SCCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: Campaign was sunk by an inability to address practical issues, writes Allan Massie.
The most striking feature of the result is how by far the greater part of Scotland voted to stay in the Union. Twenty-eight of the 32 local authority areas did so, many of them by a substantial margin. Second, the figures show just how different a referendum is from a general election. The SNP lost in areas that were said to be their strongholds, an opinion tenable only if you forget that you can win a constituency in a multi-party election with as little as 30 per cent of the vote. #
Many will say that the Yes side won the campaign but lost the vote. Certainly, the energy and enthusiasm of the Yes supporters, especially the young ones, were impressive – though the Unionists had a lot of equally keen and active youngsters too – but the truth is that in important respects the SNP’s performance was lamentable.
Independence is the party’s reason for existing but it was evident that its leaders had given very little thought to its practical implications. Their inability to offer an even half-way convincing answer to the currency question was remarkable. It did them great damage with thinking people, and no amount of bluster could compensate. Alistair Darling was quite right to return to the question time and again, because Alex Salmond’s inability to answer it convincingly made him look like a chancer.
It made sense of a sort for Salmond to try to turn the contest into an anti-Tory, anti-Westminster one, but it was foolish and impudent to talk of Team Scotland. Gordon Brown’s impassioned retort – “it’s not his Scotland, it’s our Scotland, it’s everyone’s Scotland” – skewered him. That speech was the rhetorical highpoint of the debate. It gave renewed heart to Unionists of all parties. We may never know just how many Labour waverers Brown won back, but Fife stayed with the Union, and the Yes majority in Glasgow might have been greater but for his intervention.
It’s far too soon to say what its defeat means for the SNP, but the Scottish Labour Party’s nerves should be jangling. They have been losing ground in elections while still winning seats in their heartlands. On this showing even the seats may be in danger.
A cynic might, however, offer this comfort: don’t worry, the enthusiasm for involvement in politics will soon die away, and you’ll benefit from a low turn-out when only the party faithful trouble to vote.
We’ll be raking over the ashes for weeks and months, but here are three final thoughts for now.
First, how nice for the Scottish Tories to find themselves on the winning side for a change – and incidentally their leader Ruth Davidson had a good campaign.
Second, a remarkable number of people found themselves realising just how much being British matters to them, and how much affection they feel for the United Kingdom.
Third, if we move to an intelligent and sympathetic revision of the constitutional arrangements of the UK, history may see this referendum as the high-water mark of Scottish nationalism.
Big “if” of course.