The countdown has begun on the biggest political issue to confront the British people in 307 years. 91.6% of those people, the English, Welsh and Northern Irish are mere bystanders in the great debate. Should the Scots go back to where they were in 1707?
All credit to the slick and answer-for-everything Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scots independence campaign. He has run rings round the dull, pedestrian Alastair Darling, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. Characteristically, the ex-chancellor has based his campaign for staying in the Union on bread and butter issues: the pounds shillings and pence he no doubt obsessed about when he was at the Treasury. Those units of solvency are important, of course, but there is more to life than monetary issues. There is another narrative to be told; it was one of the heart, and on this, we have to ask ourselves whether the polite, unemotional, former small-town solicitor was the one to tell that story.
In all the long history of our time on earth there have been only two fundamental changes to the human condition: the move from hunter-gatherer to farming and the Industrial Revolution. Guess which two nations spearheaded that latter change, along with the other component nation of the British Isles? Our thinkers, scientists, engineers and administrators took the world by storm and changed it forever and the consequences are with us today. Every production line, every factory, every office administration, every hospital – even organised science itself with its insistence on empiricism and peer review – is the by-product of that coming together of our peoples.
If troubled areas of the world, like the Israelis and Arabs, wonder if it is ever going to be possible to live in harmony they need look no further than at the Scots and the English: they were forever at each other’s throats – literally – exhibiting a visceral hatred that today is almost impossible to imagine. Those martial qualities on both sides which made their borderlands a nightmarish place to live in were turned outwards and their armies proved unstoppable. Within a hundred years a quarter of the planet lay at their feet and they found themselves administering the greatest empire known to man. It was a benign empire, not at all like the cruel Conquistadors of Spain or the blood soaked hordes of Genghis Khan. It laid telegraph lines across the oceans of the world seeking to bring it together and railway lines everywhere, even in countries which were not part of its family of nations (South American railways owe their existence to British capital and engineering expertise). Their fingers were in every pie you can imagine. Theirs was a progressive, driven empire which had very elevated notions concerning its role in the world, which in fairness was not altogether fanciful. It saw itself as the heir to Rome, but on a vastly grander canvas. It was on a mission – so it thought – to civilise the world.
When danger threatened in the terrible form of Napoleon, the Kaiser and, most frighteningly of all, Hitler, the two nations stood foursquare in opposition to tyranny, never once arguing whose blood was being shed the most liberally to maintain the Union. No little man like Alex Salmond then lurked in the wings to undermine our joint resolve. We were as one in our determination to see it through. Now, under the guise of self-determination, such men – and women, too – have come out of the woodwork to tell their countrymen that they have all along been deceived, as though those proconsuls of Empire and great explorers like David Livingstone were, from the beginning, guileless dupes of the English. The Canadians know otherwise. They have a whole range of mountains named after a Scot – my own family name Mackenzie, as it happens – and the world is peppered with Scottish place names.
Scotsmen and women have been honoured and appreciated by the English throughout these three centuries of marriage and never was a Scotsman working in England made to feel unwelcome. Indeed, if anything the English grew to develop a respect for the Scots which in many ways made them want to emulate them. So what is this angry discourse which Salmond and his cohorts have whipped up in Scotland? I do not for a moment believe that he thinks his countrymen will be better off without the English. No thoughtful person could ever truly believe that and that includes a Nobel economics prize winner, Paul Krugman, who states that Salmond’s proposals are a “recipe for disaster”.
For all their faults, the English are an easy-going lot. Who else would see only their own young people incur thousands in university debts, allow only Scots free prescriptions, and cover all their care home costs whereas the English have to sell the family home? The English also pay £1,400 more per head under the Barnet Formula. All of this and much more is denied to their own people. They even let Scots have many more Members of Parliament than their population warrants and vote on purely English matters, when the English have no say in most matters relating to them. No, Salmond would happily risk impoverishing his own people so long as he and his lackies can enjoy la dolce vita, swanning around the world attending head of state junkets with his retinue of ministers as well as being chauffeured everywhere around their new fiefdom.
