So, No won the day.
Believe it or not, despite the empty feeling in my stomach, I don’t see a No vote as all that much of a disappointment. We were living in the days of a No vote anyway, given that the Kingdom has been United for the entirety of my life. The consequences of a No were never something untested and hypothetical – they were something we were experiencing anyway.
Yes there’ll be new powers – though to a degree and at a timescale of which nobody can be certain (and that’s a whole other discussion). But they will be far short of statehood.
And it’s not the first time independence has lost. Independence has been rejected at the ballot box ever since there’s been an organised movement for it. Even when the SNP won its two parliamentary elections in Holyrood, one was wafer-thin and the landslide five years later still didn’t quite give them over 50% of the votes. And anyway, it’s long been shown that the SNP’s voters include many who don’t like independence.
For sure, those decades of parliamentary elections were only indirect votes against independence – they were votes instead mostly for parties who oppose it. And this referendum was something qualitatively different – the question was, despite every attempt to attach party politics to it, purely about an issue.
But still. It’s not independence’s first setback, and perhaps it won’t be its last. So nothing’s changed. We were living in a No world before, and we’ll live in it yet for the foreseeable future.
The question’s not going away though. For a start, this is a democracy. Just as defeated parties pick themselves up from an electoral bruising, reflect, reorganise and fight again a few years later, so the independence movement will do similar. No matter by how much it was rejected, the idea of independence has a moral and democratic right to continue to be explored and put forward.
And in any case, the movement for Yes – with a whopping 45% endorsement – cannot be put in a box now. Too many people have done too much work, conceived too many ideas, and persuaded too many others to simply disappear. A grassroots movement has been created beyond party politics that will not go away. Indeed those who believe in it will continue to do so with the same conviction, and the economic and social facts that underpin the case do not change with a No vote. Merely their acceptance has – for now – been rejected.
New research will be done. New arguments will be conceived. A new urgency may emerge. It may be some time before the question is put again, and yes it may never come to pass that a majority are ever persuaded at all. But this is a democracy. Minority views, even those defeated, are part of life.
Let me jump a moment through space, time and reality to the world created by Joss Whedon for his wonderful science fiction television series Firefly. If you’ve not watched Firefly, then close this webpage immediately, clear your diary for two days, buy the series and its follow-up film Serenity, stock the cupboards with easy food, switch on your DVD player, switch off your phone, then come back here when you’re done watching it all.
The scene: a huge space station. Our heroes, an assortment of former rebel fighters, mercenaries and fugitives, have briefly been caught up with by soldiers of the ruling Alliance. Their flight through space has always, thanks to their guile, cunning and a whole bagful of luck, kept them one or two steps ahead of the Alliance. Until now.
One by one, the motley band of shipmates are interviewed. Their leader, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, is not in a pleasant position when facing his interrogator. He is a former soldier with the Independents, an army who fought to keep the outer planets free from the rule of the Alliance-governed core planets. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out – Reynolds was one of the very few survivors of a failed last stand in the battle of Serenity Valley, which finally sounded the deathknell of the Independents’ dream and enabled the assertion of Alliance rule over the outer planets.
The interrogator taunts Reynolds by pointing out the irony that his ship, Serenity, was named after a battle where he wound up on the wrong side.
Without missing a beat, and with all the dignity he can muster, Reynolds responds calmly but defiantly with perhaps one of the greatest lines in the series.
"May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one." - Malcolm Reynolds #indyref
— Simon Varwell (@simonvarwell) September 19, 2014
Yes, the independence movement in Scotland may have faced its Serenity Valley this week. But that doesn’t convince me that the case for independence is the wrong one.
I’ve said before that there’ll be another referendum. The question won’t go away. I’m thinking we’ll rise again.