Alex Salmond was magnanimous in defeat. “Our referendum was an agreed and consented process and Scotland has by a majority decided not, at this stage, to become an independent country,” said the Scottish National Party leader in his concession speech during the early hours of Friday morning.
“I accept that verdict and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland”.
The vanquished Salmond, though, despite his gracious tone, was also being arch – and even defiant. The key words in the statement above are “at this stage”. Scotland voted No for now, Salmond is saying, but if asked again in a few years’ time the outcome may be different.
I could entirely devote this, my last Sunday Telegraph column before Scottish voters make their historic choice on Thursday, to yet more economic analysis. Having railed against independence over recent weeks and months, arguing it would be to the detriment of both Scotland and the broader UK, I easily develop and amplify the pecuniary narrative.
The Scottish National Party, to be sure, is being economically dishonest, promising far more nice public spending goodies than contentious answers on where the revenue-raising pain will fall. It’s all very well offering free tuition fees, free child care and all the rest of it, while slamming “Tory austerity”. But how will the bills be paid?
This column warned, in February and again in May, that Alex Salmond wasn’t to be under-estimated. The Scottish National Party’s canny leader has a track record of surging late to secure a close-run victory. He did it in the Scottish parliamentary elections of both 2007 and 2011.
The Union is now in grave danger. Over 300 years of history could be reversed when Scotland votes on Thursday 18 September. No-one should be surprised by the latest “shock” polls showing the pro-independence vote within spitting distance of upending the 1707 Act of Union. For some time, the momentum has been with the Yes-camp, as it has steadily come from behind. In mid-2013, 65pc of the Scottish electorate said they wanted to stay in the UK. By May this year, that figure had fallen to just over half.
An opinion poll released by Channel Four News this weekend suggested that 51pc of Scots are planning to say “No” in the independence referendum on September 18. In other words, the vote looks extremely close. The “Better Together” camp, which is supposed to be campaigning to keep the UK in tact, is spinning that this display of “majority support” is good news. If only that were so. Just a year ago, the numbers wanting to stay in the UK were far higher – typically around 65pc of the Scottish electorate. And a few recent polls have even shown the share of Scots backing continued UK membership dipping below 50pc.
I’m against Scottish independence. In fact, I’m horrified at the prospect of our country breaking-up. While the Westminster village remains complacent, the ghastly reality is that over 300 years of history could be obliterated during the late summer of 2014. While the UK is four distinct countries, each with its own proud identity, we’re one coherent nation. Cobbled together, in a form that somehow works, our joint history of achievement and success is as rich as any on earth. And the spine of our unique and precious arrangement is the England-Scotland axis, enshrined in the 1707 Act of Union.
“London’s games are Great Britain’s games”. So said the iconic BBC commentator Barry Davies, at the start of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics. A 4-hour extravaganza, it was a show that stunned and delighted the world.
The start of the 30th Olympiad showcased the UK’s creative and organizational genius. It was a stylish reminder of the huge impact of our small North Atlantic nation has had on broader humanity. And what did this high-octane celebration of Britain’s shared history and culture kick-off with? Successive choruses sang with reverence and respect by sweet-voiced schools kids from the UK’s four corners.
We had Jerusalem, Danny Boy and the Welsh tearjerker Bread of Heaven. And, at the heart of the mix, from a place integral to our on-going island story, we heard the Flower of Scotland.
While the UK is four distinct countries, each with its own identity, we’re one coherent nation. Cobbled together, in a form that somehow works, our joint history of achievement and success is as rich as any on earth. That’s how we presented ourselves during that masterful Olympic Opening Ceremony in July 2012 – and the world roared back its approval.