So yesterday an independent Scotland died in the street, butchered by a mob. And I snuck in amongst the throng to stab at it as well:
And let us bathe our hands in Scotland’s blood
Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords.
Then walk we forth, even to the marketplace,
And waving our red weapons o’er our heads
Let’s all cry, “Peace, freedom, and liberty!”
Of course, we murdered Scotland with our votes rather than with swords, but the analogy of Julius Caesar is probably apposite because the old sod’s death is not in fact the end of Shakespeare’s play. It’s not even the end of Caesar, who reappears as a groaning ghost. History soon turns on the murderers and it bathes its hands in their blood.
Yesterday was neither a clear victory for the Union nor, despite the spectacular turnout of 84.6%, for democracy. Tychy was fretting about a low turnout a year ago, when many people expressed only annoyance at the inconvenience of being forced to think about Scottish independence. My overwhelming relief at today’s result derives more from the high turnout than from the No vote. No has managed to accrue the support of slightly less than half the population – significantly less and our democratic system could not have staggered away from the fight with any legitimacy. I don’t share in the general wonder at the turnout amongst media commentators, as if it’s all a marvellous surprise that so many ordinary people could get the day right and remember to turn up on time. It’s just that the referendum has never been a priority amongst the masses. Given the tone of much of the debate, it has often seemed more rational to not bother following it.
We are still left with a country in which less than half the population have given an active mandate to the state. You have to go back to the days when women did not have the vote to find such a popular distance from the democratic system. Moreover, an incalculable percentage of the No vote is for “none of the above” or for some third Devo-option which was never supposed to be on the ballot paper. This is a referendum in which both sides lost: an independent Scotland has been rejected and yet so has the traditional Union. The political players who remain will have to mix up the leftovers into a kind of constitutional Scotch broth, with yesterday’s Union being blended with appetising morsels of Alex Salmond’s project. Voting against independence will not take anybody back to a grand Victorian state.
But the relief is nonetheless stunning. After all these years it’s finally over. It’s rather like we were all preparing to go on an expensive holiday, to some tacky foreign resort which many of us were privately dreading, but the passports never arrived, the plane took off without us, and so we can now spend our time dozing peacefully in the garden, surrounded by home comforts.
And those of us who are on the Left would quite like to have the Left back now please. For the last two years, the Scottish Left have been hired out to the SNP; they have been mingling with strange, inappropriate companions; and they have purposefully avoided addressing the tens of millions of ordinary people who, through no fault of their own, happen to live in and to the south of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Scottish Left haven’t been able to convince 64 million of their countrymen to prioritise the NHS and so the solution has been to deny they were ever their countrymen in the first place and flounce off. There are many figures on the Left who should not be allowed to forget that they had tried to found an entire nation on this teenaged strop, an act of undemocratic escapism. In the future the Left should stand for what it has always stood for, occasionally in practice as well as in theory: progress.
As a website, Tychy is dedicated to producing cartoons and fairy stories and articles about ruined castles. My training as a historian and my physical presence in Edinburgh has made it unrealistic that I could have avoided writing about Scottish independence. Yet today I have been relieved of spending the next few years following debates on devolved currency options (the sort of thing which has, we are constantly told, led to mass political engagement). I am over the moon. Believe me, I am far happier with no nation at all than many today would be with the richest nation on the planet.