This summer, I took my children to various country shows near our home in the Borders.
This year, amongst the black-faced sheep, tractors and bouncy castles, there was a new attraction: A ‘Yes’ tent and a ‘Better Together’ tent. (You could say the debate was in tents).
‘Yes’ campaigners passionately painted a picture of an Independent Scotland and ‘No’ campaigners hard-headedly dissected the issue of currency. Further down the line, beyond the cake stalls, I spotted a Lib Dem tent and wondered what aspect of this Constitutional Crisis was gripping the third party. A distinguished gentleman inside voiced the key question: “So how are your tomatoes, Donald?”
Well, Donald’s tomatoes are frying now in the heat of the debate. A debate that’s raged since 1707, when a nation bankrupted by speculating Scottish financiers had to be bailed out from Westminster. Can you imagine anything like that happening in the 21st century? I know. Hard to believe.
The temperature’s rising. It’s hardly surprising: we’re having a referendum. We’ve been having one for years, it seems. Perhaps we should call it the Neverendum.
But that is history. Now, like millions of Scots, I’ve wrestled and agonised with the decision whether to go for Independence or remain with the Union.
My background – born, raised, and educated (up to age 13) in Scotland, married to a Scot, having our main home here, but working mainly in London, where I went to university – epitomises a ‘best of both worlds’ life.
Yet I see and feel the appeal of independence to the heart, and have entertained the vision of a Nordic social democracy, with progressive politics, Scandinavian lifestyle and exciting crime dramas (“Herr Taggart, there’s been a mørder”).
And if I hadn’t considered those already, I was left in no doubt about their appeal by the forceful and passionate entreaties of my friends on Twitter and elsewhere. I get it. I feel Scottish.
When Cameron and Osborne come north, two thoughts come to mind: 1) They’ve come to collect the rent, and 2) I remember being in the crowd in 1990, when Will Carling, Brian Moore and Margaret Thatcher – cunningly disguised as lock forward Wade Dooley – arrived at Murrayfield with an immense sense of entitlement (full of hubris) and, thanks to Tony Stanger’s dramatic try, were sent homeward, tae think again. I get all that, and I never tire of reminding English friends that, whatever recent results, 1990 was the only game that mattered.
When Cameron, Osborne and (God help us) Farage implore us not to leave the Union, I’m reminded of comedienne Kit Hollerbach’s response when asked by a loud-mouthed bloke if she was a lesbian: “Are you the alternative?”
And yet. And yet. They’re not the alternative. If Scots say, we didn’t vote for this coalition government, guess what? The rest of the UK didn’t either. And the rest of the UK – from Newcastle and Liverpool to Swansea and Belfast – will get a chance to vote them out next year.
What’s more, social justice, a fairer society and the NHS don’t stop at the Border. We can all fight for those things within the Union. One of my greatest sadnesses at the prospective break-up is that it will set English, Welsh and Northern Irish against Scots in a bitter division of the debts and resources of the whole of the UK. It’s already evident.
We saw that in the Future of England Survey published last month. Make no mistake, whatever Alex Salmond says about the Sovereign Will of the Scottish People, the sovereign response of the rest of the UK will be, fine then, you’re on your own.
To say nothing of the economic risk. It’s disingenuous of the SNP to blame the fact that on Monday the pound fell – and £2billion was wiped off the value of Scottish companies – not because of the refusal of London to concede a currency union, but as a direct response to the prospect of a Yes vote.
Much as we’d want to – love to – the fact is, Scotland can’t operate in a vacuum from the financial markets. What we can do is fight for the fairer distribution of the greater wealth of our British – and indeed European –Union. A bigger slice of a bigger cake, if you like. Under Independence, Scotland may get a bigger slice, but the cake will be smaller.
The thing is, speaking purely for myself and my family, I don’t want to have to choose between more powers for Scotland or retaining ties with the Union. I want both. In trumps. Devo Max. With a timetable chaser. I want to have my heart and eat it too.
My Union isn’t the Union of Cameron and Osborne, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. It’s the Union of Gordon Brown, of Ming Campbell, of Douglas Alexander, Michael Moore, historically of Robin Cook, John Smith and Donald Dewar, and, yes, of Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney – Scots working both within and beyond Scotland to promote Scottish values.
And more than that. My Union is also the Union of Alan Bennett, of Victoria Wood, of David Attenborough. Of Tony Benn and Nye Bevan. Of Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and Jackie Stewart, brilliant Scots, turbo-charged by the full resources of Great Britain. This is something unique and special we have here. Do I want us to be divided by a border and a currency?
The scientific and cultural history of Scotland is uniquely inter-connected with the Union. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in a messy lab at St Mary’s, Paddington. Dolly the Sheep was invented by an Edinburgh bioscience company, funded by the Ministry of Agriculture.
John Logie Baird invented the television in London – interestingly, it is now unable to function without Scots working in London studios: Andrew Marr, Kirsty Wark, Kirsty Young, Lorraine Kelly.
Scottish MPs have punched above their weight at Westminster (literally, in the case of Eric Joyce) for decades. For some time, Scotland’s greatest exports to England have long included whisky and Scottish MPs. Or, in the case of Charles Kennedy, both. All these links are part of my Union. Would Glasgow’s brilliant Commonwealth Games or the Edinburgh Festival be any better for our being Independent? I doubt it.
There’s no doubting the power of Hope and Change as political forces. Comedically, change has more energy. “We shall overcome” will always be a more inspiring anthem than “we shall stay the same”.
But now, things don’t have to stay the same. We’re promised new powers on tax, spending, and welfare. More than that, we are seeing a timetable for those things. And that’s just the start of a new political settlement revolution across the Union.
For, think of this: if we in Scotland can demand/achieve greater devolved powers, why not the rest of the UK? The North East, the North West, the Midlands, Cornwall? Politically, the UK is shot. Its institutions tired, discredited and in disrepute. Scotland can inspire change.
I learned early on in this debate not to tell people what to think, or how to vote. All I can say is how I feel and how I will vote, with full respect to others who differ.
Some years ago, British Rail removed kippers from the menu on the London-Brighton line. A campaign sprang up to bring them back, led by Lord (Laurence) Olivier. BR relented, and the following week, Lord Olivier was greeted on the train by the steward.
“Ah! Lord Olivier! I expect you’ll be having the kippers?” “No, dear boy”, he replied, “I’ll have bacon and egg.” “But…I thought you wanted kippers?” said the steward. “No, no, dear boy,” replied Lord Olivier, “What I wanted was the CHOICE”.
Well, now we have it.
Whether you’re bacon and eggs – better together – or kippers, choose wisely. But remember the words of Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde (Icelandic for Keir Hardie) after his country’s fish-based economy collapsed.
“This has left us all with a very big haddock.”
Iceland has since recovered. Complicated, isn’t it?