Thursday, 2 October 2014

Heading home

On referendum night (18th September) I switched off my computer and radio before 10pm and got into bed with a good book. When a friend called from Germany in a state of inebriation and excitement, I coldly told her that I wasn't discussing or thinking about the referendum until the result was in, and put the phone down.

I was up the next morning at 7. I didn't switch on the radio until 7.50 and caught the tail end of a discussion on the Today programme. Something about it being a bad night for Ed Miliband. That means we've lost, I thought, but almost immediately afterwards the news update confirmed that the No vote had won by 55% to 45%. Uncharacteristically, and with unwitting irony, I punched the air "Yes!". Disaster had been averted. Scots had decided to back the Union with a clear margin. I would not find myself a foreigner in my own country. My as-yet-to-receive citizenship partner would be blessed with a British passport that allowed access to the European Union, rather than cursed with travel documents that continued his alienation from the EU. Scotland would not throw itself into financial limbo and I would not need to divide my assets between the surety of British pounds and the gamble of an unknown Scots currency. Three hundred years of history, of unimpeded travel, marriage, co-operation and unity that brought together almost all the inhabitants of these islands would not be thrown away.  I could return to London safe in the knowledge that it was still part of my country and without crossing the shadow of a future border. 

For me and most people I knew, Edinburgh and Scotland was not a pleasant place to be in the fortnight of September. Scots, English and others alike, we saw no reason to break up the UK. Our hearts stretched from Shetland to the Scillies; centuries of history had created one strong nation. Separation would have cut a deep wound into our psyches that could never be healed. Those of us who were - and are - Scots take great pride in our identity and our heritage, but that identity and heritage stretches far beyond the river Tweed. For us, to be Scots means also to be British; we cannot conceive of ourselves being one and not the other. We had no wish to deny Nationalists their right to be Scottish and we could not understand why they were so insistent on denying us our right to be British?

Our emotional argument was strong, our intellectual argument even stronger. We looked at the case for independence put forward by the Scottish government, while windering how much time and money had been wasted on reams of documents by bureaucrats whose energies would surely have been better spent in bettering the lives of Scots today rather than fantasising about the lives of Scots tomorrow. All we saw was vague statistics and unfounded assertions - assertions that were often denied or belied by the very authorities on whom the separatists were basing their arguments. £250 million to set up all the trappings of a new state? How could we respect a finance minister that put forward such a figure? We were assured automatic membership of the EU - yet the EU itself and even Scots lawyers in favour of independence said it would not happen. A currency union? What part of No from London did the separatists not understand? Why did they think that the rest of the UK would want to support a country that had rejected them and which could not organise its own finances decently?

Yet despite heart and head shouting loudly, "separation would be madness", we, the silent majority, found ourselves uncertain and alone. We were surrounded by Yes posters, afraid to display our own opinions because of threats against those who had the courage to speak out against the fantasy and damage to property that dared to carry posters saying "No thanks". Opinion polls unnerved us, suggesting that the result was on a knife-edge. We could not see beyond 19th, half-suspecting that it would herald the start of a long Arctic night. With joy we realised we had merely experienced a brief eclipse. "Am I dreaming?" a relative asked when she called at eight on the morning of the 19th; no, I reassured her; the nightmare is over.

But while I, and millions like me, were relieved at the outcome, there were 1.6 million voters (37.8% of the electorate - 44.7% of those who voted) whose disappointment was as palpable as my relief. The media showed that many were in tears, the same tears I might have shed if the result had gone the other way. Many had voted for the sake of a better Scotland, deluded by the Nationalists into believing that independence would make Scotland a fairer society. A few were aware of the risks, but many who voted Yes were motivated by little more than deep prejudice against Westminster - the convenient fall-guy for any politician seeking to divert scrutiny away from the weaknesses in their own policies and behaviour. Like true believers who had seen Paradise, they could not conceive that their vision was an illusion.

Blame for their predicament lies partly at the feet of Alex Salmond and the many in the Yes leadership who refused to let reality confuse their campaign. Blame also lies firmly at the feet of the incompeent No campaign, who failed to address the Scottish people with the same empathy that oozed from Alex Salmond. For most of the campaign only George Galloway - a man for whom I have little respect - was occasionally heard arguing the Unionist cause with the same passion as the Yes campaign. At the last moment we got Gordon Brown, and then we wondered where he had been for the last two years? If instead of the stiff and unapproachable Alistair Darling and the incompetent Blair McDougall the No campaign had had someone of Salmond's stature who could respond to the SNP leader's bullying and lies, the result might have been closer to 25% Yes and 75% No. More importantly, the intimidation and violence (mostly broken windows, but even one broken window is too many) might been curtailed, instead flourishing as it did under Salmond's Putin-like denials that it was happening.

The damage is done. Scotland has been divided. Two hours after receiving that welcome news I was on a train back to London, where I have lived half my life and where I still have business and a relationship to take my time and attention. Today, however, I return to Edinburgh wondering whether the 37.8% will respect the decision of the Scottish electorate or whether we face year after year of a neverendum, as those who cannot see further than Carlisle and Berwick, those for whom an English accent is an excuse for xenophobia, those who want to be big fish in a small pond, continue to stir p division and to sow disunity in our still United Kingdom. I want to be Scottish again; I want to have as much pride in my identity as a Scot and Brit as I have always had; I want to feel equally at home in Lerwick, Llandudno in London. I hope that those of narrower vision have learnt their lesson - we Scots are much greater nation than the land which gave us birth.