So, the much-delayed reaction to the result. I think this post actually gains from the delay, as there have been some recent developments that are very interesting (at least to me), which I can now cover here. So, this post will be split into three parts: my initial reaction, my later thoughts, and some thoughts about what happens now.
I rather wisely went to bed on Thursday not long after the polls closed, and woke up at about 6am on Friday, just in time for the decisive result from Fife that took No over the line. As anticipated, my reaction was mixed: disappointment on one hand, and yet a certain quiet relief on the other. After all, independence was the less certain path, so it wasn't too terrible to avoid it. Plus, this way I don't need to explain to my mum that I had helped abolish her country.
So, that was that.
Two other things struck me. The first is that just as the vote for independence would have been historic, so too is the No vote - this is actually the first time the people of Scotland have voted to be part of the UK. In 1707, Universal Suffrage wasn't a thing, so the decision was taken by an unrepresentative parliament; this time, it was by the people. Since we are a democracy, that also makes it, by definition, the right decision.
My second thought was this: Alex Salmond said that this should settle the issue for a generation; David Cameron said it should settle it "maybe for a lifetime". I'd actually go further than that: unless something dramatically changes - be it a huge and visible rise in pro-Independence support, revelations of a rigged vote, or a sudden "miraculous" find of enormous oil stocks in the Clair oil fields in the next three months - this should basically settle the issue forever. I don't really want my grandchildren to have to go through all this again if it's just going to be a rerun with the same result.
There are several people and groups who have really gained my respect in all of this:
- The people of Scotland. The process has been horrendously difficult at times, but it's also been overwhelmingly peaceful. And to have a referendum of this sort, with an 85% turnout and to do it with almost no trouble, is impressive.
- Our 16- and 17-year-olds. At the time, I opposed the vote being extended to this group, but I was wrong to do so. They've very clearly showed that they are more than capable of understanding the issues, of engaging in politics, and in playing a full role in proceedings. We should roll the franchise out to them across the country as soon as possible.
- David Cameron. (Hey, I didn't say I liked the guy, only that he's gained in my respect!) Probably the biggest winner in all of this, he gained respect firstly by accepting the mandate to hold the referendum and enabling the process, then by having the wisdom to stay largely out of it. But where he really gained my respect, and a small measure of fear, is in his statement after the No victory - by tying "the vow" for greater powers for Scotland in with "English votes for English Laws" he has rather spectacularly managed to spike UKIP's guns and out-maneuvered Labour. I'll come back to that.
There are four groups who have really lost my respect as a result of the referendum:
- The BBC. The thing about bias at the BBC is that it's like one of those optical illusion posters - you don't see it until you see it, nobody can point it out to you, but once you do see it, you can't unsee it. (Unfortunately, there's another thing to note: it doesn't actually matter if it's there or not; what matters is whether you see it.) Well, I saw it, pretty damn clearly. And so now I don't trust the BBC for their news output. Because if they'll lie about this, what else might they lie about?
- Labour. Especially in Scotland, the Labour party has lost a huge amount of my respect, both for campaigning hand in hand with the Tories, but mostly for the manner in which they have campaigned. I don't deny that there were massive uncertainties associated with independence, but to hear them tell it we would have suffered Armageddon on Friday had things gone the other way. So much of what they told us was so utterly untrue that, again, I doubt I will trust them on anything again.
- Better Together. The result was a No, but that's a long way from saying Better Together won. They were horrendous, and turned what should have been a sure thing into high drama. Their campaign was shockingly bad.
- Gordon Brown. Conversely, Gordon Brown did, probably, win the day with "the vow". He is, indeed, the saviour of the union. Unfortunately, he has been tricked and allowed himself to be used to set a trap for his Labour party (again, I'll come back to that). But the saddest thing about all this is that in the days since he has been making all sorts of pronouncements about "his promise", not realising that the moment the polls closed he reverted to simply being a minor Opposition back-bench MP.
Unfortunately, since the referendum result I have been becoming increasingly angry about the whole thing. It's not the result, which I'm at peace with, but rather the antics that have followed.
Firstly, there was the disgraceful incident in Glasgow on Friday, in which a lunatic fringe of No thugs attacked an until-then peaceful Yes gathering. My guess is that this was actually part of the lunatic fringe of Rangers supporters who haven't had a decent fight in a couple of years, but it doesn't really matter: we were poised to hold our heads up high for a peaceful referendum, and they marred the day. (It was also rather shocking that the Daily Mail actually managed to report it better than the BBC. But I guess they do the sensational as a matter of coarse. (Pun intended.))
But then there has been the undignified squabbling over "the vow". Now, I had expected this from Labour and the Tories, as David Cameron sprung his trap for his enemies. But to see Alex Salmond wade in with his pronouncements was less expected, and less agreeable. (It's also why AS isn't on my list of winners, above.)
(For myself, I don't care about "the vow". I never cared about more powers for Scotland, but was all about the quest for better governance. Independence wouldn't have magically given us that, but it would have made it easier. But this squabbling is exactly the sort of shoddy operation that I'm trying to get away from!)
The Tory trap, though, is a thing to behold. They're about to lay out a big package of powers for Scotland, matched with an "English Votes for English Laws" proposal. They'll then quietly instruct a subset of their backbenchers to tactically abstain, so that the Labour party hold the decisive vote on the issue.
This will then create a dilemma for Ed Miliband: if he allows the move through, he critically weakens any incoming Labour government with a small majority (because they won't be able to legislate on England, and thus on health, education...). If he blocks the measure, then he's the one who has broken "the vow" to Scotland and will be punished up here (there's nothing we can do to the Tories anyway)... and he also loses support in England for blocking such a popular measure.
I don't know if DC is a first-rate scholar of Machiavelli, or if he's just really lucky. Either way: well played, sir.
So, What Next?
I had toyed with joining the SNP on the day after a No vote - I didn't feel I could do so while the campaign was live, out of respect for my mum, but once independence ceased to be an issue it was an option.
However, in the event of a No vote my focus has shifted again. As a result of that vote, and since I have no desire for a re-run, I'm back to seeking the best for my country, where "my country", now, is definitively, the UK. But since the SNP are local to Scotland, that would seem to create a contradiction.
On the other hand, the Labour party, especially in Scotland, is a disaster area. I'm not sure whether the thing to do is to smash it and start over, or whether it might be possible to reform it and thus redeem it.
Either way, the first thing to do is to break their complacency in Scotland. For the past decades, the Labour party have been shockingly complacent about Scotland: it didn't matter what they did, because they'd get 40+ MPs from up here.
That needs to stop. If we drive them down to 20ish, then that will force a wakeup, and might start things going in the right direction. And, fortunately, it sounds like there's a movement starting within "The 45" (as they now call themselves) to arrange tactical voting for the SNP come the general election. If they turn out in numbers, they have the ability to take any constituency in the country. It's a long-shot, but it just might work.
(Now, if we could just get our English friends to do the same, and throw their weight behind the Greens...)
So, that's the next step, I think.