I’ve been following the SNP press releases and barely a day goes by without a blast against the Westminster system or one of its latest policy emanations. And there’s nothing wrong with that – the SNP are doing no more than their job. But it’s eventually provoked a visceral English response in me. The nearest I can get to articulating it is this : “just leave our chaps alone to sort ourselves out in our own time!”
Of course, the flip side of this is that the English should leave the Scots alone to sort out their constitutional arrangements without interference. But so far, the evidence suggests that plenty of Westminster politicians will continue to weigh in to the referendum debate right up to the day itself. So, I can’t complain really. Maybe I’ll take an alka seltzer.
Being an Englishman with Scottish parents, I identify with English national feeling, while having some understanding of the Scottish national identity and its distinct perspectives. The English and the Scots have different “bile” and it’s no surprise that we English often don’t really get the Scottish perspective.
One could say that the English have more of a “big country” mentality. This gives us a certain confidence and a bull-headedness but sometimes also an insensitivity to smaller nations. Scotland has more of a “small country” mentality – more open to influences from other nations, but also a suspicion of the power wielded by its large neighbour south of the border.
Obviously, I am generalising massively but the point is, with open dialogue, we can understand better what is going on underneath our skins when disagreements arise. It’s not just about intellectual debate, it’s also about feelings. And that includes prejudices, negative attitudes and hurts – stuff that professional politicians can’t easily express.
Recent British Prime Ministers have apologised to various nations for historical injustices perpetrated by Britain e.g. the Irish potato famine, the massacre at Amritsar. This is good. But it’s not enough. How much easier would it be for countries to move on from their painful pasts if their aggressors were willing to enter into respectful dialogues about the facts of history and the feelings generated? What better “practice” could we in England and Scotland have than to have this dialogue between our own nations first?
I’ve wondered why I can’t find anywhere on the Net a forum for English and Scots to debate respectfully and sensitively how we feel about each other. It seems like a gap in the market and I think there is a big need for it at the moment in the lead up to the referendum and in its aftermath.
If anyone is interested in taking this idea forward, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you
I am from London and have lived most of my life in the South East of England. While I feel very much culturally English – and a southerner – my interest in the Scottish independence debate comes from the fact that I lived in Glasgow for several years in the 1990s and I also have Scottish family.
Upon first coming to the independence debate, I noticed very quickly that the “No” campaign majored on two issues : the economic risks of independence and an appeal not to “break up” the United Kingdom. Now that both campaigns have predicted a fairly narrow band of economic gain or loss from independence of around £1,000 per person, it strikes me that the decision for the Scots should be about politics much more than economics.
So what of the potential “break-up” of the union? Well this is one way to frame the effect of independence on the relationships between the nations of the UK. But it is a negative way and it doesn’t have to be the only way. There is an element of emotional blackmail in using the term “break-up” – implying that Scots would bear responsibility for something bad, if there is a “Yes” vote.
Scots well know that the London political establishment – as well as most people in England – want Scotland to stay in the union. But I would like to see English political leaders retain our national self-respect in this debate. Do we really need to lobby foreign leaders to support the union? Do we really want Scots to vote “no” because we English “need” them in a union? Do we want Scots to vote “no” because they fear we English will somehow get them back otherwise? The attitudes of English political leaders towards the debate reveal their likely attitudes towards their dealings with Scotland after the vote – whatever the outcome.
One thing I am sure of is that a majority “no” vote, motivated by these sorts of issues, will breed future disappointment, even feelings of betrayal, and an unhappy union. It is therefore time for us English to pull back from applying pressure for a “no” vote and let Scots choose their future with a clear head.
With this in mind, I have drafted below a declaration on behalf of the people of England which sets out terms of what I consider to be a positive relationship between the peoples of England and Scotland in the lead-up to the referendum and also its aftermath. (I wouldn’t claim to speak for Wales) By means of the declaration, I am inviting the people of England to acknowledge our shared past in the UK and to look forward to an ongoing happy, honourable and constructive future relationship, if there is a “Yes” vote. I have called it the Reigate declaration because I grew up near that town, and for me, it epitomises middle England – nothing more than that.
Please consider agreeing to it in the poll at the bottom of this post. I would be interested to have feedback on the idea and the content on firstname.lastname@example.org
The Reigate Declaration
WE THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND
wish to show our friendship and respect for the people of Scotland as they prepare to decide whether or not Scotland will become an independent country.
With this in mind, we DECLARE the following:
We affirm the right of every people or nation, including the people of Scotland, to self-determination, and if they so choose, to govern themselves as an independent state.
We do not wish to be united to any nation where the majority of its people oppose or resent this union. We do not wish to be in a union with Scotland if the relationship between our nations is characterised by long-term tensions, mistrust and deadlocked views on major policies.
We will respect a decision of the people of Scotland in favour of their own independence, without bitterness or anger.
We object to any efforts by our political leaders to use their position to campaign for a “no” vote. In particular, we object to :
a) Using taxpayer’s money to fund advertising
b) Efforts to enlist the support of political figures from other countries
c) Emotional blackmail
d) Veiled threats of negative consequences for Scotland if there is a “yes” vote.
In the event of a “yes” vote, we urge our political leaders to work with the leaders of Scotland in a spirit of co-operation and goodwill to ensure a smooth transition to independence.
We are grateful to the people of Scotland for their membership of the United Kingdom for the last 307 years. In particular:
a) We will be forever grateful to the servicemen and women of Scotland who have served the United Kingdom in war and peace, and especially to those who have lost their lives as a result; may they never be forgotten;
b) We are grateful for the contribution of the people of Scotland to our prosperity;
c) We are grateful for their contributions to the arts, sciences, academic life, and political life of our nation;
d) We are grateful for the families and personal friendships that have formed as a result of the union and links between our nations.
We will not treat Scottish people living in England any differently whatever the outcome of the referendum may be. We call upon the people of Scotland to do the same in respect of English people living in Scotland.
In the event of a “yes” vote, we look forward to the friendship between our nations continuing in a spirit of freedom, equality, mutual respect and collaboration, in every area of life – personal, social, cultural, economic, and political.