SO you though it was all over – Squire Cameron magnanimous in victory and a crestfallen Alex Salmond falling on his sword as First Minister and Nationalists’ clan chieftain, after No voters won by a convincing 10% majority to keep Scotland British.
But, if you imagine business would return to usual, you’d be daydreaming. Because the ‘afters’ of the Scottish referendum are already rumbling. And, what’s more, they’ll only worsen.
Salmond’s departure – he’ll quit in November at the SNP conference, though remain a member of Scotland’s parliament – was entirely predictable, even though he’d always denied defeat would force him to stand down.
However, the wee man was going nowhere until he put the boot into Cameron and Labour leader, Ed Miliband, vowing he’d ‘hold their feet to the fire’ if they didn’t deliver on the ‘staying home’ prezzies they’d promised if the Scots rebuffed independence.
The problem is Cameron immediately let the cat out of his goodie-bag, saying concessions would be tied to new rights for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, too…one of which would bar Scottish MPs in Westminster voting on English matters – answering the so-called West Lothian Question.
Miliband is understandably furious, because, should he win next May’s general election, what use will his 40 Jocks be in the House of Commons if he can’t legislate for the whole UK?
And there was me thinking the acrimony would be largely confined to north of the border, between the Yea and Nay camps.
The last fortnight of campaigning strongly suggested that, as the hustings degenerated into the bitterest, nastiest and most vindictive clash in modern, political history.
Many commentators claim the pivotal moment came in the second debate between the cocky, would-be laird of Scots and Better Together leader, Alistair Darling. Broadcast by the BBC, to my mind the audience were so brazenly pro-Yes, they sounded like the Nats’ vision of their promised tartan army.
Having been done up like a stuffed haggis in the earlier TV joust, Salmond turned the rematch into the verbal equivalent of a Saturday night brawl in a Sauchiehall Street boozer, as the quietly articulate Darling was outshouted by the baying mob.
From here on in the opinion polls went haywire – one overturning a No lead of 20-odd points into a Yes edge of plus six – as did many Nats’ nutters, intent on making the streets no-go areas for No proponents.
Melodramatically draped in saltire flags, pride and prejudice – against the despised English – were the home rulers’ battle cries and anyone defying the Braveheart call branded unpatriot.
So pro-No faithful were harried and harassed, their meetings disrupted by gobby hecklers; Union sympathisers were cowed into keeping shtum; Miliband was forced to abandon a walkabout in Edinburgh; and, as threats peppered the air, Respect MP, George Galloway – no cringing violet when vitriol is flying – claimed he was ‘promised a bullet.’
‘This is Salmond’s Scotland,’ said the firebrand defender of Islam. ‘He’s responsible for this hysteria, but we have to keep hatred and violence out of this debate.’
Yet, despite the eyes of the world watching, any condemnation of the ruffians in his ranks was absent from Salmond, a man whose mouth rarely shuts.
Truth be told, winning at any cost was all that mattered to his Team Scotland. And, if it meant gloves off and Queensbury Rules be damned, anyone was fair game, especially the BBC’s Political Editor, Nick Robinson.
Allegations of intimidation came thick and fast from those in ‘fear of the consequences’ from the Little Scotlanders of the SNP government.
‘Stuff and nonsense,’ blustered Salmond, continuing, in the best traditions of a snake-oil salesman, to flog a panacea for all Scots’ ills, despite every shred of evidence contradicting his evermore outlandish claims.
Inflated with braggadocio, the First Minister brushed aside petty-fogging details, like the Bank of England vetoing an Anglo-Scottish sterling zone, no automatic entry into the European Union – underscored on Tuesday again by Spain – and his wee army being barred from NATO.
All Tory-orchestrated phooey, insisted Salmond, as billions flooded out of his future Xanadu, financial institutions made plans to scarper over Hadrian’s Wall, while retail bosses warned Scots faced skyrocketing prices in the event of independence.
But, while Salmond’s glib claims that what lay ahead was a Celtic Norway – egalitarian, inclusive, environmentally green, business-friendly and a bastion of peace – resonated with a sometimes volatile, mainly male constituency, women proved more sanguine.
Worried about prices and jobs, the lasses weren’t for reeling blindly into the great unknown and neither were many of the bairns, fresh-faced 16 and 17-year-olds, handed the vote by Salmond on a bet they’d back him.
They, too, were fearful, since many saw their futures south of the border, as millions of Scottish migrants had during three centuries of Union.
Salmond’s game was probably up a week ago, but it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact time when canny heads overcame passionate hearts.
That Scotland came so close to secession, however, should be an object lesson to the smug, Westminster elite, who only awoke last month to danger signals flashing red for the two years since Cameron gave Salmond a free hand to call the shots.
Why, for instance, wasn’t the big question ‘Do you want to stay in the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?’ instead of ‘Do you want an independent Scotland?’
As Sky TV pundit, Adam Boulton noted, ‘Saying yes is a lot easier than justifying saying no.’
And why – as many MPs ask – did the Prime Minister give Scotland’s chief mischief-maker so long to get his ducks in order, when a quick plebiscite would have guaranteed the Unionists an easier fight?
A further query exposes yet more Establishment folly: why was Darling, the last Labour Chancellor and a highly cerebral nice guy, tasked with taking on a bumptious tub-thumper like Salmond?
Fortunately for the Three Stooges – Cameron, his Lib-Dem sidekick, Nick Clegg, and geeky Miliband – cometh the moment, cometh the man, even if he was yesterday’s man.
It was only when that old bruiser, Gordon Brown, took a grip on the panicky Yes camp and infused real passion into it that traditional, but wavering Labour voters were hauled back from the brink of putting their Xs in the Yes box.
Britain has much to thank the failed Prime Minister for keeping the Union together and however good a bruiser Salmond is, he’s savvy enough to realise he more than met his match in Brown…and it was time to quit.