Andrew Wilson: We can’t waste referendum passion

SNP need to build on the independence movement, not wreck it. Picture: John Devlin

SNP need to build on the independence movement, not wreck it. Picture: John Devlin

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LETTING go. Never easy in life, is it? But liberating when you manage it. Often it is the step we need to take to truly find our own true path to happiness.

It is the same for leaders. Learning to let go of the privilege of their position is, for many, the hardest thing in the world, which is why so many great careers end in failure.

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Not so one Alex Elliot Anderson Salmond. Once again he has demonstrated his ability to be ahead of the story and in front of where he needs to be so that he can catch the current of the moment, just in time. His resignation the day after Scotland’s mom­entous referendum was, on almost every level, the right thing for him to do. By himself and his family, by his party and his country, and by his successor.

His country owes him thanks for more than a quarter century in public service and two decades at the helm of his party, steering it from pressure group to opposition force to minority then majority government. He then, magically, won Scotland the chance to choose its own future. And to aid that choice he led a quite beautiful coalition of the willing for Yes.

It gathered nearly as many votes as Labour, Liberals and the SNP did at the last Scottish election. Its vote share, at 45 per cent, was higher than those that delivered massive Westminster majorities to Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair at their peak. But it wasn’t enough on a night of historic engagement and turnout.

Some have suggested to me that the worst thing that happened was the big Sunday opinion poll putting Yes ahead, as it galvanised the London government into action. Maybe. But that also delivered the key moment of the campaign itself in terms of its resonance into the future which was the famous “vow” on the front pages of the Daily Record to give more powers to Scotland.

That vow helped garner more than two million votes for more powers within the Union. Now doubly fuelled by another 1.6 million votes for Yes, the moral, political and democratic imperative for very substantial home rule powers for Holyrood is, in my
estimation, unstoppable.

Just as Alex Salmond has let go, so must David Cameron and the UK centre. If they are to have any chance of retaining power so they must let go of much.

I leave the story of how the beehive of more powers is currently being wrestled with to my friend Euan McColm.

What seems both certain and obvious to me is the critical imperative that both the SNP and the wider Yes movement engage in that process respectfully, purposefully and fully as builders, not wreckers. Standing on the sidelines shouting “foul” or “feart” or “told you so” is ultimately for the playground alone. It would also be a mistake of historic proportion.

As this weekend ends, so must our mourning of last week’s result. We have had our vote. We now have to find a way to unify the energy in it to reach for the highest common den­ominator that will lift our country’s sights to the next summit on our horizon.

Some say with the vote done the SNP’s purpose is now gone. Tell that to the 4,000 new members who have joined since Thursday, I could not disagree more strongly.

No-one will ever tell me I have to plant my flag on the summit of someone else’s ambition and declare myself content. The one thing we must never let go of is our dreams – do that and the human spirit withers.

No parliament or politician can bind their successor. There is no rule, that says we cannot make this choice again if circumstances require it. While few would suggest any appetite in the country for another referendum, no politician can bar it. It will, as all things must, be for the people to choose. Whether we have to? Well, that is down to the conduct of leaders now.

But we travel further if we travel
together and we must go at the pace of the majority. That’s democracy. Turn a deaf ear to it and we indulge in our own failure. So as we take our next steps let us be good and strong companions with our opponents of yesterday.

The worst outcome for Scotland is being handed reluctant devo-nano powers that serve only to force us to raise taxes to buy sticking plasters to place over the wounds left by Westminster policies we oppose. We must strive for the powers we need to strengthen the body politic itself and to find our best next steps within the wider UK.

In the meantime, my entreaty to all after Thursday evening is this: Don’t let anyone steal your hope.

Emily Dickinson tells us that “Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops / at all.”

Something took its perch in the soul of Scotland this week. The people now own their own hope. They no longer have to place it meekly in the hands of their leaders. The country at last has found its voice. Nothing, and no one will make it quiet. «

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