This Thursday, 18 September 2014, the Scottish people (or, more precisely, the people registered to vote in Scotland) have the chance, in a referendum, to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom. While most polls have the “No” vote in the lead, there are a lot of don’t knows, so it looks like it’s going down to the wire.
My view, as a London-based Englishman who always identifies as British on forms – partly, but not only, because my mother is Northern Irish – is that I will respect the Scottish people’s decision on what they want to do. The sensible, low risk, thing to do is stay in the Union. But the exciting, once in a lifetime opportunity, is to gain political control of one’s own country. To escape from the rule from Westminster, often by political parties which have little support in Scotland.
If I was Scottish, and had the vote, I think I would be tempted to vote Yes. It’s too good an opportunity to miss. Self-determination, escape from the London elite. I’d be worried about the economic consequences, but I’d shut my eyes and hope for the best, assuming that human ingenuity would solve the potential problems.
As an Englishman and Londoner, I kind of hope the Scots don’t want to leave our country. We’ve done pretty well together over the past 300 years. We’ve had a prosperous economy, a strong democracy, we’ve fought together against powerful enemies. We had an Empire too, although we accept that that isn’t necessarily something to be proud of in this day and age.
We bicker and express our opposition through sport, especially rugby, these days. But we also experience unity through sport: the 2012 Olympics, the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia both being fantastic examples.
At the end of the day, I’d support the Scots if they want to leave, but I can’t really see the point of doing so in this modern age, where national borders have less relevance, with the internet and international capital flows.
At the same time, I must admit that the “No” campaign in Scotland has been pretty poor. It has emphasised the economic risks of leaving, but has never really made the positive case for staying in the UK.
But what is that positive case? What is so great about the UK? You know, if I got asked that by a pro-independence Scot, I would struggle to articulate the case. I guess I would say we have done alright for the last 300 years. We have a democracy, rule of law and freedom of speech which we should treasure, but none of that is unique to the UK. We have a beautiful island and brilliant culture. We come together in times of need – those two world wars, for example. English people live in Scotland, while London is Scotland’s third biggest city.
Is that enough? Quite a lot of it looks back. Looking forward, there is nothing new to offer, whereas the independence cause clearly does offer a bright new future.
Really, what the case for staying in the UK says is we are family. Like all families we argue, fall out, get back together, carry on. It’s where we can be our natural selves. But when anyone or anything threatens us, we close ranks: we know that, ultimately, we are one.
So the question for Scotland on 18 September is, are we family?
A very big question.