Born and bred in England, I have no official say in the vote on Scottish independence. As an Englishman I feel an instinctive distrust of separatist politics, and yet I also feel an affinity for those striving for political freedom.
Some of my Scottish friends and colleagues are distinctly pro; they emphasise the advantages of an independent Scotland able to throw off the yoke of a heartily disliked Westminster government. Such a Scotland would be able to choose its own policies without being ruled by the blind dogma of southern Tories, they say, policies that would be good for Scotland and the Scots.
Those advantages could include free tertiary education. They could include greater transparency for government and less hidden manipulation from the greyer official agencies. The pro-independents even hold out the carrot of a written constitution, something that we English can only dream about, so negative is the attitude at Westminster.
I find myself unable to deny the mooted attractions of independence for Scotland and the Scottish. The pros seem to have prepared their case carefully and have an answer for every objection. If I lived north of the border I would be seriously tempted by such blandishments. Not only by the idea of escaping the waste and blindness of large, central, and southern government, but also to be free of those blasted sassenachs. Even if there is a certain irony in wanting freedom from Westminster yet keeping ties to the European Union ….
And yet, like most Englishmen of a certain age, I cannot imagine my homeland without Scotland as an integral part. I listened to BBC Radio 4 last Sunday morning, and heard a Scottish interviewer talking to a Scottish islander on Desert Island Discs, followed by the weather in a Scots accent, and the news also with a pronounced Scottish lilt.
English I may be, but to the rest of the world (where I spend a lot of time) I am a Brit. Lacking Scotland, the term becomes meaningless. Even with Wales and Northern Ireland, where is the United Kingdom without Scotland? Or Great Britain? What would those registration plates GB mean? To my understanding, much of the British Empire was built by Scots. And while it may be fashionable now to deride the Empire and its colonial legacy, it is an indisputable part of our joint island history.
I think of architect Robert Findlay, who made his name in Canada in the late 1800s. Or post-impressionist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. There is Colin Campbell, entrepreneur and co–founder of the Swedish East India Company, the largest trading company in Sweden in the 18th century. And Sir Thomas Mitchell, British Army surveyor in south–eastern Australia who became the Surveyor General of New South Wales. While the work of author and naturalist John Muir lead to the creation of many national parks in the United States and the founding of the influential Sierra Club.
David Hume, a key figure in the history of Western philosophy, known for his espousal of empiricism and skepticism, is grouped with the likes of John Locke and George Berkeley. And at a more humble level who could forget the contribution of Kenneth Grahame, author of the perennial favourite “The Wind in the Willows”.
The list of Scots who have achieved, who made their future and that of these islands, is long. Which is why I dread the idea of such an active and prolific nation separating. Mr Salmond may say that independence will make no difference, that Scotland will still be a part of the British Isles.
But it will make a difference. We will feel differently in our hearts. No longer will we see Britons supporting England in the world cup and waving the Union flag, as they did in 1966. Future England supporters will wave the St George cross, despite some of its more unfortunate associations.
And it will make a difference in government. We will lose by missing Scottish ideas, principles of freedom and (ironically) independence, from our own Parliament.
So I’m with David Bowie. Stay with us, Scotland. You are not the only ones who feel that this Westminster government is too given to promoting bread and circuses, while repressing and undermining any who seek change for the better.
If you leave us, what will be the fate of those in the south who do seek alternatives? Neutralised and condemned to the political sidelines, without even the support of Scottish dissenters for common comfort.
There are those in the south with ideas, even if the Tories and their cronyist friends do their best to repress them. There are some of us who have felt shamed by the pathetic stick rattling from the likes of Osborne and Alexander. And who ask if this is the best that Britain’s government has to offer.
So I say again, stay with us Scotland. Help us build a future government that is more transparent and open. A government that drives a whole country, instead of just the wealthy part of it. One that throws out its grey, secretive state within a state and instead devotes those hidden funds to building a democracy where free expression is celebrated rather than repressed.
Like an old couple who have spent years together, we need each other. You might complain, but you would miss us if you go. And we would miss you.
© Philip Hunt, 2014.