Monday, 22 September 2014

After the Referendum, What Now?

So now we all know the result. The Scots voted by 55.3% to 44.7% to stay in union with the rest of the United Kingdom. I stayed up most of the night from Thursday to Friday, such was my anxiety to know what the future held. The first time I started to relax a bit was at midnight when the news headlines reported an exit poll that gave the No side 54%. By 4 am it was clear that No Thanks had carried the day, and I felt it was safe to go to sleep for a while. But I was awake and online again by 7.30 am, in plenty of time to hear the Chief Counting Officer ‘certify and declare’ that ‘the majority of valid votes cast in answer to the question “should Scotland be an independent country?” was in favour of – No’.

I was surprised by just how relieved I felt that the Borders are not facing any dramatic upheaval or disruption in the foreseeable future. The Tweed can flow peacefully on without any danger of anybody building a barrier across it. This feeling is shared by most Berwickers I have spoken to, though they are being muted in their response to the result, just as they were muted beforehand in their anxiety about it, because Borderers have developed ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ to a fine art.  On Friday, in my sleep-deprived state, I went back to re-view some of the video installations in the Berwick Film Festival on the theme of Border Crossing, described in my last post, and saw them quite differently from the way they had struck me the day before.

Although my gut reaction was one of intense relief, I would not want to give the impression that I am a devoted Unionist. I have always been able to see strong arguments on both sides of the independence argument, and I am not looking forward to having to face the committed Yes activists from just over the other side of the border that I know socially here in Berwick. The most poignant figure to me in this whole intensely emotional debate is an older man I have met a couple of times in the art gallery, proudly wearing his Yes badge. He told us how ‘passionate’ he was about the issue, and the depth of his longing for his country to be independent was clear for all to see. Now he has to face up to the knowledge that he will not live to see independence. Maybe a future generation will finally bring about a stand-alone Scotland, but he will not be there to rejoice over it. His situation is repeated thousands of times all over Scotland.

The media, the Westminster politicians and the English Establishment generally were so badly shaken by that one poll that showed a majority Yes vote that they are now talking as if a majority of just over 55% is not very close at all. They have conveniently forgotten that when the date of the referendum was first fixed, over two years ago, all the polls showed the No side with a comfortable majority of well over 60%. So one way of looking at the final result is that Better Together lost votes steadily over the course of the campaign. 45% of the voters is a lot of Scots who continued to find their arguments unconvincing. It should also be borne in mind that there were four local authority districts that returned a majority Yes vote.

Personally I believe that Alex Salmond, who shocked everyone by resigning as leader of the SNP and First Minister in the aftermath of defeat, can take credit for an immense achievement. He took Scottish nationalism from a fringe movement regarded by most English people as a joke to an organised campaign that has challenged the whole constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom. Latest reports are that thousands of Scots have joined the SNP in the three days since the referendum. Go figure, Westminster.

I am now wondering what I should do with this blog. There will always be plenty of interesting things to write about in the Debatable Land. And it is not the case that nothing will change for the Borders – the commitment to granting Scots more devolved fiscal powers means that some things will change. One scenario is that Berwick will fill up with Scots practising tax avoidance by using a cheaply purchased English property as their main address for income tax purposes. That could be very beneficial for the increased prosperity of this place, but I am not entirely sure that it would be a town I would wish to continue living in. 


  1. The IndyRef is over for 2014 but the debate over UK constitutional change is just beginning. As political canon balls are lobbed overhead, there is no better place to observe and comment upon the debate than from the debatable land. Catch your breath by all means but please keep the blog going; your perspective is needed now more than ever.

  2. Thanks a lot for your encouraging words Barry. You are right, the political repercussons are starting to turn nasty and it now looks as though nothing much is really over. There are only so many ways of saying 'David Cameron is an idiot' and I have already used most of them in this blog. I am strongly in favour of general constitutional reform but throwing out promises about it at 7 am after a sleepless and scary night probably was not the best way of going about it.