So, it’s happened. Scotland has spoken and a simmering crisis has been laid to rest for a generation if not a lifetime. The internet has been rife with Braveheart memes (“Never miiiiiind!” etc) and the governments of Germany, Spain, Canada and France, to name but four, have heaved a collective sigh of relief that the gaudy, grinning Jack of separatism has been pushed firmly back into his box again for a while. There’s quite enough going on already. At least that’s over.
But is it? Because can we really draw conclusions about Catalonia, the Tirol, the Basque country, Quebec or Bavaria from the Scottish referendum? I think not. The cases for and against Scottish independence are a little too typically British to be generalized in favour of other potential minority nations. While Munich has connections in all directions and an economy that is the envy of many nations, while the Catalans sit on one of Europe's great migration routes, Scotland has nowhere else to go but south with its trade, nowhere else to go but south for its access to international stock exchanges, banks and all major global players. And although reductionist attempts to caricature the Scottish economy as a few barrels of oil, a few tanks of gas, some over-priced salmon and a couple of distilleries are grossly unfair, it’s nonetheless true that they suffer north of the border from a lack of real diversification.
And then there was always the currency question. Would the English be prepared to share their Pound Sterling with a nation whose taxes would not be supporting it and who had rejected the sovereignty of Westminster? Could the Scots hope to launch their own currency with sufficient international credit? Or could they even risk the Euro? Given the pervasive anti-Brussels rhetoric on both sides of the referendum, the latter was always unlikely and the former simply too great a risk for such canny natives to take. For even if nothing was worn under the kilt and it was all in perfect working order, the very idea of a potential “tartan dragon” probably reminded too many Edinburgh economists of the tragic implosion of Ireland.
But above all, the glorious dream was never going to happen, because the mood, national and international, is no longer open for this kind of change right now. We’ve had the collapse of the Soviet block and look what it’s given birth to. We’ve had the Arab Spring and look where it’s got us. We’re now engaged in wars of attrition that may very well have no end, or at least not the kind of end where a few tired men sit down in a railway carriage and sign something. What the pollsters failed to take into account – and thus were so far misled – is that people will naturally talk up their options right until to the moment when they realise they don’t have any. I’m certain that a great deal of the prospective “yes” vote was never a genuine cry for independence. It was mere wishful thinking of the “I’ll show you lot that I can do it alone” variety. That kind of sulky bid for independence usually comes about three weeks before junior shows up back at mum’s house with no money, a broken phone and a suitcase full of dirty laundry.
If this referendum, with these arguments and with this amount of preparation had taken place in 1994 or even 2004, the result might have been another one. But we are all different citizens now of a very different world. We cling to what we know, to what has worked for us before, even if it hasn’t worked spectacularly well. We cling to the past, however unpopular or worn out it might be, simply because
it is NOT the future: that leaky ship adrift on an ocean of incertitude, with neither vision nor captain, neither wheelhouse nor wheel.
The people of Scotland have voted, as so many others have voted before them, for the devil they know rather than the devil they don’t. However much they may be weary of the yoke and the goad, however much they may be burdened by a long history of oppression, neglect and condescension, the final result at 6 am in the cold light of dawn was never really in doubt. There may indeed be fifty ways to leave, but if you stick around you’ll probably have some smart new leverage in a relationship that at least has familiar contours. Now that’s a whole lot better than fifty kinds of maybe, fifty kinds of risk, fifty kinds of possible humiliation against only one chance that the new thing, whatever it is, actually works out. Should I stay or should I go? Definitely a no-brainer.
© Edwin Drood
, September 2014
"When poverty comes in at the door love flies out the window" (German proverb),
oil painting by George Frederick Watts (1817-1904).