Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and a former Conservative & Unionist member of the Scottish Parliament.
It was close but the margin did not matter. It was a defeat. Greater Britain was now just, well, Britain.
Some five million Scots would in time no longer be called British. Some would claim to be British of course until their ashes were scattered across the glens, but their offspring would eventually lose all sense of what being a unified and fully-fledged member of the British Isles was really about. Not being part of it, not being in Team GB, meant that within a generation few Scots would feel or see themselves as British.
Those that thought they would continue to display their Britishness soon thought better of it. The low-level but persistent harassment of prominent No supporters, from the vandalising of cars to attacks against property and livestock saw many people leave. Some to the rest of the UK, many to shores further away.
The celebrations following the result were long and liquid-fuelled – not ending until the following Monday. It seemed the whole of Scotland was celebrating, but it was not. The 47 per cent that had voted No simply stayed indoors, while a few even thought it better to pretend they were Yessers than be cast out, identified with a black spot for evermore.
The No campaign had thought they had it in the bag, the momentum had returned to them in the last few days and the Clunking Fist of Gordon Brown was bashing up nationalist arguments like a T34 bearing down on Berlin. But nobody was listening and if they were they were already beyond caring. No heed was given to the question born of a sceptical rationalism that the Scottish enlightenment had brought to the world, this was about Jacobite romanticism, reliving Bannockburn 700 years ago, avenging the myths of Culloden, the Clearances, Ravenscraig, the Miners’ Strike – and the Poll Tax.
The turnout of 87 per cent had put the result beyond question. Sure, there were claims of personation of the living and the dead, of the invention of electors and the registration of non-residents – but so demoralised and so defeated was the No camp that seeking legal redress would only make them more unpopular. The result was conceded immediately, for they had been outplayed and outsmarted.
The outcome was as much about punching Lord Snooty on the nose, kicking the backside of Etonians and shouting “freeeee-dom!” painted in blue woad as it was about the new dawn of the egalitarian society that would be the new Scottish republic. A new dawn that was never to come.
On the Friday immediately after the vote, the Governor of the Bank of England issued a statement that Sterling would remain the currency of Scotland and the rest of the UK until negotiations on secession had been completed. But it was not enough. The run on Sterling was immediate and unrelenting; and the crisis threatened to engulf Treasury ministers who had made little in the way of plans for a Yes vote.
Eventually, nerves calmed as the currency reserves depleted – but it would be eight years until Sterling would recover to the same value against the dollar.
The banks came out to confirm their intentions about domicile. Noticing already the digital transfer by customers from their Scottish accounts to England, the stampede began. First Standard Life, then Tesco Bank, TSB, Lloyds and finally RBS confirmed over just one day that they would be registered in London rather than Scotland. It stemmed the flow of customers switching, but it immediately signalled Scotland would lose the banks’ Corporation Tax receipts. The tremors now began to be felt in Scotland itself.
Hasty conferences with unions and civil servants began to plan for austerity measures post-independence. Areas that had voted No were later to bear the largest brunt of the public sector axe.
Meanwhile both the commercial and domestic housing markets froze, pending contracts were suspended or withdrawn altogether. The devastation felt by the construction sector took six months to work its way through but employment levels began to decline and unemployment began to rise. The retail sector suffered collateral damage and shops began to close. Mortgages that were previously hard to come by were as scarce as a Hibernian Scottish Cup winner’s medal* and DIY stores were looking to rationalise. B&Q did not so much put up its prices, as it had warned, as halve its outlets.
All retailers – in an effort to compete with Lidl and Aldi – cut their ‘British’ prices from the savings made by no longer subsidising expensive distribution to Scotland, with some stores in the Highlands closing altogether. As professional and financial jobs evaporated or went south so Waitrose withdrew from the Scottish market altogether. Morrisons was especially exposed and a programme of rationalisation was forced upon them to satisfy investors.
Shares of companies with any connection to Scotland fell twenty per cent in a week, and the FTSE more generally suffered a collapse by 12 points in the same period. Concurrently, the constitutional crisis grew.
