Growing up in a small town made for a restricted education as regards other cultures and alternative modes of living. But university threw me into the melting pot that was Edinburgh with its 10,000 students, many from England and abroad and the political activism that electrified student life in the late sixties.
That, in turn, led me to spend much time travelling in England and the Continent to iron out cultural deficiencies by time spent living in Surrey, Cornwall and Portugal. Then a couple of years in London as a mainframe maintenance engineer exposed me to the detailed geography and nocturnal life of the capital’s heart.
It did not remind me of Edinburgh, still less of small-town Scotland. Although the Big Bang and Canary Wharf were decades in the future, the ‘up-and-abaht’ Londoner was already impressive in confidence, in initiative and in shrewdness.
As a counterbalance to the wonderful life lessons available, there was an unbridled hectic that I would come to recognise in Rome, New York and Hong Kong—a city with confidence, intoxicated by its own success and ignorant, rather than intolerant, of others, encapsulated rather well in Johnson’s “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
While each city has its own culture and conceit of itself—an early girlfriend soon brought differences between Glasgow and Edinburgh into sharp contrast for me—London brings it (with some justification) to a whole new level of self-reference. Adding in the bloc that is the supporting Home Counties, there is an effortless arrogance from Peterborough to Portsmouth that puts medieval city states to shame.
After London, not counting the odd few weeks, I lived in a half-dozen cities on four continents and, barring the social extremes of Bogotà that were morally uncomfortable for me, never felt so culturally adrift in terms of both scale and alien-ness that was London, despite language barriers. Having been born in Central Middlesex Hospital and therefore a Londoner myself, I found this disconcerting.
I put this down to London’s endemic unshakeable superiority, combined with an unthinking conviction that no viable alternative can exist. Germans suffer this in things technical but are easy and class-free elsewhere, such as socialising; Americans suffer it from lack of exposure to alternatives but this is greatly softened by their curiously wide-eyed deference to European culture(s).
It may be unfair to allow London to speak for all of England but that rather underscores the emotional point: Culturally, politically and financially, London & SE dominates England. It may follow from that that Scotland is indistinguishable from another English region. Being convinced that this is both wired into their DNA and demonstrably incurable., then the only rational antidote that permits Scotland the voice to which I believe it is entitled is to bypass such effortless hubris through independence.