Thursday, September 18, 2014


There have been a lot of wise words written from both sides of the Referendum debate in Scotland. I don't have anything particularly profound to add, just a few jumbled thoughts of my own.

It was 1979 when I left Scotland. It was the year of Margaret Thatcher coming to power and also the year of the referendum on Scottish devolution.

Our local village hall was the polling booth and I recall a megaphone car outside with SNP posters on it. Nobody ever came to our village, so it was an odd sight. The Scottish Nationalist Party - how good did that sound?

Even at an early age I was introduced to the idea that we were different to our neighbours to the South. I knew this already as we had relatives in the Midlands who had moved to England in the late Sixties and early Seventies to take jobs in the mines down there. We would visit them most years usually en route to our annual week in the sun - Clacton, Great Yarmouth or somewhere.

So I knew that England was different. It seemed more affluent for one thing. The weather was better - hence the holidays there. And they didnae half talk funny, and yet they thought we were the ones with accents!

We did think we were different. As I grew up I was always led to believe that the Scottish education system was superior to that down South, that we were a more generous people in many ways (despite the stereotype of the stingy Scot), and that we were hard working and inventive (TV, penicillin, tarmac, the telephone, deep fried pizza etc). I guess many of us have these kinds of assumptions about the sort of people we are and also what our neighbours are like, whether they're next door or in the next state.

The referendum came and went. Scotland was denied its chance of an assembly despite a majority Yes vote. I moved to Bedfordshire with my family and started to become a wee Englishman.

Looking on 35 years later at the independence debate has been fascinating and tortuous. I don't have a vote, and I don't have a problem with that. I believe in localising democracy, so the people who live in the country should have the say in how its governed.

Although it may sound heretical to say it, I'm almost glad I don't have a vote as it feels like it would be one of the hardest decisions I'd ever have to make.

Like many people I'm an emotional nationalist. I love the idea of Scotland and belonging to somewhere even if I don't always know what that means, and don't always like what it can mean. It's hard not to be in love with the idea of your country, especially when you're an expat like me. Scotland has so much going for it: great resources, beautiful landscape, fascinating history, whisky, intelligent, warm and funny people, and a vibrant cultural life.

There's a side of me that naturally bristles when I sense my tribe is being put down, patronised or treated unfairly. In some senses I am a typically chippy Jock. I can see how Alex Salmond has been able to use this in his campaigning. Like I said, we think we're different and he knows the levers to pull.

Although he's one Britain's canniest politicians, he's barely had to break sweat because of the incompetence of those ranged against him. From Cameron's haughty decision to deny a devo-max option, through Alistair Darling's dry and hectoring tone, to the overall patronising and negative tone of the No campaign, Salmond probably can't believe that the fight of his political life has been so easy.

I've been really impressed by the seriousness of the debate. It's not just about oil revenue. Many nationalists wouldn't care if the only oil in Scotland was that in the chip pan awaiting a battered Mars bar. It's about the future of the country and it may be the only chance many will get to see their country independent.

It's so close - who knows how the vote today will go. In the past week the kitchen sink has been thrown at the Yes campaign with businessmen and economists weighing in to claim that Scotland could be voting for a future of austerity, higher taxes and poorer services. Of course, this is what the country could end up with by sticking with the Union.

I'm not denying that their predictions sound ominous, but the problem is that they may be too late, and that after a couple of years of nay saying, it's just white noise. There's also the attitude of Scots as put to me by a friend of my mum's, a very genteel lady (and Unionist) in her 70s. She said: "You know what we're like! The danger is that with so many people lecturing us about what we can't do, we'll just turn round and say, 'Oh we can't can we, well let's see!'"

I really don't know how it will go, but I will make one prediction. In the event of a Yes vote for independence, the sky won't come in on the house, despite what some say. There will be tough times ahead. Anybody who thinks an independent Scotland will be a land of milk and honey is kidding themselves. Even if there was untold oil wealth, is that the sort of unearned inheritance that hard working Scots would want for their kids - I don't think it is. They want them to be well educated and healthy living in a country that looks after those who are least able to look after themselves.

To me, that doesn't sound like a lot to ask for. The real question is which side is going to provide it? Choose well Scotland.