Debating with people in England about Scottish independence

This is a serious article with respectful suggestions for people in Scotland and England about engaging with people in England on Scottish independence issues. I am writing as an English person with Scottish roots who has himself been persuaded by the case for independence by getting informed.   I am not suggesting that debating with people in England is a priority right now for Scots, so close to the referendum itself.  But the English are getting more interested.  Some are sympathetic.  Some are open.  Some are worried.  Some are hostile.  And some want to wade into the debate in Scotland to try and save the union.  

Scots have generally always had a keener interest in and consciousness of national identity issues than the English, being ever conscious of dominance by England.  With the referendum, the debate on national identity and independence has advanced much further and it’s great to see so much political interest generated.  Naturally, we in England have not given the issues the same attention.  Many Scots will have developed a well worked out narrative of their opinions but circumstances may not permit them to explain them openly to people they deal with in England.  Even if they can, it will be hard at first for many people in England to respond meaningfully as most of us are just not up to speed.  But it doesn’t mean that we will be convinced.

My own experience of talking about Scottish independence with people in England is that some are interested but don’t have strong feelings either way. Some just don’t want to talk about it.  Some are already sympathetic on political grounds and it is easy to talk at length.  I haven’t yet had the opportunity to talk to people who are worried or clearly against but who are willing to have a sensible discussion.  If I do, my strategy will be not to try to persuade.  I will see if I can first ask a few questions for the other person to ponder.  Hopefully this will then lead to a more constructive conversation. 

Here are some possible questions :

  1. How well-informed do you feel about the independence debate?
  2. What more would you like to know?
  3. How do you feel about Scottish independence?
  4. How do you feel about being British?
  5. Would Scottish independence affect your sense of being British and if so, how?
  6. Why do you think many Scots want independence?
  7. What is your response to those reasons?
  8. How do you feel independence might affect your relationships with Scottish people?
  9. What can we do in England to maintain good relations with people in an independent Scotland?

Obviously, these are just examples.  If any readers want to share their own experiences of engaging with people in England about the debate, it would be great if you would comment.  I for one would like to learn from others’ experiences.  Thank you for reading.


9 thoughts on “Debating with people in England about Scottish independence

  1. My British family living in England don’t seem to have an opinion on the issue – or are not interested. It is difficult to understand why the Scots are so nationalistic. I was brought up to be British. All the products which left my City (Manchester) were labelled ‘Made in Britain’ and my identity is linked with that because of mixed Irish and Hugenot ancestry.

    My husband also consideres himself British – living in Bolton just a few miles from Manchester and having one Irish, one Scottish and one Welsh grandparent. The 4th is also of Hugenot descent. British, therefore, is what we are.

    Narrow Nationalism does not appeal to the British otherwise the English would have asked for devolution themselves since everybody votes for English only laws and policies irrespective of which part of the UK they live in.

    The Union between Scotland and England was not forced upon the Scots. It was entered into because it was financially better for them. It filled their pockets in many ways, including the ‘gift’ of land on the island of Ireland, the cause of much bitterness there. The cause of much trouble in Glasgow with death threats to football managers from Ireland and beatings at football matches. It seems to be the only part of the UK which still indulges in sectarian violence. (Title: UK and NI)

    We have to think, perhaps, that we might all be better off if the Scots left. How they will deal with the 2m immigrants that Mr Salmond is going to invite to do the jobs is what intrigues me, or how he thinks he will be better off in a completely undemocratic EU also puzzles me. He may well think that it was a case of ‘the devil you know….’

    All I can think is that encouraging anyone to stay when they want to leave is pretty pointless. If Scotland stays they will expect England to pay up and shut up. As my local Council representative said in an aside at a recent event she was attending. “And what will you do when you can’t blame the English?”. She is Scottish, talking to Scottish friends.

    The English are all very polite about the attitude of Scots but make no mistake about it, they are anti-English. They openly insult us in face-to-face conversations and in print. There is no point in complaining about ‘racial hatred’ or ‘hate crime’. The Scots genuinely believe this does not apply to the English. We are fare game. Its very upsetting and disturbing.

    No doubt the Scots will survive and good luck to them. The English, Welsh and N.Irish will also survive – and better.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful contribution. Picking up on one point, historians are united in saying that the Scottish people were almost all against the union with England in 1707. There wasn’t much enthusiasm in England either. The union of Parliaments was a union of political elites and did not emerge from a popular convergence.

      I have emerged from what I see as the “cloud” of Britishness that I lived under most of my life. I think it’s a fairly ugly and energy-sapping identity, dressed up to be tolerant and inclusive. Even if it was so attractive, if Scots, Welsh and N Irish don’t want to be with the English, the British identity will disappear. We might as well get used to being and feeling English, including allegiance to our various cities and regions. We’ll always be English, whatever happens.

