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Bill Jamieson: Yes or No, questions will continue

Londons dominance of the rest of the UK will be questioned regardless of the referendum outcome. Picture: Getty

Londons dominance of the rest of the UK will be questioned regardless of the referendum outcome. Picture: Getty

‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very Heaven!” Well, maybe not for everyone. Raucous TV debates, fiery radio phone-ins and earnest documentaries wrestling with a baffling Rubik’s Cube of possibilities.

You don’t even have to venture out to feel the blast. Barely have we woken up than our e-mail inboxes are overflowing with claim and counterclaim. Our servers buckle under the deluge. Yesterday brought another definitive e-book of independence analysis and consequentials. Charts and tables and graphs: mailbox full by dawn.

This is a highly charged period in Scotland’s history. Who can deny the heady sense of excitement and possibility it has brought for many who have not hitherto been much preoccupied by political affairs?

The poem of William Wordsworth in which he wrote the famous lines on the bliss of being alive was a celebration of the French Revolution and the new dawn it promised. It’s worth recalling the lines that followed:

“—Oh! times,

In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways

Of custom, law, and statute, took at once

The attraction of a country in romance!

The budding rose above the rose full blown.

What temper at the prospect did not wake

To happiness unthought of? The inert

Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!”

We’re roused all right, and the lively natures are off the scale. Amid all this, we’ve almost forgotten what “normal” Scotland is like. Does anyone recall how on Earth we filled the newspapers and stretched those late night TV current affairs slots? So all-consuming has the referendum battle become, so dominant, so simultaneously galvanising and exhausting, that what used to daily preoccupy us has been consigned to the most distant cells of memory.

Never in our lifetimes has Scotland been more politically engaged. Never has there been such a slew of analysis on our economy and our public finances: the laptops of economists have a feverish glow and their keyboards buckle in the heat. As for switching off in the evenings, never have TV debates with politicians been so intently watched. And never have more shouts of agreement, or angry words been hurled from our sofas at our TV screens.

Scotland is now divided into two camps: those charged and activated like demented Duracell bunnies having the time of their lives, and those who can’t wait for the whole business to be over. For every fired-up campaigner convinced this is the best thing to have happened to Scotland in a hundred years, there is the battle-wearied, moaning that it’s all dragged on for far too long,

Whichever camp you are in, there is now an iPhone app that briefly unites us: it counts down not only the days to the Date with Destiny, but also the hours, the minutes – and the seconds.

Comfort for the weary? Beware. Those who imagine that 18 September will mark an end to this febrile intensity, that the temperature will subside and we will quietly return to status quo ante, are in for a shock. The ferocious campaigning may be over. But the fever won’t quickly pass. Too many have been politicised and to such a boiling point of conviction that Scotland will not quickly lapse back to the politics of pre-2010.

Already, diaries in October and November are fast filling up with conference and debates. They may have conflicting agendas and fiercely opposed speakers. But there is one urgent, overriding theme: Where Do We Go From Here?

Everyone wants to know. And many will not at all settle for simply sitting back in our armchairs and picking up where we left off two years ago. Whether the result is Yes or No, the convulsion of political Scotland may have only begun.

What will we do with the new devolved powers – actual and mooted? Whether you are in business or retired, in public services or fund management, a voluntary worker or a farmer, a tenant or a landowner, there is a widespread hunger to know what the future holds. If nothing else, the Westminster election next year and the Holyrood election in 2016 will keep the political pot on the boil.

And this fever is not confined to Scotland. Tuesday night’s BBC2 documentary by Andrew Neil well set out the implications of Scotland’s referendum for the rest of the UK. If this did not serve as a wake-up call on the consequences of a Yes vote south of the Border, what will?

But equally intriguing were the questions it raised over the consequences of a No vote: how the rest of the UK will address the growing imbalance between the London megatropolis and the rest of the country and whether extra devolved powers here will fuel demands for similar devolution in other parts of the UK.

In all this, the SNP can fairly claim to have lit a fire under politics as we know it – and this is no bad thing, considering the relentless atrophy of political party memberships in recent years. How long could this have gone on until they had been totally hollowed out?

All this is not without its dangers. Not least overblown expectations of a new order in which the old constraints have been magically overcome and that we will be, if not “£1,200 better off” staying with the union or “£1,000 better off” or whatever this week’s figure is by voting for independence.

The reality is that whatever the outcome, none of us will be “better off” and that constraints on what a Scottish parliament can do will, if anything, increase. Deficit and debt cast the longest shadows. And as the IFS reminds us, the bulk of UK government fiscal tightening still lies ahead through to 2017-18. Under the Labour alternative this would only take a year longer than George Osborne has mapped out.

Not everyone shared Wordsworth’s view of the French Revolution. The poetry preferred by many this side of the Channel was that of Edmund Burke. His Reflections on the Revolution in France remains one of the most eloquent and prophetic tracts in the English language. It is a timeless warning that the Declaration of Rights can be followed by the Reign of Terror.

Whether you are with Burke or Wordsworth, we have entered a new era. Something has started here, and no-one can say for sure how it will really finish.

 

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