I have read over these past few days and weeks reasoned and logical arguments as to why the Union should not be broken apart. I have read newspaper accounts and listened to youtube submissions that point out the economic flaws and bear-traps that lie in wait for an independent Scotland. I have listened to politicians of all persuasions trying to provide the coup de grâce that will seal their preferred result. A lot of the time I have heard the call for the romance and the emotion to be taken out of the argument. To distance the decision making process so that it is based on fact, logic, analysis and clinical assessment. Normally I would concur, but then again, normally I might actually be able to follow the arguments. I suspect that on this occasion many of the actual voters and a great deal of the disenfranchised others in the Union, might be like me in having little real idea as to whether the Scottish economy is powerful enough to sustain independence or not. One side says yes, one side says no. I might as well ask astronauts if floating in space is pleasant.
But the real problem I have on this occasion with the logical and clinical analysis, the removing of emotion from the argument, is that you (and me) are Celts. Wrap it up how you want in your 21st Century European hegemony and coat it in the civilised cloth of an Edinburgh business suit, nothing changes the fact that at our core the Scots and their closest of cousins, the Irish, are emotional, romantic, occasionally irrational and often very, very pissed-off at outsiders telling us what to do and how to think. I feel (note that, I feel) that I can weigh in on this as on both sides of my fairly complicated family tree I have Irish and Scottish blood running back for generations. Reids, Hutchiesons, Armstrongs, MacDonalds are all in there. I even bear the name of the patron saint and my first name is the Gallic for John. None of which, by the way, is a logical reason for my input but it doesn’t have to be.
I am emotionally bound to the land that sat visible on the horizon from my boyhood home. I crossed the Irish Sea and spent holidays in her majesty. I am comfortable with her scenery, her people, their food, their dialect, their sense of ironic fatality in the face of those we were romantically told were to blame for our historic woes. I was posted for two years to one of her northern airbases and I count many a Scot as a friend. I also share the descending list of national affinities that allow us to support, in my case, first Northern Ireland, then Scotland, then Wales and then England. I know some who are even more fervent in that they would support anyone except England but I suspect they have never spent much time south of the Scottish border. I suspect they are true-blooded Scots with an irrational hatred of an alleged foe that in actual fact isn’t a foe at all. I suspect they may well be fervent nationalists who perceive Bannockburn as being yesterday and the Act of Union as a betrayal of the great Scottish Kingdom.
It wasn’t of course. It was the Union of a Crown far and away from the average working class person. It was a Union that benefitted the rich and did nothing for the poor. It was a Union that did the same for the average Scot as it did for the average English. Nothing. It was a union that was not a fair deal for all and it still has flaws to this day. But… it was a Union that over time formed bonds. A Union that over time formed common knowledge, common history, common ground over which common soldiers were united in the great causes of the centuries. Their common blood spilled together on the battlefields of Europe and the Far East. It formed common tales of historic endeavour. Common engineering marvels, common scientific miracles, common cultural experiences.
Yes, we still support the “other” teams of the Home Nations against the English but they are the “Home” Nations. Not strangers. Not other countries. They are our neighbours, our cousins, our strength. For do not forget that if you split the union you are not only splitting from England. You split from Wales and Northern Ireland as well. This isn’t a falling out with the big guy down the street. This is a leaving home. Permanently.
And if you think that this romantic notion of closeness will not be broken by splitting from the Union then consider the Republic of Ireland. A proud and beautiful nation so long tormented by her oppressor to the point of having to fight to be free. Once free, she didn’t sail off to distant latitudes. She remained geographically where she had always been and yet a distance began to be felt after separation. A distance that saw her drift from the economic and historic strengths that she had enjoyed. A distance that saw her lose those special connections she previously had with Scotland, Wales and England. Don’t get me wrong. The litany of evils poured onto her by the English power base was atrocious. The centuries of oppression were of course going to force her to look for justice. Yet even to the cusp of the war of independence the majority of the Irish Nation would have settled for a home parliament in Dublin, autonomous government, with Irish politicians running the affairs but wrapped in the Union. A fair union, but Union nonetheless. It was only the final refusal to grant this that forced the split. Yet I wonder how much stronger she and the rest of the Isles would have been if they had remained a part of a fairer and more just Union?
Scotland also suffered shamefully at the hands of an English based power system. The Highland Clearances, the progress of Butcher Cumberland, the betrayal of families by English-backed clansmen. I could, of course, counter the romance with the facts. Bonnie Prince Charlie was a short, effeminate Italian who was unlikely to be leading at the head of a Highland charge but that isn’t what is important. The notion of Charlie, 30 miles from London, overthrowing the usurper on the throne. The idea of a Stuart back in charge. That is the romance. Yet ponder this. He would have sat atop a United Kingdom. Not an independent Scotland. A United Kingdom. A union that through the years has made better people of us all. A union that allows us to bitch and moan about one another, to slag off Glaswegians for their weird accents and the Northern Irish for their refusal to say anything but No!, the English for all being Soft Southerners (even those from the North) and the Welsh for all manner of things to do with sheep. Yet we are who we are. We are the constituent parts of a system that makes us better for being part of it.
So, after the logic and the financial analysis, after the political discussions and the debates, after this next week goes by and as you stand at a ballot box… Please remember the romance, the emotion, the feeling of pride that comes from Scotland being a proud nation, with her own language, traditions and Parliament. But look to the ramifications and the sense of loss that will be felt if you break her away from the strength and common bonds of a Union. Please remember that splitting that union splits you from all of us. It isn’t just about splitting from London. Please remember the sense of pride you feel at being Scottish but also remember that the modern Scottish nation would have been so much reduced without the economic power of the Union. The Scottish entrepreneurs, explorers, inventors and heroes of the last 300 years were wrapped in a flag bearing the Saltire, the Cross of St Patrick and the Cross of St George. And we were all better for it. Stay with it. Fix it from within. We will all be better for it.
Whilst listening to Lesley Gore (The Essential Collection)