Alex Massie Alex Massie

Referendum rage

We know all too well how it feels when politics becomes inescapable. The rest of you are about to find out

In Scotland’s grittier pubs, a simple rule has long applied: no football colours and no talking about politics. With enough drink, talking about either can lead to violence — and pint glasses are expensive to replace. With an ordinary general election, the prohibition is easy to obey. The wrong buggers might well win, but they can easily be removed at the next election.

A referendum, however, is different. It’s not just temporary — it’s for life. And like life, it’s unavoidable. Socially, as well as politically, there is no hiding place. The Prime Minister is, it seems, experiencing the referendum effect for himself. He can quite happily chat to his opposite number in the Labour party (after all, if it weren’t for Jeremy Corbyn, the Tory civil war might prove ruinous) and he still takes a kindly interest in the remaining Liberal Democrats. But Tories who are fighting him over Brexit? They are beyond the pale. It’s reported that he struggles to make eye contact with them, so infuriated is he by their treachery.

Not that David Cameron will be the only person to discover this. As Scots can tell you, nothing plays havoc with your social life like a referendum. There’s nothing so galling as discovering someone you thought was One of Us is actually One of Them.

Some 97 per cent of eligible Scots registered to take part in the independence referendum, and nearly 85 per cent actually voted. It was all-consuming, all–encompassing, all-everything. In the aggregate this created something stirring: a nation solemnly weighing its own future and determining not just its own fate, but the future of the rest of the United Kingdom. The turnout showed how seriously Scots took their responsibilities as citizens. It was a democratic carnival of a kind none of us had previously experienced.

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