Kick Up The Tabloids

Declaration of Arbroath: low turnout sparks apathy fears

Scotland in autumn of 2013 is a nation standing at a crossroads. And the question on many people’s lips is “Did this not used to a roundabout?”. Some people, meanwhile, are muttering to themselves “we’ve been at this crossroads for a helluva long time”.

One year into the campaign, and with another year still to go, the biggest challenge for both sides in the referendum debate is maintaining the public’s interest for another twelve months. Opinion polls, as ever, fluctuate widely, depending on who commissions them. One bizarre poll this week suggested that 20 per cent of SNP voters could vote No on independence. Which suggests to me that a sizeable number of people tend to take the piss when questioned by pollsters.

In 2011, there was The Wedding, last year it was The Jubilee, this year it’s The Baby. The Duke of Edinburgh must be getting very worried about what they might be planning as 2014’s Big Royal Event.

However, consistent throughout most polls is the figure of 25 to 30 per cent who answer “Don’t know”. This can be interpreted in three ways. It can be interpreted as indecision, disinterest or “Piss off and mind your own business”.

If it is indeed apathy that really does dismay and surprise me. This is the most important question we will have been asked in three-hundred years and some people appear not to be that bothered. I asked an otherwise intelligent friend of mine what he thought on the subject, and his response was “Will we still get Match of the Day? If we’re only going to get Sportscene, I think I’ll vote No”.

In other countries people have gone to extreme lengths to try to gain freedom. Last year, two people in Tibet set fire to themselves as a protest against Chinese occupation of their country. Fair enough, plenty of people in Scotland set fire to themselves every year. However, it’s not normally done to make a political statement, it’s normally some poor guy trying to make chips after he’s got home from a night in the pub. Incidentally, during this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I actually managed to convince an American in my audience that Burns Night commemorated the victims of chip-pan fires. He recoiled in horror and exclaimed “And you people eat haggis to celebrate this?”.

“Of course we do,” I replied, “we could hardly eat chips. That would be really insensitive!”

Perhaps it has always been this way, perhaps people have always been apathetic throughout Scottish history. Who knows how many people sat on the fence at Bannockburn? Who knows how many people couldn’t be bothered to travel all the way to Arbroath just to sign a declaration? Possibly some people havered on about health and safety before deciding not to lend Flora McDonald their rowing boat. Who knows? Perhaps some people even changed channels or popped out to make a cup of tea half way through Archie Gemmill’s goal at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

I think the current mood of disinterest can be partly attributed to the fact that most people are still a bit unclear about the pros and cons of independence.

On the downside, it has been suggested that there might be border checkpoints at Carlisle. However, on the upside, there might be a duty-free shop at Gretna Services. On the negative side, as independent Scotland would not only make the Eurovision Song Contest even longer than it is already but make it even less appealing when our entry is chosen from a short list of Susan Boyle, Michelle McManus, Lulu, Sheena Easton and Marti Pellow.

However, on the upside, after the referendum, we can all look forward to another referendum. It has been suggested we may get a Yes/No vote on keeping the Royal Family in an independent Scotland. Surely, there would not be a mass of “don’t knows” for that referendum. Surely all the sycophantic media nonsense we had this summer about the Royal baby would be enough to force a healthy majority of Scots to vote against keeping the Monarchy.

In fact, it’s not only this summer we’ve had to put up with this fawning Royalist hullabaloo in the media, it’s becoming an annual event. In 2011, there was The Wedding, last year it was The Jubilee, this year it’s The Baby. The Duke of Edinburgh must be getting very worried about what they might be planning as 2014’s Big Royal Event.