Look, Scotland!…I’m still standing. I was wrong about the vote and I lost the referendum but I’ve come out the other side unscathed. I remain an independista, an unflinching Scottish Nationalist and convinced that one day, after my time, we will be sovereign again.
The joy of belief is that makes you part of a cause not just a campaign. And you don’t kill a cause. I’ll go to my grave believing in Scotland’s independence.
For now, the argument has been lost. It is a good idea to say that to yourself out loud. No amount of dismay and anger, no number of complaints and conspiracies will change that.
It was in May 2011 when the SNP swept to power that it became clear there would be a referendum. That’s nearly three and a half years for Scots to get used to the idea, to find out the truth, to decide whom to believe and to work out their position.
With voter registration at 97 per cent and turnout at 85 per cent, there is no question of legitimacy or representation. A margin of defeat at 10 per cent is decisive.
This is the clearly expressed will of the Scottish people and I for one respect it. I am a democrat. This is the bedrock of our system and without our support, democracy is diminished. To suggest outside factors may have skewed the result is to denigrate the process. To complain that it somehow isn’t fair is to insult the people. To rage against it is to tarnish the image of the whole Yes campaign.
It hurts, but the only dignified response is to get used to it…more Scots prefer the Union to Independence. I will campaign for independence because I believe it is our birthright and our national destiny and because it is the right way to govern the country but I will do so accepting it is effectively off the agenda for the time being and understanding it is not what the majority want.
I don’t think defeat in the ultimate objective will destroy Yes. It is a ready-made organic organisation, well-researched and committed. It is superbly well placed to monitor any evolving devolutionary proposals and to coordinate joint action in any field of public concern in Scotland. The sheer numbers of individuals makes it a daunting opponent to confront whether you’re the BBC or a retailer deliberately misleading Scots in a popular vote. Yes must live on.
While we remain united, expect the Unionists to do the opposite, ending their unholy alliance designed to keep Scotland a province (and lucky to be so, according to their legal advice which said we didn’t exist at all). As the inter-party factionalism breaks out in the months running up the General Election, we can stay composed and focussed on what they get up to, which I suspect will produce a wave of anti-Unionist sentiment in Scotland likely to damage particularly the carcass of the Labour Party.
Remember, whatever they say about conventions and national agreements to heal and find a way forward, the key figures in the Unionist three-party coalition really detest Yes.
Yes does not behave in predictable political party ways, it is a constant challenge at grassroots level which they can’t handle and refuses to fit into their norm. It is anti-Establishment and it irritates the Hell out of them. Party opponents can be denounced as just another bunch of payroll politicians, but smiling people with Yes badges can’t.
We are civic dissidents.
One thing about our politics is that nobody dies – not directly. I’ve reported from the West Bank, from revolution-torn Eastern Europe and from Belfast. There I met people who literally feared for their safety depending on their vote; people who had to hide when opponents appeared; individuals who had been imprisoned and tortured for their beliefs. We may worry about suicides and broken families from poverty, about lifestyles destroyed and hopes crushed, but a quiet greet at the point of defeat is easier than a bullet in the back.
We have to make the most of what we do have and bury resentment of opponents who exercised their right to believe and to vote their own way. (I was disappointed to hear Jim Gallagher of Better Together on Radio Scotland still talking this morning of No voters being afraid to speak out. He needs an irony check, given the coordinated fear campaign he was part of, and a magnanimity-in-victory injection.)
Lastly, there is a difficult question to be addressed over Alex Salmond. He has led the ascent to the ridge just below the summit but failed to attain the top. There is no saltire on the pinnacle. He has been magnificent in leadership and has spent his adult life leading up to this moment. Today he faces the crushing knowledge that it is not to be. He will not be First Minister of an independent Scotland.
I can’t believe that after this momentous effort, after this life of struggle, he isn’t hollowed out inside. He presented Scots with the richest, best-prepared country ever to seek independence backed by a track record in office at Holyrood – and still the people said no.
So what does he do? Of course he can carry on until the next election in 2016 but if he leads the party into it, does he intend to stay there throughout the term? When does it come to an end for him? When do his loyal lieutenants get their chance? There is a ready-made replacement in Nicola Sturgeon. Does anybody doubt it?
Part of him must surely be saying that his time has gone. This was his moment and it passed. He has an extraordinary legacy and I’m not sure the referendum vote is its high point. For me it is the Edinburgh Agreement when a British Prime Minister came to Edinburgh to treat a Scottish politician as an equal, sign a binding agreement based on a democratic principle and legitimise Scotland as a nation-in-waiting in the eyes of the British state. The handshake between them was the UK saying: Yes you can. Salmond brought the SNP from fringe to heart of government and from hobby to mainstream.
I think there would be a national wave of empathy for Salmond if he declared now that he intended to step aside. It would display modesty and reveal his human vulnerability. His place in history is assured and Scotland would realise that the party was reinventing itself in a new and daring form for a new challenge. (I expect Johann Lamont to step down next month to audible relief). The Unionists wanted to destroy him and his party as credible players in government and they have failed.
Defeat must deeply hurt him but he can walk away head up and chest out on his own terms. No doubt, as the transition cranks into place, there will be recriminations and regrets. It would be best if he insulates himself from it by flagging up the big changes ahead in the leadership.
He has been the master of timing before and I can’t help but think he would capture the public mood by aligning his own position with that of the electorate and acknowledging their verdict.
This is a turning point for Scotland and Alex Salmond has always been ahead of the curveby