Will N-O really spell “better together”?
It’s No. And now I feel rather sad that the edgy uncertainties suggested by Yes will not be explored. Well, not with the same freedom and sense of purpose that a Yes mandate would allow. In part the No (“thank you” didn’t really soften the blow) campaign – although ultimately the winner – has been blighted by the word’s connotations. The word “no” is a bit of a spoilsport: “No, you can’t have more cake”; “No, I won’t join you in a glass of wine”; “No, I can’t help”. “Yes” on the other hand opens up worlds of possibilities: “Yes, let’s explore”; “Yes, let’s make it happen”; “Yes!”
‘Yes’ opens up worlds of possibilities. ‘No’ comes with a whiff of judgement.
Even so, possibly one of the most overheard coffee-chat phrases is, “You must learn to say no”. But does “no” only get on the good podium by sleight of hand? Don’t we have a sneaking respect for people who over-commit? Aren’t we rather proud when we confess that “we’ve just got too much on”? Isn’t it a way of emphasising how willing we are to say “yes”; highlight that we’re positive people under siege because of our positivity? The ayes have it again.
“No” often comes with a distinct whiff judgement. As in: “not good enough”, “you’re wrong”, “I don’t fancy you”; or “they don’t know the meaning of the word no” – implying a person who’s pushy or ill-disciplined or just plain rude. In short, “no” is something we enjoy applying to others but not so much to ourselves (surely I’m not the only one who’s just nipping in for a prescription despite that sign?)
In a speech to the Scottish people just before the votes were cast, David Cameron said that “Independence would not be a trial separation. It would be a painful divorce.” Rhetoric, of course. Cameron was not just making a teary plea, but also a threat: do what I want or things will get nasty. Those of us who have been through divorce may well recognise the ploy – we’ve probably been guilty of using it and been on the receiving end of it. And, like so much rhetoric, it distracts from the real issue: a decision to give a marriage another go does not mean the sources of discontent or perceived grievances go away. They still need addressing.
Rhetoric distracts from the real issue: grievances still need to be addressed.
So, when my ex declared (about our then four-year-old), “I want to do her washing!” my terse response of, “you never have before” went for a row rather than a reconciliation. My ex was, I think, articulating a desire to be a hands-on dad – not just a visitor or add-on. Ultimately we tried to do our best for our daughter in tricky circumstances. Would it have been easier if we’d stayed together? Hard to say. Would we still have had to wrestle through the issues? Indubitably.
And there’s the rub: the referendum is a point in a process. Despite the fact that Scotland and England are still hitched, there are many contended bones that need a thorough picking over: the West Lothian question (originally raised in 1977 by Labour MP Tam Dalyell who pointed out that he could vote on matters affecting Blackburn, Lancashire but not those affecting Blackburn, West Lothian); fair distribution and management of assets (eg. Scottish North Sea gas and oil – as we know, wars have been fought over resources such as these), and treating all UK citizens fairly (education, benefits and NHS etc) spring to mind.
“No” is far from the end of the story. And this “no” is more edgy than most. Some edginess comes from not knowing quite how people will conduct themselves in the face of victory and defeat. As the weeks and months of post-referendum living unroll, it will be interesting to see whether “N-O” really does spell better together. I hope so.
A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser in October 2014