Friday, 12 September 2014

Scotland comes to it at last

The Scottish Independence Referendum is but six days away. Scotland's residents - including crucially teenagers who are young enough to be idealistic, but old enough to be thoughtful about their career prospects - will be able to show what they want for their country. It's no hard thing to predict an outpouring of passionate last-minute appeals from both the 'Yes' and the 'No' camps.

Why shouldn't it be Yes? Scotland has always been a separate place from England. There has always been a border region - 'debatable lands', certainly, but a definite swathe of largely empty upland that emphatically divides The Scots from The English. There is an actual, official Border right now. Scottish Law and social customs on one side, English Law and social customs on the other. There is a Scottish flag. In many ways Scotland is already a separate country.

And is it so far-fetched, when you consider other European countries of similar size and population, to imagine Scotland managing well enough as an independent entity? I speak of Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, The Czech Republic, Croatia, and The Republic of Ireland. The wealth and world status of these countries varies quite a bit, but they are all small and all are respected. Physical area isn't the crucial thing: it's what a country can provide for its citizens, and its importance in the wider world. Scotland is undoubtedly in a good geographical place. It isn't land-locked. Even if England closed the land border, Scotland would remain wonderfully accessible by sea and air. And it has natural assets. Energy-wise it has oil, coal, plenty of hydro-electric power potential, plenty of wind and wave-power potential. Its tourist attractions are legion. It has manufacturing capacity. It has intellectual assets. It has a distinctive culture and outlook. Its weather is often dire, but as the world warms up, Scotland's climate may become milder and kinder.

So I think Scotland could, if it wished, turn its back on England.

The fear of course is that this is what an independent Scotland might just do, so that England would have a country right on its doorstep forging new links with all sorts of allies and trading partners that the government in Westminster might disapprove of. And what if Scotland did better than England, and attracted both investment and the 'right kind' of immigration - meaning people and businesses? Scotland could, with the right management, rival England, and grow rich. And with only a tenth of England's population, there would be more wealth available per capita.

But an independent Scotland wouldn't be free of problems, not at all. Issues that get scant attention at distant Westminster would quickly loom much larger, and have to be addressed, by a closer-to-home Edinburgh government. Scotland is not one uniform nation. It has distinct and sharply-contrasting regions. What will it do, for instance, for the 'Scandinavian' Orkney and Shetland Islands, who will argue for a big say in what is now done with those vital oil revenues? What will it do for the Gaelic Western Isles (who have a culture and outlook very different from that of the urbane City Folk in the Central Belt)? Will Scotland's fishermen clamour for unilateral rights to fish their own waters as much as they like, and keep foreigners out (much as Iceland has historically wanted to do)?

I can see the Edinburgh government being besieged by regional and sectional aspirations. Perhaps it will be the Scotland v UK story in miniature: devolution for Scottish regions, perhaps even demands for local independence. The broad initial vote for Scottish independence could lead to the disintegration not only of the UK, but of Scotland itself.

Who knows. That's the trouble. In so many ways the Referendum, and its outcome in political terms, will be a leap into the dark, its ultimate effects incalculable.

What's driving this bid for Absolute Independence, regardless of where it may lead?

I think the personal ambition and nationalistic vision of First Minister Alex Salmond is a hugely important factor. He's the lever. Without him, Scotland would not going to the vote next Thursday. He has tirelessly campaigned for an Independent Scotland. He will be a shattered man if his life's work comes to nothing, if the Scottish electorate decides not to go with him, and make his dream a reality. On the other hand, a man already inclined to hubris will smirk with triumph if the vote is 'Yes'. I don't mind, so long as he cuts the celebrations short and gets down to business fast and effectively - for there will be a mountain of no-nonsense Scotland-England-EU negotiation to get through asap. Everyone will want to know the real-life consequences, and where they now stand.

Why should I mind anyway? I am not Scottish. Nobody in my family, on either side, has any connection with Scotland. I live in one of the Southernmost counties of England, almost as far from Scotland as one can get on the mainland of Great Britain. For me, Scotland is an exotic holiday destination that has called to me since my youngest days. And only three visits so far. I want to be able to return, and enjoy. I can accept passport controls at the border. I won't find using Scottish money any different or more inconvenient than it is now. I won't mind seeing signs of great national pride and celebration when I travel up there next summer. I will mind seeing anti-English feeling expressed, although I am unlikely to fall victim to it because my car has a Scottish registration (so it won't suffer vandalism) and if necessary I can turn up the Welsh accent.

Where Ireland has already gone, where Scotland is making a bid to go today, where Wales will try to go tomorrow, all of us are sister countries wanting to be free of England - overbearing, parental, condescending, exploitative England. It may be as simple as that. The kids have grown up one by one, and want to make their own way. So much for 'The United Kingdom'.

Well, that's one way of looking at it. Personally, I am content with my life in Sunny-Sussex-by-the-sea, and Sussex is in England. And most other favourite places of mine are in England, particularly in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. I was not born in England, but I have made my life here and - more to the point - I feel 'at home' here. I do not hesitate to mention my Welsh birth, but I don't think I will ever want to move to Wales, whatever its beauties, because the affinity is lacking.

To be frank, I feel rather rootless, my political allegiances weak. British yes, and happy to be called that. But the 'United Kingdom' is for me a name rather like the 'European Union', a somewhat bland entity. An administrative, statistical and electoral concept only.

I'm not a traditionalist either, so I don't care about The Fabric Of The Nation Being Torn, nor the ending of a three hundred year old agreement to be one united nation. The fate of the Scottish regiments, and whether the Queen will abandon her castle at Balmoral, are other matters that are not going to lose me any sleep. I am unimpressed by the tears on Westminster party leaders' faces.

I am in thrall to local places, not national concepts. Evocative landscapes that have meaningful associations for me, that speak to me; a local culture that welcomes and includes me; good local services, so that I can live well in every sense; the friends and neighbours I know and count on - these call to me.

Not flags and all the other national symbols that imply borders, languages, separateness, orthodoxy, authoritarian governments, discrimination, civil strife, hate, soldiers, secret police, tyranny, deportations, and compulsory ethnic cleansing.


  1. 'Not flags and all the other national symbols that imply borders, languages, separateness, orthodoxy, authoritarian governments, discrimination, civil strife, hate, soldiers, secret police, tyranny, deportations, and compulsory ethnic cleansing.'
    Does that apply to the rest of the world? Well I believe that will happen in the future but for reasons you wouldn't agree on Lucy.
    In the meantime, is there anyone good at building stone walls? There's one up north that is in need of repair...LOL
    I think the rift, if it happens will do more harm than good. We bailed out Scotland once before when their aspirations to colonise the Carribean failed. I doubt they will get the same consideration if they fail on this one.
    Shirley anne x

  2. I too am in thrall to local places, not national concepts. What you've written here is very much how I, as a Canadian, feel about Québec.

    I don't see any reason why having more, smaller countries should any worse or better than having, fewer bigger ones. But I like the idea of people groups having the right to sovereignty if that's what they really want.

    Of course, we were once part of the Empire, too! And as much as that is a part of our history and culture, I'm glad things have changed since those days. :)


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