IT wasn't quite front page news.
You had to turn to A12 of the New York edition of the city's Times newspaper to discover that Alex Salmond and David Cameron had agreed on a referendum that "could dismantle the sometimes uneasy and often uneven partnership between their lands".
That struck me as fair. It also struck me that you would have to search long and hard to discover a similar formulation anywhere in the British press. "Uneasy" they would probably allow, as preface to a peroration on subsidy junkies. Yet how would that square with "often uneven" when the approved text involves equals who are, invariably, better together?
The part involving "their lands" would have stuck firmly in throats. What could such a phrase possibly mean in a United Kingdom? Yet like it or not, this is – to coin a phrase – how others see us. The question now put is whether it is also how we see ourselves. Discuss.
There will be plenty of time for that. Once the invocations of history subside, there will be hours and weeks and months of repetitious discussion and circular logic. I can hardly wait. Let's start, then, with putting one thing straight. The timing of this thing is of greater strategic value to Mr Salmond than "his" second question.
Instant reaction, much of it from the BBC, said that Mr Cameron had scored a victory by depriving the First Minister of an insurance policy. You could as well say – for the SNP will certainly say – that London alone has denied Scots a proper democratic choice.
They might have been vague about the nature and extent of "more powers" for Holyrood. One- third of them might have been keen on de facto independence with a defence and security pact attached. Mr Salmond, doubtless self-interested, would have allowed the option; Mr Cameron and his allies would not. That's what they call a fact. That's what counts, supposedly, as a victory for Unionism.
Mr Salmond yielded on a policy that was not his own. Instead, he won the right to decide the timing and, with qualifications, the question. He must now hope that those denied the choice of additional devolution will take the final step towards independence. Given the state of the polls, he needs two years to win their hearts and minds. Given the condition of Britain's economy and state, two more years of Coalition Government in London might do the work for him.
Such is the heart of the calculation, or – Mr Salmond being Mr Salmond – the gamble. It's a hard one to call. Will two more years of near-nihilistic austerity cause Scots to seek escape from a failed British state, or will they cling more tightly to familiar apron strings? Will an economic recovery, if any, persuade voters that independence is feasible, or convince them that self-determination is irrelevant?
Those are rhetorical questions for a reason. The chances of the economy picking up are remote. Any hopes that Mr Cameron and George Osborne had for a recovery by 2014 are long gone. What can't be predicted are interpretations of that reality.
We can guess, though, what Mr Salmond will say, month after month: this Tory-led United Kingdom does not serve the interests of Scotland. Mr Osborne and his cuts – the bulk of which have yet to be enacted – will be the First Minister's best weapon. Whether he can repeat himself for two years is another matter. That isn't a long time in politics; that's an era. Stuff happens.
It seems to me, equally, that there is a simple risk in such a long preamble. People are liable to become gey weary of constitutional chatter before 2014. There are only so many times you can tell them how historic the business is before boredom sets in. Unionists also seem to misunderstand this problem. Two years spent chanting "Better together" is a grim prospect for the speakers, far less the audience. When might apathy commence?
Labour, Unionism's bulwark, should understand the risk better than its campaign partners. At the last Scottish elections its old heartlands died of sheer apathy. Yet when reassurance is drawn from opinion polls, our own most recent poll above all, one question is overlooked, time and again. Who will get the vote out in 2014?
The independence camp is trailing, according to our survey, by fully 25 points. By any measure, that's a huge gap. Part of it is explained, no doubt, by the fact that the SNP has become a victim of its own success. General satisfaction with its running of a devolved administration has blunted the claim that independence is necessary.
Equally, the party's determination to dilute its message by persuading voters that nothing important will change has had an effect. Sensible voters have asked a sensible question: what's the point? The fact that we will not be voting on SNP policies has been overlooked. Some of us will certainly not be voting for a party liable to embrace Nato, the monarchy or, come to that, the Bank of England. A vote for an independent parliament capable of dumping such nonsense is another matter. People need to be reminded of the fact.
Still: 25 points. It leaves support for independence at its traditional level, more or less. It means that a lot of people who voted the SNP into government have yet to embrace the party's core policy. It seems to create an insuperable obstacle for those who understand the point of self-determination. So repeat the question: who will get out the vote?
Experience says that the SNP and its allies have a lot more cause for optimism, in that regard, than Labour and its new friends. Apathy in those erstwhile Labour heartlands is at historic levels. Will the sight of shadow ministers and former ministers standing alongside Tories and Lib Dems revitalise Labour's support? Good luck with that.
The referendum will omit an important question, so we must pose it ourselves. The United Kingdom is dysfunctional and in headlong decline: Yes or No? How many will rally, come 2014, to prove a cheerless negative?
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