'I came down here to support Tommy,' the man said when I asked why he'd given over his Sunday to stand in the middle of George Square and listen to a stream of speeches, mainly about the perfidy of Albion. 'I think he's had a raw deal.' Tommy Sheridan was on stage in a Yes T-shirt. Between the bronchial sound system and us was a sea of Saltires and homemade signs. A trio of mocked-up heads with the faces of Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Alistair Darling bobbed above the crowd, with a placard labelling them the '3 stooges' and 'traitors'.
The speed with which David Cameron has turned the victory of No into the West Lothian question is not surprising in a man who is both an opportunist and partisan, and who is concerned to protect his own leadership. But Ed Milband is right to resist Cameron’s rushed attempts to exploit promises made to Scotland, which almost certainly need never have been made, to justify legislation that would allow only English MPs to vote on ‘English’ measures (however they might be defined). Such a proposal is wrong for two reasons.
On Friday evening, hundreds of loyalists congregated in George Square. Some bought union flags from hawkers; most brought their own. Women in red, white and blue wraparound skirts sang 'you can stuff your independence up your arse.' Expensive cars disgorged burly men from Ayrshire and Fife onto the square. A Rangers banner was attached to the metal railings in front of the city's cenotaph. Sections of the crowd chanted 'Rule Britannia' and 'No Surrender'. Some gave Hitler salutes. In the gloaming, pro-independence supporters and non-aligned passers-by were attacked. So far eleven people have been arrested.
The early Scottish referendum results didn't look good for the would-be dividers of the kingdom. My pro-independence Orcadian friend, down in London for a wine fair, went to bed before three a.m., disconsolate, not long after a furious thunderstorm lit up the deserted streets and made drums of the cars. I stayed awake long enough for the moment around four when my home town of Dundee went heavily for Yes, swiftly followed by another Yes in West Dunbartonshire. Suddenly the two camps were neck and neck.
Polling day is suitably dreich in Fife. Since yesterday morning the damp mists of a haar have loomed over us like a hangover that won't go away. We cannot see the Forth, the Isle of May or the Lammermuirs marking the horizon beyond. In Arncroach, where I live, there's just the polling booth adorned with a single large Yes poster. The most striking thing about the referendum is the extent to which it has turned out to be not about Scottish independence.
In the course of the current debate about Scottish independence I’ve noticed a few references comparing it to an anti-colonial struggle: the poor oppressed Scots against their arrogant English masters. This is historical nonsense. Scotland joined the Union originally in order to share in the benefits of England’s overseas colonialism, after its own had failed; and thereafter played a disproportionate part in the expansion and rule of the British Empire, from the butt end of the gun. It has also shared greatly – maybe disproportionately again – in the governance of Britain itself, as well as in its culture. It may be that the loss of the empire has removed one of the original Scottish motives for the Union, and so boosted nationalism in that way. But that is a very different thing from painting it as a rebellion by colonial victims. On the other hand, colonialism/imperialism has moved on from the mid-20th century.
On Saturday, with only days to go before the independence referendum, thousands of Yes supporters gathered on Buchanan Street in Glasgow, waving Saltires and singing ‘Flower of Scotland’. At around the same time, more than ten thousand Orangemen staged a pro-union march in Edinburgh. The standards at the head of the flute bands hailed from Portadown and Coatbridge, London and Liverpool, Leeds and Stockport.
Is the island of Albion about to split? It’s clear that the No/Yes gap has narrowed but it’s still likelier that ‘No’ will win, by a clear if not comfortable margin; certainly if the bookies, who usually get these things right, are credited. The London press has blunderbussed out unionist propaganda, some of which, in the way of propaganda, has hit the truth, notably about Salmond’s triangulation of left and right by promising to scrap Trident while levying bargain-basement business rates. No prizes for guessing which pledge would be met first.
If the passion of David Cameron, the Saltire flying over Downing Street and the threatened departure from Scotland of major business houses do not between them dissuade Scots from their interesting proposal, what remains of the United Kingdom will require a new name. This would not have been a question a hundred years ago. Conservative politicians and journalists for sure, and many others, rarely if ever spoke of 'Britain' or 'Great Britain', still less of the 'United Kingdom' or 'UK'. It was invariably 'England'.
If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ to independence, Scots and English will both lose a country, Great Britain, but also gain a new one. I will lose one, but what will I gain? As a first-generation immigrant I can be British but never English (or Scottish or Welsh or Irish). It would be the second time I’ve lost a country. The first was the USSR. I don’t regret its demise but I’m still perturbed by airport visa forms that ask where I was born. I want to write USSR but am told to write Ukraine. Why wipe out history?
At eight o’clock yesterday evening, Alan Titchmarsh: Love Your Garden aired on ITV in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scottish TV broadcast a two-hour live debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow. Billed as an evening that would decide the future of the United Kingdom, the first televised debate ahead of next month’s independence referendum was available only to viewers in Scotland. (The STV live stream, accessible throughout the union, reportedly crashed early on.)
‘How can a field sell out?’ the man from Edinburgh wanted to know, helping his wife out of a cream Land Rover. They’d driven over for Bannockburn Live, only to hear there might not be tickets available after all. You should expect crowds any time you pay £7 to park on a farm, but the sea of anoraks was a genuine surprise. For months the Scottish press had been rubbishing the event, drooling at the prospect of an SNP-backed disaster, but there were huge lines to get in. ‘It’s all this anti-independence thing,’ Land Rover man muttered, sniffing conspiracy in the drizzle.
