The English speaking peoples have a good record on healing divisions. It is worth remembering this as we enter the post Scottish Referendum period, after a serious debate upon issues which in many cultures would inevitably have brought out serious tribal bloodshed.
At the conclusion of the American Civil War, Union soldiers lowered their flags in respectful acknowledgement of noble adversaries, and shared their rations with Robert E Lee’s weary army when it surrendered at Appomatox Courthouse, Lincoln himself ordered his army musicians to play once again the merry tune ” I wish I were in Dixie” which he declared he always loved.
In Europe after the Second World War, Churchill urged the French to take Germany by the hand, to lead her back into the comity of nations.
More recently, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness amazed people on both sides of the Ulster conflict by sitting and jovially chuckling like old friends as soon as the peace accord was signed.
As Alex Salmond stands down as leader of the Scottish National Party, he will reasonably and properly be acknowledged as having fought a good and effective campaign. It may be that like George Wallace, a politician he partly resembles, his pugnacious rhetoric, his populism and his ebullient self confidence, will mask his real achievement which is to have changed national politics beyond his immediate objectives and concerns.
There is however, a serious risk in this post referendum period. It is the risk of the false narrative.
After the American Civil War, there was a false narrative that ” the South will rise again”: it led directly to the Ku Klux Klan.
After World War One, Germany developed a false narrative that the Imperial Army had not been defeated but had been “stabbed in the back” by defeatist politicians, war profiteers and not least ” the Jews”. This led to Hitlerism.
In Ulster the reality was that the IRA were defeated militarily. Additionally, US President George W Bush’s “War on Terror”,post 9/11, denied the IRA the support of America, which had sustained it for decades. It was not politic to say this, and this led in due course to the false narrative of the “Real IRA ” that there is a prospect of re-opening Irish unification by force.
We need to be mindful of these historical precedents in the post referendum period. Much of the “Yes Campaign” was driven by emotion and that is especially susceptible to disappointment and disillusion. Already there have been a few expressions of anger, suggesting that other means should be grasped as the ballot denied them their birthright.
If we are to manage the more foolish expressions of disappointment we cannot be too sentimental about Alex Salmond’s legacy. He may have changed UK politics forever by bringing forward English consciousness, and a serious return to the resolution of the West Lothian question. That was not however his intention.
He wanted Independance and failed to secure it.
He and supporters are already offering explanations.
It was the fault of the ” Westminster Elite”, the “Establishment”, ” bullying Big Business” ” the Media” and many others .
This is all a diversion, and it is important that the reason for the ” No vote” is stated plainly.
On each of the big issues – the currency, EU membership, NATO membership – Alex Salmond offered no hard edged solutions, but only jokes, charm, and bombast. He had years to prepare his answers, he knew the issues, the date of the election and what his opponents would ask him, yet he still flopped and had no coherence in his case. There is no other reason for his losing: it is important that those in the public eye don’t let the SNP forget this.