      It can be convenient to adopt the label “British” if we have roots in more than one UK country (as I do too), but having a political union is a different question. Having this dual identity doesn’t help us, I don’t think.

      • I don’t have a dual identity. One third of Manchester’s population was not born in the UK. England was somewhere down South with thatched cottages and the queen; very different and not as dynamic as an industrial population. No offence meant, but I am NOT English. I did not ‘adopt the label of Britishness for convenience’. I was brought up to be so. That is how I feel. I also have lived in Wales and Scotland amongst people who feel the same.

        I was brought up in a community that criticised the British especially with regard to Colonialism. However, when I went to work in some of those countries I saw for myself how the hard work and dedication of just a handful of people served the inhabitants, and felt I had done an injustice in my mind, at least.
        The idea of loyally doing work and fulfilling the obligation was a given.

        “if Scots, Welsh and N.Irish don’t want to be with the English the British identity will disappear”. The NI have fought long and hard to remain within the Union; I lived in wales for 14 years and the majority argued against the Welsh Nats and the Free Wales army was, in the end, defeated by the rest of their countrymen wanting to remain in the UK. Likewise my Scots neighbours are worried sick that narrow-minded Nationalists can ramp up such enmity.

        Its strange to contemplate that joining together in the EU has sparked off a lot of this negative thinking in all the countries of Europe with many of my friends ‘going back to their roots’; tracing their celtic ancestry etc. Its all rather silly, especially in these islands where most of the avid Scots Nats. share the same origins as myself – Denmark or Norway.

        One needs a perspective from outside. Yes, there are many people who are anti-English, but no more than say in Belgium where the Flems are anti-Walloons and French. Italy is seen by the Brits as an ‘entity’ but it is not. The regions are entirely different and many harbour resentments. Germany the same. They are all political unions with different cultural backgrounds but joined toegether more recently and not as successfully as the UK.

        Civilised people can co-operate and must do so in the shrinking world. In my experience living in all the regions of the UK, five countries in Europe and three in Africa, now is not the time for splitting up and finding getting used to another identify in ever more flimsy political alliances. There is nothing clever, or patriotic about seeing other human beings as ‘different’ or foreign’. Britain is a wonderful place. Its landscape is beautiful, its people are talented and have different skills, characters and languages. It is a success story.

        I will not be getting used to being English. It in no way describes me; I have lived and worked for 73 years as a British woman and nothing will change that. I like unity in diversity; it creates better societies. However, if anyone does not volunteer to accept the rules and the democratic decisions of that society, better they leave. We all know what worms in the centre of apples do.

  2. Ok but I would say that you are in a small minority of people in Britain who describe themselves only as British, and not also as English, Scottish, Welsh or N Irish. Very few in Scotland now identify themselves as British in censuses. My parents were post-war Scots and felt British and Scottish together but that was a special time when we had to unite to fight a common enemy. Since then, Scottish politics has diverged a lot from English politics and English politicians have woken up to this too late,

    The feeling of many English people I have come across is that they want Scotland in the union, but if they go, then it’s good riddance. This reveals to me that the British identity is not at all healthy. If the union of our countries was founded on mutual love and respect, our people and politicians would have been up in Scotland for the last 2 years talking to ordinary Scots about what went wrong and how to put it right. If they still left, we would be very sad but want to work things out together as amicably as possible, Instead, Scotland has been subjected to endless threats about the consequences of independence in the most negative political campaign I have ever experienced in the UK.

    The reality is that most English people want Scotland in the union in order to “walk tall” in the world, and much less because of genuine love and affection for the Scots. This is one reason why it is better to go our own ways and reconfigure our relationships among our own nations and then between our nations.

    • I think nobody, particularly me, has said the union was based on mutual love and respect it was done for practical reasons.
      I suspect you are young “most of the people you have met” indicates you have not met very many.

      The success of the UK was as a result of diverse people joining together largely due to the Industrial Revolution which took place in the North of England. This revolution was aided by the influx of skilled people from Europe who came and added their skills of spinning, weaving and manufacturing. This is what was Britain and the UK. As I have said before I am British and have benefitted from being British. I grew up with people speaking with my local accent with names that came from Belgium and France. We were in it together.

      The Scots have always seen themselves as better/different. In all the countries I have lived there has been a Caledonian Society which excluded the Irish, English and Welsh, unless by special invitation. The rest looked on with amusement not animosity. There is, however, great hostility in Scotland towards the English, whom they blame for everything. It is the Scots Nats who have inflamed and added to tribalism in Scotland. First by encouraging a ‘Celtic’ connection when the footballers were refused entry into the English Premier League. This got under their skin. Why – there is a Scottish League, would they want the Irish and the Welsh in that. Oh no!. Wanting to walk tall?

