For the final two weeks of the campaign the referendum rages with relentless fury across Scotland, battering and bullying like a fierce winter storm. Politicians gust from media conference to meeting venue to walkabout, blowing in one direction then another, fear stories flying like guided missiles, rebuttals defiantly mouthed in the teeth of the howling gale.
Then the wind changes direction, blowing around celebrity faces with a cajoling softness yet with bitterness beneath the surface, and smiles initially bright for cameras till frustrated sighs escape like wind crackling dry leaves. Assertions sweep through the treetops, shredding foliage, while gale force blasts trumpet meaningless soundbites, and malformed cudgels pound and pummel. The green leaves of democracy are buffeted mercilessly against a stone wall.
In a new phase, mere days before the big day, the wind abates and sweeties are offered with a broad, extravagant sweep of clenched fist and arms. The pompous pied piper struts and swaggers, waves a black plastic bag to seduce waverers, scowl switching to dark smile, switching to glower. Ignore him, the bag’s full of stale air, warn many, heads shaking. Rubbish, insist others, jumping up and down with unfettered glee. It’s sweets. Can’t you see, the bag’s full of lots of lovely sweets.
No one is certain of the flavour of the sweets, whether marshmallows that will melt away on the tongue, caramels to lengthily chew, or brightly coloured boilings to suck and see what they taste of, and whether their centres are hard or soft.
The broadcast media joins in the frenzy, flaunting the black plastic bag with edge of seat elation. It’s sweets, shout interviewers, grins splitting makeup thick as plaster casts on refashioned faces. It’s definitely sweets, asserts newsreaders, voices rising in praise like a choir of squeaking mice. Lovely squishy, chocolatey sweets.
The printed media swells the euphoria, journalists frothing like whipped fondants on front pages, guaranteeing a pick and mix selection so delicious it will set tastebuds tingling. Look, a Vow, signed and sealed. Guaranteed. We’ll even provide a timetable at no extra charge, a timetable setting out the days on which you’ll receive additional rations of sticky toffees, maybe even extra tangy peppermint creams as well. If you’re very good and vote No, that is. Roll up, roll up. All the sweets that can fill this black plastic bag. Guaranteed, of course. That’s our Vow.
In the early hours after the great clashing climax, the storm abates and slinks away, leaving discarded rubbish heaped in corners, faded leaves reminiscent of forlorn hopes scattered on the late summer grass. The great typhoon of fear and negativity had propelled No to reverse a Yes lead in polls and wins by 54% to 46%. For a day there is a lull, an eerie quiet, misty and unreal in which everyday sounds become muted, and shapes blur, shift and change oddly before blinking eyes. Black clouds, dark and menacing, edge across the sky, jettisoning their cargo of moisture, brooding rivers of tears to soak the stony ground.
The next again day the bruised clouds drift off across the North Sea, leaving the sky leaden, the air chill. Autumn leaves flutter in a sporadic breeze. Between washed-out clouds an occasional glimpse of watercolour sun streaks grey buildings with a hint of hope, and adds a gleam of life to waves in the Forth and lazy ripples in numerous garden ponds.
54% to 46% — not sufficient margin for the storm to completely die. In the following few days a thistledown breeze springs up, fans hopes as well as embers of anger fed by memories of campaign rhetoric. The breeze freshens as the days pass, blowing leaves into a merry dance, twirling and twisting, enticing the ever-hopeful to trip along pathways and roadways, jigging not to the tune of the pompous pied piper, but to three other party faces. Crowds flock behind them, numbers doubling, tripling to create a vibrant new force.
Now, as the wind stirs leaves and shakes the branches of shrubs and trees, flaps flags and makes sails of banners, people again gravitate to places where they had come together a few days earlier in expectation and excitement. Muted whispers and mutterings grow louder, stronger, ask with curt sighs about the sweeties. Where are the promised sweeties? What kind are they?
Sweeties, what sweeties? The question comes like a bolt of lightening. There are no sweeties. The black plastic bag was empty. Ha, ha, ha. We have a few ounces of liquorice bootlaces in a paper poke, past their sell-by date, of course, but you can have those.
The wind flexes its muscles, growls like a caged animal, shaking leaves from trees to send them whipping round legs and ankles like decorated manacles. We want sweeties, demands the chorus. You promised us sweeties. The wind screeches along streets and around buildings, delivering the message that any sweeties are being kept for others more deserving. Take the liquorice bootlaces, and think yourselves lucky.
But the pompous pied piper promised us— A harsh laugh echoes through the air as a cloud obscures the sun and the wind becomes chilly. He’s gone, spits the voice. Vanished. We didn’t like his magic. His sleight of hand tricks were not to our taste.
But it wasn’t a trick. The pompous pied piper guaranteed lip-smacking new sweeties. The reply comes with a cold sneer. He’s no pied piper, that one, he’s a failed magician, ousted from the club, dontcha know.
Anger burns. But you promised too, all three of you. You made a Vow, published it. A chuckle like breaking glass cuts the afternoon air. Calm down, dears, if it’s tricks you want we have tricks of our own — sawing stuff in half; making promises, pledges and vows disappear with the wave of a hand; pulling pounds from top notch hats to fund important things we really want to do.
People circle, shuffle feet, push leaves into heaps with the toes of dusty shoes. Wave upon wave of people stir themselves, become animated. Sweets can wait for another day. Meanwhile, along the road, not far off, is a place that sells hot chocolate. We’ll move off in that direction, they decide. Then, afterwards, we’ll dig out our grannies’ greasy-fingered cookery books, and look up recipes for homemade tablet. When enough of us make it we can open a shop, expand, franchise it, export to the world, and then…
The shout of onwards and upwards billows into the bright autumn sky.