Well, that was a week! Some say that fear and negativity won the Indy Ref. That’s not why I voted NO. How about inverting that: ‘a reckless, uncosted, unprepared-for project was rejected.’ Is it fearful or negative to come to a calculated judgement along those lines? In truth I can only stand back and admire and respect the passion, the idealism, the aspiration and the ambition that we could all see on the YES side at street level. I thought it was badly let down by the leadership, dominated by the SNP and of course Alex Salmond. With that sort of support he could and should have been statesmanlike. To give only two examples: he likened an opponent, a senior figure, to a man with a placard round his neck saying ‘The End is Nigh’. Cheap. Dangerous. It gave the hard men a vocabulary and an attitude. And when serious opposing views were put to him he said Scotland was being bullied. That’s no more than a subliminal dog-whistle to the Braveheart tendency. Their campaign was run like an election campaign, on mood and momentum, with very few policy promises thrown in.
So how on earth did I end up standing beside an A-board screaming NO outside a polling station last week? I, who like to be positive and creative? For an hour or so I was accompanied by a very nice lady who turned out to be a retired Conservative councillor. AAARGH! On the other side of the gateway the YES campaigners were saying to the voters going in ‘Enjoy the moment’. Erotic or what? I knew a good many of them, I like and respect them, and in many areas we have a lot in common. There was me saying things like ‘devo-max is spelled NO on the ballot paper’, which brought howls of derision, or, more succinctly ‘stay with the union, vote NO’. Not an easy sell. It sure didn’t feel like a good day for the union at my polling station. But here’s why I voted NO.
1. A YES vote was not going to make ‘independence’. All it would have done is give Alex Salmond a free hand to negotiate what he could in eighteen months. Whatever dog’s breakfast he came up with he would call ‘independence’ and say it was ‘best for Scotland.’
2. I never bought this ‘independence’ idea. Independence from what? Scotland would still be in several other alliances of various sorts: currency, EU, NATO, etc, which are all secondary and subject to negotiation. The only matter to be decided by a YES vote would be departure from the UK. The word ‘independence’ should have been nowhere near the ballot paper and should not have been in the vocabulary for the debates. It gave the YES campaign far too much scope to aggrandise or simplify their message as required.
3. Unions have to change with the times. Trade unions were formed to protect individuals and communities from the worst effects of capitalism. Capitalism has morphed into corporatism. Unions too have to change shape. It seems odd, does it not, that the cry of the left ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ is being adopted to support a union with such strong establishment associations. We will always be in unions of some sort (see above). Consider this: corporate lobbyists out-number the politicos like flies round shit, with Brussels getting almost as bad as Washington. The EU may become as dysfunctional as the USA. Rotten though London is at present, the time may well come that Scotland will have more influence in London than in Brussels, and the whole of the British Isles could leave the EU for very good reasons. Which is no more than saying we make a judgement and a decision on a day, with the information and the tools to hand, and we hope for the best. We’re not soothsayers. In my judgement, this is no time to leave our native union. Isolated, Scotland would be easy meat for the corporates.
4. I look at the map. The British Isles are a small archipelago. It would be a crying shame to create borders within them. Of course we are better together.
I am not aware that Scots had a problem with the union when the welfare state and the NHS were formed, and nor when the governments of the 1960s and 70s were pumping money into industries at Bathgate, Linwood, and Ravenscraig. It went bad on Scotland with Mrs Thatcher, and continued to worsen under Major then, less so, under Blair’s New Labour. The Blair years brought other things we didn’t vote for – the Iraq war, for example. In the sweep of history, it is a careless mistake to fix a 35-year itch, only half a lifetime in my case, with the drastic, irrevocable act of separation. But I realise that is a whole lifetime for a generation. For them it’s more than an itch, it’s more than the sort of disappointment you have to live with in a democracy. For them it’s gangrenous, and amputation is the only answer. Except that in this case the amputated limb is not discarded but has a life of its own.
This much I know. England hasn’t woken up yet. Maybe last week was the alarm bell, but, to continue the analogy, the Celtic countries have done nearly a day’s work and the English are still in their beds. The even-tide, by when these things must be sorted, fast approaches. And Westminster is far gone. It is rotten to the core. The lobbying, the revolving doors, the kow-towing to bankers, the expenses, the cosiness with foreign oligarchs, the remoteness from real people in the country, and now, for heaven’s sake, it looks like a monumental sex ring is about to be uncovered. Sickening, completely unacceptable, the relics of Empire. It has been hard to seem to be supporting a continuing relationship with it. I say that if Scotland is not well served in the next fifteen or twenty years, a departure from UK will be revived and it may well have my support. If I’m spared. Promises made in the heat of the campaign must be honoured. Other matters, like a parliament for England or some sort of federal arrangement, require a standing conference in which the political parties are minority participants, something like the Scottish Constitutional Convention of the 1990s. It’s urgent, but it needs time. Give it eighteen months at least. It must not be attached to the election cycle.
Meantime, those in favour of a YES vote will have to decide whether to keep this flag of ‘independence’ flying or get on with the business of government within the union. In the next couple of decades many children will be born, who will need to be cared for and educated. Many streets will need to be swept and fixed. If the day-to-day issues are neglected in the name of some sort of higher goal, the as yet unborn voters of 2034 will have little for which to thank nationalist idealists. My fervent hope is that the Scottish broad left will awaken from its slumbers and find common cause with the energy and vision of the broad YES movement. There is much to do. Local democracy and accountability needs to be restored after a pounding from the over-centralising SNP government, for a start. We have leadership and experience to offer our friends and neighbours in the rest of UK as we all re-format our relationships. We really can have, as the NO campaign claimed, the best of both worlds.