They may have won the campaign, but the Yes campaign didn’t win the night. As Midlothian delivered a thumping victory for No at four am, the hopes of the enthusiastic independence campaigners finally died. In the cavernous BBC headquarters at Pacific Quay in Glasgow, there was jubilation amongst the unionist commentators and Labour politicians as they declared that the United Kingdom had been saved.
But the celebration was muted. There will be few street demonstrations even though this is arguably the most important single vote in the three hundred and seven year history of the UK. . In spite of themselves, even among many unionists, there was a sense of deflation. After all, for two weeks Scotland had commanded the attention of the world. It may never command that attention ever again. It was – to used the cliché – the end of another auld sang.
Why did this colourful and energetic Yes campaign fail at the final hurdle? Well, clearly, the silent majority had, paradoxically, the last word. There may have been queues of eager Yes voters lining up at the polling stations before they opened yesterday at seven am. But the “shy nos”, those undecided voters, kept their own counsel. They arrived later in the day, with little fanfare, slightly cowed, but just as determined.
So what happened to the great momentum? It seemed as if the campaign was a repeat of the sensational result of the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election, where the SNP came from more than ten points behind in the polls, and managed to win a landslide majority – a majority that made this referendum inevitable.The No campaign managed to squander a 22 point lead in the opinion polls within a month. Had Alex Salmond managed to work his electoral magic once again?
Well, no clearly he had not. The deep anxieties about independence particularly among many middle class Scottish voters, prevailed over the happiness agenda of the Yes campaign evangelists. The hard realities of running an independent economy without a currency union seemed just too severe. Many Scots were for independence in their hearts, but their heads said something rather different.
If the rest of the UK had carried out its threat to deny Scotland use of its own currency, the pound, the new Scotland would begin life with financial instability and flight of funds. At least that was the picture painted by the Unionists and reproduced daily on the pages of the unionist press. Viewed from the point of view of many sober Scottish voters, independence looked like economic madness.
We may laugh at the intemperate indyref scares and fears. The ludicrous claim that a vote for independence could spark another Great Depression. But to less sophisticated readers – and remember that most Scots still get much of their information from the conventional rather than social media, this just looked like an irresponsible risk Why would anyone vote for higher food prices, higher mortgages etc.
But there was another factor that turned the tide against the Yes campaign. The last minute intervention of Gordon Brown, a politician who rediscovered himself in this campaign provided reluctant No voters with a plausible justification for rejecting independence. The last minute Vow, pledging retention of the Barnett Formula, no cuts in NHS spending, a constitutional guarantee of more powers etc was hugely important in turning the tide.
After all, most Scots have always said that they did not want to leave the UK, and just wanted a parliament with economic powers. These were the ‘disenfranchised majority’ who found that devolution max was the one option they could not vote for. But in the dying panicky days of the campaign, the UK political establishment put devolution max back on the ballot paper. Promising that a bill will be prepared by January to introduce what Gordon Brown called “the nearest to federalism that is possible in an unbalanced union”.
We will see whether that promise is ever delivered. But for the time being there is only one thing we can say for certain. Scotland will not be an independent country.