I am an Englishman, but I love Scotland. I have made it my home twice and it has welcomed me with open arms both times. I want to stay here, but something bothers me.
Scotland is stuck in an abusive marriage.
England is a bad, bad partner.
If Scotland and England were two people rather than two countries, the case for independence would be open and shut. Any right-minded person would tell Scotland to leave, and leave now.
These are two partners whose best days are behind them. Sure, they’ve had some good times together. “Do you remember that time we led the Industrial Revolution?” “Wasn’t it great when we gave Hitler a good kicking?” But in time, this will be seen as a marriage of convenience. Scotland wasn’t even happy about it in the first place. There is nothing inevitable or great about this Union.
If you are unsure about this, I want to show you three things about this marriage of countries:
1.) Scotland is different to England. England does not realise how true this is. And like the worst of partners, England ignores and belittles Scotland when it speaks up.
2.) Their union is already effectively over. England has had the chance to save it and failed.
3.) Scotland can be happy and strong on its own.
Scotland is different to England
No-one wants to focus on differences. That is how wars start. But it is not fully appreciated by the majority of English people and even some Scots quite how different Scotland is.
Scotland’s geography is different. Its culture is different. Its philosophy is different. Its language, literature, law, education, housing, people, pubs, heritage, politics, economy and resources are all different. The stuff of life is different up here, and not different in an arbitrary way, but in fundamental terms.
Scotland is remote from England. I know because I lived in the No Man’s Land in between for two years. It is two and a half hours between major cities on the East Coast, nearly four on the West – big distances in European terms. It is six times less densely populated. Its centre of gravity is around a central belt of two big cities, not a single, all-encompassing city like London. People from the highlands and islands think Edinburgh and Glasgow are the ‘big smoke’, not London. When you arrive you get a sense of being in a different country, just as you would passing from Spain to France or Germany to Italy.
There are similarities, obviously. But look, the streets are lined with tenement blocks, not semis. The pubs are called The Wally Dug or The Sheep Heid, not the Red Lion or Coach & Horses. If you go to the wrong one, you may get into an argument with a teuchter (look it up) about the cosmopolitan types of Edinburgh – Scotland has its own north/south divide, being in the UK just heaps another one on top of it. You might pay for your pint with a different banknote, one that would get you funny looks in pubs in Leeds or Manchester or Birmingham. Your barman may be in the third year of University aged only 19, because many Scottish students start a year early, and he won’t be paying fees because Scots don’t think he should. All seemingly trivial observations on the surface, but aren’t they the kind of observations you make when you go to a different country? Besides, much more importantly, these, and more like them, give rise to real differences in outlook, attitude and perspective that need to be acknowledged and understood, like they would be in any marriage if it is to survive.
Yet, how routinely they are dismissed by people south of the border. To them, Scotland is England with fried Mars Bars and even worse weather. Skin crawlingly lame observations like this flippantly dismiss Scotland, like a husband introducing his wife as ‘that fat, ginger one there’.
When I turn on a British national TV programme, or open a British national newspaper, I don’t see a reflection of the nation I am living in. I see a foreign country I want no part of. Adverts, magazines, newspaper articles, sitcoms, chat shows, news reports, even weather maps reflect the concerns and ambitions of a southern English elite whose hopes and ideals I do not share. There are millions like me across the North and Scotland.
When, not as part of regional programming, not as part of a news article about Scotland, was the last time you saw a Glasgow tenement block on television? When, just in an incidental scene in an advert, did two guys walk into an Edinburgh pub and not a London bar? What are we supposed to make of all the newspaper lifestyle articles about Eurostar getaway breaks, or shopping in Kensington, or property in the Cotswolds, or a new cupcake shop in Brighton. These mean nothing north of the border.
Flip it on it’s head and English people see the weirdness. I’ve seen a comedian in Edinburgh do a routine about the difference between Dundee and Aberdeen and get a room full of laughs. Few English people could even place Aberdeen and Dundee on a map. Fewer still, quite understandably, would find it funny. So how would they feel if this was the kind of stuff they were subjected to every day and expected to get along with?
