Well, the day has arrived. Today, September 18th, is when the people of Scotland go to the polls and vote on whether or not their country should become independent again.
Nothing would make me happier than if a majority voted ‘yes’ to independence, but I’m afraid that – habitual pessimist that I am – I’ll have to stick by the predictions I’ve made in earlier blog-posts and say that I don’t think it’s going to happen: this time. I know that recent opinion polls have said it’ll be close and one or two have even put the ‘yes’ vote in front; but I think the lead shown by the ‘no’ campaign in most opinion polls will translate itself into a majority when the votes are counted.
Considering the massive number of apocalyptic threats on one hand and massive number of wild promises on the other that’ve been flung at the Scottish electorate by the British political, business and media establishments over the past two years, it’s amazing that anyone is minded to vote for independence at all – never mind a proportion that could be close to half the population. However, I think the sheer volume of pro-UK propaganda will, ultimately, have a decisive effect on how the vote goes.
Ever since the polls suggested a fortnight ago that the gap between the sides was narrowing, there’s been a non-stop bombardment of it: Unionist party leaders like David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg (plus a woken-from-hibernation Gordon Brown) seemingly promising Scots the earth if they stay in the UK, without giving much detail about what’s on offer; and simultaneous tales of horror about how every business in Scotland, from RBS and Standard Life down to the wee sweetie-shop at the foot of Cockburn Street in Edinburgh, will relocate to England in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. Why, it sounds like even Visit Scotland will have to move operations to London and rename itself Visit England if the Scots are stupid enough to vote for self-determination.
Also, what I think of as the ‘Gideon Mack’ factor – taken from the novel of the same name by James Robertson – may play a role in deciding the outcome. In Gideon Mack-the-book, Gideon Mack-the-character steps into a polling booth on the day of the 1979 referendum on setting up a devolved Scottish assembly: he suddenly takes cold feet, his support for the assembly melts away and he finds himself against all his expectations putting a cross in the ‘no’ box. The other day, hoping to inspire such last-moment jitters, David Cameron called on Scots to think carefully while they ‘stand in the stillness of the polling booth’.
However, I’m optimistic in the long term that Scotland will be independent. Just as the failed devolution vote in 1979 didn’t prevent a devolved Scottish parliament being created in 1999, so I think a failed independence vote now won’t prevent it happening later. One thing the referendum has succeeded in doing is making people aware of politics and making them listen to what politicians are saying. And when they start seeing the promises made by the unionist leaders evaporate, and the threats about what’d happen in an independent Scotland materialize anyway in a Scotland that’s still part of the United Kingdom, opinions will change.
Here’s what I predict will happen if – as I strongly suspect – Scotland votes ‘no’.
Downing Street, September 19th, after the final result has been declared: David Cameron and George Osborne pop open the bottles of champagne while Cameron’s take-no-prisoners Australian spin-doctor Lynton Crosby starts planning his master’s campaign for the 2015 General Election. In the 2015 campaign, the old Etonian will be proudly rebranded as ‘the Prime Minister who saved Britain’. Already, Alistair Darling begins to look like the Tories’ useful idiot.
Led by the Daily Mail, the press begins a vociferous campaign to force Alex Salmond’s resignation as Scottish First Minister now that the independence cause he’s championed has been defeated. Many London-based tabloids publish sneering pieces mocking the Scots as whining subsidy-junkies who’ve finally realized what side their bread is buttered on. These pieces, strangely, don’t appear in the same newspapers’ Scottish editions.
This subsides after two or three weeks as Scotland disappears off Westminster’s radar again and the press hunkers down for the next big story – the 2015 General Election. The Mail, Express, Telegraph and Sun re-align their artillery, away from Salmond and towards Ed Miliband, whom they spend the next months portraying as a weak, out-of-touch socialist bumbler who’ll run Britain into the ground if he gets the keys to number ten. Labour Party politicians start complaining about ‘bias’ in the media. This provokes great Schadenfreude from certain people north of the border.
