‘Still thou art blessed compared wi me! The present only toucheth thee: But och! I backward cast my e’e, On prospects drear! An’ forward tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!’ : To A Mouse: Robert Burns: November 1785.
‘Base camp isn’t far off the summit now’: Alex Salmond: September 19th 2014.
One thing to be said for growing up in a country where it rains pretty much every day of summer is that you do tend develop a fairly robust sense of humour fairly early on in life. We mock the pretentions of ourselves and others and not always gently. And that’s something that’s been very helpful this last week. For there has been much in all of us to mock.
My favourite joke de jour tells of a yes supporter who bought Monday’s Daily Record. He read Cameron and Clegg and Miliband’s signed vow on its front page and then put the paper aside on the radiator.
That day he found himself beginning to think instead of voting no. It surprised him. But the extra powers on offer were impressive. And they were now being offered by all three Westminster parties. Surely this was, just as they said, the no risk option. He slept on it.
But in the morning when he returned to read the vow again he found to his surprise that the words written on the paper had completely disappeared.
The rainfall of Indonesia and the temperature of Poland combine to encourage many a Scottish childhood to be spent indoors. It explains not only our proud mediocrity as a footballing nation, of course, but also our enthusiasm for ‘book learning’. The reason we are able to speak of The Scottish Enlightenment and not, say, The Californian, or The Australian Enlightenment is largely, I think, meteorological.
It’s been a revelation none the less to find myself in a capital city where the names of Nobel Economics laureates are spoken in bars with the same easy familiarity of those of footballers. Where street corner smokers talk of the Barnett Formula and the Midlothian Question. And where philosophers and poets pack public meetings.
Much, too much perhaps, has already been written about the turnout on Thursday but as the circus moves on I find that two statistics in particular catch my eye: the first is that no less than 72% of 16-17 year olds voted yes; the second, and perhaps the less predictable, is that turnout was markedly lower in all three regions (Glasgow, West Dumbartonshire and Dundee) where yes won.
Indeed my second favourite, though less politically correct, joke de jour is that on Scotland’s new political map yes territory bears a striking resemblance to nothing so much as Gaza and The West Bank.
And though if anything even more has been written on the reconnection of people to politics and vice versa the truth that we are left with is that in Westminster that connection was made lately and briefly. And only then in ill disguised panic. While the defeated armies of yes slept Cameron rose early this morning to speak only of ‘English votes for English Laws’.
Cameron’s words and their timing have the fingerprints of Lynton Crosby all over them. For their business of politics it’s back to business as usual.
The disappearing ink of the vow has served its purpose in saving the union. While stealing UKIP’s English nationalist trousers and boxing the hapless Miliband into a corner. All in one and the the same breathlessly cynical move. That ‘English Votes For English Laws’ breaks the union anyway is a just a detail.
Listening to the likes of Tam Dalyell, the original author of The Midlothian Question, and Joel Barnett, of Barnett Formula fame, this last week is to be transported back to a time before politics became as pointlessly arcane as a game of quidditch. And a place where it has a purpose beyond the mere protection of private privilege.
And although many before me have said that in the end hope will always triumph over fear it is worth repeating again. And in doing so noting well the very real fears of the 55% of Scots who voted no on Thursday. Not just my old lawyer friends in the New Town who do well from the union, thank you, but the restaurateur who I spoke with in a bar in Leith in the early hours of Friday morning.
Relieved to discover my non combatant status he spoke as he would to his priest at confession. He had done something bad, he told me. But he had just borrowed heavily to open a second restaurant. He had no children and no wish of any. His heart had told him yes, of course, but in the end it was his head that finally guided his hand.
That there were many like him, and many more who had vocally voted yes but had silently hoped for no, is now a matter of record. My brother, a tireless SNP supporter for forty years and an able politician and minister for seven of them, answered my simple question with a brutally simple answer: “they got more votes than we did” he said. In a matter of hours his leader would fall on his sword.
An English friend, like many, more hurt and dismayed than angry, had told me earlier that Salmond (“a divisive politician”) “must go”. Keeping the observation that David Cameron could scarcely be considered a unifying presence to myself, I advised him, as I now advise all who care to listen, to be careful what you wish for. Nicola Sturgeon makes Alex Salmond look like John Major.
Because as the ball now bounces back into Westminster’s court to the sound of fine words about how the country is governed she has the ability to reach the parts that Salmond couldn’t. She also, like the argument she espouses, has youth on her side. Not to mention 45% of the electorate.
But most important I think the Glasgow lawyer in her is also maybe a little less concerned with the question of just exactly how the country is governed and a little more with the question of just exactly for who?