If the English are so terrible a people to be in harness with, why is it that half the world – or so it seems – is knocking at their door, with Calais under siege and young men willing to risk life and limb to gain entry?
Cameron will have history to answer to if our country falls apart. He could not possibly survive any more than Lord North did after the loss of the American colonies. Scots needed to know from the beginning that the English valued them, even loved and in many respects envied them. As canny people they are, they did not need reminding ad nauseam which side their bread was buttered on. I say this as a person of Scots parentage who through long years has grown to love and appreciate the English. This failed and abysmal campaign to save the Union should have been first and foremost an appeal to the heart. The Scots are a sentimental people. They would have listened. If only, at this time of national peril, we had the eloquence of a Churchill to plead the cause of the Union. When the arguments are done and dusted in a few days’ time, and should the Scots decide to listen to the better angels of their nature and save the Union, it will be no thanks to Cameron. It will be because they know, in their heart, that much of what I have said here is true.
I watched a very interesting documentary recently on Scotland’s greatest victory over the English at Bannockburn. The English were unlucky having the hopeless Edward II conducting the battle. Had it been his father, the mighty and illustrious Edward I – the ‘Hammer of the Scots’ – things might have turned out very differently, despite us having our equally illustrious Robert the Bruce. It would have been an interesting contest. Alex Salmond might have hoped that his newly enfranchised sixteen-year-olds might have felt a bit of angst and voted his way in the coming referendum but my gut feeling, as a Scot, tells me that he is going to be disappointed in what Scots generally will decide to do. Untangling a marriage which has last 300 years will prove unbelievably difficult, not to say expensive. And for what? The 53m English with their City of London could probably bear the cost, but could the 6m Scots?
What saddens me is that all the arguments which have been bandied back and forth have been on nuts and bolts issues. But what about the appeal to the heart? We have bled together across a thousand battlefields, blood brothers in the ruest sense of the world; we have built together an empire greater than all others which went before; our scientists and engineers have fashioned the world in which we live with their Industrial Revolution and our poets and writers have thrilled it with a language which is set to be the lingua franca of all mankind. Are we to walk away from all this?
It seems to me that it is low and base motives which are the drivers for Scottish independence, though Alex Salmond likes, with his weasel words, to dress it up as otherwise. But Prime Minister Salmond sounds good, doesn’t it… ? And soon it would be President, once the dust has settled. That would sound even better. And let’s not forget all the baubles he would be handing down to his minions from the Palace of Holyrood House. God would be in His heaven and smarmy Alex would end up making ever more implausible excuses to his people as the years went by for the rotten outcome of it all and the likely penury he had plunged them into. Meantime the English, with their rejuvenated economy, their break with welfarism, their highly educated kids and their fracking bonanza would be heading off into the sunset, but sad nonetheless.
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, has now entered the final leg of his seven-year effort to destroy the British Union.
In September of next year he will throw the most almighty spanner into the works of our 300-year-old marriage. If he is successful the English and Scottish nations will be back to where they were in 1707 and the universally acknowledged happiest coming together of two former foes will be over.
Without a single Sassenach anywhere in my bloodline that I am aware of, I very much value things Scottish and have a natural urge to wish her well. On the other hand, having been sheltered by the English for much the greater part of my life I have come to an appreciation of the many fine qualities which reside in that nation. As a consequence I choose to regard myself as an Anglo-Scot. Both nations, before they joined, had boundless potential, but it could never be fully realised while they spent their time and energy, bickering, eyeing each other reproachfully and often leaping at each other’s throat.
When, finally we made a deal to end the lunacy the results were truly astonishing. An industrial revolution was unleashed upon the world and an empire created the like of which had never been seen in the whole of human history. While maintaining their distinctiveness both nations have cut a dash in just about everything they have put their hand to and, along with Wales, have made a wonderfully harmonious union.
Mr Salmond will also find that separation, if he achieves it, will come at an eye-watering cost. All the institutions which form the modern state will have to be disentangled and new ones re-created north of the border, including (absurdly) fresh armed forces. The Scots should not assume that they will gain automatic entry to the EU as, by their own admission, they will be the resurrection of an old state that had never applied to Brussels to join. It is difficult to see how customs barriers and other niggling absurdities could be avoided were Scotland to go its separate way.
