Well, haven’t the last 48 hours or so been…interesting?
As soon as the first poll putting the “Yes” campaign ahead in Scotland hit the media, you could almost see the smoke trails left by the Westminster politicians (most notably our not much esteemed Chancellor) sprinting their way into the TV studios to mount an impassioned defence of the Union and talk about all those powers that the Scots would get if they would only do the sensible thing and vote, “No”.
Unfortunately, it’s at least six months too late.
It would be easy to mark the scramble as a sign of an unorganised panic, but I’m not convinced it’s the case. It’s think it’s a make of something worse: complacency. I think that the options presented since Sunday have been on the table since almost the start (in fact, it’s pretty much a racing certainty they were). It’s just that members of the establishment didn’t think they needed to be aired, simply because the Scots were going to fall into line and vote “No” anyway, and comfortably too. Sunday’s (solitary) poll putting “Yes” in front was perhaps the dog whistle that roused the troops, and perhaps seeded just a little alarm.
As far I am concerned, however, the roots of this whole problem lay earlier, and with the Prime Minister. It was David Cameron who made the serious tactical error (as some, including me, thought it was at the time) to insist on a binary referendum. Not allowing the third DevoMax option from the start has allowed the debate to polarise in the way it has. The third option would, likely as not, have been preferred. There is no appetite for the status quo, but there is disquiet about a full split. But now, the way the vote is constructed now forces voters to weigh the risk of going it alone against, not simply a Tory government, but an entire political establishment that appears to be unmoored from what Scottish (and, while we’re at it, Northern English) values have historically been. “No” campaigners have tried to claim that the main impetus in the “Yes” camp is against a current administration in Westminster, but it isn’t. It’s deeper. It’s al about a political system that is disconnected from us, and receding. This disconnect is not just a temporary one, but an evolving divide.
That divide in Scotland is just one manifestation of a wider schism within the UK as a whole. Whichever way the Scots vote, change is coming. Many in the North of England, and in the South West, for example, feel much empathy with the Scots. The mood of these regions is not captured by an electoral or political system that appears to ignore and demote their concerns to that of more adjuncts to what is perceived to be the “main” business of the country. And that business is increasingly concentrated in the metropolitan South East. Most of the major capital investments that are being proposed (and which we will all subsidise) look to be mostly serving those regions: the arguments about a London airport, Crossrail; Crossrail 2; HS2. Osborne’s tardy cheerleading for investment in the North seems to be entirely motivated by the rush of an oncoming election, not by any real long-term desire to invest. And just as likely to vanish again afterwards.
I remain conflicted. On the one hand, I do not want to see those with whom I feel the most kinship leave us. It would be hard to lose friends such as those. bUt, at the same time, I can easily why they would want to go. Only they can decide.
However, even if the Scots decide to vote to remain in the union on September 18 (and I think they might, but it’s going to be very close indeed) things are going to change. The DevoMax being offered might not even be enough, and it may even provoke the unloved regions to finally make a move to seize some control of their own destinies too. Whichever way the Scots vote, this is a moment for all of us to push for the values that that Burns poem extols, and changing the way we go about it. We have to take it.