What a `Divisive` Referendum!
Macduff: Stands Scotland where it did?
Ross: Alas, poor country, almost afraid to know itself.
–from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
At the time of the first pro-life referendum, the Irish media agreed with near unanimity that the measure was most undesirable because it was “divisive”. But the Scottish referendum on independence is about as divisive as you could get, and everyone seems to think that’s just great.
As I write, the people of Scotland are going to the polls to decide whether or not to secede from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a union which, desired by both England and Scotland, has endured for over three centuries and has been mutually beneficial for most of that time, unlike that between Great Britain and Ireland. The opinion polls have been so close that, in the words of almost every media outlet, the result is “too close to call”.
The campaign has been marked by so much bitterness and recrimination that whatever the result, Scotland will almost certainly be in a bad way for decades to come. It will be impossible to weld the two factions together after so much mutual hatred. The degree of bullying, particularly on the Yes side, has been intense. The Labour MP Jim Murphy was forced to cancel his speaking tour of Scotland in the face of mob hostility; in Glasgow, George Galloway of the Marxist group Respect was called a “Tory stooge” and told he would “face a bullet”; in Edinburgh, the Labour Party leader Ed Milliband was sworn at and pushed; Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, was accused of crimes against the people of Scotland. It was quite uncanny how mobs of Yes supporters always seemed to know exactly where and when the Better Together politicians from both Scotland and England were going to appear next.
To my mind, the most sinister incident of the final days of the campaign came when it was revealed, on documented evidence, that the First Minister Alex Salmond tried to force Professor Louise Richardson, principal of St Andrews University, to criticise the Westminster government and tone down the warnings she had made about the adverse effects of Scottish independence. She had said St Andrews would lose its leading academics and fail to attract others from abroad. Professor Richardson stood her ground, but there is good reason to believe that various Scottish firms opposed to independence have been bullied into silence, fearing loss of state contracts if the measure is carried.
It would certainly appear that the standards of the Scottish National Party have declined considerably since the time, a generation ago, when its membership consisted of principled patriots motivated solely by love of country. The party is now a strange amalgam of a very unattractive and xenophobic form of tartan neo-fascism and old-fashioned bossy socialism, determined to control every aspect of the lives of Scottish citizens. I did not believe this until I looked it up on line, but the Scottish government is actually gearing up to assign a “Named Person” to every child up to the age of 18, able to share information with a range of authorities and intervene without parental consent.
It is quite understandable that many Scots are fed up with rule from Westminster, but independence, I fear, would curtail their liberties even further. In one of Aesop’s fables, the frogs asked Jove to give them a king; the chief of the gods duly tossed a large log into their pond and told them this would be their monarch. After the initial splash, the log lay there doing nothing , so the frogs then complained that their king was just too boring, and could they please have another. Jove sent them a stork, which proceeded to gobble them up. I don’t need to labour the point.
We’ll know the result in a few hours. It will be a bad day for Scotland if the Ayes have it. As the British prime minister Robert Walpole said about all the excitement over the conflict with Spain known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear: “They are ringing the bells now; they will be wringing their hands tomorrow.”