History is full of examples of unintended and unanticipated consequences of planned human actions – and it is already becoming clear that the 2014 independence referendum will be among that litany of events that history will judge produced an outcome that neither its proponents nor opponents anticipated.
The No “victory” seems destined to be pyrrhic.
I – and many others seemingly – do wonder about the honesty of the result. Folk naively assume that British elections are “free and fair”, yet examples of wandering ballot boxes and disappearing postal votes have abounded over the years. Many people I spoke to in the run-up to Thursday were rightly concerned to mark their papers in pen, appreciating that using the pencils provided to mark a cross could easily be falsified. But then perhaps we are all deranged conspiracists.
But all that aside, it is already clear – much to my surprise – the extent to which the idea of another referendum sooner rather than later has taken root – and that nothing much seems settled.
Most men voted Yes, as did the majority of young voters, and so too, more generally, did a number of urban centres. That has generated a widespread and deep-seated feeling of anger, betrayal and disappointment. This will, of course, spread as all the worthless promises about Devo Max wither on the vine and hapless No voters realise just how misguided they have been.
Scotland’s body politic will now face a period of unprecedented divisions – there will be a settling of scores, personal abuse on both sides, and the social, political and cultural strains will, I predict, soon become uncontainable. The events of the last few days in George Square, Glasgow, are but a taste of things to come.
One likely consequence of this may well be a new and virulent anti-English nationalism – a consequence the SNP under Alex Salmond always carefully avoided. Whether Scottish nationalism also sprouts a “direct action” sub-set, such as one saw with its Welsh manifestation in the 1970s and 80s remains to be seen, but last Thursday surely made that more likely.
It is also perhaps surprising how widely the question “What is the point of the UK?” has become.
I had not expected such profound issues to be allowed to be aired only days after a No vote, and it is, I guess, indicative of the widespread disenchantment in all the “colonies” (in which I include fartherflung parts of England) with the arrogance of Westminster politicians and the Home Counties political culture.
For Scotland, the only answer to the question is to retain English control of oil wealth, be a nuclear junkyard and a place where toffs come to shoot things.
At the core of all this is a politicisation of radicalisation of many folk, particularly the young, many of whom might otherwise have taken little interest in politics. To be brutal, older voters die (a variant of the demographic that makes the end of Northern Ireland as an entity inevitable).
All those women No voters will now have the pleasure of seeing right-wing English Tories complete the dismantling of the welfare state and NHS. Regardless of nominal Holyrood control, the dead hand of the English Treasury still sits atop all – but we can at least all revel in the sight of billions going into renewing and sustaining the atomic tin cans on the Clyde with their pointless and useless WMD.
Setting up such a polarised political backdrop may, of course, be part of a mediumterm SNP plan, although received Establishment wisdom is that the party did not want a referendum in this timescale in the first place and that it knew all along that it was step too far too soon for too many feartie folk. That may be so, in which case when the Unionist dinosaurs stop draping themselves in the flag and end their reactionary “victory” crowing, they will see that they are not quite where they thought they were.
Next May will bring an even more right-wing clique to Westminster, in hock to UKIP, and salivating at the prospect of destroying EU restraints on their neo-liberal madnesses. However far to the right David Cameron pushes his party, it cannot be far enough for huge swathes of the English electorate, obsessed as it is by mindless xenophobia and isolationist arrogance. At that stage, the political and economic brown stuff really hits the fan.
I’ll be watching from a small place in Europe, sandwiched between erstwhile combatant Great Powers, but seemingly assured, comfortable and progressively internationalist in outlook and proud of its independence (and which, incidentally, had open borders and a currency union long before anyone here had heard of them).
Not much chance of that culture taking root among our “English cousins”. I’ll be listening for the bleating from two million Christmas turkeys as their chickens (to deliberately mix a metaphor) come home to roost.