A Grisly Future
Is the island of Albion about to split? It’s clear that the No/Yes gap has narrowed but it’s still likelier that ‘No’ will win, by a clear if not comfortable margin; certainly if the bookies, who usually get these things right, are credited. The London press has blunderbussed out unionist propaganda, some of which, in the way of propaganda, has hit the truth, notably about Salmond’s triangulation of left and right by promising to scrap Trident while levying bargain-basement business rates. No prizes for guessing which pledge would be met first.
A grisly future would beckon for those left behind in the Rump UK after Scottish secession – mainly because of fellow RumpUKers’ likely response. For one thing, it would detonate a reactive Anglonationalism, whose main beneficiary would be the Faragist falange. Cameron’s premiership would be as dead as a deep-frozen clootie dumpling. With the Anglo-irredentist vote split, Labour would probably win next spring with a final cohort of Scottish MPs, but face a 19th-hole jacquerie demanding EU exit, which is to the SasseNats what secession is for Salmondites: if they can get out of the UK, why can’t we get rid of the Belgian yoke? A Tory party under Johnson or any of the other ghouls-in-waiting (May, Gove, Osborne, Grayling) might not even bother to call for a referendum, but offer exit straight off the bat.
This is democratic ressentiment in a pretty pure form, where the demos swaps one form of ventriloquism for another. The case for secessionism in general relies on a principle that might be seen as a foundational condition of politics: that of free association. The principle suggests that if enough Xish people (a bare majority?) in state X+Y want to split, they’re entitled to do so. This isn’t in fact the basis of the referendum franchise: English people in Scotland can vote, Scots in England can’t; likewise expatriates, the diaspora or other random foreigners, who may feel Xish despite or because of living in state Z (Galbraiths in Canada or New Zealand). What about those Ys in X who want to stay joined to X+Y (English in Scotland) or those Xish who want to form some other micro-entity (Yes Shetland, for example)? The moment comes politically when the answer to such questions amounts to ‘Come off it,' and the foundational principle gets junked. One reason Farage gets such a dim reception in north Britain is that, as a rival impersonator of the vox populi, he exposes its arbitrariness, its sheer wilful assertion. The will in question glories in the power of ‘No’ – to Westminster, Brussels, the English, the London political class, the foreign freeloaders swiping our jobs, our oil, our luxurious state welfare (the Yes campaign, from its christening onwards, won the propaganda war in successfully branding pro-unionism as ‘negative’).
Whoever wins, it’s not as if the other lot are conveniently going to disappear. A Scottish teacher of English at my old school, whom I’ll call Mr Black, came from Hamilton and beside his blimpish and effete colleagues passed, still in his twenties and working-class, for exotic. Mr Black was the rudest man I’d ever met. I quit school six months before A-Levels, then realised a few days before the English exam that I‘d forgotten to read The Rainbow; when I phoned Mr Black to throw myself on his mercy he said I was a 'fucking tit' but agreed to meet in a pub for some shock revision. Once we’d done clambering round the Brangwen family tree I asked him about Scottish devolution and independence, then as now a hot topic. His reply could work as well for Palestine, Iraq, the Koreas and Cyprus as the UK. ‘Could nae care less.’ Why? ‘Independent or nae independent, we’ll still be stuck next to youse cunts.’ And so we shall be.