Scotland is uniquely incapable of governing itself. It’s the only notable thing about us. We’re not programmed to take decisions. Not like those Norwegians or Finns who are all six foot tall blond androids who come out of the factory with a preinstalled democratic decision making app. It’s the same people who made Angry Birds. But no one is going to make a short ginger android, on account of the risk of it running amok and causing a worldwide cataclysm with its radioactive Irn Bru datacore and a death ray capable of frying mince from halfway across the solar system.
It’s often interesting when someone presents you with an argument to turn it on its head and look at it the other way round. For decades, Scotland has lived with the argument that we’re too wee, too poor and too stupid to be a normal independent country. No Unionist party has actually uttered the phrase, except to dismiss it as an invention of independence supporters, but it is an accurate summary of the thrust of the arguments against independence. The phrase is the distillation of the Cringe.
Too wee too poor too stupid means Scottish independence would have no effect on anyone apart from Scotland – and the effects on Scotland would be George Robertsonesque in their cataclysmassiveness. The rest of the UK would sail merrily on, ruling waves and waiving rules, scarcely noticing our absence except once a year when Bob Geldof presented a Band Aid concert to send relief packets of square slice and Mars Bars to the starving weans north of the barbed wire border.
The central claim of the Yes campaign is that Scotland is not too wee, that it’s a wealthy country, and that the population of Scotland is no more nor less intelligent than any other collection of 5 million humans. The argument that Scotland is too wee too poor too schtupit is obviously false, but if the original argument is false, then it is no longer so certain that Scottish independence is a consequence free zone for the rest of the UK.
The British establishment scarcely notices Scotland – except as spot of Great British regional colour. Scotland’s role in the pantheon of Britishness is to act as a tatty tartan lucky charm on the mantlepiece, rubbing it occasionally will magic away the contradictions in the belief that British nationalism isn’t nationalism at all. It’s Scottishness of the Rory the Tory I’m Scottish You Know variety, Scottishness as a form of heritage kitsch, a distinctive past but not a distinctive future. Safe, twee, and not something you give much thought to. Or in Rory’s case, a fair bit of thought which is hopelessly deluded.
So they thought that winning the referendum would be easy. It was taken for granted that people in Scotland would also share their unswerving conviction that our future lies with Westminster. A museum replica of a Glasgow tenement single-end with no hot water and an outside cludgie is all very charming and poignant, but it’s not like anyone would want to live there. Instead the referendum became an opportunity to score political points against Alicsammin, and finally manage what George Robertson promised when he said devolution would kill nationalism stone dead.
But they reckoned without the Yes campaign. An entire nation of DIY enthusiasts who are experts in renovating clapped out Glasgow tenements and turning them into attractive 21st century living quarters. Look, they said, we can’t just live here, we can live here with style. Compared to the draughty corridors of Westminster where no one can hear you scream, modern living is a very attractive prospect.
But by gaining ground in this independence referendum Yes supporters are not likely to get a photo shoot in the lifestyle pages of the Guardian and gushing praise for our use of soft furnishings. Which is a shame, because we’ve got a really interesting Celtic twist on Scandinavian design.
Instead, in their eyes, we’re the doing the equivalent of marching en masse into the chambers of the Palace of Westminster and the offices of the national media, and collectively baring our builders’ arse cracks in their faces. During their lunch break. They’re not best pleased by the intrusion and it’s putting them off their tea.
On Sunday it got worse for them. A proper serious newspaper with a lifestyle section came out in support of independence. The anti-independence strategy depended from the beginning on minimising engagement and portraying independence supporters as a tiny minority of deluded and backward looking fantatics. Better Together wasn’t having a whole lot of success with that before, it’s got much harder now. The independence tenement is getting the glossy photie treatment. You don’t get that with Better Together’s 60 Minute Makeover.
And in the draughty corridors of an unrenovated Victorian institution, the shocking realisation is beginning to dawn on some that the unthinkable might happen. And that in turn means the Westminster parties must face up to the consequences that will have on their own plans. All the earnest discussions about Labour’s polling figures, tensions between Davie and Nick, the rise of UKIP, the future of the UK within the EU, they’ve all gang agley. The British establishment is having an Oh-Fukkit moment, the feeling you get immediately after your foot slips on an icy pavement but before your arse hits the pavement giving you a very sore bum and a very red face.
A couple of weeks ago, the delightfully batty Benedict Brogan in the Telegraph said that a Yes result in the referendum would lead to David Cameron’s resignation. Although Benedict also thought that it was all Gordon Brown’s fault. Clearly the concept that people in Scotland might think that Davie Cameron and Gordie Broon are equally at fault hadn’t occurred to him. And neither had the thought that we might just think him and his UK media colleagues might share a goodly portion of the blame too. Despite that, he was at least acknowledging that Scottish independence changes the Westminster game, and the rest of the UK will have their own DIY work to do. Still, at least we’ll have a lovely photo spread of a renovated Edinburgh town house to show them.
Although other Tory voices have denied that Cameron would resign, the consequences of a Yes vote would be massive politically. Scottish independence doesn’t mean the loss of another colony, leaving Westminster to carry on despite the loss of 37% of the territory it governs, 8.3% of the people who are its subjects, and 9.9% of its income. It means the potential loss of over 37% of the balance of trade, the renegotiation of EU opt outs which depended upon concessions of Scottish resources, and the urgency of finding a new home for Trident. The budget plans and manifestos they’ve spent months preparing for a General Election in 2015 will all have to be rewritten in a hurry. None of which has been prepared for. They’d even made a point of saying they weren’t going to prepare for the possibility of Scottish independence.
It will have happened on the Coalition’s watch. And worst of all they could have avoided it. They’ve been caught out by their own arrogance, short-termism, and lack of understanding of a country that’s supposed to be an equal partner in the most successful union of nations in the history of the universe. If that’s not a resignation issue for a Prime Minister, nothing in British politics is. It also tells us that if we want to get rid of David Cameron in solidarity with ordinary people in working class areas in Manchester, Liverpool, and Southampton, like Labour tells us, then the surefire way to do it is by voting Yes in September.
Scottish independence means the end of the Union of 1707. It means the end of the United Kingdom. The remainder of the United Kingdom is perfectly at liberty to call itself what it likes, but though the words remain the same the substance will have changed, and a whole range of Westminster’s load bearing walls come tumbling down. It leaves them exposed.
A revolution is what happens when you turn an accepted way of thinking upside down. When the Cringe is turned around – it’s the British establishment who are too wee in imagination, too poor in understanding, and really far too stupid to be permitted to continue in power.