The time is nearly upon us. Or rather, upon those who live in Scotland. Whichever way the vote goes tomorrow, this is the beginning, not the end of a highly significant political conversation: UK politics changed forever.
As one of the 800,000 Scots living ‘Down South’ I have no vote. But I will be hugely affected by the independence referendum, as will all UK residents and many more besides.
The referendum has naturally been a huge topic of conversation in Scotland for the last two years. But it has only been widely aired Down South in the past few weeks, surely one of the many mistakes made.
Campaigning has brought out the best and the worst in people on both sides. There have been some powerful pieces of communication and some pretty poor ones. None worse than the awful ‘The woman who made up her mind’ advert which was patronizing in the extreme and probably backfired. If I were JK I would want my money back for that one.
This is one small sign, among many, of how out of touch with real people it is possible to be, whether coming from Adland or Westminster. In some ways, the Scottish referendum is about the same kind of political disenfranchisement which is felt by those living in Cornwall, Cumbria Carmarthen or Colchester. Just ask Nigel.
Context is everything. If I lived in Scotland I would have been sorely tempted to vote Yes. I would want self-determination, a fairer, more decent and greener society, a strong health service and no Trident.
I may also have felt ‘Yes-ganged’ by all the blue signs around me. How could anyone resist the positive, patriotic message of hope? It is no surprise that so many Nos are staying silent.
But I would also be really worried whether all these high ideals and benefits could be delivered. Would Scotland be able to afford better education, social and health care? Could we get rid of Trident? Would one political elite not be replaced by another?
From my own perspective, there are two possible outcomes from a Yes vote: things could either be very bad indeed or completely disastrous.
A leading academic* has calculated that the cost of Independence to every man, woman and child in Scotland would be about £480. Most business and economics commentators seem to be predicting a tough time economically for an Independent Scotland.
But any criticism is dismissed by hardcore Nationalists as biased and another example of the Westminster elite trying to deceive the Scots. The Yes vote is partly a visceral protest against the perceived southern ‘enemy’.
If this mentality prevails, especially if there is a Yes vote, the result will be a divisive and divided society, neighbours turned into enemies, rivalries becoming real, on both sides of the border.
This to me would be a victory for base instincts over better judgement. It would be the wrong way to achieve what parts of the Yes and the No alliances want: a fairer, more engaged and more democratic society, a stronger, interdependent ‘regional’ identity. An enlightened Scotland leading the way, not a parochial Scotland backing into a corner.
So, you take the Aye road and I’ll take the No road, both paths would lead to change, only No would lead to manageable change, in my opinion, to the kind of ‘civic nationalism’ some have spoken about.
In the more likely event of a No vote (I’d bet by 5-8% and part of me hopes it is not much more than that) two possible outcomes are: the main political parties attempt to go ignore everything and maintain the status quo. Cue the revolution.
Or, as I think will happen, a No vote is the beginning of a very important conversation leading to political reform, more devolved powers for Scotland and for other parts of the UK and a more grown-up, more engaged electorate.
In Scotland, both factions would need to sit down and resolve their differences. We need some kind of Truth and Reconciliation committee. There has been a lot of deceit and hatred and posturing, a great many ‘crimes against humility’ on both sides.
I don’t think that much of this has been thought through – like so much in this extraordinary episode. But that makes the conversation all the more important.
* Iain McLean, FBA FRSE, Official Fellow in Politics; Professor of Politics, Oxford University. The fact he is my brother does not affect my bias.