We are in the midst of the longest recession since the Napoleonic wars and Scotland would be unwise to take for granted continued English goodwill if she goes ahead. She should be mindful of the fact that it was English money that saved her from implosion during the Royal Bank of Scotland banking crises presided over by Scotsman ‘Fred the Shred’. The Libor manipulation of interest rates, for instance, was pure criminality. Scotland would also do well to remember that when she was poorer than England during the 70s the ‘Barnet Formula’ was invented to balance out incomes. Scotland has long since ceased to be poorer, but the annual payments go on.
They amount to £1,600 more per head of population than England. Justice suggests this arrangement be ended, but the English are not anxious to pick a quarrel with what some believe is their cantankerous neighbour, who can be counted on to resist fiercely. Many will take the view that the ungrateful Scots are biting the hand which feeds them and when exasperation sets in they might start to say that they would be better off without them anyway; at least financially. They do not forget that Scotland is greatly over-represented in Parliament and that it is the Scottish socialist vote that has kept Labour in power for so many years in England and look where that got us all. They will point out that the public sector in Scotland is hugely greater proportionately than in England and more social benefits are handed out there. In addition they get free university education and prescriptions along with free care in old age. I just hope that these salient facts are not too much to the fore as the arguments rage back and forth during the coming months and that insults do not begin to be traded.
My own view is that Alex Salmond is not a man of high principal, but rather one who fancies a grander title than that of First Minister; one like Prime Minister. For the moment, he proposes to keep the Queen as head of state, but then soon might not hubris drive him on to displace her and become president?
In order to whip up anti-English sentiment Salmond has timed his referendum with the 700th anniversary of Scotland’s greatest military triumph over the English at the Bannock Burn. Also he hopes to benefit from the afterglow of chauvinism following the Commonwealth games in Glasgow a few weeks earlier. Lowest and most desperate of all, in my view, is his insistence that 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote. Clearly he believes that these immature minds are easy fodder for his manipulation and will be swayed by all his nationalistic angst. But does anyone, including Salmond, seriously believe that such weighty issues, which have the potential to change our political landscape forever, be properly understood by people with so little experience of the world? As one Scotsman to another I say to Mr Salmond you are a humbug. Now there’s a good old-fashioned word, but one that in my eyes sums him up perfectly.
Those who have not rumbled him already will surely do so when all the arguments are laid before them and they will send him packing. I know, like Tony Blair, he has the gift of the gab and has an answer for everything, but his people have something much more valuable and big going for them: they are CANNY.
Scotland deserves better than the opportunistic, smarmy Alex Salmond. He may be hard to pin down on television and have an answer for everything, but he is deceitful and disingenuous.
You do not lightly throw away something which took 300 years to build. And for what? A bunch of self-serving wide boys (and girls) bent on power, privilege and self-aggrandisement; people who care little for the greater good of the people living in these islands.
It is true to say that the take-off point for Great Britain was the union of the crowns followed, a century later, by the union of the parliaments. It set aside animosity and warfare that stretched back to Roman times and seriously weakened both countries. Under the new dispensation, and together with Wales and Ireland, it burst upon the world scene in a frenzy of technological, cultural, inventive and, yes, military/maritime brilliance. It changed the world forever ensuring that the language we all spoke became the lingua franca of the whole globe.
It was disgraceful that under history-lite New Labour the 300th Anniversary of that Union – the most successful ever established – was allowed to pass without national celebrations of any kind, not even a national holiday. So much for Gordon Brown banging on about the virtues of Britishness. He even suggested that more of us should take up the American liking for flying the flag in our gardens. How little New Labour knew about us. That kind of showy patriotism is not the British way. Our love of country runs deeper than they could ever imagine: it is almost spiritual in depth.
