21st August 2014
How long ago is it that the last independent Scot lived? It must be a good two hundred years since the last man or woman died who might have remembered even childhood before the Act of Union in 1707, and at least another hundred since a first hand memory of such a person passed away. There is no one left alive with the vestige of even such an indirect memory, of what being a truly independent Scot would be like. The folk memory of independence is unusually strong among Scots today, and the spirit of Wallace and the Bruce can be summoned by a few stirring words … even one, such as ‘braveheart’. The skirl of the pipes or a glimpse of a tartan plaid is enough to bring a tear to any Caledonian eye, and the power of Scottish history over its people is one that baffles an English neighbour, such as myself, brought up to be equable, even apologetic, about the past. After thirty years of living, working and raising a family here in Galloway, I have always expected to be an outsider to Scotland, however generous and inclusive has been the welcome. I have always accepted the accident of being English, not with especial pride, but neither with reluctance. I just happen to be an Englishman abroad, and that itself an accident of fate. So what? I also happen to be a human being rather than a possum or a fish. Que sera sera.
But something is changing. This same accident of fate has placed me in the middle of a country going through an epoque changing crisis of identity, and I have found myself involved in a debate that I had only ever presumed to watch from the sidelines. I have been offered a vote on the proceedings. And the question I am being asked is, do I wish to be part of a new and independent country? To me, this is an invitation that goes far beyond the realm of Scottishness. I am not asked if I wish to be part of history, of a Scotland that may have existed once, that resides in the imagination, but to be part of a new country. This new country may well be informed by its past, but there is no one alive, no one with even a second hand memory of what being an independent Scot is like. We are all virgins in this matter, and this is a decision we are being asked to make about the future.
Apparently there are about 400,000 English people living north of the border, being included in this vote, and the majority are expected to vote to remain with the UK. If this is so, it to some degree alleviates any residual guilt when I vote Yes … at least I may be cancelling out another intruder’s interference.
The question of independence though, goes far beyond our presumptions of nationality. The process of this debate has revealed to me a country of real potential, both in its physical resources and its people, and a general political will that to me accords with the best of human intentions, for fairness, freedom, and social justice. These words, in the mouths of Westminster politicians are no more than words, used to disguise the real imperatives of the City of London, and the residual pursuit of imperial ambition, their voice just a squawk on the sidelines of world affairs, or as apologists for the traders of finance. As a small manufacturer in the provinces I have experienced at first hand the continual inversion of what I hold to be of true value, whether it be the nature and reward for work, investment in real worth, or compassion towards our fellows. And now, completely by chance, I have an opportunity to be part of a society that determines its own values, removed at least from the distant and distorted interests of London.
There is the intelligence, ability, resources and determination in this country to change this, if we have the courage to go for it. I would encourage anyone, and especially my fellow ex-pats, who harbour doubts to look up or read the arguments, and weigh the positives against the negatives; to consider the real advantages of independence. The wild tides and winds of this rocky land on the edge of Europe that were once obstacles to life are now a resource for us to harvest; we even have our own oil to use as a capital sump to develop the technologies to do so. To attract investment and enterprise the global brand of Scotland is immediately recognisable, and the history of education and invention is hard wired into the nation’s consciousness. The very process of this debate has enlivened a dormant spirit that until now, and for as long as I can remember, just exercised itself in romantic and imaginary sallies against their old enemy, the English. And as an Englishman in Scotland, I have the prospect of meeting the rest of Europe, and indeed England and the world on equal and neighbourly terms.
Downloadable PDF Version: An English Perspective on Independence