So, after two years of campaigning the people of Scotland have turned down the opportunity to become an independent country which is a member of the EU and NATO, has the pound as its currency and has the Queen as its head of state in order to remain in a union which is a member of the EU and NATO, has the pound as its currency and has the Queen as its head of state. In the end you could say that everyone could claim a victory of sorts - the No campaign won the argument and have kept Scotland in the United Kingdom however the Yes camp will feel proud that they managed to convince 45% of the country for withdrawal from the Union.
As well as both sides being able to claim some form of victory, both will also head off into the short and medium term with some new fears. For the No side, there is the realisation that almost half of their fellow countrymen and women feel disenchanted with the present constitutional arrangement. For the Yes brigade, there is the threat that the promises made by the leaders of the three main parties at Westminster for increased powers for Edinburgh (a tactic which might just have swung the referendum in favour of a No) might simply evaporate in the coming weeks.
Yes, the Scottish referendum was in many ways a triumph for both Scotland and the United Kingdom. It is no exaggeration to say that Scotland witnessed an explosion in grassroots organisation which culminated in the sort of voter turnout one was normally accustomed to reading of in Pravda. Yet it has equally been an advertisement for the strength and confidence of UK democracy. At no point did Westminster stand in the way of preventing a Scottish secession. When it looked as though a significant segment of the population north of the border wanted it, a Conservative-led government in London helped to facilitate a referendum that would allow them to leave the Union if they so wished. Contrast that with Madrid's present stance towards Catalonia (a stance which will only increase Catalan nationalism if you ask me) and the position of the UK government seems a wise one. But this referendum campaign has also caused a considerable degree of division. Just how deep and dangerous that division is was witnessed a few hours ago.
Last night, as tens of thousands of people crowded the streets of Belfast in the annual Culture Night carnival, a city on the British mainland was tearing itself apart amidst scenes of sectarian rioting. How things change. The city in question was, of course, Glasgow. Some of you might well say that compared to the rioting many of us were used to in Northern Ireland in days gone by the Glasgow skirmishes yesterday evening were a pretty tame affair. Others might point out that the events did not even close to approaching the ferocity of the riots in London and other English cities back in 2011. Nevertheless, the intensity of the violence is not the issue. Last night's scenes in Scotland's largest city are important in one major respect: that they happened at all.
The referendum has undoubtedly, in Glasgow anyhow, opened up a Pandora's box of sectarianism. For many years sectarianism in Glasgow was something which manifested itself primarily along sporting lines in the city's infamous Old Firm football rivalry. True, the city had its firebrand Protestant ministers and its rabble-rousing Irish Catholic nationalist-supporting elements but these type of folk were very much on the fringes; whatever colour the footballing loyalty of a working-class Glaswegian might have been, his or her political loyalty was very much a deep red. This has changed in recent years. Scottish Catholics, once a solidly pro-union community that feared an independent Scotland would be a Protestant Scotland, have shifted in the direction of nationalism. What we witnessed last night in Glasgow was effectively the template for Ulster-style conflict (Catholic nationalism vs Protestant unionism) transported across the Irish Sea and dropped slap-bang into Glasgow city centre. We are not in the middle of a major crisis, but it should act as a warning shot.
The referendum campaign has finally disturbed and woken up something that has been bubbling under in Scottish society (primarily the Glasgow and western region) for many decades. This is not the fault of Alex Salmond or the SNP or the Yes Scotland campaigners, nor is it the fault of the opposing side either. The national question had to be confronted in Scotland. It was unavoidable. However, in doing so it was always going to be the case that sectarian tensions might just be triggered. Clearly we should not over-exaggerate the situation - this is not some Glaswegian equivalent of Bombay Street in 1969. However, neither should it be ignored or brushed off as a mere aberration. Just a few months after more than 10% of Scots voted for UKIP and thereby thrust anti-immigration politics into the mainstream, we do not want to run a similar risk of letting old school religious sectarianism get dragged in shortly after that.
Aside from the sectarianism, there are other more straightforward divisions between those that supported independence and those that did not. I do not live in Scotland so my only way of judging the mood of the general public is based primarily on two things which are not always extremely reliable: social media (mainly Twitter) and radio phone-in shows. In the space of the past 24 hours two distinct trends seem to be developing. Amongst the No side there is a sense of triumphalism and a very clear desire to rub the opposition's nose in it; amongst the Yes supporters you get the impression that they view those that voted against independence as being weak and somehow less Scottish than them.
All of which leads me to conclude that if I have learned any lessons from this referendum campaign it is that 'civic nationalism' is nonsense and that the left must stop pretending that nationalism and internationalism are compatible with one another. For a long time I have believed that Scottish nationalism, along with that in other places like Quebec or Catalonia, has represented a different brand of patriotism to the ethnic nationalism that was responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in the Balkans back in the 1990s. It was not that I agreed with them or found them attractive, I just did not believe that they had any more of an ugly underbelly than, say, liberalism or green politics. This new nationalism was, I thought, generally safe. It lacked aggression, it was non-threatening, it was about the economy and self-government and at heart an argument in favour of people managing their lives in smaller, more democratic communities. Except it isn't really about that. When it comes to the crunch the new nationalism is simply the old variety with a better PR operation behind it.
Scottish nationalism might never kill thousands in the way that the Serbian or Croatian varieties did but it still has the effect of splitting workers on an issue unrelated to class politics. Make no mistake, this is not a unionist argument I put forward here. I am not arguing that small nationalism is bad but big nationalism is good. Neither is desirable. Spanish nationalism is not in any way superior to Basque or Catalan nationalism. French nationalism does not trump Breton or Corsican nationalism. Belgian nationalism is not better or worse than Flemish nationalism.
That some on the left chose to put themselves on the side of flag-waving goons of all hues for the duration of this campaign is sad, though not entirely unpredictable. What we leftists and progressives should really be struggling for in 2014 is not the creation of yet more new countries nor the reinforcing of old borders but something much more imaginative and exciting than that which was offered by the Better Together and Yes Scotland campaigns. In short, that means breaking out of the straitjacket of nation state politics and putting forward a radical, democratic socialist case for federalism in Europe.
Someone once observed that the workers of the world have no fatherland. He was right you know.