Bill Jamieson: At last, the waiting is almost over

The time for posturing, for debating, for barracking, is finally past. Bill Jamieson asks: Where will we go from here?
Cupcakes showing Yes, No and undecided are displayed in Cuckoos Bakery in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane BarlowCupcakes showing Yes, No and undecided are displayed in Cuckoos Bakery in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow
Cupcakes showing Yes, No and undecided are displayed in Cuckoos Bakery in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow

At last, dawn has broken on the Date with Destiny. After such a ferocious battle, is there much left of “social union”, never mind the chances of “velvet divorce”? By late this evening the mass rallies, the TV debates, the packed town halls, the greatest democratic re-invigoration of our age – and the nasty, bad-tempered, shouting and threatening street demos – will all be over.

Many will greet this day with relief: thank God it’s over. But for thousands, the end of this intense era of argument and campaigning will leave a hole. We have come to live with 24/7 politics, wall-to-wall campaigning, a social media explosion, meeting after meeting and mass politicisation. Everyone now has an opinion. What can possibly fill the vacuum when it’s over?

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And who in terms of personality are the winners, and who the losers? Voters will make the decision that matters. But before then we can muse at which politicians have had a good indyref campaign and who, well, less so: voices we will not miss.

Before such appraisal, here is the currency we will certainly not want to adopt – the clichés of the indyref battle that have been worn to oblivion by constant use.

Here are some of the phrases from politicians and commentators all of us will surely hope never, ever to hear again:

It’s not for us, Jim, it’s for our children and grandchildren…

Don’t take my word for it on the deficit. Listen to Professor Heinz Kiosk…

Once you vote there’s no going back…

And now a quick word from Jim Naughtie…

Well Hugh, it’s on a knife-edge. Could be Yes, could be No…

We’re not anti-English…

Now back to Nick Robinson…

I’ve come to the xxxx distillery for a unique insight into the battle…

Billy Bragg, in south London you’ve been following this closely…

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I’m standing in the sleepy town of Aberfeldy where debate is raging…

I may be in Budleigh Salterton but I’m quarter Scottish, you know…

And tune in tomorrow for the next debate in our series…

Please, please, please, stop shouting all at once…

Never before have had politicians had so much air time and camera attention. So in terms of personalities and projection, impact and presence, what’s the score?

For presence and “emergence”, Gordon Brown surely has claim to top prize for a stunning political resurrection, stepping up late in the day to take effective command of Labour’s struggling No campaign.

The Second Coming of the former prime minister will appal many English voters for whom his very name evoked an immediate depression, a sense that the meaning of life was not the pursuit of happiness but a descent into gradations of misery.

But with many Labour voters in Scotland he still has resonance, and particularly among those who feel the party has lost its purpose and mission. His intervention in announcing an early Westminster debate on more devolved powers may have come perilously late and only after that electrifying YouGov poll showing Yes had taken the lead. But it may just have pulled the unionist chestnuts out of the fire. In the event of a No today, he will have to face the ire of Westminster MPs who distrust this rush to a federal Britain. Popular resurrection there may be less assured.

Labour MP Jim Murphy has had an outstanding campaign. An Irn-Bru crate – or eggs from Fife – will never be the same. But he has shown energy and courage in equal measure, winning him respect across the political spectrum.

For the Yes campaign, Nicola Sturgeon has enhanced her status and position as First Minister in waiting. No point was spared constant repetition or an opponent’s argument instantly contested. For some her voice causes an instant reach for the “off” button. It has the persistence of a searing masonry drill, the noise baffle removed and the power left permanently on, pointed at the toughest cement-eaters of Scottish Labour.

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Ruth Davidson has had a good campaign, consolidating her position as Scottish Conservative leader, notwithstanding her verbal slip in which she conceded next year’s general election to Labour. Charles Kennedy rose from the mists, while Alistair Carmichael sank with barely a trace.

An emoting David Cameron had plenty of TV attention but moist eyes do not always cut it in Scotland. However, it was a display of true love compared with George Osborne, he of the crooked smile and taunting defiance. The more he said No on sharing the currency, the more Scotland shouted back Yes.

For the SNP, Angus Robertson, Andrew Wilson and John Swinney have been stand-outs though others in “Team SNP” (MacAskill, Hyslop) were quiet as mice.

For Labour the haemorrhaging of once-monolithic support begs searching questions for its leading personalities. Apart from Ian Davidson, Labour MPs were largely missing in action.

Johann Lamont, the party’s Scottish leader, struggled to appeal beyond the already committed. On a public platform she conveys a faint air of menace, as if, at any moment, she would produce from her handbag a steel-tipped rolling pin with blood-stained spike. People struggle to warm to her, when they don’t take two steps back.

As for the UK leader Ed Miliband, he of the mouthful of rolling marbles and mangled vowels, it was hard to detect any great resonance with Scottish voters. However, he has had to contend on “meet the people” walkabouts with a ferocious amount of crowding out, barraging and outright abuse from Yes campaigners, a vitriol previously reserved for Nigel Farage. This has left a nasty aftertaste.

And finally there is First Minister Alex Salmond. His profile has been hugely raised on the world stage and few of his opponents would dispute he has fought a brilliant campaign. From a distance, Salmond is the political supremo in Scotland. He has outmanoeuvred Cameron, both on the casting of the question and on the timing of the vote. But at several moments close-up exposure revealed some unpleasant traits: bullying of opponents, smirking dismissal of arguments and a disturbing resort to assertions not always in accord with accepted truth.

After this divisive battle, the protagonists now face a greater task: drawing the country together and repairing the deep wounds to our unity. That will be no easy task.

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No less daunting is to guide those fervent campaigners to an understanding of what politics is also about. For this battle has been waged with barely any reference to the real cause of our discontents. The forces that lie behind austerity and the squeeze on public spending were rarely examined. Whoever wins will still have to contend with the two biggest constraints on what government today can do: the £1.35 trillion pile of debt and the £53 billion cost of annual debt interest. We didn’t hear those figures much.

Politics always comes down to governing within limits: this priority or that; this project before others; wish-lists deferred and ambition delayed; the regrettable necessities of constraint.

When this realisation hits home, only then can we say this referendum has enriched democracy in Scotland.