Thank God, 2014 won’t go down as one of the constitutional dates that all children should know.
If the vote had been Yes, we would remember this year alongside 1066, 1603, 1688 and 1707. Those dates were building blocks in British history. A Yes vote would have been a step backwards, a great rip in the constitutional fabric of the country.
The referendum has exposed ugliness in some activists. But the extremely high turnout – and even those ugly actions – have shown how deeply people care about the constitutional framework of this country; on both the Yes and No sides.
The British often come across as apathetic about politics – you rarely see political graffiti the way you do in Greece and Italy. I used to think that meant Greeks and Italians has a more sophisticated understanding of politics. It actually showed their politics weren’t working well.
The referendum showed our politics aren’t working too well here, either. 20 years ago, Scottish independence was dead in the water. But devolution, an incompetent Labour Party in Scotland and the wily Alex Salmond revived the nationalist corpse.
The most powerful revival force was a general dissatisfaction with the state of modern politics. A plague on all your houses was the overwhelming feeling behind the new nationalism.
None of this will heal overnight. But here’s hoping the result will lead people to appreciate the paramount importance of our exceptional constitutional settlement that should – must – outlive and outrank temporary anger with our current crop of politicians.
The union is a gradual accumulation of political, royal, cultural, social and historical connections, built up over half a millennium. To cut that dense web of mutually beneficial links because of a brief moment of anger with a passing group of politicians would have been a tragedy of unparalleled degree.
There is a theory that the people always get it right: that the Tories deserved to win in 1979 and to go in 1997; that Labour were bound to fall in 2010. The theory doesn’t always work – yesterday it did, in spades.