'I like heckling, polite heckling,’ George Galloway told me over a cup of tea in an Edinburgh hotel yesterday afternoon. A couple of hours later, the MP for Bradford West prowled onto the stage at the Assembly Rooms dressed like a white soul singer – black fedora, black jacket, white shirt pinned with portcullis cufflinks – to the sound of Stealers Wheel's ‘Stuckin the Middle with You’. Outside, a dozen or so members of the far-right Scottish Defence League shouted ‘George Galloway betrays his own country’ and waved Union flags. When I tried to take a photograph one rushed towards me bawling ‘Next time there’ll be violence.’ A larger counterdemonstration chanted ‘Master race, you’re having a laugh.’
John F. Kennedy is supposed to have been able to read 2000 words per minute. Alistair Darling must be nearly as quick: the Scottish government published its 670-page White Paper on independence at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. By midday the former chancellor had reached his verdict: ‘a work of fiction, thick with false promises and meaningless assertions’. Alistair Carmichael was lagging behind; it was the early afternoon before the Scottish secretary declared of the White Paper: ‘Rarely have so many words been used to answer so little.’
A striking current feature of the European political landscape is its convergence and separatism. As the European Union expands, secessionism keeps pace. Scotland’s referendum is next September. Artur Mas steps up the pressure on the Spanish government to timetable a poll on Catalan independence. In Belgium, borborygmal noises from Flemish separatists are a ground bass over which national politics plays. Anyone tempted by the thought that secession is always nice has to face the history of Texas.
The Scottish National Party conference used to flit around Scotland: Dunoon, Oban, Dundee, even Rothesay have hosted it. Nowadays Perth concert hall, a glass-fronted building near what remains of the old city walls, is one of the few places large enough to hold everyone. ‘It’s got bigger,’ two white-haired women from Moray answered in unison when I asked what has changed since their first SNP conference more than three decades ago. ‘But it’s still lots of fun, especially in the evening.’
Nate Silver told the Scotsman last month that there was ‘virtually no chance’ of a Yes vote in next September’s independence referendum: ‘If you look at the polls, it’s pretty definite really where the No side is at 60-65 per cent and the Yes side is about 40 per cent or so.’ The comments were hardly revelatory, but they were seized on by media on both sides of the border as evidence that the independence campaign should pack up and go home. A few days later, Silver told an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival that he was less than happy about the way his throwaway remarks had been interpreted. ‘Taking a comment based on a thirty-minute interview that becomes front page news is not the precedent I want to set,’ he said. With a year to go till the vote, both sides seem more interested in quoting wildly divergent opinion polls than discussing policy.
Michael Gray is a 21-year-old politics student at Glasgow University. On 7 April, an article he wrote appeared on National Collective, a Scottish independence website. The piece used sources already available online to paint an unalluring portrait of the business dealings of the Vitol Group, an energy trading giant. That day, Better Together (the No campaign) had announced that it had received more than £1.1 million in donations, including £500,000 from Ian Taylor, Vitol’s CEO (and a major donor to the Conservative party).
‘This is the day the Scottish left came out of its ghetto,’ Robin McAlpine, the director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said towards the end of last month’s Radical Independence Conference (RIC) in Glasgow. Around 800 people had paid £10 a head (£4 unwaged) to listen to speeches from socialist and green politicians, trade unionists and disability activists in the rather incongruous setting of the Radisson Blu hotel near Central Station.
We didn’t start watching The Killing in my house until long after everybody else did – at the beginning of this year, I think, when somebody gave us the box set of the first series. By that time I was a bit bored of Sara Lund and her famous jumper – she wears it far too small and clingy, in my view. The trophy knit of the moment should hang from the shoulders, big and square. But I did love the women’s hairdos, mouse-brown and tied back on a good day, left out lank and mournful on the many bad. I couldn’t even tell who was who to begin with, they were all so ordinary in their jeans and parkas, groping through tears and the Danish darkness, nodding and saying hej and tak.
How George Robertson must regret saying in 1995 that ‘Devolution will kill Nationalism stone dead.’ Robertson, then the shadow secretary of state for Scotland, was trying to appease sceptical unionists. Last weekend, 13 years after a devolved parliament was established at Holyrood, somewhere between 4000 and 10,000 people attended a ‘March and Rally for Scottish Independence’ in Edinburgh. Organisers said that it will be an annual event until the independence referendum in 2014.
Ian Wilson, a former Grand Master of the Orange Lodge in Scotland, addressed the annual Orange parade in Broughshane, Co. Antrim, on 12 July. After describing Martin McGuinness’s handshake with the queen as ‘a humiliating surrender’ for Sinn Fein, Wilson turned his anger on a ‘more cuddly and user-friendly’ nationalist: Alex Salmond. ‘The ultimate aim of Mr Salmond is precisely the same as Mr McGuinness – the destruction and break up of the United Kingdom,’ he said. The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland is not the political force it once was – in the 1920s it had hundreds of thousands of members, including the secretary of state for Scotland, John Gilmour – but there are still more than 180 lodges in the Glasgow area alone, and around 8000 people attended July’s annual Orange Walk in the city.
‘Go on, Dougie,’ the man beside me shouted. His silver and blue lapel pin twinkled in the wan light of Screen 7 at Cineworld in Edinburgh. To my left, a woman beat her foot as Dougie MacLean shuffled with his guitar across the makeshift stage at the launch of Yes Scotland last Friday. In the front row, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister sang along to ‘Caledonia’; Alex Salmond grew lachrymose, or at least appeared to in the footage broadcast on the evening news.