The spectre of an independent Scotland no longer haunts Westminster – as a result of the recent polls placing the Yes campaign in the lead, it has now reduced the British political class and the media to abject terror.
After months of complacency, condescension, hysteria, celebrity-driven Better Togetherness, sentimental paeans to Britishness and three hundred years of shared history, dotted with dire warnings and threats of the economic and political consequences of secession from the EU, Barack Obama, Paul Krugman and other luminaries, the momentum has astonishingly shifted decisively in favour of the YES campaign and the breakup of Great Britain Ltd is now a very real prospect.
That may not last. In a referendum like this, nothing can be counted on until the final day, and the NO campaign has now gone into panic-stricken overdrive. The newspapers are now filled with apocalyptic warnings of the end of the Union. Yesterday the Guardian reported on the royal breeding machine’s latest output with the singularly cretinous headline ‘ Will a new royal baby save the Union?’ – a question that seemed to assume that both Scottish and English voters are little more than infantile cap doffers who are willing to change their entire political future at the whiff of a royal nappy.
Today the Telegraph reports that ‘senior MPs’ are asking Cameron to summon the Queen to speak out in favour of the Union, in the belief that ‘an intervention from Her Majesty ‘ could make all the difference.’ Having already summoned the US president, the NO campaigners have only God left to call upon. In his absence, Labour politicians, terrified at the drift in the Labour vote towards the SNP – and the prospect of losing the next election – are pouring across the border to uphold the Union.
First it was Ed Miliband, looking more passionate and engaged than he has ever done about anything, warning the Scots that there would be border guards at the frontier if Scotland becomes independent – a monumentally idiotic threat that one suspects is likely to create more YES voters than it dissuades. Then it was Gordon Brown, the Big Clunking Fist himself, putting the case for Union to hand-picked audiences, and Alistair Darling of course, drivelling on about the negative consequences of independence for ‘families.’
Others will follow, as Labour heads north to wage a battleground that the Tories cannot even enter and can barely talk about, because so many Scots despise them, because any public statement from a leading Tory is only likely to increase the YES vote.
It is the Tory party, more than anything else, which has done so much to contribute to Scotland’s disenchantment and disgust with our sclerotic political arrangements. Now Lord Snooty and His Pals sense not just the end of the Union, but the prospect of their own premature demise, and they are falling over themselves to bribe and terrify the Scots to stay on board.
Of course Labour has played its own part in this outcome. The SNP is a contradictory party; Donald Trump, Stagecoach and the preservation of the monarchy on one hand; defending the NHS, the cancellation of Trident, the removal of nuclear bases and free university education on the other.
Such a party may not provide the ‘Scandinavian’ social democratic Scotland that many of its supporters hope for. but the Labour supporters who have flocked towards the SNP clearly believe it might, otherwise they might just as well have gone to the Tories or the Lib Dems, Working class voters in Scotland have lost their faith in Labour, as many have also done south of the border. But in England these voters have turned mostly to the Tories or UKIP.
UKIP’s popularity, like the SNP’s, is partly due to revulsion at the ‘Westminster elite’, but UKIP’s rebellion against the political class has appealed to the worst instincts of the English population; sour rancid nationalism, chauvinism, anti-immigrationism, foreigner hatred and post-imperial Britishness.
In Scotland the Yes campaign draws its energy and vitality from the left-of-centre, and from a continued commitment to the social democratic project that New Labour have effectively abandoned. In England the left has become so marginalized, that the choice in the next election may well between Ed Miliband’s anaemic One Nation Labourism – for those who are still able to remember what it was – and a Tory/UKIP coalition.
In this context there is there is a delicious if somewhat pathetic irony in watching Ed Miliband and his cohorts fighting not just to preserve the Union, but the Coalition government and perhaps Miliband’s own political future.
Because if Scotland does vote yes, then Cameron, Osborne & Co will almost certainly go, and Miliband may follow. None of this would be a bad thing. In fact, it would be a very good thing. There are those who fear that an independent Scotland may doom the rest of us to years of Toryism, but the way things are going, we will probably get that anyway, and if we don’t, we are likely to get a Labour Party that is a pale imitation of the Conservative party.
In this context an independent Scotland may well hasten the major split in the Tory party that is already bubbling underneath the surface. And a social-democratic, antimilitarist Scotland with a revitalised democracy may well regenerate politics south of the border, and help save England from itself.
So despite my general antipathy to nationalist politics, I envy the Scots, as I do the Catalans, who are engaged in a similar process. Both of them are experiencing something that has not been known in England for many years, perhaps since 1945: the special excitement that comes from becoming active protagonists of their own history and seeking to set their country on a new course.
This is why Irvine Welsh has written that there is ‘something strange and beautiful is happening in Scotland. The country is modernising itself from the inside out.’
Politically speaking, there is nothing beautiful happening in England, and a lot that is very ugly and depressing. And so I wish the Scots well in their great adventure, because at least they have real hope of something better, and that is something that we have not had south of the border for a long long time.