hasn’t gone away. It’s simply a question of timing.
Of course, for some on the No side there were the spoils. The Prime Minister stood outside 10 Downing Street taking the plaudits and basking in the glory of telling Her Majesty the union had been saved. Lord Alistair Darling, who led the Better Together campaign, has become a director of Morgan Stanley bank though whether that’s the reward Jeremy Corbyn would have wanted for him is debatable.
However, for many on the No side, both politicians and commentators, there has been post-referendum angst. They fought for the union and were successful in their arguments and pleas. They had celebrated the result and to be fair had conducted themselves decently and with dignity during it.
Yet, the Britain they fought for is changing before their very eyes and not in a way they like. Cool Britannia is long gone but for some it seems it’s Woe Britannia. A United Kingdom they had anticipated, promoting goodness and virtue around the globe has been replaced by a deluded entity, arrogant abroad and nasty at home.
In some ways I feel sorry for them. They are good people with whom I just disagreed on the constitution. But I do feel like saying, “just what did you expect?” The revelation that Cameron couldn’t care less about Scotland after the result comes as no surprise to those of us on the Yes side. It was simply about preserving his reputation and not being the PM who presided over the end of the union.
The “Scotland please stay” pleas are long gone and have been shown to have been insincere by many.
But, what sort of UK did many No campaigners anticipate it would be? Gordon Brown was never going to ride in to save the country from Tory rule as he protected Scotland from independence. The UK was on a rightward trajectory and still is. I recall a stock speech I made during the campaign where I reminisced how much my parents had loathed Ted Heath when I’d been a boy. Yet within years he was some old buffer who was effectively the leader of the opposition – even when sitting on the government benches as Thatcherism took hold.
Even during the Blair years, the shift right has continued. I predicted that Cameron would be gone to be replaced by Boris Johnson. I was wrong, he’s only become Foreign Secretary, but in a Government of the hard right. To be fair the Brexit vote couldn’t have been predicted during the independence referendum campaign, though arguably should have been factored in. A shift rightwards was always coming but the violent propulsion of it was never anticipated. Now leading No campaigners agonise over a Government of incompetents, impoverishing the land they thought they’d saved, while the alternative of Corbyn remains unpalatable or unelectable.
But, we are where we are. Which as why in many ways the Yes campaign is now in better heart than its erstwhile opponents. Those of us active in the Yes campaign knew there would be a price to paid if we lost and that bill is growing. Not just a power grab but the imposition of austerity, while opprobrium falls on the Scottish Government as it seeks to mitigate the harm being caused and plug the gaps.
There are reasons for optimism, even if some who are agonising over the Great Britain that they saved are still unwilling to support independence. WThe Scottish Government needs to remain competent and capable. But, others issues are being resolved.
The loss of the UK’s global influence won’t be lamented as they poison not just the EU well but insult nations at will around the globe. Moreover, the suggestion that small nations have little power has been exposed in recent days by the Republic of Ireland. The Celtic Tiger may have crashed but the country is back and the so-called Irish leprechaun has been leading the British Bulldog a merry dance in the Brexit talks.
The idea that an independent Scotland would not be allowed in the EU or the single market and customs union has been exposed as a lie, though it was both a concern and a factor for some during the referendum campaign. Both the position of the EU and that being taken by the UK mean that either membership or a close-working relationship would be possible.
Equally, the threats of ending trading links and a hard border between the Solway and the Tweed in the event of Scottish independence have been exposed as lie – ironically by those arch unionists the DUP. It’s for the Yes side to make the case and issues remain like currency where action needs taken, though the Bank of England Governor confirmed after the last vote that currency relationships were feasible. Another demon slain.
Most importantly though the Yes side know the Scotland they seek. One that’s just and fair to its own people and acts decently and respectfully abroad. But, for many No voters, the country they thought they were supporting has gone and isn’t returning any time soon. There are no victor’s spoils for them, but it’s certainly energised the vanquished.