So, I’m back.
I am not the greatest fan of Bernard Ponsonby but just over a month back he observed that those who believed that the Independence Referendum would dominate the public discourse in Scotland between now and 18th September did nor appreciate the impact of the World Cup.
He was right.
By virtue of the Summer break I saw the World Cup in three different Countries. Or, if you prefer one view of Scotland’s status, four different countries.
Having left my own Country/Countries after the group stage, I saw the round of 16 and most of the quarter finals while with Andi’s family in Hungary. I then saw both the semis and the final itself in Italy.
The final I saw on a big screen in a square in Rome in the company of the citizens of many nations but most prominently, and understandably, of those of Germany and Argentina.
Sportingly, there was no love lost. Afterwards the Germans drank (even) more publicly in celebration while the Argentinians drank (even more still I suspect) privately in grief. But during the event there was a strange kind of love. Love of “il calcio” certainly but also love of an event that could bring so many nations together in a moment of mutual interest in ninety or, as it transpired, one hundred and twenty minutes.
For the World Cup probably sums up more than any other event that the world is shrinking. That German fans would be as well informed of the constant diligence of Mascherano or the faltering form of Messi as the Argentinians were of the fortuitous absence of Khedeira or the potential danger of underestimating the German’s one extra rest day if the game went to extra time.
And when Klose was taken off for the last time in a World Cup, it wasn't just everyone in the stadium who applauded his final departure from the field, it was everyone in that square in Rome. And I suspect everyone in hundreds, thousands, of similar locations across the world.
The next day I was home.
To a country where, in the aftermath of the world coming together, some still seemed anachronistically determined to see reasons for putting us all once again apart.
Except that for all Bernard claimed that nothing would change during the World Cup something seemed subtly to have changed. The Nationalists had realised they were going to get beat. And that this was all the fault of the electorate.
I could cite any number of such pieces from the press or the blogosphere but they all share common themes. A bitterness towards the people of Scotland. Somehow we are not worthy of all the poems written and faces painted in the cause of “freedom”. Surely any true patriot would be unconcerned with the economic technicalities? That they would if necessary be prepared to starve for their flag? Self determination is a wonderful thing but only if it is exercised in a particular way. Class politics must, at least for the moment, step aside in the interests of “the nation”. Most bizarrely of all, that after 18th September, the SNP will enjoy a benefit from losing while the Labour Party will pay a price for winning.
For prominent examples over the last few days you need only look to Joyce McMillan in Friday’s Scotsman, Neil Ascherson in today’s New York Times or Stehen Maxwell in the New Syatesman. Perhaps at its most grande guignol, this piece by Peter Arnott in Bella Caledonia.
There are two iron rules of democracy. The first is that when the voters have spoken, the voters have spoken. And the second? That the voters are always right.
I have written before about the parallels between Yes Scotland and the Labour Party of the early eighties. Then, even more fully packed and self satisfied rooms of the same people on different, sometimes every, night of the week wore different hats and titles as the occasion demanded. The platform on a Tuesday, the audience on a Wednesday, the Committee on a Thursday. Convincing themselves of their own certainty while the wider public looked on askance. Initially with disinterest and then, as that public inreasingly found themselves accused of lacking appropriate sympathetic zeal, with ever more certainty that those so fanatically engaged with politics were not quite "like them".
Yet, as the prospect of inevitable defeat sinks in it seems to me that the Nationalists have learned nothing from that earlier political period. Post 1983 there was a brief fashion for badges bearing the message “Don’t blame me, I voted Labour”. It certainly allowed us (and I readily concede I was one of “us”) a degree of comfort but as to persuading those who had not voted Labour? That accusing them of stupidity or, worse still, personal responsibility for what then followed was unlikely to win them over? That lesson took a longer time to learn. Arguably a full further fourteen years.
That wiser heads in the SNP have not always had an eye to at least the possibility of defeat is almost inconceivable but whether they will learn from it what they might need to survive; an acceptance of the result and an avowed determination to get on with the proper governance of Scotland for the next eighteen months? That is more difficult to call.
For the victors it will certainly be amusing to watch.