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.
Scotland's bragging rights
Scotland's bragging rights
1/19 Baby scans
Ian Donald, a Scottish physician, invented ultrasound while at the University of Glasgow in the 1950s which, of course, is of the utmost importance for baby scans
2/19 iPhone 6
Alexander Graham Bell was educated in Edinburgh, but left Scotland when he was 15. He made his way to Boston - via London and Canada - and in 1876 invented the telephone at the age of just 29. No Bell, no iPhone 6.
3/19 Dolly the sheep
The first animal was cloned at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. Dolly the Sheep lived there from her birth in 1996 to her death in 2003. Her stuffed remains are housed at Edinburgh's Royal Museum
4/19 The bicycle
The first pedal cycle was the work of a blacksmith's son from Dumfriesshire. Kirkpatrick Macmillan was quite unconcerned by the fuss his invention created - and didn't even bother to try and patent it
Sir Alexander Fleming was born in Lochfield in Ayrshire in 1881. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest ever Scots after his interest in natural bacterial action and viruses led to the discovery of penicillin
6/19 The BBC
Though few would say they see the BBC as a Scottish institution, its founder John Reith actually came from Glasgow. He was its first general manager when it was set up as a private company in 1922, and later its first director general when it was made public in 1927
7/19 The wheel
Yes, Scotland invented the wheel. Well, not quite the wheel - the pneumatic tyre. John Boyd Dunlop made the first practical tyre containing air in 1887
8/19 The US Navy (and the SAS)
The US Navy was created largely by John Paul Jones, who was born in Kirkcudbrightshire, while Sir David Stirling founded the SAS
Sir Robert Watson-Watt was born in Brechin and educated in Dundee. He worked for the Air Ministry on 'The Detection of Aircraft by Radio Methods', and by the outbreak of WWII had established radar stations along the east and southern coasts of England
10/19 The adhesive postage stamp
James Chalmers invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1838. He was from Arbroath
11/19 Peter Pan
Peter Pan first appeared as a character in The Little White Bird, a 1902 novel by J M Barrie. Barrie was born in Kirriemuir, Angus
12/19 Aussie Rules football
The first game of Aussie Rules was played in 1858, when it was set up to bridge the gap between different forms of the game played in England and Scotland
13/19 Golf (of course)
Golf was first recorded in Scotland in the 15th century, and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is the world governing body. Scotland is widely promoted as 'The Home of Golf'
14/19 Pie charts (and line charts and bar charts)
The Scottish engineer William Playfair was the founder of the first statistical graphics between 1786 and 1801, in what has become known as a 'milestone' in data visualisation
15/19 The dugout
The dugout was invented by Aberdeen FC coach Donald Colmanin in the 1920s (presumably because he was bored of being rained on)
James Braid, a surgeon and amateur scientist born in 1795 in Kinross-shire, is regarded as the Father of Hypnotism
17/19 Lime cordial
Lauchlan Rose patented the method used to preserve lime cordial without alcohol in 1867, and the first factory producing Rose's was set up in Leith in 1868
18/19 The Bank of England
Despite the name, the Bank of England was actually devised by a Scot. Born in Dumfries and Galloway in 1658, Sir William Paterson tried unsuccessfully to found a separate Scottish Empire but spent his last years in Westminster. He died an advocate of Union
19/19 The toaster
Alan MacMasters was a Scottish scientist, born in Edinburgh, who is credited with creating the first electric bread toaster
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.Reuse content