      In the beginning of the campaign, many years ago, they held up the Celtic Tiger – Ireland as their role model. Then it crashed and we heard no more about that. Unemployment in the Celtic Tiger is twice what it is in Scotland. Not what we want for our Scottish friends I think.

      Enfranchising 16 year olds with no previous involvement in politics at all, may tip the balance. When a survey was done in Dumfries and Galloway and I was stopped to take part, I made a slight error in my answer and asked could I correct it. The interviewer remarked that I had answered 99% correctly whilst most of the people he questioned did not even know there was a Scottish Parliament. Amongst my own acquaintances, it is clear that they don’t know what it does.

      In fact the poor NHS, poor primary education, poor childcare is the fault of the Scottish Government under Alex Salmond who has voted against every bill to improve these. It is Alex Salmond and the Scots Nats who get into bed with the likes of wealthy Americans like Donald Trump and finnagle the land laws in order to drive people out of their bothies to provide the rich with ever better golf facilities. And as J K Rowling says – and she should know – the Scots Nats under Alex Salmond have given more tax benefits to the super rich than the British Government have.
      Is that considerate of the welfare of the Scottish People?

      This is a beautiful country and for the most part the people are hospitable and positive. But tribalism has been whipped up over the years. There has been a proliferation of tartans – not an ancient tradition at all. Charity money and money fromt he UK government squandered on financing pipe bands and drumming schools. 40 years ago my husband’s cousin living by Loch Lomond was askance when asked did he ever wear a kilt. “och no, no lowlander would ever wear a kilt”. Now almost everybody dons a kilt for special occasions. They even sell them in Aldi!

      As I have said if the Scots wish to go, there is no point protesting. My friends and relatives south of the border just say the same. They are a bit sick of being labelled ‘English’ and insulted by the Scots and having everything blamed on them. Scots have a funny idea about democracy. It seems to be if you don’t give us what we want, first and foremost, we are not playing. This attitude appeals to the young who are basically very self indulgent and self-centred.

      I have to hope that whatever the outcome my neighbours will not suffer. They are scared to death of a ‘yes’ vote. I will suffer as well financially, the difference being I being British, can leave and live in any part of England, Northern Ireland or Wales. This option which has worked well for the Scots in the past when they flocked to the North East and North West for work is hardly likely to be an option in the future. Sad isn’t it, that narrow minded tribalism can trump outward looking optimism for the future. Yes the Scots say they didn’t get the government they voted for but neither have the English. The SE puts more money in and rarely gets the outcome they want.

      If you , or yours are paying student fees now, it is because 6 Scottish MPs voted for student fees to be introduced in the rest of the UK whilst MEPs voted against them for Scottish students. How is that for unfairness?

      This debate has nothing to do with English Honour. The English have honour and the Scots can not take this away. it is very stupid to think Scotland leaving will affect the English, other than along with the rest of the UK unnecessary costs, delays and re-configuration. This is everything to do with the UK as a whole and how it will affect 75 million people as opposed to 6 million people.

      I leave you with this final thought. The English are the only country in the UK and NI who do not have a parlimane of their own and autonomy. It is the only country in the EU which does not have its own Parliament. We don’t hear much bleating about that do we for which as a British person I am thankful.

      • I had a feeling you were eventually going to quote my age against me. Yes, at 42, I am younger than you.

        Here’s a link to a report on census data showing that 62% of the people of Scotland consider themselves as only Scottish. !8% consider themselves also British.

        You are right that internal English affairs should be dealt with only by English politicians. The fact that this has not been sorted out by now is up to Westminster. I have not seen any protest among Scots about this, and even if there were, they couldn’t muster a majority in Westminster against it. Many Tory MPs were angry that Blair pushed through tuition fees in England with the help of Scottish votes but nothing has since changed. It’s up to them to sort it out and not complain in the meantime.

        I don’t live in Scotland any more so I can’t argue with you when you say there is still anti-English feeling there. Others have reported it too – even an English SMP canvasser wrote recently that he got told to go back to England by a posh lady in Morningside. However, I have not seen pro-union English people in Scotland provide much in the way of specific stories yet. There is always two sides of a story and I am not convinced that every English person who moves to Scotland is necessarily willing to make a constructive contribution to their community or give local people a reason to warm to them. I know especially, as a southerner, we have different ways to the Scots and can come across as arrogant. I know that Londoners who settle in Cornwall don’t thrive if they stay in their London ways.

        I have also heard plenty of crass comments by English people about Scots that we expect them to find funny so it cuts both ways. However, I know that many English do thrive in Scotland and it would be good to hear their stories too.

        I have a feeling that many Scots reading what you have to say may feel their hackles rise. I have had constructive discussions with quite a few Scots via this blog and other website as a result of the referendum. Perhaps the day before voting day is not the best time to start a sensitive dialogue on Anglo-Scottish relations but I think it would be worth revisiting at some point.

