Alex Massie

Who will fill a coward’s grave? 100 Days to decide Scotland’s future

Who will fill a coward's grave? 100 Days to decide Scotland's future
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In the new Scotland people may be able to count. Until then we will endure nonsense like yesterday's hoopla claiming there were 100 days until the referendum when there were, in fact, 101.

Peevishness aside, the campaign now enters its final stages. Not before time, you may think. You would not be alone in reckoning so. For every person energised by the campaign (and many folk have been) there's at least one thirsting for it to end.

Not that it will, of course. If the Yes side wins more than 40 per cent of the vote (and especially it it takes more than 45 per cent) this thing will rumble on and on. Until, as one nationalist put it to me recently, "we win".

As matters stand - which is to say, if the referendum were held tomorrow - Scotland would vote No. Even the high heid yins in the Yes campaign admit that. But they cling to the hope that the No vote is soft. That Scots can be persuaded to set out on a fresh course. They insist there are many more undecided voters than people think, many people who are telling pollsters that they will vote No but secretly hanker for a reason to vote Yes.

Not so fast, pal, Unionists insist. The undecideds are much more likely to vote No than Yes. If you've not been persuaded to back independence yet what else can the Nationalists do to persuade you? Besides, senior Unionists say, many No voters are bashful types still in the closet. This, they think, is like 1992 all over again. Just as some people hesitated to tell pollsters they intended to vote Tory back then, so some Scots are reluctant to admit they're voting for the Union this September.

This is, admittedly, all fairly unknowable. It's true that in middle-class dinner-party Scotland no-one will look at you oddly if you announce you're voting No but I fancy there are some voters who kinda think it's a shame they're going to vote No and who wish to keep pretty quiet about it.

Of course there are, respond the wilder Nats. These people are suffering from Jockholm Syndrome. You couldn't be proud of voting No, could you and deep down you have to know doing so is an act of betrayal. Toom tabard and all that.

You won't hear that from the SNP leadership, of course. Nevertheless, in the end the campaign boils down to this: Are you for Scotland or against it? As a senior Yes Scotland source told me last week:

“The Unionist parties are trying to kill us off now because they’re worried about the last three weeks of the campaign.” [...] In the end, he says, the Yes campaign will frame the question simply: “A vote for Scotland or a vote against Scotland? A vote even against the concept of Scotland.”

You don't need to agree with this view to recognise its potential. You might think it a grubby piece of emotional blackmail but this isn't an inconsequential struggle. All the marbles are up for grabs. So I don't blame the nationalists for their tactics and nor, really, do I think their scaremongering desperately reprehensible. It's no more dishonest than much political campaigning.

Much of it, however, remains based upon a kind of category error. Here, for instance, is my old chum Kate Higgins:

It’s one hundred days to go until we choose our future.  To trust ourselves enough to be bold and brave and vote yes.  Or to be found wanting at the last, too timid, scared into submission, beaten down by all those stories, all that [scare] mongering and fail to grasp what is tantalisingly within reach.  A country, a sovereign state, a nation to call our own, to make of as we will.  The normalcy of being just like any other people, standing on our own two feet, taking and making all our own resources, all our own decisions for better and for worse, just the same as every other country.

Fair enough, you may say and I would agree with you. Kate's a nationalist making a nationalist argument. If you think like this then this is the way you think. But it's an argument based upon a number of questionable assumptions. The first is that Scottish people are presently stateless. Many nationalists earnestly believe this and assume rather too readily that everyone else must surely be chafing against the tyranny inadequacies of the British state too.

But this is not the case. Many Scots are entirely comfortable (and some are even happy!) with being British too. They do not view London as a foreign capital. They do not think being British is unusual or in some ways non-normal. They don't believe there's a contradiction between being British and Scottish and they don't think being part of the United Kingdom diminishes their Scottishness or makes them in any way lesser people than their neighbours who intend to vote Yes. They don't, that is, think the United Kingdom an artificial construct or some kind of irrational constitutional arrangement. Are they bothered? In the end, not really.

And when they hear nationalists talking about freedom and liberty they wonder what country the nationalists think they're living in. Unionists don't think themselves oppressed or marginalised or disadvantaged at all. In as much as they ever pause to contemplate these things, they actually enjoy being British as well as Scottish. Scotland is Britain, after all, for without Scotland there's a much, much lesser Britain.

Secondly, there is this assumption - widely held on the Yes side of Scotland's great divide - that if only people knew the facts or opened their eyes to the opportunities of independence everyone would rush to endorse the idea. Instead, all too many Scots are held back by fear. They lack pluck, boldness and bravery. Deep down they don't really trust themselves. They are the embodiment of the Scottish cringe.

Perhaps I exaggerate but only a little. The nationalists' certainty in their cause has always struck me as being a great strength and, like many strengths, a weakness. They know what they believe (good!) but often seem to lack the empathy required to understand why others might disagree(bad!). Which is why so many struggle to understand why so many of their compatriots might, in good faith, take a different view.

Put it this way: it is much easier to find Unionists who acknowledge there's a case for independence and that this case is not ridiculous than it is to find a nationalist who admits there's a perfectly respectable and even modestly persuasive case for the Union.

But of course there is, not least because all the evidence suggests a majority of Scots still favour Union. It seems improbable they can all be craven or captured by a cringing false consciousness. Improbable, that is, that a vote for Union must necessarily be irrational.

It's true that like many others I think the Better Together campaign could benefit from a touch more poetry. Nevertheless there's a reason they've not taken that approach. Their focus groups tell them that risk and uncertainty put people off the idea of independence. Why take the gamble when there's no need to put your life - and life savings - on independence?

Which is the problem for the Yes campaign. We could do this. Perhaps we even should do this. But must we do this? Not really. Every time nationalists talk-up Scotland's strengths (which are reasonably abundant) they remind wavering or unpersuaded voters that, actually, this is a punt they need not take. For most Scots life is pretty reasonable. Not as great as it might be, perhaps, but not so ghastly independence is the kind of high-risk, high-reward gamble that makes sense.

That may yet change. It may be that the people can be persuaded to take this gamble but I don't think it's obviously stupid to pause and say that actually we don't need to do this at all. Thanks but No Thanks.

Most of all, however, there is this problem for the nationalists: being part of the United Kingdom is by now perfectly normal. Sure, we might not vote for Union if the present constitutional situation were reversed. But it is not reversed is it? Which is why the burden of proof remains upon the nationalists and why, perhaps, they have not yet made their case to the jury's satisfaction. At least not yet which is why, with only 100 days to go, time is beginning to run out for the Yes campaign. They can still do this but the odds remain against them.