You can’t go to the shops for the messages these days without having to dodge the missiles being thrown by hordes of angry yes voters across a barricade of burning car tyres blocking Cumbernauld Road. Inside every shop there’s an irate man with a blue painted face spouting anti-English insults and calling for the reintroduction of hanging for everyone who refuses to learn Gaelic. Meanwhile pensioners clutching poly bags run in terror past Parkhead Forge to escape the whirling blades on the wheels of a van bearing a Vote Yes sign. But you’re not even safe at home. Throughout the land families cower in fear of the late night chap on the door, it will be an SNP fanatic who’s going to stab you unless you agree to vote yes more quickly than a blink in Alistair Darling’s eye. It’s so bad that Better Together can’t put forward any speakers for public debates, out of fear that their supporters will be dragged from the hall and stuffed into a wicker man to be set on fire to propitiate the ancient Celtic god Alicsammon, the sybil of secession. Even potted plants are biological weapons in this war. It’s referendum carnage.
All of this must be true, because it’s regularly reported in the media. But then, so are sightings of Nessie.
It’s a strange thing. Apparently no voters are being terrified into cowed silence, too afraid to speak out despite having the support of the entire apparatus of the British state and most of the mainstream media. Love for the Union is the love that dare not speak its name, yet every day it’s plastered all over the front pages of the Mail, the Telegraph, the Record, the Sun, the Guardian and the Scotsman, like a page three model with a come hither tease and a premium rate phone line. Better Together have helpfully provided an astroturf lawn for Vote Nob Orders picnics. The telly, and the BBC in particular, is chock full of the Joy of Great British Unionsex, demonstrating all the positions in which you can be shafted yet still convince yourself that you’re in a partnership of equals. It’s not like no voters are bereft of support, it’s not like there is no one who wants to encourage them to speak out, it’s not like there is no one to give them information and arguments they need to state their case.
What we’re seeing now is what happens when a scaremongering campaign goes wrong. Better Together set out from the assumption that support for independence was the preserve of a relatively small minority. And back when the campaign started this was true. Opinion polls regularly showed that most Scots did not want independence, and most Scots placed constitutional issues quite far down their list of political priorities. So Better Together decided that it would win the referendum by ensuring that this state of affairs continued. No voters were to be taken for granted, in the way that Scottish voters are always taken for granted by Westminster politicians, and they’d concentrate on scaring the shit out of the don’t knows while demonising yes supporters as SNP fanatics that no reasonable person would wish to associate with. All that was required for this campaign to work was domination of the airwaves and the printing presses, and they had that.
But it didn’t work as planned. What they didn’t count on was an effect that they themselves had created – the widespread public distrust and outright hatred for our political classes. No one loves Westminster except those for whom it’s the mainline terminus of the gravy train. If you had a quid for every time that Westminster broke a promise, you still wouldn’t have enough to pay your English daughter’s uni fees.
So across Scotland, people began to ask the question – where are we going as a nation, and why are we in this handbasket? Gradually the realisation dawned even on many who were predisposed to vote no that we’re up shit creek and the paddle has been privatised. Previous no voters realised that voting against the continuance of the Westminster system isn’t voting to end a glorious era, it’s voting to end a greedy error.
The fearbombs were exploding on a daily basis in the media. And were getting more and more extreme, and less and less believable. There’s only so long that people will accept being treated like idiots, do it long enough and those people are going to rush to accept the first chance they have of giving you an almighty kick up your smug self-serving backside. It’s not like they had a high opinion of Westminster politicians to begin with.
The campaign broke out of the party political rut, where it could have been contained within the regular ding dongs of the licenced party trolls. It spread to non-party groups, it became a mass movement. But even that could have been contained. Containment and demonisation worked with the anti-globalisation protests, which helpfully assisted in their own demonisation by smashing up the centre of London. But these protests were also unfocused, a howl of rage against an unjust and unfair political and economic system, without a clear plan of action to take beyond the demonstrations.
