If I were to close my eyes now, I could see parts of the map of Scotland! The familiar points of reference include Dundee, Arbroath, Kirkcaldy, Aberdeen, Aviemore, Perth, Dumfries and Edinburgh. But they are not solely dots on an abstract Google map: for me, they are also places I have been associated with over many years. After all, I completed part of my post-graduate law studies in Scotland, taught there for a while, lobbied both Parliament and City Council on behalf of the Armenian genocide and of course attended fun-filled ceilidhs, Hogmanays and many a Burns Night. No surprise then that the recent referendum was so interesting in gauging the spirit of the wonderful Scottish people!
One error of judgment that the outgoing First Minister committed was being lured into a binary-type 'yes' or 'no' referendum. I am sure most of Scotland would have opted for the 'Devolution Max' option had it been available. But that is politics and the 'Better Together' campaign won decisively. So the matter has been settled for now.
Or has it?
It all depends on how politicians at Westminster respond to this victory. If the pledges made to the people of Scotland - and they were fast and furious during the last days before the referendum when the outcome was very much in the balance - are honoured rather than diluted or spun, I believe that Scotland would remain part of the Union for the foreseeable future. But if those same politicians living in the anaerobic bubble at Westminster were to default on those pledges and prove that they - alongside Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling - welshed on them, we can surely start the countdown for a new standoff. Granted, it will not be with Alex Salmond but it could well be with Nicola Sturgeon.
The Union of the Parliaments took effect as far back as 1 May 1707. As the historian Simon Schama once suggested, "What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world ... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history." But Scotland was not necessarily a willing partner. Its union was dictated largely by the financial woes facing it: on the day the treaty was signed, the carillonneur at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh rang the bells to the doleful tunes of Why should I be so sad on my wedding day? Threats of widespread civil unrest resulted in Parliament imposing martial law.
It is also quite telling how the polls revealed that the younger generations voted in favour of independence whilst the older voters preferred to 'play it safe' and stay in the Union. I have a lot of faith in Scotland and I even think they could have made it on their own if they had been willing to take a risk. After all, smaller, less populated and much poorer or under-resourced countries have acquired independence successfully too. Nonetheless, I am not unhappy that the Union has been preserved - warts and all - so long as promises are not reneged or trade-offs introduced into the deal. The long-term consequence of this referendum should be a more federalist system that gradually takes over not only in Scotland but perhaps also in the rest of the United Kingdom. Mind you, this will be a slow process and it does not mean fragmentation. But it is tantamount to a healthy form of decentralisation away from the London-centric and self-obsessed political philosophy that has ruled over us for centuries and that could unleash the huge potential of this country.
I phoned a friend and colleague from Edinburgh yesterday to have an ex post facto chat about a referendum that was hash-tagged universally as #indyref or #ScotlandDecides. HB (let me use his initials) had voted 'No' after some soul-searching, but we both felt sorry for the First Minister who looked so dejected in his car as he left Aberdeen for Edinburgh to concede defeat. After all, he is the man who took over the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) when it was nothing more than a mere lobbying group and turned it into a leading political party for Scotland.
But I believe that Alex Salmond will still find his own place in history. He has always been a political gradualist and I would argue that what he has now set into motion is a process that cannot be undone or tucked away. After all, is the flag of Scotland not also known as Saint Andrew's cross after the apostle Andrew who is the patron saint of Scotland? Andrew was also the Prōtoklētos, or the First-called, in the Orthodox tradition and is reputed for his bravery and valour.
So as men and women who are proud of our country and its traditions, will we also have the courage to take on this challenge and move away from a narrow centre and into multiple political hubs?Suggest a correction