I am not a Scotsman. I was raised in the heart of the Industrial Midlands, spent a childhood scaling the Clent and Malvern hills and was educated by teachers and family who had, for the most part, never even been to Scotland. Yet, for historical reasons, decisions that affect my family, my friends and myself are, in part, influenced by people who claim solely to represent Scotland. Mostly, the politicians who represent the Scottish do not reflect the party my family elects. In short, I am an Englishman; without representation. This is not the case in Scotland, which has a parliament to represent the Scots, and who through the power of their nationalist movement, have secured a healthy degree of independence from Westminster; a representation that can only increase from the next Thursday.
So, how do I as an Englishman feel about Scottish Independence? From my perspective, it is simply the best course of action that either the Scots, or the English, could take. Following a ‘yes’ vote, both England and Scotland would be a far more interesting, and a far more democratic, place. National parliaments are designed to represent the national will, the collective decision making process for all constituent members of a nation. The United Kingdom has never been a nation; it is a ‘family of nations’ (to use the Prime Minister’s own words). Therefore, Westminster can only continue with any legitimacy if it can claim representation from all constituent parts of its territories. However, it is quite clear that is not the case at all. Scotland is increasingly represented by its own parliament, to decide its own affairs. They are not bound up in a single, collective institution. As Enoch Powell once said:
“The right to Nationhood is one of those rights, of which it may be said, that time does not run against it. It is not yet known, whether the Scottish Nation, will decide by a majority, to resume the status which they relinquished in 1707. But if they do, I would like to hear their reply, to those who would tell them, that they could not do it, because of the Treaty of Union. History is littered, and some of its most glorious pages are adorned, with instances of nations which reasserted and reclaimed their right to govern themselves, and live under their own laws and policies, not after 5 or 10 years of eclipse, but after centuries.”
The Scottish Nation has not for a long time felt bound up politically in Westminster. Powell’s comments came as early as 1976, when the stirrings of Scottish Independence were already growing. The Scottish people want to represent themselves, and to make their own policies and laws. This is the heart of the problem, and has been for a long time.
When the Union was first proposed in 1707, following the bankruptcy of Scotland after a disastrous attempt at empire, a deal was brokered that essentially involved large scale bribery. The Scottish folk songs have long decried the union, and the men who were bought for ‘English gold’. How far can we truly say Scotland was ever bound up collectively in Westminster? They have had, since the beginning, their own national church, their own legal system, their own traditions and culture, their own military regiments and their own territories. The border between England and Scotland was never brought down. For a long time the union was sustained through the pursuit of empire. Britain became the greatest imperial power of all time, and that project alone sustained a union not only between Scotland and England, but also for the Irish and the English. Yet we have long since forgotten the Irish contributions to empire. The majority of Ireland fought and died for independence, and achieved Home Rule in 1922, breaking a union that had been established since 1800. Both entities prospered. Soon through demographic change Northern Ireland will likely depart the union too.
This leaves the union in a very precarious position. The union has been dead for a much longer time than many are willing to admit. It may not even end politically after next Thursday, but culturally and spiritually it has been dead for a long time. The affinities between England and Scotland exist despite this; not as proof of friendship but as a testament to history. For Scotland and England do have a long and proud history together and there is no reason why that shouldn’t be recognised. However, if this friendship is to mean anything, and if the Scottish are to be truly represented and the English finally rediscover themselves, independence is a necessity. It is no longer possible to see the union as a ‘natural and unquestionable entity’, as was possible in the nineteenth century.
If the Union between Scotland and England was a marriage; it was an arranged marriage. Not one born of love and affection, but out of financial necessity and mutual need. Those perquisites died with the empire, and increasingly we have seen growing divisions between the English and the Scottish; as we are fundamentally different people, with different attitudes. This is most apparent in the most recent general election results, where the Scottish people returned 41 Labour, 11 Liberal Democrat, six SNP MPs and just a single Conservative. Yet, they were represented by a Conservative government, essentially because England voted for one. Though quite controversially, the Scottish chose the SNP to represent them in 2011 for their own parliament, and on their own issues. Yet, just a year earlier returned considerably more Labour MPs than SNP MPs. In short, they want a party devoted to Scotland to represent them, and send Labour MPs to represent the UK.
The case to preserve the Union, which has escalated over the last few days, is truly a detestable one. It has played on the fears and anxieties of the Scottish. It has consistently referred to arguments concerning currency, it has scared them by saying “you’ll be £500 worse off you know”, in a time when people can’t afford to lose £500 from their salaries. John Lewis and ASDA today have added that prices will be higher. They have been told they may not have ISAs, their savings may be at risk, they may face higher taxes, that North Sea oil won’t sustain them (despite Westminster wasting oil revenues and not creating a sovereign wealth fund). Every argument, every point they make, is designed to suggest two things: that independence will cost you money and that independence is a question of economics and prestige. This is the most scare-mongering and reductionist campaign that any in Scotland could be forced to endure. No wonder it has caused a boost for Salmond. However, ultimately it may prove very effective. In particular, elderly people in Scotland, who are more likely to vote in favour of the union, may become very fearful of seeing their pensions and incomes decline. There is a serious moral questionability about this, as after all Scotland will ultimately belong to its next generation, and it seems they are far more likely to favour an independent Scotland. This decision, whatever it may be, should be decided on issues of nationhood; not on economics and scare-mongering.
In just over a week’s time, the Scottish people have a chance not to disregard history, but to make history. They have within their power to end what has ultimately been an unsuccessful union, and to restore the national independence not only of Scotland; but of England too. We can together, in mutual friendship, shape our isles into a genuine home for English and Scottish people, who can live independently from one another in mutual appreciation. We can live by our own national traditions, governed by our own representatives, and end what is becoming a bitter political and cultural chasm between the English and Scottish. The future for independence is not one of conflict, of redrawing hostile borders. It is a future of optimism and freedom; but ultimately it is a future where the English and the Scottish can build for themselves a home and identity, which would represent our respective people and enact our own laws, a place kinship and tradition – a state of affairs which used to be called nationhood.