The Scottish Spring

I looked up the derogatory Scottish word for English people “Sassenach” and was delighted to see it meant “Saxon”. What exciting times when the past jumps out of the history books into your face, and the attempt by the Saxons to subdue the troublesome Celts on their fringes which many thought ended with the Stuarts has shot off their pages onto the news.
How does the Scottish dash for freedom look from this finger of Celtic rock, subdued by England since the days of Egbert?
From here it looks like a lot of fun. This might seem a mischievous reaction but the best a financially weak and politically unimportant Cornwall can hope for is to occasionally twist Westminster’s tail, as Andrew George did so notably a couple of weeks ago. London looks down on Cornwall with patronising loftiness, throws it the occasional crumb, but doesn’t shrink from clawing back another £200m from its unitary authority. As in Herbert Read’s war poem: we have no power, therefore have patience. But Scotland has quite a lot of power and a rapidly diminishing supply of patience. Its referendum, devised as a way of showing up the nationalists as a tiny band of throwbacks, has blown up in the government’s face giving considerable joy to those of us who can only look on.
The government‘s first tactic was to treat the issue as a joke, a bonkers notion easily knocked out of court by some well-aimed if dreary economic ‘facts’. A verdict of at least two-to-one against was expected and it was an article of faith that no contingency plans should be prepared. As the odds have narrowed the government’s stance has resembled that of fish being drawn into a net, rushing around in ever decreasing and frenetic circles as it closes. Since the first poll indicating a nationalist majority emerged the mood music has changed from a soothing “Don’t Worry: Be Happy” to “I Predict a Riot” or more accurately the obscure Buzzcocks B-side “Oh S***!”
Connoisseurs of irony have welcomed the impassioned lectures on financial risks and fiscal prudence given by Messrs Darling and Brown, who (for the amnesiacs among us) allowed the City to gamble away our nation’s financial life-blood without even noticing. Even better was the desperate expedition of the three political Wise Monkeys (no doubt with SatNavs at the ready) to the land beyond Gretna Green in order to demonstrate that they at least knew the way though they felt unable to appear together. Nigel Farage spoke eloquently in favour of a union of nations. The Ulster Unionists reminded us how well remaining in the United Kingdom can work.
Freedom is a heady draught, even to a land well used to those. As with the Arab Spring the idea of Scots living a life of their own choosing under a government over which they had ultimate control took a while to percolate into a possibility. But once lit this kind of fire burns with sudden brightness and an apparently placid people can break the bonds of what they thought immutable almost overnight, and bay for change. This fills the more nervous with terror, causing them to cling to whatever comfort-blanket is available, the familiar ballast of the Union for which they’ve probably never had a good word, suddenly the only protection against a demented mob dragging them towards the exit.
A near tie is the most likely and worst possible result. The beads and blankets political leaders are offering Scots in place of their own government will simply infuriate them. The bald fact is out that half Scotland doesn’t want to be part of the union and was prepared to put up with all the bullying, the choreographed threats from major employers, the grovelling of ministers, the lies about monetary union (talks about which will happen the day after the referendum if the Nats win), and the Daddy’s-not-cross-just-really-sad sighs from the heart of Old England, they want out, and if they miss it by a few votes they’ll be back again and again and again. If they win the shock waves will echo not just around this country but everywhere with an active minority, while England will shrink down to a grumpy Saxon lump.
“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it” said Mark Twain, but this time it really will, and it’s too close to call. Robert Burns was closer to the mark: “Oh what a panic’s in thy breastie…!”

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