A lot of partisan and, frankly, wildly unsubstantiated, words have spouted forth since the indy/union debate took off at the turn of the year. Neither side has entirely covered itself in glory. Though I openly belong in the indy camp, I have done my best to engage with and understand the arguments deployed by opponents. Last May Alec Salmond launched the new Scottish Parliament with a clear statement that the SNP “has no monopoly on wisdom”. Who am I to gainsay His Eckness?
But, despite three parties to voice arguments and the UK Government lined up behind them, the case for the union has, so far been completely upstaged in positivism, in vision and in obvious belief that the Scottish people can make their minds up when they need to. I have heard warm words from all three opposition party leaders about the need to talk Scotland up. But I challenge readers to point me to where this has been done.
For me, the area that pro-union voices have done the greatest disservice is not to either the SNP or to Scotland but to the heart of the union itself: England. Laughable as it is, Paxman’s recent sneering dismissal of things Scottish neither represents his country nor its attitude towards Scotland. Scot though I am, I claim and am proud of my English connections—dad from Westminster; early beneficiary of the NHS born in Central Middlesex Hospital; worked three years in London, Hampshire & Cornwall, I spend at least a month a year south of the border. It remains my favourite foreign country.
So when I say the English attitude to Scotland is largely one of puzzlement, there is no judgement in that opinion. The English are broadly reasonable, comfortable in their culture and somewhat pushier than their polite demeanour might suggest. Scots could learn much from them. They are puzzled because, to the average English, we Scots are another region of Britain—slightly more diverse in culture than, say, Devon, but integral to the nation. And in describing that ‘nation’, they often use Britain or England pretty much interchangeably. This is especially true south of Peterborough. Why would anyone want to leave?
Despite a couple of decades of SNP rise being charted in Scotland, this had not registered in England (any more than it had elsewhere). But this month has changed all that, even if it hasn’t given them any real understanding. Most English exhibit a combination of curiousness, mild resentment that Scotland seems to get more than its share (under Barnett) and a sense of “if they want to leave, let ’em”. Especially among unionists, there is also a hurt, as if all we went through together (building an empire, fighting Nazis, etc) is being discarded.
I tell my English friends not to worry. If Scotland does end the union, they are going to prove a better friends that they were partners. Firstly, the Scots “punch above their weight” even better than the UK does. Not only better known internationally than other countries their size, they are better liked than Britain/England because they exhibit little of the jingoism that, through the Tories, has tarnished England’s reputation.
Secondly, though Scots might be 8.5% of the UK population, they have 30% of the land, 50% of the seabed and gas reserves and 90% of the oil. Together with our engineering (Weir pumps; Clyde Blowers) finance, whisky and tourism industries, that makes for a prosperous country that’s already ahead of England in GDP. Thirdly, having to fend for ourselves will sharpen Scotland up, forcing us to regenerate jaded entrepreneurism and look for opportunities abroad.
Fourthly, that will stimulate our renewables industry even further as schemes like the massive Scottish & Southern offshore scheme east of Fife and the tidal potential of the Pentland Firth and Minch become tapped. Selling energy south to England at lower rates will benefit both countries. The industrial growth in Scotland will need support from and give work to the broader range of firms in England. An independent and more agile Scotland could exit recession faster than England and, by its bouyancy, help drag England back into growth.
You only have to look at Eire’s relationship with the UK. Separated in acrimonious circumstances in 1922, nonetheless, relations improved post WWII. UK trade with Eire grew by 5% in 2010 to over £41bn and, despite its financial difficulties, it still boasts more growth and a higher GDP than Ulster. In fact, Ulster was long an example of how poorly the Irish did by staying in the UK, as opposed to Eire which prospered, sharing few of the ‘troubles’ that so plagued Ulster.
How much better could the friendship between Scotland and England work in favour of both countries? With memories of any animosity hundreds of years further in the past than with Ireland, with centuries of willing and enthusiastic partnership that built the widest, most polyglot empire the world has yet seen, with contributions to science and progress to match any country, why would the close relations Scotland and England now enjoy not continue?
Imagine these British Isles as an amicable cohabitation of countries, with shared language, culture and history, but with independent diversity to enrich the mix. Would this not be a model for 21st century international co-operation? As Joyce and Becket enriched ‘English’ literature, so McMillan and Vettriano have done the same for music and art.
With English fast becoming the world’s lingua franca, the countries of Britain would be at the leading edge of Europe in the world. With Irish and Scottish enthusiasm detoxing English scepticism at ‘foreigners’ beginning at Calais, this bloc could be Europe’s gateway to the States and beyond. And, because of natural gifts the English exhibit for business, the Scots show for engineering and the Irish show for persuasive sales and good criac, what might not be achieved through liberty for each to pursue their gifts towards their own ambitions as friends together?