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Yes or No, there should be no crowing or casting up

While the neighbours are recovering from their national day (even if they only started marking it about 15 years ago, and mostly do so by drinking Belgian lager), it might be a good time for a quiet word about division.

I don't mean division from England. Like saying separatism or breaking up the UK, that seems to be the kind of language the Yes camp objects to, though I'm unsure whether that's because it accurately describes what they're trying to do or because, if we keep the Queen, the pound, the NHS, the same pensions and TV programmes, it doesn't.

I mean the division which the referendum has already, inevitably, created. And I don't mean the word pejoratively, but entirely neutrally.

Politicians who call policies "divisive" seem not to have noticed that their trade is by nature about dividing things; not just, as in this case, a country, but any policy, any outcome, any objective, any distribution of income or wealth or public spending.

We choose between priorities and differ over how to achieve them. For the most part, democracy allows us to do this in a fashion we agree on, even when we don't agree about particular policies; the intrinsic opposition in politics is thereby civil in the sense of being courteous, considerate and (fairly) polite as well as in the senses to do with governance, advanced social development and the rights of the citizen.

So, although I approve and would like to retain the Union, the divisions which worry me are the ones which I fear the referendum makes inevitable among Scots.

It's unavoidable that, after the vote (whichever way it goes) a great many people will feel they have lost something of great importance. If we vote No, those who back independence will have lost an opportunity (which could not be repeated for generations) to create a new nation; if it's Yes, those who back anything from the status quo to devo max will have lost the country, allegiances and certainties they already have.

The magnitude of the question means that few will be able to brush off an answer they didn't want as easily as a General Election defeat, or the introduction of a law or policy they especially dislike.

Some on both sides may be able to adapt relatively promptly, regardless of the answer. But I very much fear that it is in the nature of the question that large numbers of Scots (again, on either side) are bound to feel betrayed, bitter and resentful.

One positive thing is that the history of Scotland and England for the past couple of centuries, and the politics through which we came to the point where holding the referendum became a necessity, make it very unlikely that the remaining problems would lead to widespread unrest or, God forbid, violence (can we now take it as read that I am always stressing: no matter which side prevails on September 18?).

But disappointment, anger and bad temper are, I fear, unavoidable; and we will all do well to remember that many of our opponents will be feeling them, if we are not.

There will be a genuine equivalence in those losses; the loss of a hope is as real as the loss of something already held, and many of us are going to be deeply wounded by one or the other. In such circumstances, neither crowing nor casting up is going to foster any sort of political discourse which will recognise the impact the decision will have.

Unless coming on for one-third of the electorate change their minds, and another third make theirs up, the one thing we can be sure of in the same way is that there is no "settled will of the Scottish people", as John Smith said there was in regard to devolution.

Better Together tried to claim just that the other week, but even if the poll they used were to be reflected at the ballot box, 35% would vote for independence. That's a more significant minority than the quarter of Scots who voted against devolution in 1997, especially when you consider the ramifications of this question, as opposed to what was on offer then.

Precisely because those voters have already convinced themselves of the merits of taking such an enormous step, they will not easily be reconciled to the rejection of their ambitions, particularly since we would then be sure to be plunged into new arguments about the status quo, devo plus, devo max and, for all I know, the American New Wave band Devo's 1980 single Whip It.

By the same token, the recent momentum of the Yes campaign doesn't alter the fact that, barring some cataclysmic change, if Scots do vote to become independent, it will be with almost half of the nation opposed to the idea.

Of course, Yes voters will naturally be jubilant and their opponents will have to make the best of it or transfer their allegiance but it will not be an easy process.

Though I think there is no serious doubt that the result will be accepted by the rest of the UK, the EU and the international community, the exact settlement and negotiations thereafter have the potential (even with the best will in the world from all parties) to become difficult, fractious and bad tempered.

The worst outcome, and perhaps as things stand the most probable one, might be a very close vote, but with a substantial portion of the population abstaining.

I don't think anyone knows what to do about this situation, in part because, naturally enough, we are all so focused on the vote itself that we've hardly been minded to consider how we'll get along afterwards within Scotland, with the rest of the UK and with the rest of the world.

Some of the blame for this, in my view, lies with both camps concentrating on the practical questions.

That is understandable, indeed desirable; those questions need to be addressed, and the credibility of both sides can in some measure be assessed by the answers.

But neither side has helped by concentrating on the likely division of the marital assets; the real question is about whether we need or want to split up, and how we feel when the other party disagrees. (I don't mean the rest of the UK, though that comes into it, I chiefly mean Scots of differing views.)

The answer will settle whether there's going to be a divorce. But whether there is or not, we ought to recognise now that there will be a great deal of heartache, and we must be ready to do our best to cope with it.

If you think the run-up to this decision has been hard going, just wait for the aftermath.

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