There are few things as fascinating as witnessing that moment when an established order suddenly loses its grip. During my time on the planet there have been several such moments. Sometimes the final act can be seen coming for weeks and months as was very much the case in the lead up to the live pictures of the helicopters of the US Marine Corps evacuating the last stragglers of American rule in Vietnam. The drama that played out on the Embassy roof in Saigon was pure Holywood.
On other occasions things changed in the blink of an eye. Nobody saw the crash of the Berlin Wall coming. I can’t remember any great media built up to Nelson Mandela walking out to his freedom. One minute the forces of the Establishment were enjoying their usual vice like grip on power. And then the next minute everything had changed utterly.
Probably the most dramatic moment of this kind was the overthrow of Nicholai Ceaucescu and his ghastly wife on Christmas Day 1989. For years the pair of them had held Romania in a vice like grip. So when a few of his subjects started to get uppity having watched the collapse of the Berlin Wall on the tele, he stepped out onto the balcony of his Presidential Palace to crack the whip. He was the headmaster and the huge crowd in front of him were pupils who were terrified of getting caned in his office. He was utterly confident that he could threaten his people into silence just like he had done for many decades. But it didn’t work out that way. His people didn’t stay meek and silent. Instead they started booing and heckling. With an annoyed expression, Ceaucescu held out his liver spotted hands and demanded silence.
Deference. Respect. Terror.
Instead his subjects booed all the louder. And then they became a mob. And within hours, they strung him up.
Another version of this kind of thing can be seen when a really, really strong and powerful country decides to step in a to put a much weaker country back in its box. To start with, everything tends to go to plan. Massive military superiority guarantees a rapid victory and a whole bunch of smug gloating. We’re talking the Americans in Iraq and Vietnam or the Russians in Afghanistan or the Israelis in Lebanon.
And for a while all seems well. The war is won and the occupying army starts to get on with the business of locking down power and doing their thing. Only it doesn’t work out that way. There is a honeymoon period of a few months whilst the occupied people begin to get their act together, and then the push back starts. Car bombs and snipers and snarling mobs out on the streets. To start with the occupying powers say this will just be a short term thing. Then they start to struggle to keep the narrative going. Then they call the guerrilla fighters criminals and terrorists and monsters. Then they send in a whole lot more troops who soon start to get killed in ever greater numbers. Then the people at home eventually get fed up with all of the body bags and the ashen faced leaders of the occupation try to sell the idea that the job has been done wonderfully and heroically. Then they leg it out of Dodge with their tails between their legs.
More often than not, there is a moment when it becomes suddenly clear that the occupation forces are doomed to a long and painful failure. The Tet Offensive in 1968 or the battle of Fallujah in 2006 were such moments. Neither battle marked the end of the occupation. Instead they both marked the beginning of the end.
This week has had this kind of 'turning of the tide' feel about it for Scotland. This will surely be remembered as the week when the bitter, desperate taste of defeat on that miserable grey dawn of September 19 finally disappeared from the taste buds of anyone supporting the dream of ‘Yes’.
George Bush on the deck of his aircraft carrier complete with flight jacket and smug smile. David Cameron in front of Number 10, still high from his encounter with a purring Queen. As far as both guys were concerned, they had achieved complete victory. Their enemies were vanquished for ever and ever. The old order was in charge and the old order would remain in charge.
When you Youtube these moments in time, it is impossible not to sense the utter certainty in both men. Both were born with silver spoons in their mouths and they were prepared from a young age to become the champions of the Status Quo. They were the men to make sure all remained rosy in the garden for the great corporations who had bankrolled them all the way to the top. Bush had secured the last great oil reserves on the planet for America whilst Cameron made sure that London would retain full control of the treasure trove under the North Sea.
Neither victory turned out to be anything like as complete as the establishment hoped it would be. As things turned out, the Americans were barely able to extract a liter of Iraqi oil as the country descended into a pit of murderous anarchy. And Cameron? He spoke boldly about how the settled will of the Scottish people would guarantee that London’s last colony would stay firmly under the yoke for at least a generation. Now those words seem so very hollow.
In the weeks after winning the ‘No’ vote, the Establishment was clearly convinced that business as usual would be the order of the day. The Smith Commission offered up a few scraps and enabled them to pretend they had kept their promises. And then the script was supposed to be crystal clear. The misery of defeat would become the high water mark of the SNP. The ‘NO’ vote would slowly but surely consign then to the dustbin of history. And for the umpteenth time in history, the people of Scotland would have been put back in their box and in their box they would once again stay.
But it didn’t work out that way, did it Dave?
Not even nearly.
