I’m sitting at Gate 15 of Edinburgh Airport as I write this, waiting to board my flight back to Dublin. Next to the little Aer Lingus prop aircraft that’ll bring us home is a large grey RAF troop carrying aircraft. There’s three buses parked alongside and as I sat down the last of what I assume were young Scottish troops were boarding. Bound one assumes for unpleasant duty in any one of a number of global scrapes the United Kingdom is embroiled in.
How different that all might have been today. Even on the No side I didn’t detect any huge enthusiasm for Britain’s military adventures overseas. But that is not the way the Independence debate was framed.
Fear works. As a political tool its value has proven immeasurable to the Unionist parties. And that was those parties greatest success. Making a vote on self determination a vote about fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, and that deep seated fear in all of us that maybe we’re just not competent enough to do the job ourselves.
IPSOS/MORI polled Scots on their reasons for voting before going to the polls. It was striking that 80% voting yes did so out of a sense of hope whereas 58% of No voters were in their own words driven to the polls by fear.
“You’re Irish? I cannae hold my head up in yir company. I’m so angry that we didnae have the guts to fail on our own like you”, said one man yesterday morning just an hour or so after it became clear how sizeable the silent majority was. And how spectacular our failure has been in recent years I prompted him. “Dinnae matter, would ha’ been worse if somebody else had inflicted it on you.”
If all but one of your newspapers, a long line of business leaders, the machines of all the major political parties tell you something is to be feared chances are fear will colour your decision making. And it is striking now how yes campaigners realise how they were totally outclassed and outgunned by The Machine, that informal coalition of governing parties and business interests. Duly assisted by a media that reflects those priorities more prominently than others.
It was one of those lucky privileges that my job affords me to have been in Scotland to the energising of the country by a debate on what it means to be who you are. My last conversation before leaving today was with a 41 year old Taxi Driver who had never voted in his life before Thursday. He was well informed, taught me lots in twenty minutes, but just never saw the point in voting in Westminster elections when he knew he would always be unrepresented in the make up of the government.
In the drug and unemployment blighted suburb of Niddrie I spoke to young men who had never had a single days work since leaving school never mind having not voted before. They were passionate and convinced of their arguments. They were also flattered that for the first time ever their opinions counted for something. This debate delivered a super charge of civic mindedness, dynamism and inclusion to the Scottish national grid.
But the Westminster consensus has put the matter of Scottish independence back in a box. I’ve met and interviewed Nicola Sturgeon, she is a seriously impressive person. But she faces a Herculean task getting independence back on a ballot paper during her political lifetime. My colleague in The Irish Independent, Kim Bielenberg, was asked by an official in the Holyrood parliament if he was going to be there tomorrow. “Nobody is going to be here tomorrow”, was his brutally frank reply. The travelling circus has folded its tent and moved on. Scotland’s moment has passed, and won’t likely come again while anyone reading this draws breath.
There are two things about this campaign we might consider taking on board back at home. Telling 16 and 17 year olds they’re too immature to give proper consideration to electoral matters does us a disservice and infantilises them. Adults in Scotland were forced to listen to newly enfranchised teens and argue by persuasion not virtue of seniority. I ear wigged the bus stop conversations of loads of school kids during this campaign and was very impressed. The experience undoubtedly matured them and if some of them were swayed by arguments as superficial as which way Andy Murray did or didn’t vote how many adults must the same thing be true of.
The other thing … 86% turn out was achieved without a single politician’s mug staring down at you from a lamp post. Not a single poster on any form of public property. On this we can only hope Scotland will lead the way.