Whatever else this weekend has been in Britain, it has been two days when the country awoke to the possibility that Scotland may be on its way out.
Writing in The Spectator, Alex Massie (a Scot, as it happens):
…You can’t kill the idea. Not now. Not when it’s existed for 300 years and more. It existed even during the great Unionist-Nationalist nineteenth century. It won’t disappear now.
You can’t tell people they shouldn’t think about independence and you can’t tell them that independence isn’t worth achieving because, frankly, they’d just be crap at it. But that doesn’t mean Unionism must lack tunes. It’s just that the No campaign has generally declined to sing them.
Hell, I don’t think [former Labour finance minister] Alistair Darling mentioned Britain or Britishness even once during his second debate with [SNP leader] Alex Salmond. It’s true that putting the red white and blue centre-stage wouldn’t necessarily transform the No campaign. But that misunderstands the point. Britain – and the Union – is the base upon which you build your campaign. Everything else is just tactics. Britain is the grammar; everything that follows is idiom.
As I say, you can’t kill an idea. But you can counter it with another idea. In this instance the other idea has the benefit of complementing the first idea. You could even reckon it the best of both worlds. But you have to believe in it properly, fully, whole-heartedly. Because it you can’t sell it why should anyone else buy it?
Indeed. And it’s hard to imagine a man like Darling, a “progressive,” a convinced believer in multiculturalism, a europhile, being very comfortable with unfurling anything so retro, so atavistic, as the old red, white, and blue.
“Britain is the grammar: everything that follows is idiom,” writes Alex, brilliantly. But this is not a language that an Alistair Darling either feels, understands or approves of.
On the other hand, being labeled retro doesn’t seem to worry some (and I emphasize that “some”) on the independence side.
The Daily Telegraph reports:
An anti-English racist group linked to Scotland’s Yes campaign is behind some of the organised intimidation which drove a prominent No supporter off the streets.
Siol nan Gaidheal, or “Seed of the Gaels,” coordinated abuse and attacks during at least four street-corner meetings held by Jim Murphy, Labour’s former Scottish secretary, immediately before the growing threats forced him to suspend the events. The group describes itself as an “ultra-nationalist organisation” and attacks English people in Scotland as “white settlers” imposing the “Lebensraum of rapacious Anglo-Saxonry” on “colonised” Scots. It says that “Scottish ethnicity” should “form the basis for Scottish citizenship”.
The Telegraph has established that Siol nan Gaidheal has links to the Yes campaign. It provided stewarding and first aid at the last major Yes independence march and rally last year, according to its website…
Mr Ogilvie, a self-confessed racist, is the former leader of the now-defunct “Settler Watch” group which attacked English-owned property in Scotland and made death threats to English residents in the 1990s.
Siol nan Gaidheal was officially expelled from the Scottish National Party in 1982, and described as “proto-fascist” by the party’s then leader, Gordon Wilson.
However, Mr Ogilvie appears to have been involved in the SNP until much later. He was active in its Bannockburn branch in 2005 and was pictured with Alex Salmond, the First Minister, and local SNP election candidates in 2009. Mr Murphy said that his speaking tour, involving impromptu open-air meetings in 100 Scottish towns and cities, had suffered no major difficulties until the victory by Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign, over Mr Salmond in the first televised debate last month.
After that, many of his meetings were disrupted by abusive mobs, often waving Yes placards, trying to shout him down and intimidate his supporters…..
And from the Daily Mail:
European migrants living in Scotland, including thousands of Germans [The Daily Mail never disappoints], could hold the key to breaking up Britain. Polls suggest the referendum on Scottish independence is on a knife-edge – meaning the views of many of the 120,000 non-Scots EU citizens who live north of the border could play a pivotal role. Poles are the biggest group of foreigners on the electoral roll, and there are about 13,000 German citizens eligible to vote.
Experts believe many of them may choose to back Scottish independence because of Westminster’s perceived hostility to the European Union.
That’s the Daily Mail’s spin: I’m not so convinced that “experts” are right, but the fact that non-citizens of the United Kingdom are given a say in the country’s possible break-up, well . . .
And in deciding what this all could mean, it’s well worth taking a look at this Daily Telegraph column by Jeremy Warner from a few days back. A “convinced unionist,” he’s hoping for a “no” vote, but sees some longer term advantages in a break-up, but as for the short-term:
Huge uncertainties still surround the practicalities of separation, from what happens to the national debt, to establishing ownership of North Sea reserves, rights to EU membership and whether Scotland is allowed to carry on using the pound. Given the entrenched positions already adopted on both sides of the debate, this is going to be a long, difficult and acrimonious divorce, guided as much by spite and vengeance as clear headed analysis, and perhaps leading to the departure of the Prime Minister responsible for triggering it.
“Friends” have already let it be known that Mr Cameron does not regard a yes vote as a resigning issue [Cameron has since confirmed this is true], yet if gambling and losing the union, resulting in profound economic and constitutional upheaval, is not sufficient cause for defenestration, particularly for a Conservative Party leader, it is hard to know what would be. Honour must surely dictate a change of command.
Indeed it would. And in hours, not days.