Despite everything, I still felt a pang of disappointment on waking up on Friday morning. I'd stayed up for the first results, Clackmannanshire, Shetland, Orkney, the first setting the pattern mostly to be repeated throughout the night: Yes had come close, but still not close enough. For all my contempt for both campaigns, for the naivety, the scaremongering, the chauvinism, shallow nationalism and baleful bigotry, had I a vote I could only have crossed the yes box. Given the choice between a state retaining a belief in solidarity, even if not with the neighbours south of the border, something akin to a social democracy, and the atomisation offered by all three Westminster parties? There is no choice.
True, the SNP weren't in reality offering anything like that. Independence was always just a means to an end, with everything to be determined afterwards. The idea Alex Salmond isn't an establishment politician is as much of a hoot as Nigel Farage presenting himself as the insurgent; it's how debased and safe our politics has become that both just about get away with it. When it came down to it, the Yes campaign's failure to answer convincingly the most basic economic questions about an independent Scotland cost it. The undecideds stripped from the polls simply made it look closer than it was.
We can't of course without further polls know exactly what it was that made the undecideds say no. Were they always going to, was it last minute doubts, the Daily Record "vow", Gordon Brown's interventions (or the just as electrifying condemnation of the SNP from Vicki Greig for that matter), the warnings from businesses, the horror of making Salmond even more smug and self-assured? All we do know is the commentariat made its mind up straight away. Scotland might have said no, but no actually meant yes. Moreover, despite the rest of us not having a vote, Scotland's no also meant yes to more devolution for rUK.
First though, let's not get too carried away with the 85% turnout. Present a country with a yes or no choice on whether it remains part of a 300-year old union where every vote counts, and if turnout isn't approaching that level you've got severe problems. More concerning ought to be how 25% of the electorate of Scotland's biggest city still couldn't be persuaded to make a decision either way. Alternatively, it could be those 25% are the smartest people around, indifferent to the political weather and perfectly happy with their lot in life. Perhaps they should be envied, rather than getting us dead inside political junkies why-oh-whying about how they can't be reached.
By the same token, only so much can be made about those who've spent the last year or so hoping against hope Yes would pull it off at the last. Political movements are prone to collapsing the minute after the moment has passed; remember Occupy, or indeed any real organised opposition to austerity for that matter? Thought not. When Martin Sorrell remarks on just how quiescent the young are, dulled he no doubt believes by the very promise his advertising offers, we ought to be taking notice. The radical independence people are most likely to be this decade's Iraq war marchers: there for the extraordinary moment, and left bitter, angry and depressed at the failure to achieve their goal. Nor is there much comfort to be taken from the level of debate: yes, more people than ever informed themselves via the internet and made their minds up that way; no, it didn't make up for the underlying tenor, the shouting down of the opposition, the all too frequent recourse to the language of betrayal and surrender, the never-ending torrent of shit thrown in all directions by more than just the usual suspects.
Equally, you can appreciate the irony of the London media, so often to be found either bemoaning Scotland or England both suddenly desperate for these septic isles to remain united, seemingly for subconscious atavistic reasons rather than out of any real affection, but it doesn't last long. Not least when nationalism of one variety leads all but inevitably to the rise of its equivalents, understandable grievance followed by pitiful whinging. Of all political bores, and let's face it, we're never the most engaging of folk, the most crushingly dull are the constitutionally fixated ones. England needs its own parliament like it needs two John Redwoods, West Lothian question aside. The word devolution means whatever those clamouring for it say it does, and it's more power for them rather than true localism. Time and again the public has made clear it has no interest in yet more politicians, whether it be through often rejecting mayors, the north-west assembly or most recently in the derisory turnouts for the police and crime commissioner elections, a creation no one asked for and no one wanted, and yet still a section of the media and the Westminster bubble thinks otherwise.
The dream might live on. It's just the dream, as always, is transitory.
Labels: Alex Salmond, Better Together, Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, politics, Scotland, Scottish independence, Scottish National Party