It’s so much harder to walk out into the dark, than it is to come into the light. Evidently, many Scots felt that that is just what a “yes” vote in the independence referendum would mean; a leap into the abyss, a trip to a scary unknowable place, the fabled “unintended consequences” lurking in ambush.
People can’t be blamed for a failure of nerve, especially in the face of the fear-mongering and the doom-saying of the British establishment. The political elites, with their cats-paw media yowelling and scratching at every argument for independence, got their message of fear and imminent catastrophe across. The Nationalists never countered this. Their job was to convince a majority that the way forward, was, to steal a phrase, “ourselves alone”. Maybe a message of a brighter, better future was just too nebulous, too much of a gamble for many people, when set against the “specifics” of the doom-saying counter-arguments. Which is not to say that every “no” vote was a vote from fear; many people surely voted the status quo from a genuine unionist prospective, a wish to preserve a union they cherished and valued. But the fear-mongering played a huge, maybe a decisive part.
Back when the first parliamentary union was forged in 1707, a stunned Scottish nation, and historians thereafter, countered that, for the proudly nationalist, independent Scottish parliament to vote themselves out of existence, could have only been engineered by English strong-arm tactics, economic pressure and the buying of the votes of venal Scottish MP’s. There is a great deal of truth in this scenario of and widespread corruption. Popular sentiment at the time seemed solidly against. There was widespread anti-union violence and rioting, and an avalanche of anti-Union propaganda, much of it from the pulpits of the powerful Scottish Kirk. All of this was ignored by Scotland’s parliament. It was easier to manipulate, threaten or buy a 227 member body in 1707 than manipulate millions of voters today, but then what are all referendums and elections if not the marshaling and manipulation of voters? We just refer to it as “getting out the vote”, “persuasion” and “getting the message across”. Of course, David Cameron’s promise of a new economic and political package for Scotland could also be seen as an attempt to buy the vote. It undoubtedly played a part too. (Unsurprisingly, in his speech today, Cameron has put the package of reforms “on the long finger”, shelving them until after a general election. Shocker.) In another thirty or forty years or so, historians and researchers will uncover what underhand deals, blackmail and back-channel maneuvers were used to “save the Union”. What, you don’t think these guys were involved? For now, that will all be under wraps. But not forever. Yesterday was not the loss of Culloden; it was a setback, no more. The nationalists aren’t destroyed. They need to regroup, to figure out how to better put their case and be ready for the next opportunity.
In the end though, it may take a national cataclysm of some sort to sunder this union. It was in part the Darien disaster that drove Scotland into the arms of England in the first place. Right now that union is fractured but not broken. How long it holds is anyone’s guess.