There is a strange case of the silence of the Nos in Scotland at the moment. I have been pointing out what I see as the flaws in the independence plan on social media for a week and I know I am losing friends. I have been accused of falling for “scaremongering”; of behaving “just like a mum”; of exhibiting conduct that is “unbecoming”. “Stop being a fanny and just vote Yes” one person wrote.
Privately a few friends have offered support. “You’re braver than I am,” one said. “But for the first time ever recently I have had this awful feeling of Scotland being claustrophobic.” But in the main, it’s pretty lonely out here with your head above the parapet.
I drove across the central belt on Sunday and apart from a row of Union Jacks draped across a motorway bridge at Shotts, I saw no ‘Better Together’ campaigners and only two windows which displayed ‘No’ posters. There were hundreds of houses festooned with saltires and ‘Yes’ posters, Yes-ers with bunting in Edinburgh; and with huge hand-painted banners in central Glasgow, where tartan-clad ‘Yes-ers’ held up their signs to the crowds of shoppers.
Reading the papers I normally choose is depressing for a nay-sayer: a row of senior journalists declared for ‘Yes’ over the last few days. Kevin McKenna, the Observer’s Scottish columnist, seemed to say that if all his ‘Yes’ vote did was annoy the Labour party it would be worth it. Rosemary Goring in Monday’s Herald argued that “Women like me can vote Yes with confidence”, arguing that no important step in anyone’s life “be it in the job centre, registrar’s office or polling booth” comes with a guarantee.
Headlines in the Sunday Herald included: “Big Guns of the UK state fire in to back a Yes vote” (a former British ambassador and a retired Lieutenant Commander); and “Why isn’t Project Fear working? Take a bow George Osborne”.
My worst moment was turning a page and seeing a headline: “Break Up of the Union..How the independence battle was won.” I did a double take to check it said what I thought and then noticed that the author was the respected historian Tom Devine.
With my head in my hands, I read an article supposedly written three months hence. In it, Devine set a Nationalist victory in part down to the “perceived mediocrity” of most of the Labour group in Holyrood since its beginning in 1997.
Labour gets little credit now for delivering a Scottish Parliament, against opponents who claimed it was a slippery slope to independence. The institution has been successful in my view but it needs time to mature.
It seems to me that even if you might be open to the possibility of independence in the long term, the prospect of taking Scotland into the massive changes that are involved on a marginal yes may create rifts that could take a long time to heal. Old fault lines are being exposed, with ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in some areas falling across sectarian lines many hoped had disappeared.
Most of my Yes friends believe they live in a highly socially aware country with a strong consensus, which is currently exhibiting an unrivalled ability to debate controversial issues democratically. I suspect they may be a bit complacent about this. In fact, If there are big changes and they don’t go well, if the new ship of state faces headwinds for which it is unprepared, there may be a backlash.
Secondly, the prospect of attempting to force the rest of the UK into a currency union with Scotland that its people don’t support carries the risk that it will misfire.
Most of the ‘Yes’ campaigners I know believe the English from George Osborne to Mark Carney are bluffing and will relent more or less immediately in the event of a ‘Yes’.
But the English people are not prepared for what may happen; they have not been given a choice; they may react badly and so may their government. A currency union would not be electorally popular and why would the English negotiators offer it?
The suggestion is that they will be made to comply by Scottish threats: of walking away from the debt. Or that they can’t survive, without Scotland’s contribution to the balance of payments.
The Bank of England will of course do whatever is necessary to defend sterling. It may be tested by international currency speculators and if sterling falls it could threaten the recovery. The English may decide that they can protect the currency better on their own, without the complications of dealing with Scotland. Who knows what they are planning but George Osborne and the rest of the UK cabinet will have little interest in smoothing the path of the nascent independent Scotland.
Thirdly, any refusal of a currency union could lead to a difficult situation for the Scottish economy. Nationalists would hold the English responsible for this. But where does that path lead except to rancour and division?
I support the European Union: out of a fractured past we created institutions that enable nations which were once at war to work together. The United Kingdom is a much more venerable union which did the same thing for its constituent countries. it has given us much that is positive and worth celebrating. I want to see us build on our shared past, not tear it up.
I don’t think it’s completely fair to blame Alistair Darling for the low commotion of the Better Together campaign. It certainly hasn’t set the heather on fine but perhaps, as Vivienne Westwood recognised in a fashion show, ‘Yes’ is just sexier than ‘No’.
At the end of my depressing day on Sunday feeling as if Glasgow was the scene of a remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and I missed the email, I went to a taxi rank to ask where I could get a ‘No’ badge. The driver reached into his cab and handed me one. “Dinnae worry hen, it’ll be all right. Just wait until Friday.”
Was he right? Have the Nos been “changed”. Or are they lying low and waiting for the opportunity to speak through the ballot box? We will soon find out