Time for a re-think, Alex?
Recently on my blog, I paid tribute to Alex Salmond’s dignified and honourable reaction to the defeat of his YES Campaign for Scottish independence. He called for reconciliation and unity.
Alas I spoke too soon. As soon as the Scottish First Minister had come to terms with his immediate shock and disappointment, we saw the old Alex in his true colours. “We wuzz robbed” was the gist of it. Having insisted that the referendum was the one golden opportunity in a generation – or even in a lifetime – for the Scots to have their say, he is now hinting at a re-run in short order. Or even a unilateral declaration of independence. The well-rehearsed threat of a “neverndum” springs to mind. By stoking the flames of separatism again so soon after the event, he is surely energising those Yes campaigners – and indeed No campaigners too – to further hostility and strife.
But I was particularly struck by one straw to which Mr. Salmond appears to be clinging. He observed that the YES side had won amongst under-55s, while the NO side predominated in the older demographic. All we have to do, he implies, is to wait until those timid, reactionary old folk die off, and the Yes vote can be won! Just give it another ten years for the older demographic to move on, and the Yes side will win!
Of course we’ve heard essentially the same proposition in other contexts. Talk to any social organisation – the Church of England, the Rotary Club, political parties – and you’ll hear the same complaint. We’re all elderly. Where’s the young blood? How do we recruit younger members? What will be left when the current generation of elderly members dies off? Of course the Church of England may well be in terminal decline. But for many of these organisations, the fact is that people in younger and middle life, juggling jobs and mortgages and child care, simply don’t have time for voluntary activities as well. But as the children grow up and the mortgage is paid off, they look for new activities. Hence a preponderance of older people in voluntary organisations. It may be an older demographic, but generally speaking it renews itself as time moves on.
Similarly with left-right politics. Older people tend to be more conservative (small “c”). So we just wait for all the older people to die off, and then the whole world will be leftie and progressive, right? Wrong. Life is a journey. Younger people can afford to be capricious, impulsive, idealistic. But as life’s journey starts to include homes, and mortgages, and families and children, people start to attach more value to physical, emotional and financial security. They understand and value stability, and property rights. Call it conservative. Call it Jeffersonian principles. Call it reactionary if you must. But in the rather dated terms of the left-right spectrum, they tend broadly to drift to the right.
As is so often the case, Winston Churchill put this clearly in his famous aphorism: “Unless you’re a liberal at twenty, you have no heart. But if you’re not a conservative at thirty, you have no brain”. (Both the words and the attribution are disputed, but it sounds so Churchillian, and makes so much sense, that I have to believe it).
So I’m sorry, Alex, but you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. It’s not a case of waiting for older Scots to die, so that you can win an independence referendum later on. It’s a case of individual Scots getting older and wiser, and seeing the benefits of a political union that has survived and prospered through all the vicissitudes of 300+ years.