How did it come to this? In a few hours, Scots (well, electors resident in Scotland) might vote to leave the union. They really really might. The polls have narrowed and tightened, inch by inch, and now it really is too close to call. Yet in the 1980s, despite the ascendancy of Thatcher, supposedly Scotland’s bete noire, support for independence was at just 20%.
Before I pick over the bones of the rapprochement between North and South Britain, a little History lesson is in order. Or should I say, a quashing of a few myths. Believe it or not, England has never conquered Scotland. Not even in the fevered imaginings of the Sun and the Mail. Scotland entered an equal partnership in 1707. Nor is Scotland ‘subsidised’ by
London England the rest of the UK. It’s complicated, but tax raised in Scotland covers basic expenditure, except for defence and other similar UK-wide costs.
And there’s more: not everyone in Scotland wears a kilt. Irn Bru, whisky (spelled thus) and oil are not their only exports. Not every ‘Scotchman has a grievance’. Rangers and Celtic are not the only fitba teams in Caledonia. And so on, and so on. The weather can be pretty shite, mind.
Likewise, not everyone in England is an effing Tory. Indeed, the rest of the UK (rUK) is not just England. Presumably Welsh and Northern Irish views are just as important, although the rhetoric seems to be more and more about England against Scotland. Scotland is a lot more than just an SNP tartan-shortbread-biscuit-tin cliche. And those Yes voters who believe they are ushering in a permanent socialist utopia are deluded: the SNP is certainly populist and centrist, but not as much of a beacon of social democracy as they pretend. Take their healthcare subsidies and free university fees: these are aimed squarely at the middle class, sine the poorest never pay for these things anyway.
The media, naturally, are at their jingoistic worst. 10 quid says that the Sun’s headline tomorrow will be “CANNY JOCKS VOTE TO STAY” or similar, in the event of a No vote. In such an environment, it’s no wonder that it has turned ugly and silly. Soundbites, stereotypes and cliches rarely advance the discussion. The campaign itself has had an air of unrealism. You can’t fault Salmond for optimism, but his position on currency, surely one of the most central issues in an independence vote, is either comically naive or wilfully misleading. Better Together, a.k.a. Project Fear, have hardly covered themselves in glory either. If your wife told you one day that she was unhappy and wanted to leave you, do you think that threatening her with financial hardship if she did, even if it that might be the case, would persuade her to stay?
And there it is in a nutshell. One side is all about identity and freedom, the other has become fixated on the financial and practical ramifications, with neither seeing that this is exactly what exasperates the other side. Nation states have separated in the past with sufficient will, and the sky hasn’t caved in. And distinct cultures have remained together in some kind of union for the greater good too. I think that the challenges are serious for Scotland, but I think the practical consequences have been exaggerated.
This nonsense could go on and on. And, for the better part of about 18 months, it has. Whatever the result tomorrow, it will be extremely close, and leave bitter divisions between both camps. But, if the vote is NO, and I think it probably will be, just, the opportunity to rebuild a properly federal UK should not be missed. There are three options on the table: Devo Plus and Devo Max, which sound like new generation painkillers, and Gordon Brown’s big plan (remember him?).
Many writers and bloggers have avoided making an emotional plea, but I think that separation votes are legitimately all about emotion and affection. So, Scotland, go if you want to, and amicably, but I’d really love you to stay.