September 19, 2014
The Scottish referendum made for magnificent drama. At risk a 306 year old Union. The disintegration of an ancient kingdom. A monarch awaiting the fate of her kingdom in an ancestral palace in the Scottish highlands. A weepy Prime Minister. A feisty independence fighter. The haunting sounds of bag-pipes echoing through the Scotland’s fabled mists. Saltires and the cross of St George fluttering atop mountain peaks.
No wonder the world was hooked.
This morning the audience awoke to the realisation that the dream of an independent Scotland was pie-in-the-sky. A notion for romantics not realists. With the Scottish economy so tied up with England the risk of going it alone was just too high. Wages. Pensions. Currencies. Trade. Investment. The danger of a staggering economy. At the end of the day economics trumped patriotism.
But hey, that’s democracy for you. Those who live in the free world, with constitutional democracies and a legitimate application of a substantive Rule of Law know that patriotism is secondary to economics. Jobs, income, pensions, low inflation those are what voters really hold dear – not a few extra miles of some God-forsaken, pot-holed road leading to a regional airport littered with the bodies of young soldiers and civilians.
It is apt that six months after the so-called democratic referendum in the Crimea the UK should hold a referendum. You’d have to be a self-exiled, hermit living amongst the puffins in the Outer Hebrides not to have noticed the difference between the two. Yet, there are still those who cling to the theory that the referendum in the Crimea was somehow legitimate and that Russia’s aims in annexing this land is perfectly within Russia’s “geo-political” sphere of influence. The two referendums couldn’t have been more different but for those who still don’t quite get it they are spelt out here.
Rather than witnessing the massing of troops and tanks on the border between England and Scotland, we saw desperate, sweating politicians running up to Glasgow and Edinburgh from Westminster, literally pleading with the voter to stay part of the Union. This is a rare moment to treasure and enjoy. It is not often that real power resides in the people and not the leaders of the main political parties.
Not once did we hear talk of anonymous, heavily armed “little green men” in army fatigues appearing here there and everywhere, trying to influence the way voters should decide as opposed to how they would like to vote. Rather, we witnessed a bunch of British celebrities leaving their mansions in the home-counties hot-footing is to Scotland to sing songs and hold rallies pleading with the Scottish to stay part of the Union.
The referendum was organised over two years not seven days. This gave enough time for there to be not one, not two but three televised debates between the two parties where the pros and cons of both sides were aired. Plenty of time for comment and debate allowing voters to make an informed choice not a rushed one.
Above all, best of all, there was plenty of satire. Those Westminster politicians may have looked teary-eyes, hot under the collar and frantic but they never once looked peeved, piqued or proud when things weren’t looking so good for them.
The Yes campaign accepted defeat with grace happy in the knowledge that they will not wake up fearing unknown thugs might drag them from their cars as they head off to work this morning only to disappear into the dark forests of Scotland’s highlands never to be seen again by their families.
That is how to hold a democratic referendum that the international world can recognise as legitimate. Alex Salmond and his fellow politicians who worked day and night over the past couple of months to persuade the electorate to vote for Yes to an independent Scotland and the 44.7% who dearly hoped Scotland could go it alone will be gutted but they will pick themselves up and begin a new process of negotiations with Westminster as was promised them in the dying days of the referendum
Nigel Farage, England’s equivalent in sentiment, if not temperament, intelligence and nature to Scotland’s Alex Salmond may also want to take note. Dreaming of independence from Unions is one thing. Getting the electorate to vote for it is something different all together.
Should there ever be an “in” “out” referendum in the UK on EU membership the voter will put their hands on their wallet and know which way to vote. Nothing wrong in holding long established traditions in great affection, nothing wrong in being proud of one’s heritage, nothing wrong in enjoying the colour, pageantry and music that define who you are. Unions that uphold the Rule of Law – be it the Union between Scotland and England or the Union between the United Kingdom and 27 other EU member states, allow room for that – plus they guarantee you a better economic deal than would otherwise be the case.
There is one big difference that UK voters may want to consider. Whilst Cameron, Milliband and Clegg were all desperate to keep Scotland in the Union and prepared to make last-minute concessions in an attempt to keep the Union together, can the same be said of the EU’s other 27 member states? It seems highly improbable that Merckel, Juncker or Hollande will rush to London, with tears in their eyes and sweaty palms, begging the UK to stay in the EU. You never know. Could happen – but it is hard trying to envision such a scenario.