I was in Manchester for a conference on Friday as the Scottish referendum results were coming in. Climbing the stairs to Virgin's first-class lounge at Euston in search of strong coffee and somewhere to work on my speech, I heard what I thought was an MP on the radio or television, reacting to the early returns. Reaching the landing, I realised it was an MP in the flesh, reacting to the early returns over his mobile phone, speaking presumably to a broadcasting outfit.
Completely fluent, no ums or ers. Say what you like about these professional politicians, they are certainly...professional.
Speeding north, my first thought was that I was rather glad not suddenly to have my country's dimensions shrunk by several hundred miles - from Manchester, the "frontier" would have been only about another hour away by inter-city train.
My second was relief at our not having lost the Scottish economy. Forget the comments of South Britons about Scotland's "chronic welfare dependency" and clapped-out industries. This is a centre of excellence in energy, extractive industries, food and drink, the sciences and, of course, engineering. It is also one of the few nations or regions in the UK to run a surplus on trade in goods with the outside world, the others being Wales, Northern Ireland and the north-east.
We do not boast so many economic success stories that we can easily afford to throw one away.
Third, without joining the ranks of the armchair strategists, I can see that Scotland is geographically important and am very happy that its land mass and territorial waters remain under the British military umbrella. Doubtless it was entirely coincidental that this morning saw pictures of a Typhoon strike aircraft launched from RAF Lossiemouth shadowing a Soviet (oops, sorry "Russian Federation") TU-95 long-range bomber on the edge of UK airspace. Even so, it is a relief to know that a strategically vital part of the British Isles has not fallen under the control of the SNP's "defence" policy, which sounds like the product of a below-par session of a sixth-form debating society ("This house believes nuclear weapons are totally, like, immoral").
1) They still don't get it:
(a) The SNP. Alex Salmond was their only class act and now (so it seemed this morning) he has been forced out. He and he alone was the man to put across the table from the UK government ("the English", in SNP-speak) during the coming devo-max negotiations. A driven man and a winner, he would have extracted the utmost concessions because he would have terrified languid let's-go-for-an-honourable-draw types such as David Cameron. Whichever nonentity replaces him will not. It's that simple.
(b) Ed Miliband. Petrified of losing Labour's Scottish power base, he casts round for some way to compensate the English for the coming financial and constitutional goodies about to be showered on Scotland (the bribes promised by Gordon Brown in return for a No vote) without losing the voting clout of Scottish MPs at Westminster. We are told that "powerful" city regions are to be set up in England in a very concrete and - you know? - real transfer of power by Labour.
Imagine your twin is bought a new car. You ask your parents for the same. They reply that what you really want is not a new car but two second-hand mopeds. What is your answer?
(c) The Scots. I hate to say it, but despite, as noted above, the great strengths of the Scottish economy, this does seem an electorate that, once the working day is done, has a deep-dyed weakness for fantasy economics. Thursday's vote rejected the Alex Salmond version (lower corporate taxation, free everything for everyone) and bought instead the Cameron-approved Gordon Brown version (tax-raising powers amounting almost to fiscal independence) plus a guaranteed stream of funding from the rest of the UK under the "Barnett formula". In other words, total financial responsibility hand in hand with total financial irresponsibility.
(d) The Tories. Isn't it going to be rather harder from now on to blame all our economic woes on Gordon Brown's "spending splurge" given his critical, Downing Street-approved role as leader of the eleventh-hour No campaign, making all sorts of expensive promises with David Cameron's blessing? Not giving the keys back to those who crashed the car is a somewhat less resonant message when you have already supplied this oh-so-dangerous driver with a costly all-terrain vehicle for his tour of Scotland.
TWO memories of the whole business will, I hope, stay fresh. One was that hilarious moment when some old mate/colleague of Salmond went off on one after big business spoke out in favour of the union. He promised a day of reckoning once Scotland was free which, I seem to recall, would involve nationalising BP and Deutsche Bank. Nothing easier, old lad.
The second arose yesterday as I sat in the bar of the Mercure Hotel in Manchester just before lunch, sinking an ice-cold lager and watching the referendum coverage on TV. At one point, Gordon Brown was shown chatting to schoolchildren before delivering some genial remarks to a reporter.
The hero of the hour. The victor.
Begrudging Brown nothing at all, my first thought nonetheless was that you couldn't make this stuff up.
Thanks again for reading and enjoy the weekend.
Going South: Why Britain Will Have A Third World Economny By 2014, by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson is published by Palgrave Macmillan