It is my fervent wish that the title of this blog will not ring hollow in a week’s time, in the way of a book I found a few years ago, written pre-1947, whose title was Must England Lose India? Well, yes, I said at that point, tossing the book aside without so much as a glance at the pages of erudite argument.
So much for faits accomplis. Yet I feel compelled to admit a very present anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Standing on the sidelines in the final run-up to a momentous decision which will be taken by residents of Scotland next week is a hard thing to do. Quite simply, I don’t want Scotland to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. And here are the reasons.
First, the things I am not qualified to speak about. I cannot comment on future revenues for Scotland and need to leave it to industry spokespeople to elucidate, for example, to what extent North Sea oil might be dwindling and whether new discoveries are financially viable. Nor do I have an economist’s handle on the anomalies inherent in seeking to keep the pound while severing links with the UK – or the protracted turbulence the pound may experience in the period immediately following a Yes vote for independence. But I am disturbed at the prospect of poor financial health for Scotland as much as I am disturbed by the tendency for some in the Yes campaign to pass off genuine statements given by (non-political) experts as ‘scaremongering’ or ‘bullying’.
I’ve watched and listened to debates with mounting disquiet. I listen to reasons given for independence - amongst them the need for social justice, and to act against the bedroom tax, and child poverty. Yet these issues are as live and heated ‘down here’ to anyone who seeks a just and caring society. I listen to anger expressed over the fact that Westminster has taken the country into unwanted wars – yet recall my own incandescent rage when the Blair government, with slipshod justification, involved us in Iraq. I hear annoyance about expenses-fiddling by MPs as though no English, Welsh or Northern Irish person also shares this opprobrium. I hear voices countering arguments put forward by pro-unionists with cries that Scottish inventiveness and intelligence will win out, as though any anxiety we express over Scotland’s future (and, yes, over our future because the Scottish vote will affect us all) even takes into question, in the first place, the proven creativity and ingenuity of Scots. I hear sneers about the ‘Westminster Elite’ as though ideological distance from the Houses of Parliament in London is solely the preserve of (northern) geography. In fact, I live just up the same river from the Houses of Parliament and can leap on a train and be standing in front of them in less than an hour. But whenever a government for whom I have not cast my vote takes power, and only spitting distance from here, I too feel disenfranchised.
I applaud strong self-governance within a larger framework, and hence am in favour that more powers are being offered to Scotland in the event of a No vote. Having grown up in the province of Ontario in Canada in a federalist system - where provinces are responsible for direct taxation, natural resources, hospitals, schools, welfare, intra-provincial transportation and the administration of justice, and where the federal government in Ottawa has jurisdiction over international and interprovincial trade, communications and transportation, banking and currency, foreign affairs, and defence - I am comfortable with the idea of power devolved away from central government. I lived just across the Ottawa River from the province of Quebec whose vibrant character and culture, I would argue, have always been better protected within Canada with its professed commitment to biculturalism and bilingualism. A Quebec flying solo would be not just overshadowed by the remainder of a still enormous Anglophonic Canada but also by its huge American neighbour to the south. In the same way, I feel that Scotland is best served by staying in the union, strengthening its culture, its identity and with increased powers, but safeguarded from the economic vicissitudes of going it alone. There are cold winds out there.
My prayer that Scotland will vote to stay part of the United Kingdom is because I also speak as a child of Northern Irish parents - with Scottish forebears - and as a person with a surname (by marriage) that sounds as Welsh as it is possible to sound who lives in the southeast of England. I am by no means alone in this country with these kinds of connections. The four corners that they represent are key to the strengths that currently exist in the UK. We are linked like kin. We have shared history and, I profoundly hope, a shared future. There is, without doubt, much to be modified and improved, yet so very much more to be celebrated in this imperfect but nonetheless joint venture in which we find ourselves.