      • I did not say I did not thrive in Scotland I thrive, as most do who are willing to engage and put themselves out a little. I believe in involving myself in the community. Thriving or otherwise is the key question, it will be more difficult of all of us, including you, to thrive as a result of a ‘Yes’ vote. Despite this the rest of Britain will accept and get on as usual.

        I have been a volunteer in hospitals in my area for all of the 14 years of my residence. I was turned down as a paid employee no money in the Scottish Health Budge for the much needed nutritionalists and dieticians but welcomed with open arms as a unpaid volunteer. I enjoy a very amicable relationship with the community because of that. As a member of the executive of 3 charities in this area, I can vouch for the fact that the majority of those within the charity are not Scottish.

        As I have said being from Manchester there was a mixture of nationalities who got on very well together and consider themselves British. There are many people here also from Lancashire and Yorkshire who work in the community and consider themselves British but devote themselves to the community in which they live.

        If you had lived in Scotland recently you will have seen this Nationalist Alex Salmond – amongst other things – get into bed with Donald Trump and run very poor people off their crofts in order to build ‘the best golfing centre in Scotland’. Hardly in the interest of the Scottish people I would have said. Certainly is was not for the benefits of most Scots at £1,000 a night but for his own benefit as ‘the man the brought independence to Scotland’ and ‘the most impressive golf course in the worrld’. You have to define what you call patriotism I think.

        But ‘you do not believe that every person that moves to Scotland is willing to contribute’. Well I do know that the majority do. The Wigtown Booktown exists largely because of the direction and efforts of a majority of ‘incomers’ who worked for nothing to get the finances from the British Government to Once up and running their services were dispensed with in favour of ‘Scots’. Of the six volunteers in my own speciality in this area, ALL – yes all are from outside of Scotland.

        It was two English (one mascarading as a Scot) who set up a local business after foot and mouth to increase the opportunities of recovering after this dreadful episode. The foot and mouth crisis was blamed on the English. On final inspection it was revealed that the disease came from sheep the Scots imported.

        You miss the point entirely which shows lack of engagement with the issues. The English cannot ‘sort it out’ because they alone of all the UK do not have devolvement and autonomy – the Scots are allowed to interfere within areas they are not going to suffer from. Tam Dalziel a principled polition from Scotland refrained from voting on the grounds that it was ‘unjust and undemocratic’ for people not affected by the policies to be able to vote on them. Unfortunately the ethical stance was not taken up by the rest of Scottish Politicians. This clearly reveals an imbalance in the system of things, which I suspect is why the English feel aggrieved as they are the only ones without full enfranchisement to determine their own futures but bear the burden of the cost whatever happens.

        Correction – you said a small minority of English defining themselves as British. I am aware that the majority of Scots see themselves as Scots rather than British. I have lived amongst them in many countries were they set themselves apart from everyone.

        As for ‘presence’ in the media etc. I obviously spend a lot of time in England and watch TV. There are black, Asian, Welsh, Scottish and English commentators.

        In Scotland there is not one of ethnic minority, no English, no Welsh, no Northern Irish. The Irish manager of one of the Glasgow teams received death threats and eventually resigned. I think that says almost all. It doesn’t take much to make their hackles rise believe me. I was virtually ‘in Coventry’ as SW representative on Scottish Co-operative. In all the years of the Scottish Co-operative there had never been a representative from this area. But I was shunned because I was English. At a Nationwide conference a delegate from ‘down south’ was disgusted at the way a Scottish colleague addressed me. I was by then pretty immune to it.

        I will continue to hope the Scots vote ‘No’ because of my friends and neighbours interests as well as my own. I am not much exercised by wrath and envy so I shall continue to work just as energetically as I have been used to.

        This is a story of a British – not English – thriver in Scotland. It matters little to most of us who live and work here what the bigoted and small minded think. We can and are, above all that. Modern has become all about taking sides and enmity. You have just heard from someone who thrives in Scotland; I have told you of many stories of British who thrive in Scotland. No doubt, whatever happens, we will continue to do so. Its a matter of integrity and work ethic, not narrow-minded Nationalism.

      • Fine – perhaps you should entilte it something other than “upholding English honour”. It is not about honour and it is not confined to ‘Englisjh’. 75+ million people will still belong to the UK even if the Scots renege and they have no need to uphold their honour in relation to the Scots.

    • Sorry – you did say – I am of a small minority of British who only define themselves as British, but quoted Scottish figures.
      A majority of people in the rest of Britan define themselves as British – rather than English – that is certainly true of the people I know.
      When asked in questionnaires in Scotland we are never given the opportunity of defining ourselves as British only as ‘white Scottish’ or ‘white other’ which could be just about anything. ‘British’ is not an option here.

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