I and my wife and many other British people - Scots, English, Welsh and Irish - get so angry about a situation mainly created by the incompetence of the "No" campaign run by Premier David Cameron. And also because Alex Salmond, the leader of the "Yes" campaign, argues for a fantasy, and it is hard to argue against a fantasy
Within less than 24 hours we shall know whether the oldest political union in the Western world has survived. If the polls are to be believed then whatever the result it will be horribly close, maybe as close as 49 to 51 with an estimated 97% turnout. I am not neutral in this. I have, despite having lived in Italy, America and France, always felt British. I regard Scotland not as a separate country but as another part of a place I call home. I am part Irish, Scottish and English. My wife is half Scottish and her mum Rosemary – bright blue eyed, ferociously opinionated, funny, hard drinking and generous to a fault – is so Scottish I am amazed she hasn't appeared on a tourist poster. I am not unique, pretty much everyone living in the UK has a similarly mongrel history. Nobody I know, not my wife, not my mother-in-law, not any of my England living Scottish friends, want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and dissolve, let me reiterate this, a hugely successful 300 year union.
I never foresaw the polls being this close. But then I wasn't paid to. Our Prime Minister David Cameron was. To say that Cameron has handled the No campaign badly would be to sorely understate matters. It was Cameron who decided that there should not be a Devo Max third option on the ballot paper; Devo Max was the idea of the brilliant but slippery Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, and would have essentially meant that Scotland would have remained a part of the UK but supposedly been afforded more control over its own welfare, health and tax systems. Cameron loftily waived the idea away, only to now find himself offering it at the very last minute as the polls show Yes and No to be to close to call. It was Cameron too who decided that an anything over 50 percent margin for the Yes camp would be enough to break up the UK. He had been advised that the Yes camp would need to command at least 60 percent of the vote or the breakup of the Union would be too traumatic. He ignored the advice because he arrogantly assumed that the Scottish would vote at least 70 against 30 to remain a part of the Union. Finally he set the tone of the No campaign, and that tone has been relentlessly negative.
It has also been relentlessly negative in an accent the Scottish, and for that matter much of the English and Welsh, have grown to loathe – that of the landed English aristocracy. Cameron's wife Samantha is the daughter of Eton educated Sir Reginald Adrian Berkeley Sheffield, 8th Baronet of Normandy, Sir Reginald happens to be one of the biggest landowners in the UK, with huge swathes of Scotland forming parts of his epic estate. All of which hardly helps to dispel the Scottish notion that their nation was is lorded over by a bunch of super rich toffee nosed Southern snobs.
And it is this that the Scottish appear to be voting against. David Cameron pretty much admitted as much when 10 days ago he begged the Scots not to leave the Union just to 'give the effing Tories a good kicking'. Yesterday on BBC News a very angry Scotsman complained that he had never voted Tory. 'Well neither have I' snapped my wife. And neither have I, nor most of my friends. Salmond is aware of how poisonous the Tory brand is so never ceases to remind the Yes camp of who the Prime Minister and his wife and father and cabinet full of mostly southern, mostly privately educated, mostly millionaires are. The thing many Scots appear to have forgotten is that they are not the only ones who despise the present government and the Conservative Party. Only 25% of the English voted for the Conservatives at the last election, and everyone other than the bankers and the super rich have suffered from the austerity measures introduced by the Conservatives and their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats.
The Scottish at least have the benefit of a devolved legislature. So, for instance, while English and Welsh students have been made to pay staggeringly high university tuition fees, Scottish students pay none. Neither have any of the cuts forced on the English National Health Service been allowed to effect Scotland. Scotland has its own parliament and its own first minister, the aforementioned Alex Salmond. The Scottish parliament has had the power for some time now to raise income tax by a staggering three pence in the pound, that they haven't used this power is somewhat telling. Scotland in other words suffers far less than the rest of the United Kingdom from the things it's people have decided are the fault of a Kingdom that's United. The faults Salmond and the SNP scream about are not the faults of the Tories, or the South, or the Westminster Elite. They are the inevitable faults of democracy. People don't always get what they want, in fact most of the time they don't get anything like what they want. As Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
It has been Salmond's genius to convince perhaps more than 50 % of the Scottish electorate that democracy need not involve pragmatism or compromise, but rather be all things to all people, with all people functioning harmoniously. Thus by voting Yes Salmond and the SNP promise that Scotland will at once be the Greenest country in Europe and a world leading petro-chemical economy – Europe's eco-conscious Saudi Arabia. He promises to have record breakingly low corporation tax and the world's greatest public services. He tells us an independent Scotland would nationalise the banks and the oil industry, and be more attractive to foreign investment. The list of wildly contradictory injunctions and demands is endless and infantile. And yet Scottish Nationalist hatred of the present Tory government seems to cloud all reason.
