No Country for Young Men?

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Commentary on the Scottish bid to tear a country apart – that country, of course, being Scotland – is already settling down to some precriminations about the result, whatever it may turn out to be. Whatever happens, most of the comedy will surely come from Alex Salmond’s task of forging national unity; though if his promise of an eternally left-of-centre state comes true, then its (various and sometimes venerable) internal divisions might prove to be the only force countering its slide into complacency and the stagnation of a cosy Establishment.

The division in which I’m most interested, however, is generational. Previously we were hearing that the youngest voters were largely No-leaning, which makes easy sense. They have the longest to live after the oil runs out, however long that takes. Many of them have country-wide job searches in their near future, with which a narrowed country would hardly help. Nevertheless, recent polling suggests a lot of volatility. We may be about to find out how well a cry of ‘No more Tory governments!’ resonates with people who’ve never actually experienced a solely Tory government.

Last year I wrote about how strange furious clashes over Thatcher’s legacy can seem to someone whose detailed political memories begin with Blair. (You know: with that era when Clement Freud could be asked to speak for Just a Minute on the Scottish parliament, and remark that if you were to imagine a parliament with a Scottish Prime Minister, a Scottish Speaker, a Scottish Lord Chancellor and a Scotsman in charge of the Exchequer, that would of course be the English parliament.) So I wonder how moved Scotland's younger voters will be by the legacy of a dead woman from the past (and ‘younger’ in this context means anything up to something over thirty; unfortunately, the attempts I’ve seen at making sense of the polls have tended to talk about a 25–44 bracket).

I also wonder how things will play out socially if the future of Scotland is swung to Yes by people who will spend less time living with the result. The literature on intergenerational justice generally doesn’t deal with generational responsibility for breaking countries apart; and I really have no idea what an independent Scotland might make of itself in two or three decades’ time, if it proved to be ruled by a British-born generation of people who’d been largely opposed to Scotland’s ever existing in that cut-off form.

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