Scottish Independence: Our democracy is a raw and sexy beast, and there's no stopping it

This compelling referendum reaffirms the most basic principles of a fair and just society

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The Independent Online

Several weeks ago, I was in Aberdeen having a drink with someone close to the campaign for a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum. At that time, the unionists were handsomely ahead in the opinion polls, but he was certain that the gap would narrow. “I wouldn't like to bet on the outcome,” he said, “but one thing's for sure: the turnout will be massive.”

The bookmakers agree, and the shortest price with Ladbrokes is for a turnout between 80-85 per cent of registered voters. Just to put this into perspective, the turnout the past three general elections in the UK has been between 59 and 65 per cent, and in the most recent local elections it was less than 40 per cent.

There has been a good deal of reproval of those defending the union that the tone of their campaigning has been negative. They have, it has to be admitted, a rather difficult job in this respect, and the clue's in the title. The No campaign? Negative? Well I never. Defending the status quo against revolutionary forces has never been the most glamorous position, but I think some of the criticism levelled at them has been unfair. Now that they've brought the big guns in - stopping short of Her Maj - the campaign is now as gripping and unpredictable and engaging and important as any in living memory.

I have been following the soundbites of Scottish author Irvine Welsh, who, from his redoubt in Chicago, has been tweeting furiously, and regularly, in support of the nationalist cause. There's a distinct echo of Sean Connery in his position, the exile with a prescription for how things should be in his homeland, but at least he recognises it. The other day, he tweeted: “Well I'm going to a swanky Chicago cocktail bar for an expresso martini before I next tell everybody how to live back home.”

Nevertheless, Welsh - even from thousands of miles away - captured on Twitter exactly what I have been thinking about a referendum in which I, in common with the author of Trainspotting, don't have a vote. “God, Scotland, you are looking good right now, you gorgeous handsome sexy democratic bastard, you,” he wrote. True say, Irvine! This is a decision given to the people that really matters. This is where every vote counts. This is democracy in the raw, a vote that reaffirms one of the basic principles of a fair and just and free society. And the fact that it's very difficult to call makes it especially exciting.


The inherent iniquity of the Westminster electoral system - in which a tiny proportion of the electorate get to decide the outcome for the many - has brought democracy into disrepute. In the past three general elections, the party (or parties) brought into power commanded only 41 per cent of the popular vote. People have given up registering a vote because they feel it doesn't count.

There won't be a democratic deficit in Scotland in a week's time. Irvine Welsh is right. When you see democracy in all its glory, it is indeed a big, sexy beast. It's what we've fought for. It's what we've fought for on others' behalf. And the Scots know how to use it.