David Cameron may have won the election, but it’s for wrecking the Union that he’ll be remembered

He roused such resentment across the border that Scotland has made itself a virtual one-party state - to the crippling cost of Labour

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The Independent Online

At 10pm last night, when that head-spinning, heart-freezing, bowel-loosening exit poll flashed on to the screen, it felt as though you had slipped through a tear in the space-time continuum and into a parallel world. When we awoke this morning to discover that it hadn’t been a feverish nightmare, we were in a different country. Or more precisely, in two entirely different countries.

It will take a bit of time - five years or 10 - before the life support machine is formally turned off. But the Union died in the early hours, and no efforts at resuscitation - whatever rancidly hypocritical grand gesture David Cameron apparently means to make in the days ahead - can possibly revive it.

An unimaginable number of hours will be spent in analysing why the opinion polls (and idiots like me who trusted them) were so wrong, and when precisely it was that so many who told the pollsters one thing changed their minds. But even if the polling community concludes that the unseen late swing primarily came in ballot box conversions, I suspect the judgment of history will be this: the moment Cameron won this election came last September when, minutes after the announcement that the Scots had rejected independence, he made his nasty, acid little speech about English Votes For English Laws. He had come to a historic fork in the national road. He might have turned one way, and stretched out a magnaminous hand to Scotland. He might have said that he appreciated the passion of the Yes campaign, and how close to victory it had come. He might have reassured the Scots that he would recognise this by ensuring that their voice would be heard in Westminster, and respected.

The man who days before had seemed close to tears in Edinburgh when he claimed to “love my country much more than I love my party” could have said that he would devote himself to ensuring that Scotland felt no urge to vote on independence again for a very long time.

Rather than stretch out that hand in friendship, he used it to slap the Scots in the chops by taking refuge, for short-term party political gain, in crude and petty nationalism. The tactical beneftis for the Conservatives, we now know, were twofold. He roused such resentment across the border that Scotland has made itself a virtual one-party state to the crippling cost of Labour (which takes a minority share of blame itself, of course, for having taken Scotland for granted and treated it like a provincial fiefdom for so long). But he also laid the ground for the hysterical narrative about the savage Scots storming across the border and marching on Westminster that  played a significant part in his win.

Although the question of legitimacy will not dominate a post-election scrap for control of the House of Commons, it it has not vanished. It has shifted 400 miles to the north. In what imaginable way will the Scots, with 56 SNPs out of 59, regard it as legitimate to be ruled from London by a party and a prime minister who cynically stoked poisonous Scotophobia to retain power?

The two countries to which we awoke seem to have nothing in common, nothing whatever to bind them. England, as those of us naive enough to have forgotten are reminded, is an essentially right-wing country which is happy to blind itself to the victimisation of the poor and disable. It feels older, tireder and more sclerotic than ever today.

When the demographic detail of this election is released, it will show that the Tory success was sourced in large part to its massive vote advantage among the over 65-year-olds. Scotland leans sharply to the left, and fizzes with a youthful energy at you can only gaze with envy.

The SNP's Mhairi Black (PA)

The sight of Mhairi Black, the 20-year-old politics student who displaced Douglas Alexander in Paisley, striding confidently to the podium to give her winner’s speech is unthinkable in England. Her public admission that it “took every fibre of my being not to put the nut on” anti-independence campaingers who taunted her would not have been indulged here as hilarious youthful exuberance. The Daily Mail would have torn her to shreds, and whichever party had selected her (not that an English party would give a woman of 20 a shot) would have de-selected her in five minutes.

The partnership between England and Scotland was often uneasy, but for most of its three centuries there was more than enough mutual advantage to make it work. On one side, it is now a hideously passive-aggressive marriage (Cameron switching at will between the passive and aggressive), and on the other simply an aggressive one that cannot be tolerated. It must now end in divorce, and sooner rather than later, and the destruction of the union will be David Cameron’s political epitaph. It won him an election that had seemed unwinnable by such a margin. Whether victories come any more Pyrrhic than this, the man who loves his party and power much more than his country will one day have to decide for himself