2014 comes to an end and the New Year’s Honours List is announced. Certain individuals are rewarded with knighthoods, OBEs, CBEs, MBEs, etc., for their services in keeping the United Kingdom united. There’s a gong for Keith Skeoch, Executive Director of Standard Life, the company that threatens to leave Scotland every time there’s talk of constitutional tinkering that might give the place more autonomy. (He’s also a member of the Board of Reform Scotland, which according to author and former ambassador Craig Murray is a ‘neo-conservative lobby group which wants to abolish the minimum wage, privatise the NHS and pensions, and further restrict trade unions’.) Lord George Roberson of Port Ellon KT GCMG FRSA FRSE PC is awarded a further medal for his tireless struggle against the international ‘forces of darkness’, which would’ve undoubtedly been bolstered by a Scottish ‘yes’ vote. Should this medal be the Grand Order of Britain (GOB) or should it be the Supreme Honour for Integrity, Tenacity and Excellence (SHITE)? Perhaps he should get both – George Robertson GOB SHITE has an appropriate ring to it.
Elsewhere, Gordon Brown becomes Lord Brown of Shrek’s Swamp. Alastair Darling becomes Lord Darling of Tracy Island. And will that supposed socialist firebrand George Galloway, who’s spent the past months warning that an independent Scotland would be a hellhole of racism and sectarianism, abandon his left-wing principles and accept a peerage? I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s shameless enough. He could be Lord Galloway of Nonsense-on-Stilts.
Scots who’d assumed they’d get substantial new powers from Westminster after a ‘no’ vote are perplexed to discover that those powers are less spectacular than promised: a bit more say over social care here, a bit more say over the railways there, a few additional tweaks, nothing else. This is hardly surprising. The stuff promised by Gordon Brown was promised by somebody – an opposition backbench MP – in no position to promise anything. Meanwhile, on the day that Cameron, Miliband and Clegg descended on Scotland en masse (following the shock of a sudden tightening in the opinion polls) and offered everyone the moon on a stick, William Hague – deputizing for Cameron in the House of Commons – reassured backbench Tories that these promises were merely the equivalent of electioneering promises. There was no guarantee that they’d ever be passed into law. At the time, oddly, Hague’s comments didn’t get much coverage in the newspapers.
Whichever party wins power in Westminster in 2015, Conservative or Labour, the brutal austerity measures continue. They come hard and fast under Prime Minister Cameron, slightly less hard and slightly less fast but painfully longer under Prime Minister Miliband. As the money-pot gets smaller, so the share of it allocated to Scotland shrivels up too.
The Scottish Rugby Union decides to stop playing Flower of Scotland as the Caledonian anthem before international rugby matches, because the line that goes, “…we can still rise now, and be a nation again!” is attracting too many embarrassing jeers from opposition fans.
Astonishingly, Alastair Darling’s prediction that North Sea oil would run out in 2017 proves to be wrong. The black stuff, contrarily, keeps on flowing, through the 2020s and 2030s and beyond. However, no complaints are heard coming from the UK Treasury.
A few years from now, the implementation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) sees the National Health Service in Britain become a lucrative new market – a veritable smorgasbord of pickings – for transnational companies whose priority is profit rather than the care of patients. North of the border, the NHS is supposedly the Scottish NHS, a distinct and separate entity. But when the devolved administration in Edinburgh stresses its distinctness and separateness and tries to exempt it from TTIP, which is privatising / ravaging health services elsewhere in Britain, those private companies take the administration to court. In court, the companies win their case by arguing that Scotland and its NHS aren’t distinct or separate. Scotland’s merely a region of a country, the UK. After all, didn’t its population vote to confirm that regional status back in 2014?
London keeps on expanding, sucking investment and talent out of the other parts of the UK, including Scotland.
Sooner or later, the day arrives when Nigel Farage’s greatest and wettest dream is fulfilled: a UK-wide referendum on continued membership of the European Union is held and it results in a UKIP / Tory majority in southern England voting to leave the EU. A majority in Scotland vote to stay in it, but they’re outnumbered by the anti-European brigade down south. All those old scare stories about an independent Scotland being booted out of the EU suddenly look hollow.
Boris Johnston, a man whose concept of British geography doesn’t extend beyond the M25, becomes British Prime Minister… But no. It’s time to abandon these predictions before they make me suicidal.
I suspect the constant refrain in a post-‘no’-vote Scotland will be the same question that Johnny Rotten – sick to the teeth of the manipulations of manager Malcolm McLaren – put to his audience at the end of the final concert by the original Sex Pistols at San Francisco Winterland in January 1978: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” As people in Scotland realise they’ve been cheated, I think momentum will build again for independence. I only hope that in the meantime the place doesn’t endure the sort of punishment it received, courtesy of Margaret Thatcher, between the two devolution referendums in 1979 and 1997.
But maybe all my pessimism will prove unfounded. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be in a state of shocked euphoria. We shall see.