Auld Aquaintances.

image‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the last Prime Minister of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland…’

Last week ‘call me Dave’ returned to the Olympic Park in Stratford and invoked the spirit of Sir Chris Hoy and Team GB to save ‘Brand Britain’. He urged the English and the Scots to talk to each other. So we did:

PHIL: If Alex Salmond was truly a political master he should have realised that letting the English vote on devolution would have secured a stand alone Scotland quicker than you can say ‘cheerio’.

PATRICK: It’ll be a shame to lose Auld Lang Syne, whisky, shortbread, heather etc but I’m very happy that Fairisle pullovers will be dispatched into Room 101, or New Scotland.

PETER: Lots of good stuff in today’s Observer on both these points. First off, Patrick, you won’t be ‘losing’ anything. Our whisky, our shortbread, our heather and indeed our salmon and our beef will continue to be available the world over, as will Harris Tweed, Fairisle pullovers and the works of Robert Burns. More seriously though it does now seem to be finally dawning on the thirty million or more English people who are not Londoners that their capital city in fact left the UK a long time ago. Preferring the more profitable (in the short-term at least) embrace of the world’s ‘super rich’ (largely comprising it would appear its gangsters, thieves and despots) leaving many of them both financially and now literally ‘under water’. oh, and we’ll still be plain old Scotland by the way. Still I hope you find a more poetic name than what I see even the FT have now started to refer to as (r)UK.

NICK: Well of course it could go either way but to reject a three hundred year union because of Mrs. T’s legacy and the transient windfall from the North Sea is folly. Like seeking a divorce because you’ve had a tiff and don’t want to share your premium bond winnings with your other half. We have a long and very successful history. The friendly rivalry that England and Scotland always shared turns out to be very real and pretty unfriendly as far as the Scots are concerned. And that’s a tragedy.

PATRICK: I agree. Make it work and if it means substantial change in London then so be it.

ALAN: I don’t agree. I find it undemocratic that four million people can affect change over fifty-eight million people. The whole is surely greater than the sum of its parts.

PATRICK: You have a point, Alan, but I guess this is political. Unless the Scots get a free vote then they will forever complain that it was biased in some way. Not sure how this squares up with two friends’ student offspring being given the vote though. They are an Edinburgh University and one is English and the other American with no intention of ever living in Scotland. On the other hand my brother-in-law who is Scottish and sounds Scottish but lives in Bristol doesn’t. His relatives in Scotland do, of course, and presumably they will take the long view into account. We hope. The last time Scotland was independent it went broke in a version of the South Seas Bubble and had to take restorative action by joining the union. If the Governor of the Bank of England is to be trusted this may very well happen again if Scotland does secede. He is by the way Canadian with various British antecedents. Ref the Souths Seas Bubble bit, as the company was backed by about half the money circulating in Scotland its failure left the nobles and the landowners, who had suffered a run of bad harvests, almost completely ruined and was what finally weakened their resistance to the Act of Union in 1707.

PETER: Thanks for the history lesson, Patrick. Like all history lessons it’s true in parts. I can’t help but notice though that as more English people start to become involved in the debate (and I’m very glad that at last they do) their appeal is always more to past fears rather than to future hopes. Like a lot of Scots I’m still waiting for someone, anyone, to tell me what my future as a Scot will be like within the UK. I know all about our shared past, thank you. My Scottish father served the UK with courage in war and in peace. My mother was English. My children have English blood and I spent half of my working life there perfectly happily. So maybe a unionist could tell us something to persuade us that where we think we see the UK going is just an illusion and that if we were to stay it would somehow miraculously stop sliding ever further in the direction of inequality and injustice, intolerance and isolationism and corruption and cronyism. I say this in sadness because it wasn’t always that way and it doesn’t have to be but it’s certainly how it’s been looking for a while now. And that’s really where your point about democracy comes in, Alan. Because that’s not a country that I want to live in. And it’s not what I want my country to be. So, if I had a vote (and the fact that like your brother-in-law in Bristol and I don’t is down to (UK) election law on residency on a qualifying date) then I’d be voting ‘Yes’ for sure. In the hope that maybe my small country might be able to make itself a better place in a better world. Maybe we’ll fail but I’d rather give it a go while we have the opportunity than live to regret it later.

PATRICK: But isn’t it better to strive from within to make the whole of tha UK a better place for us all rather than to make a smaller part of the population better? London could secede and be what it’s always been: a money-making machine since it was released from the feudal system in the twelfth century. Or any smaller part of the UK could do the same for that matter. Yorkshire has always regarded itself as a separate and contiguous whole. What you are arguing for is a country based on a better set of principles with an altruistic heart committed to education and growth at the expense of greed and I agree. But so does, for example, the Liberal Party which has equal support across the borders. There is no guarantee that Scotland on its own will be a better place. With the financial problems that it will have it could easily become worse. In the end neither approach is right and neither is wrong. It probably is earlier to go for improvement with a new country and a new constitution etc. If it works will you welcome us to come and join you in a new union?

PATRICK: In the end it’s a decision that will be driven by emotion as much as fact. No argument is better than the other. I just hope that if Scotland becomes a separate country it’s not forever and we can rejoin together on new terms favourable to all as we all live on the same island.

PETER: If it happens, Patrick, and it’s going to be very very close, then I personally will be very pleased and very excited. But you’re right, of course, there’s no guarantee that we’ll make anything any better. God knows we’ve got our issues: sectarianism, alcoholism, drug abuse, life expectancy, violence. We’re no Denmark that’s for sure. But the White Paper’s commitment to free education and affordable housing for all strikes me as a good place to start and a fairly modest ambition for a country of five million people. As to staying to help out with the fairness agenda in the rest of the UK someone put it very well the other day: ‘it’s not our job to save the English from themselves’. And yes, I do hope we’ll see you again in another union. The European Union. But let’s not get started on that.


This entry was posted in british constitution, David Cameron, england, eu, europe, great britain, history, independence, philosophy, politics, scotland, uk, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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