It hurts to see a dream extinguished. It hurts a lot. It’s taken me a few days to start to regain my equilibrium and it will take a lot longer to fully absorb what happened last Thursday.
I believe Scotland is the only country ever to have rejected independence. Even the women of Switzerland who voted to remain unenfranchised made a less momentous choice. From where I stand it feels that we suffered a collective failure of nerve and imagination. Others, of course, would say that common sense prevailed, and they are unarguably the majority.
There are post mortems going on all over the place and I don’t intend to add to them. If a solitary egg was the one casualty of the campaign, no one has much to complain about – mutterings about vote-rigging and the disgraceful aftermath in Glasgow’s George Square notwithstanding. And if there were tensions, awkwardnesses, maybe even rifts among family, friends and colleagues, that was only to be expected, given what was at stake. My experience was that decency and moderation prevailed, from informal conversation to canvassing, polling station to counting centre. I have No-voting friends who have been in touch in the last few days with messages of sympathy, perhaps even condolence – that is a little what it feels like, and I’m truly grateful to them.
There is only one misperception I would wish to correct. I fear nationalism of the ethnic, Braveheart, call-it-what-you-will variety as much as anyone and I am certain that for the vast majority of Yes voters the referendum had nothing to do with that. If there was any sense of tribalism, it was the inevitable consequence of the exceptional, binary choice we were faced with; but it was not to do with any wish to differentiate ourselves from, or place ourselves in opposition to, our neighbours in England, even less so our English neighbours in Scotland. Attempts to introduce a racist dimension in the reporting of the campaign were beneath contempt.
I met many Yessers during the final weeks of the campaign – we had a particularly active group in our village and we canvassed widely in our part of the county. They were people of all ages and occupations, just like their No counterparts, and the predominant motivation among them was a belief that independence offers the only realistic means of addressing a fundamental inequality in our society. Argue with that if you like, but it was a belief sincerely and passionately held. Now we wait to see whether that belief will be vindicated by events, or whether real change will ensue.
As I write I am on a plane on the way to Andalucia to run our annual advanced Dark Angels creative writing in business course. Most of the students come from the south of England and we will doubtless end up talking about the referendum. It will be helpful to have the chance to tell the story, and to hear their versions of it. There will be many tellings and re-tellings in the weeks and months ahead, and each telling – and listening – will offer an opportunity for fresh insight. Seldom will there have been a better example of how there can be no one single truth about any event. In a small way perhaps these conversations will even fuel people’s creativity over the next few days in Spain.
One thing most people would agree on is that the creative energy unleashed over the last few months has been extraordinary: conflict and contradiction are powerful drivers in our lives. Art, writing, music, theatre, humour, political thinking, public debate, community activism, even simple conversation – the range of human activity invigorated by the campaign is breathtaking and it’s heartening to see how although the immediate conflict is past, the energy is still there and now looking for new channels of expression. Some of that will undoubtedly be political – witness the astronomical growth in membership of the SNP in recent days. Some of it will be artistic – my writer neighbour tells me he has already completed the first chapter of his referendum novel. Some of it will simply be about new, or deeper, connections. If the campaign caused division, it also gave rise to many new friendships and strengthened old ones.
Things will never be the same again. This has become the popular mantra since September 18. It’s a consoling thought for the Yes voter and a validating one for the No voter. For me, six days after one of the great disappointments of my life, it’s enough to start thinking that maybe the dream hasn’t been extinguished after all. How it will manifest, only time will tell.