Instead of returning meekly to their box, 100,000 Scots signed on the dotted line for the SNP and vowed to continue the fight for as long as the fight was going to take. At first the Establishment seemed to find the whole thing mildly amusing. They were minded to stand back and allow the Scots to have their little tantrum and then it would be business as usual. All the online nonsense would soon die down and by the time the General Election came around, well, all would be as it should be. All would be exactly as it always has been.
But the Scots doggedly refused to follow the script. And the insurgency just kept on growing. And the noisy voices just kept on getting noisier.
And slowly a truly awful picture started to emerge as poll after poll published their results. The SNP were supposed to have peaked. Their great leader had thrown in the towel and left the field of battle. The hated Nats were supposed to be nothing more than bit part players in the May Election.
Instead, poll after poll showed that the insurgency was gathering momentum. Worse still, it became increasingly clear that the Scots had found their very own warrior queen. Nicola Sturgeon is on target to become our very own Angela Merkel and her opponents need to think long and hard before they try to slag her off. Not all Germans vote for Merkel, but my God they get seriously defensive when any foreigner has a go at her. She is theirs and they have her back. It now feels like even Scots who are diehard Labour or Tory voters get seriously agitated when any English voice is heard to have a go at Nicola.
A couple of weeks ago, the Tories decided it was time to fill up their war chest ready for May. Money would buy victory. That is what the playbook promises. So they staged their fancy black and white ball and invited any dodgy Russian billionaire they could find to come along and shell out hundreds of thousands for the privilege of some shoe shopping with Teresa May.
The money duly rolled in, but my oh my the cash cost them dear. It really wasn’t a good look, especially when viewed from north of the border. It soon became an even worse look when Channel 4 caught Rifkind and Straw with their snouts deep in the trough.
Suddenly everything felt like Ceaucescu on his balcony frantically patting the air and demanding calm. Obedience. Respect.
A few days ago Stuart Campbell decided he needed to fill the 'Wings over Scotland' war chest ready for the fray in May. Once again he laid out his modest costs and explained how he would spend any surplus funds.
Then he crossed his fingers and put his future in the hands of the army of ‘Yes’. Would they be willing to keep him going, even though 55% of Scots had voted ‘No’? It must have been a genuinely nervous moment for the lad. It takes bottle to lay yourself on the line so very publicly. If his attempt to raise £45,000 in a month was to crash and burn, the Unionists would dance on his grave with the untrammeled joy of ravers on ecstasy.
But they never got the chance. Stuart raised £90,000 in the first 24 hours of his appeal. And I am pretty sure that there were no dodgy Russian oligarchs in the mix. I have just got my act together and stumped up my tenner. I was investor number 2489. One of those little people who was supposed to be back in the box. But we are not in the box. And when Stuart asked for help to continue his work as one of the foremost insurgents of the ‘Yes’ dream, we were all more than happy to give him what he asked for. We are a bit like all those hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese volunteers who ignored the constant B52 strikes and wheeled bicycle loads of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail. The faces in the crowd in front of Ceaucescu’s Presidential Palace who continued to heckle and boo.
Stuart has what he needs and now he is primed and ready to continue the fight.
And then came the latest round of Lord Ashcroft polls.
A projected 56 out of 59 seats for the SNP.
The storm was supposed to have blown itself out by now. We were all supposed to have got tired and thrown in the towel. We were supposed to have thrown down our swords and slunk back home to our schemes to watch daytime TV and eat too many crisps.
We were supposed to have accepted defeat.
Like the Viet Cong and the Mujahadeen and the Romanians and Nelson Mandela of the citizens of Fallujah were supposed to have accepted defeat. By now, Jim Murphy was supposed to have started to turn everything around for Scottish Labour. By now, the circulation of the Daily Record was supposed to be back at pre Referendum levels. By now, the BBC was supposed to be our Auntie again.
None of the above.
And there are only a matter of weeks left for the Establishment to find a way of turning it all around. Apparently a vote for the SNP means a vote for Cameron, according to Jim Murphy and his shell shocked lieutenants. How utterly pathetic. No wonder they get booed every time they try to spin this pitiful line. Just like Ceaucescu got booed all those years ago.
Things are taking shape for the vote in May. The Establishment parties will have their billboard adverts and a discredited media behind them, but no people. The insurgents will have people and people and more people.
We’ll all pushing our bikes down the Ho Chi Minh trail and the threat of the carpet bombing isn’t working any more. So you best get your helicopters serviced guys. And you best get your pilots trained up on how to land them on a roof.
Because this is the week when the army of ‘Yes’ became an unstoppable juggernaut.