There has been no campaign in recent British political history like the Scottish referendum campaign. Referendums* aren’t commonplace in the UK, and when they do occur they are usually hedged around with qualifications, obstacles and ah-buts from the political parties. The farcical AV referendum was devised so that voters were offered quite possibly the only alternative system of voting that was worse than First Past the Post, and it was a vote carefully depicted in party political terms – embodied in the lying liar Nick the liar Clegg. Voting against AV was more a vote to kick the lying liar Nick the liar Clegg in his lying nads. Did I mention he was a liar? The result was a vindication of Westminster. And Nick’s lying nads are still well padded. Westminster’s backroom machinations behind Scotland’s 97 and 79 referendums are well known. The independence referendum is a referendum whose terms have not been determined by Westminster, and for that reason alone it is is unique.
In the shape of the Scottish referendum, Westminster is faced with its worst nightmare. It’s a referendum whose terms they have not set and did not control. It’s a popular mass campaign beyond party politics, whose activists have little interest in party political point scoring. Alicsammin is a big fat liar you say? And this should bother me why exactly? I’m not voting for Alicsammin. I’m voting for independence. But worse than that it’s a focused campaign, with a very clear political objective – a yes vote in the referendum. Political goals don’t come more focused than a single affirmative word.
A focused mass movement in a campaign beyond their control – no wonder they’re scared of us. Yes supporters should not be discouraged or even angered by the increasingly hysterical shrieks in the UK media. It means they’re still losing.
It will get worse over the next few months. Expect all-out doomageddon on the one hand, and a red white and blue bunting-fest on the other when the polls start to show yes is in the lead. They have no other course of action open to them, but it will be self-defeating. The no campaign is already disintegrating – Labour MEPs confirm that Scotland will of course be admitted to the EU, Danny Alexander admits that there will be no border controls, the UK Government admitted that pensions will continue to be paid. One scare story after another is admitted to be false, and with every admission another little piece of Better Together’s credibility dies. All that is left are the shrieks and the slurs, and the desperate attempt to rally the troops with the pageantry of wars long over.
The more they shriek, the more they attempt to diminish, abuse and demonise, the more they depict a reality that ordinary voters in Scotland cannot recognise, the more people in Scotland wonder how we can possibly be better together with a political system which holds us in such contempt.
We can step out of the handbasket, and decide on our own destination. It’s a promise that comes with home made jam. That’s a promise that Westminster cannot compete with. And yes will keep winning.
*Pedant’s note: I refuse to stop banging on about this. The plural of referendum is referendums. Referendum in Latin is not a noun, it’s a gerund, a part of the verbal system. Latin gerunds do not have plurals, and the Romans weren’t overly keen on mass participatory democracy either. Neither is Westminster come to that, but that’s by the by. English has gerunds too, and they don’t have plurals either – although English confusingly uses its gerund ending -ing for a variety of other grammatical purposes which can sometimes be pluralised. In the sentence “I like monstering”, monstering is a gerund, but in “I like a good monstering” it’s a noun. You can pluralise nouns, or at least most of them, and some gerunds are also used as nouns. But you can’t say “I like swimmings” in the same way, because swimming is only a gerund, or a present participle which can’t be pluralised either. Referendum in Classical Latin was like swimming, not like monstering.
Gerunds in Latin take the same endings as neuter singular nouns. Referenda is what the plural of referendum would be in Latin if it were a neuter singular noun. But it’s not a neuter singular noun, it’s a gerund. The only reason a plural is required is because the word was borrowed into English as a noun and the rules of English grammar demand that nouns have plurals. So since referendum only requires a plural due to the demands of English grammar, not Latin grammar, the only appropriate plural is the English plural referendums. Referenda is bad Latin, and using it just makes you sound like a pedant who has mispedanted.
Boris Johnson gets it wrong, and he’s an Eton and Oxford educated Classicist apparently. I went to a comprehensive in Coatbridge. Sic id fellitā Boris. That’s Latin for ‘So suck it up Boris’, only ruder. Because we can do monstering in Latin too. Now go and write it out 100 times.