Dear Mr Izzard and all the other English contributors to the recent “Let’s stay together” video,
I am English and live in England. When I woke up to the real prospect of Scotland voting to leave the UK in September, like you and like many other English people, I felt an emotional twinge. I felt indignant with Scots who supported independence. So I followed both campaigns on the internet and got up to speed with the political issues that the referendum is about. I was won over fairly quickly to the “Yes” side. And so, I want to challenge the arguments put forward by you and your colleagues in your video of 15 July.
1. You describe the UK as a “family”.
Families are not always healthy. Even if they are, children grow up and leave home with their parents’ blessing. The Yes campaign has set out many reasons why they believe Scotland should leave the UK family. See http://www.yesscotland.net/ None of these reasons are based on any kind of attack against the other nations of the UK “family”. Rather, they represent a different political vision to what they see from the main UK parties. It ain’t personal. It’s political. And that’s OK.
2. You say that if Scotland leaves the UK, it will be a “partnership that ends”.
Independent nations work in partnership all the time. Look at the Channel Tunnel. There will be every reason for Scotland and the UK to continue to work in partnership on a whole range of issues. This is the position of the Yes campaign. The partnership will be on different terms to how it works now. But where there is a will, there is a way.
A vote for independence will only mean an end to partnership if we in the remaining UK choose to see it this way. If we do so, then we need to examine our deeper motives. It may be that we are upset about Scottish independence. If so, we need to work through our feelings first before considering action which damages relations with an independent Scotland.
3. You say that if Scotland leaves the UK, that we will all feel later that we “could have made it work” and that we should “give this a chance”.
“Yes” voters generally believe that the UK doesn’t work for the people of Scotland and that they have given the UK enough chances to to try and make it work. A growing number of people in Scotland have become more and more dissatisfied with the direction that the UK has taken over the last few decades on many key, political issues – e.g. the war in Iraq, the poll tax, cuts to public expenditure, welfare reforms, the bedroom tax, Trident nuclear weapons and so on. Again, these reasons are political, not personal.
4. You say that fighting together in Afghanistan was about camaraderie and not about “why we were out there”.
I don’t knock the camaraderie, but actually, it is about why we were out there. The SNP run the Scottish government with the support of more than 50% of Scottish voters. The SNP took a very different view to UK governments on military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would not have involved Scotland in the last Iraq war, in which 19 servicemen from Scotland died. These are lives which would not have been lost had Scotland been independent. I would be upset if English lives were lost as a result of involvement in wars that, for example, the USA made us enter. Scotland is entitled to take a different political view to the UK on military intervention overseas. It can’t implement its view unless it is independent.
5. You say that together, we have “a powerhouse of creativity that we don’t want to lose”.
Artistic co-operation crosses borders, perhaps more than any other kind of international co-operation. Politics doesn’t come into it that much. We will still be able to visit and take part in the Edinburgh Festival. Scots will still be able to watch and take part in West End musicals. Independence poses no real threat to artistic co-operation across borders.
6. Scotland is “part of who we are” and “part of our identity”. You say that you have family from all over the UK and “feel absolutely British.”
It’s OK to feel that, but this says more about us than about the people of Scotland. If many Scots don’t feel British any more, there are probably some good reasons and perhaps we should find out what they are. The UK only exists if the member countries want it to exist. If Scotland leaves the UK, then we in England will need to work through our feelings on what being British still means to us, as opposed to being just English. We will do well to start that journey now.
7. You say that with Scotland in the UK, we have “a sense of a bigger nation and all that that encapsulates.”
Bigger does not always mean better.
8. You say that we were a sporting “powerhouse” with a “positive spirit” competing together as Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics. You say that “we will never have that again”.
Political change does sometimes involve mourning the loss of some things we hold dear. For some, this will include the loss of Olympic Team GB. But I think we English are a big nation and are strong enough to pull through on this one. We do have experience of the UK nations competing as individual nations in football, rugby and at the Commonwealth Games. Sport is important but does rank below the more serious political issues which underlie the desire for independence.
9. You say that “we love you and we want to be with you”, “and that’s not going to change”.
Love is more about action than words. Perhaps it is worth asking Yes voters for instances of when they did not feel loved by UK governments over the years. We can still love Scotland, and be with them in a multitude of ways. Forgive the imperfect analogy, but when children leave a happy home, they will still visit their parents and have a lot to do with them. But love is also about knowing when to let go.
So I hope that Scottish people, after independence, will still cheer you on when running marathons wearing a Saltire. If you do something positive for Scotland, then I am sure you will be appreciated. After all, it’s not a political activity. But Scots are faced with a choice between two different political futures on 18th September.
If we in England want to get involved in that debate and try to persuade Scots to vote “No”, at the least, we owe it to them to understand the detail of the political issues and opinions which will shape their decision in the polling booth. I didn’t see any reference to these political issues in the video, and the information is very easily available. You are all professionals at the top of your games. I am sure that you would prepare yourselves highly professionally for a broadcast or sporting event. If you want to get involved in the Scottish referendum, then the same applies. Not doing so verges on the disrespectful.
I feel very strongly that it’s not on to pick up the phone to our Scottish friends and relatives and give them the kind of emotional pleading that I saw in your video. It is good to express our emotions on the subject, but in the right forum. We in England owe it to ourselves to keep some national self-respect and first discuss our feelings about being British or losing Scotland among our own people. If we choose then to get involved with the people of Scotland regarding their own political choices, then we need to be well-informed and remain professional and respectful.