It’s almost three months to the day since Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and it would be difficult to undertake a tour of Scotland without at least mentioning this in some form. The political contest of late summer was unprecedented in its reach, ferocity and divisiveness. In many areas of Scotland more than ninety percent of people turned out on the 18th September to vote, a figure that had never been seen in a UK election before. There seemed to be a momentum, a belief that maybe this was Scotland’s ‘time’, and this was reflected in the vocal nature of the ‘Yes’ campaign. As it turned out, even this perceived groundswell of support wasn’t enough to topple the status-quo, and on the day the ‘No’ campaign won by almost ten points. (The status-quo is a powerful factor and, in the past, the opposing campaign has had to be leading by at least eight points in the polls going into voting day to have even a slim chance of winning).
The remains of the independence campaign are everywhere to be seen, even three months on. Travelling along on the train your eye will be caught by a banner in a field, a poster in someone’s window or a placard high up, out of reach, on a lamp post (as shown above). These seem to be almost exclusively ‘Yes’ campaign material, sitting forlornly, waiting for the victory that never was. I wonder if they’ve been left there intentionally, as a reminder to those who voted ‘No’ that the margin wasn’t as large as they might have liked, or is it simply that the energy and enthusiasm that motivated their placement is now gone, evaporated in the early hours of the nineteenth of September? They do seem to be relics of a battle lost, and remind me in a way of the pillboxes and bunkers that dot the landscape in the South East of England – once seen as essential but now redundant, historic, and not worth the effort to remove.
If things had been different, if the ‘Yes’ campaign had won, would the countryside still be dotted with ‘No’ banners providing impromptu shelter to the windswept sheep? I don’t think so. The ‘Yes’ campaign was aspirational, inspirational, and now seems to be developing a romanticism of the ‘lost cause’ around it; in some windows the ‘Yes’ posters have been replaced with ones saying ’45’ (a reference to the share of the vote that the ‘Yes’ campaign got).
In some mid-western and southern states in the US you can find a similar romanticism about the ‘lost cause’ of the Confederate States of America. While people today deplore many of the notions that the confederacy was promoting, they are still attracted by the David-vs-Goliath portrayal of the gallant southern states breaking away from the powerful and over-bearing union. This pride in the fight, and that the cause came so close to being realised, seems to be motivating many ‘Yes’ campaigners to carry on.
So what now for Scottish independence? Like Quebec (and it’s role in Canada), will the fires of separatism slowly die away now that the question has been answered? Or will the memory of the ‘lost cause’ stoke the embers back into another campaign that is ultimately successful?
Walking around Inverness it was interesting to note that the ‘Yes Scotland’ shop had recently reopened. The signs in the window were encouraging people to join (and vote) for the SNP, reminding them that Nicola Sturgeon may well hold the balance of power in Westminster come the next general election; reminding them that any SNP support for a minority Labour government would be dependent on another referendum being held. The letters pages of The Scotsman newspaper today are filled with correspondence about the oil prices and what this would have meant for an independent Scotland. A page in the paper is dedicated to the results of an opinion poll asking ‘how would you vote if the referendum were held again today?’.
It’s clear that the question of whether or not Scotland should be independent still sits close to the surface in many people’s minds here. It is also clear that this is not an issue that is simply going to fade away into the night.
Do I think Scotland will eventually become an independent country? Probably. Do I think this will happen in my lifetime? Almost certainly. The emotion and passion stirred by the ‘Yes’ campaign is still there, and the demographics are in its favour. Be it in fits and starts over the next two decades, or in another all-or-nothing vote, I think Scotland will, ultimately, wrest itself free of the Westminster parliament. It’s just a matter of time.