When Londoners come to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe or business they lament the long train journey, or the traffic on the A1. They complain because they can’t understand a Glaswegian accent. They complain about the fried food. And that is just when they are here to exist in a little English bubble for a couple of weeks. They never think that Scots ears grate to the Southern accents broadcast incessantly on television. Scots have to grit their teeth and keep their mouth shut when bad weather in the South dominates the news, but Scotland never gets a mention.
There’s an insidious, drip-drip of ‘we are right, you are wrong’ about all of this.
This is not trivial. This is not simply a case of media bias. This cannot be batted away with ‘…but that Lorraine Kelly‘s always on the telly’. This is a systemic, institutionalised lack of recognition of Scotland’s distinct identity in all realms of public, social and cultural life.
And this is all before we get to politics. These cultural and social differences mean Scotland thinks differently and votes differently to England. Scotland has repeatedly expressed this at the ballot box. England has not listened.
To return to the marriage analogy, (Southern) England wears the pants in this relationship. England’s very different concerns dominate the relationship between the two. The couple watch what England wants, read what England wants, does what England wants. When Scotland speak up, it’s whingeing. England are ‘placating‘ it. Scotland is forever cast as the nagging wifey. It’s not healthy for either party.
The Union is already over
“Don’t break up the Union. The Union is good for us. We’re better off in the Union.” This is what I’m told when I say I’m voting ‘Yes’.
It’s too late. The Union is already broken.
The Union was broken when the price of a single London apartment became worth more than entire Scottish towns. The Union was broken when the prosperity of city bankers became more important than the needs of our poor. The Union was broken when southern England elected a pair of Oxford University drinking buddies to govern us.
It has been broken again and again for over thirty years – when the UK government oversaw the demise of Scottish industry in the 1980s, when Scotland was used as a guinea pig for the Poll Tax.
There is now nothing holding this Union together except fading history, inertia and a misguided belief that if we sit quiet everything will be OK. Everything will not be OK.
When I hear determined ‘No’ voters argue their case, all I hear is ‘I’m all right, Jack‘. Rich business people, the English ex-pat enclaves in Edinburgh and Glasgow. These are classic ‘No’ voters. Of course they want everyone to vote ‘No’. They have their fingers in English pies.
But the saddest thing about this referendum is that it won’t be these people that win it for ‘No’. It will be people who aren’t alright, people who the Union is failing, people who are poor, overworked and under-valued. People who have been scared into voting ‘No’ by being told ‘it’s a risk’, ‘it hasn’t been thought through’.
Well, if you are one of those people, I ask you this – if the oil is running out, and Scotland is so poor and costing the UK so much in subsidies, why don’t they just let us go? Why are they so desperate for the UK to stay together? Is it for our benefit? Are these kindly public schoolboys in Westminster sat quaffing their brandies, fretting that our granny’s hip replacement won’t get done if we vote ‘Yes’? They’ve never been to Falkirk or Arbroath or Dumbarton or Stonehaven, but they are worried about the effect a ‘Yes’ vote would have on prices in the local Scotmid (whatever one of those is – they don’t have them in Kensington)?
And if Scotland really is ‘better together’ with the UK, why are many of the same people telling us the UK is not ‘better together’ with Europe? Is this one rule for us and another for them?
And when they threaten that big business will leave Scotland if it becomes independent, why do we just take that at face value? Big business is shameless. It will get into bed with any country that drops its taxes at it. Big business leaves the UK too, you know! What do you think all those tax havens in the Channel Islands and the Caribbean are for? Big business has no loyalty to any nation. It could leave anyway.
Is it not just possible that these people are using these desperate arguments because they want the UK to stay together for their own ends? Because Scotland is worth something and they want it. They want its oil. They want its universities. They want its people as willing worker drones. We are numbers on a spreadsheet to them. With us, they get to throw their weight around on the global stage, living out their imperialist fantasies. Without us they get laughed and pointed at in the salons of Europe and the US, like a cuckolded husband at a dinner party. “Ha ha, look at England. He couldn’t even keep hold of Scotland.”
