Call off the search party, I’m still here. It’s just taken me a bit longer to return to blogging than I expected.
It’s not that I’ve been lying disconsolately in bed, surrounded by tear-sodden Kleenex and empty beer cans. Apart from that first Friday, anyway. It’s just that when your stock-in-trade is jokes, and you look in the Quality Street tin where you keep them and find nothing but sarcasm, sweary words and barely suppressed rage, it’s probably sensible to step back from comedy till the sense-of-humour fairy brings fresh supplies.
For my own rehabilitation I have to thank one or two prominent No campaigners whose patronising triumphalism stank out my Twitter timeline, swiftly replacing gloom with anger and determination. Other grieving Yessers, even if they body-swerved the social media wasps’ nest, were perhaps roused to resistance by the BBC’s footage - only kiddin’, it was Russia Today’s - of George Square being desecrated by sectarian wankers bent on mayhem.
However, as the dents in my filing cabinet testify, the path to renewed optimism hasn’t been entirely smooth. After all, for 1,617,989 of us the word “Clackmannanshire” will forever trigger nightmares, as we recall our jaws clanking to the floor at the silent majority suddenly materialising out of nowhere. I’m sure some of us are still enveloped in a monochrome fog, surveying the popping-candy vitality of the resurrected Yes movement with a mixture of bemusement and envy. Hang in there, folks, take as long as you need to get your mojo back, and we’ll save you a seat at the coming firework display.
Anyway, for the record, and to satisfy the thought police hovering over my shoulder, I accept the referendum result. I acknowledge there’s a core group of people who, for reasons ranging from respectable to ridiculous, will always vote No to independence, even if scientists prove that it’ll transform Campbeltown Loch into whisky.
And I won’t condemn anybody else who in good faith voted No, although I hope Hell has a special barbecue setting for the duplicitous weasels who lied to them on their TVs and doorsteps. When those voters’ expectations unravel like a moth-eaten semmit, I’ll rely on Zen-like emotional control to reach out to them with warmth and sympathy, rather than sand-blasting them with colourfully-embroidered cries of “Told you so!”
Tip-toeing into controversial territory, and squeezing into my Kevlar onesie for protection, I have to say that I disagree with claims that the count was rigged. Small-scale jiggery-pokery in Glasgow, a drama-queen fire alarm in Dundee and a notorious YouTube video casting doubt on easily-explained activities don’t amount to wholesale Government pauchling. Beady eyes from both camps, scrutinising every event from the sorting of ballots to the scratching of bums, would make such a stunt impossible to pull off, unless you kidnapped the entire count staff and replaced them with clones of Derren Brown.
But, before I morph into a cheerleader for the Electoral Commission, I’ve got one or two wee niggles. Firstly, control of the electoral register at Glenrothes obviously fell into the hands of Mr Frank Spencer, as several punters arrived at the polling place only to discover a bunch of spivs had already voted in their name. Few observers considered this a surprise, given the town’s fast-growing reputation as the Bermuda Triangle of fair electioneering.
Secondly, cyberspace is awash with allegations that ballot papers in some places were blank on the reverse, without the official bar-coding people were expecting. Now, it’s quite possible that (1) this doesn’t matter, because Big Brother knows best, (2) it’s merely a public-spirited saving of ink in Austerity Britain, or (3) it’s the most widespread example of false memory syndrome since half the population claimed they’d always suspected the 1978 World Cup squad of being a bit rubbish. But, if the authorities want to see the 84% indyref turnout repeated any time before the rocks melt with the sun, that sort of thing deserves a decent explanation, not the bog-standard civil service brush-off.
As for postal votes, I may be a vinegary old cynic, but aren’t they simply a licence to cheat? I preferred the days when they were reserved for those who genuinely needed them, rather than being given away with copies of the Metro or dropped from helicopters on to a grateful populace. I’m not griping about the referendum, where I’d say either postal voters behaved themselves or both sides cheated equally, but this could be dynamite in a closely-fought constituency with tactical voters on the prowl.
Ruth Davidson is probably fed up with the whole idea of postal voting, having inadvertently stitched up the No campaign’s polling agents live on TV by blabbing that they’d sampled ballot papers during verification checks. Of course, sampling has been a widely-practised black art ever since homo sapiens first won a slim majority over the Cro-Magnons, but because it’s the electoral equivalent of insider dealing people normally have the sense to stay schtum about it. Not so the hapless Ruth, whose prefect’s badge is now at a decidedly un-jaunty angle as the Crown Office polishes its knuckledusters. Edge-of-seat entertainment to keep the Yes movement buoyed up in the coming days.
And it’s the coming days on which we must concentrate. Our sneerier detractors would like nothing better than to see us mired in the past, wide open to caricature as conspiracy theorists, tetchy losers and woad-wearing fantasists. Sorry, perhaps there’s one thing they’d like more: for us to shut our traps, chuck this political engagement malarkey, melt our Yes badges down to make cereal bowls, settle down on the sofa for the next 307 years and proudly join in the booing of Alex Salmond. Any alternative activity, the irony-deaf Dalek voice screeches, is “anti-democratic”.
Bugger that. I don’t know if my ballot paper had a bar-code on the back, but it certainly didn’t have the words “For Ever And Ever Amen” beside the No option. We’re in the minority, and we don’t need a Professor Branestawm lookalike on the telly to remind us, but it’s only two letters and an episode of Westminster stupidity away from becoming a majority. We’ve got every right to keep striving for that goal, and reason to believe we’ll find ears willing to listen. This isn’t denial or bloody-mindedness, it’s a gravitational pull.
Now is the time for everyone to be politically engaged, no matter how they voted. Just ten days after the referendum, “New powers for Scotland” has mysteriously become “Hey, what’s in it for England?”, fracking operators are gearing up to shaft the Central Belt, knives are being noisily sharpened for the Scottish budget, and we’re dropping bombs on Iraq for the third time, yet again without the haziest clue what happens next. Even if there’s no public appetite for another referendum, that little lot should surely resonate with some No voters who can be persuaded to stand alongside us.
I’m not particularly uptight about what we call ourselves, though I have sympathy with those who think “the 45” is too exclusive, “45 rising” too Jacobite and “45 plus” too like an intelligence test for middle-aged people. In these early days, it’s sometimes frustrating seeing energy being wasted on “Judaean People’s Front” naming scuffles, but the wizened old sage in me says these things have a habit of settling down and evolving naturally.
Personally, for the moment, I’m going with the “butterfly rebellion” idea first suggested in Robin McAlpine’s brilliant article here. In large numbers, butterflies are a near-impossible target for an opponent relying on brute force. Individually, a butterfly is colourful and attractive, and has a nifty set of wings just like the sense-of-humour fairy.
Oh, and if it decides to flap those wings you never know what hurricanes might result.