Saturday, 25 August 2012

After the Olympics: why break up Britain?

Took a trip yesterday which might, in a couple of years, involve a border crossing. Possibly. Though probably not. 

We took a northbound train as far as the fine historic town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. There was a time that Berwick was jointly run by the English and the Scots but that involved an element of trust which, as most Scots would ruefully admit, ends up with regret on their side and prosperity on the other. For a while, the Scots guarded the north gate, the English the southern, but then visitors started noticing English soldiers on the north gate too and before long the town was English. All that’s left of the Scots heritage now is the fact that Berwick plays its football in the Scottlish leagues.

Beyond Berwick, we drove into Scotland proper. Though I use the word ‘proper’ in a loose sense. To give you an idea, we’re just twenty miles from Edinburgh and the town’s called ‘East Linton’, with that give-away ‘ton’ ending that says ‘Anglo Saxon’ in a deafening roar. Not that the word ‘East’ is especially Gaelic either.

Just to rub the message home, the village next door’s called Preston. There’s a bigger one of them in England (and quite a few smaller ones too). 

Ah, the Lothians, that glorious English bit of Scotland
Yes, this is the fine old English-speaking kingdom of Lothian, with its capital in that great Anglo-Saxon city, Edinburgh. All of which rather relativises that business about Scots independence. Independence from whom, exactly? The English? They’re right here, guys; take a look at the place names around you.

Still, that being said, I was never against the notion of Scottish independence per se, or not until recently at least. English nationalism isn’t an attractive force and, as the history of Berwick proves, it’s never been marked by generosity towards any nation that England can bully. It struck me that if the Scots wanted to go their way, well, what the heck, why not? I mean, no-one’s proposing an impermeable frontier between us, are they? They’d keep the same currency. They’ve already got a parliament. Independence wouldn’t be so much a quantum leap as a bit of incremental drift.

Now there’s nothing really inspiring about incremental drifting. Which may explain why no-one’s unduly inspired by it, even in Scotland. The great vote is due in the autumn of 2014, to coincide with the seven-hundredth anniversary the great Scots victory over the English at Bannockburn (I say ‘greatest’ as though there had been others. There have, haven
’t there?). 

If the polls are to be believed, the Scottish electorate won’t be voting for independence.

But Scotland’s run by the smartest political operator in Britain, Alex Salmond. You want evidence of his smartness? Look at the mess David Cameron’s making of trying to lead a Coalition government in England. He’s heading rapidly for the dustbin of history. Salmond didn’t even try to form a coalition, he just ran a minority government so successfully that it became the springboard to give him a majority administration of his own. Don’t rule out his being given a statue on Princes Street in the fulness of time.

Well, that smart an operator isn’t going to lose a referendum. How will he square the circle? He’ll get a second question on the ballot paper, a question for ‘devo max’, much extended devolved power for the Scottish parliament. Cameron says no but, hey, who even listens to him these days?

It’s devo max that’ll pass, and devo max that the Scots will get.

To be honest, I’m quite relieved. As I said, I wasn’t that worried about the breakup of the Union if it came to that. I feel much more English than I feel British, and the Welsh and Scots are even more tightly linked to their nations. In fact, the only true Brits are those who get the nationality by naturalisation, because they don’t opt for any of the constituent nations

But my attitude changed during the Olympics. The Team GB performance shone a different light on things. There were the Scots and the Welsh winning medals alongside the English under GB colours. There were some from Northern Ireland too, and that’s not even part of Britain at all.

Within a week of that triumph, England, on the other hand, was being thrashed on the cricket field by South Africa and, in the process, losing its hard-won and briefly-held status as world number 1 in that noble game.

Lamentable English failure after signal British success. Perhaps there’s something to be said for the Union after all.

So I’m delighted to be back in Scotland, delighted to be visiting my granddaughter
’s family and our friends, delighted to be seeing this beautiful country again.

And not a little relieved that there still isn’t an international border between us.

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