When David Cameron says he wants to love bomb Scotland, or when he promises further powers for Scotland, does it not remind you of a violent, cheating husband saying “I love you, I love you, please stay. I can change. Honestly.”
And when George Osborne says no to keeping the pound, does that not remind you of that same husband saying, “If you walk out, I swear, you won’t get a penny of my money!”
Are those tactics not obvious?
If this were two people we were talking about, we know what comes next. The wife stays, the beatings get worse. And so it will be if we vote ‘No’. Scotland will have given the UK Government permission to go on beating them. Look at this poll. Scotland will be punished for even thinking about leaving.
The people that now govern us are the same people that sent our great-grandfathers to their graves in the First World War, that threw our fathers and grandfathers on the dole queue in the 1980s. They have had three hundred years of Union to get this right. They will not change.
Voting ‘No’ looks like collective Stockholm Syndrome.
Voting ‘Yes’ means we can leave this failed relationship.
Scotland can be happy on its own
If the break up comes it is not going to be pretty, but it would be nice to remain friends. We have such history together. I hope a break-up makes England take a good long think about itself and mend its ways. It needs to start treating its North better for a start, and looking after its friends Wales and Northern Ireland. Then maybe we can start talking again and doing things together occasionally.
In the meantime, Scotland can move on. Maybe we can hang out with those Scandinavians. They seem like us. They look like us as countries, they’ve got the same attitude to life and they seem to have a good lifestyle. We live quite a way away but they can give us a few tips about how to live our newly single life. Then there are newer relationships Scotland can have – with the European Union, with the United Nations. Scotland is not going to be on the shelf for long, despite what the doom-mongers say. It is a modern, developed Western European power, not a rogue third world state.
The major question mark hanging over independent Scotland’s future, as the No campaign would have it, is its finances – can Scotland afford independence and what currency will it have?
I don’t believe either side actually knows whether Scotland will be better or worse off under independence, however much they claim. In any case, immediate post-independence Scotland will be so similar to pre-independence Scotland that the amounts involved will be negligible in the short term. However, I think we can be fairly sure that whatever the overall economic picture, the economic benefits will be more fairly distributed in an independent Scotland.
But in any case, whatever anyone tells you, this is too big a decision to base on pure economics. When you are leaving an abusive relationship, you get out first, worry about money later. If you were being battered and belittled and told what to do every day, would you be worried about a few quid here or there? You wouldn’t accept it for yourself, why accept it for your country?
There will hopefully come a time when all states adhere to the same basic principles – freedom of speech, free and fair trade, rights for workers, equality for women and all ethnicities and religions, overseen by bodies like the UN and EU. There will come a time, probably long after any of us are gone, when all states will be using the same currency for most things – be it the dollar, the bitcoin, something not invented yet. Fretting about these things is 20th century thinking, not 22nd century thinking. In the future, a nation state will be defined by its culture, the skills and talents of its people, its own unique characteristics, what it can offer the world. We will need a government in Scotland that knows best what Scotland can offer. This will be a government in Edinburgh, not London.
People like to talk about ‘doing this for our children, and our children’s children’. Well, we will be failing them if we do not grasp this idea now. We will be condemning them to face the challenges of the 22nd century stuck in an 18th century union.
I have been called many things for backing Scottish independence – rude, ignorant, badly informed, foolish, unpatriotic, disloyal, a traitor, and most pleasingly by my fellow bloggee, a fifth columnist.
Let me make it clear. I am patriotic. To Yorkshire, which gave me my family, my character and my roots. To Scotland, which gave me my education and a place that has always welcomed me. To Europe, which allowed me to live and work in Spain, where I found a home from home. But to the United Kingdom? No. It is an outdated entity which holds nothing for me. Being in the United Kingdom ties me to people whose ideals and attitudes I strongly oppose. I accept and respect their values, but dealing with the consequences of those values has a hugely negative impact on my life and millions like me. The modern United Kingdom makes me feel like a foreigner. Scotland doesn’t. That is why I am voting ‘Yes‘.
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