Scotland can expect one heckuva hangover after independence vote – yes or no

September 10, 2014

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Scotland will soon be suffering from a monumental hangover. There will be a lot of hurt heads, a lot of tears and, without a doubt, an immense amount of anger that will last who knows how long — weeks, months, maybe even years — if Alex Salmond’s dream of independence comes true.

The Sept. 18 referendum on independence is quite unlike any other United Kingdom election I have witnessed. It is much more visceral, with so many complicated currents swirling beneath one simple question: Is Scotland in Britain or out of it? There are a lot of people going with their gut instinct, and you sense that if the outcome goes against them, the simmering rage will finally bubble over.

Rioting in the streets? Perhaps.

The problem for the Unionists is that nothing they can say will ever match that magic potion being served up by the Scottish Nationalists — that beautiful policy that can be summed up in one sweet word: “change.” 

If you’re not happy with things at the moment — with the UK’s current Conservative government; with the state of the National Health Service; with the perceived snootiness of the English — then simply vote for change.

It’s a message that has been promised by Tony Blair, by Barack Obama and by almost every Western leader for more than a century.

And sometimes they deliver — and oftentimes they don’t. But the promise of change is a powerful message for which there no equivalent counterpunch.

The Unionists are led by Labour politican Alistair Darling, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He’s steady, gray, rather unexciting — the epitome of a dour Scottish banker.

Up against him is the most charismatic man that Scottish politics has produced in a long time.  Salmond is forceful and mouthy; he could argue the hind legs off a donkey. You wouldn’t mind having a drink with him.

It’s not really that the Unionists have been caught napping. It’s that all they can ever promise is more of the same-old, same-old — with a bit of Scottish devolution thrown in.

Until recently, this message was fine. For the past year, the bookies and the pundits all predicted  a win for the Unionists.

And then it all changed. It was partly due to a storming performance by Salmond in a second TV debate with Darling. Maybe his message about London’s Tory bogeymen had begun to hit home.

But a strange little rumor began circulating, a rumor that just a year ago would have seemed utterly fanciful: Salmond might sneak by with a win.

An opinion poll last week put the Scottish Nationalists just three points behind. A weekend poll put them ahead. Scottish-based shares are looking shaky; the British pound is down. The Scottish Nationalists have now got their tails up, and the Unionists have no idea on earth how to stem their  momentum. They are engulfed in what seems like nothing less than a fight for their very survival.

Everywhere you go in Scotland, the referendum is the only subject on anyone’s lips. I have never seen people so politically engaged. Salmond predicts voter turnout will be a colossal 80 percent — though I think that’s going to be on the low side.

There are a lot of hotheads out there, too. In their second TV debate, Salmond and Darling hollered over each other. That is how it is across Scotland. Put up a “No” poster in front of your home and it will probably be defaced; write some pro-Unionist remark on the Internet and it will immediately be Tasered by the Cybernats, online supporters of independence. The Scottish Nationalists have always seemed to be much more willing to sock it to the opposition. But is their opposition a great silent majority  waiting for the day of the referendum when they will finally stick two fingers up to Salmond — or is it in fact a rump, a silent minority?

After most elections, the losers go off to lick their wounds, and then a little while later they come back to fight another day.

Not this time, though. This time it’s for keeps – with either the independence question kicked out of bounds for at least a generation or Scotland going it alone. The referendum has been thrilling and yet utterly divisive. Whatever the result, the wounds are going to be deep, and they will take a long, long time to heal.

PHOTO: Dogs wearing a union flag and a Scottish Saltire are seen at the Birnam Highland Games in Scotland August 30, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

10 comments

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So for the tilt of your argument you use an alcoholic reference? Oh ya there is no prejudice going on here at all :/

Posted by wall-o-text | Report as abusive

For a real life comparison have a look at what unfolded in Quebec after the 1980 referendum.

If the No side wins, Scotland is in for a series of “neverendums”. If the Yes side wins, Edinburgh will go the way of Montreal in 1981-82 -the loss of its financial sector which once gone will never come back.

Posted by tetris | Report as abusive

Rioting? C’mon.

I may be in California and in the wrong 3 of 4 U.K. descents to have voice in this matter, but spotting violent sensationalism on Mr. Coles’ part is no problem.

Worst of luck to your quest, Mr. Cole.

Posted by nln | Report as abusive

Correction at the end there … “Mr. Coles”.

Posted by nln | Report as abusive

Scotland deserves independence just as California, Texas and Hong Kong deserve independence.

Since Scotland is the only deserving nation likely to gain their independence in my lifetime, I’ll continue to cheer their independence movement with my undivided attention.

I hope Northern Ireland’s next.

Posted by sedlenke | Report as abusive

Scotland will be one of the smallest countries among the 28-member EU, along with Malta and San Marino. Only the big countries make all decisions. Good luck with that!

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

Scotland should join Euro Asian Union.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

The scottish will get their independence, but once the fad is over, they will wake up and face the reality of their choices. Scottland’s problems aren’t going to magically disappear just because they are not part of the U.K anymore.

Posted by CommanderOtto | Report as abusive

There may be a healthy amount of optimism, even idealism, in the Yes campaign but there will be plenty of sober voters on Thursday – we might even be able to hold off the drink long enough to hear the result – please do not conflate high standards for our society with high spirits or encourage others to do the same.

Posted by cerysio | Report as abusive

What does “independence” get you in a globally competitive economy with free movement of labor and capital?

The larger the market – the freer the market – the better the living standards of its citizens. The reverse is also true.

Posted by DonD1977 | Report as abusive