It was all wrong on the day of the poll, like a scene from Shakespeare, unseasonal thunderstorms, flooding, owls hooting in the afternoon. ‘Is that a dagger that I see before me?” someone tweeted when Boris Johnson praised David Cameron. “Beware the march of IDS,” said another. Guardian columnist Nick Cohen compared Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to Regan and Goneril, the bitchy daughters in King Lear. Joyce McMillan the next morning in the Scotsman quoted Rome and Juliet: “A glooming peace this morrow with it brings.” Then the UK’s EU commissioner Lord Hill resigned with Lady Macbeth’s last words: “what’s done cannot be undone”.
In the run-up to the EU referendum, debate was dominated not by real issues but by wraiths and shadows. There was a fearful vision of millions of Turkish migrants. No one seemed much interested in actually knowing much about Turkey – its present, its future, the work it is doing to absorb refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, its relationship with Europe, only this spectre, called into being like a fake medium’s confidence trick, of millions of Turks set on moving to the UK.
The political agenda down south moved even further to the right over the campaign. Endless discussion about immigration. But it is not the problem; it’s not the solution, Many countries have absorbed hugely greater numbers, although doing so requires a degree of competence in managing public services which seems beyond the Westminster government. Other issues like globalisation and the struggle to compete with low wage economies won’t be put back in the bottle either. It seemed extraordinary that the oldest democracy in the world should fall for the old canard that foreigners are the cause of its problems.
For a Scot who voted, like me in 2014, against independence and in favour of the Union there was another, perhaps more personal source of gloom – that for all the effort that people like me put into saving the Union at the end of the day the English weren’t that bothered. It didn’t really figure in the debate at all. The idea that if England voted to leave it would inevitably move Scotland towards independence didn’t have much traction with the English voters. Frankly, my dear, they don’t give a damn. It made me angry that there was this indifference to the effect on the UK as an entity. This time, I feel like England is leaving us.
I found the independence referendum of autumn 2014 upsetting and personally difficult. Most of my friends were “Yessers”. I went out on a limb to express a contrary view, to voice support for remaining in the UK. Friendships suffered, there were topics I couldn’t discuss with members of my family. Scotland felt divided. It was painful.
In fact, one of my major concerns was just that; I felt that a slight majority would not be enough to break with the status quo and to take Scotland positively into a challenging future as an independent country. It seemed to me that a couple of percent was not enough support to make a big change and that we could end up living in a very divided, angry country.
But yesterday, the morning after the vote, in Edinburgh, something shifted. The sun came out. And so did the lady in red. Like the woman in the Chris de Burgh song, never had she shone so bright.
Nicola Sturgeon appeared at Bute House, flanked by the Scottish flag on one side and the European flag on the other. Her speech was graceful and measured. A friend posted on Facebook that when Sturgeon spoke, he wept tears of gratitude that a grown up had finally appeared, someone who seemed to know what she was doing, someone who’s seemed to have a plan.
Unlike the scandalously political speech that David Cameron delivered the morning after the independence referendum, in which instead of reaching out to all Scots he chose to knife Labour in the back,with talk of EVEL, Sturgeon’s speech was generous. She addressed European Union citizens resident in Scotland: “You remain welcome here, Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued,” she said. She also said being a leader is not easy and that Cameron deserves our thanks for his service. Sturgeon talked about protecting Scotland’s place in the European Union and said she would lay the groundwork for a new independence referendum within the next two years.
Every single one of Scotland’s 32 council areas voted “Yes’ to the European Union, and the majority was almost two thirds. Edinburgh was the most strongly pro-EU place in the whole United Kingdom with almost 75% voting to Remain.
That’s a strong, confident unity. It feels good to be part of it. It attains the highest standard that you could expect of a referendum on such an issue. Scotland has spoken. We don’t want to leave the EU and why should we? Go on yersel, England, into your cod Shakespearean tragedy. We’re with Nicola.