What’s that saying? “The Scotsman is one who keeps the Sabbath and anything else he can lay his hands on.” Parsimonious? Sure, maybe a little. But we’re also… well, fissiparous. Last October, support for Scottish independence had flat-lined at twenty-five percent. Who could have guessed, back then, that a whopping 45.7 percent (that’s 1.6 million) of the (equally whopping) 84.6 percent of Scots who turned out to vote on September 18th would back a campaign which couldn’t tell us, post independence, if we would go back to hoarding pounds or groats?  It’s time—so everyone keeps saying—that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland “take a long, hard look at herself.”

Maybe so. “There can be no disputes, no reruns,” crowed a visibly rattled David Cameron the morning after. “We have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.” Decisive, yes, but settled? A 10.6-point margin of defeat—though wider than expected—is surely something of a Pyrrhic victory for us Unionists. So what went wrong?

For those unfamiliar with Caledonia’s constitutional arrangements (hardly a sin), here’s the abridged script: Scotland has enjoyed—some might say endured—a devolved, unicameral legislature since 1998, responsible for health and social services, education, law and order, housing, and local government. The Scottish National Party (SNP), headed by Alex Salmond (raison d'être: “independence”), has called the shots on these “devolved matters” since 2007. “Reserved matters,” i.e., everything else, remain issues for Westminster. This federal(ish) arrangement makes good sense. As David Hume (a great Scot) rightly observed, “truth springs from argument amongst friends.” Britannia, granted, no longer rules the waves. But 300 years of kinship, and a big single market, have left all four partners in pretty good shape.

Or so we thought. Listening to “Yes Scotland,” an unholy alliance between the SNP, The Scottish Green Party and (gasp) the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), you’d think the Land of Hope and Glory was two clicks north of Sodom. The U.K., we learned—that voracious, sclerotic, cold-blooded drunken warlord on the edge of rosy Europe—is “broken”.

Salmond’s two main points were as follows: First off, the Scots are outnumbered ten to one, and our bigger brother’s voting habits (Conservative) are antipodal to our own. Not, by any means, a moot point, but then Glasgow and the Orkney Islands don’t vote the same way either. And an Orcadian free state? Hardly a covetable prospect. Besides, that tenth of Scots do a good job, intermittently, of ensuring that England—the only UK country without its own parliament—don’t get who they vote for, to boot. Second: “We could be a progressive beacon for those across these islands who yearn for a fairer society.” Gulp. The U.K., Salmond pointed out, is “the fourth most unequal country in the developed world”. Oh dear. Isn’t the conflation of fairness and equality a quintessentially British malady?

There’s a quip in Scotland—now a platitude—that we have fewer Conservative MPs than there are pandas at Edinburgh Zoo (two pandas). The antecedents to this appalling state of affairs—Thatcher’s deeply unpopular poll tax being the main offender—are manifold. Suffice to say, Scotland hates the Tories. Or so we’re told. 15 percent of us send our lone panda down to Westminster on a regular basis. In any case, the anti-Thatcher campfire of the late 1980s proved a convenient confluence for Scotland’s center-left parties (that’s British English for “socialist”), and they’ve been playing songs around the embers ever since. No surprise, then, that Salmond’s first job was to convince us that a “No vote” was really just a “Tory vote,” a tacit assent of a neo-liberal dystopia doomed to a succession of David Camerons brandishing croquet mallets, welfare cuts and Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles. The referendum, cooed Salmond, was “Team Scotland [the “Yes” Campaign] against Team Westminster”.

This clever, binary distinction was just one way by which Salmond averted scrutiny from the SNP’s hopeless (nay, delusional) economic and fiscal policy. As The Spectator’s Alex Massie observed, “it is not possible to spend more, borrow less and tax the same”. Quite. Even if his hugely optimistic forecast for oil revenue—some £7bn a year—were accurate, Salmond would still have to account for a £10bn fiscal black hole, which of course he couldn’t. And then there was currency. What would we be paid in? Sterling, we knew, was off the table. No answer. Perhaps Salmond, like Joseph Stiglitz, thought currency a “non-issue.” Little wonder big business was a heartbeat away from packing its bags for more auspicious climes (i.e., England). But flagging up these issues proved a challenge. Thanks to Salmond, the “No” Campaign quickly earned the appellation “Project Fear”—an absurd, but brilliant, bit of huckstering. Any grievances with Salmond’s master-plan, like The Centre for Economics and Business Research’s prediction that an independent Scotland would lose between 20,000 and 40,000 jobs, was swiftly shelved under “Tory scaremongering.” This politics of opposition proved so delectable most of us forgot to ask how well the SNP were looking after those devolved matters already within their purview. Appallingly, is the answer – particularly in education, which Massie is right to call “Scotland’s greatest national disgrace.”

So why, all things considered, did Salmond’s Panglossian narrative win so many souls? To be sure, it is much easier to be taken in by a Foucault than by a Burke. Clamor will always have the upper hand over quietude (especially for Scots). That said, the “No” campaign was, from start to finish, a botched job. The nationalists, to be fair, led a tactfully un-nationalist campaign. Scottish patriotism would throttle their multicultural predilections, and they knew it. The unionists, conversely, needed all the patriotism they could get. But they never could quite articulate why the Union mattered. “Romance,” noted Sir Walter Scott “is a revolt against the despotism of facts.” Where was the romance? For left-liberals, of course, it is unthinkable to love a country and not its government, so they love neither. For the rest of us, it would have been nice to be reminded of that vast cultural inheritance, of those values, institutions, customs, traditions and virtues which were once a beacon for humanity—of all those things which made this country “Great” in the first place. But no such luck.

What’s top of the SNP’s agenda now? Another referendum. “I believe perhaps more strongly than I ever have that we will be independent,” says Nicola Sturgeon, now party leader. These people just can’t stomach the idea of a sentient opponent. Those poor “No” voters were duped, they howled, scared-stiff, coerced, cajoled. This condescending tripe shows little sign of abatement. In any case, it’s looking far less likely now that independence, as Salmond assured us, is a “once in a generation question.” 

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