AT the pompous Leave ghoulfest, the boys – the amateurs – were trembling. Shifty and flat, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson tried to sound grave, to sound like statesmen. Labour MP Gisela Stuart did her best impersonation of a railway announcer on a rain-soaked night, confirming that the last train home has been cancelled. The three Ghosts of Brexit Yet to Come didn’t look or sound like a winning team. By any reckoning, like it or loathe it, the Leave campaign secured a remarkable achievement on Thursday night. But their airless victory conference boasted all the warmth and humanity of a suburban morgue.

In his pomp, Boris Johnson – his hair an angora rabbit lightly soused in ball lightning – whizzes and pops with antic energy. There was none of that yesterday. The former Mayor of London cut a muted figure, crumpled by success rather than enlarged by it. The Tory MP looked like a guy whose jaw was smarting, suddenly realising that he had bitten off far, far more than he can chew. Gove – a cringing, disingenuous Uriah Heep par excellence – tried some empty poetry, paying tribute to Britain’s alleged warmth, liberalism, creativity and openness.

Boris Johnson condemned those who would presume to “play politics with immigration.” I almost choked on my sorrow, but the raw fury got caught in my throat first. The hollow leaders of this triumphant campaign tried to sound optimistic, inspiring, their rhetoric soaring. The notes were all dead. There was no real music in it. Only anxiety. Only the squinting expression of a lost boy, who suddenly becomes aware that he is all alone – all alone – in a big bad world. Only fear.

Some phrases catch you by the throat in a different way. As the victors warbled sadly in London, in Bute House an altogether more formidable, more serious figure was taking her place between two flags. On one side, the saltire. On the other, the flag of the European Union. “I want to take the opportunity this morning to speak directly to citizens of other European countries living here in Scotland,” she said. “You remain welcome here, Scotland is your home, and your contribution is valued.” Looking on, my eyes a pair of pickled onions after burning through the wee small hours squinting at the telly, I nearly wept.

In the weeks before the vote, a Dutch friend who has lived and studied and worked and taught in the UK for nearly 15 years wrote movingly about how injuring she found the campaign, about how alienated she felt by the Brexit campaign that marched so resolutely through England yesterday, and was brought roughly to a halt at the Scottish border.

She reflected that for 15 years she had called Britain home. She had made friends, made enemies, found love, found work, found a place in her community. “We pay taxes,” she wrote, “invest in the local economy and raise money for charity. Until a week ago we were optimistically looking for our first home. However, for the last few months I’ve had to see EU immigrants slagged off on the press, blamed for a whole host of problems and called names I don’t want to repeat here. I am an EU immigrant. This hurts me.”

Her conclusion was heartbreaking. “No matter which way the vote goes next week”, she said, “I will never forget the open hostility towards EU immigrants. I will never forget the headlines. You were a great home for 15 year UK and I’ve tried my hardest to be a positive addition, but stay or go I’ll never look at you in the same way again.”

My friend finds nobody in the Brexit campaign to say she is welcome, to reassure her that this is her home, to insist that her contribution to our community and society is valued. Boris didn’t express a breath of concern yesterday for the three million souls in the United Kingdom – EU citizens, yes – but mothers and fathers, lovers and colleagues, comrades and friends – whose lives risk being irrevocably altered by Thursday’s decision, who are prey to uncertainty, to the unpredictable whims of an irascible Conservative politics.

But Nicola remembered. I rubbed my smarting eyes and swallowed my feelings. That lump in my throat: I think it was something like pride. Pride that we have a First Minister who understands the human cost of what the United Kingdom has decided to do; who – amid all the high politics and high stakes – takes care to extend a human hand to folk who are suffering and alienated, in a dark hour, in one of the darkest days in our recent political history. It was a small chink of light.