This is a revolution, but let’s be careful what we wish for
It will soon be time for the talking to stop. Or at least to pause. It should also be a moment for quiet reflection on what has been a sometimes acrimonious war or words but has also brought the best out of people. Not only the chattering classes and commentators, but those who are often demeaningly referred to as the “ordinary” people.
A turnout in the region of 80-85% is predicted by bookmaker William Hill. That is high by any election standards though it does make you wonder why 1 in 5 will not use their vote in this momentous of polls.
It is often said that the “Scottish” people will decide. In fact it is those who live here, including half a million English and a very large number of people of overseas origin. This is a vote for the creation of a new country embracing a wide range of people, but Scotland is no longer a country confined to the Scots. This is a point rarely made, but one that those raging against anyone who doesn’t wear a kilt should bear in mind.
I have not seen any polls indicating how the non-incumbent Scots intend to vote. As I live in Little Poland, otherwise known as Leith, it would be interesting to know which side they are on or whether they make up some of the 20% or so who won’t vote and have no interest either way. If so, they can be excused their lethargy.
Of particular importance is that “the people” represents more than a body or mass of voters being drawn to a routine election. Make no mistake, these “ordinary” people are not just taking part in an ordinary vote. This is nothing short of a revolution and one that cannot be ignored. The rallies, such as the one in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street at the weekend, will be seen overseas as nothing less than a popular uprising. For this reason alone, the status quo cannot survive. The “Scottish” people will get change, whoever wins.
Of course, sceptics do not believe that Westminster will deliver on its promises. The pledge yesterday by the three political leaders suggests otherwise and if they go back on these pledges then the revolutionaries will have them guillotined.
By taking such a strong stance on what amounts to Devo Max they might just have done enough to save the union and give Scotland more of what it wants. It will then take a strong leader in Westminster to convince a deeply suspicious and deflated independence lobby that they will accept such a compromise.
Should Scotland vote Yes, then the pressure will be on the nationalists to prove their sums add up, that they can quickly bring stability to the economy and the financial markets. Business, which has been vilified throughout, will be even more demanding about the important questions which even 24 hours before we vote are still unanswered.
The markets will be on tenterhooks but investors should hold tight and not panic. Nothing much will change in the short term and will not change for 18 months or so while the two countries negotiate who gets the record collection, and so on.
So, Yes or No? I have been sceptical throughout the campaign about the pro-independence lobby’s figures and its optimism which I believe to be based too much on sentimental attachment to a utopian dream. A state where we are more equal, poverty is banished and the economy booms. What exactly would Holyrood do to turn Scotland into a world-beater? While it is busy driving up taxes to wipe out poverty it will also be driving companies out of business. Let’s stop this now and get real.
Even the No campaigners are at times guilty of too much self-belief. Confidence is one thing, but creating false hopes and trying to punch above your weight is dangerous talk. The cheer leaders for the economy, including those No campaigners on the black tie circuit, cannot be faulted for whetting our appetite for greater things. Yet such talk always harks back to a golden age and is laced with jam tomorrow together with an admission that we can be great as long as the Americans are prepared to buy our companies and take them to the stage we thought we could reach on our own.
Of course, Scotland gave a lot to the world and has a lot more to offer, but anyone who has lived and worked in other parts of the UK will testify to hearing a similar message. The Great North and its development of the railways, a reborn Birmingham which produced great engineers, a resurgent Manchester and Liverpool now basking in modern industries. If Scotland breaks away then these regions will not sit back and let their former UK partner and ally run off with the family silver and claim it has a unique place in the world. They will demand greater powers of their own. They too can lay claim to being the “engine of the industrial revolution”. They too have nascent financial services and technology sectors waiting to be unleashed. They too have their pioneers and inventors, pride and history and all the sentimentalism they can throw at a campaign to demand more political freedoms.
The Better Together campaign has been too negative, too disjointed and, ironically, too short of a true sense of unity. A better led Better Together campaign should easily have dismissed all the nonsense spoken about a broken and morally bankrupt union. The United Kingdom has been and still is one of the greatest forces for good – and for wealth creation – the world has ever seen. Scotland should be proud to be part of it.
Yet a sense that we have become a Disunited Kingdom has fuelled a loss of what it has meant to be British. This has forced a wedge between us. In truth, that wedge also divides the North of England, the West Country and, to some extent the Welsh, from the South. This is the real divide: the South East versus the Rest. It is a hard message to get across to patriotic Scots harking back to Bannockburn and Walter Scott, a country that really no longer exists except in the history books.
Whether Yes or No trumps tomorrow, it is imperative that the winners respect the losers and that they understand the realities facing them. We are not setting off on the yellow brick road to a magical country. On Friday morning it will most probably rain in Scotland as it usually does. However hard you try, there are some things you just cannot change for the better.