Politicians today seldom look to the big picture. They concentrate on short-term advantage, mainly economic. Very well then, let us go down that myopic road a little distance. In 2008 an independent Scotland would have found itself in the position of Iceland: bankrupt and humiliated. Bailing out The Royal Bank of Scotland alone would have been beyond their capabilities, never mind HBOS as well. Only the combined financial power of the United Kingdom saved it from the mad follies of Fred the Shred. Alex Salmond’s silly talk of an arc of ‘Tiger Economies’ stretching from Ireland through Scotland to Iceland would have been shown to be the ludicrous nonsense that it was.
I feel myself to be in a good position to see the merits of both sides. My Scottish mother turned to an English charity to care for her illegitimate baby when Presbyterian bigotry would offer her no shelter in her own country. For fifteen years that charity cared for me, and its influence – along with the many years spent living in England – have turned me into what might be described as an Anglo-Scot.
I see the English as a tolerant, fair-minded people who will resist to the utmost their hackles being forcibly raised. How else do you account for their tolerance of the Barnett Formula which allocates annually £1,624 more per head to the Scots than the English? It was introduced to balance out poorer regions over the more affluent ones. But Scotland today has moved up-scale and no longer qualifies, though England continues to nod through the payment with little more than a sigh. It does not wish to cause an argument with its sometimes feisty neighbour. And how else also do you explain England’s tolerance of free Scottish university places which are even extended to foreigners but not to the English? Or free prescriptions or free care home provision? All that, and much else besides, is courtesy of the 85% of tax payers who are English (yet feel they cannot afford these desirable benefits for themselves).
Slippery Alex Salmond’s sinister game is to ratchet up the ante, slyly and incessantly, so as to provoke the English and set them against their northern neighbour. He is even intent on using the squalid device of timing the referendum to coincide with Scotland’s most famous victory over the English at the Bannockburn 700 years ago so that he can whip up sentiment against the ‘auld enemy’. Imagine if England were to do the same in an argument with the French by resurrecting Agincourt, or in the case of the Scots the Battle of Dunbar! It is all so juvenile, but dangerous nonetheless. Some might regard Salmond as a traitor and it would be easy to sympathise with that view.
The British state is now a venerable institution and its Scottish sons were happy to serve in its glory days in disproportionate numbers as pro-consuls and even prime ministers. Do they feel no affection for the long journey we have made together, nor care for the blood we have jointly shed? Is Britain’s diminished state no longer appealing to them? Did they only want to belong to it while the world was in awe of it?
I think the Scots are bigger than Salmond supposes. He uses a precious gift – an articulate tongue – to low and unworthy ends. And the worst of it all is that he knows perfectly well what he is summoning up: it is called nationalism. And among that scourge’s many defects (some terrible) is his doubtless desire to create lucrative jobs for the boys: Scottish Prime Minister, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, you name it – a carbon copy of the entire Westminster set-up. But let us not forgot that nationalism has been the curse of Europe and indeed much of the world. It has propelled us into the two most destructive wars in human history and is what the European Union was designed to eradicate forever. In this the EU has been triumphantly successful and I, for one, am mighty grateful that my generation has been spared the blood-letting of the recent past. So in this regard, too, we need to think carefully before we go down the separatist road.
In two weeks time my wife and I will travel north to Newark to attend a Burns Night Supper. After pestering me for years for me to join him, my brother has finally got me to make the effort. I am sure I will have a good time, though with my English accent and no kilt I worry about looking a tad conspicuous – despite being more of a Scot (my father was also of the tartan) than any of the be-kilted Sassenachs pretending to Scottish antecedents. My brother and brother-in-law have lived and worked in England for many years and have never felt disadvantaged or witnessed prejudice. I wish I could say the same about Englishmen working in Scotland.
The English will always root for the Scots in any sporting event in which they themselves have been knocked out, but oh how I wince when the Scots root for the foreigner, even when, during the Cold War, that foreigner was a communist. I understand how minorities have to make rather more noise than their numbers would justify in order to be heard above the din in a union. But the truth is that most Englishmen would actually quite like to be able to boast some Scottish ancestry. When will my fellow Scots stop girning, knock away that chip from their shoulder and acknowledge that they, almost more than anyone, have done quite well out of the union, and continue to do so. They are renowned for being canny. Let them show this admirable trait in the coming referendum.