If the Scottish left stopped to think for a moment they would ask themselves why Salmond and his party are on such good terms with the increasingly old, sinister and angry Rupert Murdoch and the idiotic Donald Trump. But then as the Scottish screen writer Ewan Morrison and one time supporter of the Yes campaign argued just 24 hours ago the Yes campaign relies on NEVER asking or answering questions: “The Yes camp have managed to make it seem like criticism of their politics is an attack on the individual’s right to imagine a better self. To do this, the Yes campaign has had to be emptied of almost all actual political content. It has had to become a form of faith.”
The No campaign, has done nothing but ask questions, mostly of the rhetorical sort. Think you'll be allowed to join the EU? Be serious. Oh, you want the pound do you? No chance! Their trump card is Alistair Darling. The former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer has spent the last few months trudging up and down the country dryly reading out depressing economic statistics warning the Scots of the terrible things that will befall them if they vote Yes. The message from the No camp being Better the Devil You Know. And this from a man who presided over the worst economic crisis in the history of the UK. The best that can be said about the guy is that he is Scottish and looks a bit like Steve Martin. Never has a campaign been so boring and bloodless. No mention of the Enlightenment, the British gift to the world, no mention (at least from the No camp) of our two nations shared history in scientific discovery, military victory, art, literature, religion, comedy and theatre. No mention of the 600,000 Scots men and women (of whom my mother-in-law is one and my wife is half) who live in England and who play such a vital role in our economic and cultural life. No mention from Darling, Cameron and the cretins in charge of the No campaign of anything positive, anything loveable, anything that might actually scream what they continue to dispassionately claim “Better Together”. They offer no proof of Better Together, when all the proof they need is at their fingertips. For shame.
It's small wonder then that Salmond has been able to label the No campaign scaremongers. Never mind Cameron, Darling and co. Deutsch bank, Spain, Italy and BP, most of the Scottish based banks, practically every supermarket, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, to name but a few uninterested parties, have all, according to Salmond, been attempting to frighten the Scots away from their Utopic independent destiny.
And here is where I and my wife and so may other British people – Scots, English, Welsh and Irish – get so angry. Salmond argues for a fantasy and it is hard to argue against a fantasy. It is even harder to make an existing reality appear more attractive than a fantasy. In his 1945 essay, Notes on Nationalism, George Orwell wrote, 'The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also — since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself — unshakeably certain of being in the right.' He might well have been describing Salmond and his empty angry call to arms.
So it is perfectly possible that in a few hours that Union I love and has served us all so well will cease to exist. But then in addition to the terrible economic woes both countries will endure watch as the rest of Europe reacts and reacts and reacts. Watch as Spain loses Catalonia and the Basque region. Watch as Corsica attempts to free itself from France, and Sicily and Sardegna attempt to free themselves from Italy. Watch the bigots of the Lega Nord call everything South of Rome Africa, because in their language African is an insult. Watch as Africa reacts to that. Watch even federal Germany fight with beloved Bavaria. Watch the atomisation of Europe and its swift descent into anarchic regional chauvinism. Watch the rise of UKIP and other frothing patriots.
And if the result is close, as people expect it to be, watch a resurgence of nationalist violence in neighbouring Ireland, and perhaps even in Scotland where thwarted Unionist feelings may well lead tobloody unrest. It would certainly not be the first time. And know one thing, this will all have emanated from Alex Salmond and the SNP and the thoroughly ludicrous idea that a 300 year old union was worth destroying. Alex Salmond knows exactly the Pandora's Box he is opening today, but he does not care. He does not care about Europe, or the United Kingdom, or Ireland or Wales or England. But most of all he does not care about Scotland.
One thing is for certain, whatever chaos ensues, Alex Salmond will have secured his name in the history books.
Ben Marshall is a British journalist and writer based in Brighton, England. Thirty years ago Ben met Stefano Vaccara, now the editor of La Voce, in Siena, Italy, where they were both students and they have been friends since then.