The Daily Mail went on the offensive immediately, calling for Cameron’s head. The Sun demanded the same the next day. The Daily Telegraph agreed, saying no Prime Minister could lose nearly a third of the land mass, ten per cent of the GDP and eight per cent of the population and stay in post. The analogy of Lord North losing America was constantly raised.
It was not enough that Cameron had fought a good campaign, better than Miliband or Clegg, or that he had no vote himself. It was Cameron that had negotiated and signed the Edinburgh Agreement – he agreed to the franchise that cut out 800,000 Scots in the rest of the UK, he allowed the question that gave the nationalists the “yes” answer, and he accepted the long campaign that gave control of the timing to the SNP government. His responsibility was there for all to see. Cameron knew the game was up when May, then Gove and later Hunt failed to publicly come to his cause.
Sensing that Ed Miliband was also under pressure for his abject campaigning and preferring a wounded premier in Downing Street, The Mirror concocted a half-hearted defence of Cameron. It was that embarrassing. Rather than rid themselves of the Labour leader the unions thought it better to wait until he was in in Downing Street and then, like Ken Livingstone famously did at the GLC, mount a putsch and replace him with someone more popular. Miliband therefore held on.
Faced with mounting pressure from backbenchers who had many axes to grind, Cameron fell on his sword and Hague was lobbied heavily to do the right thing for his party. It was only a full week after the result but there was now a new Prime Minister – and then a new Chancellor too. Hammond, eager to show his mettle in finances for the benefit of his long game had engineered a plot of his own and swapped posts with Osborne.
The next issue to surface as the clamour for retribution became unrelenting was the general election scheduled for May 2015. How could Scottish MPs be re-elected and be part of the authority to give their own assets away, how could they deal with the conflicts of interest? How could a possible swathe of Scottish Labour MPs form a government against the wishes of the rest of the UK – or how could SNP members (who might now arrive in greater numbers) possibly determine who governs – and who therefore negotiates with the SNP government in Edinburgh?
Emergency legislation was brought forward hurriedly and the general election suspended until July 2016, by which time the negotiations were expected to have been completed. Such was the turmoil amongst European nations who now feared the same unrest and destructive outcome for themselves that it remained to be seen if that deadline could be held. The Spanish repeated that Scotland would be vetoed from membership of the EU unless it accepted the Euro and a long list of demands – while others queued up to find their own levers to blackmail the Scots with.
March 2015 was the darkest month of all; after a short but mercifully painless illness Queen Elizabeth died suddenly to everyone’s shock. A fortnight’s mourning passed and was respected in Scotland. While Charles III was immediately proclaimed as King, Alex Salmond, ever the populist, said there must be a referendum to decide if Scotland should remain a constitutional monarchy or seek to become a republic. If it was the former there would a a Scottish coronation, if the latter a presidential election.
The campaign was as quick as it was sudden and resulted in another defeat for the old British establishment who were still recovering from the independence referendum. Why would anybody vote for Scotland to hold on to its last vestiges of British pomp? Why would anyone other than members of the Orange Lodge declare themselves in public for Britishness and for royalty – and not even Scottish royalty at that?
Prince Charles, too dignified and too embarrassed to seek an endorsement as if he was some sort of Obama or Hollande-like figure was out. The monarchy in Scotland was gone and the lairds and landowners trembled, for they new that in time they would be next, even if it meant the moors became barren and the land became even more desolate. It could be nationalised and given over to the RSPB in trust to save the Hen Harrier at the expense of the Grouse.
Meanwhile the negotiations for secession carried on. The Ministry of Defence let it be known it was in discussion with France to move its Royal Navy Trident submarines to Île Longue in the roadsted of Brest while all RAF operations had already been moved to bases in England and Norway.
There was still at least a year to go but the vultures were circling – not over Scotland, which was already imploding, but over the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland, the new truncated name that people were going to have to get used to.
*For the uninitiated, Hibs last won the Scottish Cup in 1902.