The debate, one of the most dynamic I’ve ever seen, is over and voting is underway. In less than twenty-four hours we’ll know whether Scotland has voted for independence or not. Whether the ‘Stay Together’ campaign has done enough—just enough I suspect—to win, there really is no going back from the campaigns over the past two years. The choice is between the visionary ambiguities of the Yes campaign and the equally ambiguous pragmatism of those calling for retention of the Union. Given what most accept will be the closeness of the result, you have to ask what its democratic legitimacy will be. What the referendum has done is to expose a fundamental ideological fissure within Scottish society that will, despite the weasel words from both sides, be difficult to heal. I can’t see the two sides coming together in the immediate aftermath of the result however good natured the debate has generally been.
So, the referendum result may not be the end of the matter. There are some who argue that, if the result favours independence, the rest of the UK should have a referendum on whether or not to accept the negotiated solution. Now there is an argument for this especially as Scotland makes up less than 10 per cent of the total population of the UK and the result, whatever it is, affects all peoples in the UK. Why, some have already asked, should Scotland be given special status and advantages over the other constituent parts of the UK? The problem with a divorce is that, while the decision may be easy to make, working out the details of the split is always contentious and time-consuming. I can’t see that being achieved by March 2016. While the focus has been on whether there should be a monetary union between Scotland and the rest of the UK and what Scotland’s status will be in the European Union and NATO and what happens to Trident have long been the focus of debate, these are as nothing to untangling three centuries of Union. The negotiations will be political horse-trading—you let me have X and you can have Y—they always are. Pragmatic politics almost always trumps political vision—remember that politics is the art of the possible.