And so our watch is all but over. Who knows what comes tomorrow but at least and at last the final reckoning is upon us. It is choosing time and there’s no escape. Few people would wish the campaign any longer. Many voters tired of it some time ago. Their minds were made-up and would not change and they just wanted to move on to the next story. Whatever it may be.
But I can’t agree with the people who fret that this has been a nasty and divisive and awful experience. It hasn’t. I mean, of course it’s been divisive and of course passions have been running high but that’s because it matters. You can’t have a non-divisive referendum. This is a good thing I think and I think this is an argument we’ve needed to have. If not now, when? At some point certainly, for it could not be delayed forever.
Sure, tempers have frayed in recent days and there’s been an uptick in boorishness and bampottery but, look, it remains the case that this has been a good and decent and civilised campaign. The War of Murphy’s Egg was really barely a skirmish. It has been a carnival of a kind we’ve not seen in British politics for a long, long time.
And, gosh, I can’t count the number of times British hacks and politicos have wished our politics could have something, even just a tinge, of the epic confrontations we enjoy watching on the other side of the Atlantic. Why can’t we have a political circus like that? Well, guess what? We do. We’ve been having precisely that kind of circus in Scotland this year.
Perhaps you should be careful with your wishes. Because it seems to me that many people who admire the cut and thrust, the rough and tumble, of American politics seem faintly horrified when they discover this kind of politics closer to home. Oh my giddy aunt, isn’t it desperately divisive and squalid and ugly and stupid?
Of course it is. How could it be otherwise when the stakes – the fate of a nation, the future of four countries – are so high? What else do you expect when the future hangs in the balance? This is neither the time nor the place for simpering hand-wringing. In any case, it misses the wood for the trees. There has been something stirring about this argument as the people quietly, solemnly, consider their choice. Democracy, eh? Bloody hell.
It is true that only one side wanted this fight but, as I say, it’s a battle that could not be delayed forever, not least because even a No vote does not end the story. It merely opens another chapter, one in which the future and more sensible governance of the United Kingdom can, at last, be addressed.
Tomorrow, in a neat coincidence, is the centenary of poor John Redmond’s greatest achievement: the final passing of an Irish Home Rule bill. That accomplishment was crippled by the Kaiser’s War and there is a sense in which the impact of two world wars and the consequent post-war “settlement” froze British constitutional history for the best part of 80 years. As so often in Britain new things are just old things refreshed. Today’s conversations – and those that will follow a No vote – are variations on debates we had before the First World War. The future is multiform and infinite.
It is serious too. That’s the other thing about this debate: it is not flippant or done lightly. No-one who has been in Scotland these past few months, I think, can fail to have been impressed by the passions this debate has stirred. I know people who have taken leaves-of-absence from their work to devote themselves full-time, unpaid, to the campaign. I know people who are personally responsible for registering hundreds of new voters. I know of people who, though terminally ill, made sure they still cast their postal votes. Some of those people have not lived to see the outcome. It matters, all of it, and it has been quietly impressive.
And today, above all today, I’m reminded of those who never got the chance to vote. Today’s the anniversary of the death of a good friend whose absence from the debate has been a matter of some personal sorrow.
Tommy Tonner was a Lanarkshire man, born and bred. He had all the virtues of his native county. He was as cussed as he was loyal, as passionate as he was thrawn. Hard-edged and tender-hearted. His personal life was often chaotic, even shambolic, and if he had many of Lanarkshire’s virtues he had a healthy share of its traditional vices too.
We miss him greatly. He was a man who could scarcely hear an argument without needing to interject “Aye, but hang on a minute…” There was a lot of “That’s baws” with Tommy. That made him a stern critic of his own side as well as a fierce defender of his companeros’ common faith.
Many people have been on a “journey” in Scotland recently. Tommy, in all the years I knew him, never made that kind of journey. He was always a Scottish Nationalist. Implacably, resolutely, nothing-will-change-my-mind, nationalist. And that was fine.
He kept a little list of 20 people whom he felt needed to be persuaded to vote Yes. If he got 12 of them, he said, he knew Yes would win. I was on the list. I feel a little guilty about letting Tommy down (but only a little). That’s the way it goes. Sometimes we must disappoint our friends, even if that means defying their final instructions. I wish Yes could win one more vote than it will tomorrow. I wish Tommy, who did his bit to haul the SNP uphill, could have seen the view from the mountaintop.
They remain our friends, you know. We are a house divided this week but still a house. I know of many families split down the middle and you will know many more too. Many marriages in which one party will vote Yes and the other No. Households in which tacit agreement has been reached that We will not talk any more of this. Places in which victory comes at a price and where defeat offers only flimsy consolation.
There will be a deep sadness in many places if Scotland votes Yes and, in other parts, some raging disbelief if she votes No. How could it be otherwise? This may be a wee country but the matter of Scotland is nothing small. Some folk will leave if we vote Yes and that, I think, will be a great pity. Others will react poorly to a No vote but at least cling to the consolation that losing a battle is not the same as losing a war. The nationalists have known defeat before and coped; they can do so again. Their faith will remain. It will be harder, I think, for Unionists to accept the song is over.
But hatred? Real hatred? How can we really hate our opponents? We may think them sorely mistaken but we can also agree – if we try to remember to do so – that they are not motivated by baser motives than we are ourselves. They are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. Our neighbours too. To hate them is in some sense to deny a part of ourselves.
In that respect we really are all in it together. Today, tomorrow and Friday too. Come what may. Be not afraid. It is, probably, going to be fine. The little white rose of Scotland, so small and sharp and sweet, will still bloom.