As through-the-night voting coverage goes, BBC1’s Scotland Decides and Sky News’s coverage were soporifically familiar.
Jeremy Vine beside his terrific great flashing multi-screen vote-meter, arm flailing. Huw Edwards wearing his eerily calm air-traffic controller demeanour, chivvying guests in and out, one ear tuned to his earpiece. Andrew Neil’s tremendous hair, worthy of a referendum all of its own.
Kay Burley was live in Glasgow, manufacturing mischief over suspected electoral fraud. One couldn’t blame her for trying to liven things up. By 11pm the shots of vote-counters in neon tabards shuffling papers – while back in the studio guests indulged in pointless, albeit tetchy, speculation – felt somewhat dry.
But TV’s biggest problem on referendum night was that pesky, ever-troublesome medium Twitter. When, shortly after 10.30pm, Peter Kellner, head of YouGov, told Sky News that “now, at the obvious risk of looking like a complete prat in about eight hours’ time, I would say it’s a 99 per cent certainty it’s a No victory”, the internet began to bubble with news that the race was over.
Too bad for Huw and Andrew over on BBC1, filling two long hours with waffle before the Clackmannanshire vote arrived. Mild fun was gleaned from the laborious explanations – pre-results – of exactly how people had spoiled their papers. Seven in Clackmannanshire for “voting in favour of both answers”. Several people signed their names on the ballot, possibly thinking they might win a speedboat.
We waited patiently for the Dundee vote, but a rogue fire alarm delayed matters. Back in the BBC1 studio, Huw, disconcertingly on foot and roaming the studio, showed us the back-stage area, which was a dark dwelling filled with sad, trapped researchers, a place that looked as if it might smell of WD-40 and Domino’s deliveries.
Occasionally Jeremy would run to his wall of screens, imploring us to wake up, with screams of “Let me show you something interesting! Let’s look for clues! What if I rearrange these tiles into how the councils voted in Europe? How does that change things”
“It doesn’t change anything, Jeremy,’ I mumbled, wired on Nescafé Gold Blend. “We knew the UK was staying together two hours ago.”
But no, counting was still being done. The Isle of Barra’s boxes had to be delivered on a lifeboat. Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue still had stuff to tell us about the youth vote. Jeremy Vine had to intricately imagine the administration overhaul of the British Navy in the event of a Yes vote.
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At least Sky News reporters had taken to the streets to pick the 3am brains of voters being kicked out of pubs. All political probings, to my mind, should happen while the glassy-eyed interviewee chews gum frantically and enthusiastically honks their car horn along to “500 Miles” by The Proclaimers, and they should all finish with such misguided optimism: “Aye, I voted Yes. I’m away home to celebrate!”
As No became official, Good Morning Britain had Susanna Reid commiserating with Brian Cox, while William Hague reassured us that everything was going to be OK.
Where there is discord, let them bring Lorraine Kelly, with her cheery smile, urging people in a community centre to “move on!” without much explanation of where from, or where to. By lunchtime, Andrew Neil was back on BBC2 presenting a full hour of speculation over Salmond, Cameron and the hero of the hour, Gordon Brown.
Our country might have been in shoddy, non-harmonious shape, but Neil looked chipper. Whatever magic lotion he puts on his hair is clearly preserving the rest of him. Over 12 hours we’d watched weeping drunks and petty council officials. We’d seen lifeboat men, bag-pipers, emotional foreigners, flag wavers, flag burners and many grumpy old women.
In an odd way, it left me prouder than ever before to be British.
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